Nick Perry is part of the Film Flam team at Boston Hassle. Follow him on Twitter for a deeper peek into his neuroses.
1) Paddington 2 and The Rider
This was an especially good year for movies, regardless of the Vaseline-on-toast noms we’ve seen thus far. And although I could fill a top ten list of, I’ve really only thought about two movies the entire year—Paddington 2 and The Rider.
They seem different in both story and form, although both feature the journeys of young men attempting to reforge their lives in the wake of significant change; similarly, these movies’ final shots parallel each other. One is about an immigrant bear living in London trying to find the perfect gift for his aunt, and the other is about a rodeo star in a Dakota prairie attempting to move on from the traumatic injury that halted his career.
I’ll leave it to you to guess which is which.
With The Rider, Chloé Zhao’s brilliant direction shifts from expansive South Dakota landscapes to intimate close ups, imbuing mood and feeling into every scene. For this is a movie full of feeling, of depth, of a wide range of human emotion from rage to sorrow to something not quite joy but more like comfort, like home, like family. The performances from the entire cast, anchored by breakout Brady Jandreau, are just so damn good. I wish I had a more eloquent turn of phrase to describe the cast in this movie but I don’t: they’re just so damn extraordinary. There is nuance in every line and every gesture, something so painfully real watching these performers play versions of themselves in a movie that mirrors their real-life story– for The Rider is a sort of docudrama based on real events, featuring the people who lived through those events. It’s therapeutic in that way, becoming medicine for both cast and audience.
Paul King, for Paddington 2, leans more heavily into a whimsical, fantastic approach—what else can one do with a talking bear? It’s a movie of technical excellence, full of sleek, charming design and emotive camera movement. Paul King elevates the form he used in Paddington, candy color and Wes Anderson affects, crafting his own unique vision that breaks the mold of what we’ve seen before. There’s something musical to Paddington 2, a rhythm and energy in its editing, a pacing that electrifies and soothes you, in turn. The cast, too, is perfection, bouncing off of each other with an ease that brings you in like family, all led by Ben Whishaw, who captivates with charm and gravitas. It feels like such a simple story for children, about a bear who teaches politeness and niceness. Yet, there is something revolutionary in Paddington’s message, particularly in a Brexit/Trumpian world. Paul King’s story is almost necessarily tethered to the politics of our day and age, and he takes this children’s story of a talking bear and crafts a deeply political story of a refugee who found a better life in London, only for folks to try to take it all away because of who he is and where he comes from. It’s a movie on the strength of community, of family, and ultimately, of love. In Paddington’s London, grace and goodness are revolutionary and transformative—a type of power that can change the world for the better, if only we let it.
Both are special in ways that no other movies this year feel, and both will probably end up in my best of the decade. They are necessary and relevant yet timeless pieces of cinema—testaments to the medium and to the craft. They both capture what makes a great movie: a combination of an impeccable cast who understands the material, direction that matches and elevates the mood of the story, camerawork that is exciting but not overwhelming, etc.
Moreso, both speak to something larger without ever having to directly comment on it. They’re movies that could have been preachy or saccharine or overly dramatic, but instead, they’re subtle, they’re quiet, they’re touching. They surprise in a way few movies do these days. Ultimately, they are movies full of community and empathy, something we all could use a little more of.
2) Yalitza Aparicio
Roma is a flawless, perfect, moving movie, and Alfonso Cuarón is a living master of the form. He sculpts light and sound in a way that makes them feel like mediums we can shape with our hands. But Roma would not have felt nearly as full of depth without Yalitza Aparicio. She is the movie’s life, heart, and soul. Aparicio carves out a sense of honest intensity in Cuarón’s trip down memory lane, bringing humanity into the lush, dreamy realism of the movie. Without her, the movie would have been a self-indulgent look at a rich kid realizing his nanny is a person. Despite the dearth of nominations and awards, Yalitza Aparicio is in a class all her own this year—one of extraordinary skill and talent.
3) Regina Hall
Perfection. Regina Hall is perfection in Support the Girls. It’s wild how good of an actress Hall is, in everything she does, and how, seemingly without challenge, she can do very quiet or extremely broad (most memorable performer of the Scary Movie series). In every scene in Support the Girls, there is a deftness to her reactions on the day her character’s daily struggles finally get the best of her, and the pieces collapse spectacularly. You watch Hall slowly crack throughout the movie, until her character isn’t so much broken as rebuilt anew, rebuilt necessarily for another day and another problem. Hall can do anything and more.
4) Brian Tyree Henry
Brian Tyree Henry delivered a trio of wildly different performances this year, and performed each of them impeccably. He’s a malevolent gangster in Widows, a somber friend in If Beale Street Could Talk, and a loving father in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The term versatile isn’t enough to describe Henry, who moves between roles as if he’s doing something as simple as changing shoes. This was Henry’s year, and it’s a shame he probably won’t get any love come awards time, particularly for his performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. His monologue about the trauma of prison is emotional and horrifying. It’s his delivery and performance, but more importantly, it’s the spaces he leaves for us to fill in—the silences filled only by the sorrow in his eyes.
Also, forgive me if I cheat or bore by talking about television in a movie article (I know, I know, I watch TV, roast me), but he was extraordinary in Atlanta: Robbin’ Season. It was next-level acting, and he managed to stand out in a cast full of greats.
5) The Rom-Com is Dead, Long Live the Rom-Com
The rom-com is back and doing things our rom-com ancestors never even dreamed of. I don’t think we’ve had this good a rom-com year since Meg Ryan, lord and savior, was meet-cuting Tom Hanks via radio, computer, or volcano. Likewise, it seems Hollywood is taking notice at our collective anger over the rom-com drought we’ve been struggling through—and that most minority communities have only ever known.
Some of my favorites this year were Love, Simon, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Crazy Rich Asians, Set It Up, and Dumplin’ (which is kind of a self-love rom-com, but my oh my Bo … *swoon*). These were movies that didn’t seem to hate the genre they were in, but instead leaned into the rom-com cliches we know and love in surprising ways. Hopefully, studios also realized that rom-coms are most successful when they celebrate love for everyone.
6) Suspiria’s Climax
Admittedly, Suspiria is not for everyone. It’s long and pretentious, and Luca Guadagnino, god bless him, is a self-indulgent director. But I genuinely loved Suspiria. Whereas Argento assaulted the senses in the original, finding beauty in excess, Guadagnino applies his clinically arthouse eye and finds something excessive in restraint. You’re almost tricked into a sense of safety, surrounded by lush and artfully done horror.
But then the climax happens.
The sequence is nothing but sight and sound and blood and hair and confusion and poetry and oh so much decadence. I sat for the full thirty minutes of the final, bloody dance number with my mouth fully open. It was art house, it was camp, it was Tilda seemingly never being told no. It’s Argento by way of quaaludes, and it’s entirely Guadagnino.
7) Women in Perfectly Tailored Suits
Need I say more?
8) The Freshman Class
This was the year of the breakout performance, and I look forward to watching them for years to come.
- Yalitza Aparicio, ’nuff said.
- Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade made me apologize to my mom.
- Lana Condor knew there was an undercurrent of sadness and loss to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but never veered into the maudlin.
- Kiki Layne demanded your attention in If Beale Street Could Talk with a character that was gentle and quiet.
- Millicent Simmonds was the best part of A Quiet Place, and her more-famous co-star has the supporting SAG nomination that should be hers.
- It’s absolutely bonkers that this was the first movie for most of the cast of The Rider, which speaks just as much to their own talent as it does their director’s. Particularly, lead Brady Jandreau stands out, and his lived experience of the story being told never gets lost behind the lens.
- And of course, Stefani Germanotta in A Star is Born, who truly understands that acting is reacting.
9) Widows‘s Sauna Scene
The drama! The energy! The line delivery! Some of my favorite actresses in the business just interacting. I wish this scene was 30 minutes longer if not the whole movie just so I could sit in the steamy atmosphere of it all.
MoviePass scammed venture capitalists out of millions of dollars just so I could see as many movies as I want. In the process, they upended the movie theater industry and brought us all along on a wild ride of drama, emotion, and corporate intrigue. Despite having to cancel it when it became worthless to me, I will always remember 2018, the year of MoviePass.
Will we ever have this type of movie-related excitement for $10 a month ever again?
11) Leave It in 2018
Either say you made a horror movie or say nothing at all. I understand it from marketers, but filmmakers and film critics had an extraordinarily hard time calling things horror this year, as if it’s a dirty word or a detriment to your “prestigious” movie. Similarly, it speaks to an ignorance of the genre and of genre in general. Horror isn’t necessarily what scares you! It’s tropes, it’s cliches, it’s mood and atmosphere. It’s so many things, and if you can’t appreciate it then don’t make a horror movie that will probably bomb because you were too busy throwing around “drama” and “thriller.”
12) Leave It in 2018: Here We Go Again
Stop letting Gary Ross out of his lane, since all he seems to do with an incredible cast and a good script is attempt to squeeze the life and energy out of them. Justice for Ocean’s 8.
Similarly, why hire James Corden when Michaela Coel is right there?
13) In No Particular Order, the Rest
- Desert Hearts (One of the best movies I saw this year came out in 1985. Rest in peace, FilmStruck.)
- A Star Is Born Memes (Exhibit A and Exhibit B)
- Lily James (This is the year that I’ve learned to not just love Lily James, but become president of her fan club. She can do anything. Best of all, she seems like she’s excited to do anything. A delight to watch onscreen, and the type of presence that you can’t learn or teach.)
- A Star is Born (Great movie, wonderful cast, and some inspired direction from Bradley Cooper. A little too masc4masc for my taste. The A Stars is Born order is now: Judy, Gaga, Babs, Janet.)
- Black Panther: The Album (A new standard in film soundtracks.)
- Lu Over the Wall (Fun and musical. Beautifully animated.)
- Rosemary Hochschild (Unpredictable, incendiary actress in The Queen of Hollywood Blvd. One of my favorite performances of the year.)
- The Favourite (A wild ride that can only end a tragedy. Yorgos seems to have finally found the perfect balance to his particular style of storytelling.)
- Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman (A trio of fearless actresses who can and will, quite simply, do anything.)
- A Quiet Place (I cannot wait for the sequel, in which I hope Emily Blunt is full-blown Ellen Ripley action movie mom mode, killing monsters with Millicent Simmonds. A Quiet Place$.)
- Black Panther (The most rewarding Marvel movie in a long time. Ryan Coogler is a master.)
- Hearts Beat Loud (A “small” movie full of big big love, thanks to Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons.)
- Into the Spider-Verse (Beautiful and extraordinary, from design to story to performance. Perhaps the first Marvel movie to truly express a distinctly comic-book vibe.)
- Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., Rodney Rothman and the whole Spider-Verse production crew (It’s a truly original film, a next step for computer animation. Props to everyone.)
- Aquaman (Goofy, fun, and spectacular. Perhaps the first DC movie to truly express a distinctly comic-book vibe.)
- Nicole Kidman as an action star/superhero in Aquaman. (How can one person be this good at acting?)
- The leads of La Flor (Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes. Learn it. Live it. Love it.)
- James Wan (He threw it all on the wall and it all stuck and it all worked.)
- Regina King (Watching her character get dressed and ready is a masterclass in acting.)
- Haley Lu Richardson (So good in Support the Girls that it instantly elevated every one of her prior performances. For the love of film, see Columbus!)
- Support the Girls (The only movie that captures not just how destructive capitalism is, but also how uniquely depressing. We found love in a hopeless place.)
- Mary Poppins Returns (A big, brash musical! What a wonderful surprise that Rob Marshall didn’t mess this one up. Will need more write-ups on it’s weird “investing in big banks is good” message though.)
- Ralph Breaks the Internet (This movie is full of storytelling surprises, especially since it’s a fantastic movie about a grown man and a little girl who are friends.)
- Jamie Lee Curtis (Gray-haired Laurie Strobe is the only Laurie Strobe I care about. Jamie Lee was exceptional and even terrifying. A woman on the verge.)
- A Simple Favor (This one kind of snuck up on me, and the more I think about it, the more I simply loved it. A delicious movie.)
- Eighth Grade (Great debut from Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher. Josh Hamilton kills. So real, feels almost shameful to intrude on these characters’ lives.)
- Mission Impossible: Fallout (Yes, one day these movies will kill Tom Cruise, real-life man trying to outrun death. But, until then, a thrilling wild ride. Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise have perfected their formula.)
- Toni Collette and Ann Dowd (Excellent performers at the top of their game, proving that grief and euphoria can both be terrifying in a different light.)
- Ben Whishaw (In Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns, every feeling he has is infectious, from the gloomy to the joyous.)
- Bird Box memes (The best part of the movie.)
- Paddington 2 score (Best of the year. Electric and moving, with a showy musical number to end it. What more do you need?)
- Lynne Ramsay (For the security camera scene alone in You Were Never Really Here. How is she not directing the next James Bond?)
- That person asking Boots Riley if he’s seen Sorry To Bother You (Classic.)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (I’m not sure if anyone expresses mood and emotion on film as well as Barry Jenkins does. His camera is loving, is love.)
- Blockers (Sex-positive teen comedy that doesn’t go any way you expect it to. Leslie Mann is greater than her husband.)
- Game Night (A classic!)
- Lady Gaga arriving at Venice (A classic!)
- Suspiria (I wish I could inject it into my veins.)
- The Cloverfield Paradox’s marketing (Inspired marketing to cover up for the fact that it’s a bad movie.)
- Danai Gurira (The wig throw! If there was any justice, we’d get not just an Okoye spin-off, but a Danai Gurira movie a year.)
- Avengers: Infinity War (Not perfect, but an incredible feat was pulled off that could have easily failed.)
- Henry Cavill reloading his forearms (I wish I had more to add, but … this is it. This is on my list.)
- A Wrinkle in Time (The type of movie I would have loved as a kid. An adventure movie with big stakes and even bigger heart. Underrated.)
- Constance Wu on the A-List (She. Is. A. Star.)
- Josh Hamilton (Such a quiet presence with so much feeling.)
- Sam Elliot (Sam Elliot is my Best Supporting Actor this year, hands down no competition. Him holding back tears while backing up a car is ingrained in my memory.)
- The First Purge (A horror movie that didn’t come to dance around its politics, but display them gratuitously, violently. A horror movie for our age.)
- Widows (My favorite ensemble cast, everyone is pitch-perfect. The four lead women in this are incredible. My life for people to take Michelle Rodriguez as seriously as Steve McQueen does and I always have.)
- Chloé Zhao (Best Director 2018 no matter what anyone says.)
- Annihilation (A horror movie that deceives with a disarmingly beautiful surface. Alex Garland is only getting better.)
- Ocean’s 8 (A perfect cast with terrible direction.)
- Book Club (A perfect cast with terrible everything.)
- Crazy Rich Asians (A rom-com that’s exuberant and decadent. The mahjong scene is one of the best of the year.)
- Crazy Rich Asians‘ score (Captures everything about the movie and then some. Fun and bombastic without ever feeling intrusive.)
- The Mammia Mia timeline (Somehow the Mamma Mia series is also a sci-fi series that confuses you with misleading ages and timelines.)
- Hereditary (An exceptional debut that is expertly crafted. Even though it becomes a bit predictable, it hits so many nerves.)