2018 Film In Review

I took a long time to finish this, but I figured it was better to get it done than leave it to die in my drafts so…

I haven’t done one of these for a while, but it can be a lot of fun to document film experiences from a year in one post – even if this won’t be nearly as comprehensive as my (slightly OTT) post for 2015. As with that, all this goes by UK release dates.

First of all, I’ve contributed a few end-of-year lists for The Digital Fix:

  • I wrote about my top 5 films here, including Widows, Blindspotting, Annihilation, Black Panther and Duck Butter. Not easy choices to make.
  • I spoke about Better Call Saul and Atlanta (my favourite currently-running shows) as well as The Good Place and Daredevil, for our End Of Year Television Review
  • Starred on TDF’s Top Films of 2018 podcast, where I focused on two picks: Annihilation and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

As always you can find my film diary on Letterboxd, where I’ve also made a number of lists that I update over time. There’s also my Best Films of 2018 there too.

As per that site, here a some stats that I kept track of to monitor the diversity of what I watch:

Total Watches: 113
Seen For the First Time: 90
Re-Watches: 23
Visits to the Cinema: 42
Released In 2018: 37
Animations: 5
Not in the English Language: 11
Non-Male Lead: 16
Non-White Lead: 22
Non-Male Directed: 10
Non-White Directed: 31

Admittedly, this list is reductive in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with, but I think it’s worth noting so I can see the how much of what experience I see and how I can improve on that.

And now some awards…

Best Lead:

Shoplifters – Sakura Andô

Andô isn’t necessarily posited as the lead character of Shoplifters, but as the film continues, its clearest protagonist fades into the group. Amidst this powerful ensemble, Andô is the standout, as a hilarious, genuine woman marginalised even as she tries to make amends for others misdeeds. Her sense of humour, tinged with melancholy, is possibly my favourite thing about one of the year’s best films.

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Hereditary – Toni Collette

If anything, Collette deserves a top spot for bravery alone. Her performance is a subtle, quiet one, until it needs to be loud. Annie goes through a hell of a lot in this movie, but rather than going the easy route of allowing her character to be numb or have an Oscar cry, things get ugly, and Collette’s intense performance is a risk that more than pays off.

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Disobedience – Rachel Weisz & Rachel McAdams

These two have chemistry, but the way they arrive to the point where their relationship is believable is a little unexpected. It takes the film a little while to reveal what their past connection is in the first place, and why these two find themselves in their particular surroundings, but before you know, you know. It’s in their mannerisms, glances, passing touches. When their passion builds to a crescendo, it’s powerful stuff, and all because of the specificity of their individual performances.

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Blindspotting – Daveed Diggs & Raphael Casal

I knew that Daveed Diggs was funny from his appearances in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Black-ish, but he knocks it out in the park here. He’s a broad performer in a lot of ways, but it pays off, from his clear deep understanding of the character he wroteto the sudden explosions of rap. Casal handles repressed rage in a fascinating way, taking what could be a reactionary supporting part and elevates it.

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Leave No Trace – Thomasin McKenzie

For someone born this side of the millennium, Thomasin McKenzie shouldn’t be this good, but here we are. Going up against Ben Foster, whose character necessarily has a lot more to draw from, she had to do a lot to stand out, something she passed with flying colours. Her performance was so idiosyncratic in some ways that I’m curious to see where she goes next. Last time I felt like this about an up-and-coming actress, it was Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, which isn’t bad company to be in.

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You Were Never Really Here – Joaquin Phoenix

It’s a pretty safe bet by this point that Phoenix will throw himself deep into a role, bringing the intensity even when the film around him doesn’t match his tempo. Pairing him with director Lynne Ramsay is a godsend, as she brings out the best of him, bringing us further into his headspace before he rattles the cage a little. This role feels tailor-made for him, and yet he still manages to surprise.

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The Favourite – Emma Stone

I’ve always liked Emma Stone, but not exactly been so enthralled that I saw her as hitting the big leagues. She was always good, but still, always still very set in her own mannerisms. But here, with a great script and a talented director behind her, she seems like a fresh new actor. Her physical presence is overpowering here, whether it’s how much she throws herself into slapstick comedy or the more nuanced, intense drama that follows, I’m looking forward to her diversifying the movies she stars in soon.

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Best Supporting:

Bad Times at the El Royale – Jeff Bridges & Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo is new to me and, as of 2018, new to feature films too. But she’s absolutely astounding in both her roles in this year – but definitely gets more to do here than she does in Widows (though she is very very good there). She gets to showcase her singing talents from Broadway playing a singer here, but throughout the (sadly, slightly uneven) film, she conveys so much through these performances, showing a rare prowess over her expression and movement that makes her one to look out for.

Bridges, on the other hand, is playing a character not unlike roles we’ve seen him in before, and doesn’t exactly bring a fresh style to his depiction of a ‘priest’ with a troubled past. What he does bring, is a desperation and pathos that hits so hard, you’ll remember why exactly he’s such a big name talent in the first place.

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Leave No Trace – Ben Foster

It’s kind of criminal at this point that I still haven’t gotten around to seeing Hell or High Water yet, since whenever I see this actor he impresses. He’s got a lot of heavy stuff to work with, but as always he plays it slow and subtle, and it pays off.

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Widows – Daniel Kaluuya

After his Black Mirror episode, we knew Kaluuya was good at what he does. After Get Out, we knew he was definitely good at what he does. But after Widows, I’m certain that he’s one of the best (relatively) new performers we’ve got going. There’s something so vicious, unsettling and just plain scary about his intimidating yet one-track-minded villain, that I just couldn’t get him out of my head.

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Sorry to Bother You – Armie Hammer

He might not be quite as threatening as Kaluuya’s antagonist, but Hammer’s hedonistic, cocaine-fuelled amoral CEO is a bright spark in Boots Riley’s satire of modern capitalism, taking an oddball comedy and launching it across the threshold into absurdist mania. It’s a small and shallow role in a lot of ways, but Hammer is so good at this sort of thing, it’s a wonder he doesn’t get these scenery-chewing roles more often.

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The Favourite – Olivia Colman

Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look proved that Colman had comedic chops a long time ago, but I really took notice of her in her heart-wrenching performance in Tyrannosaur, the film for which I believe she definitely deserved to be showered in awards. Here, she’s making the most of both sides, her world-class tantrums bringing the house down in laughter, before her utter depression grounds her in bitter reality. Maybe the best performance of the year, going just by how masterfully she controls her own micro-expressions – in between the melodrama.

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Best Scenes:

Shoplifters – The Bath

This wonderful movie is, essentially, about how we can forge our own connections and find our own makeshift families. Here, Nobuyo compares her scars to Yuri’s, emblems of past traumas, hoping to teach her newfound daughter that she is deserving of love, and that her pain is over.

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Widows Basketball Court

There are a number of scenes I could have chosen from this movie where style and meaning work in tandem, but as far as all-out power goes, this is the one. Sometimes all you need is one scene to relax you as an audiencemember, and know you’re in good hands for the rest of the runtime – and this is it.

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Hereditary Support Group

Director Ari Aster knows that this whole scene is about Collete’s performance, so let’s it breathe, while leaving the rest of the extras in the scene framing her in a slightly-unnerving way. For more on what this scene could mean and it’s function in the narrative, I mention it in my write-up for the film on Film Inquiry.

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First Man Gemini 8

Gemini 8 Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic didn’t quite stick in my mind enough to be one of my favourites of the year, but it was excellently directed and has incredible sound editing. The scene in which the Gemini 8 spacecraft spins out of control is incredibly tense, and effectively puts you in the astronauts’ shoes during this dangerous and pivotal moment in the program.

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verseMiles’ Leap of Faith

Despite the fact its best shot made it to the trailer, Miles’ moment of truth works wonders precisely because of the film that has preceded it. The film has such momentum that you start to forget it’s actually an origin story – and one of the few superhero movies that makes the entire movie about this creation, rather than a prologue or side-note.

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Black Panther – Killmonger in the Ancestral Plane

This movie was special in plenty of ways, but I think this is the scene where Ryan Coogler made himself known as the perfect choice for it. The visuals alone, as we see Erik return to his Oakland childhood home with the purple skies of the ancestral plane outside his window, is outstanding. Yet as a scene, it accomplishes so much. Necessary exposition is weaved seamlessly into a scene in which Erik is given closure with his father and we approach the deepest root of his pain and understand where it will drive him. Brown and Jordan are both incredible here, in a scene where the tale of Wakanda collides with the story of America.

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Annihilation The Lighthouse

It’s extremely rare to find a sci-fi movie that approaches the unknowable that actually lives up to the mystery at its centre. Somehow, director Alex Garland pulled it off, with the thematic threads culminating in a terrifying finish. The imagery here that is just astoundingly beautiful and unnerving in equal measure, and it doesn’t hurt that the score is incredible. If the movie ended here, it would have been more than enough.

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Best Soundtracks

These are original soundtracks, and I’ll include a YouTube link to a favourite song, or the whole thing if I can’t decide.

Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson

Both Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack and the official score are absolutely incredible, but the way in which Göransson weaves character and location themes throughout makes each track immediately identifiable to an iconic moment.

You Were Never Really Here – Jonny Greenwood

As soon as the movie started, I knew it was Greenwood. His scores are pretty solid at taking the top spot each year, and this one is a serious contender – maybe one of his best. From tense off-beat percussion to guitar-plucking Radiohead cycles to bass-driven synthwave, this works as well as its own experiment as it works in the film.

Annihilation – Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

There’s a lot on offer in this score, whether it’s the quiet guitar of the exploration of the shimmer, mounting tension in Ambulance Chase, or the overall atmosphere brought by some of the more bare-bones tracks. The Alien is 12 minutes of wild shit that will bring you back to that scene.

Leave No Trace Dickon Hinchcliffe

These sombre, minimalistic compositions aren’t flashy, but they mine a lot of raw emotion out of quiet arrangements of harmonica, violins and guitar.

 

Blindspotting

The music in the film was incredible, but the full soundtrack is far larger – with some genuinely great hip hop to extend the musical experience the movie brings.

Disobedience

While this score is conventional and not necessarily that memorable (much like the film), it is nonetheless powerful to sit and sink into.

Hold the Dark

This Tangerine Dream-like score has more to say than the full feature in many ways, and is a large reason why it’s best scenes work so well.

Favourite Articles

This list will be updated once I get a chance to properly compile what I’ve read this year and catch up on my extremely long to watch list.

Wesley Morris | Does ‘Three Billboards’ Say Anything About America?

“We’ve been seduced and bullied into thinking of the awards season as a process of politics […] So it’s only natural that we tend to think of best picture as a kind of vote in which, while average people have no say, we’re all invested in the symbolism and catharsis of the outcome.”

Film Crit Hulk | The Two Crucial Filmmaking Elements Causing All Your Movie Feuds

“You don’t need to put up walls and can just let yourself attach to the very idea of being manipulated, because that’s not really what it is. It’s communication. And I think it’s so important because the alternative is to keep disappearing further and further down the proverbial rabbit hole of worshiping “cinematic vagueness” in an ironic effort to connect by not feeling manipulated at all.”

Emily Yoshida | What It’s Like to Watch Isle of Dogs As a Japanese Speaker

“Perspectives can vary wildly between Asian-Americans and immigrated Asians, and what feels like tribute to some feels like opportunism to others.”

Siddhant Adlakha | How ‘Iron Man’ Built the Foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

“The US military’s role in the film’s foreign policy backdrop is glaring omission, with American proxy wars contextualized as a product of private capitalism as opposed to any government involvement whatsoever, an unfortunate choice regardless of its reasoning given the film’s otherwise direct articulations of what militarism looks like on the surface.”

Priscilla Page | Wake Up Joe: On You Were Never Really Here

“For Joe, violence isn’t cathartic, redemptive, or curative, it’s poison that only makes him sicker.”

Shane Snow | The Incredible Irony of James Gunn’s ‘Guardians’ Firing

“As a society that celebrates those who go into the Abyss and come back, we ought to ask ourselves: Do we really believe a person who says or does awful things in the past can change?”

Angelica Jade Bastién | How Annihilation Nails the Complex Reality of Depression

“These themes ripple through every facet of Annihilation — the tremendous performances, the dream-like story, and the fracturing, baroque swampland the characters trudge through, searching for oblivion and serenity in equal measure.”

Siddhant Adlakha | ‘Burning’ is a Haunting Mystery About the Stories Men Tell and the Lives They Destroy

“Whatever the truths of Ben and Hae-mi’s lives, Jong-su isn’t privy to them; he isn’t so much trying to solve a mystery as he is simply working his way into a story that isn’t his, struggling to make order out of the chaos engulfing his very being.”
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