John H Foote explores the year 2018 filmography and comes up the best of the lot. Read on.
It was, at the movies, a very good year. Not like 1939, 1956, 1974 or 2007 but damn, it was a great year at the movies. Beginning nearly a year ago with the superb horror film ‘A Quiet Place’, running right through to the year ended ‘Stan and Ollie’, 2018 was a damned fine year in film. In between we had such greatness as ‘Annihilation’, ‘Ready Player One’, ‘Tully’, ‘The Incredibles 2’, ‘BlacKKKlansman’, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’, ‘A Star is Born’, ‘First Man’, ‘A Private War’, ‘Green Book’, ‘The Favourite’, ‘The Hate U Give’, ‘Vice’, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, ‘Springsteen on Broadway’, ‘Hal’ and many others lit up screens, big and small. And not just feature films, as documentaries had an explosion of greatness this year, many exploring lives of people who are destined to be remembered for centuries.
We are still plagued with big budget super hero movies, which eventually will ruin a studio with failure, it is just a matter of time. As long as super hero films make money, they are with us, like it or not. And the studios are not concerned with reboots within three years, it seems the super suits fit anyone but only a very select few find success portraying them. Of the years best films, ‘First Man’ towers over them all, an extraordinary exploration of Neil Armstrong’s life, the climax of which is being the first man on the moon. Yet the film has been a box office disappointment since being released. Rave reviews, superb direction from Oscar winner Damien Chazelle (‘La La Land’), brilliant performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy with exceptional production design, cinematography, visuals, sound and editing, First Man had it all. Yet, it is deemed a failure at the box office.
Runners Up…Ready Player One, The Incredibles 2, Hal, RBG, Cold War.
One of the more original science fiction films in recent years, Alex Garland directed this eeerie film about an alien life force that causes everything within its range to bond, to alter, their DNA merging with other life. Natalie Portman is excellent as a scientist whose husband went into the shimmer and has emerged incomplete. She goes in with a team to find things even further advanced and the life force altering everything that is alive within thecshimmer, including she and her team. I loved the original idea, the taut, tensioned filled work, and the performances were outstanding, Portman especially.
9. THE HATE YOU GIVE
From the opening scene where around the dining room table, a father teaches his kids how to behave if encountered by a police officer, through to the shocking killing of a teenager, to a teenager girls growth into a responsible activist, this fine film opened my eyes to so much. Set in the world of a black teen, superbly portrayed by Amanda Stenberg, the film explores the deep love of a family living just on the edge of fear, frightened of the local drug Lord, one of their own, and the local police, responsible for the killing. It is a profoundly moving study of racism and a young girls realization of just how life altering prejudice is.
8. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
In a dark, unsettling, career altering performance Melissa MCarthiy is absolutely superb as writer Lee Israel, struggling after a severe case of writers block and brutal depression. Living in a filthy apartment with cat feces throughout the place causing unbearable stench that in her depression Lee does not even notice, her life is bleak making her a toxic presence wherever she goes. To make money she begins falsifying private letters of famous people, selling them for substantial profit, changing her position in life. With her drunken friend, portrayed with delightful self loathing by Richard E. Grant they profit until their undoing, which ruins her. Grant is superb but this is McCarthy’s movie and she owns it completely. Oscar bound.
7. A QUIET PLACE
Modern horror films tend to be slasher or torture porn film that are more about slicing and dicing the human body than horror. It is difficult in today’s world to figure out what can scare an audience, they are so de-sensitized. But John Krasinski directed, wrote and took a supporting role in this knock out of a horror film that is frightening throughout, filled with overwhelming tension, and outstanding performances. An alien race has wiped out most of humanity, vicious meat eating predators attracted to sound. Thus to survive, humans must be quiet, live in near silence. The film opens with a young family on the road back from foraging in town. To their terror, their little boy, four has taken a toy from a store that makes loud noises. He sets it off, and the family freezes in absolute terror. Swiftly, at terrifying speed, one of the creatures bursts from the forest and slaughters the child before his parents can move. The rest of the film has you on edge, waiting for the next burst of noise. Well directed by Krasinski, and the performances are superb. Shockingly great.
What a pleasure to have Spike Lee back, making topical, urgent films the way he did in the eighties. This is his finest film since his astonishing documentary ‘When the Levees Broke’ (2006), which might be the greatest doc ever made. Based on a true story about a black detective in the seventies who managed to convince the Ku Klux Klan he was white and not just a few members but David Duke himself, portrayed with smart intelligence by Topher Grace. Convincing another cop, a white cop to be him in name, to go under cover deep into the Klan. John David Washington, Denzel’s son is outstanding as the cop, but Adam Driver steals the film as his partner. Watch Lee tie the events into today, ending the film with footage of the Virginia riots in 2017. An edgy stunner that might finally bring Lee his first, way overdue Oscar nomination for Best Director. My God, is it possible Lee has never been a Best Director nominee?
5. THE FAVOURITE
The Queen is loopy, a complete whackadoodle with a deep affection for rabbits. Competing for her attentions are Sarah (Rachel Weisz), her current bedmate and the ambitious, scheming Sarah (Emma Stone) more vicious than the other two comnined. The trio deliver three of the finest performances of the year, Stone especially a delight, giving what is arguably her finest performance. Queen Anne is, for lack of a better word, nuts and Colman has great fun in the role but also makes her a sympathetic character in a profoundly fine performance, but let’s be clear, it is a supporting role being promoted as lead. It is a beautiful film to look at, like Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ (2006), and those ladies rock that script. Outstanding, biting with black humour.
4. A STAR IS BORN
Bradley Cooper’s’ accomplishment with ‘A Star is Born’ cannot be ignored. He helped shape and write the script, he directed the film, he cast and fought for Lady Gaga and he worked hard to create his character, a rocker at the end of his career. Speaking with a low voice that rumbles out of him like thunder, people might have missed how incredible Cooper is in the film. Yes, Gaga is luminous, extraordinary, for which Cooper deserves more credit. The music and songs are terrific, Sam Elliott is heartbreaking as Cooper’s brother/ manager, and Andrew Dice Clay is great as her dad, who fancies himself a latter day Sinatra. A beautiful, fully realized love story that will both take your heart soaring, and by the end, shatter it into a million pieces.
Though much will be made, and rightly so of Christian Bales’ stunning transformation into Dick Cheney, watch the whole film, follow the entire film because it is loaded with greatness. Yes, it begins with Bale, who like Lon Chaney again alters his physical being to play Cheney, gaining weight, at lzeast sixty pounds, and wearing make up that turns him into the former Vice President. Bale nails the speech pattern and those eyes, filled with contempt for the very humanity he serves. It is one of the most extraordinary achievements on screen by an actor. Amy Adams is all but fire breathing as Lynne Cheney, the woman behind the man who understood what it was to have power. Sam Rockwell is perfect as George W. Bush, a dim bulb man headed for the Oval Office and only to happen to let Cheney advise him. Tough minded, blackly funny, and constantly alarming. Brilliant.
2. GREEN BOOK
Though some politically correct morons have attacked the film for being old fashioned, do not listen to them. ‘Green Book’ is a lovely, warm film about the beginnings of a lifelong friendship in the sixties between a gifted black musician and a rough and tumble bouncer, each who know nothing of the others worlds. On their trip they teach one another, they forge a bond, and Tony(Viggo Mortensen) easily sees past Don ‘s (Mahershala Ali) colour, culture and homosexuality. No doubt working as a bouncer in the Copa, he has seen it all. What begins as contentious, gradually becomes a very close, lifelong friendship between the least likely of friends. Both actors are Oscar worthy, Mortensen superb as the bruiser who solves issues with his brute power, but is also a loveing father and husband. Ali is elegant as Don, a cultured brilliant man, book smart, but uneducated in ways of the street. The giddy joy Tony takes in turning into a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet…while in Kentucky is worth watching. A lovely, topical film, acted with breathtaking purity.
1. FIRST MAN
Damien Chazelle’s awe inspiring film explores the difficult life of Neil Armstrong, an astronaut in the NASA Space program who in 1969 was the first man on the moon. Chazelle brilliantly decided to show the story from the point of view of the astronauts, Armstrong specifically. A melancholy, sad but fiercely intelligent man, Armstrong was forever impacted by the death of his three year old daughter, which, of course impacted he and his loyal wife. Ryan Gosling gives a great internal performance as Armstrong, while Claire Foy is equally fine as his wife. Where the director and film truly soars is of course during the sequences in space, which are utterly breathtaking. The actual moon landing is extraordinary, as we see what the astronauts saw, the vastness of the moon and its dusty surface, and the moon, hanging in the sky taunting Armstrong, yet growing closer and ever larger. While on the moon, he gazes back at earth allowing the enormity of what they have accomplished to linger for a few second. Yet we know and understand, every single second he spent of that Planet was seared into his mind forevermore. An astounding achievement for Chazelle.
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