The Best Films of 2018 – Honorable Mentions (11-15)

Before I start revealing my ten favorite movies of the year later this week, I want to take some time to talk briefly about five fantastic films that just missed out on making my year-end list – here are my Honorable Mentions:

No. 11 – Sorry to Bother You

STBYSorry to Bother You is Boots Riley’s directorial debut, a dystopian dark comedy that follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young African-American in Oakland working as a telemarketer at RegalView. After a veteran co-worker (Danny Glover) teaches Cash that the secret to success in this business is using your “white voice,” Cash quickly excels as he strives for the coveted promotion to “Power Caller.” All the while, Cash’s friends – and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) – plot to unionize the RegalView workplace in an effort to protest for better working conditions, which creates conflict with Cash as he continues to climb the ranks as a Power Caller. Life as a Power Caller begins to slowly unravel, and when a corporate conspiracy exposes itself, Cash is left to make a vital decision about his life.

In this film, Boots Riley takes a very simple concept (i.e., character comes from nothing, character gets success, character faces moral conundrum that pits that success against true happiness) and turns it into one of the most entertaining and unique movies I have ever seen. The dialogue pops, the characters are amusing, the acting is impeccable, and the satirical themes are absolutely spot-on. Riley’s story is one that brilliantly examines the concepts of “white privilege” and “capitalism” through its darkly comedic tone, and the satire reminded me a lot of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. However, Idiocracy made its comedy much more direct (and it really worked in that film), and after having seen both films, I much prefer Riley’s more natural comedic tendencies. This movie is a fantastic referendum on some very important social issues, and it just missed out on cracking my Top 10. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQKiRpiVRQM.

No. 12 – Roma

RomaRoma is a Spanish-language film directed, co-produced, written, co-edited, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, the film (described as a semi-autobiographical story based on Cuarón’s childhood) follows Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker who lives with and works for the family of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira).

Roma is slow movie (like, really slow), although this sort of movie doesn’t always work, the cinematic style of Roma undeniably impresses – this is predominantly because Cuarón is its creator. In Roma, Cuarón’s dialogue is poetically deliberate, his camerawork is stunningly cautious, and his pace is delightfully unhurried. The Oscar-winning filmmaker – who has written and directed an amazing collection of films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity – has developed a film in Roma that tells a story that is deeply genuine and features plot points that are both heartwarming and heartrending. Aparicio is utterly outstanding in the lead role of Cleo – as various life events cause Cleo to endure a wide range of feelings, including happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness, you feel each and every one of them right along with her throughout the entire journey. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BS27ngZtxg.

No. 13 – Isle of Dogs

Isle of DogsIsle of Dogs is a stop-motion-animated film by writer/director Wes Anderson. The film is set in a dystopian-version of Japan in the not-so-distant future where all dogs – following a canine flu outbreak – have been exiled to an unenviable island. Against that backdrop, the story follows a young boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) as he joins forces with a few dogs on the island – including Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – to find his lost dog Spots.

At last, Wes Anderson is back – and by “back,” I mean “wow, Wes Anderson has finally returned to the wonderful storytelling and filmmaking that made me a fan of his in the first place.” I know Anderson’s last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was nominated for nine Oscars and won four of them, but I hated it – I found the story to be bland, the dialogue to be stilted, and the film as a whole to be too heavily reliant on Anderson’s signature style. But in Isle of Dogs, Anderson has won me back over – it is essentially a combination of the distinctive stop-motion-animated style that made Fantastic Mr. Fox so remarkable and the sweet, funny, and selfless depiction of childhood innocence that made Moonrise Kingdom one of my favorite movies of all time. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt__kig8PVU.

No. 14 – Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap is a documentary by filmmaker Bing Liu. Filmed over the course of more than a decade, Minding the Gap chronicles the lives of Liu and his two friends, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, with the common thread being their shared love of skateboarding. Although the movie starts out with this simple premise, it slowly evolves into a deep and emotional exploration of the lasting traumatic effects of issues relating to race, economic hardship, and domestic abuse.

For me, the best documentaries are those that make you think and make you feel in a unique way – Minding the Gap definitely checks those boxes with ease. One of the most intriguing parts of this film is the fact that the director is personal friends with his film’s subjects – but Liu pulls no punches. Instead, he examines the complicated lives of Keire and Zack with raw emotion and undeniable honesty, and it is this aspect of purity in Liu’s filmmaking that makes Minding the Gap so emotionally affecting. Despite the remarkable exploration of his friends’ lives, the highlight of the film was when Liu turned the camera (and the plot of the film) back onto himself and his own upbringing – what a moment! This film is currently streaming on Hulu, and I encourage everyone to go check it out – you will not be disappointed. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Vm_Awe3bw.

No. 15 – Crazy Rich Asians

asians6.0Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic dramedy (directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim) based on the bestselling novel of the same name, which follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese American economics professor at NYU who travels overseas with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick’s family turns out to be among the wealthiest in all of Singapore. Dating one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors, Rachel finds herself having to fend off envious women within Asian high society. But the more imposing task for Rachel is vying for the approval of Nick’s domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh).

I will be honest – generally speaking, romantic dramedies aren’t my cup of tea. Unless they are done exceptionally well, I just can’t get into them. With all of that said, Crazy Rich Asians is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in the genre (ranking up there near my favorites, such as Love Actually and Crazy, Stupid, Love). Although I have not read the film’s source material, director Jon Chu’s vision in bringing this unique story to the screen was magnificent – this beautiful movie was the first from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years to feature an Asian director and a mostly Asian cast, all helmed by an Asian director. The story was refreshing, the visuals were colorful and arresting, and the movie’s cast of characters was absolutely entertaining – aside from the superb performances by the film’s leads, Awkwafina nearly stole the show as the wacky sidekick Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s best friend from college. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ-YX-5bAs0.

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Best Director

Best Director NomineesIn this year’s Best Director category, only one nominee is receiving his inaugural Oscar nomination (Morten Tyldum). The other four directors have combined for ten previous Academy Award nominations; however, only two of those ten nominations were in the Best Director category (Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Babel and Bennett Miller for Capote). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Boyhood8Richard Linklater is an American filmmaker with credits that include Dazed and Confused (1993) and the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight). Linklater has already garnered 31 Best Director awards at various film festivals and award shows for his work in Boyhood. Linklater was previously nominated twice at the Oscars in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset and Before Midnight).

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Birdman2Alejandro G. Iñárritu is a renowned Mexican filmmaker—he is the visionary behind the celebrated “Death Trilogy” (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel). Iñárritu has been previously nominated for four Oscars: twice for Best Foreign Language Film (Amores perros and Biutiful) once for Best Director (Babel), and once for Best Picture (Babel).

  1. Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Bennett MillerBennett Miller is an American film director—he previously directed Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011). At the 67th Cannes Film Festival in May 2014, Miller won the Best Director award for his work on Foxcatcher. Miller was previously nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars for 2005’s Capote.

  1. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Morten TyldumMorten Tyldum is a Norwegian film director, renowned internationally for his critically acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated thriller Headhunters (2011). Tyldum has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Wes AndersonWes Anderson is an American filmmaker—he is the creative genius behind movies like Rushmore (1998), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Wes Anderson has been previously nominated for three Oscars: Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Best Animated Feature for Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).

Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay Nominees

This year, similar to the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every singe nominee will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time in a screenwriting capacity. Only two writers out of the nine nominated writers have received Oscar nominations previously: Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

Dan GilroyWINNER: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Dan Gilroy has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Richard Linklater 2Richard Linklater was previously nominated twice at the Oscars in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset and Before Midnight).

 

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo (Birdman)

72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press RoomAlejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category.

 

  1. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (Foxcatcher)

Foxcatcher writersE. Max Frye has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. However, Dan Futterman has been previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Capote (2005).

 

 

  1. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Wes AndersonWes Anderson has been previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay twice: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

Top Three Most Disappointing Films of 2014

INHERENT VICE

Don’t you hate when you go to see a movie that you are expecting to be awesome, and then it turns out to be absolutely dreadful? Well, that happened to me numerous times in 2014, but on three specific occasions, the difference between my expectations and the eventual outcome of viewing those films was far worse than I could have ever expected. These three movies were not the worst that I saw in 2014, but they were by far the most disappointing.

Inherent Vice

INHERENT VICEPaul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film Inherent Vice was a movie that I was expecting big things from. In my “Fall Preview 2014” posts, I had it listed among the top ten films that I was most looking forward to. This is because PTA is one of the five greatest living directors, and I have overwhelmingly enjoyed every single one of his movies to date. Well, that was until Inherent Vice. Despite an unbelievably talented cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Waterston, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short, the story turned out to be far too convoluted for even those Hollywood superstars to reconcile. I never once bought into any of his characters—I felt no sympathy for, nor any connection to, them. The screenplay did not seem to flow well at all, and it did not have enough to keep me interested. I still believe PTA is more than capable of making another masterpiece like Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood, but unfortunately Inherent Vice turned out to be a major setback in that pursuit.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

TGBHI love Wes Anderson’s movies. Some people do not buy into his films because they think his filmmaking style is simply “quirk for the sake of quirk,” and even though I agree that his eccentricity is a bit heavy-handed at times, I still personally enjoy his movies. They always have a fun, interesting storyline that is delineated through the work of seriously talented actors, and his distinct stylistic approach to the film’s visuals are truly a work of art. However, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was bitterly disappointed. Yes, it had all of the amazing visual effects, production design, makeup and hairstyling, and music you can always expect from the 45-year-old Texas native, but the story was atrocious in my opinion. His attempt at making the movie humorous fell dreadfully flat, and for the first time, I felt his movie was boring. I never once felt engaged with the plot, and a quarter of the way through, I wanted nothing more than for it to be OVER! How on earth this movie is tied for the most Oscar nominations this year is FAR beyond me.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

n-A-MILLION-WAYS-TO-DIE-IN-THE-WEST-TRAILER-large570The hit sitcom Family Guy suffers severely from over-repetitive jokes and gags—anything funny that creator Seth MacFarlane happens upon in his show is ruined by this misused style. However, when MacFarlane released Ted in 2012 (his first feature film), I began to believe in him as a comedian. Ted had all the best parts of Family Guy without the regrettably added horse manure that makes his TV show so extraordinarily unwatchable. Ted is one of my favorite comedies from the past few years, and thus, I was expecting more comedic genius from MacFarlane with his second film A Million Ways to Die in the West. “Expecting” is the key word—this movie was about as enjoyable as a hangover. He reverted back to his unreservedly detestable storytelling techniques of the Peter Griffin clan, and his film fails because of it. The jokes drag on way too long, and with every passing second, MacFarlane’s humor loses any luster it once had. I hate to be so childish and simplistic, but the storyline was just stupid. Charlize Theron is definitely not meant for a movie like this (what a casting error that was), and the only bright spot was Neil Patrick Harris singing about moustaches. The Ted 2 trailer just came out, and although I find it funny, I am not holding my breath for its release because of the utter failure of A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 2 – Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise

Moonrise Kingdom is a film directed by Wes Anderson, with a screenplay written by Anderson and Roman Coppola.  The movie is set on the fictional island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in 1965.  Two 12-year-olds, Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, become pen pals and eventually fall in love.  They decide to run away together on the island to pursue their love for one another, but an epic storm is brewing up and is due to hit New Penzance very soon.  With the combination of the storm and the runaway, the quiet, serene nature of this small island quickly turns tumultuously chaotic.

Wes Anderson has made quite a name for himself in the Hollywood as the creator and originator of a very eccentric, nonconformist style of filmmaking.  Some of his most popular films include The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited.  For anyone who has seen any of his previous films, Anderson’s distinct method of filmmaking is unmistakable, and in Moonrise Kingdom, he again employs this same scheme.

Anderson collaborated on this uniquely peculiar screenplay with Roman Coppola, a writer he previously worked with on the script for The Darjeeling Limited.  The two have created a brilliantly refreshing tale of young love, and the entertainingly hilarious nature of the film is brought on strongly by the wonderful piece of writing these two men have created.  Their script has resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

After I rented this movie a while back to see it for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with it—I went and purchased it on Blu-ray mere days after watching it.  It quickly became one of my favorite movies of all time, and it made me a fan of Anderson’s unusual style of filmmaking.  One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the score—acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat creates a specific tone for the movie through his music, and it truly makes the story even more gripping.

The film features some hilariously interesting characters, played by a combination of star-studded actors and Hollywood newbies.  In my opinion, the two younger actors provide the movie’s brightest performances.  Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward portray Sam and Suzy, respectively, and together they provide for some of the funniest and most endearing scenes in the entire film.  Some great supporting performances are also contributed by some of the film industry’s most enduring performers: Bill Murray plays Suzy’s father, Frances McDormand plays Suzy’s mother, Bruce Willis plays the island’s sheriff, Edward Norton plays the local Khaki scout troop leader, Tilda Swinton plays a character known only as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman portrays Cousin Ben, Harvey Keitel plays Commander Pierce, and Bob Balaban provides the role of the narrator.  This ensemble collectively shines on the screen and makes this film the illustrious piece of art it is.

Also, one of the most recognized hallmarks of any Wes Anderson film is the presence of a cast that features many previous Anderson collaborators.  Moonrise Kingdom marks the sixth Anderson film featuring Bill Murray and fourth film featuring Jason Schwartzman.  Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Moonrise Kingdom trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N8wkVA4_8s

Academy Award nominations for Moonrise Kingdom:

Best Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

3. Zero Dark Thirty

4. Skyfall

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Best Original Screenplay

Tarantino

The Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay that is not based upon any prior published work.  This year’s group of nominees features some established, acclaimed writers and a couple Academy Award newcomers.  Between the nominated writers, they have been nominated for four writing Oscars and have won two.  Although there are some great scripts up for the award this year, one writer has already been sweeping the award shows for his screenplay, winning the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award—this year, it just so happens that I am in full agreement with the major award shows on this category.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Tarantino, also the director of the film, has created one of the greater scripts in modern cinema.  It has created a significant amount of controversy, but it has also been met with rave reviews from the critics—Quentin would not want it any other way.  Even though he did not win the Oscar in this category for Inglourious Basterds, which is by far my favorite movie of all time, he still has penned another masterpiece in Django.  Tarantino has a knack for creating some of the most remembered characters in the history of film, such as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, and Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and in Django, he does not disappoint, creating unbelievably dynamic characters like Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie.  I will never know how the inner workings of Tarantino’s mind operate, but I am most unquestionably thankful for the written work he has given us.  Tarantino was previously nominated for two writing Academy Awards, both in the Best Original Screenplay category, and he won for Pulp Fiction (1994).

2. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Wes Anderson, also the director of the film, and Roman Coppola have collaborated for their second screenplay together—their first was The Darjeeling Limited, a film they also co-wrote with Jason Schwartzman.  The end result of their most recent work together is an incredibly hilarious, wildly entertaining script.  This screenplay has the best shot among the other nominees to upset the heavyweight Tarantino, and if things fall correctly for Anderson and Coppola, they just may find themselves raising the Oscar statute.  This story is one of a kind.  It tells the story of young love from a unique perspective that only Anderson, one of the most distinctive writer-directors of our time, could do.  It is a refreshingly different film, and it has quickly become one of my favorites of all time.  Anderson was previously nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).  Coppola has not previously been nominated.

3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

After Anderson and Coppola, Mark Boal has the next best chance to knock off Tarantino at the top in this category.  This is only Boal’s second screenplay, but just like his previous one for The Hurt Locker, it is action packed and beaming with award-winning quality.  Boal tells the story of the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the most dangerous man on earth.  The Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration may not be quite the masterpiece it was for The Hurt Locker, but it is most assuredly not far behind.  I was on the edge of my theater seat throughout the entire film, and a lot of this is due to the spellbinding script Boal has written.  Mark Boal was previously nominated and won for Best Original Screenplay for The Hurt Locker (2009).

4. Michael Haneke (Amour)

Michael Haneke, also the director of the film, has finally been nominated by the Academy for his superb writing abilities.  Haneke is one of the most unknown writer-directors to the general public in the United States, but I have been aware of his work for quite a few years now.  The biggest film festival in the entire world is the Cannes Film Festival, and the top award at this festival is the Palme d’Or, an award given to the top film of the festival.  Only seven filmmakers have won this award twice since 1939—Michael Haneke is one of those (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  Haneke’s French-language film is intriguing, matchless, and invigorating.  The words he penned for this film not only earned him an Oscar nomination, but it also resulted in lead actress Emmanuelle Riva being nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  Haneke has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. John Gatins (Flight)

Gatins is an established screenwriter, but to be completely honest, none of his scripts have been anything close to award worthy.  His screenwriting filmography includes Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel, but his big break finally came with the 2012 film Flight.  In this film, Gatins uses an incredibly entertaining story line to keep our attention, but it is the complexities he has created in regards to human morality that truly sets his script apart.  I am surprised that he received a nomination, but after seeing the film, it is definitely justified.  Gatins has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

Writers snubbed in this category: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)