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.

 

Ranking The Comic-Book Films of 2018

The comic-book genre is continuing to reach new heights and 2018 brought 7 new films (6 live-action, 1 animation) to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year. As a reflection on last year, in this post, I will rank these films in order of my personal preference.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Infinity War acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and a storyline that will carry on in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Many would argue that Black Panther was the studio’s crowning achievement with it being the first Marvel film to earn lots of Awards nominations and even be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award through its progressive representations of diversity. Whilst Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t receive as rapturous a response as Marvel’s two other efforts, many felt it to be an enjoyable pallette cleanser ahead of Endgame.

DC mainly sat the year out but struck big with Aquaman in December which recieved positive reviews, course-correcting their shaky track record so far. It also made a splash at the box office earning over $1 billion dollars along with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

Whilst three films were meant to be released in the X-Men film series last year, only Deadpool 2 made it into release which was another success for the studio. Now that the merger between Fox and Disney is underway, the future of this series is unclear but fingers crossed Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants get a release this year.

Finally, Sony had an interesting year with the genre. Venom, a Spider-Man spin-off focussing on the famous nemesis released and there was a big divide in response, critics mixed and audiences generally liking it. It also surprisingly did well at the box office which has resulted in a sequel being greenlit. Lastly, Sony also released the animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in December which opened to surprisingly overwhelmingly positive reviews despite the marketing of the film making it look rather lacklustre.

Overall, I would say this was a disappointing year for the genre in that nothing really excelled and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!

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7) Venom

Venom is a strange concoction. I can’t say I liked the film much and for a lot of it, it is embarassing to sit through. The script is so obvious and cliched and story beats so haphazardly and embarassingly put together. Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying, played by the always brilliant Michelle Williams, is a particular sore point as Brock betrays her for the sake of journalism very early in the film and then has the cheek to hang around her trying to win her back. At the beginning, Tom Hardy’s performance is cringeworthy and his character is an annoying loser and an embarassment of a low point of an entry into the career of journalism. Furthermore, the action sequences are ostensibly terrible, resorting to shaky-cam and there is a complete lack of any choreography or movement, making them also incoherent despite them being conventional.

Bizarrely, when Venom enters the film, the film begins to unknowingly start to create an interesting dynamic between the symbiote and Brock, with some rather juvenile but interesting humour. Hardy does better in these scenes and the back-and-forth fares well.Also, there is a genius post-credit scene that hints at a better sequel. With this and Tom Hardy finally coming to terms with his character towards the end of the film, I would strangely look forward to a sequel. (My full review here)

There is now a big step in quality…

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6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse 

I’m not sure how to position this film between 5th and 6th place and a rewatch may bump this up but for the moment, I have it 6th. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. It finds big success in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain who is underdeveloped and underused and the customary final act fight is a little tiring. (My full review here)

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5) Aquaman

Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters are on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act. (My full review here)

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4) Black Panther

Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and the first half is quite strong. On the strength of some of the characters and with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time and the Oscar nominations honestly bewilder me. (My full review here)

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3) Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War begins very strongly with some bold choices in its narrative. The Russo Brothers manage to juggle all the character arcs well and manage to craft a coherent, unified narrative that doesn’t feel overstuffed. What I particularly liked about this film given its flaws was how the Russo’s have admirably attempted to adapt the character of Thanos to the big screen, with Josh Brolin putting in a scene-stealing performance. The idea they had that this film was going to be from his perspective is an interesting one and this would have really worked well and made the film more fresh if they had actually gone in this direction and focussed on him more. There are a number of scenes from his perspective where his motivations are made clear and Brolin’s villain is one that can be empathised with. Thanos has to make a number of key decisions, some that bring a lot of emotional pain and this is dealt with really well.

Unfortunately, the film runs into problems as it then starts to involve too many characters which impact the film tonally and they then makes a cheap, poor choice in its conclusion which is really frustrating. There is always the risk in these kind of tentpole films to lose focus when there is a whole roster of characters to follow and whilst each superhero does get their moment to shine, some inevitably do get more screentime than others. That said, the Russo’s clearly have tried their best and the choices they have made are generally sound in terms of characterisations. (My full review here)

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2) Deadpool 2 

Deadpool 2 was a pleasant surprise given how I wasn’t a big fan of the first film. The film manages to successfully expand on its predecessor and wind up being a far superior film. The jokes land far more consistently than the first film and it’s a far more engaging narrative which successfully subverts the genre and develops the now familiar character. The first film failed to do this with its obvious jokes and its formulaic narrative. Ryan Reynolds once again, completely inhabits the titular role. Director David Leitch slickly directs this sequel (after Tim Miller exited) and as expected, the action sequences are creative and visually pleasing. The laughs fly in frequently to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing and missed the next one. This is definitely a film which requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate this film. The film isn’t perfect and its chief problem is its rather shambolic construction but the laughs make up for it and it all just about comes together in the end. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…

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1) Ant-Man and the Wasp 

This is probably a controversial decision but for me, Ant-Man and the Wasp was an absolute blast from start to finish. It 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. 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 fare the best out of the new additions, Fishburne fitting perfectly into this world and Park is frequently hilarious as a bumbling, slightly useless agent. Like Black Panther, this film feels refreshingly standalone within the Marvel canon and despite my frustrations at Infinity War‘s ending, it does tie in well to it. It’s not particularly deep like my winner of last year, Logan, was, nor does it reinvent the genre but this is my top pick purely based on how enjoyable it is. I can’t wait for another sequel if they’re this good. (My full review here)



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


 

Ranking The Predator Films

The Predator is currently playing in cinemas and whilst it is generally regarded as a wasted opportunity, I found a lot to like in it. As I have such a difference viewpoint on this series compared to convention, I thought now would be a fitting time to rank the films in the series so far.

Here is my ranking:

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4) Predator

This is probably where you completely shut off and disregard this list, but hear me out. The original Predator is still a great film, but it’s more a film of scenarios than a cohesive narrative and it’s a bit of a trudge to get through until we get to the now-classic Arnie vs The Predator fight which in itself is awesome. Director John McTiernan (who would later go on to make the perfect Die Hard) succeeds in creating suspense with numerous shots of the Predator watching on its prey but there isn’t all that much character development and because of the lack of a narrative thread, there are a few stretches where not much happens. The film also features a very memorable score that has carried through to the rest of the series from Alan Silvestri. Predator is still an enjoyable film but controversially, I don’t think it has aged all that well and the other films have taken the material in more interesting directions.

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3) The Predator 

The Predator is the newest in the series is shambolically put together and its pacing is rather breakneck, but it is a really entertaining film and director Shane Black’s signature humour is put to good use here, through the characterisations of the PTSD-ridden soldiers who take on the mythical creature. The first half in particular has some really interesting ideas and some well-constructed action sequences, particularly one in a science facility. I also really liked the decision to have this film set more in the suburbs and the contrast of the Predator to the urban area is interesting. (My full review here).

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2) Predator 2

Generally regarded as the worst in the series, Predator 2 is a very brave film in my opinion and is certainly not a film that would be made in this day and age. It’s a film that successfully expands upon the mythologies established in the first film and the Afro aesthetic puts an interesting spin on the character. Danny Glover is great in the lead role, a hot-headed policeman who wants justice but is afraid of heights, which he faces multiple times in the film. The film also features performances from Gary Busey as a shady DEA agent and Bill Paxton as a wisecracking new recruit. There isn’t a boring moment in the film and the final fight sequence is particularly satisfying, over multiple set pieces and sets up future films and cross-overs.

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1) Predators 

Robert Rodriguez was a very interesting choice to reboot the series after Predator 2 failed to impress. Taking a producer role and having Hungarian director Nimrod Antal in the directors chair, Predators is the best in the series in terms of its ideas and narrative. The idea of setting this film on another planet also helps to further expand the mythology and the whole mystery of why specific people are chosen to participate in this game is compelling. The cast are uniformly great, with Adrien Brody solid in the lead and standout performances from Topher Grace, Louis Ozawa Changchien and Laurence Fishburne. Although its second half morphs more into a blockbuster, its first half is where the film really excels and poses its ideas. Although The Predator is a fine entry in the series, what I’d really like to see are sequels / spin-off’s to this film as there is a lot of interesting places you can take this concept but unfortunately Predators didn’t do all that well at the box office and remains a very underrated entry in the series.


So, that was my ranking. I would say that there is not much in between the four films quality-wise – they’re all very solid and all pose some interesting ideas and between the best and worst on this list, there’s not a lot in it. Unfortunately, with The Preadator recieving very poor reviews and underperforming at the box office, I do hope we get more films as so far, they’re all very solid but only time will tell.


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

Ranking The Conjuring Films

With The Nun currently in cinemas and doing the best of all The Conjuring films at the box office so far, I thought now would be a good time to rank the films in the series so far. Whilst The Nun itself is very disappointing and the general consensus negative as well, these films have clearly made a big enough impression to draw dedicated audiences in to watch them. Certainly of all of the cinematic universes that studios have tried to start up post-Marvel, The Conjuring series is unquestionably the most successful so far. Unlike other big-budget films that studios hope will be successful enough to start their own series, with The Conjuring a horror franchise and their budgets relatively low, they all easily make a profit so perhaps this is one reason why it has had more success than others.

Here is my ranking:

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5) Annabelle

Annabelle is unquestionably the worst of the series and has virtually no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. Riding off the success of The Conjuring a year before, it is a blatantly unoriginal, preposterous cash grab that save for one very well orchestrated scare and beautiful cinematography, is a dud. Annabelle lacks any of the sense of dread The Conjuring has and the jump scares are obvious and uninspiring. The cast are uniformly terrible, in particular Ward Horton and the script is cringeworthy. Its ending is particularly offensive where characters make irrational and stupid decisions and I actually laughed at the film. It’s a film that looks like it should have gone straight-to-DVD. I struggle to think of how a horror film can be worse and this was a complete U-turn in quality for the series.

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4) The Nun

The latest in the series, perhaps the simplest way of describing The Nun is by calling it a ‘beautiful disaster’. The film is an absolute trainwreck – the film is edited extremely badly, its overreliance on jump scares mean that it isn’t scary and the story is borderline incoherent. However, it would be very easy to just completely dismiss this film and rip it apart and unlike Annabelle, there are some redeeming qualities to The Nun

Director Corin Hardy is clearly a horror aficionado which shows in the film’s cineliteracy (there are allusions to some of the Hammer horror films for instance) and the film is quite atmospheric and establishes a chilling setting. For instance, there are some breathtaking shots of the exteriors of the monastery which really portray the grandeur and influence it has on its characters. This is by far, the most frightening aspect of the film and leaves a lot to audience interpretation. It’s strange then that Hardy resorts to jump scares, which are all poor and there is not a single memorable one in the film. It’s also strange that Hardy chooses to punish the characters in the worst possible way towards the beginning of the film. There is an extended sequence where a character is stuck in a grave, which is a horrifying scenario but anything that happens to this character afterwards is never as bad. Surely, this sequence would have worked better towards the end of the film? Despite these fatal mis-steps, all of Hardy’s good work in the film’s atmosphere is undone and squandered by how the film has been edited. Every scene films too brief and this really hinders in creating a creepy atmosphere. Somewhere here is a good enough film, but the way it has been edited completely undermines this and this results in The Nun ultimatelby being very disappointing. (My full review here

There is now a big step up in quality… 

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3) The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 isn’t as strong as the first film – it is overlong which severely impacts the pacing and just isn’t quite as interesting a story as the first one was. However, horror-maestro James Wan delivers in spades on the scare-front and the film has some truly frightening sequences and there are also some great performances from the cast. Only Wan could have made or been given permission to make this film as 134 minutes for a horror film is uncommonly long and whilst there is a lot of character development (and self-indulgence), 20 minutes could fairly easily have been chopped off and the film would almost be as strong as the original. This is definitely its main problem which is to its detriment. The film bears many similarities to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and there are a couple of moments where the film leaves a bit of a sour taste as it reiterates many of the clichéd elements of superior horror films. Coming off a near-perfect original, it’s a shame The Conjuring 2 isn’t a knock-out, but that was always going to be impossible and there is still a lot to like in this film. (My full review here)

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2) Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation is a marked improvement over its predecessor and is suitably scary, features good character development and is shot beautifully by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. It also ties itself nicely into the wider universe but not enough to detract from the film – director David F. Sandberg still manages to satisfy on a standalone level. One must applaud Sandberg for having a go at crafting many different types of scares and seeing what sticks and there are several sequences which are superbly crafted. Unfortunately, the film does stick to convention at times and there are a few sections bordering on comedy but it is so, so much better than its predecessor in every level. When the film works, it’s superb and it’s nice and tightly paced. It’s astounding how much of a shift in quality this is from the first film which had no hope. (My full review here)

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1) The Conjuring 

The Conjuring is by far and away the best film in the series and also represents a career best for director James Wan, which this film really helped to propel his career. The film is suitably scary, very atmospheric and has a fascinating narrative. Wan develops the characters superbly, in particular Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who are great as The Warren’s. Although the scares aren’t the most original, it’s in the execution which allows this film to really deliver and some of the set pieces in this film are mesmerising. The Conjuring is a film that is even better on rewatches and when we come back to look on the horror genre in the 2010’s, this film will definitely be remembered.


Overall, although there is certainly variation between the best and worst in this list, this is ultimately a series that has generally been strong and with another Annabelle sequel, a third Conjuring film and another spin-off, The Crooked Man, I hope these are also worthy of the franchise’s name and I hope The Nun was just a blip.


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

Top Five Ben Mendelsohn Performances

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Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn features in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi extravaganza, Ready Player One, which releases today. Whatever film he is in, Mendelsohn consistently puts in a good performance and always integrates well into a wide genre of filmmaking.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Mendelsohn’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality.

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5) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises rounds off as the final film in Christopher Nolan’s superb trilogy extremely well. Mendelsohn plays John Daggett, a construction company owner who is a rival to Bruce Wayne’s enterprise. Although Mendelsohn only has a small role, he shares a particularly powerful scene with Tom Hardy’s menacing villain, Bane and Mendelsohn more than holds his own against the more popular villain here.

 

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4) The Place Beyond The Pines 

Mendelsohn plays a small role as car garage owner and mechanic, Robin Van Der Hook in Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious crime drama. The Place Beyond The Pines follows Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle stunt rider who robs banks as a way to provide for his young child and part-way through the film, he works for Mendelsohn’s character. Robin is the catalyst for Gosling’s character to start robbing banks as well as having a polar opposite personality.

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3) Slow West 

Mendelsohn plays the villainous Payne in John Maclean’s barnstorming debut Western, further proof of the resurgence of the genre. The performances are incredible and Mendelsohn easily holds his own against Kodi Smit-McPhee puts in a career-best performance and Caren Pistorius’s terrific debut. The film also features a wonderful Jed Kurzel score and multiple electric set pieces.

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2) Animal Kingdom 

Animal Kingdom is an ambitious Australian crime drama in the vein of Martin Scorsese, director David Michod inspired by the Pettingill criminal family. Mendelsohn plays Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody, the psychopathic eldest brother who will stop at nothing to evade the law and seek justice. He is a particularly dangerous character who poses a huge risk through main protagonist, ‘J’, and particularly as the film advances, we begin to see just the extent of how far this individual will go.

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1) Killing Them Softly 

Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to the superb revisionist Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is an interesting beast in the genre, running at a brisk 90 minutes compared to the typical 3 hour epic gangster films. Mendelsohn plays dog kidnapper and heroin addict, Russell, who along with Scott McNairy’s, Frankie, target a game run with dire consequences. Mendelsohn’s character is so prickly and disgusting both in appearance and his ideologies and the actor perfectly encapsulates this nasty character. It’s a wonderful performance in a strongly different film.


So there we go. What do you think? What did I miss? If you haven’t watched any of these films, I’d highly recommend you do so as they’re all really worthwhile and I hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

Ready Player One is out now in UK cinemas 

Ranking The Best Picture Nominees

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The Academy Awards have now been and gone and The Shape of Water ended up being triumphant edging out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which took the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s by storm. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only recently managed to watch The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Name hence why I am a little late.

Let’s get started… 

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9) The Post 

Unfortunately, Spielberg’s rush to get the film has got the better of him as The Post is painfully mediocre. The film tries to make itself more important than it is and whilst the subject material is very compelling in itself, the way in which the film has been constructed is never gripping. Other than a strong scene near the beginning with acquisition of the documents, the first half of the film is very clunky and strangely, almost devoid of any tension. Whilst The Post does manage to find its footing a little more in the second half, the film is never as fascinating as it should be and feels very contrived. (My review here)

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8) Darkest Hour 

Much has been made of Darkest Hour for Gary Oldman’s transformative and unrecognisable performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film, Darkest Hour, who completely disappears and inhabits the role and deserved his Best Actor win. However, in terms of how Darkest Hour functions as a piece of cinema though, it has some serious problems. From a historical viewpoint, the film is codswallop. A train sequence in particular towards the end of the film, pretty much derails the entire film from its tracks and it loses virtually all credibility. I could never get back on board with the film after this sequence threw me out so much and it hurts what is already a fairly mediocre film. (My review here)

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8) Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name is a mature exploration of sexuality and is particularly well and sensually directed by Luca Guadagnino, who fully captures the hot Italian climate as every frame feels opulent and sundried. The performances across the cast are all solid, with Michael Stuhlbarg the standout as an onlooking father. However, I wasn’t wowed by the film as a lot of people have been as it is rather langorous in pace at times and I just didn’t find as exciting or innovative as some of the other films featured on this list. But I certainly have a degree of respect for this film.

There is now a big step up in quality…

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6) Dunkirk

A list where a Christopher Nolan film is only seventh! Whilst there is undoubtedly a lot to admire in ‘Dunkirk’, unfortunately I also have a lot of problems with it. It’s not a bad film by any means but Nolan misses the mark for me in a story that is too ambitious and hard to have any care towards. This was a point that kept cropping up in a lot of the more lukewarm reviews that I read prior to watching the film and I got a little bit annoyed as it seems as if those reviewers want convention. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the actual tone of the film seems off and I didn’t really find myself caring much for not just the characters but the actual event as the approach for me felt too conservative. It’s a very strange approach to take and I applaud Nolan for taking it but along with other reasons which I will discuss, I couldn’t find an emotional response. (My Review here)

Now we get to the excellent films:

It is at this point where this list gets excruciatingly tough and not as clear-cut as the other films in this list. I think the next five films are all outstanding and having to rank them was nigh-on impossible. There is every chance that the order of these five films could change and every notion that what is at fifth could become first – I just don’t know. For now, I’m basing it on gut feeling.

Film Title: Get Out

5) Get Out 

Get Out is an innovative and intelligent comedy-horror that is meticulously crafted and endlessly cine-literate. The concept behind this film is very original and is highly critical and satirical of the post-Obama presidency. Rose’s father even states in a recurring line that he “would have nominated Obama for a third term.” Its final third is particularly impressive as the narrative starts to gradually unravel, culminating in a collection of shocking sequences. It also features an interesting score by Michael Abels that is an eclectic mix of neck-prickling strings and melodic themes. The cinematography by Toby Oliver is also thoughtful and well-judged.  (My review here)

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4) Lady Bird

Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress / writer Greta Gerwig, is a beautifully humane coming-of-age story of a teenager whose strong personality conflicts with her mothers equally volatile temper. It makes for a fascinating character study, containing plenty of scenarios and vignettes that run true to many home experiences of growing up. Gerwig’s script is particularly polished, mostly avoiding cliche, which keeps the story fresh and makes for a deeply personal insight into the film’s setting of Sacramento, where Gerwig herself grew up. Due to this great script, all of the cast excel in their roles with some brilliant performances from Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts. (My review here)

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3) Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread, for the majority of its run time, is engrossing and a masterclass in filmmaking. Just like Anderson’s other films such as There Will Be Blood and The Master, Phantom Thread is thematically rich, interrogating themes of duality and what it means to be in a relationship. It manages to balance its realism with fantasy and the film at times, evokes a Brothers Grimm tale. On one side of the spectrum, there are equisiste scenes of women being dressed up to impress their Princes and on the other, seemingly innocent women mushroom-picking in the forest. This Brothers Grimm quality to the film is juxtaposed by a Hitchockian / Kubrickian tone of voyeurism, mystery and intrigue. I’m just a little unsure on the direction the film heads in its final act, as it doesn’t quite conform to the neatness the first two have. I suspect on further rewatching, this film will continue to unpack itself and there is a lot more to gain from it. (My review here)

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2) The Shape of Water 

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. The film takes inspiration from The Creature from the Black Lagoon and through Del Toro’s love of early cinema, infused with his darker work such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. The performances are all top-notch (although I think Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg or Doug Jones should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, not Richard Jenkins) and I was hooked by the film throughout. It’s also got a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat and is beautifully shot by Dan Laustsen. The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s best English-language film, though I think Pan’s Labyrinth remains his magnum-opus. (My review here)

And the best film is…

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1) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves McDonagh’s writing talent again and then some. McDonagh has such a great ear for dialogue in this film and there are so many wonderful exchanges of dialogue between characters. It is frequently comic, always entertaining and what I particularly love about this film, is it takes many unexpected diversions in its narrative. The film leads you to believe a certain plot point will go in one direction, but McDonagh in multiple instances, subverts expectations and this makes this film all the more fresh. There are many moments where I was genuinely in awe and shock. It is a biting drama about murder, investigating and how people have multiple sides to their personality. (My review here)

Summary

Overall, this is a mostly strongest collection of films nominated for Best Picture and certainly in my opinion, to have five out of nine be films that I love is very promising. That is of course, with the exception to Darkest Hour and The Post, both films which I can’t understand why they feature. The Shape of Water ultimately won the coveted award, which many took offence to, but it’s a deserving winner and rectifies the problem of some of Del Toro’s previous works being grossly misunderstood and underappreciated. That said, any of the top five would have made worthy winners.

 

Top Five Hugh Jackman Performances

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Releasing this Boxing Day in cinemas is The Greatest Showman, a musical with a star-studdded cast and the film has received three Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture in the Musical and Comedy category. In the lead role as American showman, P. T. Barnum is Hugh Jackman, who himself has recieved a Best Actor nomination for the film. In my opinion, Hugh Jackman always puts in a great performance in whatever film he is in and always elevates the material. He always tends to pick really interesting projects and portray characters in a wide range of genres as well.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Jackman’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality. To get them down to just five films was a real challenge, as he has put in so many great performances.

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5) CHAPPiE 

I really struggled what to put in 5th and juggled between Darren Aronofsky‘s The Fountain and a guilty pleasure, Van Helsing, but I ended up letting CHAPPiE in. What all of these films share in common is the fact that they all recieved mixed reviews, but director Neill Blomkamp’s film is ultimately the most misunderstood. His third film after District 9 and Elysium saw his career crashing down and him being removed off an Alien film, but I think it’s a really thoughtful, entertaining piece. Jackman is particularly great in this film, playing against type as the mullet-wearing, hot-blooded villain, Vincent. Vincent is a South African former soldier-turned-engineer who is bitter when his Moose technology is turned away from his boss played by Sigourney Weaver and Dev Patel’s leading character’s android is given money for further development. Jackman is clearly having a ton of fun in the role and at times, his character is really quite nasty and it’s a departure from the norm for the actor.

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4) The Prestige

The Prestige is a perfect film and is endlessly rewatchable. The plot is a masterclass by director Christopher Nolan and compared to a lot of his other films, is rather small in scale. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale both give tremendous performances in the lead role and the late David Bowie also stands out in a small role as Tesla. Jackman plays Robert Angier, a magician who comes into competition with Bale’s Alfred Borden and both characters go to extreme lengths to outdo each other. The film has many revelatory twists and features one of the best endings to a film ever. It’s a bit of a shame it’s never quite got the recognition it deserves, presumably being released between Nolan’s first two Batman films which are always going to be hotter property. But, The Prestige is a gem of a film and one not to be missed.

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3) The Wolverine

Perhaps a bit of an odd choice, The Wolverine is a perfect film up until its final act that does what most other comic book films can’t – not just be a great comic book film but also a great action film to boot. Many people point to Logan as the best X-Men film (which I think it might be), but this comes so, so close. Jackman channels the comic-book character most faithfully in this film when it was released, Logan is in pain, bitter and wild when the film first opens and the setting of Japan really suits the character’s quest for redemption. James Mangold’s film features some great action sequences particularly one on a bullet train and at a funeral.  Until its final action sequence that frustratingly descends into generic comic book territory, the film is a perfect adaptation of what a Wolverine film should be minus the R-rating which Logan then achieved.

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2) Logan

Logan is not just a fantastic superhero film, it is also a fantastic Western film that just happens to have a superhero starring in it. The Western genre is a genre that is close to my heart so not only is it refreshing to be given another ace Western but for it to be in the shape of Logan is extremely impressive. The film is gritty, swearytastic and deliciously violent, fully earning the film a 15 / R rating. The performances by the cast all-round are great and returning director, James Mangold, directs this film with real flair. The film has a lot of emotional beats and really develops these characters that we have come to empathise with over the course of this franchise. The story, also manages to surprise with a couple of great twists and turns. Jackman, with the elevated age rating is finally allowed to swear which helps establish a sense of realism in the film and when the action arrives, detail certainly is dwelled upon. Jackman’s character has clearly aged and is fragile, even from something so simple as having to wear glasses to read. It’s a brilliant film and one that will certainly feature in my upcoming Best Films of 2017 list, placing 4th on my Mid-Year list.

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1) Prisoners

Prisoners is my favourite film of 2013 and one of my favourites of the decade. Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut is a harrowing, dark account of the kidnapping of a young girl and the subsequent investigation that ensues. Hugh Jackman plays the father, Keller Dover, whose multi-layered, fragmented character goes to extreme lengths to protect his family and uncover the identity of the kidnapper. This perfect film also features a brilliant score by Jóhann Jóhannsson which is wholly original and frequently haunting and is shot beautfully by Roger Deakins. For Jackman’s sake, he’s overshadowed slightly by Jake Gyllenhaal, who also puts in a career-best performance as Detective Loki but both performances are top-notch. If you haven’t seen Prisoners, go and watch it immediately and then take a look through the rest of Villeneuve’s filmography – he is one of the most exciting directors of our time and Jackman compliments this film perfectly.


So there we go. What do you think? What did I miss? If you haven’t watched any of these films, I’d highly recommend you do so as they’re all really worthwhile and I hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

The Greatest Showman is out now in UK cinemas 

Alternative Christmas Films

Christmas is almost upon us and when it comes to films, you probably think first of films such as Home Alone or It’s A Wonderful Life or Elf. Whilst they’re all classics in their own right, it’s always nice to have a change and watch something new from the usual catalogue. So here are five alternative Christmas films that you may not initially associate with the festival. These are not in order of quality or alphabeticised, but in order of obscurity.

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Bad Santa

Bad Santa was and continues to be a great Christmas film – it manages to subvert the genre by essentially being an anti-Christmas film and is suitably raunchy and shocking. It also features a great central performance by Billy Bob Thornton as the titular character who really makes the character his own and as an audience, for all the character’s flaws, one can empathise with him. It has numerous standout sequences and is a film that holds up well to repeat viewings. Just ignore the sequel, which is a lazy, puerile and hateful film.

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Die Hard

As well as a brilliant action film, Die Hard is also in my opinion, a Christmas film with its setting and how this impacts on its characters. Bruce Willis is excellent in his inaugral outing as the wisecracking John McClane and the late Alan Rickman plays Hans Gruber, an evil German terrorist who takes a building and its employees hostage. Gruber is perhaps one of the best film villains of all time. Whilst the sequels are so-so, the original is a masterpiece.

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Lethal Weapon

To compliment Die Hard, the original Lethal Weapon also implores a Christmas setting and is a fantastic action film. Compared to its sequels (which are also great), Lethal Weapon is a far more serious affair and certainly not all that comedic. There are some really dark moments in this film and the violence is very nasty at times. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as the leads are fantastic, particularly Gibson’s turn as the suicidal Riggs.

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Iron Man 3

A superhero film at Christmas? Yes, there are quite a few of them and to add to this list, Tim Burton’s Batman films can also be regarded as Christmas films. My pick though would be Shane Black’s Iron Man sequel, a delightfully subversive film in the series and the Marvel canon in general. Black’s film takes a lot of risks and didn’t particularly go down well with audiences, but I’d strongly recommend watching this if you want a different Marvel film to the majority of the collection that has variations in its narrative. Oh, and it’s also got a great Guy Pearce performance and an even better Ben Kingsley one…

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In Bruges 

I might be cheating here a bit as this film’s connection with Christmas is through the characters description and likeness of the Belgian city to the festival.Regardless, In Bruges is one of my favourite films of all time so I had to try and get it in here somehow. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are perfect in their roles and the film is very darkly comedic and is endlessly quotable. It’s shot beautifully and Carter Burwell’s score is superb.  And with the Awards-nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri due for release in a few weeks time, what better way to get started with Martin McDonagh’s filmography and watching a Christmas film at the same time…?


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

Top Five Oscar Isaac Performances

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Oscar Isaac has got a little new film out this week which you may, just may, have heard of called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest in the ever-popular and ever-expanding saga. With the one exception of X-Men: Apocalypse where he plays the titular villain and is made to constantly shout whilst looking uncomfortable in a blue outfit, Isaac always integrates seamlessly into any film he is in, elevating the material with his performances. He always tends to pick really interesting projects and a portray characters in a real range of genres as well. In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he returns as Resistance Fighter pilot, Poe Dameron, in an expanded role after being introduced (and underused) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Isaac’s career so far and count down his Top Five films. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality.

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5) Drive

I’m generally not the biggest fan of director Nicolas Winding Refn and took particular offence last year to The Neon Demon, but Drive is probably his most accessible film. Isaac plays Carey Mulligan’s debt-ridden husband who has recently been released from prison. He hires Ryan Gosling’s stone-cold getaway driver for a job, which turns out to be a disaster but Isaac does really well as a character who wants to turn his life around and wants the best for his family.

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4) The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January is the directorial debut of screenwriter Hossein Amini and a film that really holds up to repeat viewings, a kind-of Hitchock meets Agatha Christie blend. Oscar Isaac is excellent here as Rydal, a tour guide who scams tourists whose character arc is vastly developed as he meets The MacFarland’s, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. What works with the film and with his performance is you’re never really sure what his character intentions are and Isaac manages to portray this brilliantly. If you haven’t seen this film, definitely one to check out.

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3) Ex_Machina

Alex Garland’s debut is tense and a slow-burn, yet a very philosophical watch and the film makes for a great character study. Isaac plays here as the CEO of a search engine company against Domhnall Gleeson’s computer programmer, who wins the opportunity to spend the week with him. Isaac has a very meaty role and as the film progresses, the film asks some tough, ethical questions of its audience which his character is central to. A different role for the actor, but one that he pulls off really well.

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2) Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely underrated film in the director’s catalogue, with many quick to watch it and dismiss it. I loved it on first go and it gets better each time I rewatch it. Again, another new direction for Isaac who portrays the titular character, an individual who is trying to find his place in the world but finds himself constantly struggling. It’s a great film and one that I would rank really highly in the Coen Brothers’ entire body of work.

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1) A Most Violent Year 

It has taken me a very long time to realize just how good A Most Violent Year is. I initially thought it was rather indulgent with there being a great 100 minute film in it. Since then, after rewatching it multiple times, I now consider it to be a masterpiece. You may have read when I wrote my favourite films from that year, I placed it at 12th – I’d probably now go about 5th. The film is paced so well and there are so many perfectly orchestrated scenes in the film. As well as trying to convince you to go and watch this film, you also get a career-best performance from Oscar Isaac here. Isaac’s performance channels many other crime drama’s, for example The Godfather and his character has so many layers to him. A Most Violent Year is a most incredible film.


So there we go. What do you think? What did I miss? If you haven’t watched any of these films, I’d highly recommend you do so as they’re all really worthwhile and I hope this actor’s career continues to go from strength to strength.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out now  in UK cinemas