January is that wonderful time of year when compulsive pop culture junkies get to obsessively make lists of their favorite and least favorite things of the previous year.
Here’s a list of my favorite movies of the year and if they sound up your alley, I encourage you to check them out.
Like the year itself, the theme of the movies I loved this year seems to be that they're grim, yet optimistic.
10. “Creed II” – I think there’s just something inside my DNA where anytime I watch Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character do literally anything, I weep uncontrollably. Proposing to Adrian in “Rocky?” Weep. Winning a championship in “Rocky 2?” Weep. And now, 40 years and eight movies later, watching Rocky train a protégé makes me weep.
9. “Unsane” – This throwback thriller breezed in and out of theater last spring and was a tense look at the idea that maybe your biggest fears are just inside your head – or maybe they're real after all. Director Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s 11”) used an iPhone to shoot the movie, which lends to its “is this real or fake?” vibe.
8. “The Endless” – In this indie flick, two brothers return to the small cult-like commune they escaped as children and discover that it may be held hostage by something sinister. The film plays out like a drama that just happens to be set in a Lovecraftian “Twilight Zone” episode.
7. “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” – This animated film gives us the message that wall-crawling superhero Spider-Man isn’t merely the alter-ego of Peter Parker. He’s us. Any of us can be a hero. We’re all Spider-Man underneath that mask.
6. “They Shall Not Grow Old” – In this moving documentary, director Peter Jackson modernizes century-old WWI footage and juxtaposes it with stories from those that served in the Great War. The existing silent, grainy and sped up footage from the war can of cause something of a distancing effect, I feel. It just doesn’t seem real. But this touched up, colorized footage makes the enormity of that world-changing conflict seem vibrant and real, as if it were happening today – and it’s a terrifying reminder of what humanity is capable of in its darkest moments.
5. “Bodied” – This comedy about the battle rapping and the power of language made me acknowledge some of my own biases about race, class and gender – but it’s so funny that I cracked up while doing so.
4. “Thoroughbreds” – This pitch-black spiritual successor to films like “Heathers” and “Harold & Maude” concerns two girls who are so detached that they plan a murder – almost for no good reason at all.
3. “Annihilation” – This brilliant sci-fi tale concerns Natalie Portman’s search for answers – what happened to her husband? Why is Florida being consumed by what may be an alternate dimension? And can self-destructive tendencies make us better people on the other side?
2. “First Reformed” – In this complex drama from the writer of “Taxi Driver,” Ethan Hawke is a priest who struggles with his faith in the face of what he perceives as the end of times. With a narration that may or may not be honest with the audience, Hawke struggles with loneliness and a need to connect with, well, anything.
1. “Avengers: Infinity War” – I have a Captain America tattoo, so this is obligated to be my favorite movie of the year. It may be the most watchable and fun movie ever made – until it’s suddenly more tragic that you might expect from a movie about superheroes and maniacal aliens.