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The Best and Worst Films of 2018

In the realm of cinema, 2018 has seen some of the most notable shifts within the industry. This year contained the downfall of momentous movie moguls such as Harvey Weinstein along with other notable actors and influencers. 2018 proved successful for minority groups, with several protest pieces and mainstream box offices smashes, including but not limited to Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. It was also a year filled with awkward titles, that when strung together, almost formulate a weird monologueTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Won’t You Be My Neighbour? Don’t Leave Home, I Still See You, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, They Shall Not Grow Old, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, You Were Never Really Here, Sorry to Bother You, Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Like last year, a few of us in GUG’s movie department would love to share with you the top ten films we’ve seen this year, and five that we think you should avoid at all costs. Between us, we’ve seen a lot of movies, and as you’ll see for yourself, we all have different tastes. However, while we might not agree with each other on our top choices, by the end of this article you should have a lovely collection of films to add (or scrap) from your watch lists. Since last year’s article couldn’t include movies released in the final few weeks of December, this list will consider films with a US release date from December 20, 2017 onwards.

Let’s rip off the Band-Aid, so then we can focus on the marvels of the cinematic art form, and not how it has been abused. Below are our top five worst films for this year.

Brace yourself for some bad films…

THE TOP 5 WORST FILMS OF 2018

5

Tyler Hummel

Ready Player One: There’s no greater gulf between a film’s potential and a film’s execution we saw this year than with Ready Player One. Spielberg had the opportunity to rebuild and reimagine Ernest Cline’s flawed and messy original book into a fascinating exploration of pop culture and social issues and instead kept the broad strokes from the book in favor of a story that lionizing the estranged distance creator of the Oasis. It’s as though Steven Spielberg is unwilling to admit that his lifetime of achievement hasn’t had bad effects on the film industry. The story that needed to be told was one about how entertainment can blind us to the problems in society and instead we got one about how awesome genre movies are but we should occasionally check and make sure the world’s doing okay.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

The Nun: Let’s see: halfhearted and largely unlikeable characters, aimless and disjointed plot, lack of any real payoff, and it’s not even scary? Try again sometime soon. I know you guys are better than this.
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Nun: I keep a list of the all the movies I watch throughout the year, and then rank them against each other. I was surprised to see this film in the bottom five. I mean, it’s watchable… yet it’s completely unmemorable. It’s cliche, not scary, and manages to make the Conjuring universe’s most notorious villain rather inept. This film was a huge disappointment considering how successful this franchise has been thus far (Annabelle excluded).

See GUG’s review here!

Both Tyrone and Juliana had The Nun in their bottom 5. Were you scared by the film? Or were you more scared of how badly this film was executed?

4

Tyler Hummel

Solo: A Star Wars Story: People criticize Disney and Kathleen Kennedy a lot for her decisions in regards to how they’ve handled the Star Wars license. While I’ve adamantly defended The Last Jedi on several occasions I don’t think there is any argument that Solo is anything but cynical. Kicking out Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for unstated reasons is sad but what’s worse is that the film that Ron Howard has delivered is entirely safe, capitulatory, and constructive. It takes all of the great alluded to moments of Han Solo’s life and crams them into a seventy-two hour period of time, leaving little of Han’s history to the imagination. I’ll take bold and risky over safe and boring any day.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Venom: Look, I know you folks have been eager to release this movie for almost twenty years, but a lot has changed
since then. So much that the value of a movie like this is even more questionable now than it was back then. Couple that with some really odd an inappropriate creative choices and downright horrendous editing, and you have a film that should have been left on the cutting room floor. But box office numbers speak louder than excellence, obviously.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: It’s the film that has almost singlehandedly killed the enthusiasm for this franchise. Even with lightning flashes, water squirting in my face, air whooshing by my ears, and the seat moving underneath me during the 4D session, it still wasn’t enough to foster any sort of excitement to what I was witnessing on screen. Tedious, infuriatingly bloated, and unforgivably boring, I have absolutely no desire to revisit this film. Admittedly, I’ll still see the next movie, but I’ll stick to reading the Wikipedia summary when it comes to refreshing my mind of past events.

See GUG’s review here!

3

Tyler Hummel

Best F(r)iends: The idea of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero teaming up again after The Room is a genuinely beautiful idea. It was entirely possible that the two of them could’ve come up with some sort of weird experimental art film that would’ve worked to perfectly fit their sensibilities and give them both the big Hollywood breakout moment they both deserve. Instead, we have Best F(r)iends, a boring, confusing student film attempting to be a weird surrealist thriller. The performance by Wiseau is easily his best and that alone justifies a watch but absent a greater whole they’ve managed to make a movie more boring and less fun to watch than The Room.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Bohemian Rhapsody: I read somewhere that Freddie Mercury had one wish for those who would carry on his legacy: “At least don’t make me boring”. So sorry, Mr. Mercury. You may not have been boring, but this movie about you certainly was.

Juliana Purnell

Winchester: Considering I recognized a lot of my friends involved in this production, I feel rather horrible in beating up this film. Then again, it’s awkward that they chose to cast so many Australian and British actors for a quintessential American story. While I too, like many other foreigners, like to playfully waggle my finger at America’s gun laws, Winchester‘s anti-gun message feels horribly contrived; not-so-sublty whacking the audience, not just in the head, but everywhere. Its preachy message could be forgiven if this horror film did its job in scaring people, but it doesn’t. Avoid.

The only crime here is that this film makes this list twice.

2

Tyler Hummel

Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindlewald: I didn’t like the first of this new series of movies and I wasn’t planning to see it until a friend told me I needed to. I didn’t know I was in for one of the most boring, expositional, and franchise warping contemporary blockbusters in years. There have been plenty of terrible recent blockbusters like Pirates of the Carribean 5 and Assassins Creed but this feels like one of those legendary failures like X-Men: Origins or Star Trek V that people talk about years later. The only benefit of the film is that I’m never going to have to watch it again and it in no way affects the movies I already love.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: “Not much more than a pretty face” describes a lot of things. Most celebrities. Your ex. This movie. The price of superficiality, I suppose.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

A Wrinkle in Time: I’m sure the characters are wonderful in the book, but in this film, they were mostly annoying. There were some lovely moments and visuals, but they didn’t outweigh the atrocious dialogue, poor acting, and odd characters that were too weird and under-established to tolerate.

See GUG’s review here!

1

Tyler Hummel

Pacific Rim: Uprising: There was no film I was rooting for more this year than Pacific Rim 2. Somehow it was delivered dead on arrival. The atmospheric tense story of the first cult classic film in the series was here followed up by a tedious sequel that killed off all of the best characters from the first movie in a desperate attempt to rebuild the franchise with a new generation of Jaeger pilots with no personality. As much as I love John Boyega and Scott Eastwood they have nothing to work with here. The only things I enjoyed were the more eccentric elements that Guillermo Del Toro had publicly mused about before like the Jaeger-Kaiju hybrids that ended up being surprisingly cool but those barely made up for the two hours of boredom.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Proud Mary: She’s the deadliest and most effective hitwoman in the business. I think. At least that the general impression that the film gives us. Only not really. It really doesn’t give us much at all to be honest.
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Show Dogs: What a dog’s breakfast this film is. When it was first released, the narrative unwittingly promoted sexual grooming in children. I wish I was kidding. Understandably parents complained and Christian groups boycotted the film, which mercifully lead to the movie being pulled from cinemas and re-edited. Yet the questionable content comprised the climax of the story, which meant that the re-release was merely a film castrated of its purpose. Doomed to offend and endanger kids, or doomed to be a pointless mess, either way, no amount of editing could fix this mess.

See GUG’s review here!

Now that you know what to avoid, let’s finally see what we thought was worth watching in 2018. Grab a pen and paper, and be sure to add these to your list of films to see!

THE TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 2018

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Tyler Hummel

They Shall Not Grow Old: Peter Jackson’s work is at it’s best when it’s reserved. The more indulgent and outlandish his work gets (King Kong, The Lovely Bones, The Hobbit) the more his work flounders. With They Shall Not Grow Old he set himself a unique challenge: using only footage and interviewed recordings with World War I veterans, create a documentary to depict the events of the First World War. In that, he succeeded. The film is one of his most reverential and grizzly pieces of filmmaking. The movie is a marvel of filmmaking’s magic. The ancient decomposing footage of World War I was here colorized and restored to an astounding degree. You get a sense of just how terrible the trench warfare on the front lines was for young men being sent off to die.

Tyrone Barnes

Black Panther: Yes, it was great. Yes, it still holds up now. Yes, it’s the most self-contained and topical MCU movie in some time. No, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Three Identical Strangers: 2018 has been a magnificent year for documentaries, with Three Identical Strangers among one of the best. Don’t be surprised to see this one on the Oscar circuit. What starts out as a feel-good true story slowly divulges into a barbaric display of human nature, questioning the very essence of who we are, and even going as far to dip into elements of the freewill or predestination debate. A tragedy that every psychologist should familiarize themselves with, this is one of those stories where the truth is far more stranger than fiction.

9

Tyler Hummel

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse: I had minimal expectations for this film other than a blanket assumption that it would be an enjoyable animated film. What I didn’t expect was one of the most hard-hitting superhero films in recent years. This film knocks it out of the park, placing us right in the middle of a series of human dramas that get intensified the moment young Miles Morales ends up accidentally inheriting the mantle of Spiderman one day. The clashing animation styles are beautiful, the characters hit close to home with their relatability and the finale feels earned and exciting in a way many superhero films don’t.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Isle of Dogs: There’s no denying that Wes Anderson is an acquired taste as a filmmaker. Can’t say that I’ve warmed up to the guy completely, but with a daring and winsome adventure tale like Isle of Dogs, I can honestly say that my appetite for his style of narrative has been moderately whet.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Paddington 2: I think I might be biased towards this one. I saw this early in the year, and I knew I had to try and keep it in my top ten, especially since the first film was criminally overlooked. Sure, I’ve seen many other great films this year, but Paddington 2 is worth remembering not only because it’s an incredibly successful sequel (which is rare), but it’s a warm and unabashedly charming family film that is hard to fault. It contains great wit, a fantastic display of British manners, and a heart-felt message that everyone deserves to hear. Easily the best film on my list that’s suitable for all ages.

See GUG’s review here!

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has crawled its way into the top 10.

8

Tyler Hummel

Searching: I went into this film on a recommendation without having seen the trailer or knowing the premise and I was utterly blown away. The movie takes the gimmicky premise of Taken-but-from-the-perspective-of-a-computer and turns it into an exercise of dancing around its creative limitations. Halfway through the movie, I was engrossed and leaning on the edge of my seat. Halfway through the second time, I watched it my friend sitting with me was tearing up. 2018 was an amazing year for thrillers with Steve McQueen’s excellent Widows and Mission: Impossible-Fallout but this one is my favorite!

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies: Yes, I put it on my Best of the Year list as well. Fight me. It’s that good. Yes, I liked it even more those other two films above. Come at me, bro. Waffles.
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Creed II: I have a confession to make: originally the Oscar-nominated film, All the Money in the World was in this spot. I was doing the final bits and pieces needed to submit this article when I decided to catch one of the last few sessions of Creed II as a break. When I left the cinema, I knew that this film needed to be on this list. We’re eight films deep into this franchise and its formula is still holding strong. That’s an amazing achievement in itself, without also factoring in the draw-dropping work these actors put into their roles to make this film a grounded piece of cinema. Unabashedly masculine in its storytelling, it’s a mature and layered narrative that studies the father-son relationship and the legacy they share. It feeds upon all of the movies before it and extends the story into a new realm of depth and understanding of all the characters involved. It’s inspiring, moving, and just a great watch.

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Tyler Hummel

Eighth Grade: I didn’t expect for this arthouse comedy to hit me so close to home. What seems on the surface a conventional arty coming-of-age story ended up being one of the most visually engrossing, relatable, and hilariously awkward comedies I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll fully admit that I was exactly the same growing up as the lead girl in this film. I was always that socially awkward guy who wanted to sit around on his phone and barely related to people. It was intensely wonderful getting to see that played for laughs in such an honest way.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Eighth Grade: The cusp of adolescence is one of the most chaotic and uncertain periods of child development.
Everything seems uncaring, unnecessary, and against you. How do you make all that funny and fuse it with a meaningful message? Ask a comedian.
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

I, Tonya: Another true story that was released right at the tail end of 2017. It’s easy to see why this one was up for a few Oscars. It’s a riveting tale with brilliant performances. Though by far its best asset is its editing. With so many true stories littering the cinemas, it’s hard to stand out from the rest. I, Tonya is snappy with its presentation, gritty with its wit, and packages it all together with great song choices and entertaining fourth wall breaks. It may have put a lot of effort into its presentation, but it’s never at the sacrifice of its substance–it’s still a heart-wrenching tale that will leave many audiences conflicted with their feelings over the events that occurred in 1994.

A bad high school experience makes for a great film.

6

Tyler Hummel

Annihilation: There is a lot of mixed criticism in regards to Alex Garland’s second feature. For many, it’s a logically incoherent sci-fi film. For myself, I found it to be an engrossing and thought-provoking exploration of regret and trauma. Four characters enter a zone inhabited by a Lovecraftian elder God that cannot be understood by human logic that warps all life inside its boundaries into a representation of their inner desires. For this group of suicidal and mourning women, the warped wildlife and fractalizing light become a catalyst for their self-destruction. The film is the same kind of trippy, intelligent science fiction that birthed masterpieces like 2001 and while I understand its detractors I also can’t deny it’s engrossing visuals and emotion.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

A Quiet Place: When’s the last time that you could say the best horror film of the year was also one of the best family films of the year? I bet you can’t name one time. Well, you know, outside of A Quiet Place, that is…
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Beautiful Boy: When it comes to substance abuse, if Requiem For a Dream is a wakeup call for the users, then Beautiful Boy is the equivalent for their hapless loved ones. It’s blunt in its message and unflinching in its portrayal, yet it needs to be said, and I’m sure that many, many people will marvel at this film’s bravery for keeping it real. Brilliant performances with heart-breaking action, this is a meaty dramatic retelling of a true story that will peel back whatever naivety you may have concerning the subject matter, forcing the audience to look at the raw wounds underneath.

5

Tyler Hummel

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The Coen Brother’s journey into oblivion continues with this wonderful series of Western short stories. No directors take the fundamental questions at the core of human experience and dramatize them more incredibly than they do. Like all of their films, it’s an acquired taste. I didn’t like The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men or Hail, Caesar upon first viewing but with age, they’ve blossomed and ripened into timeless classics of comedy and tragedy. Their newest film marries much of the best of their sensibilities. Their bleakness, sardonic humor, and love for Americana are all on full display. I suspect with each viewing the full wonder of this film will continue to become more clear.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Avengers: Infinity War: Ten years of development in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have led us to this: an apocalyptic tragedy in which nearly all the characters we’ve come to know and love over the last decade have everything that they’ve learned and every victory they’ve had thrown back in their face and rendered void. A powerful and meaningful tale, to say the least.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Upgrade: This is everything that Venom tried to be. There are some really clever action sequences in this movie, coupled with a fantastic performance by Logan Marshall-Green. He really should get an Oscar nod for this, but alas, the academy snubs sci-fi. Upgrade is an intellectually stimulating concept coupled with action sequences to match. It’s a riveting ride from start to finish. It’s not just worth checking out, but also buying for your permanent collection.

See GUG’s review here!

4

Tyler Hummel

Mandy: This film had accrued quite the reputation before its “wide” release in late September as one of Nicolas Cage’s craziest films in years. What wasn’t expected was the journey of intense sadness and beauty that it takes to get to its cocaine snorting, ax-wielding, chainsaw-dueling, skull-crushing finale. Mandy is a film about meaning and vice. It presents a Godless world of insane junkies all striving to survive off of love, ego, and indulgence that takes the logic of this world to its bitter end. At the end of the road, there is only madness and death for these lost characters and it makes every moment of the way there feel emotional and exciting.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Did Lord and Miller get together when they came up with the idea for Into the Spider-Verse and say “Make Spider-Man Great Again”? If not, they should have. Because that’s exactly what Into the Spider-Verse did. It made Spider-Man great again.
See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Annihilation: I still feel robbed that Australia didn’t get a cinematic release, with this film going straight to Netflix instead. It’s a visually stunning film that deserves to be gawked at on the big screen. Yet it’s so much more than a pretty face. Patient with its delivery, and refusing to dumb things down, it’s a puzzling, complex sci-fi that may frustrate or bore some viewers. However, those that enjoy analyzing symbolism and nutting out themes are in for a treat: is it all a metaphor for cancer, or an analogy of humanity’s tendency for self-destruction, or is this a piece of art that speaks to each consumer on an individual level? There’s a reason why I have half-hour long conversations with friends about this film, and that’s because it’s a wonderful piece of cinema to mull over again and again.

See GUG’s review here!

For sci-fi fans, Annihilation is more than just a pretty face.

3

Tyler Hummel

The Death of Stalin: If you took everything I loved about cinema and life and baked a film in a laboratory you wouldn’t be able to make a film more designed for me to love it than The Death of Stalin. All my love of history, my intense capitalistic disdain for Marxist-Stalinism, my love of comedy and absurdity, and my love of moralism is brought to the front of this brutally painful dark comedy. I’ve described the film as Monty Python does Soviet Russia but that might be underselling it. At the heart of this film is a bleak message on cycles of violence, top the bureaucratic cruelty, and political power grabbing of the more vile and malignant kind. If the film wasn’t so funny it would be the vilest and most tragic historical drama since Schindler’s List. I love everything about this film!

Tyrone Barnes

First Man: I can’t remember the last time that I was both awestruck to speechlessness and nearly moved to tears by the same cinematic experience, let alone from an historical biopic. If Damien Chazelle keeps this up, I might have to reserve a special place for him on my watchlist.

Juliana Purnell

Isle of Dogs: I can’t believe how long it took me to notice the pun in the film’s title. Yet it perfectly summarizes why I could be biased towards this film. Wonderfully cheeky in its presentation, I giggled every time a cat was revealed. This movie is more about style over substance, but when we’re talking about beautifully planned, pain-staking stop motion, shot like a perfect artwork that reeks of Wes Anderson’s handiwork, then I don’t mind that the story is the weakest element. Yet that’s not saying it’s bad either. The tale is still highly entertaining, written as a love letter to Japanese cinema and, of course, man’s best friend. Wonderfully quirky, I can’t go past watching this film whenever it pops back into my life.

See GUG’s review here!

It’s true: we love dogs. Just not Show Dogs.

2

Tyler Hummel

Won’t You Be My Neighbor: This film pairs with The Death of Stalin in a fascinating way for me. Of all the films I’ve seen this year nothing feels so vital and needed in a world so precariously close to the edge of some sort of conflict. If The Death of Stalin is about evil creating more evil, than this documentary about Fred Rogers is about the question of whether it’s possible to break those kinds of horrendous cycles. Morgan Neville here gifts us with a stark masterpiece that puts us face to face with the heart of one of the nicest people to ever live and shows us just how far the depths go. It shows that underneath the man we saw every week on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood there was no true malevolence. There was a humble heart living a life of true Christian loving kindness. We get to see just how powerful that love is and how much the world craves it when it’s gone. This above everything I’ve seen this year impresses the incredible pain at the heart of modern society. The world needs to see this movie.

Tyrone Barnes

Bad Times at the El Royale: This should be required viewing for film majors. Such a tightly-woven, well-polished, and expertly-acted high stakes soiree festooned with intrigue, betrayal, mystery, and surprises. In another timeline, this would have made for a fine gothic tale. Well, we can’t have EVERYTHING we want.

Juliana Purnell

Mary Magdalene: It’s such a shame that this gorgeous Christian film was contracted with the Weinstein company for its US distribution. After the scandal, and a few negative reviews from its overseas release, the film was dropped and no other companies offered to pick it up. Directed by the same man who gave us the Oscar-nominated film, Lion, while it was produced by non-Christians, they were intent on getting the content right. They must have had great advisors, because they created one of the best portrayals of Jesus committed to cinema to date.

As a single Christian woman, this film spoke to my faith on unparalleled levels. Critics lambasted the film because they felt cheated; they wanted the gossip about what apparently must have occurred between Mary and Jesus (fans of The Da Vinci Code much?), yet they fell into the very trap the film was condemning–that males and females can only have romantic relationships with each other, nothing deeper. Instead, we get a film that delves into the hardships of Mary’s choice to follow Jesus. Joaquin Phoenix finally provides Christians with a Jesus that actually experiences human emotions. It’s realistic, keeps things in context, and I’ve been referencing this film for Bible Study all year. Best of all, it finally cleared up Judas’ motives for betraying Jesus; an issue that I never understood previously despite being a Christian for decades. Some will find this film to be slow and self-indulgent, but others will find its lessons to be priceless.

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Tyler Hummel

The Other Side of the Wind: It’s strange that the best film I’ve seen this year was a film that technically should’ve been released as early as 1977 but never was. I’ve discussed this film multiple times publicly on Geeks Under Grace and my public access show, I’ve read Josh Karp’s book on it, put $50 down on the Indiegogo campaign three years ago, and waited endlessly to see a vital piece of lost cinematic history make an overdue resurgence. Thanks to Netflix we finally have it. The last film from the greatest director in the history of cinema finally premiered after a forty-eight-year cycle of production and legal red tape.

The final product is an avant-garde masterpiece of cinema. Shot across multiple camera formats in both black and white and color, this hard-bitten satire of New Hollywood filmmaking strips down the image of a fictional director to the bone to reveal the true ugly heart of filmmaking. We see ego, perversion, and self-loathing for what they are. It’s not every day a lost masterpiece falls on your lap but with The Other Side of the Wind, fans of the late maverick Orson Welles have one more masterpiece to admire.

See GUG’s review here!

Tyrone Barnes

You Were Never Really Here: Watching this made me realize how spoiled I am as a filmgoer. How often have I just sat and let the film do all my thinking for me? How often did I let the film in question get away with that instead of demanded to be challenged and unsettled? How often do nearly all of us do this on a regular basis?
Well, thank God someone like Lynne Ramsey is out there to rattle a few cages here and there.

See GUG’s review here!

Juliana Purnell

Hereditary: Yes, I do hate how I’ve rated the Satanic film higher than Mary Magdalene; the movie that improved my understanding of Scripture and my relationship with God. But I have do admit that my mind just keeps coming back to this one. Hereditary is simply an inspired piece of art. When I left the cinema, I was shaking like I had just downed ten pints of caffeine, and it’s rare for a film to leave such an impact on me.

From the masterful cinematography, to the bold editing choices, the playful lighting, distressing score, and devastatingly powerful, Oscar-deserving performances, I was gobsmacked to learn that this was all accomplished by a first time director. Then there’s the story… a script where not a line is wasted, and a tale that’s refreshingly unpredictable in a genre that’s predominantly filled with cliched trash like The NunThe ending may be a little too wild, but that doesn’t tarnish a solid drama about a family’s unfortunate tragic descent, which can be sadly rooted to reality when factoring in the evil clutches of grief.

See GUG’s review here!

Do you agree with our lists? Which films do you believe should have made the cut? Were there any films this year that you regretted watching? Let us know in the comments!

Categories
Action/Adventure Articles Christian Living DVD/BluRay Horror Movies Sci-fi/Fantasy

Flawed Faith: Mandy’s Beautiful Vice

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28  

I spend a great deal of my time contemplating the concept of vice. So much of human life is dedicated to the enactment or enabling of daily vices that help us get through our day to day lives. Sometimes they’re as simple as a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine after work. Sometimes it’s going out with friends or seeing a movie. Often though our vices go beyond the mundane into the realm of spiritual destruction as sex abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, and the numerous other coping mechanisms we use to dull down the pain of life overtaking us and gain a life of our own. When this happens the quality of our life begins to decay and we slowly drain ourselves of our spirituality and joy. Life becomes a vicious cycle of addiction and numbness.

I’m meditating on this thought now because today marks the home media release of one of the most critically acclaimed and wonderfully bizarre films that 2018 has offered us. Mandy, by sophomore director Panos Cosmatos, has become the breakout independent hit of the year. If you haven’t heard of Panos then you probably aren’t familiar with his directorial debut film Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) which largely slipped under the radar for U.S. audiences. More people are probably familiar with his father George P. Cosmatos who brought us classics like Tombstone, Cobra, and Rambo: First Blood Part II. That said it’s unlikely that Panos will have problems with getting attention going forward.

Mandy is an absolute spectacle of filmmaking. It starts out as a deliberately paced trippy mood piece with some of the most beautiful cinematography of any film this year before gradually and radically transforming into an over-the-top horror-action film where Nicolas Cage battles demons, forges a silver axe, snorts cocaine off a knife, and proceeds to murder his way through an insane religious cult. The movie runs the emotional gamut of melancholy, grief, suspense, laughter, and finally, unadulterated indulgent joy as Cage’s journey guides us through every possible emotion Cage can possibly portray. He’s not just doing his normal one-note style of acting either entirely stoic or entirely off the wall insane. Cage is letting the movie emotionally drag him from one end of his skill set to another and the journey is riveting to watch.

While Mandy is certainly enjoyable merely as a cinematic experience there’s certainly a major lesson to walk away with. As indulgent as the film is I don’t think it’s being irresponsible with its portrayal of indulgence. At the heart of this movie I believe is a soul very dedicated to exposing the degree indulgence and vice can escalate to the point where it destroys us and the people around us. For the characters in this film, vice takes many forms. The titular Mandy is a woman who loves drowning herself in daydreaming and fantasy novels. The cult leaders are religious in nature but they indulge in psychedelic drugs, music, and all of their worship is ultimately in service of the cult leader’s ego. For Nicolas Cage’s character Red Miller, the vice he embraces is the love of his wife. He loves Mandy and holds her as the one source of company and relief he can find in his difficult working-class job as a lumberjack.

Besides his job he really doesn’t have anything else in his life worth justifying his existence. Thus later in the film when the cult takes over his revenge quest against them becomes the sole object of his obsession to the point where he clearly loses his mind and reality around him starts to break down to the point where he becomes trapped in his fantasies. By the end of the story, those who haven’t died as a result of the vices of others are so ensnared in their own that they’re lost to the world.

As Christians, we can attest to the fact that the world as we know it isn’t satisfactory. Biologically all creatures are of course wired to want basic necessities but life is cursed with greater more profound longings for love, satisfaction, and meaning. Classical theists would recognize this as C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire. As he says in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Yet the mundanity of life is often its most crushing aspect. To quote comedian Owen Benjamen, “There is no God at the DMV.” To turn to Lewis again, we see this presented in The Screwtape Letters wherein the greatest tools of temptation end up being mere boredom and pettiness.

Mandy presents us with an entire line of vices: drugs, sex, music, love, egotism, faith, and vengeance. It shows a world of hopelessness and sadness that these characters numb themselves to the point that they ultimately start lashing out at others. Yet that hope is there too. One of the film’s more fascinating lines of dialog is a discussion between Red and Mandy about their favorite planets. These two sad souls are figuratively the creatures Lewis described looking out to another world. That is where their hopes and dreams lie.

As desperate as Mandy seems to suggest vice can degrade you, The Bible doesn’t treat every vice as a sin. Love, sex, and alcohol are explicitly given to humans as gifts to help make life more wonderful and joyous. Yet in the hands of fallen men and women, these things become conduits of addiction, abuse, violence, and moral and spiritual decay. In a sense religion, itself could be considered a vice broadly speaking. Vice becomes a problem when it detaches us from reality and numbs us to what we need. Our hopes must lie in a better world after this one. We mustn’t be blind nor numb to the world. There are justice and hope in the world, just not here. We can live lives of Christian virtue and loving kindness and still enjoy the pleasures of this world but it’s important that we know how.