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Mainstream Chick’s Top Picks of 2018

It’s insanely difficult to do a “Top 10 Movies of 2018” list when you’ve seen about 200 movies in 365 days – everything from blockbusters, to arthouse films, to documentaries, to films that simply defy classification. I reviewed some of them for Chickflix; others I just bantered about on the Cinema Clash podcast; still others I never got around to reviewing, ‘cuz sometimes, Life happens and the catch-up game aint worth playin’.

Movies are subjective – and so is my list. And no movie is a “bad movie” if somebody out there “gets” it and likes it. My list is different today than it was yesterday. And it will surely be different tomorrow. But at this particular moment in time – as we enter 2019 – this is where I stand with my top picks, and why.

Quickie Review: Border (Gräns)

You probably won’t see a more satisfyingly strange film this year than Border. The main character is Tina, a Swedish customs agent with an extraordinary talent. She can smell fear and deceit, so she regularly catches people bringing in contraband, too many bottles of wine, and even porn. But when a strange man named Vore passes through her line, she knows there is a something there, but she can’t read him. And she’s attracted to him. And the more she gets to know him, the more she learns about herself and why she has always been so different from everyone else. For her it’s a voyage of self-discovery and her first real romance. For him, it’s political. For us, it’s a bizarrely fun ride.

Mainstream Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download (2018)

Despite a few (hotel reservation and RSVP) potholes on the road to this year’s Middleburg Film Festival, all’s well that ends well! And what an ending it was. The closing film was my favorite film – by far – securing my only four-star ballot after four days of movie madness in the Virginia countryside.

So, without further ado, here’s what I saw, and how I ranked ‘em:

Review: A Star Is Born

About a week after I first saw the latest version of A Star Is Born, I took advantage of a rainy weekend to catch up on the 1937 original, the 1954 remake, and the 1976 remake of the remake. Then I watched the latest version again. And I can honestly say, the newest one is my favorite, in part because it draws on the best parts of all its predecessors while bringing the classic tragic love story into present-day context, complete with an awesome original soundtrack. We’ll surely be hearing at least one of those songs at this year’s Oscars.

Review: Life Itself

Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.

Review: Juliet, Naked

Ah, what a breath of fresh air! Juliet, Naked is a charming and funny romantic drama that is pure and simple in its development of characters and story. In lesser hands, it might have felt like a Hallmark or Lifetime ‘second chance’ romance. But Juliet, Naked benefits from the talent and affability of its three lead actors – Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby (Brooklyn, About a Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity) whose writing style lends itself well to the genre. There aren’t any real villains here; just humans wrestling with past regrets and coming to terms with who they are and who they want to be.

Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Cue up the sequel. I suspect Hollywood will see enough green from Crazy Rich Asians to justify a speedy greenlight for a second (and third) film based on the popular trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I haven’t read the book(s) but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie, which is basically a conventional romantic dramedy that happens to feature a majority Asian cast playing a variety of well-drawn characters, several of whom are crazy rich. It’s all very Dynasty-esque, tackling love, romance, pettiness, sabotage, scorn, humor, fashion, palatial digs and a lot of fantastic-looking food. The story revolves around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), a bright, attractive and very down-to-earth Asian-American Economics Professor who agrees to accompany her bright and charming boyfriend Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. En route she discovers that her longtime beau comes from money – lots and lots of money.

Review: Adrift

Adrift (not to be confused with the 2006 horror drama Open Water 2: Adrift) is a meet-cute swept into a Perfect Storm. It’s based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), a couple of young adventure-seekers who encountered a catastrophic hurricane while sailing a 44-foot yacht from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983. The couple was left stranded – injured and adrift – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For 41 days.

Review: Modern Life Is Rubbish

The movie has little to do with modern life or rubbish (though I’d think twice before putting the latter in the title of any movie.) It’s the name of an album by a Britpop band called Blur, a favorite of the couple at the center of this music-centric romantic dramedy, Liam (Josh Whitehouse, Poldark) and Natalie (Freya Mavor, Cezanne et Moi) who meet cute in a London record store, brought together by the albums of Blur. He’s a struggling musician. She’s an artist, too, but more pragmatic about her life. And before you know it, they’ve moved in together. But we start their story as they are dividing their belongings after a break-up and flashing back to their years together. It’s a story we’ve all heard before, but it has a nice soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of music.

Review: I Feel Pretty

I Feel Pretty is an average comedy about an average woman who bumps her head in a Soul Cycle class and suddenly believes she’s been transformed into the most gorgeous creature on the planet. The delusions give her newfound confidence to be fearless, carefree and to pursue her dreams and romantic interests as never before. And just like the main character Renee, played by Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), the movie itself is entertaining – yet flawed.