Stephan’s Top 10 Movies of 2018

I saw more movies in theatres this year than in any other year of my short life so far.

This is partly due to how much my girlfriend and I love going to the movies together, and partly due to my growing appreciation for films as a medium for storytelling. I’d always loved going to the movies as a child, but it was more for the spectacle of it. Seeing something on a massive screen, getting that impossible to replicate movie theatre popcorn, feeling the theatre rumble with an explosion… But now that screen isn’t as big as it was when I was small.

I think as I get older I’m looking for less of the “rollercoaster escapism” (as my dad describes it) and more of the meaningful stories I’ve grown to love in all my entertainment. Stories that make me think differently about the world, about others and about our place in everything. 2018 didn’t disappoint, and while the deluge of superhero films continues to drench us in panting spandex-clad men there were thankfully many movies this year that delivered something new and interesting.

So here are my 10 favourite movies from the year that was 2018 and why. I hope you find them interesting or at the very least see a movie you want to check out. Enjoy!

Screenplay by Peter Chiarelli & @adeleBlim. Directed by @jonmchu. Produced by Color Force. Released August 15, 2018. I saw it in a Galaxy Cinema.

I usually don’t like romcoms. But maybe that’s because mostly every romcom I’d seen so far had been a derivative, bland story probably starring Owen Wilson trying to convince the woman of his dreams to give him a chance… over and over and over again. But there’s a cool thing that happens when we open up our movies to include stories from people who aren’t bland white guys with a crooked nose trying to woo an interchangeable white female co-star. We get new and interesting stories that show us different perspectives then the ones we’re used to, and Crazy Rich Asians did that and more.

In addition to being incredibly well-written and very funny, Crazy Rich Asians taught me a lot about Asian culture. About the expectations placed on Asian children I’d only seen through the tired tropes trotted through the rest of our movies and TV shows that aren’t (surprise surprise) written by actual Asian people who’ve lived with those expectations.

There were even parts of the movie I had to research afterwards because I had no idea what was happening. Things like “Singlish” (Colloquial word for Singaporean-English hybrid spoken by Asian families living in the West) and the ins and outs of Mahjong made it very obvious this was a movie meant to be unfamiliar to me but very familiar to Asian viewers. That’s awesome, stories about shit I’m already familiar with get less and less interesting every time I see them. I want to experience stories that open me up to new ideas and challenge my presumptions.

In my research after watching this movie, I learned some Singaporean viewers were a little disappointed with Crazy Rich Asians misrepresentation of their culture. They didn’t cast Singaporean actors to play Singaporean characters and the accents were missing in what some felt like an effort to make the film more palatable to American audiences. But critics noted that this film is “an imperfect first step” in the difficult road to more Asians in Hollywood and as long as the conversation continues that’s what’s important. Check out Sheryl Oh’s piece for a more in-depth discussion of these criticisms.

Written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Produced by @MarvelStudios. Released February 16, 2018. I saw it at a Galaxy Cinema.

A colleague of mine said earlier this year, “Now I’m not racist or anything, but I just really didn’t enjoy Black Panther, you know, it’s not a good movie.” Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point in our intercultural dialogue where people feel they have to clarify they’re not racist or sexist or homophobic before criticising a piece of media that doesn’t star a straight white guy. We saw it in 2016 with the incredibly polarizing Ghostbusters remake, last year with Wonder Woman and we’re seeing it again this year with Black Panther.

Because these movies are a lot of big firsts there are all these incredible expectations put on them we would never give any of their counterparts because those counterparts aren’t making up for decades of neglect and misrepresentation. Ghostbusters was fun, I saw Wonder Woman twice in theatres and Black Panther was a blast. Of course, these movies aren’t immaculate masterpieces making up for decades of mediocre white guy movies. But they’re fun and important in their own right, important in a way Iron Man 3 or the fifth Batman movie in 10 years ever will be.

I really enjoyed Black Panther. It’s lightning in a bottle when you consider the incredible talent that made it. Rising actors like Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Kaluuya and Michael B. Jordan, veterans like Forest Whittaker and Angela Bassett and Kendrick Lamar’s outstanding soundtrack which is easily one of the greatest albums of the year, forget about just the greatest movie soundtrack of the year. Black Panther is a great movie and an amazing superhero movie when you compare it to the other repetitive Marvel movies of late (Thor 3 aside).

It’s a shame we can’t have conversations about these movies without people being afraid of coming across as racist for even having an opinion. That only makes me certain we need more movies starring black actors and women and minorities so that having an opinion about them is just like talking about any other movie released that year. If you want to hear a much more intelligent and better-articulated discussion about Black Panther I’d encourage you to check out this episode of Today, Explained where they talk to the current writer of the Black Panther comics at Marvel.

Written by Lawrence Kasdan & @JonKasdan. Directed by @RealRonHoward. Produced by Lucasfilm Ltd. Released May 25, 2018. I saw it at a Galaxy Cinema (not far, far away).

Star Wars fans have among their ranks a horrible, impossible to please vocal minority who truly embody the dark side. Every artist who touches the series opens themselves up to a deluge of hate from that vocal minority. You could say it flows through them, a hatred trying that’s been trying to ruin a new phase of Star Wars movies I’ve personally enjoyed more than any before (including the original trilogy).

From the horrible people who harassed The Last Jedi actress Kellie Tran off of Instagram to director Rian Johnson dealing with a mob of abusers on Twitter to actor John Boyega being forced to respond to racist comments about his inclusion in the new trilogy- these “fans” suck. But I have to hand it to those artists, they handle it with class and grace that the haters don’t deserve. Just look at Solo co-writer Jon Kasdan responding to one of the tamer trolls I’ve seen:

Now that’s class.

All this to say, they don’t deserve the hate. And neither did this movie.

Before Solo released I thought it wasn’t necessary. Part of the allure of Han Solo’s character is his mysterious origins, like the Joker in Batman or The Man with No Name in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. These characters are interesting because we don’t know they’re motivations, they’re unpredictable and that opens them up to situations where they can surprise us.

But I was surprised by how invested I became in Solo, it’s an origin story no one really asked for but I’m really glad we got. Alden Ehrenreich performed an awesome Han Solo and of course everyone fell in love with Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian. The final scenes set up some very intriguing threads I hope we get to see through in future movies, and I’ll always love Han Solo’s good-guy-who-doesn’t-want-to-show-it attitude that time and again brings a smile to my face.

Directed by Spike Lee. Produced by @JordanPeele. Released August 10, 2018.
It didn’t release in any theatres near me, so I rented it.

I was fascinated with this movie based off the premise alone. BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Colorado Spring’s first black police officer Ron Stallworth who, on a whim, calls up the Klu Klux Klan to ask about becoming a member in an effort to infiltrate their organization. As he couldn’t actually go to a meeting with them as a black man he teams up with his Jewish coworker Flip Zimmerman who meets the recruiters. Together, Flip and Ron slowly make their way up the ranks of the KKK until they get face to face with David Duke in a hilariously terrifying scene that had me on the edge of the couch.

It’s fucking wild that this is a true story, and Spike Lee tells it in a gripping, heartfelt and at its best incredibly tense way that’s some of the most thrilling cinema of 2018. BlacKkKlansman is also aware that it’s a movie about shutting down white supremacists in 2018, a year when white supremacy is experiencing a huge resurgence under the Trump administration and the rising influence of hateful ideologues on the far right. As such it doesn’t pull any punches in showing the dangers of these groups and their rhetoric, stripping away the fanciful dressing these groups put on to appear more palatable to the public and showing them as they are.

BlacKkKlansman is a stellar movie carried by amazing performances from its two co-stars John David Washington and Adam Driver. While I feel the last scene subverted some of the impact of the film, the rest of this movie is a must watch. Whether you enjoy historical biopics, thrilling undercover cop stories or just great performances and amazing set design there’s something you’ll enjoy here.

Written by Sofia Alvarez. Directed by @sjreaders. Produced by @OverbrookPR & @AwesomenessFilm. Released August 17, 2018. This is the only film on my list to release first on Netflix (and coincidentally the best Netflix Film released this year).

This movie just made me happy, that’s why it’s on this list. It’s a heartfelt, funny, delightful romp through the misadventures of a high schooler confronting all the boys she’s had a crush on since middle school. With that ridiculous premise, the cast is set loose to bring some of the most earnest, touching scenes Netflix has ever produced onto my television.

There’s drama, there are overreacting teenagers and underreacting dads, there’s embarrassment and redemption and at the end of all of it a very important lesson about love and dating in the digital age. I could see why some people might think this is just a movie for teenage girls, but the only people who won’t get something from this movie are just the people who refuse to have fun.

Written & directed by @BootsRiley. Produced by Significant Productions, MNM Creative, MACRO, @Cinereach & The Space Program. Released July 6, 2018. Another one that didn’t release in any theatres near me, so I rented it.

This movie is fucking wild. I had no idea what I was getting into when I sat down to watch Sorry to Bother You and honestly, neither should you. The less you know the better.

But if you’re keen to be sold on it, all I can say is this is a scathing and brilliant takedown of capitalism and false consciousness that made me want to fucking riot in the streets. So invite your store manager, boss, CEO, department head or whoever over and watch this movie.

Oh, and read this awesome interview with writer and director Boots Riley. Remember, there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism (and we strike at midnight).

Written & directed by @GhostPanther. Produced by @AnnapurnaPics, @GarySanchezProd & Plan B Entertainment. Released December 25, 2018. I watched it at a Landmark cinema on the way back from visiting family for Christmas.

I always have a lot of respect for directors who try to tackle complicated moments in history and make them understandable to the average moviegoer. Director Adam McKay did that with The Big Short, breaking down the events that led up to the housing market crash of 2007 through a dramatization that made it interesting and easier to understand. He’s done that again with Vice, a no-punches-pulled comedic biopic looking at one of the most infamous American politicians: Dick Cheney.

You may have heard the phrase “Welcome to Dick Cheney’s America” or seen memes about US soldiers looking for oil, but I don’t think too many people (especially Canadians like myself) truly grasp the influence Dick Cheney has had on the world in our lifetimes. How do you tell the story of a man whose career covers decades? Who’s connection to big oil companies motivated policy decisions in the background for years? How do you distil so many anecdotes and stories into a single, cohesive two-hour movie and still have it make sense? McKay did it, and it’s Vice.

Narrated by a fictitious Iraqi war vet, Vice covers almost 60 years of Cheney’s life from when he was a Yale dropout to the peak of his political power during the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Stellar performances from Steve Carrell and Amy Adams drive the drama, and Christian Bale’s method acting for Dick Cheney is one of the most convincing, eerie performances of any real-life person I’ve seen on the big screen. I feel like I need to watch this movie like three or four more times to process everything but even off of one screening I thoroughly enjoyed it and now have a much better understanding of Dick Cheney’s America.

Written & directed by @BradBirdA113. Produced by @DisneyPixar. Released April 6, 2018. I watched it at a Galaxy Cinema.

The Incredibles is one of my favourite childhood movies. I’ve seen it dozens of times, my family and I quote lines from it to each other constantly. It’s safe to say the bar was set very high for Incredibles 2, a long-awaited sequel to a seminal movie for me. Well, they nailed it, in every way this film was the sequel the original deserved and more.

The whole cast is back together, while the voice actors are all now 14 years older the film picks up right where the original left off: with the Parr family in the parking lot starring down the Underminer, finally giving us the resolution we’d been waiting for since 2004. Incredibles 2 is everything I’d been waiting for: more mid-fight family drama, more hilarious parenting moments, more Jack-Jack, more everything.

The animation is amazing, as we’ve come to expect nothing less from Pixar. Incredibles 2 is dripping with style and every scene is filled with incredible (heh) detail. The characters, new and old, have never looked or sounded better and I was so happy walking out of the theatre after this one.

Directed by @johnkrasinski. Produced by Platinum Dunes & Sunday Night. Released June 15, 2018. I watched it at a Galaxy Cinema (and then again in October at home).

A Quiet Place wins my award for best movie in spite of being spoiled by its trailer. A crucial scene from the beginning that could have been the tensest moment was utterly ruined by the trailer months ahead of release. It’s a shame, but I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying this spectacularly thrilling movie. I watched it with my friend Tyler who almost jumped out of his seat multiple times. I think the experience was actually better being next to someone losing their shit at every scare.

Not only does A Quiet Place manage to build so much tension with absolute silence but the pacing was perfect. So many scenes from this film are more terrifying than other whole movies I’ve seen this year (cough Halloween cough). Trying to stay absolutely silent while giving birth with a monster down the hallway has to be one of the most terrifying scenes in a movie I’ve ever seen.

John Krasinski said that after his wife, Emily Blunt, read the script she decided she had to play the lead, no one else could. Having seen it twice now I couldn’t imagine any other pair then John and Emily leading this film. Their moments on-screen felt so intimate and so personal and casting an actual deaf person as a deaf character?! What a concept I wish more studios could figure out.

Directed by @bob_persichetti, @pramsey342 & @rodneyrothman. Produced by @SonyAnimation & Columbia Pictures. Released December 14, 2018. I watched it at a Galaxy Cinema (twice in the same week).

2018 started with a great superhero movie in Black Panther and it ended with the best superhero movie ever made in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This movie is so fucking innovative that Sony Animation had to create completely new animation software during the development of this film because what they wanted to do couldn’t be done with conventional animation tools. I can’t even believe this is the same studio that just last year gave us The Emoji Movie.

Shameik Moore’s Mile Morales will go down in history as the best Spider-Man performance on the big screen, which is impressive in and of itself given this movie has seven different Spider-People (and pig) performing. Miles is easily the most interesting Spider-Man I’ve ever seen. With both of his parents alive and well they play a crucial role in his story and, as Spider-Man Noir puts it, he has a “tragic origin story.” One scene in particular just broke me, and I’ve never cried at a superhero movie before but this one got me.

While Into the Spider-Verse‘s soundtrack doesn’t go as hard as Black Panther‘s it definitely fits this movie like a spandex glove. Amazing songs playout behind every great scene in this film and I’ve had so many of them stuck in my head in the weeks since I’ve seen it. I’ve been like Miles walking around my apartment badly singing along to Sunflower with my headphones on.

Of any superhero movie I’ve seen this is the best realization of comic books on the big screen. Word bubbles flashed up on screen with funny internal dialogues, pages flipped between certain scenes, shots looked like something straight out of a full-page panel… It’s incredible. Sony Animation has managed to create a wholly unique superhero movie in a time when we get like five a year.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. If you see one thing this year, just one, make it this one.

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