I’ll never forget the time, on some sleepy, long-forgotten mid-90s afternoon, when my older sister explained to me why she took special care to rotate the order of her hot hair rollers.

She didn’t use all of them, you see, and to just sloppily return them to their case would mean using the same ones over, and over, and over and over again.

But it wasn’t the wear-and-tear that concerned her. No, she explained that she wanted to make sure the individual rollers didn’t get jealous of each other.

It’s weird, but I get it.

I own 3 ukuleles (currently) not counting my wife’s Kamoa concert and my stepson’s Lanikai soprano which also reside in our home. But the one I play the most often is my Cordoba tenor, which recently started coming apart behind the neck.

I took it to the ukulele doctor (hat tip to Acoustic Music in SLC) and they clamped it and glued it and got it straightened out. But despite their excellent work, it’s still likely that my uke is on its last legs.

And that’s sad. And it reminded me that I haven’t been playing as much lately as I used to, and that I should while I still can. But the song I had been putting off recording is a finger-picking song, and that means I’d use my Kamoa coconut soprano because of its Low-G base string.

So there I was, feeling torn over whether it was OK to honor my dying Tenor by playing one of my Sopranos, when I remembered my sister’s hair rollers, laughed at myself a little, and got to work.

Now, it’s been quite some time since I recorded a song and longer still since I recorded by myself. I had a momentary panic when I couldn’t remember where all my gear was, before remembering some of it is tucked away behind the board games under our staircase in this awesome découpage box that my friend Emily made for me in college.

It was buried under a pile of playing cards and covered in dust and removing it from under the stairs felt like that scene in John Wick when he unearths his hidden cache of gold coins and weapons.

I mean c’mon, look at all the dust on this mic stand!

So here’s the new video. I’m barely dressed and my hair is disheveled and I’m sweaty because I had to turn off the air conditioners to cut down on white noise and because I worried that every delay pushed me one step closer to giving up and going back to watching television.

“Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” is an old folk song, which means there’s hundreds of different versions out there in the world. My take is inspired by the Oscar Isaac version from “Inside Llewyn Davis” — you’re shocked, I’m sure — and I’m using a standard Travis pick on C, F and Am with a little flourish from G# to G to end each verse.

I think it turned out OK. And as always, should you care to download a copy you can do so for free over at my bandcamp page.

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Oscar Picks 2019

Yes, it’s Sunday February 24 and I’m *just* now publishing my Oscar Picks, roughly 5 hours before the awards broadcasts begin.

I was very tempted to skip the whole exercise this year. It’s beginning to feel like The Oscars is actively daring us to not care anymore, and I believe that in the relatively short future the Academy Awards currency will collapse and it will join broadcast television in cultural irrelevance.

But we’re not *quite* they’re yet, and the Academy relented and put cinematography back into the broadcast categories. Plus, if I’m being honest, I kind of want to see if this whole no-host thing is a train wreck or not.

So maybe I’ll finally quit when they institute that ridiculous “popular film” award. Yikes.

Caveat number 1: I vote with my heart, not my head, which has made me a historically terrible predictor of Oscar success.

Caveat number 2: I always try to see every Best Picture nominee, but I did not end up watching “Green Book” prior to tonight’s broadcast. Take that as you will.

Caveat number 3: For reasons I don’t understand, FiveThirtyEight did not publish their data-based predictions, which I typically rely on for a second opinion.

Best Picture

Conventional wisdom says that the more nominations a film has, the more likely that film is to win Best Picture. And that rule seems like a good measuring stick for the 2019 cohort, with Roma and The Favourite tied with 10 nominations each.

And, as it turns out, those are my personal Top 1 and 2 films of the year, so I’m feeling a little pleased with myself.

But many of the professional forecasters have noted how 2019 is one of the most wide-open Oscar slates in recent memory, with legitimate odds for many, if not most, of the 8 Best Picture films to take a shot at the statuette.

I agree with that sentiment, and will feel a range of excited surprise (BlacKkKlansmen), ambivalence (Black Panther, Green Book) or crushing disappointment (Bohemian Rhapsody) if the other films take the prize, but still feel that this year’s race is either Roma’s or The Favourite’s to lose.

That said, Roma has a political edge to it that, given the circumstances of 2018-2019, could give it enough of an edge in the final count to overcome the forces working against it (more on that in a minute).

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite — Should win

Green Book

Roma — Will win

A Star Is Born

Vice

Actress in a Leading Role

Two big caveats for this category: I have see neither “The Wife” nor “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” But I’m fairly certain my prediction would be the same even if I had.

I’m on record as *loving* The Favourite, particularly due to its cast. While “Roma” is a Director’s movie, “The Favourite” is an actor’s movie, and Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is the secret ingredient that makes the whole sauce come together.

Simultaneously egomaniacal and heartbreakingly vulnerable, Colman’s performance is magnetic (Just thinking about her “Look at me! Look at me! HOW DARE YOU!” line makes me shake with laughter) and sets the tone for the rest of the surrealist antics in the film that would crumble under their own weight if not for the film’s steady protagonist.

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”

Glenn Close, “The Wife”

Olivia Colman, “The Favourite” — Should win — Will win

Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”

Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Actor in a Leading Role

This year’s crop of lead actor nominees is terrible, and I feel like it’s necessary to talk about *how* something comes to be nominated for an Oscar.

While the entire Academy membership votes on the final winners, the various *branches* vote on the nominees. So the directors choose the directors, the writers choose the writers, the actors choose the actors.

That’s a problem, because the acting branch is the Academy’s largest, and they’re prone to certain, well, unfortunate tropes. In short: actors are obsessed with physical transformation and the result is glaringly apparent this year: All but 1 of the nominees are portraying a real-life/historical figure.

So is Bale’s impression of Dick Cheney better than Willem Dafoe’s impression of Vincent Van Gogh? I can tell you one thing for sure, I was much more impressed with Bradley Cooper doing his own vocals than Rami Malek’s lip-syncing performance that was 90 percent prosthetic teeth.

This category, bizarrely, comes down to the old guard vs the new guard, embodied in Viggo Mortensen’s homage to golden-age Oscar bait in “Green Book” versus Malek’s hipster-age feature-length Behind the Music.

I pick the latter, because I’m interested in what an Oscar can do to Malek’s career now that Mr. Robot is wrapping up. The Academy will pick the former.

Christian Bale, Vice

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody — Should (?) win

Viggo Mortensen, Green Book — Will win

Directing

Once again, this comes down to Roma versus The Favourite, and the clear winner is Alfonso Cuarón and his pain-stakingly detailed recreation of Mexico City circa 1970.

Now, when I say “clear winner,” I’m talking about my “should” designation. There’s still quite a bit of industry prejudice toward Netflix, seen as a lesser medium for screening capitol-F films.

That may well doom Cuarón, which would be a shame. I’ve got my quibbles with Netflix, but they made the right call investing in “Roma” and did right by the film, pouring a lot of resources into marketing and, likely, putting a black-and-white film about a Mexican domestic worker in front of more eyeballs than a traditional arthouse release would have.

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee

Cold War, Paweł Pawlikowski

The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón — Will win, Should win

Vice, Adam McKay

Actress in a Supporting Role

In what is the polar opposite of this year’s Best Actor category, Best Supporting Actress is the spoils of wealth. Every name on this list gave an Oscar-worthy performance (whatever that phrase even means any more) and particularly Regina King, in any other year, would be a breakout for her great work in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

But in the end, the question isn’t whether The Favourite will win this category, the question is *which* of The Favourite’s two nominees will take home the statue.

Personally, my money is on Rachel Weisz, whose Lady Sarah is cunning, manipulative and dangerous but centered around a consistent core of moral principal that ultimately leaves her susceptible to the guerilla schemes of her competitor, Emma Stone’s Abigail.

Also, Weisz hasn’t won an Oscar since 2006, compared to 2017 for Stone.

Amy Adams, “Vice”

Marina de Tavira, “Roma”

Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Emma Stone, “The Favourite”

Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite” — Should win — Will win

Actor in a Supporting Role

This year’s category of the misfit toys features great performances by great actors, all of whom seem wrong to win the Oscar this year. Every nominee in this categories seems a little off, either because they’re the wrong actor to get the nomination (Adam Driver?) or because they so far been overshadowed on the awards circut by their costars (Mahershala Ali, Sam Rockwell).

I actually like the idea of an out-of-the-box win for either Sam Elliott or Richard E. Grant, which would help spread the gold around a little and recognize some clutch thespians who have been putting in some really good work in relatively thankless roles lately.

So flip a coin on this one, you’ll be in as strong a position as I am.

Mahershala Ali, Green Book — Will win

Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born — Should win

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Documentary Feature

And now for a mea culpa: I should have waited until after I saw Mind The Gap before I wrote my Top 10, because it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. (It’s also currently available on Hulu — hint, hint, nudge, nudge)

This is a strong category this year, and in an alternate reality I could see Free Solo and RBG battling it out for the statute. But if anything other than Mind the Gap wins tonight, I riot.

Free Solo

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Minding the Gap — Should win — Will win

Of Fathers and Sons

RBG

Animated Feature

Black Panther made history for being the first superhero flick to be nominated for Best Picture. That’s a great milestone, but it’s a *different* superhero that will earn the gold tonight.

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Should win — Will win

Odds and ends

I’m still smitten with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but I’m betting that adapted screenplay is where BlacKkKlansmen gets some much-deserved Oscar love.

Similarly, a lot of cinephile folk were irked that Ethan Hawke was left off the Actor’s list, and imagine that sympathy vote will propel First Reformed in the original screenplay category.

If by some chance Roma doesn’t get Best Picture, than look for it to pick up the best foreign language film award. Otherwise, that statute goes to Cold War.

And finally Best Original Song, which is an all-but-guaranted lock for “Shallow” from A Star Is Born. Watch for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s live performance during the telecast, something they didn’t even bother to schedule for the also-rans.

Click here to read Part I

Velvet Buzzsaw

Set in the world of high-end modern art, writer-director Dan Gilroy reunites with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (plus Toni Collette and John Malkovitch) for this wonderfully wicked mashup of satire and horror.

The plot follows the discovery of an unknown artist’s work after his death, and the assorted bon vivant (a celebrity critic, a gallery owner, an art agent, etc.) who both admire the craft as well as see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Only one problem: the paintings appear to be imbued with some hostile and supernatural force that sets about eliminating the cast in increasingly gleeful displays of carnage.

You’re mileage will certainly vary with this one, and Gilroy’s attempts to zip two genres together (as if the Final Destination franchise had been grafted onto The Devil Wears Prada) don’t always result in a seamless delivery. But the experience is so unique, kinetic and unassuming, anchored by a hypnotically devoted Gyllenhaal, that it makes for a rare, if beguiling, treat.

Grade: B+

*Watch it NOW on Netflix

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell, a very funny if not yet widely known comedian, stars and shines in this semi-biographical film by debut director (and screenwriter) Paul Downs Colaizzo.

As the titular Brittany, Bell plays a woman who, after some hard truths about her health from a doctor, resolves to turn her life around by training for and running in the New York City Marathon. Brittany finds confidence and new purpose with each lost pound, but the film is far from an advertisement for Gold’s Gym memberships — it follows a woman’s search for identity and self-appreciation, trading laugh-out-loud comedy with cringing tragedy as it builds up to a powerhouse finale.

Grade: A-

Watching “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s documentary on populist provocateur and propagandist Steve Bannon, one can’t help but wonder what the subject expected to get by granting a filmmaker such intimate access to his life.

Much like the 2016 fly-on-the-wall documentary “Weiner,” which similarly premiered at Sundance, “The Brink” finds a controversial and scandal-prone American political figure behind closed doors in the places where the public typically isn’t invited to go.

In this case it’s Bannon’s intimate meetings with far-right European leaders as he attempts to stitch together a coalition of the misfit toys to take on “the establishment” over immigration and exclusionary nationalism. At every turn Bannon insists his work is not racist, anti-Semitic or vitriolic, then he gives a smile and a wink as he’s pressed to explain his fearmongering tactics and dog whistles.

The movie is book-ended by two major setbacks for Bannon’s philosophy — the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama and the election of a Democratic House majority in 2018 — but the lingering message from The Brink is that Bannon is always one to regroup, reinvent, and resurface.

Grade: B

The Report

In the years since the September 11 attack and the War on Terror, America’s pop culture response has incrementally shifted from the escapism of 24 to the repressed jingoism of Zero Dark Thirty to the pessimistic criticism of Looming Tower.

Into that maze steps The Report, the Adam Driver-led film by Scott Burns that zealously hopes to set the record straight on the moral shortcomings of U.S. intelligence and government leaders.

It’s vehicle in that effort is the “Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Report of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” and its lead researcher, Daniel Jones, whose dogged pursuit of the facts despite byzantine bureaucratic intransigence exposed the truth of the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture) and the agency’s lies and misrepresentations to two presidents and the American public at large.

You might wonder how the creation of a 6,000-page government report can make for compelling drama, and The Report is initially clumsy and disjointed as it attempts to set the narrative background and cast of characters (played by a stellar supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Cory Stoll, Michael C. Hall and Annette Benning — as Sen. Diane Feinstein). The end result is an enlightening and thought-provoking film that is perhaps 30 minutes too long due to its slow start, but one that finishes strong and on an aspirational note for American democracy.

Grade: B

The Lodge

Riley Keough (Logan Lucky) stars as Grace in this frostbit thriller by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala about a woman snowed in while on a get-to-know-you vacation with her boyfriend’s children at a remote winter cabin. Once the storm hits, frozen pipes and a broken-down generator leave Grace and the children cut off and alarmed by an escalating series of inexplicable — supernatural? — events.

The Lodge has atmosphere in spades, utilizing the dark setting and inhospitable weather to great effect. But its plot and character work is considerably less artful, ham-fisting symbolism for religion and family onto the screen as though the writers were standing nearby shouting “See! It has layers!” into your face while you watch.

The story’s big moment comes in the flip between Act II and III and a twist (?) is handled so poorly that the film — serviceably eerie until that point — careens into farce and slumps its way to the closing credits leaving little more than head-scratching uncertainty about what transpired.

Grade: D

State of the Union

Confession: Despite State of the Union‘s inclusion in Sundance’s Indie Episodic category — for indie TV pilots and series — I walked in expecting a traditional narrative film. Even so, the 10 relatively short chapters combine perfectly into a not-quite-2-hours single sitting, as the vignettes blend seamlessly into a coherent arc for its characters.

Written by the great Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education, Wild) and consisting of little more than a pub setting and two characters, (Played by a wonderfully comedic Rosamund Pike and the winning every-man Chris O’Dowd) SOTU tells the story of Tom a Louise, an on-the-rocks couple who meet up for a drink each week before a marital counseling session to talk strategy.

The dialogue is superb, insightful, witty and heartbreaking as Tom and Louise track the evolution of their relationship, looking for what went wrong, what is salvageable, and how to move forward. It’s real and raw and touching in that sad-funny sweet spot that Hornby does so well.

Watch out for it when it launches (likely on Sundance TV but presumably available elsewhere afterward) is it’s not one to miss.

Grade: A

Big Time Adolescence

“Coming-of-age” is the classic, quintessential staple of the stereotypical *SUNDANCE* movie, and Big Time Adolescence fits that trope in spades, following Mo (American Vandal‘s Griffin Gluck) as he navigates high school, first dates and being a well-intentioned teenage drug dealer.

But the film also flips that narrative with its co-lead Zeke (SNL’s Pete Davidson) who remains-of-age smoking dope, getting blitzed and hanging with his buds, including his best bed Mo the 16-year-old brother of an ex girlfriend Zeke never quite stopped pining for.

The characters both support each other and feed into a destructive impulse that stunts their emotional development, with the big question of whether the inevitable crash will shake them lose and allow them to mature or doom them to perpetual childhood.

It doesn’t quite satisfy that question in its final moments, falling just shy of a perfect landing, but it still manages an impressive launch through some universal, meaningful territory.

Grade: B+


Best of 2018: Top 10

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sitting on this post for no good reason since before 2018 ended. I had seen everything I needed to see (within a reasonable degree of certainty) but couldn’t settle on the final order until, literally, moments ago.

I’m still not certain I got it quite right, and every film in my top five at one point or another held the top spot. So before I doubt myself and reshuffle the deck, yet again, here’s my 10 favorite moves of 2018.

10. Vice

Adam McKay’s film about the modern Republican Party and the rise, and rise, and rise of Dick Cheney has its detractors, many of whom make very good points about the film’s overt distaste for its central subjects and over-reliance on gimmickry. But there’s no denying the power of Christian Bale’s chameleon performance, juxtaposed against the otherwise surrealist take on American political “history” (characters occasionally break the fourth wall or slip into Shakespearean prose to hammer home the narrative’s points about the hollow theatrics of government).

You’re mileage will definitely vary here, but I’m always prone to award points for bending the rules of convention, which “Vice” does from start to finish.

9. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut landed with a bang during the summer, and while its status as the “it” movie of 2018 has diminished somewhat against late-arriving contenders, it’s still likely to be one of the movies that people remember even after they stop confusing the dates on their checks (Is that still a thing? Do people still write out checks?).

That’s due in no small part to the raw and dynamic performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, a killer soundtrack and a confident, observational directing style that feels as if the story on screen is something accidentally, and heartbreakingly, stumbled upon.

8. Hereditary

It’s easy to overlook the skill involved in a good horror film. Lesser entries over-rely on conventions: dark rooms, loud noises and ghastly manifestations that send a chill down the audience’s spine before sending them home with a smile on their face. Then there’s movies like “Hereditary,” which use those tools to burrow under your skin and sit with you for days.

“Hereditary” is packed with shocking, disturbing moment, but the movie doesn’t rely on stunts. There’s a mythology at play, and an examination of grief and familial bonds, all obscured under a deep and bewitching atmosphere of dread.

7. Annihilation

“Annihilation,” the novel by Jeff Vandermeer is, to put it mildly, ambiguous. It conveys mood — and particularly a deepening sense of unease — more than plot, with its characters barely attempting to describe the fantastic and terrifying things they encounter as they venture into…something.

It’s also a great read, and wonderfully adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, whose film combines beautiful and haunting imagery with a more concrete narrative about an expedition of women scientists exploring a phenomenon of likely alien origin located along a rural segment of the Florida coastline.

6. Paddington 2

I never got around to seeing the first Paddington, and I was somewhat confused when I started hearing reports that it’s sequel was the best-reviewed film in Rotten Tomatoes’ history (at the time).

So I took the bait, and I’m here to tell you the hype is real. Paddington 2 is infectiously joyful, a film that gushes sincerity and charm, and combines slapstick humor with thrilling chase sequences and, somehow, everything in between. As the film’s antagonist, Hugh Grant has simply never been better, and a stand-out scene utilizing pop-up book imagery took my breath away. See this movie, now.

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It took a few years, but Netflix finally did it. With “Buster Scruggs” the streaming giant had its first must-see feature film, a collection of six western vignettes by the Coen Brothers.

Frequently funny, often tragic, occasionally disturbing and sometimes all of the above, the Coen’s ballad has a little bit of everything and will leave you wanting more.

4. First Man

I was born into a world where man had already walked the lunar surface, with the tragedies, national rivalries and scientific uncertainties of the space race long since past. As a result, the most compelling aspect of Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic was, for me, the anxiety it conveys as now-historic ambassadors of Planet Earth set off on unproven and spectacularly dangerous missions to test the boundaries of human accomplishment.

The film’s centerpiece is a coup de grâce, as Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his crew make their decent from Lunar orbit and, once landed, step out onto an otherwordly landscape. Chazelle takes it all in, giving the scenes room to breathe without needless interruption or embellishment.

3. BlacKkKlansman

From the “You can’t make this up” file comes “BlacKkKlansman” the mostly-true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film sizzles with a sharp, darkly-comic energy, aided by the pitch-perfect, odd-couple casting of John David Washington and Adam Driver, as well as a surprisingly effective Topher Grace as KKK grand wizard David Duke.

2. Roma

The term “visionary” is thrown around a little too liberally in film criticism, but in the case of Alfonso Cuaron it applies. Consider the recent run by the director, from “Children of Men” in 2006 to “Gravity” in 2013 and now “Roma,” which was wisely snapped up by Netflix.

Known for his long takes and massive scale, Cuaron painstakingly recreates Mexico City circa 1970 for his meditative profile of an affluent family and their live-in housekeeper/nanny. It’s a movie brimming beyond the edges of the screen with life and detail, following one young woman’s path through a city, and nation, in a state of social and political flux.

1. The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a style all his own, simultaneously enticing and intentionally off-putting, as seen recently in “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” His films are absurd, but with absurdities masked under a veneer of sterile banality that he carefully cracks to expose the bizarre machinations at play.

With “The Favourite,” working off a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos focuses his singular artistic eye on the court of England’s Queen Anne (a superb Olivia Coleman) and the schemes of two women (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) who battled for the monarch’s trust and affection.

In the world of “The Favourite,” the familiar pomp and circumstance of imperial English decorum are on full display, albeit ratcheted up to farcical heights that, while deliciously anachronistic, convey the petty jealousies and political scheming that carry through to modern society. The result is a period piece unbound by the trappings of history that, through caricature, captures something wholly real, grotesquely bizarre and hilariously relatable.

The end is near!

I’m fairly confident I have my list of top movies narrowed down. The problem now is getting them into the right order. A couple late-opening films forced some reorganizing, and the agonizing removal of a few titles.

But there was one movie that kept sticking with me. I couldn’t justify putting it in the Top 10 over other films, but it killed me to let it go. And so, this year’s Number 11 film is:

A Quiet Place

Within minutes of the opening credits, writer-director John Krasinski’s science-fiction/horror film lets you know that it’s playing with a different rule book. An otherwise prototypical post-apocalyptic cold open — with a family scavenging a deserted store for food and other supplies — gives way to a frightening change of stakes as the family tip-toes their way home, cautious that any sound of meaningful volume will attract nightmarish creatures lurking just out of sight.

That harsh start kicks off a tight 90-minute survival tale that inventively uses misdirection and near-silence to toy with the senses and ramp up the tension to visceral levels. And the film’s centerpiece sequence, with the main characters separated and facing a cascade of challenges — including labor — is impressively plotted out and shot for a first-time director who shows an aptitude for scene geography and set piece design.

Most impressive is how the film is built around what would otherwise be a gimmick — don’t make noise or aliens (?) will eat you — but manages to do its premise justice, taking the time to build as convincing a world as possible around that particular, and grotesque, set of circumstances.

The conclusion is perhaps a little too tidy, erring on the side of relief at the end of a dark story. But those narrative decisions also feel intentional and earned, with “A Dark Place” taking pains to show how some people could survive in such a dark reality, and centering its story on a particularly well-suited, and hopeful, group of survivors.

There is some early talk of a potential “Quiet-ER Place” sequel (my name, not theirs) and if that happens, I’ll be at the theater on opening night.

And a few more:

Last year, I included a few quick shout-outs to additional movies on my Top 10 post. It was a nice addition, IMHO, and one that maybe works best added on to the Number 11. (We’ll see, I might have more shout-outs to make next week too).

I nearly gave the 11th spot to Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse,
which I saw with step-son and like as much, if not more, than he did. It combines the retro superheroes-are-so-coooool feel of the old Saturday morning cartoons that I grew up on with a top notch animation style and *just enough* hipster cynicism.

Widdows, was very good, and was on my Top 10 until it got bumped off by the late arrivals. The ensemble work is on point, and it seamlessly blends together a good old fashioned heist flick with a moving political and social commentary.

I’m a sucker for a good period piece, and Mary Queen of Scots delivered. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are sublime as the queens of Scotland and England, respectively, who could have built a better world if not for the fickle, contentious and power-hungry men around them who refused to loosen their grasps on the levers of power.

And finally First Reformed (currently free on Amazon Prime) is a thought-provoking story of faith. The overall story was a bit too ambiguous for my taste, but Ethan Hawke, as the film’s protagonist, delivers a fascinating and understated performance.

It’s Christmas Eve. The shopping is finished, the stockings are hung, and not a creature is stirring, so you know what that means: time to get to work on my year-end best movies list.

I don’t know exactly what years constitute “the old ways,” but they’re definitely dead in 2018. All the good movies come out in November and December? Nope. “Summer” movies have to be stupid? Nope.

Netflix can’t make a good movie? Nope.

We’ll get to all of that over the next couple weeks. But for now, here’s some of the movies I loved watching this year that didn’t quite make the final cut of the Top 10.

Best swan song: The Old Man and the Gun

Who better than Robert Redford to play a criminal of a certain age who robs banks using little more than effortless charm? No one, that’s who.

In what will be (allegedly) his final onscreen performance, Redford plays real-life heist man Forrest Tucker in director David Lowry’s (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) delightful film that is part whodunit, part biopic and part golden-years romantic comedy.

It’s a great sendoff for the veteran actor who, like Tucker, has always made it look easy.

Best Box-office Flop: Bad Times at the El Royale

“El Royale,” made $31.5 million worldwide on a budget of $32 — so safe to say there won’t be a “Worse Times at the El Royale” any time soon. (<— Not that I’m actually advocating for a sequel, as that would be a horrible idea).

It’s a darned shame too. As El Royale is one of the best ensemble pieces of the year, with the likes of Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges and 2018 M.V.P. contender Cynthia Erivo (also in “Widows” this year) in a twisty Summer-of-love-era period thriller from writer-director Drew Goddard, whose “Cabin in the Woods” similarly goofed around with convention and failed to find the audience it deserved.

Best Superhero(es): Avengers: Infinity War

I absolutely understand why some are fatigued with superhero movies. I was getting close, but then “Infinity War” happened and pulled me back in.

Set aside, for a moment, the deluge of comic-book adaptations and consider what Marvel Studios was able to achieve with IW. The first Avengers, successfully merging three franchises (plus the Hulk), was itself a minor miracle. But Infinity War is on an entirely different and unprecedented scale, seamlessly weaving together narrative threads that spread out over 18 distinct films released over a period of 10 years.

It’s a feat of storytelling, put into corporeal form through a cinematic investment that spared no expense, all culminating in a surprising, genuinely affecting film that left anxious for the next chapter.

Best documentary: Three Identical Strangers

The initial set-up of “Three Identical Strangers” is, by itself, the kind of story that sounds stranger than fiction. A young man enrolls in college and finds himself an instant big man on campus courtesy of the identical twin he never knew existed who went to the same school one year earlier.

The already-bizarre tale gets its first twist early, as it turns out the twins are triplets. But that’s only the tip of an iceberg that is carefully and meticulously revealed regarding the brother’s separation at birth.

Best Horror: Suspiria

A close contender for the final award on this list, and one for which the “horror” label doesn’t fit quite right (the *actual* best horror movie of the year is part of the 2018 Top 10. Hint, hint) Luca Guadagnino’s remake of “Suspiria” is frequently unsettling, occasionally disturbing, and endlessly fascinating.

Centered around a dance schools/coven of witches in divided Berlin, “Suspiria” is a moody, atmospheric film that jumps from beautiful to grotesque and back again with a dark humor and unforgiving sense of dread. Bookended by two truly bonkers dance sequences (the first of which is back-dropped against a “how did they do that?” onscreen death) “Suspiria” is a movie that wonderfully defies description.

Best popcorn: Mission Impossible: Fallout

Until 2018, each of the five installments in the Mission Impossible franchise had been helmed by a new director and connected only by a loose mythology, a core cast of characters and the charge that Ethan Hunt, an agent within the Impossible Mission Force, save the world and nearly die in the process.

In Fallout, we have the first direct sequel, with director Christopher McQuarrie returning and continuing the story he launched in “Rogue Nation.” And it’s easy to see why the people behind all these impossible missions decided to break their own rules and ask McQuarrie on a second date.

Fallout is, simply, superb, the sort of extravanganza for which people say “this is why we go to the movies.” It’s nonstop plot barrels forward like a freight train, upping the ante with each new scene until a hold-your-breath climactic sequence that sees Tom Cruise in a helicopter chase/cliffside brawl while his team works to locate and dismantle a pair of nuclear weapons against a ticking clock.

For those nights when you need something big and loud and awesome, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Best indie: The Death of Stalin

Fans of HBO’s “Veep” know Armando Iannucci’s talent for mining government dysfunction for comedy. Now imagine “Veep” set in Soviet Russia and you have “The Death of Stalin,” a pitch-black comedy about the chaos and scheming that followed Stalin’s death as the members of his party jockeyed for position.

Steve Buscemi is the MVP as Nikita Khrushchev, but every member of the superb, expansive cast (including the always-interesting Jason Isaacs and a spectacularly dry performance by Andrea Riseborough ) gets plenty of moments to shine.

The 2018 Wood’s Stock Balls-to-the-Wall award: Sorry to Bother You

“Surreal” doesn’t even begin to describe “Sorry to Bother You,” writer-director Boots Riley’s film about a black telemarketer whose talent for sounding white on the phone catapults him to success selling what amounts to voluntary slave labor.

And that’s just the literal plot of “Sorry to Bother You,” an increasingly gonzo story that at one point takes a turn to [potential spoiler alert] include human-horse hybrid monsters. Riley’s meta commentary on race, class, art, popular culture and consumerism goes full-tilt for its central metaphor to increasingly bizarre and shocking results. It’s a movie with a lot on its mind, but at each point where there’s a risk of falling off the rails, Riley and his protagonist (the phenomenal Lakeith Stanfield) keep things just steady enough to keep the narrative going.