Time thwarted us and we didn’t get chance to write up a review of 2017. We weren’t going to allow a second year to pass without forcing our opinion of how the year in cinema shaped up on the cinema-going public.
2018 may have seen politicians outdo themselves in dumb-fuckery and the world was put on final notice regarding climate change. But, amidst the wreckage there were pleasures to be had. Many of them found within the dark confines of your local picture house.
Here are some of the most notable moments. But, to match the mood of the year, we’ll open on a downer…
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR – You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel is not bad in the sense that it is poorly made. But, for all the love heaped on it, it is simply another case of an Important Director™ believing they are coining new movie conventions when they just have not seen enough genre films. This tale of Joaquin Phoenix’s lumbering bruiser rescuing a senator’s daughter from a sex ring echoes everything from Taxi Driver to Charles Bronson’s schlockfest Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects. Without bringing anything fresh. The Emperor’s New Clothes are looking careworn this year.
WORSE SCENE OF THE YEAR – Winnie Takes The Tube
You Were Never Really Here was our worst film, but didn’t contain the year’s single worst moment. That belongs to Darkest Hour. Remember that scene when Gary Oldman as the palace-born, champagne chugging, working class hating Winston Churchill boards the London Underground and preposterously canvases opinions from the hoi-polloi? It would have been no more ridiculous if Oldman had been swapped out for Paddington Bear.
Ludicrous and cack-handed, it reminded us that, for all the film’s enjoyable moments, it was written by Anthony McCarten, who penned The Dreary of Everything and Woehemian Rhapsody. And was directed by Joe Wright, a filmmaker expert in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Oldman won an Oscar for his performance…
HIDDEN GEM – Mom and Dad
With this and Mandy, in 2018 Nic has experience a mini-Cagenaissance. As much as we loved Mandy, its astonishing first half was undercut by a wild yet curiously pedestrian second.
Brian Taylor’s film is the real deal throughout. A spin on Alice Sheldon’s classic short story The Screwfly Solution (written under a pseudonym), Mom and Dad tells the tale of parents suddenly taking murderous interest in their children. Nic Cage and Selma Blair are perfect as the titular couple already freaking out at how crushingly mundane their lives have turned out, and who discover turning on their kids is the perfect antidote to middle-age malaise.
BLOCKBUSTERS, LIGHTEN UP
Dwayne Johnson does Die Hard in The Towering Inferno sounds like the action movie for which cinema was invented. Jason Statham versus a giant shark must mean The Meg is the monster movie to devour them all. The Crimes of Grindelwald will conjure up magic and adventure in dark November nights.
But, in 2018 blockbusters often forgot they were supposed to be fun. Skyscraper, so careful not to make light of Johnson’s character being an amputee, was anchored in seriousness when it should have soared on silliness. Maybe he thought Rampage had delivered the daft dynamism and his second film of the year should be a thinking-person’s actioner.
The Meg attempted to apply scientific rigour to its preposterous story, when all we wanted was to watch The Stath go fist to fin with the toothy terror.
The Crimes of Grindelwald? Too many dead babies and Holocaust references and not enough wizarding derring-do.
Oh, and Avengers: Infinity War climaxed with cosmic genocide. Which brings us onto…
CAN WE STOP SAYING AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR HAS A SHOCKING ENDING?
One of the most deterministically blinkered bits of film criticism this year was the “jaw-dropping shock” that met the climax of Infinity War. As Thanos acquired the final Infinity stone and clicked his fingers, thereby extinguishing half of all life in the galaxy, we were immediately on guard. When Black Panther became ashen faced we were out. None of this meant anything.
Empire magazine defended the ending and the obvious about-face that will happen in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, writing “(Peter Parker) doesn’t know, as he disintegrates in Tony Stark’s arms, that he’ll be back to swing another day… it’s heartbreaking.”
Problem is, that sequence only works if audiences believe there is genuine peril. If they are comfortably ahead of what characters know, any shocking ending will fall as flat as Thanos’ chin.
And while we’re talking Marvel…
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP WAS THE BEST MARVEL FILM OF 2018
We’ve not had chance to catch up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. But, of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and The Wasp, we’re calling the latter as Marvel’s best.
If you can still hear us over the outraged gasps, let us explain. Black Panther was great fun and director Ryan Coogler (plus his production team) invigorated the Marvelverse with underseen (in the West) African culture. But, the plot was standard origins story stuff and the final battle a dry-run for Infinity War.
Infinity War had that fantastic final battle. But, that ending and the fact it was often plain dull places it at the bottom of the pile.
By keeping the action (relatively) grounded, the story more modest, upping the humour and moving character and emotion centre stage, Ant-Man and The Wasp was surprising and superior to the lacklustre original. Paul Rudd looks more comfortable here than when previously playing the role, and we were happy Evangeline Lilly has been promoted from the buzzkill shrew of Ant-Man to a formidable fighter of crime this time around.
AMATW also looked more like a film than previous Marvel movies, eschewing bland pastel smeariness for genuine cinematography. Although it did do that annoying thing where good moments in the trailers weren’t in the film. We promise to stop talking Marvel now.
THE BLOCKBUSTER THAT GOT IT RIGHT – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
It placed sixth at the 2018 box office, but Mission: Impossible – Fallout was no.1 for thrills. Based on that archetypal cinematic device – the chase sequence – it was a series of pursuits, each one outdoing the other for sheer excitement. Although it also did that annoying thing where great looking scenes weren’t in the finished film.
Henry Cavill was suitably imposing as the bruiser Cruise’s Ethan Hunt must bring along to find a series of nuclear devices that could end civilisation. We’d never seen anyone reload their arms before, but Cavill’s now-famous double pump is a knockout moment during the bathroom brawl. Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby are similarly first-class support.
Ving Rhames stands up at one point we’re sure.
Christopher McQuarrie’s elegant direction is a lesson to other directors that shaky-cam can’t beat actually seeing what’s going on.
But, Fallout’s brilliance lies in the physical bravado of our…
MAN OF THE YEAR – Tom Cruise
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BHSNwgrBZE”]The Cleaning Lady[/su_youtube]
Tom Cruise may be the only movie star who comes close to the icons of yesteryear (Hugh Jackman is also a contender…). A new Cruise vehicle is always must-see, even if Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and The Mummy were surprisingly un-road worthy.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout was the year’s standout blockbuster, largely due to the efforts of Mr Cruise. There isn’t another multi-multi-millionaire willing to risk such life and limb to entertain the masses. Whether stunt-piloting his own helicopter, falling from said helicopter, jumping out a plane at 25,000ft or liquifying an ankle in a seemingly more mundane stunt, Mr Cruise’s sheer physical bravura was a thrill to watch (three times on the big screen, the Blu-ray will be watched soon).
Tom’s efforts have also achieved the impossible… making us excited about the prospect of Top Gun 2. Speaking of returning to long-gone movies…
2018 NEVER FORGOT THE THREE “R”s
Remake, reboot and re-release. One of the few pleasant surprises in 2018 was that these words were often preceded by the adjective “successful”.
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria surpassed all expectations by emerging as an electrifying remake/reimagining of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece. It even justified adding a full hour to the original’s run time.
Mary Poppins similarly confounded those of us who had written off Rob Marshall’s reboot by being a joyous, imaginative follow-up to the 1964 masterpiece. Emily Blunt achieved the impossible in playing Poppins without aping Julie Andrews’ performance, while nonetheless convincing she was the same Mary.
The best re-release was the 25th anniversary reappearance of Jane Campion’s The Piano. More Guillermo del Toro than Merchant Ivory, Campion’s astonishing tale of sexual awakening, jealousy and music is an ethereal classic.
And great to see Die Hard back on the silver screen to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR – Emily Blunt
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37nHNQ770kc”]The Cleaning Lady[/su_youtube]
She’s a talented one that Emily. Conveying grief, anguish, fear, rage and resilience through facial expressions alone in A Quiet Place, she then delivered a very different performance as Mary Poppins. It’s this latter film that places her as our Woman of the Year.
Mary Poppins is so interwoven with Julie Andrews that tackling the role seemed foolhardy. Yet, as mentioned above, Blunt brings the prickliness, warmth and mischievous puckishness we expect of the magical nanny. Plus, in the dance hall sequence, something far bawdier than Andrews was permitted to entertain.
2018’s MOST UNUSUAL DISTRACTION IN CINEMA – Day-Lewis’ vocal choice
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvBW4Szes1U”]The Cleaning Lady[/su_youtube]
Phantom Thread was another winner from Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis. But, it took us ages to get used to the fact that Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock sounds like Jon Ronson…
THE BEST FILM YOU DIDN’T SEE – Last Flag Flying
2018 kicked off with a five-star movie that received a sigh of a cinema release before going to Amazon. It was Amazon-funded, so fair play to them for giving it a big screen release at all. But Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying passed so low under the radar we wonder if even the cast realise it is now available.
A “spiritual” sequel to The Last Detail, it is a ribald, engrossing and moving tale of three ex-Vietnam vets reunited after the son of one of them is killed in Iraq. Escorting the body back to his hometown proves more difficult than anticipated…
In a witty, literate script, past wrongs are revisited along with notions of duty, faith and betrayal. Set in 2003, when Bush Jr.’s Middle Eastern horrorshow was just getting started, it is also, frighteningly, a period film. A time when mobile phones had just stopped being science-fiction and the War on Terror was sowing seeds of distrust that would make Trump’s election bid so successful.
Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne are the one-time brothers in arms, so you know it’s gonna be classy.
STAR WARS IS NOT INFALLIBLE – Solo: A Star Wars Story
We liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. We were in the minority. Maybe it was the reports of a nightmare production. Maybe it was Star Wars fatigue (Solo was released 5 months after The Last Jedi’s cinema release, and one month after TLJ dropped onto home entertainment). Whatever, most audiences stayed away, putting the Star Wars Story strategy on Forced hiatus.
BEST ARROW VIDEO RELEASE – Candyman – Limited Edition
On the home entertainment front, Arrow Video had another good year. Heathers, Children of Men and the underseen Dark Blue were amongst films receiving stellar Arrow treatment. But, their finest release of 2018 was the Candyman Limited Edition.
The box itself was a thing of beauty, as was the booklet containing director Bernard Rose’s storyboards. An overlooked horror classic, the film itself has never looked better (and uncut for the first time on UK DVD or Blu-ray).
A wealth of extras include a typically first-rate Kim Newman and Stephen Jones audio commentary and a detail-rich 25-minute Clive Barker interview.
MANY MASTERPIECES HIT 50…
2001: A Space Odyssey reached 50 in 2018. As did if…. (possibly the most misspelt film of all time; it’s four dots, not three). The Wild Bunch was another. As was Night of the Living Dead, a film we so admired we recorded a podcast on it.
Speaking of podcasts and 50…
THE ELECTRIC SHADOWS PODCAST RECORDED ITS 50TH EPISODE
2016 was not a vintage year. But, one thing we liked about it was The Electric Shadows Podcast launched that February. From a no-frills episode one, the podcast has covered the Oscars, Star Wars, a lot of Marvel, (too much) Batman v Superman, best films of the year, worst films of the year, JFK, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (for four hours) and the films that made formative impact on co-hosts Rob Daniel and Rob Wallis.
At some point we will rebrand to The Movie Robcast…
THE DARK KNIGHT TURNED 10
Of the many Batman movies, The Dark Knight is the greatest cape. Turning ten years old in 2018, the film continues to cast a shadow over every superhero film since. Its influence can be felt in Marvel’s one bona fide classic (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Unfortunately, most films aped Nolan’s gritty tone, not knowing it was its invention that made the film great. Cue joyless fisticuffs and navel-gazing miserabilism (the nadir of which is Batman v Superman, arggh, we’re doing it again!).
BEST HONEST TRAILER – Every Christopher Nolan Movie
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpN_wAlYZSs”]The Cleaning Lady[/su_youtube]
Honest Trailers continue to be weekly 6-minute doses of good-natured snark (when they’re not being bizarrely sponsored by the US Army…). 2018’s best was a dissection of Christopher Nolan’s career, themes and obsessions. Worth a look if only to note how high spousal mortality rates are in Chris’ oeuvre…
REEL LIFE MOVIES WERE AMONGST THE BEST
Documentaries enjoyed a good year, with standouts including Filmworker, Fahrenheit 11/9, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, They Shall Not Grow Old, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
READY PLAYER ONE’S CENTRAL FLAW…
Like anyone would be trying to win a race in the staggering digital playground of the Oasis. It would be one non-stop orgy. VR suits would need to be made from friction-free fabric with internal lube systems. The danger would lie in the fact your virtual dream-girl could be your mum… Maybe they’ll explore that in the sequel.
JURASSIC’S NOT EXTINCT YET…
2015’s Jurassic World was the blockbuster equivalent of microwave rice – quick, easy, disposable. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom promised little more. But, A Monster Calls director J.A. Bayona spliced Jurassic DNA with the Brothers Grimm for a fairy story dino-tale that was as engrossing as it was barmy.
Speaking of barmy, here is…
THE 2018 MAD AS ARSEHOLES AWARD – Sorry To Bother You
Boots Riley’s bizarre feature debut is so packed with invention, barbed satire, surrealism, egalitarian philosophy, and radical gear shifts it is best experienced with its surprises unspoiled.
So, how best to describe Sorry To Bother You?
Imagine if Get Out, Brazil, Being John Malkovich and Office Space got together, took peyote and tripped balls at a cubicle desk. While flicking between Norma Rae, YouTube vlogs, Jackass re-runs and Lindsay Anderson’s O! Lucky Man.
Yeah, that comes close to what Riley has conjured here.
THE SICARIO AWARD FOR IT WASN’T AS GOOD AS EVERYONE SAID – Hereditary
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6wWKNij_1M”]The Cleaning Lady[/su_youtube]
For all the love heaped on Ari Aster’s debut movie, Hereditary resembles the work of someone unfamiliar with horror films, believing they are coining fresh conventions. Yep, we’re in You Were Never Really Here territory again.
A tale of a family self-destructing after a shocking event, it smothers early tension with a suffocating grief, while later scenes employ the hokiest of horror clichés to unintentionally gigglesome effect. Decent trailer though.
WELCOME BACK TO…
The Incredibles, whose sequel was only second to Mission: Impossible – Fallout as the summer’s best action film. Spike Lee for returning to box office success (and relevance) with BlackKklansman. Orson Welles, whose The Other Side of the Wind was finally completed 33 years after the great man’s death. Michael Myers and Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018).
FAREWELL TO, AMONGST OTHERS…
Harry Dean Stanton. Lewis Gilbert. Jóhann Jóhannsson. John Mahoney. R. Lee Ermey. Milos Forman. Isao Takahata. Margot Kidder. Harlan Ellison. Neil Simon. Aretha Franklin. Burt Reynolds. Gary Kurtz. Scott Wilson. William Goldman. Gloria Katz. Nic Roeg. Stan Lee.
2018 was rough…
THE MISERY AWARD – A Star is Born
Bradley, couldn’t you have admitted that being rich and famous is, like, fucking awesome, for at least one scene of your movie?
BEST FILM – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh’s profane, humane and hilarious Oscar winner is 2018’s finest film. Frances McDormand won a second Best Actress Oscar as a woman who goads the local police chief with caustic billboard messages after the murder of her daughter goes unsolved. She is ably supported by Woody Harrelson as the decent lawman, and Sam Rockwell (who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) as a livewire, dull-witted copper with a dark past.
Surprising, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and heartbreaking. And must-see.