The Best & Worst of 2018

Later than planned, here it is: my picks of the best (and worst) films I saw in 2018! Plus, as usual, a list of some major titles I missed, thus explaining why they’re not on my top list (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

I’d hoped to have this up by Sunday morning, but life increasingly got in the way, not helped by it being a more mammoth task than usual. You’d think picking a top 26 would be easier than picking a top 10 (there are more slots!), but you end up with the same dilemmas, just further down the scale. And, of course, a longer list means there are more films to sort into order — I mean, how do you decide which is ‘better’ between a dystopian sci-fi parable, an excoriating relationship drama, and a groundbreaking action movie when you love them all? And that’s just one example…

Anyway, this is what I ended up with. And just a final reminder before we get going: these films are selected from all 261 movies I saw for the first time in 2018, not just new releases.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

This year I watched some films so bad that The Snowman hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps The Snowman is worse than some of these films, and certainly everyone involved in it should’ve done better; but it seems something went wrong during its production (15% of the screenplay wasn’t even shot!), so I feel like those involved can’t be wholly to blame. However, the following five films are (to the best of my knowledge) just bad. So, in alphabetical order…

The Cloverfield Paradox
The third film in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi anthology series was dumped on Netflix at short notice, presumably in the hope people would watch it before hearing how terrible it was. Its sci-fi concepts are internally inconsistent, while the Cloverfield connections were clearly retrofitted with reshoots. [Full review.]

Geostorm
Talking of nonsensical sci-fi, this is even worse — not only is the science stuff implausibly done, it can’t create plausible character logic either. Big dumb popcorn fun shouldn’t be this dumb, because it stops it being fun. [Full review.]

Lost in Space
I avoided this movie for two decades because I heard how bad it was, but then caved when the Netflix reboot came along. Sadly, its reputation is fully deserved — it’s bad in every way you’d care to consider. Even Gary Oldman’s no good in it. And, 20 years on, it also looks incredibly dated.

Phantasm
This is a cult favourite with some people (known as “Phans”, I believe), but I thought it was awful. None of it makes any sense, from the mythology to the way characters behave, and it’s not very well made, either.


Skyline
Another sci-fi movie! I clearly made some poor genre viewing choices in 2018. Anyway, even his is Cloverfield meets Independence Day filtered through the minds of the directorial brothers behind Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and is every inch as terrible as that sounds.



The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

Rather than end the year with a good ol’ top ten, since 2016 I’ve been doing a “top 10%”. This year’s record-obliterating tally was 261, so it’s my biggest top “ten” ever too, with 26 films. Think that’s too many? Feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.

As I said at the start, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2018 are eligible for this ranking, not just new releases. However, I did watch 50 films that made their UK debut in 2018, and nine of them made it into my top 10%, so I’ve noted their ‘2018 rank’ too.

26 April and the Extraordinary World

This French steampunk adventure features gorgeous animation to render a creative alternate history. A sharp turn into pulp sci-fi almost lost me, but it’s too wildly imaginative not to enjoy.

25 Sholay
Probably the most iconic Bollywood movie of all time, Sholay’s 3½-hour running time has something for everyone: it’s an action adventure comedy romance musical thriller!

24 The Lives of Others

This German Cold War tale is tense and thrilling like a spy movie, but emotionally and politically loaded like an art house drama.

2018 #9 The year’s best fourth-wall-breaking superhero comedy. It’s a kid-friendly cartoon, but there are plenty of jokes aimed at adult superhero fans too. [Full review.]

22 Das Boot: The Director’s Cut

A rounded portrait of life and combat beneath the waves, with one of the most effective surround sound mixes I’ve ever heard.

21 Network
A newsroom satire so insightful and timelessly pertinent, you could remake it virtually word-for-word set today.

The blind masseur-cum-swordsman turns babysitter in this atypical but excellent instalment of the long-running series. [Full review.]

Rocky returns to train his dead friend’s son in this spin-off that honours the series’ legacy to emotive effect. [Full review.]

The kind of movie that makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced (and, to be honest, wouldn’t necessarily actually enjoy). [Full review.]

17 Muppet Treasure Island
Our felty friends take to the high seas for one of their best movies, packed with swashing buckles and superb musical numbers.

16 Suspiria

Dario Argento’s seminal shocker was remade this year, which led me to finally see the original. It’s a masterpiece of uneasy atmosphere, with striking colours and music.

2018 #8 Hilariously funny, with some of the best line deliveries of the year (or ever), and cleverer than it has any right to be, this is so good it makes up for the bait-and-switch of the cute dog being prominent on the poster but not in the film. [Full review.]

14 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

2018 #7 Fantastic performances colour in all the shades of grey for some complicated characters in this dark (but, at times, surprisingly funny) drama.

Once eyed by Tarantino for a remake, this instalment sees Ichi attempting to atone for all his killing… only to get drawn into protecting a village from a vicious gang boss. [Full review.]

2018 #6 The Marvel formula, now available in black. But there’s more than that to this film, which plays like an Afrofuturist Bond movie. [Full review.]

11 The Warriors
A gang must fight their way home across a city out to get them in Walter Hill’s actioner, which is thrilling thanks to an almost-mythological simplicity and directness.

2018 #5 Netflix attracted a lot of attention by suddenly announcing and releasing this “choose your own adventure” movie at the end of December. Unlike when they pulled that stunt in February (see my worst movies list, above), Bandersnatch merited the hype. It could’ve been a gimmick, but, in the hands of Charlie Brooker and the Black Mirror team, content mirrors form, and we’re treated to a paranoid sci-fi story that couldn’t’ve been told as well any other way. [Full review.]

2018 #4 Spider-Men other than Peter Parker have been a fixture of comic books for yonks now, but here they make it to the big screen, accompanied by a powerful message about who can be a hero. Realised with startlingly inventive animation, it’s destined to be a genre classic. [Full review.]

8
Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie is best known for its bootcamp first half, with the abusive drill instructor played by R. Lee Ermey, who brought his experience of having done the job for real. Nonetheless, I was impressed to find the second half (set in Vietnam itself) was equally affecting.

2018 #3 I’d rather gone off the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in recent years, and a drama about a London fashion house in the ’50s didn’t particularly appeal either… but blow me down with a feather, the combination has produced this work of exquisite beauty. Maybe not “beauty” in the traditional sense, but as a character study of two very particular souls, with more than a touch of Gothic melodrama about its style and story, it’s my kind of beauty. [Full review.]

2018 #2 This year, the superhero movie went full comic book, with both Spider-Verse and this bringing the storytelling style of a team-up event series to the big screen. In the case of Infinity War, it was the (beginning of a) culmination of ten years’ work that has revolutionised the blockbuster movie business. But even leaving that aside, what Marvel produced here is a film with a scope, scale, and narrative style not quite like any other. [Full review.]

5
Heathers

The darkness that’s barely concealed beneath the pleasant veneer of American high schools is exposed in this pitch-black comedy, which mixes violent teen wish fulfilment with a certain degree of societal satire to boundary-pushing effect. It’s not as transgressively shocking 30 years on as it might’ve been back in the ’80s, but it’s still so very.

Yes, I only got round to seeing La La Land this year. The Best Picture winner that wasn’t, you can certainly see why everyone thought the tradition-led Academy Awards would pick this as their winner — it is, in part, a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals. But the songs are better than just pastiches, there’s a realism to the storytelling and performances that’s more modern, and the whole film sings with the joy of moviemakers dedicated to producing something beautiful. [Full review.]

If La La Land is about beauty, Snowpiercer is about human ugliness. Its setup may stretch credulity (following an apocalyptic event, the remnants of humanity all live on one long train that constantly circles the globe), but just go with it and you’re treated to an insightful commentary/allegory about class divides and interdependence, wrapped up in a pulse-pounding action thriller with the relentless forward motion of… well, you know what. [Full review.]

2
Before Midnight

The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy catches up with Celine and Jesse in middle age, after years of togetherness, with two kids (plus his kid from a previous relationship) and a host of problems bubbling under the surface. Midnight is notably different from the lovey-dovey-ness of Sunrise and Sunset, but it’s a powerful examination of the tension in a long-term relationship, and all the more so because we’ve connected with these characters on and off in real-time. The first two leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; this is more like being punched in the gut. And yet, together, they are one of the greatest trilogies ever made. (I really hope they do a fourth one, though.)

2018 #1 I have the whole history of cinema to choose from, but, once again, a new release tops my top ten. Sometimes, with hindsight, I wonder about my picks for #1; other times, I’m pleased to see I was right many years later, as my top film stands the test of time. I suspect this will be one of the latter, because the lengths to which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and, especially, star Tom Cruise have gone to show us something we’ve never seen done before, and to entertain us with cleverly conceived and astoundingly executed action sequences, is really above and beyond the call of duty. It’s resulted in one of the best action movies ever made. As the first film I felt compelled to see twice on the big screen for nearly a decade, not to mention that I listened to over six hours of podcast interviews with McQuarrie as he dissected it every which way, there couldn’t really be any other pick for my film of the year. [Full review.]


As ever, there were lots of films I liked a lot that there simple wasn’t room for (my original long list, which I add to throughout the year, had 93 films on it). If I just listed a bunch more films I liked that would be kinda cheating (why not just do a longer list?), but, nonetheless, there are a few I’d like to highlight for specific reasons.

While compiling my top 10%, I hit on two kinds of movie that I felt should be eliminated from consideration but that I still really wanted to mention in some way. In other years, any or all of these films might’ve made the “best” list, but it was a tough year and something had to go! Well, that’s exactly what “honourable mentions” are for, right?

The first are movies that were not traditionally “good”, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of them; what some people might call “guilty pleasures”, I guess. In particular I’m thinking about Gods of Egypt (my review explains all about that) and the 1975 Zorro, which was an entertainingly chaotic romp. Also Happy Death Day, which I really enjoyed as a tonal throwback to turn-of-the-millennium teen horror movies, and Benji, which is a young kids’ film through and through, but with a loveable doggy star to ‘aww’ over.

The latter crosses over somewhat into the second category: films that were only fairly good overall, but I bloody loved one element of them — so, Benji in Benji, for example. Also: Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and all the action sequences in The Villainess. If I did lists like characters or scenes of the year, they’re the kind of the thing that would be right near the top.

Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, all of which have already been mentioned in this post, one way or another. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): La La Land, Black Panther, Happy Death Day, Avengers: Infinity War, The Warriors, Sanjuro, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Christopher Robin, Heathers, Suspiria, Creed, and Snowpiercer.

Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned 5-star ratings in the year. There were 39 in total during 2018, including 22 that made it into my top 26. Those were Avengers: Infinity War, Before Midnight, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Black Panther, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut, Call Me by Your Name, Creed, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, La La Land, The Lives of Others, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Network, Phantom Thread, Sholay, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Warriors, and Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage. The remaining 17 were The 400 Blows, Big Fish, Compulsion, The Director and the Jedi, The Elephant Man, The Hunt, Laura, Paper Moon, Princess Mononoke, Ran, Sanjuro, Scarface, The Shape of Water, Strangers on a Train, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, They Shall Not Grow Old, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Plus I also gave full marks when I wrote about rewatches of Blade Runner 2049 (in 3D) and Superman: The Movie.


I watched 39 films from 2018 during 2018, which leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I’ve not yet seen. Therefore, as is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen which are listed as 2018 on IMDb. That means some of these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet, but that’s the way this goes. (I have included one film that’s listed as 2017, because it only had a handful of festival screenings that year. But there was another that I was going to put here which was actually released in several countries at the end of 2017, so I decided it shouldn’t be allowed. That was, ironically, You Were Never Really Here. Oh how I laughed at the accidental pun. Now you can too, readers.)

As always, the films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. There are many more I want to see that I could have included, but I always make some attempt to include a spread of styles, genres, successes, and failures.

Aquaman
Creed II
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Sicario 2: Soldado
Suspiria
BlacKkKlansman
Early Man
Isle of Dogs
The Predator
Skyscraper
Venom
Aquaman
Bad Times at the El Royale
Bird Box
BlacKkKlansman
Bumblebee
Cold War
Crazy Rich Asians
Creed II
Early Man
Eighth Grade
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Green Book
The Grinch
Halloween
The Happytime Murders
Hereditary
Holmes & Watson
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Johnny English Strikes Again
Leave No Trace
Love, Simon
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mandy
Mary Poppins Returns
The Meg
Ocean’s 8
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Peter Rabbit
The Predator
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Rampage
Roma
Searching
Sicario 2: Soldado
A Simple Favour
Skyscraper
A Star is Born
Suspiria
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Tomb Raider
Upgrade
Venom
Vice
Widows
A Wrinkle in Time


Whew! That’s that over for another year. (Well, aside from the insane number of reviews I still have left to post…)

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La La Land (2016)

2018 #10
Damien Chazelle | 128 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.55:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English | 12 / PG-13

La La Land

Oscar statue2017 Academy Awards
14 nominations — 6 wins

Won: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Song (City of Stars), Best Production Design.
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Song (Audition (The Fools Who Dream)).

Yes, I am very, very, exceptionally late to the party here. For example: whenever I watch a film I log it on Letterboxd, then have a scan through the ratings my ‘friends’ have given it, whether that’s just one other person or a few dozen. This had by far the highest number of ‘friends’ who’d already seen it that I’ve ever encountered. And it was on Letterboxd that I first encountered La La Land, in fact, when it started screening at festivals in the latter half of 2016 and everyone was raving about it. It was a must-see long before the Oscar buzz started to build, and obviously that only intensified the film’s reputation. It’s a lot of anticipation to heap upon one movie. Fortunately, La La Land can bear it.

For anyone who’s even later to it than me, it’s the story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who encounter each other randomly, initially hate each other, but fall in love. Don’t worry, I haven’t spoilt the ending — there’s more story beyond that typical romance plotline. And much of it is told through the mediums of song and dance.

Watching the best picture...

La La Land isn’t “kind of a musical”, or “I suppose you could call it a musical”, or “a film with songs, a bit like a musical” — it is a Musical. And while the leads can’t really sing, that doesn’t stop there being some beltingly good numbers in it — though, for my money, the best either (a) don’t involve the leads at all, or (b) don’t involve singing. Coincidentally, two of those are the set pieces that bookend the film. The opener is a colourful stunner, a bright and breezy singalongathon on a gridlocked freeway, made even more enjoyable by being realised in a (faked) single-take. Related thought: I feel like we need to bring back done-for-real oners — people are faking them too easily and too often nowadays. Though, saying that, another particularly joyful sequence is the dance routine that adorns the poster. Its success lies in part with Gosling and Stone’s well-performed moves, but also, like the opening number, with how well shot it is. I assumed it was done on a set with some CGI’d backgrounds and probably some invisible cuts, but no, it was achieved on location, the shoot squeezed into the real ‘magic hour’ — actually a half-hour window — and is, I believe, a genuine single take.

Now, the other bookend is (obviously) the ending. Well, I think they actually label it an epilogue, because its events occur after the main story; but an epilogue is an addendum, isn’t it?, and I reckon this final sequence is as vital as any other part of the film. It’s how the story really ends, and it’s an all-timer of a finale. That comes both from the tone it takes (no spoilers here, but see my Letterboxd comment) but also the sequence itself, a stunning marriage of visuals, soundtrack, and meaning — and I say this as someone who (for a pertinent example) disliked An American in Paris specifically because of its extended ballet bit at the end. Damien Chazelle well earned his Best Director Oscar.

Finale

Speaking of which, I must mention what went down at the Oscars. Well, not so much the snafu itself (though that made for great telly), but the ultimate result. I think there can be little doubt that Moonlight is a more significant film for our times, for all kinds of reasons, and it’s certainly a quality work of filmmaking in its own right, but La La Land is a more purely enjoyable cinematic experience, with just enough grit in the mix to stop it being too sappy. I don’t resent Moonlight its victory, but I’d’ve voted for this.

5 out of 5

The 2018 Academy Awards are handed out tonight from 1am GMT.

La La Land placed 4th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

Say Hello to My Little Monthly Update for January 2018

Let’s start the new year with a bang…

Say hello to my little friend


#1 Bright (2017)
#2 The Narrow Margin (1952)
#3 My Life as a Courgette (2016), aka Ma vie de Courgette
#4 The 400 Blows (1959), aka Les Quatre Cents Coups
#5 The Purge (2013)
#6 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
#7 The Love Punch (2013)
#8 The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
#9 The Man from Earth: Holocene (2017)
#10 La La Land (2016)
#11 Zatoichi on the Road (1963), aka Zatôichi kenka-tabi
#12 The Boss Baby 3D (2017)
#13 Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), aka Gojira: Kaijū Wakusei
#14 Scarface (1983)
#15 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 3D (2017)
La La Land

Scarface

.


  • 15 new films this month gets 2018 off to a strong start. It’s equal to the 2017 average of 14.5, which bodes well for another good year.
  • It’s ahead of the January average (previously 11.2, now 11.5), though ranks joint third of all Januarys: it’s the same tally as last year, only slightly behind 2015’s 16, but 2016 retains the all-time best January with 20.
  • The Boss Baby was the first film I watched from 2017’s 50 Unseen. Did not expect that!
  • This month’s Blindspot film: on the rare occasion I watch a film from the nouvelle vague I always expect to find it irritating and pretentious, but there are some I’ve liked — Breathless, for example. Now joining that list is another of the movement’s best-known texts, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Al Pacino stars in Brian De Palma’s ’80s epic about a Cuban immigrant who’s a whizz at designing winter neckwear, ScarfAce.



The 32nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There were quite a few films I really liked this month (by the time the reviews are in, four will receive full marks), but when I sat down to consider this award there was a clear victor for me. I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to get round to it (I first noticed it when it was getting raves at festival screenings in the latter half of 2016), and I’m not sure which stage of backlash we’re on at this point (so I don’t know if I’m currently ‘meant’ to like it or not), but I loved La La Land.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There was nothing I’d consider an outright stinker this month (yes, I enjoyed The Boss Baby and King Arthur), so it falls to what I consider the most disappointing, basically. I’m afraid that has to be The Man from Earth: Holocene. After spending so long waiting for it (I supported the Kickstarter campaign back in 2014), the end result didn’t live up to the original. Perhaps it never could have, but here we are.

Worst Title Translation from French of the Month
The French title of François Truffaut’s debut film, Les Quatre Cents Coups, does indeed literally translate into English as The 400 Blows, but that’s not really what it means. It’s a (slight) abbreviation of a French idiom, faire les quatre cents coups, which has a meaning equivalent to “to raise hell”. So in English, The 400 Blows sounds like a pretty meaningless title once you’ve seen the film; something like Raising Hell, on the other hand…

Worst Title Translation from Japanese of the Month
The fifth film in Japan’s long-running samurai series is called Zatôichi kenka-tabi in its original language, which translates as Zatoichi’s Fighting Journey. Suggests some action, doesn’t it? Instead, in English it’s known as Zatoichi on the Road, which is both less exciting and also thoroughly generic — it could be the title of pretty much any Zatoichi movie. (Not that Fighting Journey is that much more specific, to be honest.)

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A clear victor this month (it had five times as many hits as the post in second place), and for the first time in a quarter of a year it’s actually a film review too: The Man from Earth: Holocene.



I didn’t bother to furnish my Rewatchathon with an introductory post this year because the concept remains fundamentally the same as 2017 (that intro is here). However, because reaching 52 felt like a bit of a scramble towards the end, I’ve lowered my sights ever so slightly to 50. It’s a rounder number anyhow.

First off the block, then…

#1 Dunkirk (2017)
#2 Die Hard (1988)
#3 The Man from Earth (2007)
#4 Die Hard 2 (1990)

That’s a bang-on-target start — a lot better than last year, when I only rewatched one film in January.

Believe it or not, Die Hard and Die Hard 2 are the only Die Hard movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve been meaning to get to Die Hard with a Vengeance for absolutely ages, but for a while have also been wanting to rewatch the first two first. Well, that’s done now, so hopefully #3 will follow soon. And then #4 and #5? Perhaps. I mean, I watched Die Hard 2 for the first time in 2008 and I’m only now watching With a Vengeance, so maybe I won’t see the fifth one until 2038…


The MCU is back, in black.