Friday, February 1, 2019

The 10 Best Written Movies of 2018

We’re already into February and I’m only now posting my list of the ten best-written movies of last year. I’ve been spending the last week bingeing a lot of the awards season movies. I’ve managed to see a lot, but I haven’t seen everything. For example, I still haven’t seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which was nominated for a best screenplay Oscars! So keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that this is a list of the best-written movies, not necessarily the best movies or my favorite movies. For example, I really enjoyed Mission Impossible: Fallout and A Star is Born, and their scripts were certainly solid, but the joys of those movies mostly came from things other than the writing.

Overall, 2018 feels like a year with many solid, well-scripted movies, but few that really feel fresh and vital, at least in terms of the writing. Still, any year with a wealth of good movies to choose from is a good year. So without further ado, here are my top 10 best written movies:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (story by Phil Lord, screenplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman) – This movie was fresh and fun and reinvented the superhero movie while still delivering everything we want from the genre. Characters were complex, dialogue was funny, and the set pieces were great.

2. BlacKKKlansman (written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee) – This is one of the movies that does feel fresh and vital. There’s a strong, relevant message that is intellectually challenging, but also great characters, tension, and humor that make it extremely watchable. I think we’ll be talking about this movie for a long time.

3. Roma (written by Alfonso Cuaron) – This is not a flawless screenplay. It starts way too slow for my taste. But once the drama gets going, it’s a powerful story about a compelling, multi-dimensional character, told with subtlety and nuance. And, it is one of the few this year that is intensely personal and original.

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty) – This is an excellently constructed black character comedy that pulls off the feat of keeping us engaged with willfully unlikeable characters. Both entertaining and emotionally deep.

5. A Quiet Place (story by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck, screenplay by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski) – A well-constructed and original thriller that doesn’t rely on dialogue (although despite some reports, it’s not technically dialogue free – there is a fair amount of dialogue done in subtitled sign language). It works as both a horror movie and a compelling family drama by giving us complex, well-rounded characters.

6. Leave No Trace (screenplay by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini) – This was an emotionally complicated story of the relationship between a father and a daughter that also forces us to examine our attitudes toward those who choose to disengage from society... and with our views of society itself. And this is another movie with sparse dialogue, which shows how much of screenwriting is not just writing lines for actors to speak.

7. Sorry to Bother You (written by Boots Riley) – This screenplay has a few flaws, but it’s also wildly clever and interesting, with complex characters and thematic ideas. In a year that most movies felt kind of traditional, this one breaks the mold.

8. Black Panther (written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole) – I debated where this movie fits into this list. It definitely had an impact on the industry and the culture, but a lot of that came from its conception rather than from a particularly revolutionary screenplay. If there were a lot of superhero movies with largely Black casts, would this one stand out? But it was well constructed, entertaining, and it has one of the most interesting villains in a superhero movie, so I ultimately decided it deserved eighth place.

9. Eighth Grade (written by Bo Burnham) – This screenplay deserves a lot of credit for capturing the voice of kids at this age and particularly at this time in history. I found some of the supporting characters a little underdeveloped, but the central character is one of the most complicated of the year, right up there with the lead in Roma.

10. Deadpool 2 (written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds) – It would be too much to expect this sequel to be as fresh and revolutionary as the first one, and it isn’t. But it does capture the same irreverent spirit and humor. Plus, it adds the amazing character of Domino, who is worth the price of admission herself.

There were several other excellent movies that could easily have made the list. I’ll give honorable mention to: The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Green Book, Annihilation, First Reformed, and Private Life. I also want to highlight The Rider – it was a fantastic movie, though it seems to be unclear when it was released – even IMDB lists it as both a 2017 and 2018 movie. I saw it in 2017, so didn’t include it on my list, but if you count it as a 2018 movie, it would be.

One more observation: this list is for movies, which I have traditionally defined as having theatrical releases. I’ve kept it that way this year, though the line is blurring. Roma, for example, only got a token release to qualify it for awards. But since it was in theaters, I accepted it. On the other hand, the HBO movie The Tale would have definitely made this list, but it only played theatrically at festivals, so I left it off. It will be interesting to see how the line continues to blur in the years ahead.




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