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At the Movies — 2018

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In Brief: 2018 wasn’t a great movie year. It also wasn’t a bad year. It was just a year.

According to Box Office Mojo 776 movies were released this year. I didn’t come close to seeing that many but did manage to see a high percentage of them through 200. Movie number 776 is a horror story called Realms.

It brought in a whopping $147.

Last place in the top 100 — Bad Times at the El Royale — took in $18 million. As a contrast, the number-one grossing film, Black Panther hit $700 million.

Statistics released by Comcore note that worldwide the income from movies will top $41.8 billion. That’s a 2.7% jump over 2017. Domestically, the U.S. the box office tally will end up at $11.9 billion.

That’s 7% more than 2017.

The Top Grossing Movies of 2017 with an Asterisk

Films like Aquaman and a few others released around Christmas will impact this year’s final tally. That’s the asterisk. However, the top-10 is likely to remain as is:

1. Black Panther — $700 million
2. Avengers: Infinity War — $679 million
3. Incredibles 2 — $609 million
4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — $417 million
5. Deadpool 2 — $318 million
6. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch — $254 million
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout: — $220 million
8. Ant-Man and the Wasp — $217 million
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story — $214 million
10. Venom — $213 million

Is This a Surprise?

The five of the top-10 grossing films in 2018 are super hero movies. That’s not surprising. Last year the number was five as well. In 2016, that figure added up to four. Also, note all 10 of the top-10 grossing movies this year are packed with CGI effects.

My Favorites

This is not a list of the year’s best. Other critics and movie websites will have totally different opinions. This is just a list of my favorite films of 2018.

My favorite of 2018 is the quiet horror of A Quiet Place. This will make the top-10 of a lot of critics but few — if any — will have it on top.

I have always loved a very good horror movie. I don’t like the chop and slash crap that passes for horror. It’s not horror in the classic sense. What I love is the blood-curdling, bone-chilling stuff that keeps you sleepless and looking under the bed and into closets all night.

This is the most intense horror film in decades. Co-writer and director John Krasinski stars with his real-life wife Emily Blunt who is currently wowing critics and audiences alike as Mary Poppins. Krasinski — it turns out — is a very, very good director and has the skills to scare you to death.

Part of his film’s power is in how he uses sound. A lot of us complain the sound in theaters these days are too loud. A Quiet Place is so quiet that the loudest sound you heard in the theater was the popcorn you were chewing.

And the scene in the bathtub is one of the most terrifying movie scenes since the alien popped out of John Hurt’s chest back in 1979 in the original Alien.

Speaking of horror, the most frightening film of the year is Eating Animals. It’s a documentary about the dangers to humans from animal farming, and horror done to animals in the name of animal farming.

The film is an education and a deep one. The animals we raise for food are being seriously abused. Director-producer Christopher Quinn says we need to make some hard decisions. His film asks an important question. How do we stop animal abuse by the corporations producing the American meat diet and still feed a burgeoning population?

Quinn said it is up to you and me to figure it out. He notes a good place to start is the meals we take three times a day.

Back to my favorite list. The second two favorite films — for the first time ever — are documentaries.

As a society we seem to have lost our ability to be polite to each other and to tolerate thinking that isn’t ours. The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor made me — and a lot of others — think that we desperately need a Mr. Rogers today.

The film shows Fred Rogers as a gentle genius. He was a kind man whose loved people. He had a passion for, and love of children. His philosophy is a gift that is sorely missed today. That thought hit me two-minutes into the film and stays with me now. In today’s violent and divided society, one filled with negative rants and hate-filled social media posts and television shows, we’ve never needed Fred Rogers more than we need him today.

By the way, this film is a shoo-in for best documentary no matter what organization is handing out that award.

The second documentary also has the year’s best cinematography. It’s Free Solo and stunning film that chronicles Alex Honnold’s nearly two-year journey to climb the 3,000 foot wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan hands free. No ropes. No help. It’s just Honnold and El Capitan’s face.

It is an incredible athletic feat.

There are places during his climb when the filmmakers can’t even make themselves watch knowing that any second their good friend could fall to his death.

Free Solo is still in theaters and whether you have the personality that drives you to scale unbelievable heights, or if you’re a feet-firmly-on-the-ground type like me, this film is not to be missed. Plus for many of us, this is the closest we’re ever going to get to the thrill of climbing something more seriously dangerous than a flight of stairs.

Another of my favorites this year is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It is the most original super hero movie in eons. The film also doubles as one of the most original movies ever. The comic book look and a plot packed with laugh-out-loud sequences makes this the best animated movie of the year.

Or last year. Or the year before even.

Others on my favorite list

A Simple Favor — Hitchcock would have loved this one.
Can You Ever Forgive Me — There are two films I mention quite a bit in my analysis of 2018’s movies. This is one. The other is Wildlife. As for Can You Ever Forgive Me, finally. Melissa McCarthy in a role that shows off her incredible acting talent.
Green Book — Surprise. A film based on a true story not needing doctoring for dramatic effect. All that wasn’t true — at least according to my research — is that the trip was over 18-months and not a couple. Another plus is the acting of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Both were nominated for Golden Globes and in the Screen Actors Guild — aka SAG — nominations.
Wildlife — Actor turned director Paul Dano sticks you in1960s with great sets and cinematography, and then drops a fantastic story about a 14-year old boy and his melting down mom into the mix.

Best Actor

Most roles for men in 2018 were blah and so very average. The best acting of the year was done by women. That said, there were some very good male performances but most were in the supporting actor category.

The best male acting this year — and maybe even the best acting in any category this year — is Richard E. Grant from the Melissa McCarthy flick Can You Ever Forgive Me. His drunken party-animal and McCarthy’s partner in crime is — in my opinion — last year’s best acting by anyone.

Another great piece of supporting work is Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman. Driver plays a white Jewish cop who has to go undercover in the KKK. While his character never says, Driver’s cop — oddly — gets so into the undercover gig that he finds himself almost agreeing with the KKK crap.

Ed Oxenbould also blew me away in the little seen Wildlife. He plays a 14-year old who tries to understand a complex mother who is in meltdown mode after she splits from his father. And like Glenn Close — who we’ll discuss in the next section — it’s what Oxenbould doesn’t say, and how he looks and stands that says more than pages of dialogue.

He plays his character like a fish completely out of water and does it brilliantly.

In the leading role category, the main standout is Rami Malek who made us believe he was Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. His competition isn’t all that heavy. Other than maybe Bradley Cooper’s so-so work in A Star is Boring — er, I mean A Star is Born — he stands a good chance of winning an Academy Award, the Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild best acting award and other acting awards.

And then there’s my sentimental favorite. Robert Redford. He announced that The Old Man and the Gun is his last acting performance ever. If you’re going to go out, go out on top. While not as good as his solo performance in 2014’s All is Lost, this is one of Redford’s best-ever roles.

The Screen Actors Guild ignored Redford but the Golden Globe nominations included him in the best comedy-musical category. He stands a good chance of winning on a sentimental, it’s about time we gave him the award vote.

I agree with the it’s about time sentiment.

Best Actress

Can You Ever Forgive Me plops Melissa McCarthy into a deep, dark, dramatic role as document forger and author Lee Israel. Best actress is a tough category to call but McCarthy’s acting is my favorite in the category.

A close second is Glenn Close who delivered almost no lines in The Wife and stole the movie. She used facial expression and body language to say more than pages of dialogue could say. Close has a shot at taking home an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a SAG best actress award.

Another favorite this year is Carrie Mulligan who did the one of the best mom in crisis meltdowns ever in Wildlife. It has been ignored by the award-nominations so far this year but if you get a chance to see her in this very good film, don’t pass it by.

And when it comes to ensembles Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman are mind-boggling in The Favorite. It’s hard to pick a favorite among them. Colman is being singled out in the best actress categories and Stone and Weitz are being put in those of the best supporting actress.

One or the other — Stone or Weisz — will take home the best supporting actress Oscar, Golden Globe and other awards. No other female supporting roles in 2018 were that good.

Other Other Favorites

Blindspotting — A complex character study and — actually — a buddy movie that looks at police violence, racism and what it really means to be a human being.
American Animals — 2018’s best heist movie. It’s what the year’s other heist flicks, Widows and Ocean’s 8 should have been.
Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot — A great film about victory over alcoholism. I tried and tried and tried to get director Gus Van Sant to do an interview with me. In case you read this Gus, I’m 33-years clean and sober addict and recovering alcoholic.

According to John Callahan’s brother, I’m the only critic on Rotten Tomatoes who got what you were trying to do with Callahan’s incredible story. So if you’re open to the idea, I’d still love to do an interview.

Awful on An Epic Scale — The Year’s Worst

A Wrinkle in Time — Too much time. Not enough wrinkles.
The Life of the Party — Melissa McCarthy needs to stop making dumb comedies. More on this later.
The Spy Who Dumped Me — Speaking of dumb comedies…
The First Purge — Please, make this the last.
The House with a Clock in the Walls — Unless you’re 8-years old, excruciatingly boring.
Skyscraper — Reaches for the sky and missed badly.
Mile 22 — Ran out of gas at mile 1.
Mortal Engines — Speaking of running out of gas…
Life Itself — Life Itself is lifeless itself.
The Front Runner — A spectacular failure about how Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign failed spectacularly.

Most Disappointing

The most disappointing film of 2018 is First Man. The first Moon landing was a grand adventure and not just for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. It captured the imagination of the whole world.

Running two-hours and 20-minutes and packed with pouting and sulking, First Man does not.

I wanted it to be more like The Right Stuff. The 1983 film won four Oscars. One for best effects, sound effects editing (one category), best film editing, best sound and best music and original score (one category).

The Right Stuff also got nominated for best picture, best actor in a supporting role for Sam Shepard, best cinematography and best art direction, best set direction (one category).

First Man picked up a best supporting actress Golden Globe nomination for Claire Foy and Justin Hurwitz got a nod for best original score. That’s about it. The Screen Actors Guild ignored the film. No doubt the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences won’t ignore First Man in some of its effects categories but that’s about all it will get.

The Right Stuff  had the right stuff. It was a total hoot in spots, very dramatic in others and the grand adventure First Man failed to be on all counts. Plus, we very quickly tire of Ryan Gosling’s moody Neil Armstrong. Director Damien Chazelle — who wowed us last year with La La Land — doesn’t give him much else to do.

By the way, Tom Wolfe died this year. He wrote the book The Right Stuff upon which the movie is based. Wolfe also wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities. It was turned into a not-very-good Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith movie.

I didn’t read Bonfire. However, I did read The Right Stuff. As good as the movie was, the book was light years better.

Number-two on the disappointment list. Steve Carell stars in the Robert Zemeckis directed and written Welcome to Marwen. It is the not-so-amazing story about really amazing miniature photographer Mark Hogancamp.

Others?

The Mule — Clint Eastwood’s film about an old man driving drugs about the country for a drug cartel packs on the miles but has nowhere to go.
Hotel Artemis — Check-in is pretty smooth. The services in the middle aren’t so hot and checkout is a drag.
Mary Queen of Scots — This one is being ignored by movie award groups for a reason.

The proverbial elephant in the room in this post is how I’m ignoring A Star is Born as the best of anything.

Here’s why. This is the fourth version of the film. The original was done in 1937. In 1954 Judy Garland starred. Then in 1976 it was Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand playing the two very pathetic characters.

In my book a better title might be, A Star is Reborn. But really, to me? It’s A Star is Boring.

I know, I know. Most of you — and other critics, too — loved it and it got a ton of Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and other nominations. It will likely get lots of Oscar nods as well.

I did not not love — or even like — A Star is Born. To give credit where credit is due, Lady Gaga’s singing and her terrific acting blew me away but not much else did.

Guilty Pleasure

Instant Family — Syrupy sweet.
Red Sparrow — Jennifer Lawrence. What’s not to love?
Super Troopers 2 — Irreverent to the core and has the year’s biggest laughs.
Bumblebee — How about that? I loved a Transformers movie!
Sorry to Bother You — Very strange. Very disturbing. Very good.
Eighth Grade — Took me back to 8th Grade.
The Old Man and the Gun — Robert Redford still has it.

Bad Samaritan is the last on my guilty pleasure list. Weird flick, and I got to interview Dean Devlin so what’s not to love? I mention Devlin because of his work on one of my all time favorites, Independence Day. It is a film I’ll always stop and watch when I stumble upon it while channel surfing.

That movie — and other Devlin projects — have made me a huge fan and I just had to let Devlin know. We talked for a half-an-hour and that conversation turned out to be my favorite interview of the year. I suspect he enjoyed the exchange as well and maybe even — like me — wish we could have talked longer.

I’m Sooooo Tired of Sequels — Aren’t You?

Ocean’s 8 — A spinoff of a remake and a series of sequels is mindless fun but not much else.
Mama Mia! Here We Go Again — Why did we go again?
Creed II much — enough said.
Equalizer 2 — Unequal to Equalizer I but it wasn’t that good either.
Fifty Shades Freed — Finally freed of Fifty Shades of anything.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — The real crime is letting J.K. Rowling write a screenplay.

And why do a sequel of Halloween? Haven’t we — and Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode — had enough?

Thank Goodness We’re Done with Them

Fifty Shades of Freed — As noted earlier, glad to be rid of anything Fifty. The series was soft core porn and not even good soft core porn at that.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure — This not-so-bad but also not very good dystopian series is finished and has moved over to make a place for the next not-so-bad but also not very good dystopian series in line.
Tomb Raider — It made $58 million but cost $94 million to make. Maybe that’s it. At least we can hope that we — and Laura Croft — are done.
The Predator — The producers no doubt were hoping this would reignite the character’s popularity. The Arnold Schwarzenegger flick eventually led to a pretty good movie confrontation with the Predator battling the alien from Alien. However, The Predator only netted $51 million but it cost $88 million to produce. A big plus. It wasn’t awful. However, it wasn’t all that good either.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story — This one totally tanked critically and at the box office. The original Swedish film with Michael Nvquvest and Noomie Rapace was incredible. The America remake with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara was a copy and we all know copies are never as good as the original.

This one stars Claire Foy — who isn’t nearly as interesting as either Rapace or Mara — and it netted $14.8 million. When a film like this costs $43 million to make you can pretty much assume there won’t be a sequel.

Loved It But the Ending was So Heavy-Handed

BlacKkKlansman. It is a Spike Lee film and is based — as in based but also highly fictional— on the true story of a black man who became a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It is as outrageously frightening as it is outrageously funny. We totally got the message and then at the end, Lee tacks on a news reel of some of the racist acts in the nation that have happened since Donald Trump began his presidential run and then ascended to the presidency.

Hey, Spike. We got the message and didn’t need the heavy-handed news reel.

An Observation: Melissa McCarthy in 2018 and a Short Message

The message. Melissa. Stop doing dumb comedies and do more flicks like Can You Ever Forgive Me.

Here’s why. McCarthy starred in three films in 2018. They are:

Life of the Party
The Happy Time Murders
Can You Ever Forgive Me

Life of the Party is a really stupid comedy that McCarthy and her producer husband Ben Falcone seem fond of doing. It makes them money I suppose. This one cost $33 million to make and banked $53 million.

The story of a middle-aged mom going to college and rooming with her college age daughter, and fitting into the college party scene is boring beyond belief. I love McCarthy and have tolerated most of her films but this was rock bottom.

Close to rock bottom for McCarthy is The Happy Time Murders. It’s a Muppet movie with Muppet characters you’ve never met. The premise is this is how the Muppets behave when they’re not on camera. It turns into a murder mystery and the moral of the story is tolerance for those who are different.

Yawn. Big time. Remember, The Muppet Show ran a half-an-hour. The first half-hour of this one is hilarious. It rapidly goes downhill from there. The film is a critical bust and didn’t do all that well at the box office.

Fortunately, we won’t likely see a sequel.

Then there’s Can You Ever Forgive Me. What I can’t forgive is producers who don’t have faith enough in their star and their movie to give it more of a push. So far it’s taken in just $7 million and lounged about art houses in major markets before disappearing altogether.

Can it be they think the public will only accept McCarthy in pointless — and not very good — comedies? I like to think people are deeper than that, and with her popularity, a wider release would have worked for this one.

By the way, if you can find it and haven’t seen it, this is a very good story and the best McCarthy has ever been.

The Movie that Made Me Want to Go Home and Take a Shower

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is an expose of Hollywood’s who’s who in the 1960s and their secret heterosexual and homosexual sex trysts arranged by Scotty at a Texaco station in Hollywood and later at this home or that.

In some circles I suppose that sounds interesting but Scotty turns out to be a total perv and his tell-all led me to ask to the question, why tell all? That leads to a second question. Who really cares?

Rest in Peace

Burt Reynolds is the biggest movie celebrity to die in 2018. In his heyday, Reynolds was the world’s sexiest man. Best known for good-ol-boy comedies and parts like Smokey and the Bandit, Reynolds was also a seriously good actor as we saw in Deliverance, Boogie Nights and a few other movies.

Penny Marshall died last week. Her acting resume was mostly on TV and she’s best known for the TV show Laverne and Shirley. However, Marshall was also a very good director and helped launch the movie careers of a couple of superstars.

A League of Their Own and Big both starred Tom Hanks and helped turn him into a household name. She also directed Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams and Jumpin’ Jack Flash that jump started Whoopi Goldberg’s movie career.

Superhero movie fans mourned this year over the deaths of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They created many of the Marvel characters that have raked in billions at the box office. Lee also became a cameo icon in all of the Marvel movies.

William Goldman died in November. In 1969 he picked up an Oscar for writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He got another one in 1976 for All the President’s Men. Goldman was a prolific writer and also wrote The Stepford Wives, The Princess Bride book and movie, Chaplin and The Ghost and the Darkness.

Playwright Neil Simon is also among the movie writers who passed. Simon was a brilliant writer whose stage plays were often turned into movies. Of them, The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl and California Suite got loads of screenwriting nominations with The Goodbye Girl picking up a Golden Globe.

Milos Forman also died. He directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus and won Oscars and Golden Globes for both. Forman also did The People vs. Larry Flynt. He picked up a Golden Globe for it.

Forman didn’t do that many movies but when he did one, he was nothing short of brilliant.

Also passing:

Margo Kidder — She played Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeves’ Superman.
Sandra Locke — Did Every Which Way but Loose with Clint Eastwood and had a long time relationship with him.
Verne Troyer — Starred as Mini-Me in the Austin Powers series.
Scott Wilson — One of those amazing character actors you don’t know until someone points to his picture. In Cold Blood is his most famous movie.
Audrey Wells — She’s the screenwriter who penned this year’s The Hate U Give and George of the Jungle, The Kid and Under the Tucson Sun.
Tab Hunter — One of the hottest of the 1950s heartthrobs.
Jerry Maren — He’s the last surviving Munchkin
R. Lee Ermey — He’s most famous for playing a drill sergeant and his most famous movies are Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.
John Gavin — One of the Hollywood hunks from the 1960s, Gavin played in Psycho, Spartacus and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He also ended up as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico under President Ronald Reagan.
Dorothy Malone — She is one of the last of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Malone mostly starred in B-movies but did manage to win a best supporting actress Oscar in 1957 for the film Written on the Wind.

Catch Gary Wolcott Friday afternoons at 4:50 on KXL’s Afternoon News.

Gary has been KXL’s movie critic since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 28-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.

He is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Got a movie suggestion or comment? Click here to email him.

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