The Fast and Fentress Best of 2018

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Hey everyone, I know it’s been a while, but somehow Fast and Fentress returned.  Once I’ve caught up on my Best and Worst Of lists for 2018 and 2019, I’ll resume my regular reviews.  In the immortal words of Randy Quaid, “I’M BAAAAACK!”  Now, please enjoy this look back at my favorite films of 2018.

10. Upgrade

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This efficient blend of sci-fi, action, and body-horror is a treat for genre lovers.  Bolstered by Leigh Wanell’s imaginative direction and a charismatic lead performance from The Invitation’s Logan Marshall Green, Upgrade gives us a dark, believable vision of the future with a good old-fashioned revenge story at its center.  It’s not the most original movie on this list, but its pacey, unpredictable script and pulse-pounding action sequences make it well-worth your time.

9. Eighth Grade

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A supremely honest, supremely uncomfortable look at the tortures of adolescence, Eighth Grade is destined to become a coming-of-age classic.  Read my review for more.

8. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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It’s rare enough for the sixth movie in a series to be any good, but it’s practically unheard of for it to be the second-best in the franchise.  Yet here we are with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which proves that the long-running series has plenty of gas left in the tank.  A low art piece with sky-high ambition, it sees super-agent Ethan Hunt on yet another adventure, this time to prevent a devastating terrorist attack.  What results is an expertly crafted cocktail of twisty intrigue and mind-blowing set-pieces, with franchise newcomer Henry Cavill the movie’s ace in the hole.  His August Walker makes for a first-class heavy, and his final cliffside brawl with Hunt is one for the books.  But once again, the key to all of this is Tom Cruise; an actor who doesn’t know the meaning of “phoning it in.”

7. A Star is Born

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Writer-director-star Bradley Cooper takes a shot at this evergreen, ever-remade Hollywood myth for a new generation, to impressive results.  The rise-and-fall story is, by necessity, familiar, but an assured script and captivating performances make it more than worthwhile.  As burnt-out country star Jackson Maine, Cooper is a capable singer, and Lady Gaga is a revelation as rising star Ally.  The movie captures the highs and lows of their relationship against the sometimes glamorous, sometimes seedy backdrop of the music industry.  A dramatically satisfying fusion of the old and new, A Star is Born shows that there’s still more-than-enough life left in this classic story.

6. First Reformed

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Paul Schrader’s dark tale of an isolated, alcoholic priest embracing radicalism is one of the year’s most original movies.  After an intense debate with a parishioner who has grown infatuated with environmental extremism, the struggling Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) begins to be seduced by the cause himself.  This admirably ambitious movie tackles everything from religious corruption to man’s purpose in the world, and Schrader’s writing is strong enough to justify such hefty themes.  Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, has never been better, playing intriguingly against type as the righteous, tortured Reverend Toller.

5. Hereditary

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It’s not quite the all-timer some are making it out to be, but Hereditary is an excellent horror movie nonetheless.  Toni Collette, utterly robbed of an Oscar nomination, gives a harrowing performance as Annie, an artist and mother forced to deal with an unspeakable tragedy as well as malevolent spirits.  Though its supernatural elements are plenty creepy, what sets Hereditary apart is its willingness go to bleak, taboo places that are both unimaginable and terrifyingly real.  It falters a bit in its ending, but it’s one of the few truly haunting horror movies in years.

4. The House That Jack Built

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Shock auteur Lars Von Trier directs this twisted art piece, which peppers its unspeakable murder scenes with bits of sick humor.  Naturally, I loved it.  Read my review for more.

3. Vox Lux

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In the wake of a devastating school shooting in 2000, shy teenage survivor Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and her sister compose a tribute song and Celeste performs it at a vigil for the victims, catching the eye of music industry higher-ups.  The next thing she knows, Celeste is being whisked to meetings with agents and executives, all under the watch of her new cutthroat manager (Jude Law, terrific).  From there her journey to pop stardom begins in earnest, complete with professional recording sessions and music video shoots.

After this extended first act, the movie jumps to present day, where 31-year-old Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) is a worldwide superstar wholly corrupted by her fame and fortune.  Selfish and insensitive to a fault, she ignores her teenage daughter and insults her hardworking sister.  Portman’s fearless, compelling, and caustically funny performance brings enough depth to the role for Celeste to register as far more than a spoiled-star archetype; we see her as both a tragic victim of circumstance and reprehensible human being.

Though it satirizes the business behind it, Vox Lux understands and embraces the seductive, sensory allure of pop music.  Its Sia-penned soundtrack has a handful of songs that are great in their own right, bolstered by Portman’s impressive vocals.  Unsurprisingly, Vox Lux soars in its extravagant concert finale, a fittingly hypnotic and darkly tinged climax to its mesmerizing story.

2. Thoroughbreds

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This taut, razor-sharp black comedy boasts two riveting performances at its center, along with a beautifully chilly aesthetic and crackling dialogue.  Read my review for more.

1. Annihilation

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Seamlessly mixing chilling horror, sci-fi spectacle, and philosophical food for thought, Alex Garland gives us one of his best movies yet, complete with a typically flawless lead turn from Natalie Portman.  Read my review for more.

 

Honorable Mentions

Aquaman:  It’s impossible to resist this over-the-top take on DC’s silliest superhero.  Read my review for more.

Den of Thieves:  What this heist thriller lacks in originality, it makes up for in charismatic performances and edge-of-your-seat action.

Unsane:  This nightmarish story of wrongful imprisonment in a mental hospital loses the plot in its last reel, but ultimately succeeds as a queasily effective bad trip.

You Were Never Really Here:  Joaquin Phoenix shines in this hallucinogenic, brutal thriller, but the movie is prone to drowning in its own style.

Mom and Dad:  This breezy, silly horror-comedy boasts stylish direction, over-the-top thrills, and go-for-broke performances from Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair.  Read my review for more.

Bad Samaritan:  Two petty thieves run afoul of a serial killer in this dark, twisty thriller.  Though built on familiar territory, Bad Samaritan is clever and unpredictable enough to give its cat-and mouse story a fresh edge.

Gemini:  This modern Hollywood noire has atmosphere to spare, along with strong lead work from Lola Kirke a compelling mystery at its center.

Leave No Trace:  Ben Foster gives a soulful lead performance in this quiet, thoughtful drama about a father and daughter living off the grid in the Oregon wilderness.

First Man:  Though Damien Chazelle’s direction can feel a little removed at times, First Man is worth seeing for its white-knuckle spaceflight sequences and Ryan Gosling’s absorbingly understated work in the title role.

Overlord:  This B-Horror throwback gives genre fans what they want, but it’s probably too unoriginal to attain any cult status of its own.  See my review for more.

The Favourite:  Yorgos Lanthimos’s offbeat period comedy is fresh and original, with stellar turns from its three leads; but it stumbles in its third act.

Bumblebee:  A surprisingly effective throwback to ’80s movies like E.T. and Short Circuit, Bumblebee benefits from a charmingly innocent sensibility, as well as Hailee Steinfeld’s winning performance.

Mandy:  This psychedelic horror film has plenty to offer for fans of Nicolas Cage, but it’s too indulgent for its own good.

There you have it!  Let me know what you thought of my rankings in your comments, and stay tuned for my Worst of 2018 – coming soon.

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