During my sophomore year of college, I attended a house party where I consumed a few too many beers and lost my senses. As a result, I ended up making out with a nice young lady whose eyes were so crossed that she could read a street sign directly behind her without the use of a mirror. What does this have to do with the past year in film you ask? Well, not much, I guess. It’s just that the image of those wonderfully crisscrossed eyes staring back at me between drunken kisses always seems to bring a smile to my face. And after another so-so year in film, maybe we all need a few more smiles in our lives.
All that to say, you can be forgiven if 2018 did little to inspire you to visit the theaters for $11 Twizzlers, seat neighbors who only shower on a monthly basis, and two hours of sub-par Hollywood self-indulgence. However, despite the downer tone here, there were some moments of note on the big screen this year. That’s where Stink Whispers comes to your rescue. We’ve got you covered with our fifth-annual list of the best and worst films of the year, as well as more of our self-critically acclaimed Whispy Awards.
And, no, folks. It’s not opinion. It’s pure, unadulterated fact.
Best of the Lot
1) A Star is Born (trailer) – Boy meets girl. Boy sings with girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy drinks the girl’s weight in whiskey on a daily basis. Boy pisses pants onstage at the Grammy’s. It’s a recipe for a truly timeless love story. A remake of a remake of a remake about a tortured musician (Jackson Maine), his talented muse (Ally), and the joys and demons they face as their lives and careers cross paths. Bradley Cooper is spectacular as a talented, booze-soaked rock star on a slow decline into liver damage. Lady Gaga is nearly as impressive as the talented, but unsure amateur singer he falls in love with, supports, and eventually is surpassed by. Truth be told, Lady Gaga normally annoys the living shit out of me. Not here, though. She plays her character with reserved intensity and comes of as the opposite of her real life persona. The music is surprisingly hit or miss (Cooper’s contributions of raw country-rock resonated with me more and the final number is a real tear-jerker), but every last note of it helps guide the story through the highs and lows. This is one of those rare films that has you feeling the same emotions about it a good 24 hours after you’ve left the theater. Much like a Jackson Maine hangover.
2) A Quiet Place (trailer) – Every crunch invades your eardrums like an gong erupting just inches from your head. Every tiny movement shocks your system like an electric chair. And this is just what you experience during “A Quiet Place” when the dipshit sitting next to you eats his popcorn too loudly. Yes, this unique horror flick blankets the theater with deafening quiet for the majority of the film, and the thrills and jump scares are all the better for it. It’s the story of a family surviving in a post-apocalyptic world where making noise—any noise—can mean death and dismemberment at the hand (or claw thingies) of extra-terrestrial baddies. Emily Blunt and Jon Krasinski are wonderful as parents quietly attempting to safeguard their family from the monsters. The actors playing their children are equally as effective. Plus, without providing any spoilers, there is a scene between Jon Krasinski and his daughter towards the film’s climax that is as emotionally impactful as any I witnessed on the big screen in 2018. “A Quiet Place” is how innovation and film-making are supposed to mesh, and one can only hope that aspiring horror and sci-fi directors took note.
3) Boy Erased (trailer) – Bouffant hair. Is there any hairstyle sexier than a huge, hair-sprayed bouffant? If you answered yes, you’re wrong. If you answered no, Nicole Kidman’s poofy blonde head of hair in “Boy Erased” will surely fill your fantasies for years to come. Of course, “Boy Erased” is not the story of Nicole Kidman’s hair, but something much more powerful. Lucas Hedges plays Jared, the son of a devout Baptist preacher (played by the solid Russell Crowe) who comes to the realization that he is gay, a discovery that doesn’t sit well with his family. Frantically attempting to “cure” their son, Jared’s parents send him to a gay conversion therapy program that doubles as a Nazi propaganda retreat. Okay, that last part is an exaggeration, but only by a hair. This film is a complex and gut-wrenching exercise in humanity, with Jared attempts to come to terms with who he truly is in the worst of environments, while his parents wrestle with the contradictions they see in following God and supporting their son. Hedges gives a wonderful performance as the tortured lead, and Kidman is equally as impressive as his mother. On top of it all, the film’s signature song “Revelation” from Troye Sivan (who also has a small role in the film) is a stunningly beautiful — deserving of a gold statue itself.
4) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (trailer) – Comic book films tend to annoy me to the point of projectile vomiting. Animated films tend to bore me to the point of projectile-vomit-filled sleep. With that recipe, one might think that an animated comic book movie would be a recipe for…well…a lot of projectile vomiting. In the case of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” however, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a beautiful, artfully crafted treat for your eyes. Never before has animation felt so modern, crazy, and dazzling. It’s not CGI for the sake of realism, like most films these days. Instead, Sony Pictures Imageworks tasked 142 visual artists to paint the screen with art that practically dances off the screen (hell, in 3-D, it may very have). Sure, the story and characters are fun, but it’s the look and feel of this one that really wow the viewer. Admittedly, the movie’s warts (the Peter Porker character and the less impressive visuals of the final battle sequence) nearly had me reverting to my old-man-on-the-porch attitude about these types of films, but I fought through it and left the theater feeling hopeful for the future of both genres. I’ll trade 20 of Marvel’s live-action eye-rollers for one of these any day.
5) Won’t You Be My Neighbor (trailer) – Like every other review of this documentary on the late, great Fred Rogers, if you grew up with the man in your life, this film will touch your heart. Even if you didn’t, there is still plenty of value to be derived from the story of Mr. Rogers all these years later. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” does an excellent job of telling a very holistic story of the Presbyterian minister turned public television icon — including a wart or two. What became most apparent to me while watching the thin, sweater-clad man interact with wide-eyed children of every race and ability was that we sometimes lose the ability to accept one another as openly as we did when we were too young to understand life’s challenges and complexities. Fred Rogers never did. That’s the story that is really told here. There is no deity to be worshiped in this film, but there certainly is the simplest of value propositions on display, as quoted by Mr. Rogers himself: “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
6) Beautiful Boy (trailer) – I thank God, Allah, and L. Ron Hubbard that none of those closest to me has gone through the hell that is meth or heroine addiction. I won’t pretend to understand it or know the pain, and I hope I never do. “Beautiful Boy” tells the true story of how that very hell impacted one family over the course of what feels like ten lifetimes, but is actually just a handful of years. Timothée Chalamet is extraordinary as Nik Sheff, an impossibly addicted young man of promise unable to shake both his addictions and the expectations he and his father have placed upon him. Steve Carell is equally fantastic as Nik’s helpless, but stubbornly hopeful and loving father. There are other characters at play here, but it’s the interplay between these two that drives the story, the heartbreak, and the sliver of hope. You can’t help but share in the pain, anger, frustration, and love between father and son as the story winds in and out of recovery and relapse, honesty and deceit, hope and the desire to just give up. I won’t lie, this film does not scream “Watch me for a good time!” Instead, one most likely will leave the theater feeling like an elephant is riding on their shoulders. It’s well worth that weight, though.
7) Operation Finale (trailer) – A top-10 list wouldn’t be complete without at least one well-crafted historical drama thrown in there. For me, that film was “Operation Finale,” the story of Israeli intelligence officers tasked with capturing former SS officer Adolf Eichmann in 1960. For those of you who don’t know Eichmann’s story, he was the man who shared the same first name as Adolf Hitler, oh and also shared a certain skill for rounding up and deporting Jews, gypsies, and others the Nazi’s deemed inferior to concentration/extermination camps. The story itself is intriguing as all get out, but the performances and the way director Chris Weitz ratchets up the non-stop drama makes this one an unsung hero of the big screen. Ben Kingsley definitely deserved Oscar consideration for his stoic performance as Eichmann, and the rest of the cast members (even Nick Kroll!) are at the top of their games. Alas, many reviewers were less impressed, and the box office seems to validate their opinions. However, I found it to be a taut thriller that draws one in to the story of one of recent history’s most despicable figures and the men and women who brought him to justice.
8) Lean on Pete (trailer) – When you look at the movie poster of “Lean on Pete,” you could be forgiven for thinking this is the story of a boy and his horse. There’s a boy and a horse. Plus, the studio describes it as the story of Charley, a 15-year-old boy living with his single father, and his journey across the country with an aging racehorse named Lean On Pete. That said, this film is more about Charley’s odyssey to figure out what his life is supposed to be, come to grips with devastating loss, and rediscover family. Charley Plummer is spectacular as…well…Charley. He plays the role with innocence, vulnerability, and untapped strength. The horse playing Lean on Pete was okay, I guess. If you like actors who spend most of their time on screen eating, running and shitting, you’ll appreciate his work. I won’t tell you how the stories of Charley and Lean on Pete end (although, I’m guessing you’d be a bit surprised), but this is one of those film journeys that is well worth the miles.
9) Galveston (trailer) – I won’t attempt to hide it. I’m an unapologetic Ben Foster fan. He’ll never be a “star,” but he continues to turn in some of the best performances of the past few years. But Foster isn’t the reason “Galveston” ticks. Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful. But this film isn’t even his best performance of the year (see “Leave No Trace”). No, this film is all about the feel, the gritty story, and the performance of Elle Fanning. It’s the story of a hit-man running from his former boss and the young woman he “rescues” as they hit the road in an attempt to evade those who want to lightly implant bullets in their heads via use of a gun. Fanning is an anxiety-ridden jitterbug on the screen, but she steals every scene she’s in. Director Mélanie Laurent (whom I immediately fell in love with in “Beginners”) does a splendid job of directing this feel-bad film with a raw tone and unapologetic ugliness. It only makes the somewhat unsatisfying ending all the more powerful. This one has some cracks, but they are more than filled in by the time the final credits roll.
10) Ready Player One (trailer) – The films of 2018 weren’t all about alcoholic musicians, meth-addicted teens, homophobic religious zealots, Nazi hunting, and homeless boys who steal doomed horses. No, there was some fun to be had. Like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” it was hard not to have fun watching the 80’s-tastic action and cultural references flash across a colorful canopy that is “Ready Player One.” Having never read the book, I won’t pretend to be in love with the story (boy living in gamer-obsessed future strives to wrestle control of a digital universe from corporate bad guys), although it was interesting enough to keep my attention. No, the appeal here is the movement, the characters, the color, and the fact that this movie was custom-built for Generation X. Perhaps this one falls another dozen notches down my list in a more typical year of standouts, but I judge this for what it was. Fun.
Close, but no cigar (i.e. – just missed the list): “Papillon”, “Beruit,” Chappaquiddick,” “Game Night,” “Black Panther,” and “The Post.”
The Dirty (Downright Stanky) Half-Dozen
It’s never easy to admit that you spent money on something that didn’t measure up to expectations — whether you’re talking about a bottle of wine, a shiny new sports car, or a Croatian mail-order bride named Dragica. The bite to your wallet and pride is a painful one. It’s no different with motion pictures. Luckily, before Movie Pass went the way of the dodo, I was able to view many of these trainwrecks for free. I still feel like I was hosed. Dragica!!!
Without further ado, here are my selections for the six 2018 “films” that owe me a heartfelt apology written on the back of a notarized letter giving me permission to hunt down and torture the studio executives who greenlit them:
Traffik – Oh, Paula Patton. So beautiful, so bad. When the highlights of your filmography are playing an inept secret agent in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and a green, tusked warrior in “Warcraft,” it’s time to either hang it up or hire a new agent. “Traffik” is no better. An interesting enough concept of unsuspecting vacationers who stumble upon a human trafficking ring is doomed by atrocious acting, zero character investment or development, lame villains, unconvincing drama, and an eye-roller of an ending. I nearly left the theater about an hour in, but decided that the uneaten popcorn in the tub outweighed the negative impact of the hot garbage that was taking place on the screen. Unlike the popcorn I ended up consuming, the memory of this film stayed with me long after I left the theater.
The First Purge – If you’ve ever seen a Purge movie (or the new television series, for that matter), you know that the entire franchise is a collection of steaming, fly-infested rhino turds disguised as jarring social commentary. Truth is, aside from the first film in the series, the franchise is the prime example of how to make tired, boring, and supremely lazy films. This latest entry takes us back to the beginning of the Purge story (always a sign that a studio has run out of ideas, but still sees a buck in the game) to bore us with a story we could’ve already figured out. At least they cast a bunch of terrible actors to entertain us with their inability to not be shitty. Proof that humankind needs an actual Purge to occur: this film out-earned it’s budget by $123 million.
Proud Mary – In this 90-minute waste of time, Taraji P. Henson is an elite assassin who kills a bookie, then decides to punish the bookie’s young son by making him spend the rest of the movie watching her attempt to act. There’s probably more to the story, but I started to doze off the moment Henson uttered this gem of a line: “Newsflash, asshole! I am the mothering type!” To be fair, it’s not the worst thing Henson has ever done (every episode of “Empire” ever made has that distinction), but it’s damn close. Do yourself a favor and forget you ever heard of this movie.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Like “The First Purge,” there is no reason for the existence of this film, other than to put money in the studio’s coffers. Sure, it has the wonderful dinosaur CGI that has made this franchise billions, but the story is retread and derivative (of it’s predecessors), the characters are boring as hell, the acting is paint by numbers, and it adds absolutely nothing to a franchise that is in danger of…wait for it…extinction. Good for Chris Pratt for padding his bank account with this film. At the same time, shame on Chris Pratt for padding his bank account with this film.
Mile 22 -Mark Wahlberg is just the fucking worst. Sure, his family may make a mean burger, but the marble-mouthed actor is nearly impossible to watch in anything other than “The Other Guys.” Unfortunately, he must have something on Peter Berg, because the director keeps choosing him to serve as the lead in his films. “Mile 22” is the latest debacle. It’s the story of some stupid shit happening to some stupid people who need to transfer a stupid prisoner to safety at a stupid airstrip — you guessed it — 22 miles away. There are a couple fun action sequences, mostly featuring Iko Uwais, but at this point I’d rather walk through 22 miles of knee-deep diarrhea than watch one more minute Wahlberg in 2018.
The 15:17 to Paris – Don’t get me wrong. The story of the three American servicemen who thwarted the 2015 Thalys train attack is absolutely worthy of big screen treatment. Unfortunately, director Clint Eastwood thought it would be a good idea to task the actual servicemen who lived this harrowing story to bring the story alive onscreen. Heroes to a man, their acting is nearly impossible to digest. Their line delivery — to go along with some boring writing — takes this film off the tracks mere minutes into the film. The result is a clunky, awkward 90+ minutes.
The 2018 Whispy Awards
Kick Assiest Actor – Much like debating whether to get out of bed at 4 a.m. to take a piss or go back to sleep and hope I don’t wake up in a puddle, this decision was a tough one. So many outstanding performances come to mind, but Timothée Chalamet as a young man caught in the vice-grips of drug addiction in “Beautiful Boy” gets the nod. Chalamet wears the pain and hopelessness of his character’s addiction like a second skin. You spend the film wanting to simultaneously hug and lovingly strangle him. Honorable mention: Bradley Cooper in “A Star is Born,” Steve Carell in “Beautiful Boy,” David Tennant in “Bad Samaritan,” and Lucas Hedges in “Boy Erased.”
Downright Shittiest Actor – Mark Wahlberg in “Mile 22” will make you 1) wish that Japanese culture still practiced ritual suicide as a way to restore honor for themselves and 2) that Mark Wahlberg was of Japanese descent and would commit ritual suicide. Some will argue that I’m letting my previous bias against Marky Mark color my opinion here. Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I? He’s the worst. Dishonorable mention: Tom Hardy in “Venom,” John Boyega in “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther,” and everybody in “15:17 to Paris.”
Most Glorious Actress – As the year wore on, I doubted that any performance would top Rosamund Pike’s hard-drinking, chain-smoking combat correspondent in “A Private War.” Then, I rented “Leave No Trace” on a whim with just two days left in the year, and Thomasin McKenzie absolutely blew me away. Her soft-spoken, yet powerful portrayal of a homeless girl hopelessly and lovingly attached at the hip to her PTSD-stricken father is truly captivating (and I hate using that word when describing acting, so it must be true). Her quiet tone and expressive eyes tell as much of the story as any other element in the film. Watch the final ten minutes of this film, and tell me that she doesn’t deserve every accolade thrown her way. Triple dog dare ya. Honorable mention: Nicole Kidman in “Boy Erased,” Elle Fanning in “Galveston,” Rosamund Pike in “A Private War,” and Cynthia Erivo in “Bad Times at the El Royale.“
Most Putrid Actress – Jennifer Lawrence is an American treasure. Which, I guess, makes it alright for me to hate her role as a Russian spy in “Red Sparrow” so much. Hell, it kinda makes me feel a little patriotic. Lawrence just doesn’t look all that interested in being in this film. The effort she puts into her Russian accent is proof of that. It seems that for every gem she puts out (“Winter’s Bone,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle”), there is a an eye-roller around the corner. “Red Sparrow” is that eye-roller. Dishonorable mention: Taraji Henson in “Proud Mary,” Jennifer Garner in “Peppermint,” Jodie Foster in “Hotel Artimas,” and Paula Patton in “Traffik.”
Best Visuals – Not even close. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the kind of film that has you decrying the fact that the state in which you reside doesn’t have legalized recreational marijuana. If it’s jaw-droppingly awesome sober, imagine how incredible it’d be with a little help from your local dispensary. My friends in Colorado and Oregon know what I’m talking about. Honorable mention: “Aquaman,” “Ready Player One,” and “Black Panther.”
Things Worse than the new “Robin Hood” – Measles and mumps, but not rubella. It’s close, but “Robin Hood” is slightly worse than rubella.
Film that Forced the Most Salty Discharge from the Eyes – Allergies are no joke. Every year, hundreds of people in the U.S. die from allergic reactions to any number of things — from bee stings to peanuts. For some (like me), being allergic to sad movies is a problem. While not lethal, sad movies have been know to cause my eyes to water up at the most inconvenient of times. Watching “A Star is Born” sent that dangerous allergy into high gear. I’m not going to lie, I was seriously worried that my mother was going to have to hear about my passing from the the manager at my local theater. No parent should ever have to endure that.
Best Film You Never Seen…or Even Heard Of – I won’t sugarcoat it. “Bomb City” features some actors that deliver dialogue like a three-year-old playing a recorder. Putting that aside, this flick tells a story with real impact. Based on the tragic death of Texas punker Brian Deneke, the film paints a sympathetic sketch of outcast culture in a community that is anything but sympathetic to it. You can’t help but be drawn to Dave Davis (who plays the lead) and his sky-high mohawk. There’s plenty of heavy-handed treatment of the antagonists in the story, but director Jameson Brooks does Deneke’s memory justice. Honorable Mention: “Upgrade.”