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2018: The Wild Rides

While I still favor movies that push boundaries with intelligence and creativity, those aren’t necessarily the most important criteria here. No, the “Wild Rides” are all about fun. These are the movies that might not necessarily win any awards (not as many as they deserve, at any rate), but they’re so funny and exciting that they should absolutely be listed among the year’s favorites.

Best Comedy Movie

I had been warned away from seeing most of the year’s comedies, and the ones that I did see left me unimpressed. Blockers may have been pretty bold in its treatment of teen sexuality, but it falls apart because every single character in the movie is a crass over-the-top parody. Action Point can be funny if you’re into Johnny Knoxville’s brand of slapstick, but there’s nothing else on offer and at 84 minutes, it barely even qualifies as a feature-length movie. Then we’ve got Crazy Rich Asians, which was far more notable as a romantic drama populated entirely with actors of color — that movie succeeded despite and not because of its sitcom-grade humor.

This one is no contest — Game Night isn’t just the best comedy of this year, it’s easily the best comedy I’ve seen in many years. Every single joke lands perfectly, the variety of jokes is staggering, the script is tightly crafted, the performances are on point, and the visuals are fantastic across the board. In this era when filmmakers seem content to let the cameras roll and hope the actors come up with something funny, we very desperately need more comedy films with this level of effort and craftsmanship.

Best Horror Movie

We got a sweet variety to choose from this year. Halloween (2018) was notable, but mostly for the central feud between Michael and the Strode family — the actual scares and kills themselves were comparatively lackluster. Then we have Hereditary, which picked up a ton of accolades and rightly so. Still, I found the movie to be more “creepy” than “scary”. More importantly, it wasn’t a game-changer like A Quiet Place was.

The world-building on display is fantastic, with marvelous attention to detail. The performances are wonderful and the story is neatly clever. But what really makes the horror so diabolically effective is in how it subverts and rewrites the horror cinema playbook that’s been in place since Halloween (1978). We’ve become subconsciously accustomed to certain audiovisual cues in horror films, and the basic premise throws that rulebook right out the window. This movie is so wickedly creative and consistently effective precisely because we never know what to expect from it at any given time. I look forward to the sequel, and I can’t wait to see how it influences future horror films.

Best Superhero Movie

Talk about spoiled for choice! Do we go with Avengers: Infinity War? Ask me again when the next half comes out. Deadpool 2? Funny in places, but Deadpool doesn’t need pathos or heart any more than Tom and Jerry do. Ant-Man and the Wasp was entertaining, but ultimately trivial, ditto for Incredibles 2.

Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse is a strong candidate, but I think I prefer a movie that does more to subvert and reinvent the tired “origin story” plot. Something that puts more effort into the world-building. You know, like Aquaman, but without the convoluted plot and maybe with a stronger supporting cast. Do we have anything like Aquaman but better?

Come on. You know where this is going.

It’s positively inspiring to see the impact that Black Panther has had on the black community. It’s hard to think of any superhero movie in history that did more to empower and represent people of color, and that alone is worthy of commendation. What’s potentially even more impressive is the jaw-dropping production value, building this epically scaled, intricately detailed, thriving and vibrant civilization with its own massive history and culture. They even split Wakanda into several tribes with their own internal politics and squabbles, making all of it clear and compelling in the space of a 134-minute movie, and without distracting from the action — seriously, how the fuck did they do that?!

Throw in a massive cast of wonderfully talented actors playing memorable characters — including the greatest cinematic supervillain since Heath Ledger played the Joker — and you’ve got an instant all-time classic in the genre.

Best Action Movie

Again, we have a wealth of options to choose from here. We’ve got Bumblebee, a sweet little movie that made the Bayformers palatable by scaling down the scope and adding in some G1 flavor. We’ve got Upgrade, a mind-blowing revenge flick with some deeply impressive sci-fi elements. Then of course we have Overlord, a straightforward “kill the Nazis” romp with one of the best female action leads in recent memory. I suppose I should also mention The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a halfway decent spy thriller in spite of its protagonist.

But you know what’s a really awesome spy thriller with badass female leads and the most insanely thrilling action sequences of the year? Mission: Impossible — Fallout. So many years into this franchise, and it keeps on delivering the most innovative and thrilling set pieces and stunts you could hope to find anywhere.

Best Mindfuck

Again, Overlord is a strong candidate for this one — naturally, the movie about corpses being revived by Nazi mad scientists goes to some fucked-up places. We’ve also got The Endless, a low-budget movie that tangles itself into knots with all sorts of time loop shenanigans. Of course the popular favorite for this one is Mandy, which decorates a straightforward revenge thriller with some of the trippiest visuals in any movie released this year.

Even so, I don’t think any of those movies were more consistently inventive, more horrifying or disgusting, that went to more maddening or heartbreaking depths, than Annihilation. This one came right the fuck out of nowhere and didn’t get nearly its due, precisely because nobody knew what the hell it was or how to describe it. In the end, this is probably the closest we’ve got to a 21st-century answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s gotta be enough to take this category.

Best Family Drama

Mary Poppins Returns is an easy choice for this, though that movie may have been a little too epic for its own good. I was much more partial to Christopher Robin, which was more sincere, more laid-back, had a more coherent message, and made better use of the source material. Christopher Robin really was a spoonful of sugar, where Mary Poppins gave us a truckload.

But as much as I loved those two movies, I’ve gotta be honest — I’d recommend Instant Family over either of them.

Yes, the movie can be cloying and obnoxious at times, but this one has more than enough passion to make up for whatever flaws it has. This is a powerfully heartfelt movie about a potent and underrepresented subject, humanizing foster kids and adoptive parents to a degree that I’ve never seen in cinema before. Yes, it’s a low-key and basic movie suitable for all ages, but it has a powerful and important message, delivered with enough authenticity and effort to truly change some hearts and minds. Definitely check this out if it passed you by.

Best Animated Movie

I think I’m finally done with Illumination. The Grinch was the last straw. I’m done, done, done watching Illumination take perfectly good story ideas only to drown them out with more noise, color, and kinetic energy than anyone could stand. Yes, Incredibles 2 was another movie overflowing with high-energy action scenes and gorgeous visuals, but it was also a movie that knew a few things about pacing and how to tell a decent story. Plus, any fifteen minutes of that movie showed more creativity than Illumination’s entire collected filmography.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Isle of Dogs, which was admittedly a sweet little movie, even if the plot thinned in places. But there’s no way this could possibly be the winner after Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse.

Not since the first Lego Movie have I seen so much creativity in an animated film. The shifting frame rates, the clashing animation styles, the bizarre coloring effects… everything about this movie pushes the envelope to create something new and enthralling and exciting. Something that could only be done in animation, and something that nobody else would have the guts to even attempt, much less the talent to pull off. That’s not even getting started on the representation of teenage girls and people of color, the delightful new interpretations of Spider-Man and his supporting cast, or all the classic themes we associate with the character. This is a movie that fires on all cylinders, a strong candidate for the all-time greatest Spider-Man film and easily the greatest animated film of the year.

Best Wild Ride

I’ll go ahead and use this as a kind of “miscellaneous” category for all the really fun movies I couldn’t fit in anywhere else. Creed II, for example, was a fantastic sports movie, though nothing groundbreaking. Likewise, A Wrinkle in Time (2018) was a fun and beautifully crafted movie, though it inherited some pretty glaring weaknesses from the source material. As for Pacific Rim: Uprising… what can I say? While the sequel was a misstep in many ways, it hasn’t completely ruined what I love about the franchise and I’m still rooting for it.

Ah, but none of these are my favorite movie of the year. None of them made me laugh harder, scream louder, and more grateful to be a movie geek, than Sorry to Bother You.

There’s not much left to say about the movie at this point, because the film speaks pretty damn loudly for itself. Where to even begin praising this movie? The lead performers prove their A-list talent with aplomb, the production value looks like it cost ten times the reported budget, and there’s nothing about the screenplay that isn’t genius. The way it blends socio-economic satire, comedy, sci-fi, racial satire, romance, action… So many different components went into this movie and every single one is on point.

This movie is innovative, daring, comical, engaging, and crazy-smart. The kind of movie that mainstream Hollywood could never make and would never know what to do with. We desperately needed this film, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss out on it.

That’s it for the year-end review, for now. See you at the Oscars!

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