‘2018: The Year of Okaaaay Films’
By Robin Stevens
I have reviewed around 20 new releases for the blog this year. There were some good films, some interesting films and some poor films, but overall there were a lot of films that were okaaaay. What I mean is that far too many of these films followed well-worn paths of Meccano-style constructions. This was especially the case for the endless reams of franchise films that were released in 2018.
‘Dumb but Fun’ Films
There were a few films that were, well, outright stupid; and yet they were hammed-up fun. And like many of those in the respective cinema audiences I just went along for the ride. Films such as Mission Impossible – Fallout. Yes, here we have mind-numbingly improbable and insensible action from the Tom Cruise, but it was completely enjoyable. Do we ever tire of a ticking bomb? In Russia, there was the comedy Night Shift. Okay, this was always meant to be slapstick and in-your-face humour, and it doesn’t make any bones about it. It is dumb but it’s fun. The Breaker Uppers from New Zealand was very similar. It did have a few weak spots but mostly it is good-natured and ridiculous comedy.
‘Should Have Been Better’ Films
So, these are not bad films per se, but they just fall short of the fully enjoyable experience. On Chesil Beach, for example, was not a terrible film but it lacked tension. It just glided through the narrative and then ends abruptly. A month or two after seeing it, I struggled to remember any particular scene of note. It was entirely okaaaay. A Fantastic Woman was another okaaaay film. Here we had a story about a transgender women living in Chile, which started well and then meanders around looking for a resolution or ‘statement’ to end with. But ultimately it fails. Although there are some very worthy scenes, and a subject deserving of respectful attention, it too frequently panders to melodramatic set-pieces that pushes it through the walls of drama into the lounge-room of clichés. Darkest Hour isn’t a bad film either – there were some good actors doing their stuff, but like so many films this year it fell short of anything out of the ordinary. And given the subject matter, it should have been better.
There were some good scenes in the J.K. Rowling franchise installment of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, but it never quite makes it to the point of being completely satisfying. It is too disjointed and inconsistent, with child and adult themes awkwardly intermingled. I also didn’t take to Solo: A Star Wars Story. There were some good scenes, but it is inconsistent in style (likely a result of two different directors and re-cuts) and too formulaic (likely a result of being in another franchise universe). It was not awful, but just not memorable. Then we had Avengers: Infinity Wars that also went through too many formula set-pieces, some of which were very well done. I liked the humour in the film but I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters.
Worst Films of the Year
Venom, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (kind of) was yet another superhero release from the year that was full of superhero releases. It tried to inject a bit of humour into the narrative to make up for a terribly dull story. It struggled to keep me engaged, and having expected so much more, it was just plain disappointing.
Hereditary, in my opinion, was hands-down the worst film of the year. Possibly the worst film in the history of humanity. In this laughable ‘horror’ every cliché in the horror canon is put to poor use. The scariest thing about the movie was the real danger of bored audience members slipping into self-induced comas.
Sweet Country is a great Australian period drama dealing with some thorny racial issues. Good acting, good script and interesting cinematography. Bohemian Rhapsody was a totally enjoyable film and it nicely involved the audience in the music. A Star is Born is a technically well-made film, with good music and intense drama. It also has a story that has held the test of time over many decades. Black Panther was another superhero film that had great style and superb photography. Disobedience is a well-acted drama about acceptance, prejudice and suppressed heartache.
Top Five Films of the Year
The Shape of Water: A great fantasy film, with melodramatic touches, wonderful colour canvass in set and costume design, and a pure lost-in-fantasy narrative. The Shape of Water is a ‘Beauty and the Beast’-style fairytale between a mute woman and an amphibious creature. Think Creature from the Black Lagoon, but where the male hero is the fish-man. Arty, emotional and melodramatic.
Halda: This Bangladeshi film is a timely cinematographic narrative about corporate greed and corruption that is allowing the Haldaa River (River – Haldaa; film – Halda) to be polluted and the many fishing families whose livelihoods are under threat as a result. The river also serves as a metaphor for love and for life; and therefore the film also delves into a powerful parallel tragi-romance narrative about the struggle between an unloving arranged marriage and the endurance of real love outside of marriage. Startling and beautiful.
Blackkklansman: A refreshing take on a serious issue in the late 1960s in Colorado. African-American detective Ron Stallworth ‘joins’ the Ku Klux Klan over the phone (it’s pretty funny). He recruits Jewish co-detective Flip Zimmerman to attend KKK meetings in his place. Although funny in parts, it deals with some intense social issues without underplaying the dangers they represent. It is a very clever film that finds a way to attract a large audience to a seriously dark subject of racial violence and hatred. The final ten minutes is devoted to the race riots and violence of Charlottesville in 2017, reminding the audience that America once again is descending into an era of dangerous politics at great cost to people and social harmony.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Mildred is frustrated by the lack of progress with the police investigation into the murder of her daughter eight months earlier. She pays for confronting signage on three road-side billboards outside the town of Ebbing. A dark, comic and hard-hitting drama is contextualised in a dual between dark and light. The characters, fuelled with rage, have a heart; and characters that are more comical caricatures of stupidity and prejudice actually have more to them than can be seen on the surface. Frances McDormand (Mildred) is superb.
The Florida Project: For me, the best film of the year. A small-budget independent movie, with a cast of mostly non-actors and children. It depicts a slice of life of Orlando’s under-class through the eyes and adventures of six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her young friends who live on the Florida Project estate, outside Disney World. It is a sympathetic portrayal of the poor working-class and the resilience of childhood, without being either patronising or clichéd. Absolutely engaging.
‘My Brief Thoughts and Reflections on Cinema in 2018’
By Annabelle Davis
I ended up seeing way more movies than I had time to blog about this year and unfortunately my busy work, study and travel schedule didn’t allow me enough time to write up my reflections as much as I had hoped. For me 2018 was the year of the franchise movie, the cheesy remake or the endless sequel. Many of the big franchises released their latest spin off, new character series, prequel or sequel (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Fantastic Beasts etc.)
The big comic book franchises were very active in 2018 with the likes of Venom, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Deadpool 2, Antman and the Wasp and the soon to be released Aquaman. For me, Venom provided a refreshing take on the antihero and provided a unique darkness to the lead character that other comic book movies have not. Black Panther was also a nice alternative to many of the mostly white-washed heroes we have seen in the past providing more diversity in its lead characters. Black Panther also saw the female lead take a strong and more critical role in the storyline as compared to other comic book movies.
A steady stream of prequels and sequels such as Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Equalizer 2, Ocean’s Eight, Sicario: Day of the Soldado and Mission Impossible – Fallout were released in 2018. Most of these were disappointing, lacking a good storyline. Really, they were just another excuse to print cash for the studios.
2018 also saw the rebirth of the female vigilante heroine with Red Sparrow, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Peppermint. These movies provided a refreshing alternative to the lead character in action movies but unfortunately failed to develop the characters or storylines enough to give the female heroines the depth that I was hoping for.
I was quietly surprised by some of the unique horror and sci-fi releases this year. A Quiet Place was a unique movie with not a spoken word uttered by the characters for the whole movie. However, The Predator remake was absolutely pathetic! The Meg provided a comedic horror that only a prehistoric giant shark could do. Hereditary, The House that Jack Built, The Clovehitch Killer, Unsane and Summer of 84 provided a layered depth to the horror genre with Hereditary and The House that Jack Built providing spectacular gore and horror. The release of Halloween also saw the legendary original slasher movie revisited and whilst never being able to live up to the original provided a new generation with a new insight into the characters and horrors that unfold at Halloween.
In drama I really enjoyed First Man and BlacKkKlansman. I didn’t see quite so many comedy movies this year but I really enjoyed The Happytime Murders which provided a hilarious and sadistic adult twist on Henson’s puppets. Game Night and Tag provided enough b-grade cheesiness to keep me entertained when I didn’t really want to have to think. Arizona was probably the standout although again it was a rather sadistic comedy but entertaining in a perverted way.
In animation Isle of Dogs was by far the standout, with a depth of character, storyline, comedy and beauty that only Wes Anderson could deliver. Christopher Robin provided a new twist on the story of Winnie the Pooh and stirred my childhood emotions. Early Man was also really funny.
All in all 2018 was not a bad year for cinema releases but there were very few movies that really stood out for me. However I saw enough that kept me entertained.