The start of a new year is an ideal time to reflect on the previous 12 months. For someone who reviews movies, that means assembling a best-of-the-previous-year list. So without further ado, here are my lucky 13 choices for the top live-action nondocumentary feature films of 2018, in alphabetical order. (Lists spotlighting my favorite documentaries, animated features, genre films, and overlooked gems, and can be found in the January online edition of the Marina Times at marinatimes.com.)
Marvel Comics’ foremost black hero gets his own solo movie in the company’s parade of interlinked comic-book-inspired adventures, and it proves to be one of the best of the lot, mixing super powered action and spy movie elements with family drama, tribal ritual, and utopian futurism in a mostly African setting. And it was directed and co-written by Oakland’s own Ryan Coogler.
It’s not strictly a comeback. Still, director Spike Lee has given us his most impactful release in a few years: a feature inspired by the true story of an African-American cop in 1970s Colorado who infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by using his white fellow detective as a front. Taut, witty, and chillingly relevant today, it’s up there with Lee’s finest work.
This tale of a twisted love triangle, arson, and duplicity from South Korean director Chang-dong Lee is a perfectly strange and thoroughly compelling thriller. Although actor Steven Yuen is best-known as the noble Glenn on TV’s The Walking Dead, he totally nails the manipulative, enigmatic bad boy he portrays here.
‘CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?’
In a major stretch from her broad slapstick comedy parts, Melissa McCarthy gives what might be the most impressive and thoroughly realized performance of her career in a dramedy based on the actual scam perpetrated by down-on-her-luck celebrity biographer Lee Israel who learns she can make money by forging autographs of famous people.
An ardent romance sparks between a loyal Communist Party member directing a traditional Polish folk music troupe in the early 1950s and an attractive, free-spirited singer who wheedles her way into the ensemble. Beautifully realized on screen, the unlikely couple’s relationship becomes increasingly strained, mirroring the sociopolitical changes going on around them.
As coming-of-age movies go, this one — concerning a thoughtful plain-Jane 13-year-old girl trying to endure the turmoil of suburban adolescence in the perilous age of social media — is a vivid, honest, sometimes painful, sometimes charming, small-scale slice of humanity.
Brilliantly acted, lushly appointed, and incredibly relevant in its treatment of governmental power plays, class conflict, and gender issues, this 18th-century period piece involves a rivalry for the favor of England’s sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), pitting her closest friend and advisor Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) against ambitious servant girl Abigail (Emma Stone).
In the early 1960s, a working-class Italian-American tough guy (Viggo Mortensen) agrees to drive the erudite, uptight, African-American chamber jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour that heads into the segregated Deep South with all the challenges it will entail. Director and co-screenwriter Peter Farrelly’s uplifting, heartfelt, and amusing movie dramatizes the journey, with sterling performances by his two lead actors.
There’s tension galore in this brutally effective Danish crime drama set at an emergency call center where a cop awaiting an internal affairs ruling has been temporarily assigned. When a woman phones in, says she’s being kidnapped, and is suddenly disconnected, the cop — who may be her only hope — launches a harrowing investigation from the confines of his desk.
When the matriarch of a seemingly ordinary family dies, her daughter, brilliantly played by Toni Collette, begins to realize some truly freaky things about her ancestry that will impact her own teenage son and daughter. The result is an extremely effective horror movie that’s scary in unexpected ways and downright unnerving in its depiction of the occult.
‘LEAVE NO TRACE’
Ben Foster is fierce and loving as the father in a provocative yet poignant drama about a resourceful, off-the-grid single dad — a veteran of the Middle East conflict — and his pubescent daughter on an odyssey of survival in the unforgiving wilds (backwoods and urban) of contemporary America.
Made with obvious care and affection by the masterful Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, the story of a clan of small-time crooks who take in a child they find on the street could have devolved into a saccharine tearjerker, but its emotional impact is earned with a powerful and heartbreaking look at loyalty, compassion, and survival on the fringes of modern society.
A true auteur, Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Gravity) delivers his most elegant and accomplished movie to date — a somewhat autobiographical drama that he wrote, directed, and edited. Set during the early 1970s in Mexico City and meticulously shot in glistening, hi-res black-and-white, it focuses on the members of a well-off family and their domestic help, particularly their devoted housekeeper Cleo, as they grapple with personal tragedy, class distinctions, and the revolutionary fervor of the era.
MICHAEL’S TERRIFIC THREE DOCUMENTARIES
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
MICHAEL’S FANTASTICAL FIVE ANIMATED FEATURES
Isle of Dogs
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
MICHAEL’S FABULOUS FIVE GENRE FILMS
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Anna and the Apocalypse
Avengers: Infinity War
MICHAEL’S FINEST 15 OVERLOOKED GEMS
A Simple Favor
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Stan & Ollie
We the Animals