The Last Word On 2018
As ever, it needs to be pointed out that we do this list – allegedly a “Top 10 Of The Year” – (but we often miss that magic number), in relation to awards season, which is not always the same as when a movie actually shows up round your way. Thus, such fine movies as Lady Bird, Three Billboards and more showed up on last year’s list. These are the ones we saw this year – because nice people kept showing them to us!
This year, in order to keep the suspense building, here they are in reverse order. We hope you approve! (Although, to be fair, we’re not that bothered if you don’t – in the interest of healthy debate, and all that.)
10: McQUEEN/THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD
OK, you can argue that we’re cheating. And we are. But one of the things that great documentaries do is take you into a world you know little about, and have no personal experience of, and make you feel part of that world. And educate you, and, of course, entertain you. These two worlds have little in common – World War I and high fashion – but both were profoundly insightful, hugely involving and managed to make you understand lives you have never lived.
The late Alexander McQueen proved to be a thoroughly engaging force of nature, full of passion and completely accessible, drawing you into both the intricacies of his work and the love and desire he brought to it.
Peter Jackson, meanwhile, managed to bring to life the soldiers of WWI, not simply through colourising archive footage and making it flow like it was shot in hi-def only yesterday – but also by his use of spoken word archive, bringing to life the men of that war who were no longer alive. It made them real again and made us appreciate their sacrifice (and those that followed them) anew.
9: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Now Bo Rap got a bit of a bad rap in some quarters. Largely, we feel, because it was often reviewed as the film it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t a hard hitting, sordid warts and all account of Freddie Mercury’s life that some seemed to want in place of what they got. Yet, his closeted gay life was there, his wild partying was there, his contracting of and eventual death from AIDS was there – how much more do you want? What we got instead – after a very troubled production history that, commendably, you do not feel in the finished film – was a good, old fashioned, even cheesy pop biopic. We likened it to an old Cliff Richard movie, with a much better soundtrack, obvs – and we weren’t wrong.
Overall, Bo Rap had two things going for it that ensured its place on this list – Rami Malek’s superb turn as Freddie, and that gobsmackingly brilliant Live Aid finale. Again, many praised this accurate recreation of that event – but this movie went far beyond mere recreation. Where Live Aid had around three or four cameras to cover the whole event, this digitally swooped, flew, dived in and around the band on stage, moving from deep close ups to the whole of Wembley Stadium on that day in 1985 in what was simply the most visceral and breathtaking cinematic moment of the year. It did, it did, rock us!
8: THE INCREDIBLES 2
This sequel only took 14 years to get here – pity all those Mary Poppins fans who were hanging on for 54 years! But Brad Bird’s belated follow up was more than worth the wait – smartly picking up literally mere seconds after the original movie ended. The Pixar dynamics were as classy as ever, the gags as funny (if not funnier) and the sexual politics more to the fore and timely than expected, with Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl taking point, and her Mr Incredible forced to face his biggest challenge yet – taking on the role of house husband.
Proof (once more) that like their Disney stable mates Marvel, Pixar are pretty much invincible, as much as they are Incredible.
7: THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUXIOTE
A film that some of us have been waiting 25 years for. And was it worth the wait? Thankfully, yes it was. Terry Gilliam’s most troubled, beleaguered movie (and that's saying a lot!) finally, finally made it to the screen, after many failed attempts, many cast changes and many years of absolute frustration for the filmmaker. What started life as a vibrant attempt to recreate the story of Quixote, ended up becoming a film as much about its maker and his own journey to get here as it did about the Don and those that infuse his world. As well it should be in many ways – both Quixote and Gilliam are men who know how to tilt at windmills, and both know a thing or two about fighting giants.
What ended up on screen was very clearly not the film Gilliam would – or could – have made a quarter of a century ago. Instead it was absurd, often very funny, but more often a moving meditation of the creativity of the mind, the losing of the mind in many ways, certainly the frailty of aging, as well as the encroaching sense of death. With a nod to Brazil at the end, it felt like one of Gilliam’s most personal works, in some ways a culmination of his career. (Hopefully, it won’t be.)
And with a sad irony, after 25 years and finally getting there, Gilliam’s Quixote still finds itself without a distributor in many parts of the world. Come on, people!
6: A QUIET PLACE
A short, sharp and oh so quiet punch to the gut, writer/director/star/husband of Emily, John Krasinski managed to take a horror cum science fiction movie about a world invasion by aliens with very sensitive hearing and a brutal reaction to anyone making a sound, and turn it into a thoughtful, smart movie about parenting.
A movie that required the multiplex audience to switch off their phones, shut their traps and watch in silence, it built tension to almost unbearable levels – and then released it all in the gut-wrenching scream of a father trying to save his children. A very small but completely huge achievement. And one that even managed to find time for a Neil Young moment – ah, thank God for ear phones.
(Honourable mention to HEREDITARY which came a close second in the Horror Movie Of The Year category – not really a category – just wanted to big it up.)
5: FIRST MAN
Neither a small step nor a giant leap for director Damien Chazelle, but evidence that following Whiplash and La La Land, the filmmaker is now three for three, with his intimate yet epic look at the life of Neil Armstrong, and, crucially, his family, as he headed moon-bound.
Like Gravity before it, this was a film that was as much about grief as it was about space exploration, with Gosling’s usual minimal use of expression and emotion for once perfectly suited to Armstrong’s own reserve as he struggles to deal with the death of a child, a marriage buckling under that strain, and a space programme striving to reach its goal of landing a man on the moon.
Making use of a wide mix of film styles and stocks and a rapidly moving handheld camera that brought intimacy to the domestic moments and a brilliantly visceral quality to the scenes of space flight – as well as a beautifully realised practical recreation of life in space and on the moon, First Man was a major achievement. A film that took you to the moon, but, more importantly, brought you home again.
Giving Spike Lee (see below) a run for his money in the political satire stakes, Adam McKay made by far his most satisfying film to date, topped off with what should be an Oscar winning turn from Christian Bale as the almost unbelievably Machiavellian former US VP Dick Cheney – the film’s real strength being that it wasn’t unbelievable at all, just all too frighteningly real. Dark, bitter, seriously subversive and brilliantly witty as much as anything else – bending form and structure to suit its own agenda – we’d be more than happy to see Vice walk away with Best Picture next year. (It more than likely won’t as it has far too much edge – and far too many edges - for the Academy.)
Spike Lee back on top form should be enough for you, shouldn’t it? In doing that he delivered a film that was bitingly funny, scathingly aggressive, deeply felt and profoundly political. It may have been set in the ‘70s – Afros a go-go – but as its heartbreaking but fierce ending showed, it was the most relevant film of the year.
2: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FALLOUT
In which the single greatest special effect of the year became a movie star running for his life (which in many ways he was), and then running some more. This marked Tom Cruise’s sixth outing as Ethan Hunt of the IMF, and was by far his most adventurous, and most satisfying to date. With death defying (and ankle breaking) practical effects, and a desire not only to top the previous five films in the series, but to top every previous scene in this movie alone as it progressed, this was not only the action movie of the year, but of many years. More than we care to remember.
1: AVENGERS INFINITY WAR/ISLE OF DOGS
OK, you can argue that we’re cheating – again. And we are – again. But what these films have in common is a combination of huge ambition, and creating beautifully crafted, unique and fully realised worlds. (Plus we just couldn’t decide which one we liked the most!)
Kevin Feige and his Marvel brain trust have spent a decade building up the MCU piece by piece – and here they took it to its furthest reaches – and then, blew the whole bloody thing up! Here was the biggest film of the year, which on one level had a devastating ending (half of ‘em died), and which on another level didn’t really have an ending at all (we know most of ‘em are coming back.) And still left audiences utterly satisfied. So much so that we’re all showing up again for more next April – and Endgame will probably be even bigger, hopefully even better. Genius.
And speaking of genius, the way Wes Anderson constructs his own unique vision of the world just gets more and more impressive. Whether working in “real life” or animation, Anderson’s vision is so complete and detailed that some would call it hermetically sealed. But they see that as a bad thing??!! We definitely don’t. We love Anderson’s world and would happily live there, even if it meant being exiled to a trash island off the coast of Japan. Beautiful to look at, and equally beautiful to listen to – with that superb voice cast, and note perfect script.
In a strange way, as much as we’ve linked these two together, Anderson’s film is the opposite of Infinity War, in that is it remarkably, almost defiantly complete.
As the year progressed, we were left with the thought that it wasn’t the greatest of years. But reflection makes you change that…reflection. So, in a desperate attempt to briefly name some others, here are our -
HONOURABLE MENTIONS – In No Particular Order –
THE FAVOURITE – Not our favourite as such, but Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest was caustic, eccentric, absurd – and had Olivia Colman in it.
STAN & OLLIE – Two comic heroes brilliantly brought back to life by two supremely accurate, and extremely poignant performances, from Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly
THE HATE U GIVE – A very impressive contemporary companion piece to BlakKKlandman in many ways, with a non-didactic approach to #BlackLivesMatter and a star-making lead from Amandla Stenberg. A sharp as a tack, right now movie.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? Another doc that brought us into another world – this time the very decent but quite astonishingly revolutionary one of beloved children’s TV presenter, Fred Rogers.
THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN – If this is Redford’s on-screen swan song, the man has never been better.
ROMA – Alfonso Cuaron’s beautifully shot and gorgeously observed look back at his Mexican childhood kept epic in the background, whilst foregrounding the heart-felt, highly personal nature of his movie.
A STAR IS BORN – Old story, told anew, and the best version to date, largely due to the intimacy director Bradley Cooper brings to the piece. Having Lady Gaga sing Shallow didn’t hurt either.
AFTER THE SCREAMING STOPS – A documentary about Bros?? No, we’re not kidding. All hail the new Spinal Tap – whether they meant it or not.
SKATE KITCHEN – We saw this movie many months ago, and whilst it’s at times uneven, there’s a moment when these kid sit around at twilight in the shadow of the city’s towering buildings, whilst Khalid’s Young, Dumb & Broke plays on the soundtrack that seems to completely capture their lives. And it’s a moment that has stayed with us all year long. And that doesn’t happen too often.
Again, something we don’t always do, here is your warning about some of the year’s stinkers -
SOME OF THE WORST OF 2018 -
VENOM - Set the superhero movie back years
SUSPIRIA - Set the very notion of remaking Dario Argento back years!
AN EVENING WITH BEVERLY LUFF LINN - Far and away the clear winner of this category – set the whole of cinema back years!! And those championing director Jim Hoskings as some next big thing should simply be ashamed of themselves.
And with that, this being the season of good will to all people and stuff, we have nothing more to say, except – Happy New Year!
See you in the ’19.
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