Friday, 4 January 2019

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2018


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.

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10

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.

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9

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.

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8

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.

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7

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?

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6

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.

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5

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.

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4

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.

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3

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.

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2

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.

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1

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.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Horror was a mixed bag this year. The big budget films mostly sucked hard but thank goodness for the more experimental low-cost features. A Quiet Place stars the husband and wife team of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, with the former taking on directing and screenwriting duties as if it were a passion project. That passion shines through with some imaginative moviemaking, even though the film as a whole is something we've seen many times before.

Netflix kicked into high gear with some interesting features helmed by fairly big names. I've yet to see Orson Well's recently completed unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind (but I did see their fascinating documentary on it) but the three I've chosen to talk about epitomise the company's draw for creators - the creative freedom to make their own offbeat pictures.

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.

I've just realised that in my four years of doing this, I have never put a Marvel MCU movie in my Top 10. It's strange because I really do love them. Given the quality (and popularity) of these three films, I honestly thought this year would be the year one of them made it. I almost had The Avengers there instead of Solo but the Star Wars fanboy in me honestly enjoyed that spin off much more.  I'm sure Marvel isn't worried though. Not only am I a no-name reviewer on a random blog, but all three movies make major bank.

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.

Having directed the awesome Cabin in the Woods 7 years prior, I had high hopes for Bad Times at the El Royale. While some have criticised it for being a Tarantino-lite mess with an overlong runtime, I couldn't disagree more. A group of strangers, each with their own sordid secrets, congregate at the titular motel one stormy night. They enter one-by-one with such a portentious style that it kept me hooked. With all the plots and motivations going around, it's quite easy to lose focus on the real protagonist; the overworked and timid bellhop. He's often positioned as an ancillary character but every action in the film seems designed for him to work out his own demons. A great movie.

Spike Lee has a done some great work, but he's been slacking a little of late. That's not the case for his most recent joint which sees a black cop enlist a white Jew to go undercover in the KKK. Based on actual events, this remarkably prescient story is treated with a deft comedic hand. If you really think about it, racism is a daft concept and those who refuse to let go of such arbitrary hated should be mocked. At the same time, it isn't bogged down by self-righteousness. It is simply human. I suspect a lot of nominations come awards season.

An entertaining if unsurprising biopic of one of the greatest musicians ever produced. It doesn't go too deep into Freddie Mercury's life beyond that which relates to Queen, but it doesn't need to. The final recreation of their infamous Live Aid set is stunningly realised and presented in full. You get the same sense of excitement and awe as if you were there and is worth the price of admission alone.

While family entertainment was strongly represented this year, there were a few duds. Both Christopher Robin and Peter Rabbit tried to do new things with beloved British children's books but failed to capture what made them special. Christopher Robin is a depressing slog before it gets all Chucky on your ass in the real world. Peter Rabbit, on the other hand, updates the quaint tales of rural wildlife into a sarcastic, pop-culture spewing mess. Adults would likely prefer the former while kids will love the latter. I'd steer clear of both.

Three award season hopefuls with top-notch acting that featured in many a Top 10 list last year. Each has a lot of merit to deserve their pedigree and critical praise, but none managed to creep into my faveouties of 2018.

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.

A fun sequel that improves with multiple viewings. I've yet to see the re-edited version for kids (that still got a 15-rating over here - the same as the original) but I'm excited to see what they did with it.

Aardman's stop-motion animation about cavemen and football bypassed a lot of people. I feel it released far too early in the year, way before all of the World Cup hype could raise its awareness, but it's well worth hunting down, even if you don't like football.

I honestly believe that high concept comedy is due for a comeback. Movies like The Happytime Murders and the box office numbers of these two say otherwise, but I stick by it. Game Night and Gringo are decent, if not spectacular action comedies that will at least leave you with a smile on your face. Game Night sees a Murder Mystery evening among friends escalate into the real world, while a hapless immigrant employee gets caught up in Mexican drug warfare and a kidnapping plot due at the orders of his corrupt boss in Gringo.

Three spooky tales with an excellently executed linking device. A paranormal debunker travels to the Yorkshire Dales where he is handed evidence of three convincing ghost encounters. The more he investigates, the more he realises that he cannot refute any of them, and then he gets caught up in his own. A classically told gem of a horror that's currently on Netflix. Easy enough for anyone to check out.

Talking of horror, here are two milder ones for the nippers. Goosebumps was a surprise hit a few years back and while the sequel isn't quite as good as the first, there's still enough in there to more than warrant continuation of the franchise.

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.

I am at once happy and sad about the existence of Halloween 2018. It's one of the better entries in the franchise coming behind Halloween 2 and H20 at fourth place in my personal ranking, but it still wasn't all that I hoped it would be. I thought we'd see more of Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Stroud struggling with PTSD after the events of the first film. Instead, she turned into a badass, gun-toting warrior that reminded me a lot of Sarah Conner in Terminator 2 - hoard the guns, train the children, I'm not crazy, honest! It's still a fine romp but I wanted something closer to what was hinted at in the early marketing.

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.

More excellent animation in a year pack with gems. Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson's animated follow up to The Fantastic Mr Fox and it retains the same off-kilter style. The matted stop-motion is perfect for the story, where all dogs are the carriers of a deadly plague and dumped on a deserted trash island. One of their young human owners takes it upon himself to come and rescue his lost companion, uncovering a dastardly plot along the way. Like most of Anderson's repertoire, it's not for everyone, but it's definitely for me.

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.

The first Jurassic World was an entertaining blockbuster, despite being an almost copy of the original Jurassic Park. Fallen Kingdom does the same trick by being an almost copy of Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Uncaring hunters are using military-grade gear to capture dinos for their own gain, and the action leaves the infamous island for a finale on the mainland. There are some interesting visuals and ideas here, but it's not always successful. It nevertheless makes for a fun, uncomplicated viewing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And if the ending is anything to go by, we should be thankful that the second sequel won't be an almost copy of Jurassic Park 3.

I go on about the Oscars and the awards season quite a bit. I know several movie snobs that bemoan such ceremonies but I like discussing what is getting notice and these shows, while ultimately pointless, are a great way for doing that. These three dramatic award botherers were ultimately unsuccessful in their bid for Oscar glory earlier this year but there is some merit to them.

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.

Disney's live-action nostalgia-fest continues with Mary Poppins Returns. Unabashedly old-school, this cinematic throwback is far more successful than the revisionist take on Winnie the Pooh that was Christopher Robin. It even trumps the likes of the live-action Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book (we'll have to see about their four projected re-makes being released this year).

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.

A stellar action movie from a franchise that had no right being so good. It's the sicth film in a long-running franchise starring an aging Hollywood actor who tanks almost every other film he's been in (The Mummy, American Made). Tom Cruise has never been my favourite actor but he and his tireless work ethic are tailor-made for these films. Fallout is a bit more dour and serious than previous Mission Impossibles, but it's no less amazing for it. It tops anything Bond's done in recent years.

Netflix came to Andy Serkis' rescue when his newest directorial feature, Mowgli, seems unable to find a distributor. It keeps to the darker and decidedly un-kid-friendly tone and plot of the source novel that neither Disney version stuck to and that in the very least is enough to deserve its existence. It adapts it rather well too with a winning performance of Rohan Chand in the title role. It's the motion-captured animals - one of Serkis' speciality subjects, supposedly - where it fails. There are some questionable acting choices in Benedict Cumberbatch's limping Shere Khan with a bizarre audible tick and Serkis' own cockney Baloo. Their faces delve into the uncanny too with some disturbingly human features merging with the animal ones. It's not bad - or even disappointing - but it's not all that it could have been.

I was looking forward to Pacific Rim: Uprising after very much enjoying Guillermo del Toro's first, but this failed in almost every way. Despite having an entire film to draw from, the world building  seems thinly drawn and badly thought out, with a forgettable plot that demeans almost everything that happened before. It's best to pretend this didn't exist. It just missed out on being in my Top 5 worst list.

I believe the newest take on one of cinema's greatest movie monsters would've been better received had it not been a Predator movie. Set in the city with a child as one of the protagonists, its story seems at odds with what I think of as a Predator film. Not as bad as what some people are saying, but nowhere near as good as what you want it to be.

A Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson project is always hit and miss in terms of quality yet they always make lots of money from some reason. Using Midway's classic arcade game as its source, Rampage is the better of his two efforts this year but when the other is Skyscraper that's not saying much. This isn't as entertaining as the surprisingly good Jumanji 2, but if you turn your brain off, Rampage can be quite a fun watch. Keep it on and you're in for a miserable time.

From the director of the insane Turbo comes this 80s throwback to films like The Goonies or The 'Burbs. It's overlong and meandering which is a disappointment because there's a good film locked away in here. I completely blame the lackadaisical editing which destroys any tension the movie has leaving you not caring when the unexpected ending rolls around. A shame 'cos that ending is a doozy.

Stephen Soderberg is back from retirement - again - for this low-budget thriller shot in 10 days entirely on an iPhone 7. It looks it too, with cold, drab visuals that perfectly represent the story of a healthy woman held in a mental institution against her will. With nods to the Me Too movement, the nuances of the issues of modern life are side-tracked half-way through to make way for the formulaic stalker-thriller plot. It's nevertheless incredibly tense and exciting with a great performance from The Crown's Claire Foy (First Man, The Girl in the Spider's Web - both of which I've yet to see).

More Spider-Man stuff, except this time without Spider-Man. A well made if formulaic actioner that relies on the charm of Tom Hardy. I actually thought his ill-mannered and unprofessional Eddie Brock was annoying and undercooked before Venom got a hold of him. From then on the mild body horror and psychological parallels takes over the story for the better. The most surprising thing about the movie is Eminem's theme song being a tune thats could be right of the 90s and 2000s hip hop scene. In a way the film as a while evokes that same flippant turn-of-the-millennium feeling. A decent watch that bodes well for Sony's non-Spidey Spider-Verse (the studio's really upped their game this year!).


WORST 5 MOVIES OF 2018

5
SKYSCRAPER
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson will take on any old shit and it will make money. He does have a good screen presence but many of the roles he takes rely solely on that and not, say, a good script. Skyscraper is Die Hard done bad. A one-legged veteran who scores a security job at the new tallest building in the world moves his wife and children in to the resedential block while preparations for its opening continue. Shit goes down when a group of high-tech thieves attempt to rob the place. With his family trapped inside with them, it's up to The Rock to save them by performing crazy stunts that would be laughably impossible even for someone with all of their limbs.

4
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
I really want high concept comedy to be good again. I miss the days of Kindergarten Cop or Beverly Hills Cop or Men in Black. I so wanted The Happytime Murders to be more than toilet humour and another wasted turn from Melissa McCarthy, an oft mis-used talent still riding high on the goodwill of Bridesmaids. All of the jokes are basically 'look at the muppet doing very adult things!' and none of them are funny. This is no Team America: World Police. It's not even Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles who was doing the same shit way back in the 80s to a much greater effect. For now, the best comedy is on the small screen with the likes of A Good Place, Glow and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (all on Netflix - a theme this year I've noticed).

3
A WRINKLE IN TIME
It seemed like an odd choice for Disney to pick Ava DuVerney to adapt a fantasy novel. She's best known for Selma, an excellent biopic of Dr Martin Luthar King Jr and the march at Selma in 1965 as well as a number of hot-button documentaries.  It's a bit of a departure for her to direct the fantastical tale of a young girl dealing with her father's disappearance by travelling through dimensions with the help of celestial beings. A Wrinkle in Time is a classic children's novel by Madeleine L'Engle that's not really known outside of America. As such, it was always going to have an uphill battle over here anyway, but the visual style does it no favours. If you look at any of the garish screenshots you'll know just how unappealing it is without watching a second.


2
WINCHESTER
The legend of Sarah Winchester and her mystery house is an eminently fascinating one. There could've been any number of good fictional horror stories based on her life. Hell, even a straight-up biopic would've better than this formulaic, jump-scare ridden mess of a movie. As heir to the Winchester fortune, earned by the manufacture and sale of guns, Sarah believes her family name is cursed by the souls of those killed by the weapons that bear her namesake. She believes the only way to calm them is to trap them in an ever-expanding maze of a house, which she continuously added to until her death. Located in California, you can actually visit the infamous Mystery House and even get married there. As interesting as the location is, it's merely a back drop for things that go bump in the night and nothing more. It inexplicably stars Dame Helen Mirren who works hard in her role as Sarah Winchester, but that alone doesn't quite save it.

1
DEMON HOUSE
I put this on hoping for a creepy fake documentary horror. I don't watch much TV outside of streaming services so Zak Bagans and his Ghost Adventures are both unknowns to me. That said I do like a found footage horror when done well, and will always give them a try. I know these types of movies are fake (obvious, but I thought I'd point it out), and most directors who make them know that we know that. Zak Bagans doesn't. He comes off as a self-promoting charlatan that really wants you to believe his badly staged shocks and scares so he can seemingly enlarge his bank account.

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...




4 comments:

  1. I consider myself a film buff, but you are clearly an even bigger film buff than I am. So I was shocked, dismayed even, to read at the end of your paragraph on "Unsane" that you somehow missed "First Man". How could you? Well, I can guess how: you may have assumed that you already know this story very well, making the film seem skippable. Trust me, you do not know the whole story, especially the secrets of the moon landing itself, which are based on informed speculation from a well-sourced book. The film is a personal story about Neil Armstrong and his family, but is also technically brilliant. It was badly snubbed at the Oscars. According to Variety, the industry main trade magazine, it was the second-worst snub this year. The problem was that the American flag was not shown being planted on the moon, even though we did see it clearly in a distance shot. This led to top Republican politicians like President Trump and Senator Rubio denouncing the film, which led to red-state Americans avoiding seeing it, which led to very weak box office for a space film, which led to Hollywood shunning it as a failure. It was a very unfortunate turn of events for one of the year's best films.

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  2. I would also recommend rewatching Phantom Thread and Lady Bird. The first time I watched them, I too was underwhelmed by both of them. I did a U-turn on my second viewing, though.

    The problem with Phantom Thread initially was that it was tonally jarring. It was not clear to a first-time viewer whether this was a romance, a powerful drama, a fairytale, a thriller or a ghost story. The conclusion at the end was that it was none of those things and was simply a mess. On a second viewing, it became clear that it was all of those things simultaneously. This time, I was more prepared for the tone and was able to go with the flow.

    Lady Bird had a very sharp script with acute observations, many of which you and I may miss because we are neither mothers nor daughters. (For example, there was a scene when they are having an intense argument in a department store, but then the mother picks out a dress and they both instantly start cooing over it and forget their argument.) The script resonated very strongly with female viewers. The problem for many people, including me, was that it seemed to end on such a dreadful anticlimax in the last act. College should be more exciting than high school, shouldn't it? Yet her scenes in college seemed surprisingly flat and dull, compared to the complicated relationships she had had in high school with Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges, the two hottest male stars of the moment. The second time I watched the film, however, I realised that these two splendid actors were not stars when they were cast, and if you take their star power out of the equation, the script does not end on an anticlimax. The script works as it should.

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    1. First Man came out when I was busy with work and other things - a time when this site also took a backseat too. I've since seen it and enjoyed it very much. That whole flag thing was just one big nontroversy to generate clicks. Or the conspiracy theorist in me may think it was a deliberate smear to scupper its Oscar chances. You see a lot of that in the Winter months (see The Artist's score stealing or Argo's factual innacuracies).

      I restrict my honorable mentions to only a few sentences so the nuance of my opinions don't have enough space to come through. I did like both Phantom Thread and Ladybird though not enough for them to be in the Top 10 (I lean towards genre films). I might give PT another go at some point. I was the only one at the cinema when I saw it just before the 2018 Oscars and it was probably the best way to see it. It's a deliberately distancing movie that couldn't be told any other way.

      I think I prefered Lady Bird over it though. I've seen it twice now and it is still incredibly charming. I grew up with two headstrong older sisters so I saw a lot of similarities there. As relateable as that is, I don't think it's as unique to cinema as it thinks it is (or at least the marketing). I still adore Greta Gerwig and everything she's had a hand in. Frances Ha is a masterpiece.

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  3. First Man didn't just suffer an Oscar campaign smear from rival films. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the right-wing politicians and talking heads generated a false flag controversy because they knew First Man was a patriotic film, but they didn't want patriotic, red-state Americans to open their minds to Hollywood. Making patriotic films/people seem unpatriotic is common practice for them: see the "swiftboating" of John Kerry. I noticed with interest Breitbart's gloating over its box office performance. No, actually, don't visit the Breitbart site; it's painful to observe.

    Coincidentally, I also find myself watching some arthouse movies on my own, including I think Phantom Thread. I don't think the film was deliberately distancing though. I think the lead character was deliberately distancing. This may well have affected the whole film.

    There are many teen films which are insightful and charming, so if Lady Bird was marketed as being unique, that was clearly an error. It was simply an excellent example of a large genre of films.

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