Movie News: PCR’s Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2018!

PopCultureReview’s Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2018
Best of 2018 Lists
December 17, 2018

It’s the time of the year when people start thinking about the year that (almost) was and what their favorite things were (and not so favorite if you’re so inclined). PopCultureReview is not immune from these musings.

Over the next few days, we’ll be rolling out our “Best Of 2018” Lists and we are starting with our five favorite movies of 2018. Why five? Well, it really stems from the TV list which I need to physically restrain myself from adding all the ones I love. Three seems too little and ten, too many.  

Now, remember, these are not necessarily the five BEST movies of 2018, but rather, our Top Five Favorite.

So, here is the list of PopCultureReview’s top five favorite movies … after the jump! 

5.   Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The 6th entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise, and the second with the director Christopher McQuarrie (Tom Cruise’s new “go to” director), Mission: Impossible – Fallout is my FAVORITE in the series since the original. Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation were both great but with Fallout, Ethan Hunt and his team of operatives have found the perfect balance of action, humor, practical stunts and effects, and plot. Outside of the action provided by superhero movies, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the best example of what a Summer Blockbuster action movie should be. 

Official Plot: “On a dangerous assignment to recover stolen plutonium, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) chooses to save his team over completing the mission, allowing nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of a deadly network of highly-skilled operatives intent on destroying civilization. Now, with the world at risk, Ethan and his IMF team (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson) are forced to become reluctant partners with a hard-hitting CIA agent (Henry Cavill) as they race against time to stop the nuclear fallout.”

Box Office Numbers: Released on July 27, 2018, Mission: Impossible – Fallout grossed $791,017,452 worldwide on a budget of $178 million.

4.   Crazy Rich Asians.  

Crazy Rich Asians was my hands down feel good movie of the year. Whereas I walked out of Peppermint calling it my cathartic movie of the year (violent revenge fantasies for the win!), Crazy Rich Asians just left me feeling warm and fuzzy. I am NOT a rom com guy; left to my own devices, I am looking for superheroes or fantasy or sci-fi or straight action in my movies. Crazy Rich Asians has none of this. But, something about this movie grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go.  

Directed by Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) and starring Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) and Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. It is a funny and adorable tale of culture clash AND fish out of water. With Wu being her irrepressibly funny and endearing self, thrust into a foreign world where her boyfriend’s mother (Yeoh) reigns supreme as a classic “monster-in-law” type villain, this film should have been a cliched mess. In fact, my biggest worry going into the film was that CRA was going to be a dumpster fire along the lines of the horrible Monster- In-Law (starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda) (one of my least favorite films ever). To my surprise and enjoyment, however, it walked the fine line – Yeoh’s Eleanor Young has her reasons to be the way she is and is never so one-sided villainous as to turn you off completely to what you’re watching. The love story of Rachel and Nick is far fetched to be sure but these two are so delightful together that it makes you wish your significant other was secretly rich. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how good Awkwafina is in the movie as the scene stealing Peik Lin Goh – her scenes alone justify the price of admission! 

Official Plot. “The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore.  Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life.  Not only is he the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, but also one of its most sought-after bachelors.  Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim. It soon becomes clear that the only thing crazier than love is family, in this funny and romantic story sure to ring true for audiences everywhere.” 

Box Office Numbers: Released on August 15, 2018, Crazy Rich Asians grossed $237,989,779 worldwide on a budget of $30 million.

3.   A Star Is Born.  

For as much as I love Bradley Cooper and everything he does, I’ve traditionally felt the opposite about Lady Gaga. I wasn’t impressed with her acting chops in American Horror Story: Hotel and her music just isn’t typically my kind of jam. So I was worried that I was going to not only dislike A Star Is Born, the fourth version of the movie with the same name, but hate it. With Lady Gaga as the lead ingenue character, how could I possibly spend two hours watching her “act” her way through this mess.

But my fears were for naught. Lady Gaga is wonderful. Bradley Cooper is wonderful (albeit, in ways different from how he typically he is). And, A Star Is Born (2018) is wonderful. This take on A Star Is Born follows the basic outline of the last two movies that share its name (the 1976 version with 
 Barbra Streisand and, Kris Kristofferson; and the 1954 version starring Judy Garland) where a famous male musician discovers an ingenue who’s career and fame explodes and surpasses his (in the original 1937 film, its acting instead of music). 

Cooper (who directed the film and shares a screenplay credit with Eric Roth and Will Fetters) makes an important change in this updated version; a change which ends up being a huge asset to its success (and improvement over the prior film) – he closes the age gap between grizzly music vet, Jackson Maine, and his homely music prodigy and predictable love interest, Ally. By making Ally older than typically portrayed, and Jackson younger, the love dynamic between the two feels less creepy which allows you to enjoy their chemistry and buy fully into their whirlwind romance (which is certainly whirlwind-y). With this change, the stage is set for Jackson, who is losing his hearing and is clearly on the decline of his career, to discover Ally, a struggling waitress with body image issues and massive untapped talent. He exposes her talent to the world and the story is off to the races. 

When I compare this movie to the other big music film of the year, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born shines head and shoulders over the Queen biopic because it has serious dramatic tension and conflict that’s confronted and not easily dealt with. Maine’s dependency issues, family issues and internal anger are always simmering and propelling him forward while Ally confronts an unease with herself that she needs to overcome if she’s going to achieve the fame she wants … all the while trying to maintain a (functional?) relationship with each other. It’s spellbinding to watch these two interact and at over two hours long, I never once checked my watch to see when the film would be over. 

But, I’ve buried the lead here. The music in A Star Is Born is a character unto itself.  It’s fantastic and easily clocks in as my favorite soundtrack of the year (stop yelling Bohemian Rhapsody fans – there is virtually no new music in that movie’s soundtrack). The original tracks, penned by Lady Gaga, and performed by Cooper and Lady Gaga is memorable and uber-catchy. There are at least two or three tracks that I think could compete during awards season as original song of the year. 

Official Plot. “In “A Star Is Born,” Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga fuse their considerable talents to depict the raw and passionate tale of Jack and Ally, two artistic souls coming together, on stage and in life. Theirs is a complex journey through the beauty and the heartbreak of a relationship struggling to survive.

“In this new take on the iconic love story, four-time Oscar nominee Cooper (“American Sniper,” “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”), makes his directorial debut, and also stars alongside multiple award-winning, Oscar-nominated music superstar Gaga in her first leading role in a major motion picture. Cooper portrays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with struggling artist Ally. She has given up on her dream to become a successful singer, until she meets Jack, who immediately sees her natural talent.”

Box Office Numbers: Released on October 5, 2018, A Star Is Born grossed $371,141,583 worldwide on a budget of $36 million.

2.   Black Panther.

Black Panther is objectively excellent. It’s writing, acting, visual aesthetic, all of it … excellent. That it’s an origin story for a little known superhero character set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is icing on the cake. Well, to me. Some people think that it’s a superhero movie is a knock against it … those people are wrong. There are different kinds of MCU movies that serve different functions: the origin story (e.g., Iron Man; Doctor Strange; Black Panther); the culmination movie that brings separate storylines together (e.g., all of the Avengers; Captain America: Civil War); the stand alone movie that’s in the MCU but really stands alone as far as context goes (e.g., Hulk; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1); and the MCU narrative movie that is horrible (Thor: Dark World). 

Now, the origin story movies tend to be stand alone films as well because they are introducing a character we haven’t seen before (or at least, in any depth) and so, it’s not reliant on what came before or what comes after in order for it to be enjoyable. Black Panther is of this variety because, though we saw him briefly previously in Civil War, T’Challa and his superhero alter ego, Black Panther, as well as the land of Wakanda are introduced properly for the first time in this movie.  Why is any of this important? Because a stand alone movie like this allows non-super hero nerds to watch it and walk away having fully enjoyed it without any other context. That’s important if you’re going to foist awards and accolades on to a movie. Black Panther deserves ALL of the awards and accolades. 

Speaking of awards, its a felonious crime if the performances turned in by the two male leads, Chadwick Boseman (as T’Challa / Black Panther) and Michael B. Jordan (as Black Panther’s villainous counterpart, Erik Killmonger) are not recognized. These two turn in as strong a dramatic performance as you’re going to find in 2018. They are top shelf, nuanced and deep character driven performances, replete with humor and anger, conflict and complexity.  Jordan’s Killmonger, in particular, is compelling because he is a fully fleshed villain who, if the story was told from his point of view, could easily be seen as the hero in his narrative. These performances are made possible by the excellent direction of Ryan Coogler, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole. 

The story of a man who has to learn to be king is not a new concept but Coogler tells the story in a new way with pitfalls and conflict we haven’t seen before, especially not in the trope heavy universe of superhero films.  As an added benefit, we get excellent world building with how the technologically advanced Wakanda is brought to life. The same way that we needed to experience Asgard for the first time in the Thor movies, Black Panther surpasses that world building by making you feel like you could really visit this country if you some how knew where the secret hidden entrances were. Wakanda, as beautiful and breath taking as it is, becomes an essential character in the movie’s story telling, especially in the battle scenes. 

No matter what your feeling is about superhero movies, Black Panther is worth your time as great film.

Official Plot. “Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.”

Box Office Numbers: Released on February 16, 2018, Black Panther grossed $1,346,913,161 worldwide (official production budget not released).

1.   Avengers: Infinity War. 

In the Black Panther write up above, I talk about “culmination of story” movies as being one of the different types of Marvel Cinematic Universe films.  Avengers: Infinity War is the culminiest of culmination movies.

When we got the first Avengers back in 2012, superhero movie fans lost their shit because we never imagined we’d see a live action movie featuring all of these beloved superhero characters that have only ever appeared together either in comic books or in cartoons.  And as art, it worked. And it worked well. Avengers was a great movie, pulling together the storylines from the individual superhero movies that came before it and closing out what we think of as Phase 1. Imagine the logistical nightmare of providing good storytelling with a cast of 8+ lead characters, all with their own backstory and baggage and trying to stuff it into a film of acceptable length. Director, Joss Whedon, nailed it and he changed the game of superhero films ever after. 

We’re going to skip over Age of Ultron, the second Avengers film, because it wasn’t great though it was necessary for the MCU’s overall narrative arc and future plotting. 

Fast forward to 2018. The stakes for Avengers 3, Avengers: Infinity War, had at least quadrupled for directors,  Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (the Russo brothers from here on out) because they were now charged with pulling together the characters of the 18 films that came before it.  Only the fate of the universe could fit such a bill and the Russo Brothers, on a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, rose to the challenge. 

Juggling an ensemble cast of over nearly 30 A list stars, the Russo Brothers brought us an epic space tale of a dedicated group of superheros trying to stop Thanos, the Mad Titan, from collecting all of the mythical Infinity Stones and erasing half of the Universe’s population.

Infinity War tells its story across numerous worlds, all beautifully rendered, from New York City to Wakanda to Titan and so many places in between. Avengers 3 is an engrossing tale of struggle and sacrifice and love and family and, like Black Panther (which came out two months before Infinity War), features a villain with a point of view that, in a different light – isn’t easily dismissed. Like Killmonger before him, Infinity War‘s Thanos is a complex villain motivated by a code and belief system that is sincere. Even if you whole heartedly disagree with him and his method, you can’t dismiss Thanos’ conviction to his cause.  A lot of the credit for Thanos’ complexity has to go to his portrayer, Josh Brolin. In lesser hands, Thanos could have been a one note villain which would have made Avengers: Infinity War much less enjoyable. 

Of course, I am burying the lead here. Avengers: Infinity War  is as good as it is because it’s gut wrenching. It kills a large swath of its cast and does it in a visceral way that left entire theaters shaking and crying as the credits began to roll.  Of course, some (a lot?) of those deaths will be undone in Avengers: Endgame (coming out in April 2019) but that was small comfort to thousands of moviegoers that had to listen to Tom Holland’s adorable Spider-Man quake with fear and confusion as he felt himself being erased from existence. 

Fucking.Gut.Wrenching.

So people died, so what? Well, Avengers: Infinity War is special because fans know it is Part 1 of the end of the road for a lot of these building-block, foundation superhero characters that we’ve grown to love over the last decade. Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man) Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor), just to name a few, are at the end of their contractual obligations once Avengers 4 comes out.

Does that mean that, in the end, some of these first superheroes will die in a final final way? We don’t know. Maybe? Probably at least some. And that gives Avengers: Infinity War the real teeth that months later, stays with me as my favorite movie I saw this year … it’s got real stakes.

Like a TV show that dares to kill off a major character in an irreversible way, Avengers: Infinity War  makes it clear from the opening minutes, no one in the universe is safe and everything is on the table; everything you know is up for grabs. That kind of movie, especially in a franchise superhero movie, is hard to find and the uneasy feeling it leaves you with is even harder to shake.   

Official Plot.  “As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment – the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.”

Box Office Numbers: Released on April 27, 2018, Avengers: Infinity War grossed $2,047,687,731 worldwide (official production budget not released).

Notable Mentions.

In this year of great movies, I could get down to number 12 and still think, I loved this movie. These five that follow – they’re all my favorites too but the way numbers work, there can only be 5 in the top five. Just outside the Favorite Five: A Quiet Place; Ant-Man and the WaspRalph Breaks the Internet; Game NightThe House with a Clock in Its Walls; and I suspect Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will be on this list too but I haven’t seen it yet. 

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