Tony Farinella’s Top 10 Movies of 2018

2018 was not a great year for cinema, but the films that were good were really good.  The year started out strong, it died out in the middle, and finished good but not good enough.

Honorable Mentions for Really Good Movies:

“Game Night,” “Blockers,” “Assassination Nation,” “Paterno,” “Halloween,” “Never Goin’ Back,” “Creed 2,” “Widows,” “The Hate U Give,” “Three Identical Strangers,” “The Wife,” “What They Had,” “All the Money in the World,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “Fahrenheit 11/9” and “Upgrade.”

Love Simon movie poster

10) “Love, Simon”

This flick came out in March, and it is truly a film which needed to be made.  It was directed incredibly well by Greg Berlanti.  Here is the thing about films which deal with someone being gay and not being sure how to tell their friends and family: these are stories that help others feel more comfortable about coming out. This film was funny, touching and incredibly moving.  The lead, Nick Robinson, shows the audience all of Simon’s conflicting emotions from coming out to his parents, played by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner, as well as his group of friends. Katherine Langford from “13 Reasons Why” is terrific as his best friend, and Tony Hale is also great as the vice principal of the school.  The film deals with the subject in a sensitive but profound way.  At the end of the day, it is a love story filled with a big heart and a lot of humor.  If you missed it back in March 2018, now is the time to see it.

Click here to check out The Ultimate Rabbit’s review of “Love, Simon.”

 

A Quiet Place movie poster

9) “A Quiet Place”

As someone who tries to attend the cinema as often as possible, I know how hard it is to get an audience to keep quiet.  While watching this movie in a packed theater, it was total and complete silence.  It was a truly surreal and great moviegoing experience.   This was an April release and it did well at the box office and with critics.  It stars John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a family that must survive during a time where, if there is any noise, monsters will appear and attack and kill you. Krasinski is also behind the camera on this one, and he shows some real talent as a filmmaker.  When the stakes are so high and no one can talk or make any noise, the tension is unnerving and unsettling in the best possible way.  The film also features two great performances from the two children: Millicent Simmonds (hearing impaired in real life) and Noah Jupe. It was great casting to find a young actress who was really deaf as it lends to the film’s authenticity.

Wont You Be My Neighbor poster

8) “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

How in the world did this film get overlooked at the Oscars? How did it not even get a nomination?  This is something which will puzzle and bother me for quite a while.  This is a tremendous documentary and a great film.  Everyone remembers Mr. Rogers, and this film shows the impact he had on children and the world.  It also dives into other aspects of his life and leaves no stone unturned.  It is the kind of movie which makes you feel good, and we need more movies like it during these trying times.  Mr. Rogers was a special person, and this is a special film.  As the tagline on the poster says, “A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way.”  It will take you back to when you were a kid and grew up watching and responding to him.  He was never afraid to tackle tough subjects in a profound and thoughtful way, and his impact will forever be felt.

Click here to check out The Ultimate Rabbit’s review of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

BlackkKlansman movie poster

7) “BlacKkKlansman”

Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is a mind-blowing film which shows how Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was able to be part of the Ku Klux Klan as a black man with the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), his partner.   Stallworth does all of the voice work over the phone to convince David Duke (Topher Grace) he’s really white while Flip shows up to various meetings.  The usual Spike Lee humor is infused in the script as well, and it works because he is still taking the subject matter seriously.  Racism is still very much alive today, as they show this in the end credits, but Lee makes an entertaining true story come to life here.  Washington keeps proving he is an actor and not just Denzel’s son.  This is tough material, no question about it, but Lee has never been afraid to go there.  You have to go there in order for real change to occur.

Click here to check out The Ultimate Rabbit’s review of “BlacKkKlansman.”

Eighth Grade movie poster

6) “Eighth Grade”

Bo Burnham’s directorial debut took the world by storm in the summer of 2018.  My wife and I went out of our way to see it.  We have always been big supporters of independent cinema, and we were glad to see it and more than happy to make the drive.  Burnham is very much in touch with social media, and even though he is not a girl in eighth grade, he taps into what it feels like to be in that mindset and how terrifying it can feel.  It feels like the end of the world and all of this pressure is mounting on you. Elsie Fisher is the star of the show, and she’s so likable, funny and interesting, even though she does not see it.  In interviews, Burnham talked about how she was a shy girl trying to be confident in auditions, and this is exactly what he was looking for as everyone else was a confident girl trying to act shy.  The best scenes in the film are the ones with her and her father, played by Josh Hamilton. It is a great movie which more people need to discover now that it’s out on Blu-ray.

Click here to check out The Ultimate Rabbit’s review of “Eighth Grade.

Boy Erased movie poster

5) “Boy Erased”

The LGBTQ community got another great film in “Boy Erased.”  This was a November release which sadly did not perform well at the box office.  It was written and directed by Joel Edgerton and adapted from the novel by Garrard Conley. The film deals with something called conversation therapy.  Those who perform this therapy believe they can turn someone who is homosexual into a straight man or woman.  Edgerton also plays the leader of this program, and he has some unusual methods to say the least. Lucas Hedges tells the story of Garrard Conley, although his character’s name in the film is Jared Eamons.  His parents are played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, and this is shockingly their first time working together.  Things are complicated because Jared’s father is a pastor, and his father believes this is the best way to handle this situation. The mother is not really on board with it, but she is sticking by her husband even though you sense her regret.  It is a haunting, scary and emotional film which deserves to be seen.  People are unaware places like these still exist in so many states. The only way they will not exist is if people pay attention and do something.  It is an eye-opening film which was criminally overlooked by moviegoers. Just because a film deals with tough subject matter, it does not mean audiences should not view it.  Film can educate and inform us.

First Reformed movie poster

4) “First Reformed”

Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” is yet another great movie which audiences decided to turn away from at the box office.  I understand people enjoy their Marvel movies and their popcorn entertainment, but there are films which can create discussion.  That, to me, is the power of cinema.  The always terrific Ethan Hawke is a pastor named Toller at the First Reformed church.  One day, Mary (Amanda Seyfried) comes to his church and asks him to help out her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) who is worried about the state of the world, the planet and what we are doing to it.  Her husband wants to do something about it, has been arrested and he feels people are turning a blind eye to these major issues going on in the world.  Toller starts to believe in a lot of what he is being told by Michael and even questions his own faith and his church.  He has health problems and is not happy with how things are being run over at Abundant Life, which is part of First Reformed, by Jeffers (Cedric Kyles, a.k.a. Cedric the Entertainer ).  He is journaling everything and trying to process his feelings.  Toller also has some issues from his past which he has never gotten over as well.  This is an impactful movie which left me speechless.  It is a must-see.

Click here to check out The Ultimate Rabbit’s review of “First Reformed.”

Blindspotting movie poster

3) “Blindspotting”

Another overlooked critical darling is “Blindspotting” which was written by long-time friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Diggs plays Collin, a black man on parole trying to finish it out without any incidents.  This is incredibly difficult due to his friendship with Miles (Casal), a white-man living in Oakland who is always trying to act tough and intimidate people to get respect. Collin is just trying to keep to himself and do his job so he can be free from probation, but he’s finding this hard to do when he sees a young black man killed by a police officer.  He wants to say something, but he is worried about how it will impact his parole.  “Blindspotting” is a term where people look at something and they only see one thing and are missing another piece of the picture.  The chemistry between Diggs and Casal is totally natural, as to be expected, and they have a lot of humorous moments together.   That is the beauty of “Blindspotting,” and there are similar films talking about these things happening in the world right now. You can show the ugly side and bring it to people’s attention, but you can also have some humor in there as well.  It does not have to be all gloom and doom.  There is a lot of terrific music in the film and a lot of it is free style rapping which pertains to the plot.  As Collin says, “You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town.”

Green Book movie poster

2) “Green Book”

This is more than your average road trip buddy movie between two unlikely friends. Mahershala Ali plays Dr. Don Shirley, a famous pianist who needs a driver to take him through the south. Tony Lip, played by Viggo Mortensen, needs some money and ends up taking the job as his driver.  Tony is not necessarily racist, but he does offer fried chicken to Don Shirley, as I imagine he is more ignorant than anything else.  Tony sees how white men are treating Mr. Shirley and is not happy about it.  He forms a kinship with him, especially after Shirley helps Tony write love letters to his wife, played by Linda Cardellini.  It is based on a true story, and the two leads knock it out of the park.  I have to give a slight edge to Mortensen’s performance, but that is only because he has the juicer lines and more material to work with compared to Ali.  Make no mistake about it, though, Ali is superb in this movie and he knows when to pick his scenes to knock it out of the park.  This is a moving picture which deals with race in a thoughtful and heartfelt way, and it doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff either.

A Star is Born movie poster

1) “A Star is Born”

If you are surprised by this selection, you have not heard me rave about this movie since I first watched it with my wife on opening night back in October. Bradley Cooper is a great director and he should have been given a nomination for Best Director.  I hope Lady Gaga wins Best Actress over Glenn Close.  This movie is about mental illness, fame, believing in yourself, putting yourself out there and so much more. Cooper is believable as a singer and Lady Gaga is believable as an actress.  The two have chemistry for days.  It’s a heartbreaking film which truly earns every tear from the audience.  The music is catchy, and it has a great soundtrack as well.  This is why I go to the movies and, as I said in my review, no film has affected me as much as since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby.”  This is the best film of 2018, hands down.  If you don’t cry during it, you are made of stone.

Click here to check out Tony Farinella’s review of “A Star is Born.”

 

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The Hollars

The Hollars poster

The Hollars” is a movie I really wanted to like. It is a very earnest story featuring a family meant to mirror our own, but the movie doesn’t take long to become painfully earnest as it veers from sitcom-like humor to somber drama with real uneasiness. John Krasinski not only stars in “The Hollars,” he also directed it, and while he is aiming for the heights of “Terms of Endearment,” he instead gives us a film which is very uneven and not as satisfying as he wants it to be.

It’s another day in the Hollar household as Jason (Sharlto Copley) finds the bathrooms occupied by his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) and his dad Don (Richard Jenkins) to where he literally has to find a pot to piss in. But Sally suddenly falls down and (yes, I’m going to say it) can’t get up, and both men realize she is not suffering from the common cold. When Sally is diagnosed with a brain tumor, her other son, John (John Krasinski), comes straight from New York City to be by her bedside. Of course, John has problems of his own as he struggles to get his career as a graphic artist off the ground while working a job he is not at all enthused about, and his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), is expecting their first child. Suffice to say, the Hollar family has a number of problems to deal with, and those problems are only going to get worse before they can possibly get better.

Now “The Hollars” gets off to a good start with a scene which is both comical and dramatic as Don and Jason discover Sally lying immobile on the bathroom floor, and what at first looks like a joke turns into something very serious. The look on Jenkins’ face is unforgettable as Don slowly realizes he may be on the verge of losing his beloved wife. Till death us do part is always part of those marriage vows, but we are never prepared to deal with death when it comes knocking at the door.

But when John arrives at the hospital and reunites with his family, everything suddenly descends into what feels like a sitcom, and the laughs feel as forced as Don’s crying. Jenkins has been and always been a great character actor, but seeing him essentially emote here feels criminal. No one should ever make Jenkins emote, ever!

From there, “The Hollars” introduces characters who appear to come from different universes, and when they collide everything feels off. Their acting styles don’t mesh well with one another, and it feels like they belong in different movies. Charlie Day co-stars as Jason, a hospital nurse married to John’s ex-girlfriend, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, completely wasted in a frivolous role), and his performance is so broad to where I couldn’t wait for him to get off the screen. Even more disappointing is Sharlto Copley whose crazed energy which served him so well in “District 9,” “Elysium” and “The A-Team” movie is misplaced here as his character comes off as a stubborn jerk. His character should be empathetic, but Copley is unable to render him as such.

“The Hollars” works best when it grounds its characters in a reality we understand. As an actor, Krasinski has some nice moments, especially when he relives a childhood memory of swinging on a tire by the river. Singer Josh Groban is surprisingly good as a local preacher and succeeds in making him the most level-headed character to be found in this movie. And Anna Kendrick shows up in a few scenes and proves to be as delightful a presence as always.

But if there is anything which makes “The Hollars” worth the price of admission, it is Margo Martindale. She has long since proven herself to be one of the best actors working today as she can take the smallest moment in a play, television show or movie and make it completely unforgettable. Throughout this movie she works wonders as Sally faces an end no one is ever fully prepared for, and her performance is piercing in its emotional honesty. Just watch her as she talks about the time she visited the Fox Theater; she renders this moment so vividly that it’s as if she is painting with words instead of brushes.

Coming out of “The Hollars,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Krasinski. This is clearly a project he put his heart and soul into, but he is unable to balance out the comedic and dramatic elements in the story. Making a movie like this is very tricky because all the characters need to be on the same plain of existence, and he’s unable to accomplish that. More often than not, the movie veers over to the comedic side but the laughs don’t come when you want them to. When it veers to the dramatic, scenes end up feeling emotionally forced which just torpedoes the impact Krasinski hoped it would have.

Still, “The Hollars” is not a complete loss as there are things audiences will be drawn to, and those who have been in situations like this family are more than likely to be moved by what they see. And for all its flaws, this movie does have something in it which is truly great: Margo Martindale’s performance.

Seriously, better luck next time Krasinski. I’ll be rooting for you.

* * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

 

Margo Martindale and John Krasinki Discuss an Unforgettable Scene in ‘The Hollars’

The Hollars poster

We all know John Krasinski from his role as Jim Halpert on the American version of “The Office” as well as in movies like “Away We Go” and “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Now he steps behind the camera to direct his first film since “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” and it is called “The Hollars.” In addition to directing and producing this film, Krasinski also stars as John Hollar, a struggling New York City graphic novelist who ends up returning home upon learning his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) has a brain tumor. Once he arrives, John is forced to deal with his past which he has yet to put behind him as well as the possibility that his mother may not be around for much longer.

Both Krasinski and Martindale stopped by the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California to talk about their experiences making “The Hollars.” Martindale showed up first and remarked how she had been travelling to a lot of different places recently. Among those places was San Francisco, and she was stunned to see so many people there wearing jeans and jackets during the summer season. I quickly told her of a quote I heard from the movie “48 Hours:”

“The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

Suffice to say, she and everyone else got a big kick out of that quote.

Once Krasinski came and joined Martindale, the press conference was underway and I asked them both about a specific scene where Martindale ends up acting a monologue (you’ll know it when you see it) which she renders in an amazingly vivid fashion. I asked her how she prepared to deliver this monologue, and her answer revealed there was more to what we saw and the movie’s screenplay written by James C. Strouse.

Margo Martindale: I learned it (laughs), and then I let it happen, and John (Krasinski) wrote it.

John Krasinski: Yeah, it was one of the only scenes that I actually wrote into the script because it was based on an experience that my dad had talked about, so it was bringing a personal spin to it. I talked to Margo about it, and it was just a really special thing to put in there. One of the things I hope for this movie is that you connect to this movie because it relates to your own family, and that the people in the movie stop being family in the movie and starts to become a projection of your own family. So I think innately we put a lot of different stuff from our own families into this movie, and so that was a particular thing I put in.

MM: It’s a beautifully written monologue, and I think probably that you gave me more and more direction on that…

JK: Yes.

MM: Because I needed to know where you wanted it to land and where I was coming from and why was I saying this. So we talked a lot about it, John and I, and I think I probably did that more than any… I don’t know.

JK: I think you did. It was a pretty new addition to the script, so Margo was very good to ask where it was coming from because she knew it was personal.

Please believe me when I say Margo Martindale’s performance is worth the price of admission to see “The Hollars” when it arrives in theaters on August 26.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.