There’s no such thing as a bad year for art – not for literature, not for music, not for cinema. That new art is being created at all, no less by so many and in such mass quantities, is innately a positive.
Claims that a given year failed to live up to its potential are often linked directly to the quality of tentpole movies like “Avengers” and “Star Wars,” and rarely to the entire body of works released. And regardless of whether the most hotly anticipated blockbusters of the year disappointed or thrilled, the fact of the matter remains any year is a good year for cinema provided you’re seeing a variety of films.
For the blockbuster crowd, 2018 was no doubt a joy, with “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” which is one of the best pieces of action cinema this side of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” thrilling and awing at every turn even as other blockbusters sorely disappointed.
The latest installment in the Tom Cruise-fronted franchise all but cemented the franchise as one of the most consistently engaging mainstays of modern blockbuster cinema, an utterly preposterous action saga that’s able to outdo itself with every installment. The sixth and most recent entry is perhaps the best yet, a gleaming pillar of excellence so overstuffed with top tier production value and mind-boggling stunt work that it deserves and perhaps even commands multiple watches to soak up all the glory.
Also in the realm of crowd-pleasers came the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga drama “A Star is Born,” the fourth remake of a film nearly as old as the motion picture itself. The standout is, of course, Gaga, who delivers a performance worthy of every bit of Oscar talk and then some, but the entire film is a heartbreaking delight. It’s the sort of big, sappy, sweepingly romantic melodrama that conjures to mind the saying “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Of course they don’t. Lady Gaga wasn’t around back then.
For horror, it was also an unexpectedly thrilling year, with the debut of a bold new cinematic voice in Ari Aster’s A24 horror flick “Hereditary” and the release of an exciting new “Halloween” movie. But despite their respective merits, both utterly pale in comparison to the tremendous and triumphant “Suspiria,” a remake of the 1977 cult classic original by Luca Guadagnino, the Italian auteur behind “Call Me by Your Name” and “I Am Love.”
“Suspiria” is admittedly a preposterous and willfully disturbed film, and it’s not for everyone, but Guadagnino’s vision is so singular that even its most horrific sequences are tantalizing.
For A24, the studio behind “Lady Bird,” there was no shortage of success this year between “Hereditary” and “Eighth Grade,” but for what it’s worth the studio’s most breathtaking release of the year is Paul Schrader’s crisis of faith drama “First Reformed.”
Starring Ethan Hawke as a disturbed and lonesome pastor at a country church in upstate New York, it’s a brutal and uncompromising meditation on faith, solitude and the way things fall apart. That’s a decidedly bleak thicket of themes to delve into, but director Paul Schrader wisely refuses to create something altogether hopeless, and through few sparing moments of hope he creates one of the year’s most important — and stunning — works.
But for what it’s worth, perhaps the most singularly important film of the year, and maybe even the best altogether, is Paul King’s splendid children’s caper “Paddington 2.” It's as much the story of a talking bear’s shenanigans in London as it about an immigrant’s experiences with xenophobia in the wake of Brexit. It's is a charming and wholesome film worth every bit of the hype.
Its political ideals never feel forced, nor are they watered down for its intended audience. This is simply a brilliant film with a beautiful message about the vitality of kindness and empathy, and in a year that saw some of the first cinematic responses to Trump’s America — “The Tale,” “Sorry to Bother You” and “BlacKkKlansman” come to mind — that the most utterly triumphant is a family film willing to preach its important message to anyone willing to listen feels like something special.
Here's hoping for more great cinema — and a "Paddington 3" announcement — in 2019.