Monday, December 31, 2018

The Movies of 2018

I did not see anywhere near the number of movies this past year I've seen in previous years. In 2017 I saw 74 movies, 34 on the big screen. In 2018, I only saw 61, 23 in the theatre. I will note I saw Lady Bird on January 1, but had included it in my 2017 list. The number of countries is down again, from 10 to 9. I have every intention of changing that up this coming year. As a reminder, I live in a city essentially in the middle of nowhere, so there are many films that come late, if they come at all.

The countries?

South Korea

Here's the list. As in all my other yearly roundups, an asterisk (*) indicates I saw it in the theatre. I've included a short note with each, but caution I am not doing this as a critic.

*The Post (2017) USA - A top notch Spielberg film, very timely not just for what it says about the press in the Trump age, but also how men are always shutting down and shutting out women, even as they pay no attention to this fact.

Kong: Skull Island (2017) USA - Gloriously cheesy, and better fun than I would have imagined. Not a classic, but I did enjoy it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) USA - Jackson and Reynolds play up the cliches about themselves, and it makes for some fun. I enjoyed it well enough; decent fodder for a plane ride, which is what it was.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) USA - Outstanding documentary and I wish I had seen it earlier. Shocking to see how society has traveled pretty much no distance towards decency in all these years.

Icarus (2017) USA - An excellent documentary that started with one conceit, about a bike rider who thought he would dope for a year and see if it improved his results, and ended with a huge story that (sorta) brought down Russian sports.

*Hostiles (2018) USA - Good western about troubled and troubling characters coming to terms with their pasts and about the humanity they might still be capable of, even in the face of the evil they’ve done in the past. But the ending breaks down, feels ridiculously colonialist and even patronizing.

The Polka King (2018) USA - Wow, is Jack Black ever great in this. Based on the true story of Jan Lewan, the self-styled Polka King, who ran a Ponzi scheme and ended up in jail. Some portions seem too outlandish to be true, and yet they were. Like his meeting the Pope.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) USA - Excellent and strange thriller written and directed by Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin. Kind of goes crazy with the violence at the end, in a way that had us laughing. I appreciated, too, that Ruth’s bad-assery at the end wasn’t about fighting but rather about finding inner strength.

*Phantom Thread (2017) USA - Outstanding, quiet, the sort of movie that was more common back in the ‘70s. No criminal escapades, no thrills, no explosions, just a beautiful and sometimes tense film about people and relationships.

Elle (2016) France - Isabelle Huppert is outstanding and certainly earned her Oscar nod for this movie, but wow, what an odd and creepy movie, full of characters very difficult to like.

The Ritual (2018) UK - A decent horror film, well done at not going overboard on the reveal until close to the end. Yeah, the creature is a tad ridiculous, but well-handled, I thought.

*Black Panther (2018) USA - An excellent MCU movie, although, as I believe I have noted before, eventually there gets to be a sameness to all the CGI battle scenes. These are superheroes, dammit, and therefore have to be able to fling themselves about or fly or hurl the baddies through walls. But a tremendous story, one of the best bad guys the MCU has seen, and a wonderful cast.

*Annihilation (2018) USA - Very good version of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach novels. Dark and purposefully slow, thoughtful, gorgeous, and a wonderful soundscape. And the scene with the “bear” and the three of them tied up in the chairs was as effed-up creepy as possible.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) USA - Gorgeous and fun with the camera work, although I sometimes think the all-star cast was a bit wasted, since this was primarily the Kenneth Branagh show. Still, I enjoyed it.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2015) USA - The opening sequence was an absolute thrill, and the rest of the film can’t keep up with that, but it was still an excellent documentary.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) UK - A decent enough film, but I’m happy enough having seen it on a streaming service and not having paid extra to see it in the theatre. 

Mudbound (2017) USA - Excellent film about race, about conflict, and atmospheric as all get out.

*The Death of Stalin (2017) UK - Hilarious and so very very dark. An awful lot to appreciate in this film, so it may be odd to single out the actors using their own accents, but I am going to do that anyhow.

*Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) USA - Good fun, and it's nice for a superhero movie to work on a (pun intended) small scale, rather than end-of-the-world stuff.

Memoir of a Murderer (2017) South Korea - Astonishing and dark film, full of disturbing twists and sowing plenty of confusion.

*Avengers: Infinity War (2018) USA - My favourite MCU film in quite some time, which is a surprise, considering how unwieldy it could have been. Said with the knowledge that it’s actually only part one, though, so incomplete.

I, Tonya (2017) USA - Both Robbie and Janney were excellent in this, and I find myself weirded out that Bucky from the Captain American films is in this. Nicely crazed, although I don't have to go digging for background facts to guess they pushed the envelope on the facts now and again. Enjoyable. 

Molly’s Game (2017) USA - Aaron Sorkin’s first directorial effort, and a pretty decent one at that. Plays at some times almost like a thriller.

Cargo (2018) Australia - A very good and quite moving zombie movie. Nice to see Martin Freeman carrying a film like this.

*Deadpool 2 (2018) USA - Funny and fun and, wonder of wonders, the fight and action scenes were largely secondary to the rest of the film. Better than the original, I thought.

*Solo (2018) USA - Better than I expected, but not anything approaching good. The wide shot in the dark room of the card-playing scene was absolutely gorgeous, though, the only thing that stands out for me. Certainly not going down as a classic.

*You Were Never Really Here (2018) USA - An astonishing, gripping, slow and quiet thriller, disturbing and violent, but often at a remove.

Game Night (2018) USA - One smart and very funny action/comedy, full of nice twists and turns and people by interesting and relatable (if often very odd) characters.

*Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) USA - Another excellent addition to the set, full of absurd and fun stunts and set pieces.

*Hereditary (2018) USA - Creepy as hell, upsetting and unsettling. I thought the ending went a little too over the top, but still an excellent horror.

Their Finest Hour (2017) UK - A decent enough WW2-era film that mostly deals quite well with women’s rights, although it might stumble a bit with that near the end.

*Sorry to Bother You (2018) USA - An astonishing if somewhat raw debut film, full of wildness and weirdness. Bonus points for being a very strongly pro-union movie.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) UK - Another WW2-era story, a nice enough froth to enjoy one evening.

*BlacKKKlansman (2018) USA - Not nearly as funny as the trailers made it out to be, and that’s good. Not first-rate Spike Lee, but even his minor stuff is well worth seeing.

*Juliet, Naked (2018) UK - Another Nick Hornby adaptation, in this one Ethan Hawke continues his apparently Very Good Year. Not an instant classic like High Fidelity, but I would say it approaches About a Boy.

All the Money in the World (2017) USA - After having watched Danny Boyle’s excellent miniseries Trust, it seemed sensible to watch this movie, about the same events surrounding the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. I know the series had a few more issues with veracity, but I enjoyed it a little more than this, which was still a good movie. 

The Angel (2018) Israel - A fairly decent movie about an Egyptian, the son-in-law of President Nasser, who ended up as a mole for the Israelis.

Tag (2018) USA - A fun comedy which, sadly, drops much of the actual true story in what i suppose is a sop to streamlining. Most remarkable for the fact that Jeremy Renner’s arms were broken during filming and they had to digitally erase the casts.

Murder Party (2007) USA - Hilarious and VERY rough around the edges, the first feature from Jeremy Saulnier, financed largely by credit cards, his own and those of the cast (who were also the crew and producers).

Hold the Dark (2018) USA - As opposed to Murder Party, Jeremy Saulnier’s latest film is a fine work, sharp and well-made and extraordinarily violent. I don’t know if I buy the initial premise that brings Jeffrey Wright’s character to the north, but once he’s there it all works very well. 

*First Man (2018) USA - Riveting and astonishing, especially if seen on the IMAX screen. Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong is a distant and cool character, but it still works. The launch and flight and landing scenes are all nerve-wracking, and when Armstrong and Aldrin land on the Moon and the screen expands to account for the IMAX film it is a thing of wonder.

*2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) USA - So glad to see this on the big screen in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

22 July (2018) Norway - The true story of the terror attack in Norway, and of its aftermath. Directed with his usual attention to real life detail and often using non-actors, Paul Greengrass (who did the same with United 93) created a gripping film that needs to be included in the discussion of the year in film but too often may be forgotten. 

*The Old Man & The Gun (2018) USA - A fine piece of work by Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck. Another true story, although again with many things changed. The meeting between Redford and Affleck was everything that the meeting between De Niro and Pacino in Heat was, although with more humour.

The Night Comes For Us (2018) Indonesia - Compared by many to the Raid movies, for a time it seems to be just a series of set pieces designed to one-up each other with violence. It gets better, but never matches the panache of the Gareth Evans-directed Raid and its sequel.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) USA - An okay doc about Orson Welles and the making of The Other Side of the Wind, which only this year finally was patched up and released, on Netflix. And which I have yet to watch.

Apostle (2018) USA - Speaking of Gareth Evans (Raid), his first big English-language film is a dark fantasy and, not surprisingly, pretty violent. Worth watching.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) USA - As in almost every Coen Brothers film, there is not a lot (read: any) of diversity in the cast. Put that aside, though, because this is an incredible and very dark - yet fun - movie.

*Widows (2018) USA - A tremendous heist thriller with a great cast and a nice twist.

Isle of Dogs (2018) USA - Wes Anderson has made better movies, but still enjoyable and loopy and fun.

The Endless (2017) USA - A simple low-budget SF movie about two brothers who return to a cult they once belonged to, for one last visit, and almost get stuck there forever. And ever.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) USA - Yes, it was as fun as everyone says, but I do find my tolerance for watching the plights of the super rich lessens as time goes on. Even though they seem to try and impart a similar lesson late in the film.

Rampage (2018) USA - A big bag of dumb. Fun dumb, but still dumb.

*Roma (2018) Mexico - Glorious and gorgeous. There are four lengthy shots that still stand out in my mind: of the forest fire; the student riot; the hospital; and at the beach. The first time I saw it was on Netflix, and am happy to have seen it in the theatre when it was re-released. The sound design was amazing in the theatre, and seeing it the second time unearthed new things for me. A wonder of a film.

Bird Box (2018) USA - An excellent horror/thriller that will receive comparisons to The Quiet Place, but really, it stands on its own and treats the problem with its own logic. A great cast backs up a very good Sandra Bullock, and I was certainly on the edge of my seat many times throughout.

*Mary Poppins Returns (2018) US - Outstanding. A great trip down memory lane, and the best Disney remake/sequel I’ve seen.

Calibre (2018) UK - A terrific and tense Scottish thriller about a hunting trip gone wrong, a horrible accident accompanied by awful decisions leading to a horror that  affects a whole lot of people. Also, a haunting final shot that seems almost unrelenting.

*Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) USA - Not the best movie of the year, but man oh man, it was certainly the most enjoyable. Such a smart, clever, fun film, self-knowing and really on the ball about the character’s comic book, TV, and movie history.

Upgrade (2018) Australia - A very good SF/action piece with an atypical ending. The acting by Logan Marshall-Green is excellent: scenes in which is body is doing one thing and his mind wants to do something else are tremendous, believable no matter how ridiculous they might seem.

Ready Player One (2018) USA - Well, not as bad as many people have been saying, but certainly not anywhere near the top of Spielberg’s films. The only real highlight for me was Mark Rylance as Halliday. Yes, even the hair.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) USA - A fine but only moderately emotional documentary about Mr. Rogers. There was some depth to it, but sometimes it didn’t feel like quite enough. Perhaps when everyone talked about the emotional heft and all the tears I expected to react more strongly, and yet I didn’t.

My Top 10 of the year was a little easier this time around, with the only question up until the end was if I included my 10th pick, since it was actually a 2017 film. In the end I decided it needed to be there, since it didn't come to town until 2018.

1. Roma
2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
3. Sorry to Bother You
4. You Were Never Really Here
5. Annihilation
6. Memoir of a Murderer
7. Widows
8. 22 July
9. The Old Man and the Gun
10. The Death of Stalin

Interestingly, I didn't see anything this year that made me angry. I suppose part of it is me getting too old to bother with obvious crap. My honourable mentions, mostly in order of when I saw them: The Polka King; I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore; Phantom Thread (would have been on the 2017 top ten if I'd seen it in time); Mission: Impossible - Fallout; Ant-Man and the Wasp; Black Panther; MudboundAvengers: Infinity War; Game Night; Hereditary; BlacKKKlansman; Hold the Dark; First Man; Apostle; Isle of Dogs; Bird Box; Mary Poppins Returns; Calibre; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Upgrade.


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