As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time to look back at what was, on the whole, a very entertaining year for theatrical releases and streaming cinematic content. Some amazing films were released, as were some films that divided people on their opinions – and of course, there were a handful of movies that were displeasing to the vast majority.
For this year-end retrospective, we’ll focus mostly on popular movies that exist on the pop-culture spectrum: films that fall broadly into the science-fiction, horror, or fantasy realms. There was a slew of great non-fiction documentaries, dramatic films, and more that were released out there, so definitely take the time to seek these movies out as well, if you’re so inclined.
Instead of giving you a numbered list, I’ve broken the films out and given them each their own “Best Of” award, based on what I feel their significant highlight was. There are also “Honorable Mentions” for several of the categories, for other films I felt were strong contenders in that specific arena. If you have thoughts, opinions, etc., I’m always excited to engage in respectful conversation in the Comments section below. I hope you enjoy the list!
Best Glimmer of Hope for an Aging Franchise – ‘Bumblebee’
As I said in the opening line of my review of the film, “Let’s put it right out there: ‘Bumblebee’ is the best live-action ‘Transformers’ movie ever made.” I firmly stand by that assumption, and fans appear to agree: it sits at 93% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and features an “A-” on CinemaScore, so it’s clearly no slouch of a film.
‘Bumblebee’ is the first Transformers live-action film to not be directed by “explosion nut” Michael Bay, and that is clearly a good thing. This movie was originally designed to function as a prequel to the other 5 films, but now it appears that ‘Bumblebee’ will give the franchise something of a “soft reboot” and afford the opportunity to move things in a new direction – one that will likely align a bit more closely to the beloved cartoon series, much to fans’ appreciation.
As I said in my review: “The jokes, the visual montages, the set pieces, and wardrobe… it all just feels so earnest and pure, and because of that, it works. … [T]his is easily the most entertaining and coherent of the six live-action Transformers films, and it bodes well for the franchise to hopefully movie in a new and better direction from here.”
Honorable Mention: ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout‘
Best Chance to Derail an Existing Franchise – ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’
It wasn’t a bad movie, per se – it just felt like, after so much love and buildup had gone into the first four films, ‘Fallen Kingdom‘ felt so generic and cash-grab-ish, really. After ‘Jurassic World’ gave a promising and fresh start to the franchise (and heralded new stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard), ‘Fallen Kingdom’ really didn’t feel like it did anything new for the franchise – yes, I know there were new dinos and all that, but… meh.
Recent news has started to filter out about the next film even moving away from the premise that was established during ‘Fallen Kingdom’ that, to me, was the most intriguing: after four films, the dinos were finally brought to the mainland, and wouldn’t you know it, they got loose! This is the story I want to see now: these majestic beasts wreaking havoc in cities and rural areas across the country. But the creative team is looking to move the narrative forward with… something else? We’ll see how ‘Jurassic’ things stay at the box office moving forward.
Honorable Mention: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox‘
Best Live-Action Comic Book Movie – ‘Avengers: Infinity War’
I don’t think this one requires much explanation. As many great live-action comic adaptations hit the theaters this year, only one was the culmination of over a decade of hard work and a plethora of several film franchises coming together, like so much Japanese robot, to form a mega-film. We laughed, we cried, we gasped, we I-am-Groot-ed, and our attention was captivated literally for the rest of the year after the film’s April premiere. We’ll continue to wait with bated breath for another few months, but for 2018, the Avengers won (even if it seems like Thanos did).
Best “Comic Book” Comic Book Movie – ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’
There are movies inspired by comics books: live-action fare that have their characters and storylines lifted from their paper-drawn counterparts, although many aspects of the films’ plots and even the well-known characters themselves are altered to fit the needs of the “silver screen” and its style if visual presentation. On the other hand, you have movies inspired by comics books that feel like they are lifted directly from the pages of the books themselves and translated very literally into a “moving picture show” – usually animated films, due to the need to stay as close to the source material as possible.
No matter how you define it, audiences have had no shortage of comic-book-centric movies over the last few decades. In particular, the character of Spider-Man has been front-and-center in theaters, having a trilogy of Tobey Maguire-led films, two Andrew Garfield-fronted movies, and an MCU-adjacent Spider-Man played by Tom Holland in three films so far (with a fourth coming out next year) – all in the last 16 years!
So, the question stands, then: were movie-goers interested in yet another big-screen iteration of their friendly neighborhood web-slinger – an animated outing, at that? Fortunately, those who took the chance to head to the cineplex and watch ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse‘ were given an immensely rewarding experience, in what I feel confident in terming the most comic-book “comic-book movie” that I’ve ever seen.
This pop-culture savvy tale was crafted by co-writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and modeled after the “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Spider-Verse” comic book storylines pioneered by Brian Michael Bendis in the mid-2000s. The pacing is frenetic and the visuals are designed to look like a comic-book, replete with kitschy retro color-separated backgrounds and some of Miles’ thoughts and words visually presented in text boxes and the like.
Kudos to Sony and the creative team of the film, who absolutely go all-in on creating a fully-immersive multi-verse for their characters to play in. A movie like this could not have been created by a studio who did not have enough confidence in their team to let them come at a story like this at anything less than 100% – and the faith is absolutely founded, as ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ delivers on pure, unique entertainment from start to finish. It is one of the most original films of the year, and that’s a hard thing to accomplish when your main character has been covered cinematically for decades prior. I loved it, and if you’re looking for a singular experience in a “comic-book movie” that’s wildly different than what we’ve been given on screen for the last 20 years, I think you’ll love it too.
Honorable Mention: ‘Teen Titans Go to the Movies‘
Best Animated Film – ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’
See above. :)
Best Sci-Fi Movie – ‘Annihilation’
When it bounced around multiple release dates before finally falling on the schedule for a February 2018 theatrical release, the general assumption was that ‘Annihilation,’ the sci-fi film directed by Alex Garland and based on the Jeff Van Der Meer book of the same name, didn’t earn the confidence of distribution company Paramount of being a “good” film that would please audiences. Indeed, Paramount execs asked for the film’s tone to be made lighter and the ending to be changed, following a poor test screening, but producer Scott Rudin defended Garland and the film, and no changes were made. In response, Paramount elected to release the film theatrically only in the United States and Canada and struck a deal with Netflix to distribute the movie worldwide elsewhere.
‘Annihilation’ essentially broke even at the box office, making $42 million against a reported budget of $40 million – but the film received high praise from critics and audiences alike. Thank goodness for Rudin and his team to stay strong and defend Garland’s version of the film, as it created a unique film in its presentation: visually gorgeous, with a plot that felt both painfully simple and emotionally elaborate at the same time. The fact that the film version – particularly its conclusion – is so markedly different from the novel’s story is, I believe, a significant benefit.
Beautiful, haunting, complex, and open to interpretation. ‘Annihilation’ flew under several radars and, in my opinion, quietly became the best science-fiction film of 2018.
Best Sci-Fi Homage Movie – ‘Please Stand By’
Another film that, much like ‘Annihilation,’ flew largely under the radar (released in a very small theatrical run in January), ‘Please Stand By‘ is a fairly by-the-numbers “coming of age” type of tale, with two major twists: the main protagonist, Wendy (Dakota Fanning) is autistic; and both her journey and the plot revolve around Star Trek. Wendy, you see, has written some fan fiction that she plans on entering in Paramount’s contest for new writing submissions, but when a series of events unfold in her personal life that causes her to miss the submission deadline, Wendy decides to deliver her 400-plus page manuscript to Paramount and the Star Trek powers-that-be in person. Earnest, endearing, and loaded with Trek and pop-culture references, this film is great fun for any Trekkie to simply sit back and enjoy, with a lovely moral and message to boot.
Best “Unique Vision” Movie – ‘Welcome to Marwen’
‘Welcome to Marwen‘ is a challenging film to not only categorize, but also to describe. It’s definitely not a film that fits in a standard “box” – you can’t just say, “oh, it’s an action film,” or “it’s a film about mental health issues,” or “it’s a CGI fantasy tale,” because none of those descriptions, while all partially accurate, don’t paint even close to an accurate picture about what you get when you watch this film.
The film, based on a real-life story, follows one man’s journey of emotional and physical healing after being brutally attacked by a group of bigots. To cope, Mark Hogancamp trades in his career as a cartoonist for one of photography, capturing life-like dolls living their lives in the Belgian town of Marwen during World War II. The parallels between the Marwen activity (beautifully brought to life in action-movie style) and Mark’s feelings with how he is dealing with his feelings are altogether clear, touching, and insightful.
Due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, the film definitely is not easily categorized. People hoping for an “action film” and wanting only to see the Marwen-specific sequences will likely not enjoy the real-life plot of the film; likewise, folks who come looking for the standard human-nature focused kind of movie may be a bit jarred and confused by the WWII-era action so roundly displayed in the Marwen sequences. Through it all, though, the feeling is permeated that ‘Welcome to Marwen’ is a confident tale that works to blend multiple genres together in a way that no film has ever really attempted before. If you’re a viewer who can open your mind and freely experience a unique film that is equal parts moving, exciting, and sorrowful, then “Welcome to Marwen” should deliver as one of the most unique film-watching experiences of the year.
Honorable Mention: ‘Ready Player One‘
Best Horror Movie – ‘A Quiet Place’
You’ve got to admit: you didn’t see this one coming from the mind of Jim from ‘The Office.’ John Krasinski wrote the script and recruited his wife, Emily Blunt, to co-star with him in this tense thriller about a hostile, otherworldly force that wreaks havoc on the world’s population. The beings hunt by using sound, so only those that can remain absolutely quiet have a chance to survive. Early in the film, we see our protagonists’ family bear the brunt of the awful consequences of accidentally making a sound, any sound; the rest of the film is spent in tense moment after tense moment – both on-screen and for the viewer – until a wild climactic conclusion. Never before have I seen a movie so effectively dictate how much noise an audience in a theater could make, in fear of upsetting the balance of silence across the spectrum. Popcorn-munchers beware for the film’s impending sequel!
Honorable Mentions: ‘Hereditary,’ ‘Mandy’
Best Underrated Movie – ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’
It’s the end of the calendar year, it’s time for letting go of the past and admitting our mistakes, so it’s time to come out and say it: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story‘ was nowhere near as bad of a film as the masses made it out to be. (I mean, I’ve been saying that since ‘Solo’ was released, but I digress.) I mean, I completely understand; Star Wars fatigue is real, with Lord Disney shoveling a new theatrical film down our throats every year. ‘Solo’ came to the masses too hot on the heels of ‘Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,’ a film that, in my opinion, much more earned and deserved some of the critical dislike it earned from viewers.
Would ‘Solo’ have fared better with audiences had it released this Christmas season, instead of in May, a mere 5 months after ‘The Last Jedi?’ It’s pure speculation to say yes, of course – but the odds are indeed good, as several people have shared the sentiment in the last few weeks along the lines of “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without a Star Wars movie in theaters.”
So end your 2018 on a positive note: while thinking about all the great films of the year, take some of Master Yoda’s advice and let go of your unfounded anger towards ‘Solo,’ as this will ease your suffering. Go watch it again, enjoy a non-Skywalker-centric Star Wars film, as we did with the fabulous ‘Rogue One,’ and ring in the new year the right way. You’ll thank me in the morning, you scruffy-looking nerf herder.
Honorable Mention: ‘Mortal Engines‘