Been a hot minute, hasn’t it? Took a bit of a break from this creative endeavor, due to life events, work pressures, and other semi-creative endeavors. But I want to make sure I return to this. There were some fantastic movies that came out in the last few months of 2018 that I didn’t get a chance to write about, so perhaps here I’ll be able to gush about how much I enjoyed them.
10. The Night Comes For Us
The Night Comes For Us was something of a surprise for me, though it really shouldn’t have been. The Raid set the bar when it comes to modern action movies, being one of the best ever made, and all the marketing for The Night Comes For Us honestly made it seem like it was going to be a The Raid-lite. What it actually turned out to be was a film close enough to The Raid to be comparable, but different enough to stand on it’s own. Starring Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais, two of the main stars of The Raid, it sets out a basic plot of triad revenge, going at it with stylized brutality that is simply a blast to watch. The action sequences and fight scenes are choreographed and shot so expertly you’d think that Timo Tjahjanto had made a hundred movies like this, and watching Taslim and Uwais fight on camera will always be an exciting prospect for me. I ended up liking this movie so much more than I thought I would, and I’m looking forward to watching it again soon. I sincerely hope that the success of this movie signifies that we will be seeing a lot more creativity and artistry from Indonesia in the future. It is currently available on Netflix for those interested.
9. Mission Impossible: Fallout
How is it even possible that the sixth movie in an action franchise is the best one? By all laws of the universe, Mission Impossible should have devolved into a generic sludge by this point, but through sheer willpower, the opposite has occurred. Over the course of two decades, the strengths of the franchise have been honed and carefully constructed to create Fallout, perhaps one of the greatest action movies ever made, with Tom Cruise at helm, embracing his aging physique and pushing it as hard as he can to deliver to us a heart-pounding thrill ride that stops for a breath in only the briefest of moments. It is full of memorable characters, multiple engaging antagonists, and action sequence after action sequence of death-defying stunts. Having seen it twice on the big-screen, I can say that it is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a movie theater, and it deserves so much recognition for being a shining example of how good a well-made action film can really be.
8. You Were Never Really Here
If I had to pick one word to describe You Were Never Really Here, I’d have to choose “haunting”. It frames itself in the beginning perhaps as a painfully realistic take on a movie like Taken, but soon descends into even darker territory than even that suggests. There are moments of levity in it, but they serve the purpose of making the painful moments hurt even more. It’s an ultra-violent movie that robs the audience of any sort of satisfaction, cutting away from the actual violence itself and only showing it’s gruesome aftermath. Joaquin Phoenix has proven himself recently as perhaps one of the finest actors of this generation, and here he earns that title, bringing a gravitas and character to his role that no one else really could. His ability to disappear into a role, combined with Ramsay’s uncompromising gaze makes for one of the most memorable movies of this year.
7. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse
Into The Spider-Verse surprised just about everyone I think. At first glance it appears to simply be a cash-grab for Sony as they attempt to figure out how they can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the Spider-Man license. But instead of that, we get a movie that truly gets to the heart of why Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s most beloved characters. Since his comic debut several years back, Miles Morales has proven himself to be a worthy successor to the Spider-Man mantle, but mainstream audiences haven’t gotten a chance to really see what he’s all about. In Into The Spider-Verse, finally we get his cinematic debut, and it is astonishingly beautiful. This is definitely the best animated movie of the year, and might be one of the most well-animated movies of the last several years. Sony Animation’s willingness to experiment here with such an important film really paid off, with the movie being full of kaleidoscopic, trippy color schemes, a fantastic soundtrack, and really really great character building. I cannot recommend this enough, especially on the big screen. Into The Spider-Verse is something very special, and I hope that it launches Miles Morales into the level of popularity and recognition that he deserves. He is the Spider-Man of the new millennia.
6. Eighth Grade
I’m noticing a trend here, where the movies that surprised me the most are the ones that I ended up liking the most. Eighth Grade falls into that same camp, because to be completely frank, I’ve never found Bo Burnham to be that funny. I initially dismissed this, thinking that it looked like a Lady Bird lite, something of a similar vein that wouldn’t be able to capture the unique voice that Lady Bird had. How very, very wrong I was. Eighth Grade manages to capture the essence of being an eighth grade girl so well that film critics were stunned that this was actually directed by a 20-something male. According to Burnham, Elsie Fisher’s voice was key in the direction of the movie, and it really shows. It captures the awkwardness in a way that doesn’t dismiss it or only play it for laughs, but validates it and helps us empathize with a character that many of us are very, very different from. It is just such a wonderful film, full of surprises, big laughs, and a lot of heart. It’s weight is amplified by a few key scenes which ground the film in the somewhat grim reality of being a teenage girl in 2018, but it never lets itself get dragged down into darkness or despondence, choosing to end on a very positive and realistic note. It’s a worthwhile watch, especially if you think you won’t relate to the main character at all. That fact alone means that this was made for you.
5. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson movies occupy a very special place in my heart, and in a lot of people’s hearts as well I’m sure. He has an insanely distinctive style of filmmaking, and regularly works with the same people over and over. He breaks all the rules of how to direct a movie and does it with so much style that it becomes substance. Isle of Dogs is no different, being his second foray into the world of stop-motion after Fantastic Mr. Fox. Talking about the animation alone would do it justice, as it is a beautiful, meticulously put together piece of movie magic, but even underneath the gorgeous surface, Isle of Dogs tells us a story that each of us can connect to in some way. Really it is a love letter to the relationship that humans have with their pets, one with much more depth than the sappy and generic movies that seem to come out every few years. It is a tale from the pets perspective that details what their lives must be like under our care, and shows us that despite the fact that we have innumerable flaws, our dogs will always love us and be drawn to us no matter what. It is a funny, moving, and poetic film with a pure-hearted message at it’s core, which is something that 2018 needed very badly.
A flawed masterpiece. That’s how I will always see Annihilation, Alex Garland’s sophomore effort after the fantastic Ex Machina. It has so many great ideas, so many iconic scenes, so many moments of pure brilliance, yet it is all weighed down by a lack of characterization. It lands itself at my 4th favorite movie of the year though, simply due to it’s audacity and ambition. It is full of unconventional beauty, startling horror, thoughtful quiet melancholy, and an ending that evokes the feeling of shock and awe that no film has quite pulled off to this degree in a long time. Garland shows us here his potential, perhaps a glimpse at what is to come from his mind as he gains more experience directing pieces like this. I really believe that we will look back on Annihilation as a herald of Garland’s genius, his inevitable place in the pantheon of sci-fi greats. For now, it is a collection of ideas that are put together in a way that is good enough to satisfy, but suggests a potential for so much more.
Hereditary is a horror movie of a different caliber and tone than anything I’ve ever watched before. Granted, I haven’t seen a lot of horror classics like The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby, but in Hereditary I found something that I hadn’t encountered before: explicit hostility towards the viewers. Many horror films seek to shock and frighten, and sometimes even truly scare people on a deep level, but nothing I have seen has the feel that this movie does. It seems like it’s trying to hurt you, and for some reason this is what makes me love it so much. It is unapologetic in it’s exploration of evil, and yet I’ve actually seen it twice this year. I wrote up a more full review of it that will be more in depth and better worded than this little blurb, but I just had to put this on the list. Hereditary is an incredibly strong debut from the director, and the amount of restraint in some parts coupled with the lack of restraint in others, culminates into an experience that I’m sure few people will ever be able to forget, whether they want to or not.
I just barely managed to catch Burning in theaters, unfortunately even with a number of local theaters around me, foreign films don’t get shown (I still haven’t seen Shoplifters), but I’m glad I was able to see this one, as it ended up being my 2nd favorite of the year. It’s a movie that doesn’t so much transcend genre as stretch the limits of it, sometimes appearing to be a romance, sometimes a thriller, sometimes something much darker. And primarily it’s a film that has faith in it’s audience, never ever explicitly stating the thing that we all come to understand. Too many movies just put words in the mouths of their characters, explaining things out loud to the audience to make sure that everyone gets it. Burning isn’t concerned about making sure that the audience understands what’s happening, and because of that, it lends itself much more weight. There will always be a small twinge of possibility that the suspicions of the main character are untrue, and it is that small twinge that follows you out of the movie, and gets you thinking long after the credits roll. Burning is, ironically, a very slow burn, an escalation over 2 and a half hours that reaches it’s boiling point in the final few moments of the movie, and leaves you aghast, angry, and confused. This movie was my introduction to Lee Chang-Dong as a director, and now all I want to do is watch more of his films. Burning is a masterpiece, short and simple.
What can I say about Mandy? In a way it feels like a strange concentration and culmination of various niche sub-cultures that manages to be even more than a sum of it’s parts. The presence of Nicolas Cage in this film elevates it somehow beyond parody, showcasing his talent and cementing his legacy as the most unique actor of our day. Who would have thought that Nicolas Cage would show up twice in my “Favorites of 2018” list? When the year started, I would never have believed it, yet here we are. Mandy channels Cage’s eccentricity and gives him a vehicle to show off his talent, and when combined with Cosmatos beautiful, stunning use of color and framing, it gives birth to something that transcends genre and classification. It is an ode to the goofball horror and action of the 80s, yet dares to take itself seriously. It is a heavy metal album cover come to life, dripping in influences from other genres of metal and bands like Yes. It is a slow, thoughtful, deliberately paced film that flings itself into overdrive as the title shows up over an hour into the movie. Mandy is unashamed, and because of that, it becomes what it so clearly wants to be: an instant cult classic that will be revered for decades to come, and will always be seen as evidence of Nicolas Cage’s talent and appeal. Mandy is my film of the year, because it is an experience I will never forget, made with a level of artistry that we barely deserve. Even if it were not all of the things I mentioned, it is a technical marvel, every frame being absolutely gorgeous in a sometimes serene, sometimes terrifying way. It is bold, it is funny, it is serious, it is gory, it is outrageous, and it is beautiful. I’ll be watching Mandy over and over for the rest of my life I am sure.