Posts Tagged ‘Marvel’

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.

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When nerd extraordinaire Joss Whedon took up Thor’s hammer to direct the mega-blockbuster Avengers, many fans were rightfully concerned that the auteur’s days of quiet, emotional ensemble pieces were behind him. But to their and our (and my) joyful surprise, Whedon followed up the superhero team-up extravaganza with a micro-budgeted black-and-white modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, filmed entirely at Whedon’s California home with a cast of regular Whedonverse contributors who are, in their own part, a who’s who of underrated Hollywood talent.

If reports are to be believed, Whedon was directed by his Marvel corporate bosses to take a small rest between principal photography on Avengers and the laborious post-production process. But Whedon, never one to sit on his hands (his web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog is one of the best things to come out of the 2007-08 writer’s strike) instead invited a gang of pals to his home for a 12-day shoot that, once Avengers was completed, the writer-director shopped around at film festivals before finally releasing for the world to enjoy.

And “enjoy” is truly the operating word, as this latest take on a Shakespeare work is one of the most effortlessly charming films to hit cinemas this year.  A sense of renegade filmmaking bleeds into every scene of  Much Ado, as the stripped down production captures all the emotion and nuance of a film 100 times its size.

The actors are loose and casual, less worried about creating a character as much as simply being a character, and rattle off Shakespearean prose with the same air as though they were gabbing with girlfriends on a Sunday morning walk down Santa Monica boulevard.

It is essentially the Greek ideal: simplicity, perfection and order.

Much Ado tells the story of two couples, the cynical combatants Beatrice and Benedick (Cabin in the Woods’ Amy Acker and HIMYM’s Alexis Desnisof) and the lovesick innocents Claudio and Hero (Cabin in the Wood’s Fran Kranz and Whedon discoveree Jillian Morgese), who are each manipulated for good and ill by the calculations of those around them. Beatrice and Benedick have individually sworn off the notion of love and collectively are engaged in a “merry war” of wits, but are moved to profess their love for one another after overhearing fictitious tales of the other’s affection.

Claudio and Hero, on the other hand, become engaged while Claudio visits the home of Leonato, Hero’s father, played by Marvel MVP Clark Gregg, but in the lead-up to their wedding day Claudio is led to believe that Hero has been unfaithful to him due to the trickery of Don Jon (Firefly’s Sean Maher), the bastard brother of Don Pedro (Franklin and Bash’s Reed Diamond), a companion of both Claudio and Benedick.

That mix up is the titular “Nothing” from which much ado arises, but after a series of misunderstandings all is made right by the bumbling actions of guardsman DogBerry, played in this film by the indispensable Nathan Fillion, whose short but sweet entrance into the film is the cherry on this already delicious cake.

I suppose that last paragraph was technically a spoiler and for that I apologize, but if you really don’t know the story it’s your own fault for sleeping during your high school English class.

Much Ado is the perfect antithesis to the summer blockbuster schedule. It is a welcome break from the barrage of explosions and carnage and had me laughing out loud and squirming in delight for the entirety of its running time. While it may not have the shiny toys of more expensive Hollywood creations, it’s probably the most fun you’ll have in a theater this season and try as I might, I can think of nothing to criticize. All we can hope is that as Whedon’s Hollywood star brightens, he continues to find time to experiment with films like this in the ever shrinking gaps in his schedule.

Grade: A

*Much Ado About Nothing opens in Utah on Friday June 21

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