The Best Films of the Year( that I’ve seen)

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Image taken from Consequence of Sound

It’s been a good year to watch movies, whether at home or at the increasingly obsolete institution that is the theater. If you were a comic fan like myself, your batting average favored you more than not and if you really enjoy watching features that pander to the land of pandas like China, then you must also really like shark films too. Here are my selections for the ten best I saw and if a film is missing, then well I haven’t seen it, it’s Oscar bait, or a combination of the two.

Tenth Best: Bumblebee

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Want yet another 80s nostalgia trip? Better yet, want a competently produced film involving a set of action figures? If either applies to you, then Bumblebee is a long needed turn of fortune for a franchise that made Fast and Furious seem intelligent. Seeing as how I didn’t exist in 1987, I have to rely on the pop cultural instincts of the decade to declare this a throwback film that balances the cliches of the time with the sincerity that director Travis Knight has both for the period and for those robots in disguise. Best of all, it expunges certain assumptions about Transformers as a film endeavor like the action should sacrifice anything else like character and basic plot structure and that comic relief can be both sensical and not overwrought in the juvenile. If this is a trendsetter for this franchise going forward, then so shall it stand.

Ninth Best: Ant-Man and the Wasp

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After two of the most cerebral MCU films to date despite one of them involving a one armed man swinging a sentient Raccoon alien around firing a assault rifle, the audience and the critics needed a break. Ant-Man and the Wasp is for 98% of the run-time that much needed break in tone for a fun, big and small romp around San Francisco. All so our titular heroes can chase down a stolen shrinkable and portable building. As the 20th entry in a cinematic universe, we all respond with “why not?” rather than “What!” If that is a sign of a universe still working its magic on us, than I don’t know what is. Some of the humor falls a bit flatter than normal, and in spite of being a post Infinity War palette cleanser, is often too busy for its own good. Still, it’s worth a watch, only to see more of Paul Rudd’s blue collar humility and some creative manipulation of size and matter.

Eighth best: BlackkKlansman

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Another racially charged Spike Lee movie? Starring Denzel Washington’s talented son? With Topher Grace as David Duke? And it’s a return to form for the aforementioned director? It’s all here and it’s all good. One thing that BlackkKlansman didn’t teach me was that racism was evil, I’ve thankfully known that for awhile. It did teach me that the Klan had operations in Colorado in the 70s and that one Affirmative Action-related black police officer played that same cell of the Klan for suckers. This is a real story, however dramatized by a director known for pulling off drama unforgettably. The message may be obvious but considering the Far-Right and white supremacist movement’s rise from the woodwork following Trump’s election, perhaps something blunt yet gracefully blunt is needed now.

It acknowledges our President’s embarrassing and even for defenders eyebrow-raising handling of the Charlottesville tragedy and the mourning for the victim of that tragedy, Heather Heyer. It’s not just about heckling and exposing the Klan in the past by those with the will to do it. It’s about having the same will and foresight to fight it now. Lee also suggests that fight can be won within the confines of the law so that is an inspiring message to take away indeed.

Seventh best: Incredibles II

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It’s not a superior sequel like Toy Story’s two succeeding entries. It’s not a drop in quality like Cars 2. It’s not an OK prequel like Monsters University. It’s the best non-Toy Story sequel Pixar has yet made. That’s something, how much I am not certain. Despite its impressive upgrading of animation since the 2004 original, the most,well, incredible feat of this installment is how paradoxically easy it is to fool yourself into thinking that almost no time has passed in between release of the films. It’s been fourteen years yet Incredibles II seems right at home in 2018. The film is more inspired in its handling of the superhero Parr family and friends than its overall narrative. Too much of it seems a repeat of the same premise as last time but with a twist. It’s not so distracting as to make the rest of the picture tumble under, but it seems like Brad Bird and the rest were interested in pushing the family’s taxing internal relationship more than new ideas for one of the most optimistic yet strangely uncertain superhero universes I’ve witnessed on screen. It still works and Pixar is absolutely on point in making the most resplendent CGI animation out there. It strikes both familiar yet fresh, but maybe not in the areas we were hoping for.

Sixth best: Deadpool 2

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Ryan Reynold’s raunchy renaissance in the hearts and minds of audiences and critics continues with a solid and occasionally brilliant continuation of the most beloved Canadian superhero.Well, aside from the one played by that Australian Broadway guy. Like Incredibles II, it’s not as fresh or for my money, as funny as the original, but it makes up for it not being a “repeat” type of movie, though considering the satirical style, they could have done well mocking that. Instead, it’s DP’s half sincere/half roasting take of the modern day blockbuster trend involving what constitutes family. If you’ve seen any recent Fast and Furious or Guardians of the Galaxy, then you know what I mean. One thing that did surprise me was how relatively restrained the film was in terms of the more R-rated humor. It’s still here, like in the crazy ‘Basic Instinct” parody, but perhaps Reynolds and company didn’t want to overdo it and risk tiring the audience with too much too soon. Save some more for the third one or even one day, an arrival into the MCU. It’s a good new entry for the merc with a mouth. R-rated superheroes are here to stay.

Fifth Best: Upgrade

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Upgrade returned to my mind after taking several classes at my latest semester in college. The concept of automation’s logical extremes and how much freedom we really have to look forward to in the not so distant future. Next Sunday A.D.  Joking aside, Upgrade is an eerily convincing display of a possible fusion of man, in this case Logan Marshall Green, and machine, the AI which when in control of Green’s body makes him nigh unstoppable. The movie tricks you into thinking its going to be a black buddy comedy between the bewildered human protagonist searching for retribution for his wife’s death and the straight-man, British voiced AI giving him calm,clear advice on how to do it. I still don’t want to give away the proceedings, but it goes to a dark place that isn’t so much about the shocking carnage of such “upgrades” as the film shows effectively, it is the willingness to hurt decent people and ourselves for reasons which seem necessary. They’re not, and not distinguishing a line of what should be permitted in this technological advance could be the difference in who becomes the lord of the future. Surely, it will still be man, right? Right?

Fourth best: Black Panther

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Blade is probably still crying to himself in the shadows. Not only was he a profitable set of R-rated superhero films, it had a black star to boot. Well, so did Spawn, but nobody ever looks at the 1997 Spawn in such a favorable light. Perhaps it was the scope, the almost entirely black cast and the jaw-dropping financial returns of Black Panther which makes it seem revolutionary. With enough money and the will, why can’t you make a film that seemed so risky earlier? The excuses of the past aren’t holding up any longer.

It helps that the film is good too. T’challa and his family rival from America, Erik Killmonger, are both relatable in their ideologies, with only the lengths one of them is willing to go becoming more than questionable. The film does not rest mercifully on a rigid cultural bias. Even the default “right side” assumption is flawed. It’s not merely the ageless question of what makes a good leader, king or otherwise, it’s what is the right decision for that good leader to make. It is this struggle T’challa tackles which prevents the danger of making the Black Panther too perfect, a “Gary Stu”. It also represents an idealized vision for Africa, while tragically far away in the real world, at least in ethical areas, to aspire to. It’s not just a vision for a better Africa, it’s a vision for a better world that T’challa wants. As blunt as this end of the film statement is, it is hardly wrong: walling away ourselves isn’t going to save us. It might actually do the opposite.

Third Best: Mission Impossible: Fallout

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There is an earnestness to entertain without too much digital fakery that makes the new set of Mission Impossibles since 2011’s Ghost Protocol so endearing. A franchise that was once dismissed even hated for crapping on the original 60s’ show’s characters and for being style but little substance is now all about trying to fuse style and substance. The action sequences in the sixth film, yes the sixth film in this franchise is among the most convincing since either Mad Max: Fury Road or well, the last Mission Impossible. You will be amazed at how willing you are to tolerate a set of characters that are mostly replaceable, except for Simon Pegg’s ever lovable Benji and well of course, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. That there is a somewhat hammy melodrama that is only saved to being married with the insane but credible action and some convincing plot swerves and twists that still manage to provoke a “huh”.

Maybe it’s the lack of CGI which makes moments that are all but impossible such as the compromised HALO jump over Paris and the amazing chopper chase through the Himalayas seem…possible. Since something was actually filmed on camera and Cruise managed to do those actual stunts which one day may just off Hubbard’s favorite son creates one of the easiest films to suspend disbelief. Rather than “They couldn’t do that.” as a resigned response, instead we get “How the **** did they do that ?!” Classic movie magic.

Second best: Avengers: Infinity War

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You have probably seen this film by now, more than once. Same goes for Black Panther, statistically even more so. Why bother hide the fact at this point that one of the biggest blockbusters so far released had the courage to let the heroes lose for once, and not in the same sense as 2016’s Civil War. This is a real defeat we got to witness for Earth’s mightiest heroes and the galaxy’s guardians. Of course, this year we will see how the surviving heroes of Thano’s gauntlet induced purge rectify that momentous occasion. After all, one of the deceased has a film coming out two months afterwards.

Until that moment comes, I reflect on how such a generally long film felt surprisingly short, how an enormous cast of characters didn’t feel overpacked, and how an entirely CGI villain felt real enough, to even inspire begrudging understanding. To think not even half a year before Infinity War’s release we were heckling another wholly CGI villain at the rival company’s beleaguered offering. Pun intended. It’s a film that is fun to watch just for the spectacle, and as it happens, for the other side of the Marvel coin: the characters themselves. The sign of a decent Summer tent-pole is if I am not bored when something meant to be exciting, action-packed or exploding isn’t on screen. Safe to say that was the case. Hope it is the exact same way this eventful April.

Number One: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

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I had given up on Sony’s capacity to produce good superhero films, let alone involving Spider-Man. Who hadn’t? Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and now this year’s Venom. Why should an animated Spider-man be any different? Oh, it was different. In fact, difference was what mattered most in this year’s best film.

I can gush on end on how the truly new style of CGI animation makes not only a comic book come to life that feels fluid rather than stagnant, but how the idea of exploring the identity of the persona more so than just Peter Parker once again was a bite in the hand the IP needed after six live action iterations in a little less than 20 years. Miles Morales embodies the concept of being different, but in the right ways the same as Peter Parker’s Spider-man. They’re always constants when exploring the multiverse theory, and the constant that is tragedy is what hooks all the spiders together. It both makes the act of being Spider-man truly fun once more while also hitting you with the knowledge that it can also lead to a hard, even short life. It’s not just the visuals that are crammed with so much detail to evaluate over and over again, the themes and ideas in this film are to be applauded for being so deep and yet so easy to digest. It leaves you begging for more and one day we will get more Spider-people to meet at the cinema. For now, it is just the start of something amazing to marvel over, again and again.

Additional image credits to ReactionMR.COM, Besthqwallpapers, Lamplight Drivel, The New York Times, Inverse, Movie Nation, Digital Trends, MPAA, Deadline, and Newsweek.

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