2018 is over, and it was quite an eventful year. Cinematically speaking it was probably one of the best years for big budget movies, with only a small number of them being terrible (even though their box office was all over the place). Television gave theatres a run for their money too, with many productions besting anything on the silver screen. But this post is about movies, specifically my TOP 10. Read on to see my highly subjective list...
What with all of the content coming out, I've barely scratched the surface of what came out this year. I think I got all of the big names in, but there are a couple absent. I've yet to see First Man or The Favourite, Suspiria or The Nun, Aquaman or Bumblebee, Mamma Mia 2 or Johnny English 3. I suspect I should be thankful for at least some of them.
Politically it was an exhausting time, with Brexit and Trump coming to their season-end story arcs ready for their inevitable conclusion next year. I have been trying to follow both topics like they were Game of Thrones - who's getting fired next? What shocking revelation will be today's cliffhanger? Whether next year will be good or bad, both are a ratings gold mine for certain 24-hour channels that cover them. No matter the outcome, I'm sure it will be picked up for another season.
Netflix upped their game to exclusively present some of the best entertainment this year. I was even tempted to place their excellent ghostly series The Haunting of Hill House as my number 1 spot. It's a cinematic masterpiece despite being in 10 hour-long parts. The characters are all incredibly well realised and empathetic, flaws and all.
Their feature-length releases have improved too. Apostle was an excellent horror that fits somewhere between The Witch and The Wicker Man. Mowgli will always be compared unfavourably to Disney's big-budget version, but I liked the grittier approach. Still baffled by a cockney Baloo though. Their Marvel shows lived up to the hype, yet have sadly been cancelled to make way for the upcoming Streaming Wars with Disney. Even Amazon Prime's are making preparations with the recent announcement of big-name acquisitions coming to the service. No doubt the stream wars are gonna get ugly next year and we the consumers are going to benefit greatly.
Anyway, enough of that. Here are my Top 10 movies of 2018. If you fancy watching any of them, click on the poster to head on over to Amazon.
Despite the haters and the seemingly large number of ugly comments, I'm really enjoying Disney's take on the franchise to end all franchises. Solo: A Star Wars story is a science-fiction heist caper that had a lot of well-publicised production issues. The final product has some problems in the cinematography department (it's a little dull and underlit overall) but as a piece of story-telling, it's surprisingly successful. I thought Alden Ehrenreich made for a good Harrison Ford replacement, emulating his mannerisms and charm without it feeling like a poor imitation. I suspect there are a lot of people who cannot suspend disbelief over the necessary change in actor. Couple with The Last Jedi's ongoing and unnecessary bile less than half a year earlier and you have a recipe for underperformance, but if you passed on this film, it's definitely worth a look if you head in with an open mind.
A surprise 80s throwback of a sci-fi actioner that hits every entertaining box throughout its running time. After being paralysed from the neck down caused during a rather nasty mugging that also killed his wife, Grey Trace is approached to be the recipient of anew transplant called STEM. This futuristic technology will allow Grey to walk again, but he soon finds out that he is a lot faster and stronger than he was before. Before long the AI programmed into STEM begins talking him into a violent revenge plot that could've been the plot of a popular Swartzenegger movie of the 80s. A brilliant surprise whose fans will surely grow over time.
A mid-January release for us Brits, Coco kicks off the animation resurgence that rather lacked last year. In fact, there are three animated movies in my Top 10. Between The Incredibles 2 entertaining if formulaic adventures (barring a great scene with a racoon) and Coco, the emotional tale of life after death is the clear winner.
Spielberg's back on blockbusting form with this love letter to geek culture that feels like it was made for me. I've not read the book, and from what I understand it differs wildly from that narrative adding an extended sequence based The Shining (one of my favourite movies). Perhaps the comments about Steven King not liking the adaptation went over many book fans' heads. For me, I understand the nature of adaptation and take each medium on its own merits. I know it is perhaps over-reliant on CGI and the lover story B-plot is a little undercooked but I've enjoyed each visceral minute every time I've put it on. And finding those Easter eggs and cameos are a blast. It has a Battletoad in it for god's sake! What more do you want?
This was made by the same animation studio as The Emoji Move. Think about that for a second. The best Marvel movie of the whole year came from the guys at Sony Pictures Animation! Talk about doing a 180! I had no hopes for this after that cinematic abortion and the sarcastic Peter Rabbit movie earlier this year (at least that one kept the sprogs happy). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is emotional, exciting, hilarious and one of the best films of 2018. I hope this pips Incredibles 2 to the Animation Oscar.
This winner of the 2017 best film of the year didn't see a release in the UK until February - just in time for the ceremony itself. Guillermo del Toro delivers a fairy tale of such depth I can imagine Doug Jones' piscine asset will be talked alongside The Beast for years to come. By film nerds and scholars at the very least. Everything about the movie is perfect, from the dialogue, the action and the look of the whole thing. Well worth the best picture win and one of the few time my personal choice of those nominated won, even though I was sure Three Billboards would nab it.
Bart Layton once again merges fact and fiction with this Documentary/Drama/Heist Movie hybrid. American Animals ranks alongside The Imposter as one of the best documentary features ever made. I feel this one's a little bit more manipulative but the plot to rob a priceless book from a University library is a more cinematic one. Between the talking heads of the real victims and culprits, the dramatisation emphasises their emotional mindset over the reality. Real-life counterparts share a forlorn look with the actors in the middle of the action which allows for thoughts not usually given in such movies - that of guilt, remorse, panic. A must see.
Yet another animated movie! The Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon has been wowing me since the stunning The Secret of Kells back in 2009. Every single one of their features that were fully produced in-house were nominated for best animation at the Academy Awards and deservedly so. The only issue is that they often release wide long after the ceremony.
With its May release in the UK (even though Ireland got it November 2017), The Breadwinner has a much more mature subject matter than the fantastical Irish myths of The Secret of Kells or Song of the Sea. It takes place in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan circa 2001 where women aren't allowed outside without a man and certainly cannot be seen earning a living with a job. When Parvana's father is captured because of some mundane and unjust reason, the 11-year-old girl disguises herself as a boy to become the sole breadwinner of the young family. Her mother fears leaving her children alone and the only male is three. In between the stark reality - a more affecting insight of Afghan life in 2001 than any other drama or newsreel I've seen - Parvana keeps spirits up by telling a fantastical tale to her siblings. Like all of Cartoon Saloon's films, it's stunningly realised and animated, making The Breadwinner easily the best-animated movie of a year stuffed with great ones.
After writing some of the best stories of the millennium in both novels, games and screenplays, Alex Garland (The Beach, Enslaved: Journey to the West, Ex Machina) made his directorial debut with Annihilation. His intelligent sci-fi leanings remain intact with this hallucinatory tale about our destruction of the natural world. With this metaphor in mind, perhaps its fitting that the main cast is entirely female. Women are often coded in fiction as spiritual and at one with nature - since perhaps the first story ever told - so it makes sense to place them in a story where a barely contained (or understood) alien virus is taking over large parts of flora and fauna in Florida's natural swampland. Lead by Natalie Portman, the rag-tag team of women explore this transmorphed land along with some literal and metaphorical demons in an intelligent and original science fiction tale.
Unfortunately, those who held the distribution rights to the film didn't think it would sell. Theatrically released in the US in February, it came and went without much fanfare while us Brits had to wait until March for its Netflix debut. Being such a visually stunning move, I would've loved to have seen this on the big screen but at least it wasn't completely buried like it was threatened to be at one point.
I ummed and erred at what would be at this spot. By far, the best piece of visual storytelling came on the small screen - Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House. I was going to shove everything back one spot and place that here instead but the top of the page says 'Top 10 Movies' so I backed out. By the way, you have to watch that show if you have any interest in ghost stories. It adapted Shirley Jackson's classic novel for modern audiences with compellingly complex characters to enrich the 10-episode arch. The House on Haunted Hill (1959 & 1999) and The Haunting (1963 & 1999) may have adapted them first with varying results but I think this one is the best. High praise considering I hold the Robert Wise's more accurately adapted 1963 version in such high regard.
Anyway, my actual number 1 is still a horror with a complex and compelling cast, but this time it fits into a two-hour running time. After the foreboding matriarch of a family dies, some of her dark secrets begin to spill out into the lives of her daughter and her family. I refuse to go further into the plot as Hereditary one of those movies that can be easily ruined by knowing what you shouldn't know. It is psychological in its scares so the horror isn't particularly gory or graphic, but it nevertheless left me rattled - a feat for such a horror fan like me. Like The Haunting of Hill House, there are motifs that link directly with the bigger story and visual clues in the background that hint at what's to come. When it gets to where it's going, everything fits perfectly. Some have derided the ending as being a little formulaic after a revelatory beginning but like most of the movie, I wouldn't trust what I see. One of the best horror movies of recent times and my favourite film (though not TV show) of the year.
Gareth Evans' (The Raid) Apostle is a chilling and atmospheric horror set in the middle of nowhere among a crazy-ass cult headed by Michael Sheen. A slow burning tale of paranoia brimming with atmosphere. The Coen Brothers' Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an offbeat western anthology which shifts its tone sharply and often. One of their weaker efforts, but also one of their most curious.
Outlaw King advertised itself as the sequel to Braveheart but it has neither the visual style nor sense of histrionics to live up to that classic. Directed by the underrated David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water, Starred Up), the acting and storytelling are characteristically superb throughout and that alone will keep you watching 'til the end.
Infinity War is the best of the three and while Black Panther is commendable for its cast, set designs and cultural impact, I thought it was overall a middling Marvel effort. As for Ant-Man, I thought it refreshing that it had a personal, low-key storyline (comparatively speaking - not everything has to be about the end of the world) but that wasn't enough to put it above the other two. Had I written a Top 20, all three may have been up there. Certainly in the Top 30.
The Darkest Hour is an obvious Oscar-baiter but remains a gripping portrayal of a key moment in history. Gary Oldman deserved his win for Best Actor as Winston Churchill over the lauded lead in Phantom Thread. Paul Thomas Anderson's latest looks stunning and Daniel Day-Lewis never fails to impress, but the story about sexual repression and issues of intimacy left me cold. Three Billboards has a lot going for it, particularly in the acting department with wins for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, but it ultimately feels like a Coen Brothers movie that never was. Funnily enough, it was a better Coen Brothers movie than the actual Coen Brothers movie this year. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), it deserves all of the accolades it's been getting.
While I've yet to see it, Eli Roth's Death Wish is often cited as among the worst of the year. I'm no fan of the director but I think he's perhaps found his calling with The House with a Clock in its Walls. He knows horror, despite not always executing it well, but the toned down spooks of this film are very well done, as is the central mystery involving witches, warlocks and pooping topiary. It's based on a children's book I've never heard of but going by this adaptation I'm curious to check it out. Eli Roth's career has been filled with misses, but after watching The House with a Clock in its Walls, I'd very much welcome more Amblin-esque chills from the man.
Disney, as everyone has come to expect, scored big this year. Pixar's Coco made my list but The Incredibles 2 is still a great movie. It's a little by-the-numbers in places but it still showcases the company's imagination and wit when it comes to inventive set pieces.
Ralph Breaks the Internet instantly dates itself by showcasing big companies in the Internet age. Sonic may be evergreen and Q*bert holds weight in an ancient arcade setting, but Snapchat? I've a feeling even YouTube is likely to fall within the next decade if it keeps screwing over content creators. If you ignore all that, it's still a great movie sequel with some hilarious self-deprecating comedy not normally seen from a behemoth company such as Disney.
The incomparable Hayao Miyazaki keeps threatening to retire taking Studio Ghibli along with him (even though there's a Ghibli theme park due to open in Japan a few years from now), but judging by Mary and the Witch's Flower, Studio Ponoc is the worthy successor. A young girl finds a rare flower that will give her the power of a witch for a day. Think Spirited Away meets Harry Potter and you'll have a good idea of what this wonderful movie is about.
If Ponoc is the new Ghibli, then Mamoru Hosoda is a good contender for being the next Miyazaki. He's already wowed us with the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and the excellent Wolf Children but this year's Mirai is equally exceptional. It tells the tale of a young three-year-old boy who is struggling to come to terms with his new baby sister, Mirai. That is until he discovers a magical time-travelling garden complete with his grown up sibling. It was hard to find a cinema showing this gem back in November, but when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray/streaming services sometime this year, you have to pounce on it and see it.
Ladybird, released here in February, is a great portrait of a mother-daughter relationship that was promoted as being more revelatory than it actually was. In truth, it's a charming and quirky familial drama - nothing more. The Post is a Spielberg-by-numbers drama devoid of his usual flair with the camera. With its late December US release (early January for us), this true life tale of Nixen era journalists at the Washington Post was rushed out to take advantage of Trump and the Russia scandal and it shows. It's still a well acted and scripted movie nevertheless. Roman J. Israel, Esq is, unfortunately, none of these things. Coming from the director of Nightcrawler, this portrait of a self-aggrandising, self-righteous and self-destructive individual has none of that film's bite. Forgettable.
Emily Blunt plays a more stern and mischievous Mary than Julie Andrews' lovingly playful original which I found a little off-putting. Emily is quoted as saying that she didn't want to emulate what Julie did and took more inspiration from the books. I found it took away from some of the whimsy, but that could just be my adult eyes looking at it. I took five of my nieces and nephews to see this as a Christmas treat and the younger children struggled to sit through it. That being said, come the final musical number they were staring at the screen in awe.
WORST 5 MOVIES OF 2018
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
A WRINKLE IN TIME
A WRINKLE IN TIME
Zak bought a supposed demon house on the cheap with the intention of making a movie out of it. The thing is, he doesn't want to make a movie out of it, he wants to make money. He showcases the least amount of filmmaking passion from any director I've ever seen and that comes out in the overly agressive outbursts towards his crew which he dismisses as demonic possession. Even Winchester's primary goal, however badly executed, was to make a movie. It at least aimed to scare and intrigue and entertain. Those emotions are secondary in Demon House and obviously geared towards how much profit it can earn. It's a sideshow more than a film. And like most carneys at the fair, avoid it like the plague.
So, that's it for my filmic life in 2018. Stay tuned for my thoughts on this year's games...