Fighting with My Family” doesn’t redefine the sports biopic genre, which in a way is too bad because professional wrestling is such an unusual thing, sitting on the border between athletics and entertainment. It might be fascinating to dig further into the mechanisms of how participants – and ultimately, champions — are chosen and how their narratives are written. As it stands, “Fighting” is a standard biopic in structure, but the story of Paige is so genuinely inspiring, and actress Florence Pugh (“The Little Drummer Girl”) is such a natural star, that the film is totally engaging.
With “The Winslow Boy” (1999), writer-director David Mamet is as much using his name recognition as he is using his skill to bring an important story to the public’s attention. Based on a real legal case, the film is adapted from Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play, which was made into a film two years later, co-written by Rattigan. The 1948 film rates a few percentage points higher (7.7 to 7.4) on IMDB than Mamet’s version. Yet this adaptation is important because it brings a crucial story to a wider audience, and it’s also impeccably directed in Mamet’s no-moment-wasted 105-minute style without sacrificing any turn-of-the-20th-century British affectations.
Writer-director Peter Farrelly smooths out the excesses of his filmmaking traits for the surprisingly mainstream and easy-to-like “Green Book” (2018), now back in theaters and also available for home viewing. It’s not as funny as his best films like “Dumb and Dumber” and not as high-concept as the likes of “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal.” It’s possibly a crass grab at mainstream and critical acceptance, but it’s hard to quibble with the finished product.
After his love letters to jazz — “Whiplash” (2014) and “La La Land” (2016) — a film fan wouldn’t be surprised if director Damien Chazelle’s next movie was about Louis Armstrong. But “First Man” (2018) instead chronicles Neil Armstrong, and while it might seem like the pantheon of historical space-program cinema doesn’t need another recounting of Apollo 11, it turns out this is a very welcome addition.
TNT found a nice way to ride the success of a series without forcing it beyond the natural end of its storyline. “The Alienist” – my No. 4 show of 2018 — became a critical and popular success a year ago, but it told a complete serial-murder mystery. That series is over, but TNT is continuing its Suspense Collection with “I Am the Night” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays).
The dominant genre of 2018 continued to be superheroes; even with the “X-Men” Universe and DC Extended Universe releasing only one film each, the three Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were impossible to overlook. Still, this was a less blockbustery year than 2017, and by year’s end I had seen at least one really good film in every genre. From a throwback thriller to an arthouse gem, here are my 10 favorite films of 2018.
BlacKkKlansman” continues the trend of films based on true stories – along with the likes of “I, Tonya” and “The Disaster Artist” – that would be labeled as illogically plotted if they were fictional. This Spike Lee joint is the story of Ron Stallworth, not the Steelers player but rather a Colorado Springs detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan as an undercover detective in the 1970s, despite being black.
Adrift” is the true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), who accept an offer from a wealthy couple to sail their boat from Tahiti to California. Along the way they encounter one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history, causing their boat to be wrecked and stranded at sea. As the film unfolds through a series of flashbacks, we live through the buildup of their relationship as well as the disaster itself.
Season 1 of the documentary “Making a Murderer” was a cultural phenomenon when it premiered in December 2015. Everyone was talking about it, so it was something I had to watch. The series is very one-sided, siding with the accused, claiming he is innocent, and the show-makers do an incredible job of convincing the viewer. The show itself is really addictive as each of the 10 episodes is presented in a way that there are cliffhangers – a certain piece of evidence found or a break in the case, for example.
Director and co-writer Gus Van Sant channels some of the character- and relationship-building magic of “Good Will Hunting” in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” which delivers a message that a good life can grow out of horrible circumstances if one works at it. Yet this film – which is still playing in some arthouse theaters — is never preachy.