AJ’s Personal Ballot (If I Had an Oscar Vote) for 2018 Part 3: Acting and Directors

Alright! It’s time for the big guns. Let’s cover some great directors and great actors today! If you want to go back read Part 1 (the crafts) or Part 2 (Foreign, Documentary, Animated, Screenplays), they’re both available for you at any time. Let’s check in on AJ’s nomination counts!

AJ’s Nomination Count

7- Black Panther (2 Wins)

6 – First Man (2 Wins) 

4- If Beale Street Could Talk (3 Wins), Roma

3 – Burning (1 Win), The Favourite, Hereditary (1 Win), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (1 Win),

2 – A Quiet Place, Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians, Cold War, Eighth Grade (1 Win)Free Solo (1 Win), Hearts Beat Loud (1 Win), Mary Queen of Scots, Minding the Gap (1 win), Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Teen Titans GO! to the Movies,

1 – A Star Is Born, Avengers: Infinity War (1 Win), American Animals, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blindspotting, The Death of Stalin, The Guilty, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ruben Brandt Collector, Shirkers, Shoplifters, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stan & Ollie, Suspiria, Three Identical Strangers, Uncle Drew, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Director

  • Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk* WINNER
  • Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
  • Lynne Ramsey – You Were Never Really Here
  • Ryan Coogler – Black Panther
  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman* RUNNER UP

Barry Jenkins once again delivers one of the most complete films of the decade. While it is not as good as Moonlight, he could very easily have crafted two of the top ten to fifteen films of the decade. It seems likely that the Jenkins style has been set, but that’s because no one has ever been better at composing portrait shots. With his visual flair tying in score and production design, somehow this movie looks even better than Moonlight. For anyone who watches If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins proves his talent as an auteur like no other.

Three other directors broke ground this year. Spike Lee delivered an integral story for 2019. He reminded us what a talented filmmaker he is, and why he should be regarded as one of the greats. His film speaks to a moment but reminds us that hate groups are part of the DNA of America. While many of us have been awakened to the danger that the KKK and other hateful groups pose to the greater culture, those bullied, beaten, and killed can never forget.

Lee’s narrative juxtaposes nicely with the work of Ryan Coogler, who wishes to tell a fairytale about being black in 2019 while searching for your identity. It is a stunning piece of work, showcasing Coogler as an auteur. That label gets thrown about, often forgetting that those who were first assigned the label had to create their visual styles within a standardized studio system. Yet Marvel and Disney might be the only traditional studio systems left. Coogler proved that those who are creative and special can craft a unique visual language. Combined with an excellent story that speaks to the isolationist movements within America, as well as the dangers of miseducation, Black Panther transcends the superhero genre.

Perhaps no director took a darker route to their storytelling than Lynne Ramsey. “You Were Never Really Here” follows a mercenary/assassin who finds himself drawn to help a young girl that was kidnapped. At the same time, it showcases PTSD and trauma in extraordinary detail. Her visuals are stunning, and an excellent performance from Joaquin Phoenix helps to sell the overall film. Yet without Ramsey’s control of visual storytelling, or willing to take big chances in the way information is presented, this film could have been a slog. She has proven herself to be one of the most interesting filmmakers working around trauma in film today.

Last but not least, Bo Burnham seemed to take conch and speak to the questions about what it means to grow up in the age of social media. Yet his compassion and love for his characters make him stand out. The way he shoots his leading lady Elsie Fisher showcases an empathy that few directors bring to the camera. This movie is a complete work, and with Burnham only turning 28 in the past six months, he’s got an amazing career ahead of him.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Brian Tyree Henry – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
  • Josh Hamilton – Eighth Grade
  • Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther* RUNNER UP
  • Steven Yeun – Burning* WINNER

For most people, Steven Yeun grew to prominence for his role as Glenn on The Walking Dead. However, the actor always had higher aspirations and seemed to really dive into his potential over the past couple of years. Yet Burning gets to showcase his pure charm in charisma in ways that are frankly intoxicating. Yeun plays Ben, a young Gastby-esque man who seems to charm everyone around him. Yeun plays him like a Venus Fly Trap, creating a dangerous and disarming character in the process. You will never be able to look at Yeun the same after this, at least not without wondering how dangerous he could become. Keep in mind, he gave another brilliant performance in Sorry to Bother You this year, making 2018 a breakout year for the former TV star.

In a category full of villains this year, one will hold a place in the pantheon of comic book villains. Killmonger reigned supreme, at least for a little while, but it was Michael B. Jordan‘s emotional turn that turned him into something special. From his first seconds on screen, he proved he could be dangerous, even when speaking in a whisper. Mad with purpose, Jordan turned his character into someone who could be endlessly charismatic, and extremely vile at each turn. He was physically unparalleled, but it is when he spoke that he catches your attention. Other actors could have made Killmonger evil, but it was Jordan’s emotional vulnerability and rawness that sells the role. His line reading of “Imagine that, a kid from Oakland running around believing in fairytales,” was the best line of the year.

Josh Hamilton may not have been a known commodity by many heading into 2018. He leaves the year as one of the very best dads in recent film history. You have never believed someone so emphatically loves their daughter. His fear and his worry are genuine in every frame. He just wants her to be happy. Yet, when asked if he would be embarrassed to have her (Elsie Fisher) as a daughter, you can see his heartbreak. It was the most genuinely beautiful performance by a parent of the year, and Hamilton melted our hearts.

Meanwhile, Brian Tyree Henry showed in under 15 minutes of screentime that he might be one of the very best actors living today. When you meet him, he is a happy guy, excited to see his friend. After all, his time in prison left him without many friends. As we spend time with Henry, you dive deeper and deeper into his story. The effects of incarceration are very evident with each word, each stare, and each line delivery. He sucks up the energy of the film, and when the movie lets him take off he delivers one of the greatest single scene performances in film history. Watch out, Henry is going places.

One of the most exciting and fun performances of the year came from none other than Hugh Grant. Grant rides into Paddington 2 with all the baggage of his career and comes out the other side better for doing so. He showcases his movie star charm that made him a household name in the ’90s but also showcases his grimy side. As disgraced movie star Phoenix Buchanan (baller name by the way) he wrestles with his career in a fun and interesting fashion. He’s having a ball here, and elevates the material as the perfect kind of loveable bad guy.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Elizabeth Debicki – Widows* RUNNER UP
  • Gina Rodriguez – Annihilation
  • Margot Robbie – Mary Queen of Scots
  • Michelle Yeoh – Crazy Rich Asians* WINNER
  • Milly Shapiro – Hereditary

One actress showed that she should be given bigger opportunities moving forward. Frankly, it is incredibly sad that Michelle Yeoh has not already had those opportunities. In Crazy Rich Asians, she gets a chance to show a steely side, but it’s her clear love for her son that makes her relatable. The role bears a lot of similarities to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada but Yeoh feels far more human and fragile. It is clear that she was never enough for those in her position, and that rub has turned her into someone destined to repeat those mistakes.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Debicki looks to change her path in Widows. She becomes a chameleon in the film, adapting and surviving to each environment she’s thrown into. Debicki has long given strong performances, but none has required the versatility of her role here. She leaves it all on the table, both physically and emotionally. It does not feel like anyone could have given more to this role or left themselves more emotionally vulnerable on the way.

Milly Shapiro will own a corner in the Creepy Kid’s Hall of Fame, and with good reason. When you watch Hereditary, it will be impossible to leave the film without feeling unsettled by her mere presence. The clicks, the far-off gaze, and the fear combine to create a small girl that is far more grotesque and evil than you would ever imagine. It is that fear that makes Charlie an especially creepy child, one who just wants to find her way in the world. Were it not for the evil that surrounds this family, she might have.

For a role that has been played so many times on screen, it was still surprising to see Margot Robbie bring new layers to Queen Elizabeth I. Her pain and suffering are both physical and emotional this time, and Robbie continues to show off as one of the very best actresses in the world right now. Even under layers of makeup and prosthetics, her eyes tell the complicated journey Elizabeth takes and the immense pain that Mary causes her. Robbie nails each moment she is on screen and makes the most of relatively short screentime.

There were few performers who were given the ability to let go emotionally. One of those actresses was Gina Rodriguez who offsets the cold calculation of Annihilation with a brilliant performance. The shimmer shakes her character to her core, and the transition from happy-go-lucky medic to the broken women she becomes before the bear attack is crushing. Yet Rodriguez navigates the turn with grace, making it a believable and necessary turn for the film.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here
  • John C. Reilly – The Sisters Brothers* WINNER
  • John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman* RUNNER UP
  • Ryan Gosling – First Man
  • Stephan James – If Beale Street Could Talk

There were few actors who can play both comedic and dramatic in any given film. Yet John C. Reilly never seems to get his due, even when he’s at the top of his game. Yet The Sisters Brothers allowed Reilly to play to his strengths. He brings out the best of the remorseful cowboy driven by the duty to protect his brother. Yet along the way, he is given moments of comedy, anger, and sorrow for the life he’s lived. Most of his performance is in the eyes, and Reilly brings his most internal performance of his career. But even one look into his eyes reveals his soul. It is the soul of someone who lived a life unfulfilled, but mostly a man who wants to save his brother from the death that awaits him. His purposeful mission gives Reilly a complex role and allows him to shine like the talented actor we’ve always known.

Perhaps the most underrated performance of the year comes from John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman. While his role may appear to some as if Washington has an easy part, no one was asked to balance that level of comedy and seriousness in his role. Washington jumps into the story headfirst, creating a complete character with simple line readings and frustration. In small moments, Washington shows his real talent, often pouring his heart in moments. It is subtle, but there are subtle character shifts that occur throughout the movie, but Washington sells them with the perfect mix of frustration and hope. It is his character that makes the film click into place, and with a lesser actor, the movie might not have worked at all.

Once again, Ryan Gosling adds to his ever-expanding list of simply phenomenal performances. In jumping into the role of Neil Armstrong, he might have embraced some of his overused tendencies, such as his quiet resolve. After all, there might not be an actor alive who can spill out emotion in complete silence like Gosling can. However, the reason that Gosling gets so good in First Man is his ability to articulate purpose in a performance. He becomes a man possessed after the death of his daughter. Driven by a single mission, Gosling appears cold and calculating. Below it all, you can see how broken he has become, and how the world has left him so shattered, he can only reach toward the stars. Yet when its all over, he reaches for his wife, and for the first time in years, genuine connection. That moment sealed his place on the list.

Yet Gosling was far from the only actor this year to turn grief into something special before our eyes. Joaquin Phoenix combined grief, trauma, and PTSD to craft a riveting mercenary and assassin. The man, known simply to us as Joe, has seen the worst sides of humanity throughout his life. Yet it is his mission to save a young girl that offers him a shot at redemption. A combination of Man on Fire and Drive, Phoenix brings out an intensely fractured man. Once again proving himself to be a performative chameleon, Phoenix displays pure affection for someone who reaches into his heart, and when she’s put in danger, his fire rages endlessly.

While the category mostly features veterans, Washington was not the only breakthrough in the lead circles this year. Stephan James will be someone to watch in the years to come. His performance in If Beale Street Could Talk shines bright. Often hindered because his character is shot behind glass, James creates empathy through his struggle for freedom. His love for Tish can never be doubted, and he shines bright like a sun when he’s happiest. One of the best scenes in the film involves his commitment to moving invisible appliances into his future home with Tish. His pantomime may not be accurate, but the emotion and positivity he puts into the action shows the two have something special. Yet it is the disparity between his emotional highs, his deepest fears, and his eventual breaking in prison that showcase his versatility and range. Watch out, he’s going to be a star.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Emma Stone – The Favourite
  • Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
  • Olivia Colman – The Favourite* RUNNER UP
  • Sakura Ando – Shoplifters
  • Toni Collette – Hereditary* WINNER

There were two all-timer performances this year, but it was Toni Collette who rules the day. Resentment burns deep in Collette’s role from Hereditary, and she uses her incredible facial expression to heighten every moment. There is fear behind her eyes, not just because of the hell she dives into, but the hell of knowing the evils she is capable of committing. She fears her own children and the violence they can manifest. She questions her sanity at every turn, losing time without realizing what has occurred. She fears her past, and the ways that her family history are inescapable.

All of it is on screen, and Collette will send chills down your spine in the process. What elevates her above my runner-up, despite both giving some of the best work of the decade, boils down to what Collette’s performance means for horror. To put it frankly, no performance has been as stunning as this one since Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. That is the company she’ll keep.

Let’s be clear, I’ve been an Olivia Colman stan since Tyrannosaur. Even so, she has never been as good as she was in The Favourite. She gets to play to the rafters at times, delivering mania and insanity that comes with years of syphilis driven rage. Yet there were genuine, showstopping emotional beats in this film. She will draw you into her spell and then cut you down with heartbreaking monologues. She shows a mastery of tone as she switches between sadness, mania, joy, depression, and all the way back around the spectrum. The fluidity of the performance proves her talent, and she gives one of the best performances in cinema this decade.

Meanwhile, Colman’s counterpart Emma Stone showcases why she has quickly become one of the best actresses of her generation. With Stone, it is more than just the non-verbals, which she delivers to perfection time and time again throughout The Favourite. It is a strangely physically exerting film in her catalog. She’s asked to alter her physicality as she rises through the court, often playing into the hands of her tormentors. She’s ultimately very funny, and she gets plenty of pithy remarks to deliver. She excels in small, unwritten moments that sell Stone as an actress. Even an unwritten grunt or eye roll does wonders.

Sakura Ando was not an actress on my radar even three months ago. However, her stunning portrayal as the matriarch of the crime family from Shoplifters will melt your heart. Ando shines from her first seconds on screen, but as the film evolves, it is clear she is the heartbeat. She contains love in multitudes, willing to go the extra mile for those she loves. Her willingness to sacrifice everything for those she loves is never in question. In small moments, she showcases emotion in a brutally honest, and saddening display. It should become a legendary performance, and with any luck, we will see Ando again in the near future.

Last but not least, Elsie Fisher took the world by storm in Eighth Grade. She was the heart and soul of the film, and it is her complicated reactions to her world that makes the film succeed. Perhaps most importantly, she shows authentic behavior, and never looks like she is trying to act. The sincere portrait of her life as she finishes up Middle School is both inspiring and awkward to watch. But Fisher has so much charm and likability, you will root for her the whole way. She soars because of this. It was this charm that makes her vulnerable, and when her heart breaks, yours will too. It is a stunning performance from the young actress.

AJ’s Nomination Count

9 – Black Panther (2 Wins)

7-  First Man (2 Wins), If Beale Street Could Talk (4 Wins)

5 – Hereditary (2 Win), Eighth Grade (1 Win), The Favourite

4- Burning (2 Win), Roma

3 – Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians (1 Win), Mary Queen of Scots, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (1 Win),

2 – A Quiet Place, BlacKkKlanman, Cold War, Free Solo (1 Win), Hearts Beat Loud (1 Win), Minding the Gap (1 Win), Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Teen Shoplifters, Titans GO! to the Movies, You Were Never Really Here

1 – A Star Is Born, Avengers: Infinity War (1 Win), American Animals, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blindspotting, The Death of Stalin, The Guilty, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Paddington 2, Ruben Brandt Collector, Shirkers, The Sisters Brothers, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stan & Ollie, Suspiria, Three Identical Strangers, Uncle Drew, Widows, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Check back tomorrow for more winners and nominees, including the actors and directors! If you haven’t already read over Part 1 – The Crafts! you can read it here! If you want to read over my picks in animated feature, documentary, or the screenplays, check here

Top 25 Rewatchable Movies of 2018

There’s often a divide between critics and audiences on the ways that many films are perceived. Oftentimes, I’m asked about the watchability of many films I love, including The Florida ProjectBlue Valentine, and more. Those movies are fantastic. They’re also movies I can only watch once a year if that. There are many who try to address the difference between what is your favorite film of the year, and what is the best. A lot of movies earn their classic status due to their rewatchability, and this is how movies like Raiders of the Lost ArkStar Wars, and more become all-timers. So let’s have that discussion now. With weeks to go until each of our writers unveil their best of 2018, here’s a look at many of the most rewatchable movies of the year.

25. Summer of ’84 (Review)

One of my favorite indie hits of the year, Summer of ’84 really clicks into place as a piece of 1980’s nostalgia. While movies like Ready Player One function as an Easter Egg equivalent to “Where’s Waldo,” Summer of ’84 takes the beats of popular films and comes into its own. However, it’s ending is what makes it a really awesome film, turning the nostalgia on its head. It’s creepy, scary, and a love-letter to the history of kids finding out their neighbors are evil as hell.

24. The Christmas Chronicles

Few movies were more Gif-able than The Christmas Chronicles. Really, this all comes down to Dad-O Claus from Kurt Russell. He’s so much fun, and it’s great to watch the actor really play up his charisma. The reason this makes the list over other more popular movies is it’s Christmas movie status. I fully expect to enjoy this one every year moving forward, especially with the accessibility of Netflix.

23. Mandy (Review)

An insane metal movie, featuring the awesome Nic Cage, should make this become a great cult hit. There’s a beauty to the cinematography that really helps it stand out as one of the visually striking movies of the year. The score from Jóhann Jóhannsson really hits it out of the park. Ultimately, it’s Cage and the beginning of an exciting career from Panos Cosmatos that will help this movie live on.

22. Creed II (Review)

Sports movies are great, and no franchise has lived on because of the repeat viewings like the Rocky franchise. Creed burns bright with repeat viewings, and while its sequel isn’t as good, it is still a crowdpleaser. There’s a lot to like out of Michael B. Jordan again, but it’s the addition of the Dragos (Dolph Lundgren & Florian Munteanu) and a larger role for Tessa Thompson that helps the movie come to life.

21.  A Star Is Born (Review)

It’s one of the biggest hits of the year, and will also be a huge favorite to win Best Picture. So why so low? Frankly, who is going to want to rewatch this over and over again? The soundtrack can blast through your Spotify playlist, but few viewers are going to willingly jump into a movie that ends as grimly as this one does. The Artist has mostly disappeared in the years since its release, and while this movie makes a lot of sense at this moment, it feels doubtful we’ll be returning to this when more upbeat and fun movies existed in 2018. Despite all that negativity, Gaga fans are going to keep this movie in the popular culture in some capacity, and Bradley Cooper’s voice will forever be a relic of the year. You’ll want to look at it one more time.

20. A Quiet Place (Review)

One of the very best theater experiences of all time, A Quiet Place really shines. Sadly, the acoustics of home video will make this nearly impossible to revisit. Still, a deeply emotional monster film will always have a rewatchability to it. With Emily BluntJohn Krasinski, and the emerging stars Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe rounding out the cast, this one will continue to be a pop horror movie that audiences enjoy.

19. Hearts Beat Loud (Review)

A loving story about music and it’s transformative power, Hearts Beat Loud should have been one of the movies of the year. A far more upbeat and loving story than A Star Is BornHearts Beat Loud really shines. Unlike the love ballads of A Star Is Born, the alternative music of Hearts feels far more contemporary. It’s a movie that’s ultimately a story of the love between a father and daughter, and it becomes one of the most heartfelt movies of the year.

18. Widows (Review)

A heist film will always play, but a movie with the pace of Widows feels destined to become a prestige rewatchable. In the vein of The Town and The Departed, Widows feels like an adult drama that will only grow legs in the years to come. Viola Davis leads the ensemble and with a mixture of respected veterans and emerging stars like Daniel KaluuyaElizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo, the action/drama says a lot about America in 2018.

17. Eighth Grade (Review)

One of the most sincere films of the year, Bo Burnham clearly established he has a great career ahead. Elsie Fisher delivers one of the very best performances of the year and her vulnerability helps to sell the movie. It’s the universal feelings the movie dives into, including loneliness, growing up, and self-doubt, that makes it a movie that I’ll share with my kids someday. Teen movies like this one can have a really long shelf-life, and when the movie is as well made as Eighth Grade, it makes it easier to return.

16. Mary Poppins Returns (Review

A fun and fancy-free story, Mary Poppins Returns gets a huge boost from the Disney machine. It’s a fun musical, featuring some real talent in Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The music might not be as instantly iconic as the original, but look for it to grow on audiences in the years to come. While it’s a bit of a retread of the original, it is more lighthearted at times. As movies like The Greatest Showman have proved over the years, a light-hearted romp in a musical really speaks to audiences.

15. Bad Times at the El Royale (Review)

A crazy trip to purgatory has never felt so stylized. This position is really anchored by Drew Goddard‘s ability to handle ensembles with flare, and he shockingly found a way to make the group work incredibly well. Every character gets their due and even those who go out early still get plenty of showy moments before biting the dust. Ultimately, a cast that includes Jeff BridgesChris Hemsworth, Cynthia Erivo, and Jon Hamm will always feel rewatchable. Surprisingly good performances from Dakota Johnson and Lewis Pullman reward audiences for their faith. With a lot of substance on the table, expect this one to make your movie rotation like Reservoir Dogs and The Big Lebowski have in the past.

14. Hereditary (Review)

One of the horror achievements of the century, Hereditary will certainly be rewatchable in my household. It’s got the upside of a film like The Shining, with dozens of potential interpretations for the film. There’s also enough drama to just watch Toni Colette do work, and she delivers an all-timer of a performance. However, the horror bias will stop many from ranking this movie higher, and many other audiences simply hated the movie. As a movie my family and I didn’t stop talking about over Christmas, I think this one has a really high upside in the long term.

13. Aquaman (Review)

Whether or not you like the DC Universe, Aquaman was a breath of fresh air for fans of comic book movies. It’s still a step down from Marvel’s lowest tier of movies, but the big action setpieces should make this one continue to pop in the year’s to come. It’s colorful (plus) features high-level fantasy storytelling (plus plus), and has one of the biggest monsters ever shown in a film (biggest plus). It’s ridiculously terrible in its dialogue, but that’s almost part of the charm. Like the Joel Schumacher Batman films, you can find some ridiculous fun out of the movie. Momoa having fun throughout the film will also make it very easy to jump back into the movie.

12. The Favourite (Review)

Costume dramas are rarely rewatchable. In most cases, they’re just too dry. Yet a supercharged film with a script dripping in vulgarity and hilariously quotable dialogue makes The Favourite one of the most unique films of the year. The trio of Rachel WeiszOlivia Colman, and Emma Stone also adds to the movie. Stone is now establishing her as the surprise superstar of her generation, and Weisz looks like she’s got a chance to be one of the great actresses of all time. Meanwhile, Colman is about to take up the mantle of Queen Elizabeth for the next two years of The Crown. Expect all three to become mainstays for the awards scene moving forward.

11. Set It Up

A fun little romantic comedy for audiences in their 20s, Set It Up works on several levels. First, it really seems to understand millennials in the workplace today. The push to break through and become successful is something everyone under the age of 35 is constantly stressing over right now. However, we also get two great star-making turns, helping solidify that Glenn Powell and Zoey Deutch have a chance to become the next Stone/Gosling. Trust, Powell is a movie-star.

10. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies (Review)

Perhaps the most surprising comedy film of 2018 was the emergence of the hyper-meta Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. The movie featured some amazingly catchy music, including an amazing track from Michael Boulton of all people. It’s also packed to the brim with jokes about the superhero film industry, even going so far as they say that “Aqua-Manatee” will get a film in the upcoming madness. A loving surprise, Teen  Go! to the Movies can be appreciated by anyone.

9.  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Review)

The Coen Brothers are two of the greatest directors in the history of American film. Every one of their movies can be instantly rewatchable, if for no other than they load their movies with imagery worthy of a college course and complex allegorical narratives. Their most recent work, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, does not instantly scream the brilliance of their pinnacle work. Yet the choice to tell six different stories, each taking on its own tone and visuals from the Western American storybook. With Netflix making the film endlessly accessible, you can turn on a fifteen-minute segment and check out. It’s an easy movie to jump into at any point or to throw on for your friends at a party without disrupting the night. In many ways, it is the easiest way to show the Coen’s brilliance.

8. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Review)

One of two teen comedies to really show the genre still has legs, To All the Boys I Loved Before was a massive hit for Netflix. The two stars, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, are now everywhere. Centineo starred in a pair of these films for Netflix this year, and while the second was a flop, he’s now a massive internet sensation. His character is so popular, the fictional Peter Kavinsky might be the 2nd most famous Peter of all time (behind Peter Parker). A sequel is on the way, and I’m surrounded by people who have already watched the movie five times (or more). A sensation, expect the fever to continue for years to come.

7. Love, Simon (Review)

One of the strongest romantic high school comedies in years, Love, Simon really deserves to be in the awards hunt. Nick Robinson proved that he could really sell as a lead actor, and unlike most romantic comedies, the entire movie lives and dies on his singular performance. Greg Berlanti really works great as a director here, cashing in his clout from the “Arrow/Flash-Verse” to make the first LGBTQ studio romantic comedy. This film also boasts some really moving performances from Jennifer GarnerJosh Duhamel, and Katherine Langford. One of the funniest scripts of the year feels like a John Hughes movie and it was amazing to feel that way again. It might be the best high school movie since Mean Girls.

6. Avengers: Infinity War (Review)

A seismic moment in comic film history, and it showed in the box office. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Infinity War is that it actually lived up to the hype. The Snap is one of the iconic moments of the year in cinema, and while it is unclear how the conclusion will come, this movie stands magnificently as one of the best transition films in history (up against the Back to the Future Part II and Empire Strikes Back style movies). Thanos became one of the most layered villains in the modern superhero age, and the Summer of Brolin really lived up to the hype.

5. Paddington 2

No movie will put a bigger smile on your face than the incredibly beautiful Paddington 2. Secretly one of the best movies of the year, Paddington 2 showed off that a movie can be saccharine and sweet, but still be extremely well made. The all-star cast is technically led by Ben Whishaw, who had an absolutely stellar year on TV and on the big screen. However, the true superstar of the film has to be the grimy and meta performance from Hugh Grant. It is not often you watch an actor take a role that wrestles with their own legacies, and the actor simply shines. For anyone who has ever liked a Grant-led film, this will be a ball of a time. Even if you don’t like him, the movie recalls the zany silliness of a Wes Anderson film, and with the production design making the film look like one as well, this one is joyously amazing to watch.

4. Crazy Rich Asians (Review)

A surprisingly visual wonder for a studio romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians represented the first film of its kind to feature a majority Asian descendent cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993. The gamble roll with the director of Now You See Me 2 and a couple of the Step Up films paid off. John Chu assembled an incredibly talented cast, featuring future household names in Constance WuGemma Chan, and Sonoya MizunoHenry Golding and Awkwafina became two of the breakout stars of the year, and Michelle Yeoh reminded audiences that she is just as regal as Meryl Streep. This movie features a lot of talent, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not turning it on this second.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Review)

Arguably the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury RoadMission: Impossible – Fallout feels like a career triumph for Tom Cruise. There’s are a lot of memorable sequences of the year, including the amazing bathroom fight, the HALO jump, and the chase through Paris. More importantly, the movie should help crown a new generation of stars. That’s surprising, especially considering the “team” features return performances from Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg. However, we got a career-redefining performance from Henry Cavill, who finally clicked in my mind as an action star. Vanessa Kirby and Rebecca Ferguson continue to break through in a big way, and Sean Harris should be villains in every movie forever. Once again, it comes down to Cruise and his incredible skill as a movie star.

2. Black Panther (Review)

The film of the year remains one of the most rewatchable films you’ll ever see. One, it’s the crown jewel of the MCU and the most complete movie of the year. Chadwick Boseman shines in the titular role, but all eyes are on Michael B. Jordan. His Killmonger is one of the very best villains in a comic book film since Heath Ledger as The Joker. The cast also features a mix of generational talents, and could be the deepest cast in a film this year. With stars like Lupita N’yongoDanai GuriraAngela Basset,  When Daniel Kaluuya, the star of Get Out might be the 7th or 8th best part of your movie, you know you’re cooking with fire.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Review)

It’s a bright shining accomplishment that is funny, dramatic, and beautiful, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will surely be one of the most rewatchable films of the year. There is so much to get out of the newest and incredibly meta entry to the Spider-Man cinematic history. The story of a kid named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) resonates with audiences, playing with what it means to become a hero. The message that anyone, from any place, can become Spider-Man feels like an incredibly beautiful and loving message to end 2018. You can make a difference in your community, and you can become the hero you’re waiting to emerge. No film gets as beautiful a message. Add in the unique animation, the fact it is an animated film and the under two-hour run-time, you’ve got the easy rewatch for years to come.

Red Box Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is Glitzy, Glamorous, and Absolute Fire

The death of the Romantic Comedy has been a really disappointing development in Hollywood. These are the kinds of films that helped to create many of the stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. The vehicle gave women an open place in the industry, and many of them used that clout to develop into stronger actresses. If you look back at the era, Julia RobertsRenée ZellwegerSandra Bullock, and Reese Witherspoon all showcased their first bits of true talent in this genre. All of them now have Oscars. With the death of the romantic comedy, women have found tougher times getting the power needed to make films, but one of 2018’s best might help to change that. Crazy Rich Asians not only roars the romantic comedy back to life but helps push actors into the spotlight that will become household names in the years to come.

Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a young woman living in New York and working as a professor of Economics at NYU. She recently dating a man named Nick Young (Henry Golding), who asks her to accompany him to a wedding in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick belongs to one of the most wealthy families in the world. Soon, she must balance meeting his family, namely his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), being a strong woman, and staying true to herself.

The film bursts to life, creating a vibrant and colorful world for Wu to inhabit. In many ways, the story plays like “Meet the Parents,” but with stronger performances at every level. Constance Wu announces her journey toward superstardom in the film, and she perfectly shows off a sensitive and caring woman fighting for her relationship. In many moments of the film, Golding’s state of denial is simply mindnumbing for the audience. Wu must create a sympathetic character that still sells the importance of the relationship, and she does so beautifully.

Meanwhile, Yeoh forces your eyes (and thoughts) to always be on her. She plays up the strict and domineering personality to make you absolutely entranced with her. She’s devious and crafty, absolutely nailing gut-punching lines. The directness of her character will shock, yet she sets up moment after moment where it feels like she’s just playing with her prey. Despite this, Yeoh crafts an empathetic character that helps draw you further into the story. Like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Yeoh is so good, you can’t stop thinking about what she is up to even if she is not on screen.

One of the breakouts of the film will be Henry Golding. The young Malaysian actor oozes charisma, despite having an understated role. He’s the typical star of a romantic comedy, an often oblivious idiot. Yet Golding makes his character charming, despite clearly being in denial about his family and friends. He makes mistakes, but his sincerity overshadows each of these issues. He sells the romance with Wu, and their chemistry pops right off the screen. The two actors are destined to become superstars, and Golding can easily become one of Hollywood’s go-to heartthrobs over the next few years.

The script beams characters in and out of the story at will, letting the ensemble shine. Gemma Chan may only get ten minutes of total screen time, but she leaves a massive impression on you as a viewer. She gets an extremely emotional turn and provides another character that’s easy to root for. As Wu goes through her hell, her relationship is contextualized in a big way by Chan’s. Meanwhile, one of 2018’s breakout stars, Sonoya Mizuno only gets about seven minutes of screentime. That is despite the fact that the film centers around her wedding. Again, she totally sells a completely different kind of character in this society but never wears out her welcome.

Two members of the comic relief very much stand out. Awkwafina gets to take over sections of the film as the comic relief, and thank god for that. She’s the perfect blend of snobby and independently funny to sell the “Yaaassss Queen” vibe she delivers. Perhaps more integral to helping us understand the world is Nico Santos. The comedic actor from Superstore proves to be a massively valuable insider that helps the audience believe we’re not the only ones rooting for Wu, and having allies helps endear you to the story.

The actual script pulls out moments that are both extremely funny, and completely in its own lane. Frankly, it doesn’t care if you understand the nuance of each scene. The screenplay is so knowledgeable about the place and context, it lets the audience fill in the blanks on their own. It’s never confusing, but also never sacrifices authenticity in the process. Just as important, the film never sells out an emotional punch for a laugh. In the vein of Moonstruck or When Harry Met Sally, the emotional journey of the romance lifts the film up another level.

A huge surprise is that John M. Chu really steers this film to be as extravagant and beautiful as it becomes. The actual craftwork of the film celebrates a culture. A costume nomination should be in the cards if Warner Bros. plays their cards right. It would be an easy place to reward the stunning visuals. In many ways, Crazy Rich Asians is an equal to Black Panther in celebrating the excellence of its subjects. Asian culture is never questioned as being lesser than.

Instead, it is celebrated and showcased in glitz and glam few American films can pull off. It also nails the absurdity of how wealthy characters are in this world. Islands are rented out, a fairytale wedding will make for one of the most beautiful ever captured on film, and you will get lost in the beauty of Singapore. Not finished with his vision, Chu blasts your ears with a wonderful soundtrack featuring some of the most gorgeous covers you’ve heard all year. It’s a surprising flex from Chu, who has clearly proved that with he can really click with the right project. Hopefully, Crazy Rich Asians is a turning point for the young director.

Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians takes its place as one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Wu and Yeoh should genuinely remain in the awards race all year (Wu picked up a Golden Globe nomination last week). While the romantic comedy may not be as strong as it had been in years past, Crazy Rich Asians should serve as a reminder. Simply because we’ve told similar stories before doesn’t mean that a new voice, vision, or look can’t revive the story. Sometimes, the new story can even surpass similar narratives. Crazy Rich Asians refreshes the influential genre and will be an undeniable good time for everyone.

GRADE: (★½)

What do you think of Crazy Rich Asians? Check out our other film reviews here!