Best Films of 2018 (20-11)

Now that we are in full swing of the 2019 films, it’s time to reflect on 2018 and here I share my Top 20 Films of the year. I know that I am very late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. This was generally quite a weak year for film, with many of the big hitters disappointing. A lot of the films that I expected to be great were disappointing and a number of films that were unheard of or those that I initially had little faith in were excellent. 

Although my Mid-Year Report only included ten films, this list will include 20 films with some honourable mentions. The rank order has changed a little from the Mid-Year Report on account of rewatching a lot of these films multiple times and some I have found to be more rewatchable than others. So just because a film ranked higher earlier on last year doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the case now – that’s just the nature of the art of film I guess. 

Here I rank numbers 20 to 11. The Top Ten will be detailed in a separate post.

Note

I am following the UK release date calendar from January 1st to December 31st hence why a lot of the Awards films do not feature here and why there are some from what may seem like last year. 

Honourable Mentions

Here are my honourable mentions, films that didn’t quite make it into the Top Twenty but I feel that they should still deserve a mention. Please note I have listed them in alphabetical order – this is not a ranking of them. 

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Apostle

Gareth Evans’ first film after The Raid films is a mature and elegant period horror that is the director at his best. Dan Stevens is very strong as the main character, Thomas Richardson, who sets out to a remote Welsh island to rescue his sister. With clear influences from The Wicker Man, Evans melds the folklore and impending sense of dread with more period detailling and gore aplomb. A shame that this film wasn’t really given the recognition it was due, I think this was mainly down to its unceremenious dumping on Netflix.

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BlacKkKlansman

When the main narrative takes centre stage after a self-indulgent opening, BlacKkKlansman is thoroughly enjoyable film in Spike Lee’s filmography. It spins a gripping yarn out of a fascinating story and is bolstered by being technically proficient and having some great performances. Lee interrogates many different themes, chiefly duality between the film’s events and characters and he manages to balance some laugh-out-loud humour with its main message. All of the film’s characters are well-developed, even the KKK members have fleshed story arcs and you do begin to sympathise not with their beliefs, but with their personalities a little which is to be commended. BlacKkKlansman is definitely worth seeking out and most audiences should have a blast with it, as well as discovering and questioning the ways in which America’s society works, but it’s far from perfect. (My original review here)

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The Old Man and the Gun

If The Old Man And The Gun is indeed Robert Redford’s swansong, it will be a very good note to go out on. This is an entertaining heist film based on a true story that poses some interesting questions yet deconstructs the generic constructs of the hist film with Redford’s portrayal of an older-aged bank robber with manners, Forrest Tucker, who is oddly charming, feel-good and unthreatening. Director David Lowery’s film is a mature and oddly elegiac study into the psyche of the criminal, as he interrogates existential themes of a man who cannot not commit criminal acts as it makes him tick. This is a fine note for Redford to retire on. (My original review here)

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Papillon

A total surprise that what seemed like an unnecessary remake turned out to be quite this good. Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek are excellent as the lead two roles and although this remake is quite faithful to the 1973 original, this film packs emotion and thrills in spades. Yorick van Wageningen fares particularly well as the nasty Warden and is clearly having a good time. I was engrossed in the film from start to finish and this is a remake that justifies its existence.

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22 July 

Another Netflix Original, 22 July is possibly one of Paul Greengrass’ best films in a long time. This is a deep delving into the Norweigan attack and the attack that Greengrass recreates is mesmerising and haunting – certainly one of the best extended sequences of the year. Anders Danielsen Lie is terrific as the twisted terrorist who feels chillingly close to the real Anders Breivik. The film does lose a bit of steam in its final act but when it’s at its best, it is mesmerising.

Now onto the Top Twenty:

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20) Ant-Man and the Wasp 

Ant-Man and the Wasp is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Director Peyton Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. Reed definitely seems to feel a lot more confident this time around, particularly as his direction doesn’t bear the spectre of Edgar Wright, who famously departed the first film. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh, Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park faring the best. (My original review here)

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19) Unsane

The ever-dependable Steven Soderbergh returns with this psychological thriller shot on an iPhone. Unsane stars Claire Foy as a woman who is confined to a mental institution where her alleged stalker reappears. The film revolves around the age-old idea of who is in the right and Soderbergh once again, creates a twisty narrative that had me enthralled pretty much throughout. Foy is excellent and there are good performances by Joshua Leonard and Jay Pharoah here too. The film dips a little in its climax where the narratives becomes increasingly implausible but Soderbergh does a very good job with the vast majority of the film for it to sneak in.

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18) Bohemian Rhapsody 

Bohemian Rhapsody is a well-crafted biopic that I was emotionally invested in for much of its running time. Rami Malek’s performance as Mercury is sensational and he completely inhabits the role, through his appearance, speech and mannerisms, capturing the late rock icon to a tee. The performances across the board are uniformly strong and Mike Myers is particularly good in a small role as a slimy EMI executive. Visually, the film looks good, for the most part Bryan Singer-regular, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is sound and the hair/make up and costuming are convincing, with the exception of Malek’s fake buckteeth at the beginning of the film which are a bit jarring. The film is sensible in its scope in terms of the events it goes through in the space of the 134 minute running time and achieves all the major beats in the band’s history, ending in Queen’s Live Aid performance and Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. As a Queen fan, I’d have been more than happy to watch more if the film was longer and went into further detail but one must realise this film has to appeal on all levels. Bohemian Rhapsody is a rather sanitised affair though. Considering this is a film about a band that took risks, the film could have interrogated some of the events and the band members a little more perceptively. Unlike many reviews, I found the major mis-step with the film to be the ending Live Aid concert, which goes on for a good 15/20 minutes. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography in this sequence is rather too flashy for its own good, with too many aerial shots and it looks too digitised and the whole sequence almost borders on being a bit naff and karaoke-like. Flaws aside, I was surprised by how emotionally invested I ended up being in Bohemian Rhapsody and it does overall, more than manage to capture the overarching essence of the band and succeeds in how they interact, even if the film does end up playing things safe. (My original review here)

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17) Leave No Trace 

Leave No Trace is the long-awaited follow-up from director Debra Granik who last made Winter’s Bone in 2010, the film that firmly established Jennifer Lawrence into the film industry. This is a mature and emotional film that is about a PTSD-ridden father and his young daughter who are trying to fit into society. Both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are sensational and they are thrown into some really quite overwhelming situations as the film progresses. This is an affecting drama that proves Winter’s Bone was not a one-off.

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16) First Reformed 

First Reformed is a haunting, minor-key triumph from Paul Schrader in a return to form with Ethan Hawke at the top of his game as a Reverend having a crisis of faith. Schrader’s film explores all of his typical weighty themes of guilt, obsession and extremeism in an slow but intense fashion as the film progresses. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as a young widow whose radical environmentalist husband has cast a dark shadow on her life. First Reformed is an excellent character study and I was enthralled by it.

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15) Overlord

Overlord is an effective and highly entertaining genre hybrid that is a total blast from start to finish. The premise is quite simple – set in the run-up to D-Day, we follow a group of American soldiers who have been tasked to destroy a German radio tower in an old church. However, this task is made rather difficult when their plane is shot down, in spectacular fashion, and they need to evade the Nazi’s whilst completing their mission. This is only director Julius Avery’s second feature but he clearly has the skills of a more seasoned director in how well this film is constructed. With the support of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot company producing, many thought this film would be another Cloverfield sequel, but it’s certainly not and it’s all the better for it in how standalone it is. There are multiple sequences here that are outstanding – the first scene in the film with the shooting down of the plane is claustrophobic and harrowing, starting the film immediately on a high. An extended sequence in an attic is masterfully paced too, as are some action sequences in the back-end of the film, but to reveal more would be to delve into spoiler territory. The violence in this film is particularly nasty at times, fully earning the film’s 18 certificate – this is not a film for the squeamish. Surprisingly, Overlord is one of the rare genre hybrid films that manages to be fully successful on that promise, whereas lots of films stumble on one of the aspects. (My original review here)

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14) Halloween 

Halloween (2018) is an excellent entry in the franchise and it is clear that the filmmakers have understood what made the original work. It is a thoroughly entertaining and mostly satisfying sequel that is very much in the vein of Carpenter’s original. The central idea of exploring the psychology of Laurie and how the events of the original affected her is a genius move and there are some excellent interactions between her and her family that are authentic to reality. Jamie Lee Curtis is in brilliant form in the role that made her a star and Andi Matichak as her grandaughter puts in a barnstorming performance and is surely a rising talent. Judy Greer, who is pretty much always the weak point of any film she’s in, is not bad here as Laurie’s daughter, which is an improvement from normal. This is the Halloween film that actually delivers on the promise of a true sequel to the original.  (My original review here)

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13) American Animals 

I watched Brimstone pretty close to compiling this list, so there is every possibility its position may move in the future. Bart Layton’s sophomore effort after The Imposter is a fascinating crime drama that interweaves with a docu-drama edge as we hear the real characters perspectives regularly throughout the film. The film is extremely intense in parts and is a fascinating character study on what are conflicted but ultimately pathetic characters. The score by Anne Nitikin is outstanding and the cinematography is visually sharp. American Animals is gripping from start to finish and is one of the freshest heist films in recent memory.

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12) Hereditary

Hereditary is one of the most interesting films of the year in that I’m still conflicted over aspects of this film. The first time I saw it, I loved the hypnotic first half which is just perfect but the second half then goes wildly into cliched horror territory. Whilst I still believe this to be the case to a degree, on further viewings, there are some clear hidden meanings and metaphors that somewhat justify the film’s second half. Despite my issues, this is still a terrific debut from director Ari Aster who is sure to have an interesting career ahead. (My original review here)

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11) Hostiles 

Hostiles is another winner from director Scott Cooper – a visceral, downbeat and often gut-wrenching watch. There are many scenarios and moments in the film that are emotionally sapping and Cooper puts these characters through hell. The three leads – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, are all on top form, all giving career-defining performances. The cinematography by Cooper-regular, Masanobu Takayanagi is jaw-dropping – there are frequent moments of awe in terms of how Takayanagi shoots the landscapes and he really makes the most of the locations, which refer visually to the Western classic, The Searchers. Max Richter’s score is also expectedly hypnotic – the score fits in so well with the film and is endlessly atmospheric, groaning and distorting with the sand flying around in the desert. The film isn’t perfect though – it does have some structural problems and some of the characters are underwritten. But for all the things Cooper gets right, Hostiles earns its spot. (My original review here)


So there we go, numbers 20 down to 11. Stay tuned for the Top Ten in a separate post…


What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Ranking Best Picture Nominees

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The Academy Awards have now been and gone and Green Book ended up being triumphant edging out Roma which was widely believed to be the front runner for the coveted gong. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only recently managed to finish watching these films, hence why this list is rather late.

Let’s get started… 

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8) A Star Is Born

I don’t really understand the praise for A Star Is Born at all. Whilst it makes an admirable attempt to update the narrative that it is retelling and there are some great performances, particularly from Lady Gaga, I never really bought Jackson and Ally’s relationship. The numbers aren’t memorable and it is easy to tell that this has been directed by a first-time director, Bradley Cooper stepping behind the camera. Ultimately, A Star Is Born is just fine but not much more.

It is at this point that ranking the rest of the films gets pretty tough and many are interchangeable. 

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7) The Favourite 

The Favourite is a good film and represents an interesting transformation for the period drama genre, making it feel rather contemporary. However, it is director Yorgos Lanthimos’ weakest film in that it lacks a lot of his signature style and it is tonally flawed. It also lacks the weight that his other films have such as The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and that is what made them so memorable and unnerving. Whilst it’s obviously great to see Lanthimos get Awards attention as he has deserved it for a while, it’s annoying that it’s for his weakest film and this is rather reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s success last year for Dunkirk. I will certainly rewatch The Favourite again as there are things I think I will pick up from it on a second viewing but my first impressions are that is a suitably odd and strange work that lacks the heft of Lanthimos’ previous works. (My review here)

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6) Black Panther

I really don’t understand the awards praise for Black Panther either. Although Black Panther definitely has some great moments, it is unfortunately very inconsistent, awkwardly paced and overly familiar. It’s not quite the fresh, subversive experience that was promised. The biggest problem is the narrative, which is all over the place and director Ryan Coogler seems to grapple with how best to pace the film. It’s a film that consistently seems to chop and change in its tone, from moments of wonder in the Afrofuturistic Wakanda to scenes of poverty and hardship in deprived areas. Coogler’s juxtaposition of the two extremes is obvious in the film’s narrative but it just doesn’t gel together and then when a third act storyline kicks in of feudal relations, it’s too little too late. Coogler has clearly been influenced from films such as The Lion King and the James Bond series of which there are odes to in the film, but Black Panther feels like its treading water between them. There have been many calls from fans and critics for superhero films to be taken more seriously. Unfortunately this film isn’t it and I wish that either The Dark Knight or Logan had recieved Best Picture recognition instead. In fact, the other two Marvel offerings from last year, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp are stronger films than Black Panther! (My review here)

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5) Vice

Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although Adam McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history. There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to Adam McKay’s previous Oscar-nominated film, The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.(My review here)

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4) Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody is a well-crafted biopic that I was emotionally invested in for much of its running time. Rami Malek’s performance as Mercury is sensational and he completely inhabits the role, through his appearance, speech and mannerisms, capturing the late rock icon to a tee. The performances across the board are uniformly strong and Mike Myers is particularly good in a small role as a slimy EMI executive. Visually, the film looks good, for the most part Bryan Singer-regular, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is sound and the hair/make up and costuming are convincing, with the exception of Malek’s fake buckteeth at the beginning of the film which are a bit jarring. The film is sensible in its scope in terms of the events it goes through in the space of the 134 minute running time and achieves all the major beats in the band’s history, ending in Queen’s Live Aid performance and Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. As a Queen fan, I’d have been more than happy to watch more if the film was longer and went into further detail but one must realise this film has to appeal on all levels. Bohemian Rhapsody is a rather sanitised affair though. Considering this is a film about a band that took risks, the film could have interrogated some of the events and the band members a little more perceptively. Other than Mercury, the rest of the band are portrayed pretty much as perfect individuals, which is not surprising that May and Taylor had a big influence and whilst Gwyilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello are all very good in the roles, they don’t have all that much to do. Unlike many reviews, I found the major mis-step with the film to be the ending Live Aid concert, which goes on for a good 15/20 minutes. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography in this sequence is rather too flashy for its own good, with too many aerial shots and it looks too digitised and the whole sequence almost borders on being a bit naff and karaoke-like. Flaws aside, I was surprised by how emotionally invested I ended up being in Bohemian Rhapsody and it does overall, more than manage to capture the overarching essence of the band and succeeds in how they interact, even if the film does end up playing things safe. (My review here)

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3) BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman certainly maintains Spike Lee’s passions and although the film stumbles in its first half an hour or so, when we get to the heart of the story, it is a mostly gripping and infectious account of these events. When you’ve got material as fascinating as this, it’s hard not to make a gripping film. But I don’t think BlacKkKlansman ranks as one of Spike Lee’s best. It has the tendency to be rather preachy at times, ham-fistedly spelling out its message. It’s also rather unsubtle in how it’s trying to link to current events, namely the Trump presidency and America’s deeply divided culture and racism. BlacKkKlansman is definitely worth seeking out and most audiences should have a blast with it, as well as discovering and questioning the ways in which America’s society works, but it’s far from perfect. (My review here)

I’m not sure how to rank the final two films as both are excellent.

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2) Green Book

Despite a somewhat problematic white saviour narrative, on the surface Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Mortensen and Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into this prejudiced culture. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced. Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book. (My review here)

And the best film is…

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1) Roma

Viewers may well get frustrated with this film as it takes a while for the story to get going but Roma succeeds more based on the feelings of intimacy it provokes and the relationships between all of the well-developed characters. Especially once the film reaches a climactic event about two thirds of the way through, it is a masterfully haunting, meditative piece and deeply emotional. As to be expected, Roma is consistently visually arresting. Cuarón’s first time as cinematographer is an unqualified success who uses deep depths of field within each frame which give the film a personal, dream-like quality. The performances by the cast all round are excellent with Aparicio brilliant in the leading role as the reserved yet maternal maid who Cuarón digs deeper into her psyche as the film progresses. Equally impressive in her performance is Marina de Tavira as the mother of the family, a character who goes through her own upsets, but has a true respect for her family and the maids. Whilst it took a while for Roma to work its spell on me, when it did, I was utterly transfixed and resonated emotionally wih the film. I suspect on a second viewing, it’s a film that I could like even more when it begins to reveal its deeper meanings. It fully deserves all the Awards attention it is recieving and the film works both on a visual and narative level. (My review here)

Summary

Overall, this is a weak collection of films nominated for Best Picture and even Roma isn’t the strongest film to be nominated when you consider other films that have been in this category. For example, I think my top five nominees of last year’s batch would rank higher than Roma. Between the eight films on this list, there isn’t much in it in terms of quality particularly between the top seven and even the top films in this list have their own flaws.

 

Captain Marvel (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck 
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 124 mins

Captain Marvel is the final film before the deliriously anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Although it may seem as if it is filler material, it sets in motion the famous superhero’s story before she enters the fray with the other established Avengers. Captain Marvel also represents Marvel’s first female-led feature which is a big deal and the bar set by rival DC with Wonder Woman is fairly high. Captain Marvel is introduced in this film as an amnesiac who is training to fight a war against the Skrulls led by Kree leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She has glimpses of her previous life on Earth but cannot piece together how she has come to be. This film is directed by duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously directed the flawed but fun Mississippi Grind. They don’t seem a great fit with the material and the marketing for the film didn’t particularly instil confidence. How does Captain Marvel fare?

Other than a wonky first act, Captain Marvel is entertaining throughout and is refreshingly light for a superhero film. It’s also a film that doesn’t spend copious amounts of time explaining everything and the decision to start the film on an alien planet with a whole race of beings audiences are not familiar with is quite bold. Once Captain Marvel finds herself on Earth, there is some great interplay between Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets developed exponentially as a character here. The film is at its best when it fully embraces its 90s setting and fun is poked at Larson’s fish-out-of-water character. When the superhero antics finally arrive, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s never boring. The film has some good twists up its sleeve too and subverts expectations.

The performances are generally good, with Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn being the standouts. Nick Furyhas always seemed a little one-note for a Samuel L. Jackson character compared to his exhaustive filmography but here we get to see a different side to him which works well. Ben Mendelsohn, who previous collaborated with the duo on Mississippi Grind, plays a Skrull called Talos and he is equally great and is clearly having a fun time, chewing the scenery. Brie Larson is good as Captain Marvel and is better towards the film’s end but she plays the character a little stiff and wooden. But if you look back to stalwarts Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans first outings for examples, they weren’t great so good things are to be expected once Larson and the crew have settled into their roles.

Overall, Captain Marvel is surprisingly better than expected and ranks strongly in the Marvel canon. It is ultimately a good leading film into Avengers: Endgame and it will be very interesting to see where the character is taken next. It’s particularly impressive that Boden and Fleck are able to avoid many of the genre pitfalls and suggests good things to come now that they have established the characters. This is a much better film than expected and offers strong competition against DC’s Wonder Woman.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Green Book (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peter Farrelly 
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 130 mins

After a spotty career with more misses than hits, it seems slightly surreal that Peter Farrelly, one half of the Farrelly Brothers famous for gross-out comedy, is tackling a true story drama. Green Book tells the story of a New York bouncer, Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who loses his job at the beginning of a film and needs work. He is portrayed to be an apalling racist, loves to eat pretty much anything and has a close knit relationship with his father. Things take a turn when he takes up a job of escorting an African-American pianist, Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a musical tour through the Mid-West and Deep South. The two initially clash but are brought together after some instances of racism against Don Shirley and the two form an unlikely friendship.

Despite a somewhat problematic white saviour narrative, on the surface Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Mortensen and Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into this prejudiced culture. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced.

Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Mule (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Clint Eastwood 
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 116 mins

The Mule is the latest by Clint Eastwood and his first performance in front of the camera since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Inspired by a true story, this film 90 year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran, Earl Stone, who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican Cartel. At the start of the film, we see that he is in financial hardship and estranged from his family. When he takes the job due to his love of driving and seeing the country, he doesn’t realise what he is doing until he takes a look at what he is transporting in the back of his van. Due to his age and unthreatening nature, the Cartel begin to entrust him with bigger amounts of cocaine and more trips. At the same time, the DEA are investigating the Cartel and start to close in on Stone. Eastwood has a knack for working with fascinating material, demonstrated by his vast filmography both in front of and behind the camera. Both American Sniper and Sully were excellent additions to his most recent filmography but The 15:17 to Paris marked a major disappointment, despite the interesting premise.

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing.

The film is not without fault and there is one scene that is a mis-step in this film. There is a sequence in which Eastwood’s character is invited to meet a cartel member and what follows is a sequence of debauchery which is quite uncomfortable in how straight it is played and unnecessary.

Ultimately, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood after a disappointing blip and is a gripping account of this interesting narrative. Out of the films Eastwood has directed in the 2010s, it would be a close call between The Mule and Sully between which is the best. It’s a shame this film hasn’t made a bigger impression critically within the film industry and much like Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, if this does end up being Clint Eastwood’s swansong in front of the camera, it would be a fine note to go out on.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Destroyer (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Karyn Kusama 
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scott McNairy
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

Although much has been touted of Nicole Kidman transformative performance, Destroyer functions well first and foremost as a film. This is a dark, twisty crime thriller that follows Kidman’s unorthodox LAPD detective who tries to take down members of a shady gang, after her cover was blown years prior, which the film portrays these events in tandem. Kidman’s detective looks not far from death with a weary, almost decaying face and she doesn’t keep herself in good health.  However, Kidman isn’t the only bright spot of the cast as they are all transformations, with Toby Kebbell in particular standing out as the slimy main antagonist. Although a small role, Bradley Whitford also makes an impression as a nasty lead in Kidman’s case.

Director Karyn Kusama has had a somewhat spotty career, previously behind the now positively reassessed feminist dark comedy Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, the latter of which had a great premise but a lacklustre third act. Destroyer definitely marks her best work and her direction is fantastic, from the way in which the story is told to the technical aspects. There is a particularly gripping and gritty action sequence set in a bank in the latter half of the film which is just jaw-dropping in its unpredictability and rawness. Julie Kirkwood’s cinematography further heightens the tension and the film has an interesting colour pallette.

Ultimately, Destroyer is a dark and suitably dour descent into the unravelling of Kidman’s go-for-broke detective that is a dark horse this Awards season. It deserves far more credit than it has recieved as it is a much better film than people are making out to be, with the highlight not just being Nicole Kidman’s performance that many see as the film’s main asset.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Vice (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan, Bill Camp 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 132 mins

Vice is Adam McKay’s second foray into more serious filmmaking after directing The Big Short which did well in its respective Awards season. Before then, McKay was responsible for his many collaborations with Will Ferrell, with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The Big Short was an interesting film – an unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007-8 that regularly broke the fourth wall with its explanations of financial concepts and had some good performances. However, the ambition behind the camera was more admirable than the film itself as I found it very obnoxious tonally and its pacing was very disjointed. McKay’s sophomore more serious effort is a biopic, very much in the same vein of The Big Short, focussing on Dick Cheney and his path to becoming the controversial, powerful Vice-President. Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Cheney, gaining 18kg and wearing lots of prosthetics, much like Gary Oldman’s take on Churchill last year in Darkest Hour only with a bit more effort on Bale’s part put in by gaining the weight.

There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.

At least these negative aspects to the film are significantly muted compared to The Big Short. The story itself that McKay tells is fascinating and the way the story is structured is interesting. The performances are uniformly strong with Bale the obvious standout and there’s also a brilliant, muted performance by Tyler Perry. Technically, the film is excellent. All of the characters look impressively authentic and the film is well-shot and edited.

Overall, Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Glass (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 129 mins

Glass, director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense. It serves as a sequel to Unbreakable and to Split, a film which in a genius end-credit twist revealed itself to be a psuedo-supervillain origin story / spin-off to Unbreakable. This film sees the return of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn as his path crosses with James McAvoy’s multiple personalities. When both get arrested after Dunn tries to bring him to justice, they are both put in a psychiatric hospital where it is revealed that Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr Glass has also been secretly locked away in the years between the end of Unbreakable and this film. The unit is run by Sarah Paulson’s Dr Ellie Staple who tries to convince the trio that they have convinced themselves wrongly of their superpowers, questioning their past experiences and making them doubt themselves.

M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting directorial career, his films varying wildly in quality. After a long slump with dud after dud, Shyamalan bounced back with the one-two punch that was The Visit and then Split so this is an important film for audiences to like and many fans have been waiting for a sequel to Unbreakable for years. Unbreakable was an excellent film and proved a tonic to the emerging superhero genre of its time, in effect acting as a superhero deconstruction piece. I also found a lot to like in Split but it does suffer with some creaky expository dialogue that weighs the film down. Unfortunately, initial reviews for this film are mixed-to-negative, so I was trepidatious before seeing the film to say the least due to the good work Shyamalan had done so far.

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents Shyamalan at his best. It is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these.  As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson the standouts. Both characters have interesting arcs which are unexpected, Willis a more mature and sombre David Dunn if a little underused who evokes a Batman-like, vigilante figure, putting in one of the best performances in his career. Samuel L. Jackson is also great as Elijah and the film fully utilises his skill-set again. James McAvoy again is reliably great as he was in Split. Of the rest of the cast, Sarah Paulson makes a good impression as the psychiatric doctor with her own agenda but Anya Taylor-Joy‘s character is a little forced and I didn’t quite buy into her relationship with McAvoy’s character.

Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at.

Ultimately, Glass is a welcome surprise and for the vast majority of its running time, is a gripping and intelligent sequel. Its ending does threaten to undo some of the good work somewhat as it feels as though Shyamalan hasn’t quite figured out what to do. I loved Glass and can’t wait to watch it again and it might possibly be the best film in the trilogy if it holds up on future viewings.  I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Stan and Ollie (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 97 mins

Stan and Ollie is a well-intentioned dramatisation, but rather shallow retelling of the final years of the iconic comedy duo. The film tells the story of the final years of the duo as they embark on a tour of Britain in the hope of getting a feature film made so that they can return to their former glory. Although there are some narrative bright spots and some good character moments, the success of this film hinges more on the performances than the actual film.  Even then, the film never truly gets under the skin of these characters. The narrative is obvious and the script rather on-the-nose, which hampers the film somewhat. Jon S. Baird’s direction is unflashy but lacks any sense of personality.

The main asset that carries this film are the performances, which elevate the flawed script and safe direction.  John C. Reilly as Ollie is the standout, who embodies the persona of the character to a tee, forming a strong emotional connection. Steve Coogan fares well too as the loveable character who just wants to regain his former glory with his partner but Coogan’s American accent does slip up sometimes.

Ultimately, Stan and Ollie passes the time fairly well, but it’s a shame that the film never really aspires to be more than just a simplistic biopic. When the emotional climax of the film arrives, it doesn’t quite pack as big of a punch as it could ahve done as it hasn’t quite earned the right to. That said, for John C. Reilly’s transformative performance alone, it is worth the watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Favourite (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins

The Favourite is the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, a director who has proved himself a big talent in the film industry. Starting out making films in his Greek homeland, Lanthimos first came to prominence when he made Dogtooth, an interesting coming-of-age drama with a disturbing edge. After making Alps, he transitioned to English-language pieces with films such as The Lobster, another absurd and somewhat dystopian drama. Most recently, he directed the deeply unnerving The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which I consider to be his best work so far. Both of these films, as well as his earlier Greek works, are all works rich in meaning and contain fascinating, psychologically challenging characters who speak with Lanthimos’ signature arch dialogue. The Favourite is a period drama set in the court of Stuart-monarch Queen Anne who struggles to rule the country and is presented as quite child-like in that she wants people to think the best of her. She enjoys eccentric activities such as racing ducks and tending to her collection of rabbits, who represent her lost children. Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill essentially controls the Queen like her puppet but when her impoverished cousin, Abigail comes looking for employment, the two start vying for the Queen’s approval and courtship, with sinister methods.

The Favourite is another odd film from Lanthimos and isn’t the natural project one would expect a director of his background to take. It retains his directorial identity, with some archly constructed characters and a generally sharp and bitter script. There are some memorable exchanges and some funny moments, as well as some creepy and disturbing diversions as expected from him.

But The Favourite strangely feels like it has lost a lot of Lanthimos’ identity as a director in that tonally, the film doesn’t nail the distinction between the drama and the humour like his other films did. It feels oddly more corporate and more toned-down than it should be, which made for a bit of a frustrating watch. I think the reason The Favourite doesn’t quite deliver is due to the fact that Lanthimos isn’t working from a script that he wrote with his regular collaborator, Efthymis Filippou. This script is written by duo Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and whilst it’s a good script, the characters feel a lot more vanilla than how Lanthimos would have interpreted them as. Furthermore, whilst Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is interesting and disorientating with wide angles, it lacks the claustrophobia and nightmarish atmosphere of Lanthimos’ regular collaborator Thimios Bakatakis.

The performances in this film have been widely acclaimed and all three of the actresses are very good in their roles. Olivia Colman is expectedly great as Queen Anne but I don’t think it’s her best performance – far more deserving of Awards attention would be for her performance in Tyrannosaur where she is just jawdropping. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are good as well and have good chemistry together but again, both have done better work.

Overall, The Favourite is a good film and represents an interesting transformation for the period drama genre, making it feel rather contemporary. However, it is Lanthimos’ weakest film in that it lacks a lot of his signature style and it is tonally flawed. It also lacks the weight that his other films have and that is what makes them so memorable and unnerving. Whilst it’s obviously great to see Lanthimos get Awards attention as he has deserved it for a while, it’s annoying that it’s for his weakest film and this is rather reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s success last year for Dunkirk. I will certainly rewatch The Favourite again as there are things I think I will pick up from it on a second viewing but my first impressions are that is a suitably odd and strange work that lacks the heft of Lanthimos’ previous works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)