Critic’s Mind 2018



Ten Best Films 2018: 1. Annihilation; 2. A Star is Born; 3. Mission: Impossible — Fallout; 4. BlacKkKlansman; 5. The Favourite; 6. Hereditary; 7. Eighth Grade; 8. Loveless (Russia); 9. If Beale Street Could Talk; 10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Read the comprehensive recap.

Walkabout” (1971). I will repeatedly watch it and find myself spellbound every time. A brother and sister are lost in the Australian Outback with little chance for survival but are saved by a Aborigine boy on his yearlong exodus, he’s supposed to be alone so he mature from childhood to manhood. It was just filmed in the most strangely beautiful places I’ve ever seen that could never be repeated, and it had such abstract imagery too that made you draw up themes on your head on modernism vs. primalism, it had this free association quality, and for a hundred other reasons it was my favorite film. Nicolas Roeg, the director, has died at age 90. I also admired his horror film “Don’t Look Now” which had an ending that made you gasp like “The Sixth Sense,” the David Bowie sci-fi mindbender “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and the Roald Dahl adaptation of “The Witches.” Roeg, RIP. — 11-25-18

“Black Mirror” is the best TV series ever made and it’s not even close. More than just episodes, they are films. Nineteen so far as of October 2018 (more are being made), and they are greatest pieces of cinema than what’s at the multiplex for the most part. With no theatrical projections to worry about, writer Charlie Brooker can go as dark and cerebral as he wants with endings that don’t have to cater to some demographic. What is “Black Mirror?” It’s like waking up in the year 2080, turning on the TV and asking, “I wonder if anybody has made anything better than The Twilight Zone by now?” And the answer is, Yes! They have! But with a technology consuming us spin and where it’s leading us. “Play Test” is the weakest of the nineteen, and even that has merits and is worth a look.

Top Ten Black Mirror films: 1. “San Junipero.” 2. “Be Right Back.” 3. “Hated in the Nation.” 4. “White Bear.” 5. “Crocodile.” 6. “The National Anthem.” 7. “The Entire History of You.” 8. “Fifteen Million Merits.” 9. “Arkangel.” 10. “Nosedive.” Observe my number one, but, this is important: Do not make that the first episode you ever see. See a handful of others first to get accustomed to “Black Mirror” rudiments first. Find them on Netflix streaming. — 10-25-18

Movies I Saw Fall 2018: “A Star is Born” (2018), A. “The Favourite,” A. “Eighth Grade,” A. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” A. “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), A-. “First Reformed,” A-. “Papillon” (1973), A-. “Widows,” B+. “In the Shadow of the Moon” (Documentary, 2007), B+. “Whitney” (Documentary), B+. “Ransom” (1996), B+. “Green Book,” B+. “Sorry To Bother You,” B+. “Chunhyang” (2000, South Korea), B+. “Oceans” (Documentary, 2009), B+. “The Hate U Give,” B. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” B. “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” B. “The Children Act,” B. “Set It Off” (1996), B. “Marty” (1955), B. “The Sting” (1973), B. “The Witch” (2016), B. “For All Mankind” (Documentary, 1989), B. “Cache” (2005, France), B-. “Blindspotting,” B-. “Shoplifters” (Japan), B-. “First They Killed My Father,” B-. “American Graffiti” (1973), B-. “Gerald’s Game,” B-. “Lifeforce” (1985), B-. “Ringu” (1998, Japan), B-. “Miles Ahead,” B-. “Roma,” B-. “Leave No Trace,” C+. “Under the Skin” (2013), C+. “The Blob” (1988), C+. “Backbeat” (1994), C+. “Life of the Party,” C+. “Maudie,” C+. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” C+. “First Man,” C. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” C. “Papillon” (2018), C. “Eating Raoul” (1982), C. “Adrift,” C. “Train to Busan” (2016, South Korea), C. “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006), C-. “Vanity Fair” (2004), C-. “Mandy,” D. “Into the Woods” (2014), D. “The Fire Within” (1963, France), D. “Gotti,” D-. When I saw “First Reformed” last May I gave it a B+. A second viewing, which gives way to enhanced appreciation, stirring ever deepening complexities, I now give it a A- and think its one of the year’s standouts. 10-2-18, Updated Frequently

I learned there is a three-hour plus cut of an all-time favorite movie of mine just released on home video, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” Yet it’s not really a director’s cut, just a longer cut doodle. Supposedly it fills in the gaps of the narrative, by doing so, losing that amorphous mysterious quality. Tempting, but I honestly don’t think I’m pursuing it. I see myself re-watching the 139 minute original as it was first intended before anything else. — 9-28-18

Movies I Saw Summer 2018: “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” A. “BlacKkKlansman,” A. “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983, Japan), A.  “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” A. “Loveless” (Russia), A. “Get Me Roger Stone” (Documentary), A. “Oklahoma City” (Documentary), A-. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Documentary), A-. “Seven Beauties” (1976, Italy), A-. “The Bleeding Edge” (Documentary), A-. “White Heat” (1949), A-. “Vengeance is Mine” (1979, Japan), A-. “El Norte” (1983), A-. “The Rider,” B+. “Chappaquiddick,” B+. “The Doctor” (1991), B+. “Filmworker” (Documentary), B+. “Crazy Rich Asians,” B+. “Tomb Raider,” B. “Unsane,” B. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” B. “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” (2003), B. “Elena” (2012, Russia), B. “Searching,” B. “The B-Side: Else Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” (Documentary), B. “Black Rain” (1990, Japan), B. “Bad Match,” B. “Tully,” B. “A Room with a View” (1986), B. “Mudbound,” B-. “Mamma Mia!” (2008), B-. “Man in the Moon” (1999), B-. “Ocean’s 8,” B-. “The Meyerowitz Stories,” B-. “The Day After” (1983), B-. “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), B-. “The Predator,” C+. “Upgrade,” C+. “Breaker Morant” (Australia, 1980), C+. “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008), C+. “Lean on Pete,” C+. “American Animals,” C+. “Borg vs. McEnroe,” C. “I Feel Pretty,” C. “My Life” (1993), C. “Revenge” (France), C-. “Looker” (1981), C-. “A Wrinkle in Time,” D+. “Gosford Park” (2001), D. “Color of Night” (1994), D-. “Zama” (Argentina), D-. “Isle of Dogs,” D-. There is nothing more addictive to me right now than the repeat viewings I’ve had with “Get Me Roger Stone,” which may have the best angle on documenting Trump’s ascent into politics… Yes, “Bringing Up Baby” is really a B-. If it were in color and came out in 2018 instead of 1938, we’d call it patched together storytelling, we’d call many of the characters bird-brained, slightly annoying and not nearly as brilliant as we’d like it to be; what it’s got going for it is Cary Grant’s star power and a calling card on Katherine Hepburn’s trademark shtick, and overall, a few chuckles. “BlacKkKlansman” is one of Spike Lee’s three best films ever. — 6-26-18, Updated Frequently

I place “BlacKkKlansman” among Spike Lee’s three best films of his career, just behind “Malcolm X” (1992) and “Do the Right Thing” (1989). What I didn’t have space in my review is to talk about Lee’s bravado, and hindsight wisdom, in criticizing “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and “Birth of a Nation” (1915). Those are films I’ve always felt icky over, and I’ve always brushed them off with no desire to revisit them, not even mentally revisit them. With the former, he actually starts his own film with “GWTW” footage (see right pic), and we see a racist figure played by Alec Baldwin slavering over its “importance” for segregation and a White America. More uncanny is Lee’s use of the latter, “BOTN” as a bedrock for KKK ideology, all its members fired up while watching it — and it was right there I saw how much damage D.W. Griffith has done with influencing white aggressors to inflict harm on “doltish” or “simpleton” or “trouble-making” blacks, and it found a way to permeate into the DNA hate of society. Lee’s inclusion of these “classics” that are really hogwash, was an important feat by the filmmaker. By the way, “BlacKkKlansman” is one of the best film editing jobs of the year, in every facet of what makes great film editing. Final admission, his documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” (2006) is my fourth favorite Lee work. — 8-15-18

Grading the Mission: Impossible movies: “Mission: Impossible” (1996), B+. “Mission: Impossible II” (2000), C. “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), B-. “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (2011), A-. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (2015), A. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” (2018), A. — 7-30-18

“My Life” (1993), a comedy-drama (mostly drama) about a dying man leaving videos to his unborn son, is not a good movie IMO. But what’s amazing is that it was a box office success in its time when today it would be D.O.A. Michael Keaton as a badass cynical advertising exec is in full unlikeable mode for fifty-five minutes until he starts reconciling his life, and Nicole Kidman is just fine but isn’t called upon to be a method actress or anything. I like the film only for an abstract reason: It wouldn’t get a greenlight in today’s times. It exists at a particular point in time when Hollywood said what the heck, we’ll make this. — 6-25-18

It was nearly thirty years since I first saw “El Norte” (1983). Its’ flaws were ever more apparent (couldn’t director Gregory Nava shown the border crossing from Guatemala into Mexico? couldn’t Nava have gotten a better camera angle on the final flash cut? not to mention, there’s a little bit too much protagonist naivete at times). Yet it has incomparable scope for an immigration epic as the brother and sister hustle their way up north and go through excruciating circumstances to illegally cross the U.S. border. The film is both a time capsule and a reflection of lives in the current times of now, and anybody with empathy for those who have nothing and looking to survive even if it means crossing borders into what is supposed to be the Land of Dreams, has to see this at some time or another. The bottom line is the film gets very personal, and we witness struggle and humility close up, and that’s why it’s great. Grade: A-. — 6-16-18

The movie news around the world right now is that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (see review) took in a very disappointing $84.4 million at the domestic box office and is considered a failure, or to some, a bomb. Sorry, but when is eighty-four million dollars not eighty-four million dollars? Wake up, that’s a ton of money! The eighty-four million take does not mean it’s going to close next week. It has also made more money than my three favorite movies last year combined. What’s worrisome, though, is that it is supposedly the ninth most expensive movie ever made on record ($250 million production budget). I hate these news mongers saying eighty-four is a low take, since we still have a couple weekends for it to haul in more. These news stories (“It’s a disappointment!”) will probably do more damage in dissuading people from going than if no news stories ever existed around the movie. But let me offer some advice to the studio even though my advice will probably just drift out into the vacuum of space without being heard: If you’re worried about recouping $250 million on a movie, don’t waste millions filming an idiotic scene where a giant space lizard that’s too big to fit the screen eats spaceships and flotsam — and really, what else? how does this thing even survive? — when it should have been cut from the script. — 5-30-18

Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) now makes better movies on HBO than he makes theatrical ones. On HBO, “Paterno” has smart, taut directing and features Al Pacino in one of his best performances as a coach who loved wins, loved his players accomplishing their academics off the field, but put up blinders to a terrible ongoing years crime because he could not confront bad news. “You Don’t Know Jack” also with Pacino was Levinson’s other remarkable HBO movie. You have to go back to 1997’s “Wag the Dog” for Levinson’s last great theatrical movie which still holds up to excellence. UPDATE: I caught up later with Levinson’s made for HBO “The Wizard of Lies,” the bio on Bernie Madoff, the biggest Ponzi schemer in U.S. history, and was even more impressed. More than just a summation of events of 2008, it gets deeper as it goes and seals all the cracks of what was still not widely known. This is also the most accomplished, thicketed performance by Robert DeNiro in ages. — 5-16-18

What I Saw Spring 2018: “The Greatest Showman,” A. “Hereditary,” A. “Children of Men” (2006), A-. “First Reformed,” A-. “The Wizard of Lies,” A-. “You Were Never Really Here,” B+. “2 Days in the Valley (1996), B+. “Paterno,” B+. “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (2010), B+. “All The Money In The World,” B. “Personal Shopper” (France), B. “My Friend Dahmer,” B. “Dahmer” (2002), B. “Ready Player One,” B. “Fear” (1996), B. “Freeway” (1997), B.”The Big Sick,” B. “Glory Road” (2006), B. “A Quiet Place,” B. “Scarecrow” (1973), B. “Kate & Leopold (2001), B. “Police Story” (1985, China), B. “Romance & Cigarettes” (2007), B. “Paddington 2,” B. “Disclosure” (1994), B-. “Masquerade” (1988), B-. “Bone Tomahawk,” B-. “Ruby in Paradise” (1993), B-. “Deadpool 2,” B-. “Faces Places” (France), B-. “Blaze” (1989), C+. “The Infiltrator,” C+. “The 15:17 to Paris,” C+. “Paddington,” (2014), C+. “Fahrenheit 451,” C+. “Jane Got a Gun,” C+. “Coco,” C+. “Looking for Richard” (1996), C+. “Clean” (2004, France), C. “Art School Confidential” (2006), C. “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” C. “Overboard,” C. “Proud Mary,” C. “The Yards” (2000), C. “Hesher” (2010), C-. “Box of Moonlight” (1997), C-. “Den of Thieves,” D+. “Age of Consent” (1969), D+. “Bobby Deerfield” (1977), D. “Vanya on 42nd Street” (1994), D. “Wonderstruck,” D. I saw “The Greatest Showman” twice in two days; it’s a terrific family movie and the music gets addictive after repeat viewings (I keep bumping up its value, I’m falling in love with it)… I last saw it in 1996 and I liked it then, but in hindsight, “2 Days in the Valley” is better than just good and seems to be to me the best of the “Pulp Fiction” imitations during the rest of the 1990’s when knock-offs had become inundated when laboriously copying a Quentin Tarantino masterpiece had become an indie circle obsession. I update this blog regularly as I see more movies. — 4-5-18

Fiftieth anniversary of the granddaddy of science fiction, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I saw “2001” before I was ten years old and I hold on to the belief that it shaped my intelligence and formed the way I think around abstract ideas. For many years it was my “all-time” favorite movie. Years later, the 1971 “Walkabout” and the 2003 Korean film “Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring” became to me what I feel are the two greatest films ever made. That’s not to say “2001” doesn’t remain powerful and revolutionary, as well as evolutionary in my thinking, to this day. In modern times, there’s always a couple handful of great movies every year if you look hard enough. But there’s almost never a film that pushes the envelope in such a transcendental way as “2001” which still remains, outlandishly, so very artistically ahead of our time now. Terrence Malick accomplished something transcendental with “The Tree of Life” in 2011. But my God, so rare. — 4-2-18

There’s one on-going box office behemoth in 2018 and it’s “Black Panther.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say that annoyed the hell out of me, since “Annihilation” (pic right) has had nowhere near any of that good fortune even though it’s one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. “Annihilation” contains images and ideas that have never been seen before (it’s also the most genuinely scared I’ve been at a movie in ten years), while “Black Panther” is no different from the hundred or more other Marvel comic book movies or CGI-laden blockbusters that have come before it. Audiences would rather see a new coat of paint on an inartistic dead horse rather than have their minds blown. Whatever. — 3-16-18

Hollywood decided to vote on “The Shape of Water” as Best Picture and Best Director because they knew somewhere in the world that would piss me off. So I disliked the movie, I mean, every time it does come up with a beautiful shot it’s held for about two and a half seconds. I admired forty or forty-five other movies way more last year. But the one consolation out of it is Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar speech was a beauty. – 3-5-18

Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) wins the Oscar in what was the lamest Best Actor race since 1977. — 3-4-18

Annihilation” is my first 5-star masterpiece review off the 2018 roster. — 2-28-18

I imagine an irate reader out there wondering how I could give “The Commuter” 3-stars and “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” 2 stars. My reasoning is that “The Commuter” on its own terms is an unpretentious genre piece, very watchable with a relatable Liam Neeson, is something I honestly had a good time at, while “Star Wars Episode VIII” is another entry I’m expected to write a bunch of excuses for, that has only a few moments that got my heart thumping, and inevitably soured me because I feel like the series betrayed what Luke Skywalker is supposed to stand for. Do you really want a jaded, mentally deteriorated Skywalker? And yeah, the series is soap opera deep while being pretentious at the same time. On its own terms, “The Last Jedi” is a declination to the series. — 1-21-18

Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” tops my list as the Best Film of 2017. Read my year-end round up here. The best lead performances I saw this year were Colin Farrell in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and the best supporting performances I saw were Willem Dafoe in “The Florida Project” and Kirsten Dunst in “The Beguiled.”  — 1-5-18

Best Films 1973: 1. The Exorcist; 2. The Last Detail; 3. Don’t Look Now; 4. Cries and Whispers (Sweden); 5. Mean Streets; 6. Badlands; 7. Papillon; 8. Paper Moon; 9. The Emigrants (Sweden); 10. Day for Night (France). Admittedly, I need to give American Graffiti another chance. Update: I find early sections of AG soporific but there are later portions I admire. Far outside of my top ten for that year, though. — 1-4-18

What I Saw Winter 2018: “Annihilation,” A+. “Battle of the Sexes,” A. “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), A-. “The Post,” A-. “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” A-. “Phantom Thread,” B+. “Leviathan” (2014, Russia), B+. “The Arrival” (1996), B+. “The Square” (2017, Sweden), B+. “I, Daniel Blake,” B+. “Marshall,” B+. “Brad’s Status,” B. “Game Night,” B. “Happy Death Day,” B. “Red Sparrow,” B. “Lucky,” B. “The Invitation” (2015), B. “Wonder,” B. “Good Time,” B-. “Last Flag Flying,” B-. “The Light Between Oceans,” B-. “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000), B-. “Roman J Israel, Esq.,” B-. “The Commuter,” B-. “Darkest Hour,” C+. “The Bad Batch,” C+. “Star Wars Episode XIII: The Last Jedi,” C. “The Shape of Water,” C. “Call Me By Your Name,” C. “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” C. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” C. “Home Again,” D+. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” D+. “It,” D. “CHIPS,” F. “The Snowman,” F. Caught up to it late, but “Battle of the Sexes” now takes the crown as the most underrated movie of 2017. “It” became for me the WTF how-did-that-garbage-become-a-blockbuster-!?! movie of this past year; let it be known though I love Stephen King. I wish someone would adapt his best book, “The Long Walk.” Oh, and after several weeks of mulling over it, I’ve now decided “The Bad Batch” is one of the most interesting bad movies I’ve ever seen. It’s pickled in flaws, but if you’re curious enough, just see it. I update this blog regularly as I see more movies. — 1-2-2018


Previous Years Archives

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Best Films 2018

When it comes to the list, I have no proclivity to win popular tastes. I have a few hits, a few misunderstood titles I want to defend, a few obscure titles and a few I am predicting will be discovered with cult devotion decades down the line […]


If Beale Street Could Talk

The romantic love swoons mighty and rapturously in the opening minutes of If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of the 1974 James Baldwin novel that is one of the best films of the year. Tish and Fonny have known each other since childhood […]



The shimmering, but overlit cinematography is what beckons attention – it screams ART. Beneath the look of the film, there’s a little something there, in what should be looked at as a personal little ditty for director Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”). The main character of Roma (Mexico, in English subtitles) is a servant […]


The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos has become a fierce force of high provocative filmmaking (“The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), and now he has made a costume period drama that elevates the new standard of what a costume period drama could or should be. The Favourite takes place in eighteenth century England […]


Green Book

A race relations picture set in 1962 that’s also a road movie. Green Book crosscuts two formulas but it’s not a forced crosscut. It’s based on a friendship that really happened, one between bouncer and father Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and black musician Doc Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Doc needs a driver and […]


Shoplifters (Japan)

Initially absorbing, then a little scattered. In Shoplifters (Japan, in English subtitles), what appears to be a middle class father in his weekend clothes goes supermarket shopping with his son is actually a well-rehearsed inventory theft – dad has taught his boy all the tricks […]



Steve McQueen, the director, has thought of a different way to do a heist thriller. Widows is an intricately plotted drama where the surviving wives of dead criminals out of realistic desperation have to steal millions to settle a score. Two million has been stolen from the political campaign […]


The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

There is a highly worth watching new Coen Brothers’ western that is comedy/drama/satire/tragedy that is simultaneously being released into theaters and onto Netflix streaming. It’s not going to endure as one of their classics you obsess with, but it is terrific here and there. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has vistas so gloriously generous […]


Bohemian Rhapsody

Even as a casual fan of the momentous band Queen which rocked the ’70’s and ’80’s, I can tell when the music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is filtered or watered-down, or just plain lying to me. Rami Malek is at times electric as Freddie Mercury […]


The Hate U Give

It’s a welcome footnote, and antidote to these politically ugly times, that we get a compassionate youth novel turned big screen movie in the name of The Hate You Give and that it becomes a minor breakout hit and talking point on racism […]


First Man

First Man has a stunning, auspicious opening – the kind that leads you to believe this is going to be a very good movie! – as Armstrong is seen breaking the atmosphere with a rocket plane, with a few moments of him losing control, being short on fuel, and possibly getting drifted into outer space […]


A Star is Born

It’s the showbiz melodrama that is injected with such pitch-perfect delivery and wide-eyed perception that it blows away comparisons. A Star is Born features practically perfect performances by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who also directed), who both time and time again miraculously find the essence of the moment […]