The 2018 Halftime Top 10

August 18, 2018
A thought by James Berardinelli

The 2018 Halftime Top 10

It’s that time of the year again… time to take stock of how the first half of the year looked while presenting an educated guess of which titles released between January 1 and June 30 might make it all the way to the year-end’s Top 10. Yes, I know this is a little beyond the official halfway point but I’m restricting myself to movies I saw during above period. There are two excellent films (Leave No Trace and Eighth Grade) that didn’t make the cut because I didn’t see them until July. Look for them to show up as entries or honorable mentions in December.

A quick observation: Last year, the normal pattern of stacking the year’s quality films in the fourth quarter was broken. High quality titles were spread out across the entire year, resulting in a middle-of-the-year roster that was richer and deeper than normal. Perhaps as a result of this, the Oscar season releases were weaker than usual. In 2018, trends are more normal. With a few exceptions, this hasn’t been a good year for movies. Sure, the box office is doing well but that’s pretty much on the strength of two films. Nearly everything else has been disappointing. With so few “hot” properties remaining between now and December 31, it will be interesting to see where things end up, whether there will be any box office surprises, and whether the Oscar season returns to form and provides 6-7 of the year’s Top 10.

Here’s the Halftime Top 10:

10. The Death of Stalin: Who doesn’t love a devious, delicious historical political comedy? Although one might not guess it from the title, this is one of the year’s funniest films. Already available on home video, it’s worth seeking out.

9. Unsane: Steven Soderbergh’s unretirement has given us movies like this – a warped thriller where things aren’t always what they seem. Admittedly, I’m surprised Soderbergh didn’t do more with the premise – there’s certainly room to get really twisted – but this represents solid popcorn entertainment. (I will note, however, that my psychologist wife didn’t like the movie, claiming it to be highly unrealistic.) Currently available on home video.

8. Entanglement: Every month, I get sent screeners of low-budget and/or indie productions. Most (to be kind) aren’t very good. Entanglement, however, is an exception. Smart, funny, and surprising, the movie represents the kind of indie that was popular during the 1990s. Although it had a small theatrical release, its main distribution was video-on-demand.

7. Incredibles 2: I wasn’t as bullish about this film as some. It won’t, for example, make my end of the year Top 10 and I don’t think it’s nearly as good as The Incredibles. That being said, however, it’s still a fun movie with plenty of humor and action. It’s also the best true family movie to come out during the first half of the year.

6. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: I’m not sure how much I learned watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, but I was engaged and enthralled. Nostalgia is a powerful force and nowhere is that more apparent than while watching this movie. There’s also something wistful about recognizing how desperately we need more Mr. Rogers today. I wonder, however, how someone who has never seen an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” would react to this movie. Would they find it fascinating? Boring? I don’t know – but I enjoyed it.

5. Ready Player One: Although the movie was highly anticipated and initially well-received, a small backlash seems to have developed because the movie took liberties with the source material. Seen as “lesser Spielberg,” it works quite well, however. The choice to release it prior to the summer season was smart, because it’s not really a blockbuster. Currently available on home video.

4. Annihilation: Reaction to this was divided. Although there are monster movie elements, it’s a more existential and intellectual story than the trailer made it appear to be. Alex Garland has never been obsessed with pleasing the masses and Annihilation is too offbeat to have been well-received in multiplexes. Thematically, however, it’s fascinating and, unlike Mother!, it holds together reasonably well if you take the time to deconstruct events. A distribution dispute resulted in this being released directly to Netflix internationally and it had only a short theatrical run domestically. It’s available on home video.

3. A Quiet Place: In third place for the half-year is something that could well make it onto my end-of-the-year list, depending on how good the second half’s offerings are. A tense, moody, and unpredictable experience, A Quiet Place is in many ways more of a thriller than a traditional horror entrée and it skews close to the vibe of Alien. A surprise hit, the movie terrified far more people than it was initially expected to. You want tension and suspense? Give this a try. Just don’t talk.

2. Avengers: Infinity War: If not for Black Panther, Infinity War would be the best MCU film to date. Epic in scope and unafraid to do shocking and seemingly unthinkable things, Infinity War lives up to its reputation as the ultimate superhero game-changer. The open question is whether the 2019 conclusion will be able to live up to the expectations engendered by this first part. Infinity War, great film that it is, deserves an incomplete grade at the date of this writing; its eventual reputation will rest at least in part on what happens in Avengers 4.

1. Black Panther: Black Panther may not have changed the superhero genre, but it certainly opened it up. A great way to start off the year, this proved that in this era of crossovers and team-ups, it remains possible to tell the compelling story of a single hero. With a more than a small dose of social commentary tossed into the mix, Black Panther was popular with comic book fans and “regular” movie-goers alike. (Caveat: In terms of placement on the end-of-the-year list, it’s possible that this could change places with Infinity War. They are close and I won’t finalize where they belong until I re-watch both.)