Scene’s Year in Review 2018: Film
After yesterday’s look at television and Monday’s honorable mentions, Scene turns its focus to the best of the big screen. It was an exciting year for unexpected, new and fresh movies, as well as more than a few very welcome throwbacks. Some films brought us some summertime-campiness from ABBA and Cher, while others showcased the warmth of Mr. Rogers. From the romance of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper to the twisty silliness of “Game Night,” these movies surprised, entertained and moved us in 2018. So, as the projector sputters to life, dim the lights and relax while we unspool some superlatives for a few of our favorites.
Best book-to-movie adaptation: “Love, Simon”
By Dessi Gomez, Scene Writer
Becky Albertalli’s novel, “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” was adapted into the movie, “Love, Simon” this past March. The cast ultimately brings this story off the pages and onto the screen. Nick Robinson skillfully portrays the conflict Simon feels between being his real self and internalizing his emotions. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel make a great match as Simon’s mother and father, showcasing youth and sensitivity that is desirable in all parents. Logan Miller steals the show as Martin Addison. The omission of Simon’s older sister Alice is noticeable, but a strong family dynamic still pervades the film. It is also disappointing that Bieber was not a golden retriever in the movie.
The soundtrack augments the film. Its combination of recent and older songs reflects Simon’s classic music taste. Brenton Wood’s “The Oogum Boogum Song” starts the story off with a cute and casual vibe, complementing Robinson’s opening narration and loving introduction of his family. The shift to “Rollercoaster” by The Bleachers provides a better background with which to introduce Simon’s friend group, especially when paired with “Love Me” by The 1975. “Wild Heart” infuses the ending with hope as the credits start to roll. This optimistic finish almost makes up for the lack of Nora and Leah performing in their band at the book’s end.
Best musical-drama remake: “A Star Is Born”
By Mariah Rush, Scene Writer
Although “A Star Is Born” is the fourth remake of the original 1937 film, it manages to still create a fair amount of firsts, and keep the classic tale of the downfall of a rock-star male musician that coincides with the rise of his love interest, a fresh one. Starring first-time director — and singer — Bradley Cooper, this film elevates Lady Gaga from an eccentric, self-described “shape-shifter” singer, and allows her to add being a talented and meaningful film actress — in serious contention for at least one Academy Award — to her resume. An honest depiction of addiction and the tolls it takes on a person’s loved ones allow this version to strike a new chord other versions missed, while keeping viewers enraptured by Ally (Gaga) and Jackson’s (Cooper) relationship, developed through their songs. With a radio-ready soundtrack that will keep you listening for months, and enough meme material to keep your obsession growing, this tragic-yet-inspirational story is one that will keep you wanting to just “take another look at [it]” at least a few more times. So, if you aren’t one of the 21 million people who has viewed the trailer that showcases the infamous “Shallow” wail, watch it immediately and be forever hooked.
Most reassuring: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” isn’t the best movie I’ve seen all year — that would be “Mission Impossible: Fallout” — nor is it my favorite — “The Death of Stalin” — but it is the most important. Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” shows the life and beliefs of the man behind America’s favorite children’s show. We see that the Fred Rogers who successfully argued for government funding of children’s programming in front of Congress is no different than the Mr. Rogers who welcomed children across the country to be his neighbor every morning. Yes, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” may seem overly precious and treacly now, but Rogers’ passion is felt in every piece of archival footage and every testimony from the people who knew him. When tragedy struck my and Rogers’ shared hometown of Pittsburgh earlier this year, I turned to this film and to Fred Rogers for reassurance. I’m sure I’m not the only person who did. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” reminds us that, no matter what we face, no matter what we have to overcome, tomorrow will always be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Best under-the-radar comedy: “Game Night”
By Nicholas Ottone, Scene Writer
A culture-savvy, charming riff on David Fincher’s 1997 film “The Game,” “Game Night” stealthily stole my heart and injected some much-needed life into the barely-alive studio comedy. Twisty and intelligent writing dovetails wonderfully with surprisingly stylish direction. The top-notch cast delivers every delightfully constructed comic set piece with energy and humor. As one half of a hyper-competitive couple, Rachel McAdams proves her comedy bonafides, providing human worth to unbelievable circumstances while giving an undeserving populace the best line reading of the year (“Oh no, he died!”). As a strangely committed neighbor, Jesse Plemons expertly underplays his role, seemingly reinventing the idea of deadpan in only two scenes. “Game Night” is not profound by any means, but its unsuppressed silliness and unashamed fun makes it possibly the year’s most enjoyable watch.
Best musical in which Cher arrives on a helicopter to sing “Fernando”: “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”
By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer
In her essay “Notes on ‘Camp,” Susan Sontag comments that the “hallmark of camp is the spirit of extravagance.” “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” an unnecessary sequel that serves mostly as an excuse for beautiful movie stars to sing ABBA karaoke in the Mediterranean, embodies that spirit like no other film released this year. The plot is even more threadbare than that of the original — the film centers on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) preparing for the grand reopening of her mother Donna’s hotel, juxtaposed with flashbacks to the summer flings of young Donna (Lily James). The conflict is fairly low-stakes and not as important to the film as the escapist fantasy it offers: beautiful landscapes, hooky Swedish pop and Colin Firth dancing on the bow of a boat. Yet the most extravagant sequence in a film full of them comes near the end, when Sophie’s grandmother Ruby (Cher) arrives on a helicopter, reconnects with her old lover Fernando (Andy Garcia) and the two duet on — what else? — “Fernando” as literal fireworks explode in the background. If camp is, as Sontag notes, “above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation — not judgment,” there was no other scene this year that brought me such unadulterated joy.