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Liam the Kid Alterna-Oscars – Best Movies of 2018

The Academy Awards have always left much to be desired. This year the headlines were all about the debacle of a host-less show, failed attempts to jigger with the proceedings, and a couple of problematic nominees (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ & ‘Green Book’). The categories omitted from the ceremony were put back in and almost all of the original songs were performed. What’s lost in all the controversy are the movies themselves.

2018 was an amazing year for cinema – there were crowd pleasing hits that really delivered artistically. There was a resurgence of documentaries playing in actual theaters that amazed and moved audiences. Marvel movies finally got critical recognition and a cinema Star was Born out of a pop star. Perhaps most importantly, movies had much to say about current cultural fears and reached for the unknown. What follows is one fan and critic’s take on the best of the best:

HONORABLE MENTION

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

The talented filmmakers, cast, and crew had an almost impossible task in realizing the most ambitious blockbuster event in cinematic history, the culmination of ten years worth of always watchable, and many times brilliant, comic book movie storytelling. They miraculously pulled off, albeit with the largest budget ever committed by a studio, a film that boasts undeniable eye candy and is infinitely entertaining (pun intended). It remains to be seen via ‘Endgame’ if this story is deserved of the poignancy and gravitas of the teaser trailer, but it’s the most anticipated anything of 2019 . . .

Available on Netflix now

TEN

A STAR IS BORN

This movie should not work as well as it does. Ostensibly a vanity project shepherded by Bradley Cooper, who stars, directs, co-writes, wrote songs, learned to play guitar, and sings himself, with a feature turn by Lady Gaga. This is the 4th(!!) iteration of a movie with this title and story arc. Audiences have seen this a million times already, the rise of an ingenue, an older dog musician with addiction issues, a doomed romance, but Cooper’s take is completely captivating, most likely because it was made with love and devotion by a cast and crew fully embracing the grounded, yet MOVIE-NESS of it all . . .

Available On Demand now

NINE

THE FAVOURITE

Yorgos Lanthimos is definitely not for everyone. A writer/director who traffics in the absurd, his films to this point have been difficult for many to engage with. With ‘The Favourite’ though, he cedes his writing duties, focuses on a few fisheye-shot locales, and lets his incredible actresses go all out. The film is a chamber piece focusing on the machinations of Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s Abigail and Lady Sara in their attempts to court favor with Olivia Colman’s unhinged, childish Queen Anne. A period piece like nothing before, these performances and a biting screenplay deserve the acclaim . . .

EIGHT

VICE

Satire of the highest order, and like any good satire it’s equal parts hilarious, disturbing, and ultimately, sobering. Bouyed by incredible performances, writer/director Adam McKay skewers a U.S. power structure defined by a GOP long con of the American people, symbolized in the figure of one man. This film is not interested in presenting a traditional biopic, rather it’s crafted as a pop-art version of one, marked by quick cuts and pointed flashes of news and nature footage. All of these choices, along with a pervasive comic tone, plant the film’s flag firmly in the camp of surreal, sublime entertainment . . .

SEVEN

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT

At this point in this franchise, the movie-going public has finally realized that it has taken star Tom Cruise for granted after all these years as he pushes himself to the absolute limit in the service of entertainment. The sixth movie in the series and the first to feature a repeat writer/director in Christopher McQuarrie, they have crafted an exhilarating, perfect piece of blockbuster entertainment. It’s a total marvel of big screen amazement, one imbued with a sense of care and calibration, that understands what an audience craves – thought-provoking spectacle . . .

Available On Demand now

SIX

6) ROMA

The film that will be studied, parsed over, and analyzed for years to come by film scholars and students of the art form. Cuaron is a bona fide master, writing, directing, shooting, and editing his very personal story of growing up an upper middle class kid in Mexico whose family status is in peril from both internal and external forces. He tells it entirely from the perspective of indigenous housekeeper/nanny Cleo, played intimately by Yalitza Aparicio, a non-professional actress. It may have received attention as Netflix’s best chance yet for Oscar gold, but it will be remembered as a gorgeous, impeccably crafted portrayal of the monumental activity of everyday life . . .

Available on Netflix now

FIVE

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

Capitalism. Greed. Race. Art. Gender. Friendship. Unionization. Socialism. Social Media. Viral Fame. Ethics. Boots Riley’s ambitious satire isn’t scared to tackle it all. The film is an absurdist take on the trappings of wealth and power, the promise of which can be a cancer, counter to the moral drive for human connection and honest interaction. It’s a dose of pure acid and wholly entertaining, a darkly comic, timely, cogent criticism of unchecked capitalism that’s in stark contrast to what it even means to be a human being . . .

Available on Hulu now

FOUR

FIRST REFORMED

Writer/director Paul Schrader still has demons to exorcise. Similarly to his haunted creation, Travis Bickle in ‘Taxi Driver’, Ethan Hawke’s minister Toller can’t alleviate an obsession beholden to the era he lives in. As opposed to the palpable fear of the gritty streets of New York, ‘Reformed’ tackles the very real threat of global destruction as a result of climate change, and how it’s in stark contrast with the hope of blind faith. As much as humanity would like to turn to God for answers, it is only through actions that change is accomplished. These heavy themes are conveyed in a superbly staged film of quiet power and drastic imagery . . .

Available on Amazon Prime now

THREE

ANNIHILATION

A science fiction movie about an alien invasion with this title conjures up thoughts of an action extravaganza, not a heady, deliberate think-piece with lofty ambition and moments of abject terror, but that’s exactly what Alex Garland’s masterful film is. It’s a trek into the physical and meta-physical unknown, marked by a search for redemption and a deeper understanding of the human condition. This movie does not have easy answers, leaving an enthralled, intellectually stimulated audience to ponder what they have witnessed, and like those braving the deeply changed landscape, wanting to revisit over and over in search of them . . .

Available on Hulu now

TWO

BLACK PANTHER

Up until this point, the films set in the Marvel Universe have told tales that interconnect in interesting ways and explore how they can affect each other, but what if a contained story were told of an advanced secret world within Africa that has the potential to upend everything? The cinematic representation of comics’ first black superhero dares to do just that. Under the guidance of Ryan Coogler, one of cinema’s most exciting young artists, it wildly exceeds on all levels. A thoroughly satisfying action/sci-fi epic with complex ideas about responsibility and heavy themes around the mantle of leadership, this is a powerful genre film that celebrates the beauty of African culture, and confronts the challenges of race expectations around the globe, all within the framework of a big budget blockbuster that thoroughly entertains . . .

Available on Netflix now

ONE

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

Documentaries that feature viable subject matter and present it with care have the power to truly transcend. Morgan Neville’s portrait of the long, celebrated run of ordained minister Fred Rogers’ landmark PBS television program, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ may not be the flashiest, artistic, or most assured film on this list, but the theater going experience was a truly memorable, transformative one. The movie not only traces the history of the show, it posits its unique influence on the culture at large. The style of the program and the lessons therein provided a wonderful blueprint for impressionable young minds, a universal mantra of understanding within a medium that is often used irresponsibly. As corny as it may sound, this is a rare film that fills the viewer with LOVE . . .

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