What a year for movies — a very strange, crazy year.

Two of the Academy Award nominations for Best Picture — Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice — scored in the 60s on Rotten Tomatoes, the number one website for collecting movie reviews. A third film — Green Book — got a tepid 81% score.

And here’s the thing, I think one or two of them should win!

I love being able to share my favorite films each year. Some are surprises, some are obvious choices. But it’s always fun knowing that there are actual, real, live people out there who use my annual lists to plan their weekend rentals. I know that’s a lot of pressure and I don’t take it lightly (actually, yes I do). Take everything I say with a grain or grinder of sea salt.

So dim the lights, silence your cell phones, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

 

Christian Bale (left) as Dick Cheney and Sam Rockwell (right) as George W. Bush star in VICE. photo by Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

Vice

I waited far too long to see Vice. It was one of the last films I saw and I wasn’t looking forward to it, not in the least. As of this writing, it is sitting at a stinky 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. But everybody kept talking about how great Christian Bale was as Vice President Dick Cheney and it had six Golden Globe nominations, so I felt it was my civic duty to go catch a matinee. Christian Bale’s acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical also intrigued me, “Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration for playing this role,” he said in his thick, native Welsh accent.

Wow! Go see this movie. I’m so glad I did. Maybe I was inadvertently saving the best for last.

Vice was written and directed by Adam McKay, the guy who brought us The Big Short, (my favorite film of 2015). Vice weaves back and forth through time, explaining the unlikely series of events leading to Cheney’s rise to power. The movie is historically accurate, vetted and documented. Not everything happened exactly the way the movie says it did, but in the opening credits, McKay writes “we did our fucking best.”

It was hysterical and terrifying

All the awards buzz is around how Bale inhabits the role of Cheney, but Steve Carrell becomes Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell is W.

It too has a fourth-wall-breaking narrator who explains to the audience what’s really happening. You’ll never guess who the character is.

After thanking McKay in his acceptance speech, Bale also mused that he could go on to play another politician who’s “absolutely charisma-free and reviled by everybody … Mitch McConnell next?”

Pro Tip: Don’t think it’s over when the credits role for the first time; you’re all more savvy than that. But don’t think it’s over the second time either!

 

Nick Robinson stars in Love, Simon.

Love, Simon

I haven’t seen this movie appear on anybody’s Best of the Year list. But boy, it’s fantastic! There have been many teen school dramadies this year, most notably To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Eighth Grade. Love, Simon is by far the best of the lot.

Nick Robinson plays Simon who is harboring a secret, he’s gay. But through some petty treachery, his secret is threatened. Along the lines of You’ve Got Mail, Simon communicates with another person online, Blue, who is still in the closet. There’s a great reveal at the end, including a classic teen movie ferris wheel.

Imagine if John Hughes were still making movies today. This is a joyous, fun, smart and poignant film. It’s based on Becky Albertalli’s young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The screen adaptation is written by This Is Us show runners Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, but it’s not nearly as heavy.

Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are a fun, supporting mom and dad, “We’re good parents,” they tell themselves, (spoiler alert, they are). I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like this movie. There’s nothing objectionable and the whole family can pop some corn, kick back and enjoy it. Nick Robinson is clearly a burgeoning marquee talent, with three or four movies coming out in the next year or so.

 

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in Green Book.

Green Book

Several of my favorite films from 2018 were based on real-life people and events. I didn’t realize Green Book was until the closing credits. That elevated a very good movie into one of the year’s best. The story centers around an Italian-American bouncer who gets a job driving an African-American concert pianist through the Jim Crow South. It’s a great spin on the classic buddy and road trip tropes.

I loved Mahershala Ali as virtuoso Dr. Don Shirley. And Aragorn, I mean Viggo Mortensen, overcoming his initial racism as driver Tony “Lip” Vallelonga is dramatic and, dare I say, funny. We watch how Tony Lip changes and how he treats people before, during and after the two-month trip. It’s a story of two opposite people finding out about each other. The audience literally is along for the ride as sophisticated Dr. Shirley learns to lighten up a little as slovenly Tony cleans up his act.

The title refers to an actual guide, the Green Book, that told African-Americans the hotels where they were allowed to stay in the South. Dr. Shirley had to stay in those, mostly rundown joints; Tony Lip got to stay wherever he wanted.

There have been contradicting accounts about how much of what’s depicted on the screen actually took place in real life. The movie was written by Peter Farrelly, with help from Vallelonga’s son, Nick who claimed on NBC  that “Everything was true … and that was very important to me and Pete the director, that we told the truth.” Vallelonga knew Don Shirley for years and did, in fact, interview/tape record his family friend for the film. Shirley’s estranged family disputes parts of the narrative, though Farrelly told Variety Magazine that Shirely’s heirs were his friends, not his family.

I guess the overall veracity of the movie doesn’t weigh too much on me. It was a transformative movie for both main characters. Hollywood always takes creative license with real-life tales. That’s pretty much the reason for and the essence of feature films.

 

Fred Rogers and François Clemmons share a quiet moment in Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Growing up, I was a sensitive young boy. My mother knew I felt things differently, more acutely than others, just like my father. Because she saw similarities between me and Dad — and because she wanted me to understand myself better than he did — she found a potent, powerful drug to turn me on to. It was Mister Rogers.

Fred Rogers was kind, calm, loving and patient. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the original safe space.

The documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, looks back at Rogers’ PBS television show and personal life with warmth and wisdom. It’s a beautiful film about a beautiful man, told through his own voice along with those of his family and his TV crew.

For 30+ years, Fred Rogers helped us all learn tolerance and to love ourselves as he became our very real moral compass. It’s a quiet, pleasant documentary about the man who held our hands as we walked through turbulent times, most notably assassinations and segregation. We really needed this movie in 2018.

 

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce star in The Wife.

The Wife

As a writer, I can’t help loving a movie about writing. Oscar nominated Glenn Close stars in a classic “behind every great man” story. Her husband, Jonathan Pryce (who also should’ve been nominated), wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and the movie follows the announcement, celebration and awards ceremony — with several flashbacks to their earlier days.

The acting is nuanced and understated, yet powerful. There is a seething undertone as well, just beneath the surface. It’s a quiet movie with a fantastic plot line. A few famous actors in supporting and cameo roles add to the narrative (Downton Abby’s Elizabeth McGovern and a heavily bespectacled Christian Slater).

I loved this film and was finally able to see it. It was shown at only one “nearby” theatre and had only one show time. I think it’s because of the Academy Award nomination for Glenn Close. I really hope she wins; she’s been nominated seven times for some fantastic roles and hasn’t won once. Hopefully this is her year.

 

Charlize Theron stars in Tully.

Tully

This film surprised me. My family watched it on my laptop, scrunched together on a vacation couch during a rare moment when it was just the four of us together.

Glamorous actress and spokesmodel Charlize Theron gained 50 pounds to play the role of an exhausted mother of three who finally accepts the gift of a nanny’s help from her rich brother. The dramady — with seemingly more drama than comedy — co-stars Mackenzie Davis (From Halt and Catch Fire and the exquisite San Junipero episode of Black Mirror) in the title role as Tully, a so-called night nanny.

Written by Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) the movie follows the odd, fun relationship as Tully quickly alleviates the burdens of Theron’s character, Marlo. It all happens during the evening hours and overnight as the new nanny helps Marlo get a grip on practically everything, domestic and otherwise.

Taken on its own, the movie is a great look inside modern motherhood. But there’s a twist and that makes it even better.

 

Gwilym Lee, Rami Malek, and Joe Mazzello star in Bohemian Rhapsody. Photo by Twentieth Century Fox.

Bohemian Rhapsody

I was plopped down in a pub in Ireland when the historic Live Aid worldwide event took place in July, 1985. And that’s where the movie Bohemian Rhapsody begins and ends — the concert, not my little pub. Back then, Queen was just another band I listened to on the radio. I’ve since gained a much bigger appreciation of the band. Seeing them portrayed on the silver screen is something I can just imagine would’ve thrilled front man Freddy Mercury, even with all the highs and lows we witness.

I talked about Christian Bale being the perfect embodiment of Dick Cheney, but Rami Malek gives him a run for the money as Mercury, even without the prosthetic teeth he wore to help inhabit the real-life musician’s being. Yes, Malek did help with the singing, but his vocals were mixed along with a YouTube Queen impersonator. Buy the soundtrack and you’ll get the actual Queen (and I don’t mean Elizabeth II).

This is a fun and sad movie, touching and joyous. I never saw them in concert, but it feels like I did with this film. Years later, my family saw We Will Rock You — the musical very loosely based on their songs — in London’s West End. During the finale, none other than Queen guitarist Brian May, who was one of the producers of this movie, came out playing The Red Special, his signature guitar. May is also, by the way, an astrophysicist and photographer. You can see him talking about his book of behind the scenes 3D photos here.

 

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan star in Black Panther.

Black Panther

If I were more of a superhero fan or more attuned to the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe, this movie would definitely be at the top of my list. That being said, Black Panther was a fun, engaging, culturally significant action film.

Chadwick Boseman stars as the eponymously named hero and king of Wakanda, a remote, happy and incredibly advanced African country. The movie centers around the struggle for control of Wakanda and the possession of vibranium, a metal that fell from space.

The mostly black cast is a who’s who of Hollywood actors of color including Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Michael B. Jordan — who is the Black Panther’s nemesis — named Killmonger (just go with it). Jordan has been in every feature film directed by Ryan Coogler so far, (Creed, 2015 and Fruitvale Station, 2013 and now Panther).

If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen Black Panther — after all, it’s the third highest grossing film in the U.S. and Canada ever — then you’re sure to enjoy renting it.

Wakanda Forever!

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg goes through her workout in RBG.

RBG

She’s a national treasure and one of the only things standing between a positive future and a regressive vortex back into policies and legislation that are better left in the distant past. She’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg, star of the documentary about her life and work, RBG.

Justice Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG, is an icon and “the closest thing to a super hero I know,” according to Gloria Steinem who says so in the documentary. 

It’s a powerful, yet fun movie. You’ll love watching her current exercise routine as well as clips from her earlier days and narratives about her husband and family.

RBG is the chief dissenter in these days of conservative appointments to the court. Still, she says, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

It’s full of great quotes like that and you’ll likely finish the movie by hoping, wishing, praying for her longevity.

“Men and women are persons of equal dignity and they should count equally before the law,” Ginsburg wrote. How radical!

 

Michael Moore wrote, directed and stars in Fahrenheit 11/9.

Fahrenheit 11/9

Michael Moore rushed this movie out for the run-up to the Midterm elections. It doesn’t show it, though. This is vintage Moore, smartly guiding us through what happened up to and after Election Night, 2016 (which lapsed over into 11/9/2016 before the results were announced, hence the title — a play on his earlier movie, Fahrenheit 9/11.)

Michael Moore is up to his wonderful cinematic stunts, this time delivering a tanker truck full of Flint water to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s home. You won’t believe, either, who Moore blames for initially piquing Trump’s interest in running for president (HINT: She ain’t no Hollaback Girl).

Whether he’s digging deeper into the Flint Crisis, Parkland, or interviewing a small-town West Virginia first-time politician — whose affiliation you don’t know at first — Moore always has the Trump presidency in his sights.

Putting the movie together quickly made it current and up-to-date. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes an appearance in this movie, something that definitely would not have happened if Moore wasn’t nimble and quick.

This Fahrenheit, like his 2004 movie — the highest grossing documentary of all time — is fun and insightful. It helps the audience formulate their own opinions as well as, and this is crucial, serves as a reminder that Progressives aren’t the minority in this country. If you aren’t already Woke, this movie is a great wake up call.

 

Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran star in the documentary about their lives.

Three Identical Strangers

Rounding out My Favorite Films of 2018 is an unprecedented fourth feature documentary. And when you realize three other of my favorite films were based on real life stories, it seems I was most drawn to reality this year.

Three Identical Strangers is a CNN film about triplet boys, born in the early 1960s, who were separated six months after they were born. Two of the boys, as young men, attended the same small upstate New York college a year apart and when friends were completely confused, they quickly made the connection. Ensuing media coverage alerted a third young man who looked exactly like the other two and the three became celebrities back in 1980s NYC.

The story, it seems, could end there. But a whole lot more transpired through their lives, including a riveting plot about their adoption agency and nature vs. nurture. It’s an incredible storyline that doesn’t just stay in New York, but includes scenes in Texas, California and even Michigan.

I won’t go into any more detail. But I think you’ll be fascinated by the storytelling and the identical strangers who became brothers.

 

Runners Up, FILMS THAT JUST MISSED THE CUT:

Cold War is the other foreign black and white movie this year. Roma got all the buzz, but Cold War is worth a watch. I liked a lot of it, except the ending.

If Beale Street Could Talk I really wanted to love this movie and it started out so wonderfully. The narrative and filming felt like two different movies spliced together though.

Blindspotting was fascinating and had great character development and an important gentrification, police brutality message.

BlacKkKlansman was fun and scary to watch. As impossible as the premise sounds, it too was based on a real-life story.

Crazy Rich Asians was also an important cultural movie with an all-Asian cast. It was a rollicking good time.

 

Last But Not Least, GOOD WEEKEND RENTALS:

 Instant Family starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg. This movie is a shout-out to foster parents everywhere. It’s funny and poignant with a good message.

Juliet, Naked starring Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke. If you grow up on an island in the English Channel, sometimes you have to take what you can get for companionship. And sometimes you don’t.

All About Nina starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common. Nina’s a standup comic whose life feels like it’s unraveling.

Ocean’s Eight starring everybody. “There’s an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. You’re doing this for her,” says Sandra Bullock as the leader of an all-female heist.

A Simple Favor with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. A mommy vlogger investigates her mysterious new friend who goes missing.

 

Thanks for reading; I hope my annual list helps you navigate your weekend entertainment choices. If none of these sound right for you, there’s always The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to binge watch on TV.