2018 was incredibly (pun intended) top heavy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe claimed gold, silver and bronze, something that did not happen in 2017, the first year the MCU released a trio of movies. (Those movies finished third, sixth and 12th.)

It might look like nerd fandom bias, but 2018 was a pretty quiet movie year for me. 36 movies is my lowest total in CinemAce history and that wasn’t even financially motivated. However, there just wasn’t a whole lot I was willing to pay $12 to see. (My previous movie low was a year ago in 2017 at 46 movies. It appears I’m getting old.)

I had 10 “A+” grades --which my cousins think I am way too generous with-- but that is another all-time low for CinemAce, which I began tracking in 2014. In 2015 and 2017, I had 15. I like movies. I want to like them a lot. 2018 made it a little harder.

Still, there was a lot to love. Especially up top. Lettuce begin.

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36. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; F

A bad sequel can derail a franchise, and we’ve seen a lot of that over the years in the form of Batman Forever, X-Men: The Last Stand, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. 2018 obliged with a pair of potential franchise-killers, both ranked at the bottom of my list.

35. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; D

Just like The Crimes of Grindelwald, Fallen Kingdom was was well over two hours of next to nothing. The only redeeming qualities of a movie that went literally nowhere are the stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

34. Operation Finale; C

As both a Jew and a huge Oscar Isaac fan (in that order), I was excited to see the post-World War II hunt for infamous Nazi Adolf Reichmann. I watched with my dad, a certified history buff, and he was keen to point out the breakneck pace of the movie’s first act. Things move so quickly indeed that the story pretty much wraps itself up by the 40-minute mark.

33. Insidious: The Last Key; C

The movie didn’t kill the franchise, because I think it was ready to end. That they squeezed out one more from one of the superior scary movie series is understandable. It’s forgettable, but a solid sendoff to franchise star Lin Shayne, and her goofy assistants Specs and Tucker are likable again.

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32. Halloween; C+

I happen to think the original John Carpenter Halloween is a tad overrated. The cinematic bar was a little bit lower in the 70s, to say the least. So with a proper sequel arriving 30 years later, I was ready to see the gripping Michael Myers narrative meet the advancements of modern-day film-making. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t. Everything that was passable an era ago --cheap scares, way too horny tweens, flimsy plot structure-- is present 30 years later.

31.  The Nun; C+

Another movie born out of the success of another scary movie, The Nun is the child of The Conjuring and the next entry into James Wan’s extended Conjuring universe. I rather liked the first Annabelle in 2014, preferring it to the better received Annabelle: Creation in 2017. The Nun exploits the popular character from The Conjuring 2 and while the scares are impressive indeed, the writing and acting is admittedly poor.

30. Rampage; C+

Nine times out of ten, expectations will determine a movie’s reality. With Rampage, I was foolish enough to think I’d get a little bit more than a live action smash-fest. The Rock is The Rock and George the albino gorilla is a winner, but the rest of the product is barely worthy of one’s time.

29. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay; C+

Animated movies are the best thing going in the DC universe right now, and 2018 was a big year as two of their releases ranked in my top 10. A third ranked right here, They weren’t theatrical releases, but their quality nonetheless warrants credit. Hell to Pay is a little too silly, even for animation, but is a fun and violent break from the norm.

28. Aquaman; B-

Unfortunately, Aquaman is further proof the Warner Bros. and whoever is running the DC movie universe have no idea what they’re doing. The movie is perfectly adequate. Is it funny? Sometimes. Is it action-packed? Sure. Is the story good? Good enough.

Superhero movies are obviously my choice genre, so I watch with a keen eye. Aquaman was too long, too cheesy (see: Pitbull) and too predictable. The music felt like it was right out of a low-budget TV show, with absolutely bizarre, plain themes for the wasted Black Manta and miscast Mera.

On the plus side, Jason Momoa is great but falls victim to the script just like the rest of the star-studded cast. Very fun at times, but a tonal disaster and jaw-dropping CGI just isn’t enough anymore.

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27. Venom; B-

The last 30 minutes of Venom are impressive. The first hour-and-a-half are painfully slow and the talented Riz Ahmed even drops the topical “fake news” bomb on us. I have no idea what the plan was with this movie and there is no better indiciation than casting Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. Like Ahmed, Hardy is an actor I absolutely adore, but is laughably out of place.

Director Ruben Fleischer boasts none of his Zombieland charm and composer Ludwig Göransson turns in a terribly uninspired score, mere months after owning Black Panther. Thankfully Sony’s second Marvel installment was on the horizon...

26. They Shall Not Grow Old; B

Thought about excluding the World War I found footage film but I did see it in theaters so it’s on the list. I’m no historian, but the whole conversation of war fascinates me. Humans are at their best and/or worst when they’re fighting. The footage looks incredible and seeing the day-to-day life of soldiers was humbling. We have it so easy now, don’t we?

25. The Post; B+

As a journalism major, I was obviously intrigued. More importantly, Tom Hanks. The Post is an incognito All the President’s Men prequel. There was a lot of corruption to go around! Hanks and Meryl Streep are as good as advertised.

24. Unsane; B+

Steven Soderbergh filmed Unsane on an iPhone. It didn’t do a lot of business, but I’m not hard to talk into a horror-suspense hybrid.

23. The Commuter; B+

My Liam Neeson weakness kicked into full gear as I boarded The Commuter pretty quickly. Neeson’s post-Taken fatigue is definitely a real thing and crippled this film, but I actually think it’s a lot of fun and Neeson is on top of his game per usual.

22. Bad Times at the El Royale; B+

Made in the same vein as a talky but flashy Quentin Tarantino picture, El Royale flounders as it ages. The cast --particularly Cynthia Erivo-- are great across the board. But the story never really knows its own direction and by the time the “big reveal/conclusion” comes around, interest has waned. Do however have to point out a great theme from one of my favorite composers Michael Giacchino.

21. Sicario: Day of the Soldado; B+

The first Sicario is in elite company, claiming a Top 30 all-time CinemAce ranking. The sequel was on its way to being another hit until it takes a turn in the final act that was a tough sell. If that wasn’t enough, the movie’s closing moments are literally unbelievable and dropped the grade from a probable “A+” to a still-tolerable “B+.”

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20. The Mule; A-

Probably a send off for the legendary Clint Eastwood, The Mule is only not higher because the main plot never really sees any payoff. It’s all about Clint and the themes of family, legacy and not selling drugs.

19. Mission Impossible: Fallout; A

A newcomer to the Mission Impossible world, I got what I came for. I love Tom Cruise. Henry Cavill is hit-or-miss in my book, though I do appreciate him as Superman. The story takes more twists and turns than a game of tetherball and my neck literally hurt, but it’s fun and pain only makes me stronger.

18. The Shape of Water; A

Spawned from Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro, me and the Oscar committee don’t see eye to eye as often as we could, but with The Shape of Water, we were both big fans. It’s gripping, very interesting and very wet and Michael Shannon shines.

17. Annihilation; A

After hitting a home run --no, grand slam-- with Ex Machina, Alex Garland went on to direct Annihilation starring Natalie Portman. It’s a fascinating movie, in terms of both storytelling and also visually, and boasts one of the scariest scenes of any movie I saw in 2018.

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16. The Strangers: Prey at Night; A

All the 2018 horror-thriller types seemed to be grouped together. That has turned out to be coincidence, I promise you. I’m a man of integrity. Prey at Night had the tough task of following up one of my all-time favorite scary movies The Strangers, but it benefits from not being a conventional sequel. The “because you were home” premise remains and is still very scary and hauntingly violent.

15. Bohemian Rhapsody; A

Is this real life? Or is it just fantasy? Bohemian Rhapsody turned out to be more of the ladder, unsure of itself in regards of being a quasi-documentary or full-on feature film. It muddles some facts, taking several liberties in the Freddie Mercury and Queen stories. That’s disappointing, and I’m not sure how much the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding former X-Men director Bryan Singer affected it, but at least the music and cinematography are undeniably fantastic.

14. Ready Player One; A

Steven Spielberg's super expensive passion project really only got made because Steven Spielberg wanted to make it A budget nearing $200 million with $150 million more in other costs, the film grossed over $500 million worldwide. But it cost a fortune.

It’s a stunning CGI spectacle that incorporates pop culture references from every era and all mediums. Lost some fans for differentiating from the book, but the movie is a sight to behold that makes up for stale acting with a visual paradise.

13. Solo: A Star Wars Story; A

The fallout from The Last Jedi directly affected Disney’s next Star Wars project. Pressure was already high on Solo when the original directors were fired and George Lucas’ old pal Ron Howard was brought in to salvage the final product.

Salvage it he did, if not more. I have no idea what existed before. Solo: A Star Wars Story is uneventful, which was the fear in its existence. However, it is an enjoyable movie and Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic. He had the impossible task of filling Harrison Ford’s Han-sized shoes and does a great job.

The movie stumbled to under $400 million at the box office and cost a fortune to make, especially with a switch at the director’s chair, substantial reshoots and Disney’s over-the-top advertising blitz. It doesn’t deserve the toxic reception it got in the wake of The Last Jedi, but it’s nowhere near as good as the previous anthology film Rogue One.

12. Creed II; A+

I wasn’t sure about the Creed sequel based solely off the fact that Rocky never had a really good sequel, in my opinion. Even with director Ryan Coogler graduating to bigger and Black Panther’y things, Creed II maintains the heart of the first and rides the reliable talent waves of Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone.

On paper, the Drago rematch sounds as trite as the last several Rocky movies. But the movie shines with its actors and script. After all, how much boxing can you really watch?

11. Deadpool 2; A+

After shocking the world in 2016, the Ryan Reynolds vehicle returned for its inevitable sequel. A new director was brought on board, David Leitch of John Wick fame, and he stays pretty close to the winning formula of the first movie.

What I really liked about Deadpool 2 over the first was the uptick in wit and scaling back the reliance on potty humor. I know it’s a forte of Wade Wilson’s, but it’s okay to be genuinely funny instead of silly funny.

Josh Brolin, recently retiring as Thanos before (spoiler alert) he’s needed again, is predictably epic as Deadpool’s BFF/frenemy Cable.

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10. Game Night; A+

Game Night took me by surprise. My interest was peaked with a wacky premise and the writing team that delivered Spider-Man: Homecoming directing it. Hesitant of viewing another underwhelming comedy (I was still hurting from Daddy’s Home 2), the writing in Game Night is sharp, clever and the acting performances are on point, especially from Kyle Chandler and a duplicitous Jesse Plemons.

9. A Quiet Place; A+

Speaking of premise, the trailers for John Krasinski's A Quiet Place were awesome. Literally say no more. Complete silence for the better part of the movie was a risky game plan, especially nowadays when people have a real hard time not making noise in theaters.

Behind the evident story, I appreciate the secret lore and world-building behind the aliens of A Quiet Place. Sometimes it’s fun not to know and just be scared.

8. Upgrade; A+

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Logan Marshall Green (Devil is underrated!) has an accident and requires an “upgrade” via futuristic, advanced technology. You’ve heard this before, I know, but this time it’s worth it. I promise. Upgrade is quick, extremely gruesome and a ton of fun.

7. Incredibles 2; A+

The long-awaited sequel from director Brad Bird and the incomparable Pixar team, Incredibles 2 is very similar to the first.. If it ain’t broke, it’s incredible. The biggest difference in the sequel is seeing Jack-Jack enter his prime.

6. Batman. Gotham by Gaslight; A+

Gotham by Gaslight is based on the “Elseworld” comic and takes place at the end of the 19th century and deals with Bruce Wayne and Jack the Ripper. It’s an aesthetic treat and yet again proves the graphic novel model is DC’s best weapon right now.

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5. The Death of Superman; A+

Based off the monumental comic of the same name, changes were thankfully made as the original story from 1992-93 is, honestly, pretty forgettable outside of the moment of truth. The movie does well to ditch the D-listers from the pages and incorporates the Justice League well. But the biggest and most important and powerful decision was to revolve the story around Clark Kent, Lois Lane and secret identities.

4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; A+

After Venom, I was tepid about the universe Sony was building under the Marvel name. However, Into the Spider-Verse is not only a great movie, it’s one of the better animated movies I’ve ever seen.

Mimicking the “Bam! Smack! Pow!” impressions from the comic book pages, the stylistic approach to the movie is dazzling. The soundtrack works, Daniel Pemberton’s score is fantastic, and most importantly the voice acting is superb.

Shameik Moore as Miles Morales is the most important victory, but Jake Johnson as the real Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir threaten to steal to show. It’s funny, lovable and embraces its comic book roots.

It’s a hybrid of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Spider-Verse” comics, morphed together with precision just like the many timelines in the film.

3. Ant-Man and the Wasp; A+

The Paul Rudd-Evangeline Lilly sequel had the tough task of following Infinity War, and probably got a little overshadowed because of it. It still made over $600 million at the box office, but it nevertheless flew under the radar as both a great superhero movie, but also the best comedy of the entire year.

After being excluded from Ant-Man, Lilly’s Wasp gets to shine and is no doubt the more competent hero between her and Rudd’s Scott Lang. The Wasp is a pivotal Avenger, even more so than Ant-Man, so it was good to see her step into the spotlight.

Just like in the first one, Christophe Beck’s score is astonishing and addicting. Marvel Studios has really honed in on their soundtracks, recognizing its importance to a film and especially a superhero film. It’s not Marvel Studios’ finest, but the monumental studio’s 20th film was yet another win.

2. Black Panther; A+

It was supposed to be great. Marvel Studios keeps churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. Now were they expecting it to be the cultural phenomenon? Probably. They knew what they were doing.

Director Ryan Coogler, producer Nate Moore and studio head Kevin Feige definitely knew they had something special here. Black Panther, like Get Out the February before it, is more than a movie. It’s a chance for us to have an important conversation via film that we refuse to have ourselves. The final scene between Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is indicative of something truly powerful.

Surrounding the Infinity War gut punch, the MCU has recently tread lightly. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Ant-Man and the Wasp were all lighter films. I prefer drama and stakes and just like his seamless entry into Captain America: Civil War —another gritty film— Black Panther is an emotional Wakandan voyage.

1. Avengers: Infinity War; A+

It was all leading to this. 10 years and 18 movies in the making. As indicated at the very top of this piece, a bad sequel can derail an entire franchise. Marvel had intentionally delayed their main course and given us mere appetizers along the way. They were tasty, but we knew what the endgame was: Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. They couldn’t mess this up. They didn’t.

It’s remarkable the patience the studio had. To give characters like Iron Man and Captain America ample time to develop their arcs. To introduce new ones like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange in their own solo movies. It had never been done before and won’t be done again for a long time.  They broke the mold, changed the game and did what studio executives never thought possible.

The wait was worth it and Josh Brolin’s Thanos is as memorable and iconic as Darth Vader, as directors Anthony and Joe Russo intended. After The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, the MCU is as good and as big as ever thanks to the Russo brothers.

They upped their game again, despite all the odds and literally countless moving pieces. Alan Silvestri’s score got even better. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and especially Chris Hemsworth all went from Hollywood icons to cinematic legends. It’s really that big of a deal what this movie accomplished.

But part of the journey is the end. See you in 2019.

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