The 2018 Jeff Malone Academy Awards

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures/Skydance

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be selected. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
Annihilation
The Endless
First Reformed
Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Best Director
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, The Endless
Alex Garland, Annihilation
Steve McQueen, Widows
Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You
Paul Schrader, First Reformed

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Best TV Episodes of 2018

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CREDIT: Guy D’Alema/FX/FX Networks

If you’re still catching up on the best TV of 2018, the following playlist would be a great way to go about it.

1. Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins”
2. Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover/Childish Gambino
3. Atlanta, “Barbershop”
4. Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Mac and Me”
5. Big Mouth, “The Planned Parenthood Show”
6. BoJack Horseman, “The Showstopper”
7. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “The Gang Solves the Bathroom Problem”
8. The Assassination of Gianni Versace, “A Random Killing”
9. Barry, “Chapter Eight: Know Your Truth”
10. Pose, “Giving and Receiving”
11. Joe Pera Talks With You, “Joe Pera Talks to You About the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada (1950–Present Day)”
12. BoJack Horseman, “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos”
13. Murphy Brown, “Thanksgiving and Taking”
14. Atlanta, “Woods”
15. Murphy Brown, “#MurphyToo”
16. Better Call Saul, “Winner”
17. The Last O.G., “Swipe Right”
18. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Mac Finds His Pride”
19. South Park, “A Boy and a Priest”
20. Sharp Objects, “Milk”

Best Movies of 2018

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CREDIT: Courtesy of the Studios

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

I saw nearly 200 new movies in 2018, a personal record, and yet, there were still a couple dozen that I wish had more time to see. If you had told me just three years ago how many movies I would see this year, I would assume that everything would be crossed off my 2018 cinema checklist. But as I get deeper and deeper into the world of film journalism and analysis, I become ever more aware of just how seemingly limitless the cinematic landscape is. Despite my shortcomings, I am confident that I managed to put together a top 10 list that at the very least hints at all the storytelling diversity that the medium had to offer this year.

But before we get to that, here are some more 2018 movies that I loved: Assassination Nation, Bad Times at the El Royale, Boy Erased, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Commuter, The Death of Stalin, The Favourite, Gemini, Green Book, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Instant Family, The Old Man & the Gun, Paddington 2, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Searching, A Simple Favor, Suspiria, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Three Identical Strangers, Tully, and Venom.

10. Unsane – Claire Foy gets totally gaslit about her mental state, while Steven Soderbergh captures the whole charade on an iPhone. It’s more than a gimmick, as he expands his cinematic language, and a disturbing scam gets indicted in the process.

9. Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson’s Japan-set animated canine adventure navigates some tricky business about cultural appropriateness, but it’s still a whimsical, yet thrillingly dangerous tale with delightfully quirky animation and an evergreen warning against tyrannical government.

8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The best superhero movie of 2018 was molded by the baggage of history while managing to also be revolutionary in a way that didn’t seem possible anymore in this era of comic book movie overload. Every Spider-Man story has partly been about how we all have the capacity to be heroic Spider-Beings; few prove it as imaginatively as Into the Spider-Verse.

7. Eighth GradeEighth Grade is basically anxiety distilled into its purest cinematic form. How could it not be? It focuses on a teenage girl in 2018 whose life is inexplicably tied to her screens, and it’s directed by Bo Burnham, who has captured his own anxiety for the raw material in his live shows. It sounds like a nightmare, and it kind of is, but it is also singularly exhilarating and inspiring.

6. BlacKkKlansman – Colorado Springs’ first black detective picks up the phone and cold-calls the KKK, setting off a batty infiltration that comments on the persistence of bigotry and the inspiration of blaxploitation. If Ron Stallworth’s story weren’t true, would Spike Lee have to have created it? He certainly had to do something to get us electrified in this still-way-too-discriminatory real world.

5. Widows – A trio of women lose their criminal husbands and are left to pull off a multimillion dollar heist in their (dis)honor. Meanwhile, Chicago’s political machine keeps dirtily chugging along. Steve McQueen’s top-notch skills elevate the message and thrills of every single frame.

4. First Reformed – The movie of 2018 that I’ve thought about the most since seeing it. Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a reverend counseling a man who has grown profoundly fatalistic over the state of a world ravaged by global warming. He catches something from this member of his flock – is it a disease, or perhaps an epiphany? If you’re alive in 2018 and cannot relate to Toller, you’re not paying attention.

3. The Endless – Two brothers are living on their own after escaping from the cult they grew up in, but they cannot quite escape the pull of its gravity. Upon returning for a visit, they discover the elliptical truth of what is really going on, and a new landmark vision of sci-fi horror comes to fruition.

2. Sorry to Bother You – Cash Green uses his “white voice” to become a successful telemarketer, and that’s only the start of capitalism taking him for all that he’s worth. Boots Riley’s incendiary clarion call to workers’ rights is bold, everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink filmmaking.

1. Annihilation – A group of scientists and doctors (who all happen to be female) head into Area X, where a bunch of weird goings-on confound and entrance them. All forms of life in this realm are more or less cross-bred with each other, creating utter strangeness, terrifying abominations, and above all, sublime beauty.

Best Podcasts of 2018

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This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Any Best Podcast list curated by one person must include the caveat that only a portion of all the podcasts out there have been listened to by the listmaker. My podcast diet mainly consists of comedy and pop culture, so consider this a list of the best comedy and pop culture podcasts of 2018. (Also, as it turns out, you can [mostly] consider this a list of the best of one particular podcast network.) My choices are not in any particular order, except for my overall #1 selection.

Overall Best: R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? – Four years after comprehensively covering the lovable lads from Liverpool, Adam Scott Aukerman were back to talk about R.E.M. and nothing else in 2018. It truly was The Year of R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: Me?, and we were all just living in it.

Best Episode: “Staind Glass 2” – Todd Glass, the man who has very strong opinions on music but the most chaotic knowledge about the subject, returned for Scott and Scott to see if he knows anything about R.E.M. He also regaled the boys with a story about a wedding he surreptitiously, hilariously attended, and thus a proud podcasting tradition continued.

Blank Check with Griffin & David – Griffin Newman and David Sims’ competitive advantage of being the only two friends to host a podcast together continued delightfully along in 2018, as they examined on the films of even more directors who have been given “blank checks” to pursue their passion projects. In 2018, the lineup consisted of Paul Verhoeven, James L. Brooks, Brad Bird, Ang Lee, Nancy Meyers, and Tim Burton.

Best Episode: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – This episode is perhaps best remembered by Blankies for the envelope gag, but the entire episode is a winner. Frequent guest JD Amato is the perfect addition to examine this confoundingly ambitious entry in Ang Lee’s filmography, as he makes the case that even if this is not a great movie, everyone who considers themselves a film buff should watch it to see what it is all about.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend – Conan O’Brien takes his deconstructionist approach to the podcast medium, as he wonders if the friendships that have eluded him when interviewing people on his talk show can be forged when they occur on this more longform setup.

Best Episode: Bill Burr – Burr gets personal enough to help Conan along on this journey, but the real reason this episode taking the top spot is the part at the end when Conan lists a bunch of fake (unfortunately so) Pokémon.

How Did This Get Made? – This podcast stalwart had no shortage of awful and bizarre so-called movies to add to its crosshairs in 2018, and I came to appreciate it even more for how it’s just some friends hanging out and having the  best time ever.

Best Episode: 200th Mini Retrospective Clip Show Spectacular – The meat of this episode was clips of previous episodes, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that some of the best moments of HDTGM? are people just riotously cracking up, you realize the value of just looking back and taking in the memories.

UnspooledHDTGM?‘s Paul Scheer actually got around to watching and discussing some good movies as he teamed up with critic Amy Nicholson to dive deep into the American Film Institute’s ranking of the 100 greatest American films of all time. Two film nerds digging into movie history and showing off their enthusiasm for canonization (or questioning canonization) is always a good formula.

Best Episode: Duck Soup – Paul and Amy are joined by Marx Brothers super-fan Conan O’Brien, who has some legit comedy nerd theories regarding what Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo are all about.

Best TV Shows of 2018

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CREDIT: Courtesy of the Networks

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

I spent much of 2018 despairing over how there isn’t enough time to watch every great show out there, just as I have every year for the past decade or so. Despite that permanent dilemma, I did not struggle as much as I usually do to settle on a top 10. But of course, there are always more than ten great shows that I would like to recognize. So before you continue reading on to my picks of the very best, here are some other shows I loved in 2018: Bob’s Burgers, The Goldbergs, The Good Place, Great News, Homecoming, Jane the Virgin, Killing Eve, The Last O.G., Mystery Science Theater 3000, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Sharp Objects, Speechless, Trial & Error, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

And here are some 2018 shows that I kept hearing wonderful things about, but that I never got around to seeing: The Americans, The Good Fight, Lodge 49, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, One Day at a Time, Random Acts of Flyness, Succession, The Terror.

10. BoJack Horseman (Netflix) – Most BoJack Horseman seasons lead up to some earth-shattering conclusion. Season 5 followed much the same structure but wisely ultimately settled on a more even-keeled note, declaring that people sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things, and the trick is to do good things more often. Maybe there is equilibrium in BoJack’s future?

9. Joe Pera Talks with You (Adult Swim) – Perhaps the most unique show of 2018, and probably the gentlest in Adult Swim history, Joe Pera Talks with You inspires wonder at all the simple facts of life. As a fictionalized version of himself, Pera presents a well-examined life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that we can all appreciate.

8. Better Call Saul (AMC) – Jimmy continued his path towards fully becoming Saul Goodman, which could really describe any season of this show. And yet by just continuing along its set path, it gobsmacks you evermore with its explorations of identity, duty, and destiny. It just goes to show you that it really is all about the journey.

7. Barry (HBO) – Alec Berg and Bill Hader walked a tightrope every episode as they tracked the progress of hitman turned very bad actor Barry Berkman. They pushed themselves into narrative corners, as violently dramatic consequences bumped up against the foibles of the trenches of showbiz, and yet they always followed through on their trickiest conundrums.

6. Pose (FX) – The push for diversity in television is valiant in terms of representation and employment. But is it also valuable for creativity? Pose is a perfect example to show that yes indeed, it is. This recreation of New York’s 1980s queer ballroom scene opened up groundbreaking avenues for televisual storytelling.

5. Big Mouth (Netflix) – Netflix’s animated tale of burgeoning puberty courtesy of Nick Kroll and company is raunchy and specific in a manner that is uproarious, gross, and a little profound. Hormone and Shame Monsters are the stuff of modern mythmaking.

4. American Vandal (Netflix) – The first season of this Netflix true crime mockumentary was a rousing success, but I had my doubts about the second. The jokes and intrigue around spray-painted dicks made sense, but taking on actual poop sounded a little frightening. Luckily the crimes of the Turd Burglar were treated as terrifyingly as they deserved to be, and we were treated to another fascinating portrait of adolescence, the high school ecosystem, and our online selves.

3. American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX) – It was really more “The Killings of Andrew Cunanan” rather than just “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Progressing backwards and expanding outwards, this was Ryan Murphy’s other exhilarating formal experiment of 2018.

2. Baskets (FX) – The Baskets family went into business together and opened up a circus. It sounded like a great idea, but there are always struggles along the way. If you’re looking for portraits of genuine American families on TV, Baskets is a little odd, but it does the trick.

1. Atlanta (FX)Atlanta is a landmark achievement in surreal television. It all appears to tie together when watching it, but as I attempt to reconstruct Season 2 in my head, I wonder how Florida Man, a slippery barber, and Teddy Perkins can all possibly hang together. And yet I know deep in my psyche how much emotional sense it all makes. Donald Glover and company followed their muse to dark and exciting corners for our delight.