2018 was not one of those years where I think we'll look back a decade later and go, "Oh yeah, 2018 was the year that [fill in the blank] came out!", like how 2014 was the year that Boyhood and Birdman both stretched filmmaking in different ways or how 2010 was the year The Social Network was robbed by The King's Speech in the worst selection since Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan in 1998. The eight nominated films (and even a couple of the films that didn't get nominated) are all really good pieces of cinematic art, but I don't know that any of them will turn out to be memorable.
8. Bohemian Rhapsody
If Bohemian Rhapsody were to duplicate the second half of the film, with Freddie Mercury's redemption with his band and the subsequent powerful performance at Live Aid, the film would be much higher on this list. Unfortunately, the beginning of the film is a muddled mess, perhaps brought on by some of the behind the scenes drama that saw this film have multiple directors. The movie skips over key interactions among the characters that would establish their relationships, instead choosing to have each character state the relationship verbally. This saps the film of all power during the early tumult. When the band members say they're a family, there's no real feeling of family there -- it's only later when the band actually shows itself to be a family that the emotions become real. It honestly feels like pages of scripts were either skipped over or cut out late without thought to the consequences.
|Points for casting Littlefinger as a non-villain.|
|It's impossible to picture a better Freddie Mercury than Rami Malek.|
7. The Favourite
The Favourite is one of those films that seems to come up in ones or twos every year where you almost feel that they have to feel satisfied to be nominated. Not that it's a bad film, but it's just not important. It's not reinventing cinema with new techniques. It's not tackling a critical issue in today's society. It's not telling an important historical story that helps put our own world into perspective. It's not bringing a crucial part of literature or the other arts to life. It's just a very solidly well done film, which is good enough to get a nomination, but doesn't put it even in the top half of the nominees.
|Emma Stone is every bit as endearing and funny as ever, even when she plays mean.|
|Kudos on the costuming and set design, though.|
BlackKkKlansman, on the other hand, is that film that gets nominated because of its importance despite having many flaws. It presents an at times whimsical story of a plucky young African American cop in 1970s Colorado who, out to prove himself as a potential detective, sets up an ongoing sting of the KKK. You would think that infiltrating a hate group, especially as someone from the group that is hated, would be the subject of a taut thriller, but instead, Spike Lee undercuts his own tension throughout the film, making even the tense moments seeming to not be all that harrowing.
|The addition of the love story, though tangential to the main plot, is still a distraction.|
|Even in a Klan robe, he still looks like he's lecturing Kelso.|
5. A Star is Born
A Star is Born begins the part of this list where I wouldn't be terribly upset if it won Best Picture (though I would be surprised). A remake of the 1976 remake of the 1954 remake of the 1937 original, this year's edition (perhaps thankfully the film decided to take the 1990s off) lives up to its predecessors, who all managed to leave an imprint on motion picture history. Starring Bradley Cooper, produced by Bradley Cooper, directed by Bradley Cooper, and featuring a script by Bradley Cooper (who may or may not have catered the movie set as well), A Star is Born also stars Lady Gaga, who does a very good job with the material. Her Ally Maine (wife of Cooper's Jackson Maine) is a little weakly defined in the beginning (the filmmakers seem unsure whether Ally is overwhelmed or completely and confidently in charge of her life in these early scenes) but really comes together into a tour de force for Gaga about midway through, allowing the pop superstar to really show her acting stuff in the late stages of the film.
|And oh yeah, she can sing pretty well, too.|
|Every family needs Sam Elliott as an uncle.|
4. Black Panther
Black Panther picks up just after Captain America: Civil War, with the young prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) about to take the rites to become king of his technologically advanced nation of Wakanda. With all of its vibranium-driven tech, Wakanda could easily subjugate the world if it wanted, but instead the nation's tradition is one of hiding in plain sight, building an extensive spy network and keeping the world at large completely in the dark as to what wonders they've managed to create for themselves. Michael B. Jordan's Eric Killmonger, a terrorist with ties to the ancient nation, has other ideas and challenges the new king for control of both the reins and the heart of the nation. All kinds of really good superhero action takes place as a result.
|Though there are some aspects of Jordan's performance that I didn't get as much out of as other audience members.|
|And did I mention the action?|
Roma, like Black Panther, was difficult to place on this list, but for slightly different reasons. Black Panther has to overcome the difference of genres, bridging the gap between superhero film and Best Picture nominee. Roma also has a gap to bridge, but in this case it's cultural. I'm not talking about the fact that it's in a combination of Spanish and Mixtec, but rather the fact that the actors portraying the characters are so reserved in their craft. It's a different feel than a modern American (or British) film, where the actors push forward their portrayals, even seeming to be actively quiet. That doesn't happen here in Roma, and that sets up a very different tempo to the film than an American audience is used to. That doesn't make its film craft any lesser, but it does add difficulty in trying to discern if something noticeably off is off because of the cultural translation or because it's legitimately a flaw.
It makes it difficult when characters are either much more sedate than I would expect (which is often Cleo, the main character played by Yalitza Aparicio in her very first role ever) or much more aggressively emotive or manic than I'd expect (which is almost every other character in the film at different times). Is this culturally accurate? I don't have the knowledge to say. If it is, then everything's great. If it's not, then here are the flaws that should knock it out of contention. I'm choosing to interpret it as a bit of both given the relative inexperience of some of the main cast.
|Drama, drama, drama.|
|Seriously, look at how beautiful this is.|
2. Green Book
Green Book is one of those films that attains its spot on the list thanks to doing everything exceedingly well. It has a tight script, is well shot, and the lead actors are phenomenal. It tells a heartwarming tale of cross-race (and cross-sexuality) friendship set in a time of very little tolerance and screened in a time of diminishing tolerance. It's a timely film, even if it doesn't say enough about our current world to warrant Important Film status.
Some have complained about the film having a white savior complex, but I don't see that here. Instead, I see a film that shows a friendship in which both partners bring something fundamental to the table. It also flips the script on so many other black-white friendship movies like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption in that here the African American part of the team is the learned, cultured scholar teaching the relatively coarse white partner the finer aspects of civilization while the caucasian part of the team is the streetwise, physical half of the tandem.
|Seriously, I don't quite see this as putting the white guy over the black guy.|
Green Book's success as a film is particularly driven by the great work of its stars. Viggo Mortensen jumps off the screen as Italian-American blue collar worker and neighborhood tough guy with the heart of gold Tony Vallelonga. Mahershala Ali may well win another Oscar as the erudite Carnegie Hall pianist Don Shirley. Mortensen and Ali have considerable chemistry, and both live up to their Oscar-worthy resumes. Mahershala Ali in particular makes the case that, once filmmakers start consistently giving him starring roles instead of supporting actor roles (though you can make a great case that Ali was a lead actor here and his nomination in the supporting category is just gamesmanship), he'll be the next pantheon actor of our time.
|Mahershala Ali can make even quiet moments compelling.|
Vice was not one of those "it's obviously an Oscar favorite even while I'm watching it the first time" films for me, but as I was sorting the list out, it became apparent that Vice was the only film that really made me feel like I had seen something new in filmmaking. And really, that's a major part of what pushes a movie to the top of my Best Picture list.
Of course, I've been here before with director Adam McKay, having picked The Big Short as my Best Picture for 2015 when it was up against a similar list of films that did not present a clear and easy favorite. While I still stand by that pick, The Big Short fell, well, short, against Spotlight, a film that I said could easily be my Best Picture despite listing it at number three. I fully expect something similar to happen, as I think McKay ends up being a little too edgy for many Academy voters. Still, here we are.
Vice shares quite a bit with The Big Short in terms of having a satirical flavor while explaining some of the complex concepts surrounding major issues the film takes on. Instead of using random celebrity encounters to take the audience to school (who can forget Margot Robbie in a bathtub?), Vice uses a single narrator to provide the necessary context and lectures. If you're like me, trying to figure out who the narrator is will bug you throughout the film until they finally reveal their identity, at which point you'll think, "Whooo, they went there!"
|I mean, really.|
|Though he did have to go with some hair graying for later scenes.|
I could see any of my top five getting the actual Best Picture trophy this year, but if you ask me, Vice is my Best Picture of 2018.