Look, 2018 was a great year for movies.
It was a year where Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz duked it out for a horny queen with a thing for rabbits; a CGI bear in a cute red hat warmed our hearts; world-savers were finally more diverse; 99 people in a room didn’t believe in Lady Gaga but one thankfully did; a twenty-something stand-up opened our eyes to Generation Instagram; and Nicolas Cage proved why he’s one of the most compelling actors around. Oh, and fucking Roma.
But there were also plenty of times where we felt the critical consensus had led us astray, and now that we’re in the throes of awards season, and everyone and their mother is cranking out year-end lists, it’s time to highlight some of the films that, in this writer’s humble opinion, have been way overpraised.
There are may things to like about BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s rendering of a Black Colorado cop in the ‘70s who posed as a white supremacist to join the local Klan chapter, and his Jewish colleague who infiltrated it. The performances—especially John David Washington as the phone imposter, Adam Driver as the undercover, and Topher Grace as Grand Wizard David Duke—are first-rate, and several Klan-permeating sequences test your heart rate. But I gotta side with Boots Riley on this one. Lee, one of our greatest living filmmakers, takes considerable creative liberties with this based-on-a-true-story tale to paint the protagonist, Ron Stallworth, as an anti-racist freedom fighter—Afro, radical girlfriend, far-left agenda—versus the man he really was: a guy who spied on (and built cases against) those in Black-power groups. The ending, too, feels tacked on and exploitative.
As far as wildly offensive creative liberties go, holy shit does this one take the cake. I’ll leave it to my esteemed colleague, Kevin Fallon, to explain: “Mercury reveals to his bandmates that he has AIDS while they’re rehearsing for their Live Aid performance. But Live Aid was in 1985. Mercury was diagnosed in 1987. Bohemian Rhapsody insinuates that it’s this tragic news and some sort of existential confrontation with his own mortality that motivates his triumphant Live Aid performance, a cruel and manipulative version of tragedy porn that is inaccurate and perpetuates the trope of AIDS as punishment for gay promiscuity.” Yes, the filmmakers—accused sexual predator Bryan Singer, with Dexter Fletcher on clean-up duty—changed when Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS to accommodate their narrative. No amount of fake chompers can distract from that.
Look, I love watching a Toni Collette freak-out, weirdo kids who click their tongues, and dysfunctional family members banging their heads against things as much as the next, but Ari Aster’s feature directorial debut just plain ain’t scary—and its dollhouse motif (the characters are being manipulated… like tiny little dolls in a dollhouse!) is groan-inducing. As this cursed family slides deeper and deeper into insanity, the grip on you loosens, and by the time its stabby conclusion rolls around, well, one can’t help but chuckle.
There are a lot of Big Ideas in writer-director Paul Schrader’s eco-religious thriller, and its general conceit—that a despairing priest can find deeper moral suasion in a fiercely committed environmental activist than the Good Book—is indeed compelling, as is Ethan Hawke’s symphony of tortured expressions. But the film is overnarrated, too often telling instead of showing; visually stagnant; and contains one of the most thinly-drawn female-lead characters of any film this year in Amanda Seyfried’s Mary (like the Bible, get it), whose sole purpose is that of the redemptive woman.
Far, far too much ground is covered in Vice, which spends a full hour chronicling Dick Cheney’s rise up the political ladder until we reach his tenure in the George W. Bush administration, and filmmaker Adam McKay’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach is bound to leave you with whiplash; a relentless assault on the senses. But worse than that, and the big eye-roll of a twist involving its narrator, the film lionizes Christian Bale’s Cheney, framing his story as that of an underdog-hero who cannily worked his way up the political ladder, and completely absolves Bush of any responsibility. As I wrote in our review, “this depiction of W. as a good-ol’-boy airhead, a patsy puppeteered by Cheney, will only further absolve him of responsibility for his disastrous presidency—just as we’ve seen in the media, who not only line the pockets of his former minions (see: David Frum, Nicole Wallace) but also have been hell-bent on rehabbing his public image, portraying one of the worst presidents in history—a man who conned us into war, mainstreamed torture, destabilized the Middle East, and sank the global economy—as a candy-passin’, joke-crackin’ eccentric artist.” That it received the most Golden Globe nominations (6) of any film this year is truly mind-boggling.