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The 12 best movies of the year (so far)

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

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By COLIN COVERT | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: August 7, 2018

Hollywood used to release its summer movies during the summer. But the race to be the first into the theaters has gradually changed the timing. Now the “summer” blockbusters start showing up in the spring.

This year’s first tent-pole movie -- “Avengers: Infinity War” -- opened on April 27. Three months later, the season’s final potential megahit reached the theaters in the form of “Mission: Impossible - Fallout” on July 27. With the fall movie schedule sticking to its traditional post-back-to-school timing, August has become a blockbuster desert.

But all is not lost. A lot of good movies are still in the theaters, and those that were released earlier are showing up on streaming services and video. Here are the best movies of the year (so far) seen by Star Tribune critic Colin Covert.

“Mission: Impossible - Fallout”
This is everything you want in a superspy action adventure with whipped cream and a cherry on top. It has a cool undercover agent, gripping action scenes, high production values, tough bad guys and tougher women. And, of course, there’s Tom Cruise, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, bankable movie star who still insists on doing his own stunts. In theaters.

“The Death of Stalin”
An absurdist depiction of the events immediately surrounding the death of Josef Stalin in 1953. It’s raucously hilarious, neatly crafted and packed with excellent performances. Filmmaker Armando Iannucci (creator of the Emmy-winning political comedy “Veep”) assembled a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin and Simon Russell Beale. Available for home viewing.

“First Reformed”
Ethan Hawke stars in this drama about a minister facing a spiritual crisis as he struggles to deal with his recent loss of a son and his marriage under tragic circumstances. Writer/director Paul Schrader, who created an unforgettable nightmare about a man trapped in emptiness for “Taxi Driver,” creates here a parallel story on a higher level. Available for home viewing Aug. 21.

“Hereditary”
Are you ready for the year’s scariest movie? This indie horror feature is a nerve-jangling goosebumps delivery system that feels like a haunted house story but is much more. A family (led by Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne) is living with many memories, few of them happy. First-time filmmaker Ari Aster knows that making us await the terrifying is more frightening than experiencing it. Available for home viewing Sept. 4.

“Isle of Dogs”
This is a dark and enchanting animated parable from idiosyncratic filmmaker Wes Anderson. On the orders of Tokyo’s cat-loving mayor, dogs are banished to a nearby island. Voiced by the likes of Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton, the dogs look for a way out. Like Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” this makes socially important points without a political polemical voice. Available for home viewing.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”
This is the T. rex of franchise entertainment. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return as former employees of the failed dinosaur getaway, which closed as a luxury theme park after the reptiles’ feeding frenzy in the previous chapter. In case there were any doubts, we quickly learn that cages and barrier walls aren’t always effective in keeping dinosaurs in check. There’s a lot of standard sequel material here, of course, but in smart-alecky, self-satirizing ways. In theaters.

“Leave No Trace”
This is the work of admirably restrained director Debra Granik, whose “Winter’s Bone” also focused on the lives of marginal people. A troubled veteran (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) live off the grid, growing their own food and relocating their tents to avoid detection. Don’t let the unconventional lifestyle trigger your anxiety neurotransmitters. This is a loving, protective family unit determined to remain side by side as long as possible. In theaters.

“Paddington 2”
This sequel is as sweet as marmalade. As he did in the first film, writer/director Paul King has made a top-notch CGI animated film crammed with droll British humor. Paddington, whimsically voiced by Ben Whishaw, sees the best in everyone he encounters and draws happy smiles from most. His motto, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” is the film’s entirely sincere moral. Available for home viewing.

“Tully”
Best summarized as an adult coming-of-age story, this is an uncommonly intelligent, amusing and honest portrait of motherhood. Charlize Theron plays an exhausted mom of three, one of them a newborn. The title character (Mackenzie Davis) is a young nanny hired despite the mom’s qualms about doing so. Through a sort of spiritual symbiosis, they become kind of a surrogate mother and daughter. Written by former Minnesotan Diablo Cody. Available for home viewing.

“The Rider”
Cowboys are rarely as authentic and relatable as the title character of this reality-based drama about a rodeo rider trying to battle back from a career-threatening injury. Nonprofessional actor and real-life rider Brady Jandreau stars, and Lane Scott, another real rodeo cowboy who was disabled by an injury, plays himself. It’s far from a downer, but it is filled with honesty about life’s unrelenting challenges. Available for home viewing Tuesday.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
This documentary about Fred Rogers, the guiding force behind TV’s “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” paints a moving portrait of a man on a mission. Appalled by the pie-in-the-face indignities of early 1960s kids’ programming, he created a program that spoke to children calmly, quietly and compassionately. The man on-screen was who he was in life. In theaters.

“You Were Never Really Here”
Joaquin Phoenix stars in an art-house crime thriller in which he delivers a phenomenal, entirely fearless performance as a battle-hardened veteran turned undercover goon for a shady private detective. Phoenix gives this lonely, sad contract killer palpable emotion without a wasted gesture or overdone look. Available for home viewing.

© 2018 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in the film "Mission: Impossible - Fallout."
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