Best of 2018: The “Unconventional Look” at the Past Year Begins – Part 1

With 2018 officially behind us, it’s time to start the annual reflection on what the cinematic year had to offer.  More so, this offers an opportunity for a personal reflection on what this year said in my own life.  Never has a year, in my 34-year existence, had some of the highest highs, and the lowest lows.  Believing that your interactions reflect your taste on cinema, and vice versa, it’s been challenging to get a firm grasp on what 2018 delivered.

Going into the “Best of 2018” series, the first question typically asked to me is, was it a good or bad year for film?  Hindsight is always 20/20, but I’ve found it to be just what I needed at this time in my life.  This year included AwardsCircuit having its best year yet, hosting a month-long series on TCM with “Black Experience on Film,” and starting the very first Latino film critic organization in the country (Latino Entertainment Journalists Association or LEJA).

The year also offered the loss of my oldest brother, something that has resonated for months, and having that pain manifest in several manners.  A complex relationship to examine, it has littered my mind with constant thoughts and guilt.  It rears its head as I evaluate other relationships in my life, particularly one with my father.  Something that is virtually non-existent, as I try to uncover and discard baggage dating back to my birth, the emotional rollercoaster did not have a positive impact on me or my family.

This was the first year my son was enrolled in pre-school since his diagnosis of Autism.  Unsure of what the future holds for him, it’s a constant and upward battle to find and feel comfortable with the services that can and will be available to him now, and throughout his life.  That worry festers on my relationship with my daughter.  My wife knows all too well what it’s like to be the sibling of a special needs child and how it can make you feel “left out.”  Trying to be aware of this, I find myself frustrated with trying to find the proper balance between my children, continuously trying to lift one, while frantically trying not to feel like the other one is on the sidelines.  There have been moments when I felt like I’m failing both of them.

I mention all this because this embodied my thoughts when I sat down for each, and every movie seen this past year.  If these events hadn’t happened, would this still be my list?  Would things have grabbed me in the same manner?  Only God could know.  All I know is this has been a year that I’m simultaneously excited and sad to leave behind.

With that, this series kicks off with the “Unconventional Citations” of 2018.  Some will just have winners named, others with nominees, with winners set to be announced on Friday.  Take them in, and include your own in the comments.

MOST UNDERRATED FILM

Creed II” (Annapurna Pictures)
dir. Steven Caple, Jr.

A good old-fashioned boxing film can do the trick for a cinephile but “Creed II” is one that puts a refreshed focused on the matches outside the ring.  Admitting to not being overly taken with Ryan Coogler’s predecessor, Steven Caple, Jr’s touching expansion into the world of Adonis Creed is one that should have lifted the spirits of many, and been way more considered for awards prospects.  The film also boasts outstanding performances from its cast, in particular, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone.

RUNNERS-UP: Only short-term memory loss can explain why “Disobedience” was virtually ignored the entire awards season and its central cast.  Genre bias is always a factor when a comedic gem like “Game Night” comes along and time will be an important factor “Private Life,” as its life ages, it will likely be revisited as a staple of 2018 that went overlooked.

BEST OVERRATED FILM

Blockers” (Universal Pictures)
dir. Kay Cannon

Relying too heavy on the “gender swap” aspect on the teen sex comedy, Kay Cannon’s well-received comedy “Blockers” does little to offer its audience other than grotesque dialogue from its young cast, a wasted use of the talented Leslie Mann, and a predictable, type-cast role for John Cena as the “sensitive figure.”

RUNNERS-UP: It was to find the fun in Armando Innaunci’s “The Death of Stalin” despite a strong turn from Steve Buscemi and as was the overhyped nature of “Support the Girls” notwithstanding a capable Regina Hall.  I’m happy that the cult of Wes Anderson is growing as he is getting to do his thing on a more consistent basis but “Isle of Dogs” doesn’t hold a candle to his other brilliant works.

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A BAD FILM

Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate” (CBS Films)
dir. Julian Schnabel

I’ll worship at the altar of Julian Schnabel just as much as the next lover of cinema but his indulgence that is “At Eternity’s Gate” was one of the more bizarre entries of the latter part of the year.  With all that said, Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe gets to the integral pain and hurt of a prolific, historical figure like Vincent Van Gogh.  Hopefully, Dafoe will get a better vehicle for his overdue Oscar win shortly.

RUNNERS-UP: A good change of pace for his sensitive, caring Dad figure on “This Is Us,” Sterling K. Brown gives a depth of emotion in the misguided “Hotel Artemis” while Raffey Cassidy does her best to make sense of the offensive and horrid nature of “Vox Lux.”  Sitting firmly between two different movies, Julia Roberts‘ mother with an undying devotion to her son is felt throughout “Ben is Back.”

WORST PERFORMANCE IN A GOOD FILM

Liam Neeson, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (Netflix)
dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

RUNNERS-UP: The great Danny Huston pulled two duds this year, seemingly phoning it in with his turns in Jon S. Baird’s “Stan & Ollie” and John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s “Game Night,” delivering seemingly the same stale character in both interpretations.  Hopefully, he goes back to his roots in future outings. The “cartoonish” nature of Dolph Lundgren‘s Ivan Drago will never be able to be taken seriously any more than what he brought to “Rocky IV.”  Unfortunately, he just can’t blend in with the rest of his star-studded cast.

BEST ON-SCREEN COUPLE

Stephan James & Kiki Layne in “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna Pictures)
dir. Barry Jenkins

At AwardsCircuit, we deliver an intimate project called the “10 Greatest…” series, where staffers cover the ten best of any aspect of film, and in the coming months, our new one will cover the greatest love stories and spoiler alert, Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” will sit firmly on that list, with the faces of Stephan James and Kiki Layne being the reason.  As Fonny and Tish, the two show us love in a way we haven’t seen before, especially in the Black culture as it is often reflected in media.  I cried early on in the film, and it was because the love poured out of them, and made life more beautiful than we expect it to be.

RUNNERS-UP: Years of pent-up intimacy and love is unleashed in Sebastian Lelio’s “Disobedience” with Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz leading the charge.  Elsie Fisher and Jake Ryan’s first date may not be interpreted as “love,” but youth dates have never been more adorably captured than in “Eighth Grade.”  Using the love of games as their connection, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are appropriately matched in “Game Night.”

WORST ON-SCREEN COUPLE

Chris Hemsworth & Cailee Spaeny in “Bad Times at the El Royale” (20th Century Fox)
dir. Drew Goddard

Psychopath and murderous tendencies aside, the age difference will always be something that gross out any person watching.  Hemsworth’s Billy Lee makes Spaeny’s Rose do some gruesome acts such as watch the death of someone close to her, as well as just be one of the scariest little doll-like figures since Chucky.

RUNNERS-UP: Mostly because he just doesn’t put his foot down when he’s supposed to, Gabriel Byrne and Toni Collette’s marriage is a living nightmare in “Hereditary” while Nicole Kidman just doesn’t get her voice against her misguided Russell Crowe in “Boy Erased.”  A honeymoon love session has never been less intimate than Emma Stone’s “hand execution” to Joe Alwyn in “The Favourite.”

BEST LIMITED PERFORMANCE

And the Nominees Are:
Kathy Bates, “On the Basis of Sex”
Reg E. Cathey, “Tyrel”
Gemma Chan, “Crazy Rich Asians”
Angela Lansbury, “Mary Poppins Returns”
Anthony Ramos, “A Star is Born”

WINNER: To be announced on Jan. 4, 2019

RUNNERS-UP: Besides Josh Brolin’s villainous turn, Zoe Saldana stands out among a huge cast in “Avengers: Infinity War” before going for a fall while Milly Shapiro‘s tongue clicks are palpable in almost every frame in “Hereditary.”  Our little Tim from “Jurassic Park” is grown up and Joseph Mazzello is the only band member that can hold his own next to Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

CATEGORIES COMING TOMORROW: Comedic Performance, Kiss, Villain, Action Sequence, Breakthrough Performance (Male and Female)

Share your awards in the comments below and check back tomorrow for the next wave of awards, along with my ballot.  On Friday, winners and Top 10 of 2018 will follow.