Punching up mediocre movies one podcast at a time

Gregg’s Best and worst of 2018

Usually when I sit down to write my yearly best/worst it’s a relatively smooth process. The good clearly rises to the top (Get Out, Molly’s Game) and the crap sinks to the the bottom (Neon Demon, Kong: Skull Island).

This year, however, I agonized over my list. My top five shifted wildly as I attempted to figure out which films I liked slightly more and which slightly less. Even as I post this I’m not happy with my list, and to make matters worse my bottom five was full of movies I really didn’t think were that bad.

But that’s a pretty good problem to have, certainly a welcome change from when I compared 2017 to a “city dump on fire“. For me, this was a really good year for movies.

As always, I obviously do not have the time to see everything, so if there is something great missing from my list it’s probably because I didn’t see it. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, for example, came out while I was having my first daughter, which kind of precludes a visit to the theaters. It’s generally bad father form to leave the hospital to go see movie, even if it’s Spidey.

Tomb Raider

WORST: Tomb Raider

Video game movies, eh? How is it they so consistently strike out? At this point Hollywood has tried everything, even lifting action sequences from the game shot-for-shot didn’t work.

To be honest, though, Tomb Raider’s biggest crime is its mediocrity. It’s an okay action flick that’s largely forgettable. The father/daughter connection misses the mark just enough that the climatic payoffs feel half baked.

Doesn’t really deserve the “worst” title, but I’ve got to come up with five of these.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BEST: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Buster Scruggs was in a virtual tie with John Cho’s Searching to crack my top five. Both movies had concepts/formats I was either not a huge fan of or wary about, but managed to win me over in a big way.

In the case of Buster Scruggs, I don’t tend to love anthologies. I’m not sure what to attribute that to, other than I guess I prefer one long story? As boring and dumb a reason as that is, it didn’t matter because Ethan and Joel Coen are absolute masters of the craft. Every frame in Buster Scruggs is a painting, every line of dialogue carefully constructed and wonderfully performed.

Each short story carried a new tone ranging from the comedically slapstick to the downright tragic. If the Coen bothers included a story from indigenous peoples perspective this movie might have been a 10/10, but sadly they are only present in worn out stereotype form.

 Cloverfield: Paradox

WORST: Cloverfield: Paradox

Speaking of anthologies, I’m willing to bet some of you forgot we got another entry in the Cloverfield series this year, because I certainly did. It was originally called “God Particle” before the marketing suits at Netflix and Bad Robot found a clever way to salvage a mediocre film by mashing its square sci-fi peg into Cloverfield’s round hole.

Again, this is another movie I’m not sure earns the label of “worst.” It’s certainly got, uh, a buttload of problems, is that being generous enough? But for all its faults Cloverfield: Paradox was nothing if not interesting. Sure the sub-plot on earth barely connected to what was going on in space, and sure, nothing really made any sense at all at any time. But! This was exactly the kind of pseudo-science that fires off all the endorphins in my brain, it is somewhat redeemable for me.

Avengers: Infinity War

BEST: Avengers: Infinity War

This is the only superhero movie to crack my top five, and I can understand, given all the great superhero entries we got this year, the choice of Avengers may be a bit confusing to you.

It’s kind of confusing to me too.

Not that Avengers: Infinity War is a bad movie, by all accounts it is a perfectly consistent, competently made entry into the MCU. It does everything just as good as the last entry, and the entry after that. So why do I keep watching it? I’ve seen it four times already. Yes, it’s special because it’s the coalescence of 10 years of world building, but that in and of itself shouldn’t be enough to compel me to watch it over and over, should it?

I don’t know, friends, I just like it. You can argue Black Panther was more interesting and more ground breaking and you’d be 100% right, but I just like this one more.

Skyscraper

WORST: Skyscraper

Again, often the biggest sin a movie committed this year was being mediocre. Dwayne The Rock The Eyebrow The Johnson is a great action star, and I feel bad about putting his name under the banner of “worst”, but there were just too many better movies.

I had a reasonable amount of fun with Skyscraper, I got a tall building with death defying leaps. Promises kept. And hey, there was even a positive portrayal of an amputee! It’s amazing what can happen when Hollywood recognizes that anyone can be an action hero. Suddenly all sort of new avenues and spins on a worn out genre open up.

Skyscraper ended up collapsing under the weight of its dull characters, however. Some comedic punch-up could have done this movie wonders.

A Quiet Place

BEST: A Quiet Place

This is the kind of movie that gives you hope for the future of movies. A non-tentpole, micro budget (in Hollywood terms) genre flick resonated with audiences and collected over $300m worldwide. Sequels for A Quiet Place are sure to follow, which is great because in the modern era of film it seems so rare for a movie to come out of nowhere and become a franchise.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I often wonder when/if there will be another Star Wars, a movie with no pre-exsiting book or comic that powers itself to cultural touchstone status by the strength of its own awesomeness. I think the last franchise to do that was The Matrix. You can correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, A Quiet Place was great, even if some of the foreshadowing was so on the nose I felt like I got punched by it.

A Wrinkle in Time

WORST: A Wrinkle in Time

I know this pick will make some of you upset, but this was the one film I hated from start to finish this year. It’s a bummer, because I love Ava DuVernay – 13th was my top pick back in 2016 – but her foray into fantasy/sci-fi was a huge miss for me.

A Wrinkle in Time was aiming for cute and whimsical, but mostly felt weird and confusing. The special effect also left a lot on the table for a big budget film. Who turned into a bird, was in Oprah, Reese Whitherspoon or Mindy Kaling? I don’t remember, but whoever it was I’ve seen more convincing computer graphics in episodes of Reboot.

I distinctly remember feeling like I was getting whiplash from the editing as the world of Mrs. Whossits or whatever felt to me like it was coming at me too much too fast. I liked the subversion of expectations with Chris Pine’s character, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the film.

Of course, I recognize that, like Ghostbusters 2016, this movie wasn’t really made for me, a white male. I pride myself judging every film fairly, but I also acknowledge when my point of view may render my opinion obsolete.

Bad Times at the El Royal

BEST: Bad Times at the El Royal

Another small budget/big ideas movie, but unlike A Quiet Place this film was not a financial success. Bad Times at the El Royal turns in amazing performances from Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and newcomer Cynthia Erivo, and it’s a bummer nobody saw it.

In the age of tent-pole juggernauts, Bad Times is exactly the kind of movie that doesn’t get enough support from the studios anymore. No ‘splosions, no spandex, no marketing dollars I guess.

Find this gem on VOD and watch the crap out of it. It’s structure is fun, the twists and turns are great and it’s super pretty to look at.

Den of Thieves

WORST: Den of Thieves

The worst thing I watched this year was a movie I didn’t even finish.

Den of Thieves is absolute piss. Gerard Butler picks so many god awful projects I kind of wonder if it’s a game to him. His filmography over the last few years include London has Fallen, Gods of Egypt and Geostorm. As my wife, Erin, would say: what are you doing, Gerard Butler, what are you doing?

In Den of Thieves Gerard Butler plays the gruff, surly bad-boy cop who bends the law to gets things done. If you think that is an interesting refreshing angle for an action film, congratulations, you’re an idiot.

I was bored and already looking at my phone after a tepid opening action salvo. Then, about a third of the way through this turd, the unapologetic homophobia started and I was fucking done. I’ve got no time for a movie that amounts to a Men’s Rights wet dream. Piss off Butler.

Annihilation

BEST: Annihilation

Okay, whew, things got salty there for a second, luckily we’ve got one more film to talk about and it’s my favourite of the year.

I realize Annihilation isn’t for everyone. In the I Have Some Notes studio Colin argued that it was show worthy, which I promptly vetoed on account of my love for the film and Alex Garland. (Colin then vetoed my suggestion of Titanic, just to give you the inside baseball of the typical give and take that goes on while deciding what films to do for the show.)

Annihilation is just a beautiful film. If every frame in Buster Scruggs is a painting then every frame in Annihilation is a symphony.

The creature effects are just incredible. Garland and co. created the most genuinely unsettling monster I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. And the sound design! Just the monster roar alone is worthy of all the awards.

I suspect the ending turned a lot of folks off, it gets pretty existential. But if a no nonsense give-me-structure film fan like me was into it, you can be too.

And that’s all for another year. Let me know what your best and worsts were, you can also take a look at my full 2018 list below as well as Scott and Colin’s top films.

Gregg’s 2018 Movie Ranking

  1. Annihilation
  2. Bad Times at the El Royal
  3. A Quiet Place
  4. Avengers: Infinity War
  5. Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  6. Searching
  7. Ant-man and the Wasp
  8. Mission Impossible: Fallout
  9. Won’t You Be My Neighbour
  10. Sorry to Bother You
  11. Birdbox
  12. Black Panther
  13. The Endless
  14. You Were Never Really Here
  15. A Simple Favour
  16. Operation Finale
  17. Dumplin’
  18. Mandy
  19. Fahrenheit 11/9
  20. The Death of Stalin
  21. Ocean’s 8
  22. Dead Pool 2
  23. Pacific Rim: Uprising
  24. The Meg
  25. Venom
  26. The Commuter
  27. Game Night
  28. Tomb Raider
  29. Cloverfield: Paradox 
  30. Skyscraper
  31. A Wrinkle in Time
  32. Den of Thieves

Colin’s Top 5 Movies

  1. Avengers: Infinity War
  2. Mission Impossible: Fallout
  3. A Quiet Place
  4. Upgrade
  5. Black Panther

Scott’s 2018 Movie Rankings

  1. Annihilation
  2. Black Panther
  3. Hereditary
  4. Avengers: Infinity War
  5. A Futile and Stupid Gesture
  6. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  8. Mandy
  9. Christmas Chronicles
  10. The Meg
  11. The Cloverfield Paradox

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