The High Marks of 2018 by Zephyr Ash Ostrowski

There’s no denying the 2018 was a trying year for all of us. The joke online starts off by saying that Black Panther was only released in February and people respond with exasperation. Honestly, that’s not far off from the truth. With the world looming ever closer towards toxic territory, people like to turn to movies to escape. 2018 had quite a few highlights, namely the much-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War touted as one of the largest crossover events in cinematic history. At the same time, we saw Black Panther obliterate box office records and have some other superheroes join the fray like Deadpool and the Incredibles for their respective sequels. As for the rest of the cinematic bounty, there were some disappointments and utter stinkers as well, much like any other year. Me? I’m always playing catch-up since I can’t go out to the theater every single weekend and watch everything. I’m still working on watching some high-honor films from the past few years. So, for this article and the following, I’ll give you my picks for the best and worst films that I watched in the 2018 calendar year. There’s no particular order because numerical ranking is not my cup of tea but for now, let’s take a look at the cream of the crop.

Best Films Released in 2018:

Annihilation: Considered one of the sleepers of 2018, this sci-fi film played opposite of Love, Simon. Summed up as a female-led version of Andrei Tartakovsky’s Stalker, this was more or less dumped by Paramount with as much grace as The Cloverfield Paradox a few weeks earlier, except this is actually good. It was given a Netflix release internationally but dropped in theaters here in the states. Since then, it’s gone on to get more of a following on home release. It definitely has a provocative ending that you’ll want to talk about with your friends if you watch it together.

Love, Simon: I went to see this with friends on opening weekend in a theater packed with high school teens. To see a film where it wasn’t about the “is he or isn’t he gay” and have the trailer tell you up front that Simon is indeed gay was a treat, especially for a mainstream film. This film holds a special place in my heart because it’s one of the very few films that have ever made me cry. And after having a tumultuous start to the new year, it had a message that I really needed to hear about love and acceptance. I’d add Boy Erased to the list but it never played over here despite the “playing everywhere” line.

Wild Wild Country: Some of the more famous cults we’ve seen are among the likes of Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, and Charles Manson. However, they’ve received more than their fair share in documentaries. The ones in this documentary? Aside from some small documentaries, they’re more or less footnotes until WWC came along. Backed by a killer soundtrack and extensive footage, you get to settle in the town of Antelope and watch the plague spread. You can’t help but wonder how this particular movement isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the others but thanks to this documentary, they are.

The Other Side of the Wind: I was hesitant to add this to my list because after watching it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, it’s slowly grown on me as one of Orson Welles’ best works. It’s not one that you can just watch without some of his films under your belt as well as some documentaries about the man because it’s crucial in understanding the satire. Thankfully, Netflix has some of his stuff readily available to stream in conjunction with this film. The editing is quite dizzying and can take a while to get used to but when you do, it’s a masterpiece. After all, it’s not often that you’re around for a new Welles film, especially since he’s been gone for several decades.

Deadpool 2: When a coworker let me borrow her copy of the first film, I was hyped for a total demolition of the fourth wall but left wanting more since it didn’t completely fulfill me. Well, the sequel managed to do just that. Raucous laughter filled the theater with the balls-to-the-wall vulgarity and self-awareness. Not to mention that it received a limited re-release with a much-hyped PG-13 edit, though it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. It managed to hold its own in a summer with a very large tentpole film and provided some well-needed comic relief compared to the high-stakes drama in Infinity War.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette: This firestorm of a stand-up special sent waves as a deconstruction of stand-up comedy and transforms it into a gripping TED Talk with a naked admittance of the difficulty growing up as a lesbian. In fact, it’s astonishing since we have a person who is openly queer and neurodivergent (a dual diagnosis of ADHD and autism) giving this brutally honest critique of comedy and receiving wide-spread acclaim. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come in terms of how comedy is studied and performed. With her recent speech on “The Good Men” and misogyny, she’s someone to listen to and watch to see where her career goes.

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous: As for the flipside of outstanding stand-up, we have the guy that gave us the catchiest metaphor to sum up the Trump administration: a horse loose in the hospital. This entire bit has gone on to join some of the greatest of memes and reaction images of not just this year but of the decade. Not to mention, a large portion of my generation has hailed him as a comedy icon because of his genuine affection for his wife unlike the jokesters of the past with their “take my wife, please” schtick. Constantly improving with each special, Kid Gorgeous is a strong entry in Mulaney’s portfolio.

Best Films Seen Before 2018:

Tucker and Dale vs Evil: Thanks to Netflix, I was able to see this little horror-comedy gem. With its emphasis on communication and, well, goofiness of the premise, it’s rather underrated and will one day have its own place on my shelf. I know it’s a great addition to my Halloween film canon. Besides, Alan Tudyk gives a great performance, even if he’s best known recently for his Disney work. Looks can be deceiving and that’s very true with this film.

Clouds of Sils Maria: A dazzling blend of metatext and role reversal, we see Kristen Stewart give one of her strongest performances after her literal Twilight years. This film does have a bit of homework involved for maximum appreciation but even if you haven’t seen All About Eve, Persona, and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, it’s still a joy to watch. It’s tucked away on Netflix but I strongly recommend streaming it as soon as you can because it’s an intimate drama with critical acclaim.

2001: A Space Odyssey: Yes, it’s sort of cheating since I’ve seen this multiple times before but the reason for including it on the list is for the limited engagement in IMAX theaters for the 50th anniversary. Before then, I’ve seen it on screens as small as a portable DVD player to maybe 55” at best. I was so pleased to find out that our local IMAX theater would be screening it. I went in the middle of the afternoon and started way in the back for the best possible view, surveying the sparse audience. One of the best parts about them is that they had clearly seen it before and knew their theater etiquette. Zero trailers, a complete intermission (which movies need to bring back, especially since this was only 2.5 hours), and then the last twenty minutes. I moved all the way to the front since nobody really cared about seating location in there and there was a tacit trust among us. The last twenty minutes can really only be done on something like an IMAX screen because all of my other viewings were rather diminished, save for doing the legendary mashup with Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. The seat rumbled from the sound and my eyes were totally overwhelmed with color as we traveled beyond the infinite. I would love for these films to make a comeback (save for the TCM theatrical screenings for films with an anniversary) as there is a market for it. I just wish it lasted one more week for those who couldn’t duck out in the afternoon to see it.

Boy and the World: There’s something to be said about the nominees for Best Animated Film that don’t come from the major studios because some really do hold their own. This film is free of dialogue and has some absolutely gorgeous visuals in this hand-drawn style. It’s as colorful as the film that did win Best Animated Film that year, Inside Out, and just as heartwarming. The best part of this and other nominees is that they’re easily available on Netflix. Give it a shot because it’s something you’re not going to forget, especially the main tune; such an earworm.

The Breadwinner: A recent Best Animated Film nominee, this is a blend of Mulan and Persepolis with stunning animation from Cartoon Saloon’s third outing. Truthfully, I put this above Coco out of the nominees for that year and really another film that children should watch. Well, not just children but it’s one of the more culturally accurate films out there and with zero need for relying on tie-in products to carry the film. Again, Netflix saves the day by having it available to stream.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie: Despite not having the marketing push that DreamWorks gave for The Boss Baby, this is leaps and bounds better because of how much it adheres to the source material. I remember hearing people groan when they saw the trailer because it looked silly but the animation really fits with the style and humor of the books, including a puppet-based daydream that recalls the childlike hodgepodge that we got with The Lego Movie and makes it so worth it. Will we ever see a theatrical sequel? It’s hard to say since we do have the Netflix series.

Tune in soon for the other side of the coin.

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