Pete’s Top Ten

Pete gives a run down of his favorite films.

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In the midst of Disney-Fox rumors, #MeToo fallout, the failure of MoviePass, and Hollywood’s struggle to create original content, there has been a lot going on in the movie business this year. Yet, while all of this has clogged the media landscape, there has actually been several great films released in the first half of 2018.

From ramped up sequels to low profile indies, the first eight months of this year has produced a fantastic crop of movies. These are the ten best I’ve seen this year so far.


#10- Tully

Charlize Theron is no stranger to great acting. From her Oscar Winning performance in “Monster,” to her show stopping turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” she’s one of the best actresses currently working.

Theron stars in “Tully,” a drama about a mother who hires a night nanny to help her with her third child. Combining dark comedy with true-to-life drama, “Tully” has the power to emotionally captivate and tickle the funny bone, often in the same scene.

Director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”) has been on something of a downward slope as of late. With box-office failures such as the awful “Labor Day” and the woefully underrated “Men Women and Children,” his previous days of Oscar favoritism looked far behind him. With “Tully,” however, he turns it all around.

With sensitive direction and a tightrope walk of a tone, “Tully” has the power to challenge and entertain. Although the film stumbles a bit in the end, everything leading up to the third act is right on target.

If nothing else, see it for Theron’s powerhouse performance. It’s one of her best, and that’s saying a lot. A-


#9- The Strangers: Prey at Night

The 2008 film “The Strangers” has long been a cult favorite horror film. The simple home invasion thriller was downbeat and truly scary.

It was a deadly serious foray into genre filmmaking that stripped the premise of all frills and delivered a no-holds-barred night of terror and tension. The long awaited sequel is a different beast altogether.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night,” from director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down) is a throwback to 80’s slasher films from it’s neon lit sets to it’s synth score to it’s poppy soundtrack. The film follows a family who stops at their relative’s trailer park on the way to bring their delinquent daughter to boarding school. After the strangers, a masked trio of killers, infiltrate the park, no one is safe.

Although the original “Strangers” was an effective horror-thriller, the two main characters (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) were never more than a couple of pawns that the audience never truly cared for. In “Prey at Night,” however, Roberts has fashioned a family that one can truly get behind.

One can see that the parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) are just as panicked as the children when the stuff hits the fan. It’s truly harrowing to watch them try, often in vain, to make their kids feel safe.

The movie, more than most horror films, taps into an emotional side to the trauma that is all too rarely seen. You feel every punch, kick and slice, and you want everyone to make it out alive.

This is a brisk, scary, and thrilling ride that’s miles above it’s predecessor. It’s not to be missed. A


#8- Love, Simon

Although the world is progressing when it comes to LGBT rights, there often isn’t enough representation of the culture in film. That changes with “Love, Simon” which is effectively an old school John Hughes movie with a gay main character.

Simon (Nick Robertson) is a closeted homosexual who is well liked at school and has several good friends. There is trouble in paradise, however, when an anonymous letter goes out to the school revealing that there is another person in the closet, and Simon decides to reply to him.

What follows is almost a rom-com-dram whodunit with Simon trying to figure out who the other person is, all the while searching his own feelings and coming to terms with what he is. It’s a funny, sweet, and emotionally affecting film that feels familiar while adding something new to the teen comedy genre.

Robertson (“Kings of Summer,” “Being Charlie”) is as charming as ever, while the supporting cast (Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Garner, Katherine Langford) all bring their best to the table as well.

“Love, Simon” has the power to bring a different perspective to the same-old same-old, and will make you laugh, cry, and root for Simon. It’s a sweet and affecting film that comes at just the right time in American culture. A


#7- Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) is one of the greatest filmmakers to arise in the past thirty years. His films have long since been favorites of cinefiles across the globe.

His newest venture, the delightful stop-motion animated “Isle of Dogs” is among his best works. It is set in Japan in the near future and follows a young boy by the name of Atari Kobayashi who ventures to the island where all dogs have been banished to find his own pup.

With a voice cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, among many others, the film is nonstop fun. “Isle of Dogs” combines Anderson’s pension for perfection, humor, and emotion to make the perfect film about the bond between man and dog, or in this case, boy and dog.

The animation is flawless, and sometimes jaw-dropping and the score is sure to be Oscar nominated. There isn’t much out of place in this film. A

#6- Hot Summer Nights

            I struggled with just where to place this film on my list. “Hot Summer Nights” is by no means a perfect film, but it is a special one.

First time director Elijah Bynum has fashioned a sort of love letter to cinema with “Hot Summer Nights.” It contains elements of everything from “Boogie Nights” to “Goodfellas” to “The 400 Blows” and “Rebel Without a Cause.”

It’s the simple story of a boy (one of the best young actors around, Timothee Chalamet) who is brought under the wing of suave young drug dealer Hunter Strawberry (promising newcomer Alex Roe). Everything is going swimmingly until a girl (Maika Monroe) comes into the mix and sends everything spiraling.

While the filmmaking is unfocused, the cast is resolutely remarkable. The always dependable Tom Jane comes in as local law enforcement while veteran character actor William Fichtner shows up as a sinister drug peddler.

“Hot Summer Nights” doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. It goes from whimsical romance to hard hitting thriller on the turn of a time, but man is it captivating.

It is refreshing to see a new filmmaker with this sort of passion working with a cast that never wavers from their characters. It’s not perfect by any means, but the sheer amount of potential and chemistry between the cast and the directors make some damn entertaining fireworks.

“Hot Summer Nights” is one of the most interesting films of the year. It’s easy to see that Bynum, Chalamet, Roe, Monroe, Jane, and others have bright futures ahead of them. A


#5- Mission Impossible: Fallout

The sixth entry in the venerable “Mission Impossible” franchise is the best yet, and is hands down the best action film since “Mad Max: Fury Road.” As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most superbly crafted action films of all time.

Tom Cruise needs no introduction, but he deserves one. He again plays Ethan Hunt, rival to only James Bond in the cinematic scope of spies. This time around, Hunt and his team face a personal threat as they are under suspicion by the CIA and must stop global warfare (again).

While this sounds like it’s been done before (it has), it hasn’t been done as well as in “Fallout.” With frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie at the helm for the second “MI” film in a row, he creates some visually unforgettable scenes of pure adrenaline.

There are skydives, helicopter chases, motorcycle chases, and bathroom brawls, all of which are examples of action at its apex. Never has a fifth sequel been so refreshing and original.

Perhaps the main drawing point to “Fallout” is Tom Cruise. When the camera is steady and Tom Cruise does what he does, jaws hit the floor. He’s capable (at 56, no less) of more than most stuntmen, let alone leading men.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout” is at the top of the pile when it comes to action movies. It combines the best of “MI” drama, suspense, comedy, and action. A+

#4- Paddington 2

            The sequel to 2015’s spectacular “Paddington” takes the bear and amps up just about everything around him. It is one of the most exquisitely filmed and most unabashedly childlike movies I’ve ever seen.

Based on Michael Bond’s stories of the titular bear, “Paddington 2” revolves around a plot of a missing story book which lands Paddington in jail. It may not sound like a children’s film, but that’s what makes this movie so special.

There isn’t a moment where I wasn’t surprised, elated, delighted, or emotionally invested the entire time. You may think I’m going crazy, but this is seriously one of the best times I’ve had watching a film in a long, long while.

The cast is marvelous, from the clueless Hugh Bonneville to the headstrong Sally Hawkins to the villainous Hugh Grant to the whimsical voice of Ben Whishaw, and the list goes on and on. The direction is simply some of the most striking imagery put on film since Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The bottom line is, if you like being happy, watch “Paddington 2.” A+


#3- First Reformed

            Paul Schrader has been the writer on such films as “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver,” “Bringing out the Dead,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.” In the past several years, the 72-year-old writer-director has been making some less than stellar work.

From “The Canyons” to “Dying of the Light,” it looked as though Schrader’s best days were behind him. That was until “First Reformed” came along.

The film stars Ethan Hawke as a tormented priest who mentors an environmental activist (Philip Ettinger) and his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried) and prepares for the 250th anniversary of his church. It is a slow burn that requires patience and attention from its viewers.

Ethan Hawke has long been one of the most underrated actors of his time. From the “Before” trilogy, “Boyhood,” “Predestination,” and many others, he’s always been a reliable actor. Here, he transcends into the upper echelon of leading men. Hawke is a broken and beaten down man who feels more and more despair about the world as the film goes on.

“First Reformed” is not a film for the faint of heart. It confronts dark truths about religion, loss, and the world itself. The resolution of the film isn’t something viewers will soon forget.

This is a searing and important film that represents Paul Schrader in a return to form. Those who wish to watch a journey of self reflection and repentance, do not miss out on “First Reformed.” A+


#2- You Were Never Really Here

            Lynne Ramsay’s previous film “We Need to Talk About Kevin” hasn’t truly left my mind since I first saw it. Her newest film “You Were Never Really Here” has a similar quality to it.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a sort of mercenary who’s tasked with recovering a girl from a shady business. After the job goes wrong, everything he values is at risk.

This is a dark, violent, and often disturbing film. It is filled with sadness, remorse, and brutality. Strangely, though, it also has tinges of humor which make the proceedings all the more unsettling.

Phoenix has more than proved himself as an actor beforehand with knockout performances in “Signs,” “The Master,” “Inherent Vice,” and “Her.” Here he’s as solid as ever as a man with a dark past and an even darker future.

Think “Drive” mixed with “Taxi Driver” with a dash of South Korea’s 2010 masterpiece “I Saw the Devil,” and you’re approaching the essence of “You Were Never Really Here.” Ramsay is a gift to the filmmaking community, and she doesn’t rest on her laurels with this one.

“You Were Never Really Here” isn’t a fun film, but it’s one that you’ll want to see again as soon as the credits begin to roll. A+


#1- Lean on Pete

            Andrew Haigh’s first film, 2015’s “45 Years,” took a grounded look at a decades old relationship and how it had the possibility of change in the blink of an eye. It was the sort of serious adult storytelling that is becoming more and more rare as the years go on.

With “Lean on Pete,” Haigh continues this sort of storytelling, this time placing it in the mold of a coming of age tale. It follows a boy named Charlie (Charlie Plummer) who develops a bond with racing horse Lean on Pete.

It is not what it sounds like. From this description, you may expect a frothy and manipulative tale of a teen going through teen stuff. “Lean on Pete” is a far more reflective and downbeat beast altogether.

This is not an uplifting movie. In fact, it’s sometimes unbearably sad. Charlie Plummer is the most promising newcomer I’ve seen in some time. Between this and 2015’s superb “King Jack,” Plummer is proving himself to be a talent in the vein of someone like a young Timothy Hutton in “Ordinary People.”

What Charlie goes through may be near unbearable, but the emotional release at the end of the film is among the best scenes I’ve seen this year. “Lean on Pete” is a raw film that represents the inherent goodness, and sometimes the collapse of that goodness, of people in a world that’s not all too good. A+