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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‘Love, Simon’ Digs Deep Enough Beneath the Surface

Love Simon movie poster

When it comes to teen movies, I live for those which take the adolescence seriously. Those years can be rough and tumble ones, filled of strong emotions which can overwhelm our small little worlds to an unbearable degree, and this is reflected in “The Breakfast Club,” “Pump Up the Volume” and “The Spectacular Now.” However, most teen movies deal with those years in a shallow manner to where they do nothing more than magnify the fears we have, or had, of being seen as unpopular or horribly isolated from our peers. Going into “Love, Simon,” which is based on the book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, I figured it would be one of the shallower motion pictures involving teen life as its poster features the cast in all their clear-skinned glory. Surely some of these stars had to deal with acne, right?

“Love, Simon” ends up falling into the middle space of realistic and shallow teen movies. Some parts of it feel forced to where they belong more in a network sitcom, but others strike at the truth of growing up in a way few other movies have recently. In fact, this may be the first movie in which we eagerly await to see two guys kiss. Many were revolted by such a sight in the past, but these days we accept it because love is far more an attractive thing than hate. Realizing this, it makes me believe we have evolved as a society even more than we already have.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is your average teenager who comes from a good home with loving parents and a sister who looks to become a world class chef in record time. He also has a great group of friends he can confide in any time, and this made me very envious of his life as it didn’t feel like I always had that when I was his age. But Simon does have a big secret, and he doesn’t need to spell it out for us. He is gay and has yet to tell his family and friends, and the only way he can discuss his sexual orientation dilemma is with his email pen pal who is also contemplating how he can come out to his own family and friends.

Right from the start, I realized “Love, Simon” is a groundbreaking movie as the filmmakers were not about to paint the majority of the characters in such broad or obvious strokes. I was constantly reminded of the scene from “Clueless” in which Murray tells Cher that the boy she wants to have sex with is in fact a “disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy.” While homosexuals might, and I strongly stress the word might, have been easier to spot in the past, such stereotypes we are now largely irrelevant as we have no business judging anyone as what we say about others speaks far more about who we are.

“Love, Simon” also takes place in a time where our lives have long since become dominated by social media and cell phones. In the past, we could leave our school lives behind once we went home, but kids today cannot do the same as their friends and enemies continue to exert a strong hold over them via the internet, and nobody these days can live without it let alone a cell phone.

Simon is able to keep his sexual orientation a secret even as he reaches out online to another young man who is considering coming out to his parents. Things, however, become complicated when the annoying class nerd, Martin Addison (Logan Miller), discovers Simon’s secret and threatens to blackmail him unless he can set him up with one of his very pretty friends, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). From there, Simon’s life heads into a spiral of sorts as he is forced to lie to his closest friends and comprise their relationships, all in an effort to keep his secret even more secret than ever before.

One of the key elements of “Love, Simon” is how our main protagonist is always trying to find out the true identity of his email pen-pal, Blue. The filmmakers tantalize us with the possibilities of it being this or that person, Director Greg Berlanti teases us with what could be obvious answers, but he instead invites us to see past what we thought we saw and see the bigger picture we have no business denying ourselves. Movies in the past have played on what we think homosexuals look, how they act and dress like, but this one makes how nothing is ever clear cut as it seems.

The only character who you could say exhibits such stereotypes is Ethan, an out-and-proud teenager played by Clark Moore. Ethan doesn’t try to hide who he really is from anyone, nor should he, but he does have a key scene with Simon where he explains how his coming out was not as easy as it seemed. In retrospect, I wished the filmmakers had dug a little deeper into Ethan’s character, but to their credit, they do give him some of the movie’s best one-liners (the “gangbanged by TJ Maxx” line is classic).

I also really enjoyed the camaraderie Simon has with his best friends played by Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Miles Heizer, and Katherine Langford, whose character fares much better here than the one she played on “13 Reasons Why.” Seeing these friends have a great time with one another reminded me of the friendships I had during my high school years. It’s those friendships who help us get through the worst of times, and being a teenager can really suck more often than not. When Simon’s friendships become threatened, it’s painful to watch because losing a friend can seem so infinitely painful to where the heartache seems impossible to cure.

As for the character of Martin, he reminds of the kind of guy I never wanted to be seen as in high school. You know, the guy completely unaware of how annoying he is to others and who thinks so highly of himself that he cannot see the truth of what’s going on around him. The scene where he professes his affection to Abby at a football game is one of those horrifically cringe-inducing moments we all hope and pray never to get caught in, and Miller sells the moment for all the humiliation it is worth.

Simon’s parents are played wonderfully by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, and they present the typical loving couple and parents we always hope to see in movies like these. Garner in particular has a wonderful scene with Robinson as she professes how proud she is of him for coming out. Duhamel, however, has a scene with Robinson where he accepts his son for who he is, and it feels like laughable for reasons I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t intend. Still, it’s fun to see Duhamel come to see how the music he loved in the past is no longer cool.

“Love, Simon” also features a pair of sublime supporting performances from Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell, both who look like they are having the time of their lives. Hale plays Mr. Worth, the high school’s vice-principal who tries much too hard to fit in with a youthful demographic who will never see him as cool, especially when he is so busy taking away their cell phones at any given opportunity.

As for Rothwell, she plays Ms. Albright, the school’s drama teacher who is directing a production of the musical “Cabaret.” Her reactions to her students’ talent, or lack thereof, are priceless as she wonders how she went from doing “The Lion King” on Broadway to ending up here. Just watch Rothwell as she reprimands a pair of immature students who make fun of others for being different. The way she handles them could have been cliched, but it leads to one of the biggest laughs “Love, Simon” has in store for its audience.

In some ways I wish “Love, Simon” had dug even deeper into its subject manner. Many scenes ring true in the ways teenager act and live their lives, but it only gives so far beneath the surface of things to where this comes close to seeming like a missed opportunity. All the same, to have a movie like this one which the life of an adolescent seriously is always a wonderful gift, and this one definitely qualifies.

In the past, gay-themed or LGBT movies were treated with latex gloves as studios feared general audiences would not be quick to accept homosexuals in love. But with movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Kids Are All Right,” we were not given gay love stories, but love stories as passionate as any we had ever watched before. The audience I saw “Love, Simon” with cheered loudly at the sight of two boys kissing each other, and I like to think this shows how far we have come in accepting things which never should have been quicker to accept in the past. Besides, we should agree seeing two boys kiss is a far more pleasing sight than seeing teenagers gunned down by a madman with an assault weapon, wouldn’t you say?

* * * out of * * * *