Best Films Of 2020 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2020 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2019:

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10) Jojo Rabbit 

Director Taika Waititi describes Jojo Rabbit as an ‘anti-hate satire’ which perfectly encapsulates this film. There is a lot to like here and this is another original film from Waititi, who transposes his off-beat brand of humour to Nazi Germany with great results. What is also impressive is how the film takes a darker turn in the second half and there are some particular heartfelt moments, due to the good work in developing the characters. This is one of Scarlett Johannsson’s best performances here as the titular character’s mother. Taika Waititi also shines as Adolf Hitler and Stephen Merchant and Sam Rockwell also turn in strong performances. Hunt for the Wilderpeople remains Waititi’s best film though but it’s good to see his talent recognised here.

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9) The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is pretty typical Aaron Sorkin, which is a good thing as he spins a gripping yarn from the material. The trial is fascinating, particularly in how Frank Langella’s Judge abuses his power in the court of law. Sorkin powerfully interweaves the talky trial with flashbacks to the event and he masterfully creates tension in the run up to the riot. When the film depicts the event that got the Chicago 7 in hot water, it really earns its moment. The performances are suitably excellent and Sorkin has assembled a terrific cast. The particular standouts are expectedly Sacha Baron Cohen and Frank Langella, the latter is really excellent as the scheming, icy judge. Mark Rylance is also terrific as the lawyer representing the group, who at first is rather reticent but then fights for what he thinks is right. Sorkin has developed well as a director. The problem with Molly’s Game was that its second half couldn’t match its gripping first half but this isn’t the case here. The film suitably progresses and reaches a clear denouement. That said, Sorkin is still yet to match some of the director’s films he wrote in terms of artistic flair. (Full review here)

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8) Just Mercy

Just Mercy is a gripping legal drama about a young and tenacious attorney (Michael B. Jordan) who defends a murder convict (Jamie Foxx) for a crime he didn’t commit. With strong performances by the duo and other members of the cast such as Brie Larson and Tim Blake Nelson, this is an assured and politicially timely piece by director Destin Daniel Cretton, who is next set to direct a Marvel feature, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

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7) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

The idea of Will Ferrell fronting a film surrounding Eurovision was preposterous when I first heard of it but this film plays to all his strengths. Ferrell is hilarious as an Icelandic reject, who partners with his child sweetheart played sweetly by Rachel McAdams to audition for the contest. After a fortuitous turn of events, they end up performing for their country. With plenty of brilliant gags and moments, this is perhaps director David Dobkin’s best film as a director, even if the film is slightly overlong. In a year when Eurovision wasn’t broadcast due to the broadcast, the fact that this film exists more than makes up for it.

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6) Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell could have been directed in Clint Eastwood’s sleep but this is yet another strong offering from the veteran filmmaker. It tells the fascinating true story of the titular character who is falsely accused of orchestrating a terrorist attack. Paul Walter Hauser is terrific in the lead role, who brilliantly manages to encapsulate the warm but slightly eccentric side of the character.

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5) Soul

Soul is another winning original creation from Pixar and after a slightly shaky opening act on first viewing, finds its footing and often soars. Pixar stalwart Pete Docter skilfully interrogates existential themes of what it means to be alive and all the emotions associated with it including anxiety and depression. This is a far more adult film than some of Pixar’s other offerings but the characters and gags here should still enthrall younger viewings, even if the loftier themes go over their heads. (Full review here)

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4) The Devil All The Time 

The Devil All The Time is a sprawling and epic tale of a young man played by Tom Holland, who appears at different points of his life and how the sinister characters of the post-war backwards town that he lives in intertwine with his life. The story is intricately crafted together and shocking at times. There are some reveals in the third act are particularly satisfying and it is coherently told and interrogates some interesting themes. The cast are all great, with Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton the highlights.

Now into the top #3…

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3) The Gentlemen 

The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie back on form. Since his two brilliant Sherlock Holmes efforts, Ritchie has fallen by the wayside with both The Man From UNCLE and Aladdin failing to impress. King Arthur was more promising in that it retained more of his signature style but it was also flawed. Going in to The Gentlemen with low expectations, this surprised me at multiple points. The cast are all brilliant and the script is razor sharp, deftly balancing its adult, violent and drug-fuelled content with a degree of silliness.

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2) The Invisible Man 

Writer director Leigh Whannell continues to go from strength to strength in his directorial career. After impressing with both Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade, The Invisible Man is more in line with his second offering and is a giddy mix of sci-fi and horror in its execution. Elisabeth Moss is brilliant in the lead role and Whannell keeps the historical story fresh by throwing in some clever twists that subvert expectations. This film is an intelligent blast from start to finish that wildly succeeds in its genre-melding and justifies its existence as a remake, in its comparison to previous iterations.

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Parasite 

Parasite is easily the winner here and it is pretty much perfect. This is a thrilling and rich study by Bong Joon-Ho about two families on opposite sides of the wealth scale. The script is razor-sharp and witty and the story takes some unexpected turns. The film constantly surprises and is consistently gripping. The performances are all brilliant and the film is technically astute. Films really don’t get much better than this.


So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2019. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Best Films Of 2020 (20-11)

Although cinema is still in a state of paralysis with the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not to say that 2020 didn’t offer its fair share of film experiences. The year got off to a conventional start with UK cinemas having to close in line with the first lockdown at the end of March. Cinemas then reopened briefly from August before closing again and are still yet to reopen.

2020 has represented a marked change and acceleration in the move to streaming content at home. Netflix and Amazon have continued to grow and have triumphed with their business model in that audiences don’t need to travel to a cinema to view their content and can consume it in the comfort of their own home. Other streaming services have been introduced this year such as Disney+ and Apple TV.

Having had the chance to catch up on some 2020 releases, I can now 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. Despite many releases being cancelled or moved to future dates when cinemas are planning to reopen, 2020 still delivered a wealth of strong work.

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. 

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20) Escape From Pretoria   

Daniel Radcliffe continues to pick fascinating projects post-Harry Potter and Escape From Pretoria is no exception. Based on the true story of Tim Jenkin and his fellow escapees, the film follows their ingenious method of escaping one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons. Although the ending of the film is known from the film’s start, it doesn’t make the film any less intense and there are some uncomfortably high-ante sequences in this story that tell a fascinating story.

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19) The New Mutants 

The New Mutants is a far better film than it has any right to be or as the delays would suggest. The notion of director Josh Boone melding a comic-book film with the horror genre is an interesting decision and whilst the film isn’t particularly scary, there are some unsettling images of some of the team’s greatest fears. The smaller scale works wonders for the film, with Boone successfully establishing and developing its close-knit characters. By the time the film reaches the third act, all of the characters make compelling cases to really care for them. Unfortunately, The New Mutants commits the classic comic-film sin with its last 15 mins as it descends into a bit of a CGI-fest but it’s relatively short-lived. It does undo the sense of intrigue somewhat but it needs to integrate into the genre somehow, I suppose. However, for the most part, this is a really solid piece of work and it’s a shame that it is unlikely to be explored further in future installments. (Full review here)

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18) Unhinged

Unhinged is surprisingly far better than this type of film ought to be and it goes surprisingly far in terms of its violence and subject matter. Directed by Derrick Borte, it tells the story of Rachel, a young, recently divorced mother who is terrorised by Tom Cooper, a mentally deranged stranger, after a road rage incident between the two. Rachel is sent to hell and back with Tom’s torment and he is unrelenting in dishing out his revenge, satisfying his moral righteousness and ethic high ground. Both Russell Crowe and the underrated Caren Pistorius are excellent in the lead roles, Crowe suitably revelling in the role. It is great to see Caren Pistorius in a lead role, after she impressed in Slow West back in 2014 and has only really taken smaller supporting roles since then. She is more than up for the challenge and the film develops her character very well at the start so that when the inciting incident of her meeting Crowe’s character occurs, as an audience we can more than empathise with her life situation. (Full review here)

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17) Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s latest represents the director’s strengths in his jaw-dropping visual effects and high-stakes sequences. Nolan has crafted a high-concept storyline that packs plenty of twists and the film requires multiple viewings to truly unpack. Although it’s good to see Nolan’s film feature in this list, this isn’t his strongest piece of work. The third act falters in some of its logic and it is overly expository. The characters also aren’t particularly well-developed, but the film makes up for these flaws in its spectacle and ambition.

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16) Color Out Of Space

After a convincing career redemption with Mandy, Nicolas Cage builds on that film’s strengths with this similarly psychedelic sci-fi as an ostrich farmer. Yes, you read that correctly. Color Out Of Space is Richard Stanley’s first film in 25 years and he fully embraces the weirdness of H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. When a meteor crashes in Cage’s family garden, all manner of hell is let loose and reality is distorted as the horrors that are unleashed begin to hunt the family and their neighbours. This is a bold visual spectacle that delivers on its ludicrous intention perfectly in how it balances the gravity of the situation with the absurdity.

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15) Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler gives the performance of his career in Uncut Gems, directed by the Safdie Brothers after their brilliant film Good Time. Sandler plays a jewellery salesman that is also a gambling addict and he gets himself into a gut-wrenching situation. The first half is mesmerising in how the Safdies elevate the tension after Sandler digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole. Although the second half doesn’t quite sustain its momentum, this is an admirable and original effort from all involved.

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14) Queen And Slim 

Queen And Slim is a gut-punch of a biopic that is timely in its portrayal of a couple whose romantic date takes a turn for the worse when a racially prejudiced police officer pulls them over for their driving. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding as the titular duo as they try to continually escape the law and as they are so well developed, it is easy to root for them. This is a biopic with a bite in its messages of race and portrayal of the police force that builds to an emotional climax.

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13) Mank

Mank is a different type of film for Fincher but one that retains a lot of his artistic qualities. It will be divisive amongst audiences but if the subject matter appeals and you appreciate Citizen Kane, this is a very fine companion piece to what is considered one of the most iconic and memorable films ever made. Mank is certainly not for everyone but given my personal fascination of the subject matter, I found a lot to admire here. Gary Oldman is superb as the titular character and this is a much more fitting and natural performance for him to win any Awards compared to his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour a couple of years ago. Mankiewicz is a fascinating character and Fincher manages to perfectly encapsulate his genius, juxtaposed with his messy, incoherent descents into alcoholism. (Full review here)

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12) A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood 

A totally different film for director Marielle Heller compared to Can You Ever Forgive Me last year, which also featured in my Best of the Year list. This is an affecting and sweet drama that follows a struggling journalist who is asked to write a feature on Fred Rogers. This is one of Tom Hanks’ best performance as the children’s television performer, who strikes a fine line between overly sweet and slightly creepy. The film has a wonderful message at its core and will leave you with a giddy smile by the film’s close.

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11) Da 5 Bloods 

Spike Lee’s latest is a gripping and politically relevant drama of four aging Vietnam veterans who travel back there to discover some treasure they had borrowed and rescue the body of their fallen leader. Delroy Lindo is extraordinary in the lead role of Paul, a bitter Trump supporter, and was robbed of an Oscar at the latest Academy Awards. The entire cast are also more than game for Lee’s biting material. Although the film is a little unwieldy in its 160 minute run time, when the film gets going, it is particularly affecting.


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 The Comic-Book Films Of 2020

The comic-book genre continues to maintain its audience popularity and 2020 brought some new additions to the table. Unfortunately, not every film that was in the calendar has been released due to the coronavirus pandemic, so this is a much smaller year in terms of volume. Three films made it to release. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.

In a surprise move, DC had the biggest year releasing two of its films. Birds of Prey was lucky to release in February just before the pandemic hit and was interesting in that it represents a more adult take on the genre with an all female cast. Wonder Woman 1984 was scheduled for early June but found itself getting delayed and ultimately recieved a hybrid release in select open cinemas and video-on-demand in December.

Marvel were meant to release two films this year – Black Widow and The Eternals but neither were released and have moved to the 2021 slate. Black Widow was meant to release in May but Disney have been reluctant to move it to their Disney+ channel and are trying to hold out for a theatrical release.

In their Sony slate, Marvel were also meant to release Morbius and Venom 2 this year that continue the universe set up by Venom but both have also been moved to 2021.

In what is perhaps a surprise move, the final X-Men film (well more of a spin-off that was meant to release back in 2018!), The New Mutants, had a quiet release in Summer once cinemas reopened but had next to no marketing. It has been clear since its strained release that Disney-Fox lacked confidence in the product and in the vein of Fantastic Four, tried to dump it on screens so that it had a theatrical release and be rid of it. 

Overall, I would argue that the three films in this small list here are all good and there isn’t a great deal between them, especially the top two films in this list. Let’s get started!

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3) Birds of Prey 

Birds of Prey is an interesting addition to the DCEU in that it functions as a distanced sequel to Suicide Squad in that it follows Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and some of the ramifications following the events in that film but functions as a standalone piece otherwise. Directed by Cathy Yan, this is an interesting and original entry into the comic-book genre that hits more than it misses. Yan implores the use of unreliable narration and dials up the violence to earn the film a 15 rating, following the success of more adult entries such as Deadpool and Logan. It’s also an all female team directed with a feminist agenda which is also refreshing. The film is very ramshackle in its construction for its first two acts and there are some sequences that diverge from the main plot which just don’t work, alongside some poor musical choices. However, the film finds its footing in the final act once the team are assembled and there is a carnival-esque quality to their camrarderie. Birds of Prey is an interesting film that I’m glad exists and I would be happy to watch future installments but this film does run into its fair share of issues.

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2) Wonder Woman 1984 

Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a risky sequel that retains the first film’s quality in developing its characters and uses action sparingly in its long run time. I can understand the mixed reception to some of the film’s themes but I got on board with the narrative and was thoroughly entertained from when the film finds its footing about 20 minutes in right through to the end. Yes, it has its problems with some of the narrative choices and the depiction of Cheetah but director Patty Jenkins poses enough thought-provoking questions and develops her characters very well to make the film worthwhile. It is always better for a sequel to take risks in order to develop a film series rather than just rehash the same beats and for that, you have to appreciate the ambition of Wonder Woman 1984, even if said risks don’t always pay off. It will be very interesting to see where Wonder Woman and the supporting characters are taken next in future DCEU films. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2020 is…

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1) The New Mutants 

A choice that I’m sure will spark controversy! Although Wonder Woman 1984 is perhaps a slightly more consistent film, The New Mutants surprised me in that it is a far better film than it has any right to be or as the delays would suggest. The notion of director Josh Boone melding a comic-book film with the horror genre is an interesting decision and whilst the film isn’t particularly scary, there are some unsettling images of some of the team’s greatest fears. The smaller scale works wonders for the film, with Boone successfully establishing and developing its close-knit characters. By the time the film reaches the third act, all of the characters make compelling cases to really care for them. Unfortunately, The New Mutants commits the classic comic-film sin with its last 15 mins as it descends into a bit of a CGI-fest but it’s relatively short-lived. It does undo the sense of intrigue somewhat but it needs to integrate into the genre somehow, I suppose. Despite the ambitions for The New Mutants to start a new series, this standalone film is a valiant effort in its final form and is worth watching for viewers of the series. (My full review here)



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


 

Best Films of 2019 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2019 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11 and the Honourable Mentions.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2019:

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10) Green Book

Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into America’s prejudice culture and racism of the time. 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. (Full review here)

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9) Boy Erased

Boy Erased is the sophomore effort from actor-now-director Joel Edgerton whose debut The Gift was a masterpiece. Boy Erased is a completely different film and is a drama about a teenager who is forced to undergo homosexual conversion therapy program. The cast are all excellent, Lucas Hedges gives a nuanced performance as the conflicted main character and Russell Crowe is a standout as his authoritarian and religious father. Joel Edgerton casts himself as the head of the program and he is a particularly sinister and nasty piece of work. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is fantastic and the film is visually dark and gloomy. Boy Erased is another success from Edgerton and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

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8) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile 

Joe Berlinger’s feature film on Ted Bundy is the perfect companion to his Netflix docu-series on the notorious serial killer. The entirety of the cast are on top form here, Zac Efron continuing to prove his versatility in the lead role as the deranged murderer, as he continues to shake off the High School Musical stigma. Berlinger skilfully encapsulates the key facts in this biography into a feature film run time and all of the characters are developed well. By the time the film gets into its final act, the stakes are really well set. The critical reception to this film has been rather mixed with many arguing it is a watered-down version of the Netflix series, but for me the film does more than enough to act as a companion piece.

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7) Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a multi-layered and a more mature effort compared to his previous back catalogue. For the most part, this film lacks the trademark ultraviolence and shocks and is a contemplative study of Hollywood in its golden age. On a first watch, the first two thirds do meander somewhat but it is all for a purpose and the final third really pays off. On subsequent rewatches, there is a lot more to appreciate. The performances across the board are top-notch here, Brad Pitt in particular a standout. That said, this is not Tarantino’s best work and he is being recognised for the wrong film in this year’s Oscar Awards but this is still a total blast from start to finish.

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6) Triple Frontier

Triple Frontier is the latest from director J. C. Chandor, who previously made A Most Violent Year which I really liked when it first came out and upon further viewing, I now deem to be a masterpiece as it is a film rich with layers, a terrific narrative and conflicted characters. My expectations were very high for this film, a crime heist thriller with Ben Affleck and Chandor reuniting with Oscar Isaac. This is another excellent film by Chandor and it successfully takes what can be a rather conventional genre into a new direction in the way it explores certain themes and the repercussions the heist has on the group. The score by Disasterpeace is intense and the film looks visually sharp. I was engrossed by the film throughout and Chandor manages to sustain the tension throughout.

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5) The Mule 

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Clint 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. (Full review here)

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4) Joker

Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as the titular character and is strangely sympathetic as an individual who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end. What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem. The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully, doing a lot of heavy lifting in places. It’s one of the best scores of the year. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation.

The film isn’t quite perfect though. As is clear in all of director Todd Phillips’ career, he’s not the most subtle director and there are a few instances in which Phillips chooses to explain certain choices which were pretty self-evident. I’m also a little unsure of the film’s final scene tonally and thought the film could have ended a scene earlier but based on some critical readings that have been put forward, it is admittedly necessary. There are so many standout scenes in this film that are just stunning to behold and you have to admire the ambition. Joker is fully deserving of the praise it has received and is one of the best films of the year. (My review here)

Now into the top #3…

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3) Glass 

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents M. Night 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 standing out. 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. I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved. (Full review here)

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2) Doctor Sleep

To my dismay and against all the odds stacking against it, Doctor Sleep is an enthralling sequel to The Shining that is refreshingly different from its predecessor but still has some spiritual connections. It is frequently mesmerising and has a fascinating narrative at its core. The characters are well-developed and Flanagan establishes some emotional narrative stakes. Of course, there does not need to be some connection to what has come before it and the third act returns to The Overlook Hotel. The film does dip a little into fan service here but not enough to derail the entire film. But it is the first 2 hours are so that are really, really strong. Speaking of the 152 minute run time, this is a film that earns its length. There are so many standout scenes here and Flanagan does an excellent job of conjuring dread. A scene with Rebecca Ferguson astral-projecting mid-way through is just stunning and a shootout at the end of the second act are the highlights. Overall, Doctor Sleep is a surprisingly great sequel that holds it own with Kubrick’s original.

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Dragged Across Concrete

S. Craig Zahler does it again. His first film, Bone Tomahawk reached very highly in my 2016 list and his second, Brawl In Cell Block 99 took top honours in 2017. Dragged Across Concreteis another wonder from this top director. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are both brilliant as two policemen who are suspended after brutally treating a suspect and take matters into their own hands. Tory Kittles is also great as a recently released man who reunites with his family and finds himself intertwined in this case. There are also small roles from Zahler-regulars Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson. The script is once again fantastic and the film deals with the themes of wealth and righteousness very assuredly. Dragged Across Concrete foregoes some of Zahler’s usual ultraviolence and there is nothing here that rivals the violence in his first two films – bear in mind though the film still has an 18 certificate. But instead, this is an equally well-developed narrative that is fascinating throughout and the third act is well-worth the interesting build-up. I think Brawl In Cell Block 99 remains Zahler’s best film but this is another winner and it will take quite a lot for something to top this.


So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2019. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Best Films of 2019 (20-11)

Although cinema has come to a virtual stop as we know it in these pandemic times, having now had the chance to catch up on some 2019 releases, I can now 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. 

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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Vox Lux 

A jarring yet hypnotic effort from actor-director Brady Corbet, Vox Lux tells the story of Celeste Montgomery, a young girl who survives a school shooting rampage who then embarks on a singing career but she is always haunted by this terrifying event. Both Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman who portray the singer at two stages of her life are terrific. Technically, this film is arresting but the two main acts to the story feel like two different films. A very interesting but flawed effort and it is always better when a filmmaker takes a risk.

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Beautiful Boy

Based on two memoirs, Beautiful Boy is the story of a relationship between a father and a son, with the son’s life spiralling out of control as he becomes more dependent on crystal meth. Steve Carell continues to prove that he is a versatile actor outside of comedy and he conveys his despair and hope as his son’s life yo-yos. Timothée Chalamet is equally excellent as the son, Nic. There’s not much hope in this story and whatever hope the film builds up is often swiftly removed but this is a raw and real story of addiction and the detrimental effects it can have on life.

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Birds of Passage

The lastest from Colombian director Ciro Guerra, this is a sprawling drama about a generation of family and how their lives intersect, a complete U-turn from the linear but magical Embrace of the Serpent. There’s a lot to like here with Guerra painting a grim and arid world which is frequently hard-hitting on his characters.

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Fighting With My Family

The first film on this list to feature Florence Pugh, I really didn’t expect to like this. But Fighting For My Family is a gripping, often hilarious and emotionally involved directorial debut from Stephen Merchant about a young female boxer in Norwich and her efforts to go pro. The performances all round are great, particularly Florence Pugh and Nick Frost. Merchant deftly balances the humour with emotional heft, even if the film follows a hegemonic sports-drama narrative.

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Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari pedals an entertaining and gripping story of its source material that is bolstered by some strong performances and good racing sequences. This is despite a lengthy 152 minute run time which is impressive as it always sustains the pace. The characters are well-developed, particularly Matt Damon and Christian Bale’s leads and the interplay between them is heartfelt yet entertaining. Bale is particularly effective as British World War II veteran / professional race driver as he is constantly let down by his peers who do not appreciate his genius. Tracy Letts is also a standout as the CEO of Ford who is able to balance the authoritarian, no-nonsense but a little dim side with the sheer thrill of race driving. There is a particularly effective scene when he is driven in the car that bears his name around a race track where he breaks down in tears. Visually, the film is sharp with Mangold-regular Phedon Papamichael’s photography showcasing the scope of the race. There are also some sound themes from another Mangold-regular, Marco Beltrami who co-scores the film with Buck Sanders.

As entertaining as the film is, Mangold is surprisingly rather slavish to the biopic formula, something which he managed to subvert beautifully in Logan. The plot is mostly predictable in terms of the character beats needed to serve the genre and there aren’t many surprises to the formula. But ultimately, despite its reliance on formula, there is more than enough in Ford v Ferrari to enjoy and this is an above average effort in a genre that can often isolate audiences that aren’t car enthusiasts. (My review here)

Now onto the Top Twenty:

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20) The Good Liar  

A real surprise from director Bill Condon whose work has been more miss than hit over this decade. This is a taut, riveting mystery with two excellent performances by Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, both as devious and deceptive as each other. The script is razor-sharp with plenty of twists and turns, infused with humour. Perhaps the end reveal is lacking a little but for the vast majority, this is excellent and Condon’s best film in a very long time.

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19) The Nightingale

A real surprise addition to this list. I really didn’t like director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature The Babadook, which received rave reviews. I didn’t find it scary or sophisticated in the slightest. But The Nightingale is excellent in that it starts at a very low point for Aisling Franciosi’s main characterm, Clare, and doesn’t let up with its depressing and dour tone. After everything that she has is taken away from her, Clare embarks on a dangerous journey to enact her revenge. This has a lot to say on a lot of topics such as the Aboriginals and the performances are all excellent, Franciosi impressing and Sam Claflin being uncharacteristically nasty compared to his other roles. This is a film that really earns its 18 certificate and many viewers have expressed unease at some of the sexual violence.

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18) Official Secrets

Official Secrets is another political thriller from director Gavin Hood, his previous being the note-perfect Eye In The Sky. Official Secrets isn’t quite as good but this is a very timely and riveting docudrama on the UN involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is one of the performances of Keira Knightley’s career, who portrays the courageous Katherine Gun.

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17) Midsommar

After impressing with Hereditary, Midsommar is writer-director Ari Aster’s sophomore effort. Hereditary really impressed in its perfect first half before a controversial twist half-way through which changes direction. Midsommar is a much more consistent film but doesn’t match the first half of Hereditary. Florence Pugh is fantastic as the titular character who has gone through a tough time and although she is needy on her boyfriend, Aster wildly succeeds in us sympathising with both situations. They take a trip to Norway to meet a cult where one of their friends belongs. Partly inspired by The Wicker Man but more sophisticated and rich, Midsommar furthers the horror genre again with its disregard for jump scares. It’s also impressive how the horror is all set in crystal white daylight.

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16) Ma

Ma seriously took me by surprise. After the disappointment that was The Girl On The Train, Ma is a lean and mean horror by director Tate Taylor. Octavia Spencer is phenomenal as the titular character and Taylor always keeps the audience second-guessing. What propels this from average fare is the strength of the group of teenagers that are tormented. Diana Silvers is excellent and there is a real emotional core to her story.

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15) Polar

Perhaps one of the most controversial choice on this list, Polar got absolutely trashed by critics in its reviews. A Netflix Original, Polar is a revenge thriller in the vein of John Wick and Taken with Mads Mikkelsen playing the action hero with spectacular results. The film is utterly bonkers and what is impressive how it manages to balance sheer grittiness, often at the same time. The decision to cast Matt Lucas as the over-the-top villain is a stroke of genius and the result is a film that I really got on board with.

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14) Can You Ever Forgive Me?  

I generally can’t stand Melissa McCarthy but this is the film for me where she proves herself and she is just magnificent as a down-for-luck author who starts forging letters by famous writers and selling them. Richard E. Grant is also brilliant as her new friend who is battling his own demons. Director Marielle Heller clearly has respect for these characters and deftly balances laugh-out-loud moments with some touching and emotional character development too. The script is really sharp and allows both McCarthy and Grant to play off each other consistently.

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13) Us 

Us is an ambitious sophomore effort from Jordan Peele and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out, this is a cryptic and atmospheric horror film that is full of originality. Peele deals with some heady themes of duality and race and intentionally makes some of the metaphorical meanings in this film ambiguous. The film can be interpreted in a number of ways and further viewings allow this film to be unpacked even more. This is a really interesting film from Peele and even if it doesn’t always succeed, one has to admire the ambition.

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12) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a very strong entry in the franchise. Chapter 2 was good but it did feel a little repetitive and lost some of the charm from the first film. This third chapter is a step-up that almost reaches the heights of the first film. The fight choreography is wonderful and particualrly in the first half, it is amazing how much variation in the types of action Stahelski portrays. Keanu Reeves is on top form again and the film furthers the mythology the first two films explored in the criminal world the titular character finds himself tied in. Visually, the film is gorgeous as well, cinematographer Dan Laustsen capturing the neon, visceral quality beautifully. The film ends in a place where further sequels could happen but if the series stopped here, this would be a great trilogy.

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11) Sorry We Missed You  

Sorry We Missed You is another knockout from director Ken Loach. Like I, Daniel Blake a few years ago, this film also is concerned with the struggles of the lower class. This is about a family where the husband joins a delivery company who have strict targets to meet and he has to finance his own van. The children are also developing and the wife has to take public transport to her job as a carer. This is all touching stuff and the film succeeds in portraying a grim decay into a vicious cycle.


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

Top Ten Films Of 2019 – Mid-Year Report

Although rather late, I am finally ready to share my usual mid-year report of the Top Ten Films of 2019 so far. As is to be expected, there are still a few films that I am still yet to see but I have tried to get through all the films that I have been looking forward to or the films that reviews have been good for. As usual, I am following the UK release date calendar between January and June. As you are about to see, there are some Awards films included in this list but these have all been released within this time period in the UK.

Honourable Mentions

As always, there are a handful of films that didn’t quite manage to make it into the Top Ten. They all had their specific problems, but the reason why I feel they should be listed is because I found them all to either be entertaining, heartfelt or have some very interesting ideas even if they didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten. As I feel they deserve a mention, I will list them below:

–  Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
–  Ma
–  Birds of Passage
–  Captain Marvel (Review here)
–  Shazam!

Top Ten Films Of 2019 – Mid Year-Report

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10) Polar 

I’m sure for many a controversial choice, Polar got absolutely trashed by critics in its reviews. A Netflix Original, Polar is a revenge thriller in the vein of John Wick and Taken with Mads Mikkelsen playing the action hero with spectacular results. The film is utterly bonkers and what is impressive how it manages to balance sheer grittiness, often at the same time. The decision to cast Matt Lucas as the over-the-top villain is a stroke of genius and the result is a film that I really got on board with.

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9) Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

I generally can’t stand Melissa McCarthy but this is the film for me where she proves herself and she is just magnificent as a down-for-luck author who starts forging letters by famous writers and selling them. Richard E. Grant is also brilliant as her new friend who is battling his own demons. Director Marielle Heller clearly has respect for these characters and deftly balances laugh-out-loud moments with some touching and emotional character development too. The script is really sharp and allows both McCarthy and Grant to play off each other consistently.

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8) Us 

Us is an ambitious sophomore effort from Jordan Peele and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out, this is a cryptic and atmospheric horror film that is full of originality. Peele deals with some heady themes of duality and race and intentionally makes some of the metaphorical meanings in this film ambiguous. The film can be interpreted in a number of ways and further viewings allow this film to be unpacked even more. This is a really interesting film from Peele and even if it doesn’t always succeed, one has to admire the ambition.

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7) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a very strong entry in the franchise. Chapter 2 was good but it did feel a little repetitive and lost some of the charm from the first film. This third chapter is a step-up that almost reaches the heights of the first film. The fight choreography is wonderful and particualrly in the first half, it is amazing how much variation in the types of action Stahelski portrays. Keanu Reeves is on top form again and the film furthers the mythology the first two films explored in the criminal world the titular character finds himself tied in. Visually, the film is gorgeous as well, cinematographer Dan Laustsen capturing the neon, visceral quality beautifully. The film ends in a place where further sequels could happen but if the series stopped here, this would be a great trilogy.

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6) Boy Erased 

Boy Erased is the sophomore effort from actor-now-director Joel Edgerton whose debut The Gift was a masterpiece. Boy Erased is a completely different film and is a drama about a teenager who is forced to undergo homosexual conversion therapy program. The cast are all excellent, Lucas Hedges gives a nuanced performance as the conflicted main character and Russell Crowe is a standout as his authoritarian and religious father. Joel Edgerton casts himself as the head of the program and he is a particularly sinister and nasty piece of work. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is fantastic and the film is visually dark and gloomy. Boy Erased is another success from Edgerton and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Now into the Top Five…

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5) Triple Frontier 

Triple Frontier is the latest from director J. C. Chandor, who previously made A Most Violent Year which I really liked when it first came out and upon further viewing, I now deem to be a masterpiece as it is a film rich with layers, a terrific narrative and conflicted characters. My expectations were very high for this film, a crime heist thriller with Ben Affleck and Chandor reuniting with Oscar Isaac. This is another excellent film by Chandor and it successfully takes what can be a rather conventional genre into a new direction in the way it explores certain themes and the repercussions the heist has on the group. The score by Disasterpeace is intense and the film looks visually sharp. I was engrossed by the film throughout and Chandor manages to sustain the tension throughout.

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4) Green Book 

Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into America’s prejudice culture and racism of the time. 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. (Full review here)

Now into the Top Three…

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3) The Mule 

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Clint 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. (Full review here)

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2) Glass

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents M. Night 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 standing out. 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. I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Dragged Across Concrete 

S. Craig Zahler does it again. His first film, Bone Tomahawk reached very highly in my 2016 list and his second, Brawl In Cell Block 99 took top honours in 2017. Dragged Across Concrete is another wonder from this top director. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are both brilliant as two policemen who are suspended after brutally treating a suspect and take matters into their own hands. Tory Kittles is also great as a recently released man who reunites with his family and finds himself intertwined in this case. There are also small roles from Zahler-regulars Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson. The script is once again fantastic and the film deals with the themes of wealth and righteousness very assuredly. Dragged Across Concrete foregoes some of Zahler’s usual ultraviolence and there is nothing here that rivals the violence in his first two films – bear in mind though the film still has an 18 certificate. But instead, this is an equally well-developed narrative that is fascinating throughout and the third act is well-worth the interesting build-up. I think Brawl In Cell Block 99 remains Zahler’s best film but this is another winner and it will take quite a lot for something to top this.

Reflection on 2019 so far…

2019 has been another solid year in terms of film and a definite step-up from 2018’s mid-point which wasn’t a particularly strong selection. Most films so far this year have either been pretty solid or above average but there have been a couple of unexpected stinkers.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a real disappointment that after a strong opening turns into a turgid mess in its languorous run time. Hellboy was an outright disaster that undermined Guillermo Del Toro’s brilliant first two films. The Highwaymen was a total bore. But the worst film of the year so far that I have seen is ironically written by S. Craig Zahler who also directed the best film. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich should have been so good on paper and it has a brilliant first scene with Udo Kier. But the rest of the film is just terrible.

Other than these examples, everything else has been at least watchable. I’d be very happy if my end of year list included these films again as they’re all very worthy. Here’s hoping for another strong second half of the year.

What’s Next…?

2019 looks set to continue to be a great year in film and just listing a couple of films that look like they have potential include:

–  Midsommar
–  The Lion King
–  Spider-Man: Far From Home
–  Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
–  Crawl
–  Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
–  It: Chapter Two
–  Ad Astra
–  Joker
–  Offical Secrets
–  Terminator: Dark Fate
–  Monos
–  Doctor Sleep
–  Sorry We Missed You
–  Ford vs Ferrari
–  Them That Follow
–  Knives Out
–  Motherless Brooklyn
–  Jumanji: The Next Level
–  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

However, it is important to note that this is not a definitive list and these titles are just a few picks scattered across the remainder of the year that have piqued my interest.


Best Films of 2018 (10-1)

This is the second part of my Best Films of 2018 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11 and the Honourable Mentions.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2018:

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10) All The Money In The World 

All The Money In The World is overall, immensely enjoyable and a fun potboiler. It is frequently gripping and is propped up by the brilliant cast. Scott has had a varied career, Alien and Blade Runner at his peak, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood at his worst and then, many of his films fall in between with ambitious ideas but not necessarily great execution a la Alien: Covenant. All The Money In The World ultimately proves to be one of Scott’s best films and proves that with the right script and the right cast, he can still churn out greatness. Last-minute replacement Christopher Plummer is excellent as J. Paul Getty, as is Michelle Williams as her kidnapped son’s mother who just wants him back but cannot afford the hefty ransom. Although the film will be remembered for its behind-the-scenes shake-up with Kevin Spacey, the film is fantastic in its own right and should be viewed as such. (Full review here)

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9) Last Flag Flying 

Last Flag Flying really knocked me back. Boyhood director Richard Linklater has crafted a bittersweet and warm tale of friendship and coming to terms with loss that is very mature. Yet, the film also has bite in its conflicted commentary of military service and patriotism. The performances by the entirety of the cast are superb and of course, the trio of Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne have such good chemistry together. All of the characters are so well developed that when the film finished, I could have easily watched another two hours of these characters interacting with each other. They are all morally flawed individuals, who have all made mistakes in the past but they all have good intentions. It’s a brilliant film and one that I highly recommend seeking. (Full review here)

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8) In The Fade 

In The Fade is a return to form for German-Turkish director Fatih Ahkin and is a moody yet contemplative insight into the degradation of Diane Kruger’s main character following the death of her husband and her son in a neo-Nazi terrorist attack. The film transitions seamlessly from courtroom drama to a meditative thriller and the whole experience is edge-of-your-seat. The score by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme is excellent and compliments the film beautifully. In The Fade is a hard but necessary and rewarding watch.

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7) Widows

Widows is an intelligent, taut and well-constructed piece that not only succeeds as a basic heist film, but it has a lot to say on the themes of gender and politics. The cast are uniformly brilliant, Viola Davis leading the pack with ease and swagger. The standouts are Michelle Rodriguez, who plays against type as one of the widows and Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s menacing mob enforcer brother, also playing against type as his past characters have had a sense of morality. McQueen delivers on the more basic elements of the genre in spades, the heists gripping and tension-filled and the action sequences equally satisfying, given that his previous filmography hasn’t featured this. Coupled with American Animals (13th in this ranking), the heist genre has had a strong year. (My original review here)

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6) 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. (Full review here)

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5) Phantom Thread 

Phantom Thread represents yet another high for director Paul Thomas Anderson and is a fantastic note for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on, should this in fact be his swansong. It makes for a masterful character study and a real treat for cinephiles. Two thirds of this film is pretty much note-perfect but I’m still a little unsure of the direction the film takes in the third act but I am definitely more on-board with it than on first watch. (Full review here)

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4) The Shape of Water 

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from Guillermo Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. Del Toro has clearly been inspired from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a film that he wanted to remake from a female perspective but wasn’t allowed. As well as this inspiration, Del Toro’s film is a love letter to early cinema which it borrows in some of its tropes and plot points, infused with his darker work on Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. I was hooked by the film throughout and it has a lot hidden up its sleeve and like his other films, it earns its adult rating with its sex and grotesque violence. (Full review here)

Now into the top #3…

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3) Coco 

I really struggled with 2nd and 3rd, but Coco just lost out on 2nd place. Coco is yet another triumph for the animation giant, Pixar, and ranks as one of their strongest works. It is moving, life-affirming and should manage to appeal to both adults and children alike. It also goes without saying that the attention to detail in the animation is second to none, Pixar continuing to elevate animation to photorealist levels. Combined with the excellent narrative and emotional journey this film takes us through, Coco is a film fully deserving of its all praise. (Full review here)

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2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves Martin 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. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Sicario 2: Soldado 

There really was no competition. Sicario 2: Soldado is a masterful sequel and whilst its behind-the-camera talent may not, on paper, be quite as strong as its original, as a film I found it to be better paced and maintains its sharp focus throughout. The first film made a jarring shift in its final third, which although was satisfying, did make the film lose focus a little as the rest of the film follows Emily Blunt’s FBI agent constantly. This is an even more grimy and black picture where characters are morally and ethically bankrupt and there are multiple scenes which are very uncomfortable to watch, in particular an early scene that sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with terrorists blowing up a supermarket. Sollima’s sequel has a rousing commentary on American politics with a Trumpian-like President and the lengths and processes people go to to cross the border. The film gets better on further rewatches and nothing has come close to unseating this film from first position. (Full review here)


So there we go, these films were in my opinion, the best of 2018. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

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 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


 

Top Ten Films Of 2018 – Mid-Year Report

Although July, the half-way point of the year has already arrived and it is now August, I am finally ready to share my Top Ten Films of 2018 so far at the half-way point. As is to be expected, there are still a few films that I am still yet to see but I have tried to get through all the films that I have been looking forward to or the films that reviews have been good for. As usual, I am following the UK release date calendar between January and June. As you are about to see, there are some Awards films included in this list but these have all been released within this time period in the UK.

Honourable Mentions

As always, there are a handful of films that didn’t quite manage to make it into the Top Ten. They all had their specific problems, but the reason why I feel they should be listed is becuase I found them all to either be entertaining, heartfelt or have some very interesting ideas even if they didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten. As I feel they deserve a mention, I will list them below:

– Sweet Country
– Deadpool 2
– Hereditary (that first half is too good)

Top Ten Films Of 2018 – Mid Year-Report

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10) 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 to no. 10.

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9) Hostiles 

Hostiles is another winner from director Scott Cooper who continues to prove why is he is one of Hollywood’s most exciting directors working today. This Western is 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. Cooper again, manages to get the best out of his actors. The three leads – Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, are all on top form, all giving career-defining performances. The film follows Christian Bale’s Captain Blocker who is forced to escort a cancer-ridden Cheyenne tribe chief (Wes Studi) back toh is homeland, an individual who Blocker bears a grudge with. Bale’s Captain is gruff, sombre and constantly thrown arduous challenges both mentally and physically. Rosamund Pike’s character brutally loses all of her family in the very memorable first scene of the film and is psychologically damaged and tormented. There is one moment in particular when she first lays eyes on Studi’s tribe which reminds her of past horrors which the actress conveys brilliantly. It is testament to Wes Studi’s performance as Yellow Halk how much of an impression he is able to make – the character is underwritten but Studi is really able to do a lot with the role and manages to convey the bittersweet juxtaposition of his family beside him and the cancer eating away at him. Studi’s performance allows one to imagine how ruthless this war chief may have been back in his day but now is a more mellow, world-weary individual who simply wants to return to his homeland with his family. Technically, the film is excellent with a searing score by Max Richter and it is beautifully shot by Cooper regular Masanobu Takayanagi. On repeated rewatches, I always find something new in this film and despite it being a little muddled in its narrative structure, it is an excellent film. (Full review here)

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8) All The Money In The World 

All The Money In The World is overall, immensely enjoyable and a fun potboiler. It is frequently gripping and is propped up by the brilliant cast. Scott has had a varied career, Alien and Blade Runner at his peak, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood at his worst and then, many of his films fall in between with ambitious ideas but not necessarily great execution a la Alien: Covenant. All The Money In The World ultimately proves to be one of Scott’s best films and proves that with the right script and the right cast, he can still churn out greatness. Last-minute replacement Christopher Plummer is excellent as J. Paul Getty, as is Michelle Williams as her kidnapped son’s mother who just wants him back but cannot afford the hefty ransom. Although the film will be remembered for its behind-the-scenes shake-up with Kevin Spacey, the film is fantastic in its own right and should be viewed as such. (Full review here)

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7) Last Flag Flying 

Last Flag Flying really knocked me back. Boyhood director Richard Linklater has crafted a bittersweet and warm tale of friendship and coming to terms with loss that is very mature. Yet, the film also has bite in its conflicted commentary of military service and patriotism. The performances by the entirety of the cast are superb and of course, the trio of Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne have such good chemistry together. All of the characters are so well developed that when the film finished, I could have easily watched another two hours of these characters interacting with each other. They are all morally flawed individuals, who have all made mistakes in the past but they all have good intentions. It’s a brilliant film and one that I highly recommend seeking. (Full review here)

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6) 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. (Full review here)

Now into the Top Five…

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5) Phantom Thread 

Phantom Thread represents yet another high for director Paul Thomas Anderson and is a fantastic note for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on, should this in fact be his swansong. It makes for a masterful character study and a real treat for cinephiles. Two thirds of this film is pretty much note-perfect but 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. (Full review here)

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4) The Shape Of Water 

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from Guillermo Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. Del Toro has clearly been inspired from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a film that he wanted to remake from a female perspective but wasn’t allowed. As well as this inspiration, Del Toro’s film is a love letter to early cinema which it borrows in some of its tropes and plot points, infused with his darker work on Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. I was hooked by the film throughout and it has a lot hidden up its sleeve and like his other films, it earns its adult rating with its sex and grotesque violence. (Full review here)

Now into the Top Three…

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3) Coco

Coco is yet another triumph for the animation giant, Pixar, and ranks as one of their strongest works. It is moving, life-affirming and should manage to appeal to both adults and children alike. It also goes without saying that the attention to detail in the animation is second to none, Pixar continuing to elevate animation to photorealist levels. Combined with the excellent narrative and emotional journey this film takes us through, Coco is a film fully deserving of its all praise. (Full review here)

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2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves Martin 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. (Full review here)

So the best film of the year is…

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1) Sicario 2: Soldado 

Sicario 2: Soldado is a masterful sequel and whilst its behind-the-camera talent may not, on paper, be quite as strong as its original, as a film I found it to be better paced and maintains its sharp focus throughout. The first film made a jarring shift in its final third, which although was satisfying, did make the film lose focus a little as the rest of the film follows Emily Blunt’s FBI agent constantly. This is an even more grimy and black picture where characters are morally and ethically bankrupt and there are multiple scenes which are very uncomfortable to watch, in particular an early scene that sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with terrorists blowing up a supermarket. Sollima’s sequel has a rousing commentary on American politics with a Trumpian-like President and the lengths and processes people go to to cross the border. (Full review here)

Reflection on 2018 in Film so far…

2018 has been a solid year in terms of film – there is not one downright terrible film that I have come across yet but that said, there have been more disappointments than successes. I would say this mid-year Top Ten is probably the weakest batch of films in the last couple of years and this is portrayed in the sheer lack of honourable mentions as I’d feel uneasy bestowing this honour to films that haven’t delivered. Here’s hoping the second half of the year picks up.

What’s Next…?

2018 looks set to continue to be a great year in film and just listing a couple of films that look like they have potential include:

– Incredibles 2
– Ant-Man and the Wasp
– The Meg
– Christopher Robin
– BlacKkKlansman
– Slender Man
– Upgrade
– The Nun
– American Animals
– The Predator
– The Little Stranger
– Venom
– Johnny English Strikes Again
– First Man
– Mandy
– Halloween
– Bohemian Rhapsody
– Peterloo
– Widows
– Overlord
– The Girl In The Spider’s Web
– Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
– Ralph Breaks The Internet
– Aquaman
– Papillon
– Holmes and Watson
– Dragged Across Concrete
– The House That Jack Built

However, it is important to note that this is not a definitive list and these titles are just a few picks scattered across the remainder of the year that have piqued my interest.