My 3 Least Favorite Films of 2018
At the end of each year, Steven and I like to reflect upon the movies we watched in theaters. And we saw a wide range of 17 movies in 2018. Some movies excited and moved us, some bored us and some downright disappointed us. It’s time to reflect upon why we feel so let down by them. You may notice that there will be critically acclaimed films on this list, and that is because we are not counting down the movies we feel are the least impactful or the worst in overall quality, but the ones that we enjoyed the least personally.
You will see in our list of films we saw this year, films that technically came out in late 2017 and were part of the 2018 Oscar season, in addition to films that will be considered for the 2019 Oscars. We wanted to make sure that anything that didn’t get considered for our 2017 best and worst lists had a chance to be considered for this years’ lists. We are going by calendar year, and not by Oscar’s season because that makes things easier to measure time-wise. The following are the three films that disappointed us the most.
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT
While I don’t give away any spoilers to major plotpoints or endings in the following review, there may be instances where I give away information that was originally meant to surprise the audience slightly early on in the film.
As always, before we get into the list, here is a little bit about Steven and my taste in film and what will probably inform why we feel the way we do about the following films:
Steven's favorite films are the ones that move and influence the film industry. He loves Spielberg classics such as Jaws and Jurassic Park and the way they form what it means to be a blockbuster hit, and adores the complexity of The Shining and the excitement of the first two Godfather films. He's also a huge Star Wars buff with an appreciation for fantasy and sci-fi.
My favorite films are the ones where you get to know the characters extremely well. I love films about relationships such as The Sound of Music, Titanic and Dirty Dancing, movies that give me hope like The Shawshank Redemption, and performances like Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Real people and real experiences interest me greatly. And I don't mind when a real life experience is embedded into fantasy and folklore. As long as it's fully fleshed out.
All films we saw in 2018
(In alphabetical order)
#3 - Phantom Thread
Boy oh boy, where to start? Steven is a huge fan of Daniel Day-Lewis and has seen pretty much all of his films. And he has loved and praised his performances for many years. Sometimes good ol’ DDL takes an OK film like Gangs of New York and makes it memorable as hell, and sometimes he takes an already great film like There Will Be Blood and makes it a masterpiece. But whether or not the film he’s in is a smash or not, he typically is. This was the first time that Steven and I could both say we were immensely disappointed by Mr. Day-Lewis film. And funny enough, this type of movie being a film that involves fashion and interpersonal relationships would typically be right up my alley. So what made this film and his performance so painful for us?
Phantom Thread is a romantic drama about stoic renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the way his normally rigid and particular lifestyle get turned upside down when he falls in love with a thoughtful and headstrong waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps.) The flaws of this movie are its pretentiousness and its failure to live up to expectations set by the trailer and marketing. For example, it boasted that it was going to be a movie about fashion and design, sort of the way that The Devil Wears Prada promised to be about fashion and the industry that surrounds it. But while The Devil Wears Prada delivered, giving me fashion imagery in film that I will never forget, setting the record for the most expensive wardrobe in all of film, and giving keen insight to the fashion industry, Phantom Thread gives me 1/15th of the fashion I expected to see and focused so much on close ups of thread entering fabric, that it neglected to flesh out the intense creative and physical process that a great fashion designer goes through. I saw a better film adaptation of the passionate creative process when old man Geri was commissioned to fix up Woody in Toy Story 2. It also claimed to potentially be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film of his illustrious career. And yet his character was written pretentiously one-note. And no, my complaint is not that the character himself is pretentious (he is, but that’s irrelevant.) The problem is that the character was written pretentiously. Like whoever wrote the script was trying to make him sound like such a profound artist who just was so eccentric because he loved his craft so much blah blah blah, that it became one note and sounded more like a character a 9th grader would write to try and make a story sound more intellectual. And DDL tries his darnedest to make this snoozefest of a character interesting, when unfortunately it would have been better suited for someone who can underact. Someone like the late Philip Seymour-Hoffman could have taken this eccentric character and played him more subtly and given him complexity. But instead, we have the biggest overactor in Hollywood trying to play the crap out of the character, and going nowhere fast.
If you want to hear my in-depth opinion of what made this film a drag for me, feel free to check out my article on it. There are no spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet seen it!
#2 - A Star is Born
To all Little Monsters out there, please hear me out when I say: I wanted so badly to like it. I have been a Lady Gaga fan since the days of The Fame, and followed her music up to Art Pop. I - admittedly - have not listened to Joanne all the way, so you could argue that I’m not the most dedicated fan. But I am a huge believer in Gaga’s talent. She is going to go down as one of the best singer-songwriters of our generation and has put out consistently passionate and inspired material for about a decade. And the great musicians of the generation before us agree that she is something to admire, with the likes of Tony Bennett and Sir Elton John being associated acts of hers.
So when I heard that she was going to play a leading lady in a major motion film, I was excited, thinking she was trying to go for the EGOT and go down in history as one of our generation’s greatest triple threats. And when I found out Bradley Cooper would be directing/starring in this film as well, I still felt a lot of hope. While I’m not the target demographic for his movies, Bradley Cooper to me will always be that scrappy college student enthusiastically asking Sean Penn and Robert De Niro in-depth questions during Inside the Actors Studio. To me, the two entertainers sounded like a potential match made in heaven. I could totally imagine Bradley Cooper watching and rewatching every film adaptation of this story to piece together a version of it that would create this 2018 Americana vibe. I could imagine Gaga studying Janet, Judy and Barbara’s takes on her character and trying to bring “Esther” into the new millennium. And in fact, the entire time I watched the movie I thought to myself “There goes two people who really want this to be good and really want to do right by this franchise and by their fans.” But I wasn’t a fan of the film itself.
A Star is Born follows the at times tumultuous relationship between Jackson (Bradley Cooper), a successful musician and Ally (Lady Gaga), an aspiring music artist who Jackson takes under his wing. This film’s flaws were in in a category that I personally find to be of the utmost importance: storytelling. Separate from the story itself which is already predetermined, as it’s a story of love and the music industry that is as old as time. My personal biggest gripe with this movie was how confused I constantly felt at our two main characters. What were their motivations in life? What do they find most important? What kind of people are they? The answers seemed to change every minute.
One moment, Ally is the girl with the upperhand in a relationship she ends over the phone in a bathroom stall. Then she’s the sultry performer singing in French to an audience that adores her at a local drag bar. This all makes me assume she’s confident to a fault. We then learn that she’s actually timid and shy when she meets Jack, trying to avoid his come ons, talking about how she hates her nose and how no one likes her face. Then seemingly out of nowhere, this shy girl who lacks confidence aggressively punches someone in the face at a bar! Then when Jackson continues to show interest in her, she once again shies away! Is this girl confident or not? And if you’re trying to add layers to her personality, please explain why it is her confidence comes and goes like the wind. In addition to all of this, she acts like she can’t leave her home and responsibilities to go run off with Jackson and join him at his concert. I then started to wonder if her father was ill or in a state where he couldn’t support himself and relied on her. But he ended up being a limo driver with a fantastic social life for someone his age. Sure he may leave plates around the house that she has to pick up, but seeing the father’s effervescent attitude, I was confused as to why she felt so confined to that home. I then thought to myself, maybe she is the breadwinner between her and her father, and they really need her to wait tables in order to pay their bills. But then the moment her boss is rude to her at the beginning of a shift, she immediately dips out and risks losing her job.
And when it comes to Jack, he’s also quite confusing. He’s a well-known all-American musician who suffers from alcoholism, but shows he has a lot of heart from his passion for songwriting, to his acceptance of drag queens (which would be admirable and rare for a cowboy like him,) to his will to help a fellow artist get her big break, to all the ways he romances Ally. It all seemed consistent to me until we find out that he apparently drank so much in the past that he didn’t realize four very important things: 1. That his manager/half-brother had notified him that their father’s grave was suddenly washed away 2. That he would sell the property it was previously on 3. That he successfully sold it and 4. The person or company that purchased it already developed an entire wind farm on the property. Now I’m not an expert on alcoholism, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t literally make you forget months and months of life changing events. One might use it to distract themselves from/cope with strife like this to help them to forget, but this sounded more like Jackson was comatose all those months. Jackson seems like such a loving guy that even though his relationship with his father was unorthodox, I really don’t buy that he’d be this uninvolved with the estate. I would have believed this movie if the brother had just put the property on the market and Jackson had been too drunk to realize it had happened. But do you realize how much time goes into topography research before they install a dozen wind turbines? I don’t buy it.
In the end, the characters’ love for music and each other becomes incredibly apparent and believable, so I will give them that. But just because people haven’t yet met the person who is going to be the most important thing in the world to them (their future spouse, their unborn children,) doesn’t mean that their motivations and priorities aren’t well-defined until then.
Besides all of that, this movie just has a lot of cheesy moments that made me cringe. The script has a lot of corny dialogue that even masters of delivery like Dave Chappelle couldn’t make sound like real humans would ever utter them, many shots of Gaga’s face or profound moments in the leads’ relationship are slowed down to almost Bay Watch levels of cheesiness, and there are so many scenes that you could tell were written mainly to gain Oscar buzz, that I’m surprised that they didn’t add a cancer patient and a man with World War II flashbacks to the film.
But I will give this movie credit where credit is due: It’s a movie that will open a ton of doors. It proves a willingness of Gaga’s to try dramatic acting and a willingness of Bradley Cooper’s to be a dramatic director. Even though neither of them really do the best job in this particular project, the willingness and passion is very apparent and I could see them being able to do more ambitious and interesting projects in the future because of this movie’s existence. It also has opened the door for Hollywood to create more music-based films that aren’t just your typical Broadway-style musical. And could potentially open the floodgates for more up-to-date remakes of classic films from many decades ago, which I think could be very compelling if done right. In addition, it gave yet another mainstream platform for the art of drag, with Shangela and Willam of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame having bit roles.
I didn’t walk away from this movie grunting that I wish it didn’t exist. It just really disappointed me to see this much passion put into something that ended up feeling stale, pretentious and very very cheesy. I have a feeling this is a lot of that dreaded Hollywood red tape trying to wriggle tropes, bad writing and cornball ideas into what maybe could have been a lot better, if this was truly a project where Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga had full reign. I won’t boycott their next projects. I just can’t get behind this one.
#1 - The Shape of Water
I’m well aware that calling this past year’s Best Picture winner my least favorite movie of the year is going to earn me some haters and maybe even real-life enemies, but I’d like you to hear Steven and me out when we say that we respect other people’s opinion of loving this film and finding it deserving of its title. But likewise, we would just like to also express our opposing feelings on the subject, and how a movie of this caliber could disappoint us so greatly.
When you say the name Guillermo Del Toro, everyone’s ears perk up from film experts, to self-proclaimed critics such as myself, to people who only see one movie a year. A name like his is synonymous with the term visionary, and while not every blockbuster movie of his is a hit, when you’re told he has free range to take on a science-fiction fantasy, you await it with bated breath remembering the unforgettable imagery of Pan’s Labyrinth. Which is why I was so excited to enjoy The Shape of Water. I was excited to enjoy a science-fiction film that the general public loved. And Steven being a sci-fi and Pan’s Labyrinth fan, was of course looking forward to it as well.
After all of the ooh-ing and ah-ing from the people in our lives as well as critics, we finally sat down to watch the at the time Oscar-nominated film. But by the end of our viewing, we were disappointed, frustrated and confused. We sat on it for a few weeks to let it simmer, but our feelings remind the same. Finally, it won Best Picture to the cheers of everyone around us. And Guillermo Del Toro gave one of the most thoughtful and genuine acceptance speeches I’ve heard in a long time. But while that speech made me feel good, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t seeing what everyone else was in this film. I had to analyze to figure out why I felt so strongly about that.
The Shape of Water is the sci-fi fantasy about a mute woman Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works as a custodian in a government lab and gets assigned to clean a room that contains a mysterious amphibian man creature (Doug Jones.) Over time, she and the creature fall in love and she attempts - with the help of her friends Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins) - to save it from its fate of being abused and vivisected by the lab’s evil project manager Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon.)
There were a ton of tiny superficial gripes I had with this film from how quickly Elisa and the amphibian man fall in love, to Elisa eyeballing table salt to create the perfect salinity levels of the water for the love of her life to survive in, to the fact that Elisa is so selfish that she purposefully floods her and Giles’ bathroom when they’re already not doing well financially, and causes damage to an already run-down building as well as the theater below, just to have sex. And don’t even get me started on the Broadway-style musical scene where she ballroom dances with the amphibian man right the hell out of nowhere. But none of these details were enough to make this film my least favorite of this year; they just didn’t help its case at all.
Now let’s get into one of my biggest gripes of the film: Colonel Strickland. Richard Strickland is the most obvious and one-note bad guy I’ve seen in a long long time. He is portrayed as the biggest most bigoted jerk in the whole entire universe, and the movie shows no restraint in proving so. He is constantly making note of how racist and bigoted and sexist he is. After the 10th time he reminded me he was a scumbag, it just didn’t have the same effect. It reminded me of how in children’s superhero films, you have to be reminded every five minutes that the bad guy is the bad guy. I am surprised Dora The Explorer didn’t appear on screen and test me on who’s good and who’s bad just to be sure. I mean for God’s sake, his character is so on the nose, that the shortened version of his name is literally “Dick.” And just when you think he can’t get more horrible, they have him comment to Elisa “I don’t mind that you can’t speak…It kind of gets me going,” or grab his wife’s breast with disrespectful gusto as his hand rots and bleeds all over her.
I’m not saying that every bad guy in every movie needs a tragic backstory or even sympathy. But I will say that it makes for a more compelling film when the audience doesn’t completely despise them, even though they wish for the character’s demise. Many movies use humor or charm to make villains more entertaining. A good example of this is Hans Landa, Christoph Watlz’s character from Inglorious Bastards. He was a literal Nazi who was murdering families for his own gain. And yet the script made him charming, funny and ironically polite while still reminding you around every other corner that he was evil and needed to be stopped. And that made him memorable, which in turn made it that much more memorable and satisfying when he got a blade to the forehead at the end of the film. The audience didn’t sympathize with the Nazis just because Christoph Waltz was likable in some scenes. They just had an easier time connecting with the villain, while maintaining the rightful hate they had for him. I almost think how on the nose Strickland was, was insulting to the audience, as it almost acted as though it was worried they couldn’t handle any depth in their villain. They did something similar with the man at the diner that Giles had a crush on. Not only was he homophobic, but they had to throw another log into the fire that he was racist too, within seconds of us finding out he’s a homophobe. At first, the character worked because he went from being kind to Giles, to being a jerk when he found out Giles was coming onto him, showing that he was only nice to him because he didn’t realize Giles was gay, which is legitimately disheartening. But throwing in that he was racist at that very moment didn’t add to my understanding of his bigotry. It only made it seem like this movie was trying to say “If you’re homophobic, you’re probably racist as well,” which isn’t relevant to the purpose of the scene. What I’m trying to say is this movie beat a dead horse with what it was trying to say about society. But the moment I turned to Steven and said “Maybe this film is supposed to be more for kids and teens who need more direct villains and a clear message against bigotry like this,” Elisa took off her clothes and had sex with the amphibian man, so that theory went out the window.
As I pondered further on my distaste for this film, I realized it was reminding me of the feeling that I got from another film long ago: Avatar. When James Cameron’s Avatar came out, everyone I knew fell head over heels in love with it. And I was expecting a lot considering Titanic is one of my favorite films. Avatar was intended to be the movie that changed film forever with how it used technology to tell a story. But when I watched it, I was disappointed to find I had seen that film before. It reminded me of Pocahontas or Fern Gully or any film I grew up with where outsiders were attempting to take over a group of people’s native land. And once you see two stories that are eerily similar, it makes it incredibly hard not to compare them. And The Shape of Water reminded me a lot of the Tom Hanks 1984 movie Splash. And I’m not the only one who noticed their similarities. Down to the most important and memorable shots of the movie, it mirrored Splash. And while I have no evidence of any plagiarism, and for all I know the concept could be as old as time itself, this took away a lot of the magic of the film for me. In addition to watching something that was already off-putting for me and followed tropes that bother me, I was also watching a story I feel like I’d seen before. And it’s all those feelings combined with this movie’s hype that made it my least favorite of 2018.
When it comes to the positives of this film, I definitely have a few. It’s clear that this is a very talented cast we are dealing with and that all of these actors are capable of a lot, even if you had never seen their past work. The problem was that the script was so distractingly cliche and one note for characters like Zelda and Dick Strickland (The skeptical serious and responsible black friend is skeptical, serious, responsible and black, and that bigoted sexist powerful white guy is bigoted, sexist, powerful and white. We’ve seen these archetypes a million times and we get it,) that I feel like I didn’t get to see the range in Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer I know for a fact they’re capable of. Her character ended up being overly neutral and his ended up being a giant caricature. Funny enough, the character I feel did get to show a ton of range was Elisa who is mute. Because she had no scripted lines, the writing focused more on her actions and emotions. And in the end, that gave Sally Hawkins the freedom to emote the way that lended itself best to her acting chops. And it was a really well-done performance on her part.
And on that note, I’d like to mention that I truly believed she was in love with the amphibian man. She looked at him like a woman who has been misunderstood her whole life and has finally found someone who accepts and appreciates her. And maybe - just maybe Hollywood - it’s because of (in addition to her skills as an actress,) Guillermo Del Toro’s masterful use of practical effects, makeup and costumery that was able to turn actor Doug Jones into a fish man she could actually believe in and perform opposite from. Contrast that with Emma Watson’s wooden performance interacting with The Beast in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast remake. Sure Emma Watson is not the most skilled actress, but I think anyone would agree it would be a bit of a struggle to pretend you’re in love with a handsome yet intimidating beast as you gaze upon a man dressed up like a linebacker auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. They might as well have had her working opposite a tennis ball on a stick. Luckily Del Toro has not given up on the art of the practical effect, and I hope his success will inspire more directors to step away from CGI more often in the future.
But while I didn’t like this film at all, I have a similar feeling about it that I did with A Star is Born: I think it’s a movie that can open a lot of doors. On its own, it may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, but it clearly resonated with people. It took me a long time to realize why that might be, as many people have approached me telling me that while they didn’t like it as a film, they were rooting for it immensely. And what exactly causes people to have soft spots for films they’re not too impressed with? That usually lies in a specific artist. An artist that has touched people’s lives for years and continues to touch their hearts. It’s not really The Shape of Water or the gritty version of Splash that is making everyone cheer in the stands, it’s who the story comes from: Guillermo Del Toro.
Guillermo Del Toro is part of the generation of self-made Hollywood directors. Hailing from Guadalajara Mexico, his beginnings consisted of many short independent films and work as a special-effects makeup-artist before he would begin taking on the role of director. He is an immense symbol of hope for many. And he’s been snubbed for Oscars for so much of his career. His two Oscars for this film were bigger than The Shape of Water. It was a win for aspiring young directors with no connections in the industry, to hopeful immigrants, to lovers of science-fiction, to Pan’s Labyrinth fans still waiting for a victory and for an individual who had worked hard for decades and was overdue for his victory. It reminded me of how Leonardo DiCaprio was snubbed countless times for his excellent work, and finally won Best Actor for The Revenant, which wasn’t necessarily his best performance. It was both their times to get recognition for their work and influence on the industry. Funny enough both DiCaprio and Del Toro used their speeches as an opportunity to talk about subjects most close to them, instead of just thanking a bunch of people. DiCaprio talked abut global warming and Del Toro said that he hopes his win will be an open door to young aspiring directors from anywhere in the world.
This win I’m sure feels like a door opening for the different communities I listed before. And with this film’s popularity, we may even start to see more of special-effect makeup, costuming and practical effects used once again in the industry, which would be a nice change of pace. So all in all, while I don’t believe this film is the Best Picture, I can see why people are happy to see it win.
And those were my 3 least favorite films of 2018
There was a noticeable difference between my 3 Least Favorite Films of 2017 and this year’s list. And it was that my least favorite films of last year were huge blockbusters made by Marvel, DC and Disney that I felt failed to tell coherent stories and took advantage of the political climate at the time.
This year’s “least favorite films” were obviously much more tactful and quality films by a longshot. And while Steven and I purposefully skipped out on most Disney and superhero movies this year, we didn’t avoid them completely. So how did we come to the conclusion that our three least favorite movies this year were romantic dramas with very talented casts and attractive cinematography?
I think it was the amount I was feeling let down. I really didn’t enjoy Deadpool 2, Isle of Dogs or many other films we saw this year. But then again, I had no high expectations of either film. I knew that Deadpool’s franchise was all immature toilet humor, and it ended up doing what I thought it would and nothing less. And Isle of Dogs - while boring - made it clear from the beginning that the film’s purpose was moreso to showcase an aesthetic and fun stop motion techniques, than to impress us with a compelling story.
But when you tell me I’m about to watch Lady Gaga’s first starring role, Daniel Day-Lewis’ potential final film of his career, or the film that gave the Guillermo del freakin’ Toro his first Oscar ever, I’m going to expect a lot, and disappointments are going to be weighted more heavily in my mind. I have come to expect high quality work from these people and that’s just the truth of it. Surely it’s not one particular person’s fault ever when movies don’t live up to their potential. There’s a ton of red tape, investor meetings and callouts from the peanut gallery a movie must face in its production stages. So I’m not going to boycott future films by any of these people. And are these the worst quality films to be made in 2018? Not by a longshot. Two of them were nominated for Oscars with one of them won Best Picture. But they are the ones that I feel the most let down and gave me not much to write home about when I was really willing and even hoping to like them. Maybe in these artists’ next projects I will feel differently. I’m more than open to them!
Now let’s all take another moment to hold hands and pray one more time that Daniel Day-Lewis does not end his career on this note.