Last year, I saw so few movies at the theater, I just combined them with the movies I streamed or watched on disc. That was not the case this year. In 2018 I saw 15 movies, most of which fell under the action/adventure/superhero umbrella, but there were some dramas, comedies and even a documentary to round out the list.
Here are the five I enjoyed the most of all, followed by all the rest.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
I didn’t think any movie could ever live up to the 1990s Robin Williams Jumanji, and the beauty of Welcome to the Jungle is that it doesn’t try to. It pays homage to the original and clearly belongs in its universe, but mostly it goes its own way, re-inventing the story without trashing what came before. And I thought it was very creative in the way it used video game conventions to advance its story. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Nick Jonas all had great chemistry and played their parts to a T — none moreso than Johnson and Black, who really captured the essence of being a scrawny nerd and the pretty, popular girl in bodies that were very much not that. Read the original review here.
There’s a reason Black Panther is my favorite MCU movie (followed dangerously close by Avengers and Iron Man). This has all the trappings we’ve come to expect from a splashy, big-budget superhero blockbuster, but it also sits atop a throne not just as superhero movie with a black lead but as a legit black superhero movie, and there’s something special about that. It also has one of the most complex villains with believable, almost sympathetic motivations and acknowledges that not all good guys do good things all the time.
I didn’t go into Tag expecting more than a dumb comedy to fill time on the way to Jurassic World 2, but this was so much fun. Definitely my favorite between the two. It’s a simple story of five friends who have played a game of tag every May for 20 years and the four (Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Ed Helms and Hannibal Buress) who gang up to tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who has never in their lifetime of this game been “it”. The friendships are believable, even if some of the situations are less so, and there’s just a touch of drama to even out some crude edges. And it’s (apparently loosely) based on a true story, which gives it an added element of interest.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This Mr. Rogers documentary came out precisely when it was needed most. I can’t think of a better time to showcase a man who devoted his life to spreading love and kindness for everyone. I even learned some things I didn’t know while taking a trip down Memory Lane on my way to the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I loved everything about this. I only knew of Miles Morales, the black latino Spider-Man from one of Marvel’s multiverses, and this provides his origin story as a contraption by Kingpin opens gates to other universes, accidentally sucking in a variety of Spider-people from a down-and-out Peter Parker to a 1940s Noir Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham (which is apparently a real thing that happened in the comics), and even a Spider-Bot. Spider-Verse juggles all these characters beautifully and their need to stop Kingpin and get back to their own universes without ever straying too far from Miles’ story as a kid who didn’t really fit in at home or at school BEFORE he was bitten by a radioactive spider and certainly doesn’t now that he’s coming into all these weird powers. The story is great, the animation is spectacular and it’s just a really good thing, and is the only movie of 2018 that I’ll see twice in theaters on my own (I also so Black Panther and Infinity War twice, but once was on my own and once was with family on a visit.)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: You know, it’s fine. It’s not my favorite, but it is what it is, and it’s fine. I think where this movie suffers is not from having an extended “free the slave animals” or even from making Luke a grumpy old man who for a second thought that maybe killing his potentially evil nephew would be a good idea, it’s from feeling like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit the piece it’s supposed to slide in next to. All of a sudden, Rey’s parents don’t matter and Snoke is nothing special, and it’s like…can we have some cohesiveness here? Did anyone talk to anybody else before they made this?
- The Post: I kind of forgot I saw this? I guess it was okay. It made me want to see All The President’s Men and the Mark Felt movie. But I didn’t, so that probably tells you something.
- Ready Player One: I loved the book this was based on, and the movie isn’t entirely faithful to it, but I still enjoyed it a lot. My only real concern or gripe came in one of the very first sequences where Wade is racing. Everything was just too big and fast and hard to track that it just felt like an assault on my eyes, and I was afraid the whole thing would be like that. But it wasn’t, and I was really able to sink into the story of Wade and his friends trying to solve a puzzles and finish games before a massive corporation so they can gain control of a massive virtual reality wonderland.
- Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom: Parts if not most of the second Jurassic World and fourth Jurassic in the franchise are deeply stupid. One the characters annoyed the everliving out of me (here’s looking at you dino veterinary student who thought she’d never see a real live dinosaur). But there are times when this movie reminded me of why I loved the first movie. And then it ripped my heart out and left on doomed island.
- Avengers: Infinity War: I have never tried so hard to like a movie. I thought I needed space and another viewing or two, but nope. Turns out I just don’t really like Infinity War. I mean, I can’t hate it, because I literally like every single one of the 20-some characters who make up the good and good-ish guys, and there are certainly some exciting fights, but the story doesn’t do it for me, and every time I hear one of the Russo brothers say something like “Hulk just doesn’t want to fight Banner’s fights anymore!” I’m reminded of why I also don’t care all that much about Civil War or Winter Soldier. I want to see Avengers: Endgame, because I want to believe it will be better than this and close out this era of the MCU in satisfying ways, but I don’t think it will, and I’m really not enthusiastic about it anymore. I’m pretty much just over here waiting for Captain Marvel and MCU’s version of mutants and Fantastic Four.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: A delightful romp of both miniature and epic proportions that made remember why I loved the MCU.
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout: Much like Rogue Nation (which I failed to review in my Mission Impossible review series, sorry), it was okay. Both were situations where the parts were greater than the sum, and I didn’t really buy Solomon Lane as a big bad in Rogue Nation and completely failed to care about him in Fallout. But man, Fallout has some great fight scenes. But it was the first movie where the whole *franchise* of it was in stark focus. Like, because it’s an M:I movie, of course Tom Cruise is contractually obligated to dangle from the leg of a helicopter. But then it just went to absurd lengths where of course he’s going to fall and hang onto a rope connected to the payload attached to the helicopter. And if you didn’t think he was going to fall off that and that and cling to said payload before climbing back up, you just don’t watch enough movies. This was the first Mission Impossible that felt simple and really unbearably predictable. But it was still a blast, most of the time.
- Venom: Venom almost made my Top 5. In fact, depending on my mood, it just might swap around with Tag. It starts a little slow as we get to know screw-up ex journalist Eddie Brock and the shady organization experimenting on homeless people with alien goo, but once Brock joins with the Venom symbiote it’s an absolutely bonkers joyride that I loved.
- First Man: Ryan Gosling is Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to the moon landing. It’s not just test flights and science stuff, though. A great deal of it is about the astronauts and their families and what it’s like personally to be part of this endeavor. Everyone does a great job, and it’s a beautiful movie, but it’s not going to be re-watcher.
- Instant Family: As you can probably tell from this list, I usually try to save my theater dollars for big-budget spectacles, but every now and again something a little more mundane catches my eye at just the right time. Such was the case with Instant Family, the comedy about Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne fostering three siblings including a moody teen, accident prone boy and ferocious little girl. It doesn’t hide its agenda of highlighting the need for foster and adoptive parents, but it doesn’t sugar coat the experience or plop a pair of rose-colored glasses on it, either. It’s hard work, and the movie lets you know it in between laughs and maybe some tears.
So there you have it. 12 months, 15 movies and a whole lot of “meh” surrounded by a few bright spots.
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