A Savagely Partial Look At The Films Of 2018

Hello! Welcome to this, a round-up of all the films released in 2018 that I, a man experiencing three different kinds of early onset midlife crisis simultaneously, have managed to see. This is the ninth year of doing this, a thing which has now gained its own dread sense of momentum, so next year would make the full decade and we can all find better ways to occupy ourselves. Except I won’t, because I write these for me and not you and nothing you say will change that. I can’t be stopped! And neither can this paragraph.

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January

Oh. In January several bad things happened, the first of which was Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World. I’m not saying it was in poor taste for the film’s marketing thrust  to focus on Kevin Spacey’s 11th hour ousting for sexual misconduct and the subsequent heroic effort to film all Christopher Plummer’s scenes in five minutes, but it fucking was, and other thrusts might have been available had the film itself not been paralysingly adequate, riven with the kind of self importance only Mark Wahlberg’s serious face can deliver. The second bad thing was Darkest Hour, a figuratively and prosthetically inflated historical dalliance that would ordinarily be waiting for its moment to come, some Sunday afternoon in the 2030s, but is categorically unwatchable in light of Brexit and how fucking awful we all are now. Downsizing, meanwhile, was unwatchable in any era, a patronising Lilliputian social commentary about Matt Damon getting extremely small but remaining sadly visible all the same, and then The Commuter was an airless Rent-A-Neeson that staged the actor’s now trademark indignant violence on a train instead of a plane or a wolf or what have you. All of which led to the unlikely scenario that Maze Runner: The Death Cure was my second favourite film of the month, a likeable send off for a hearty fantasy trilogy about the kids being all right, sometimes with guns, albeit one that had long since left the intriguing abstraction of the maze itself far behind. And my first and actual favourite was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a timely, wounded film about the invisibility of female suffering, guided through some weaker moments by the strength of Frances McDormand’s furious performance.

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February

February brought us Black Panther, so well done, February. Quite apart from the fragmentary appeal or otherwise of the gargantuan Marvel soap opera, Black Panther was a film about something, which contributed not just overdue representation and perspective to the Disney monoculture, but specifically a story of degradation and generational suffering at the hands of American capitalism, as manifested through cycles of absent fathers and violence. Amazing, even if the end did look like two animated gingerbread men kicking the shit out of each other. I am in general very down for Guillermo del Toro showing me whatever gothic frivolity he thinks is worth my attention but, wonderful name aside, I was not charmed by The Shape Of Water, which was more or less a gender-swapped remake of Splash with a less bangable merperson. Lady Bird was a coming of age story from Greta Gerwig’s that captured, from somewhere near a sympathetic mid-point, the bruising affection between a fiercely intelligent mother and her wilful, quick-learning daughter, and was the best thing I saw all year. Better than I, Tonya, a retelling of such recent and well-covered events that its stylistic lean into documentary seems to take us further from instead of closer to the truth, and better than either of Netflix’s February sci-fi pairing: Mute, a sour, nihilistic noir that first failed to escape its influences and then slid close to total incoherence, and The Cloverfield Paradox, which was rubbish in a fun way where worms came out of somebody and Chris O’Dowd’s arm knew about it before anyone else.  

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March

Red Sparrow arrived in March, the kind of Cold War throwback thriller I guess we’re getting more of now that Hollywood has realised Russia is Bad again and which did a depressing line in depersonalising sex, partially compensated for by how much I like Joel Edgerton’s face. Speaking of depressing, likeable faces, Joaquin Phoenix was great and bearlike in You Were Never Really Here, a stalking, somnambulistic thriller which plays like a deeply medicated Taxi Driver, and in which Phoenix’s contractor, moving at his own framerate, seems both extraordinarily sleepy and determined at the same time. It’s difficult to think of a film less like this than Game Night - less good, less about a unstoppable teddy man, and much more about nice middle-class people in a high concept adventure which, I can assure you from the experience of trying to write this sentence, you will forget as soon as it has finished. Kay Cannon’s parent freak out comedy Blockers is similar in some respects, though it does have an unstoppable teddy man in John Cena, and it’s more fun for being less put-together, with an ending that dodges the idea of learning as completely as possible. Nothing can be learned from Tomb Raider, except that casting Walton Goggins is a good idea especially if the rest of your film is just upcycled beats and daddy issues from a rebooted video game and you also decide it should feature a bike courier street race for some reason. As an exercise in adaptation Annihilation was much better, although it was also adapting a book mostly about unknowability, an endless stairwell, and a giant slug, so 1) everything is valid and, 2) the bit with Oscars Isaac at the end was great. I liked Journeyman, Paddy Considine’s unblinking look at the consequences of a sport frequently glamorised on the big screen, and I extremely didn’t like Ready Player One, a mirrored hall of referentiality that seemed content to accumulate a mountain of signifiers for display purposes only, none of the film’s pointed cultural nods sharp enough to pierce reality itself.

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April

I began to see fewer films starting in April, which is good for the odds of this post ever being finished and also for me because one of them was A Quiet Place, which I saw in an otherwise deserted late-night multiplex, the silence amplifying the film’s taut, tight-lipped conceit. Claire Denis’ Let The Sunshine In was sold as a flighty autumn years romantic comedy but was more like an extremely frank account of the disordered and self-defeating ways we try to get close to each other, even when we should know better. And Avengers: Infinity War wasn’t like this or really like anything else either, the current resting point of a strategy that has reshaped Hollywood in its own image and, as well as being a film about good versus evil, is most impressive as a meticulously engineered machine of complex, carefully weighted parts. It’s an extraordinary achievement of some kind, and I assume sooner or later we’ll understand exactly what kind that is.

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May

For my birthday in May I got Deadpool 2, which can usefully be described as the opposite of Infinity War, disruptive and irreverent in the face of the Avengers’ suffocating cohesion, although struggling to find much purpose in the wake of a predecessor which had already mapped the logical end point of weaponised self-satisfaction. And I wasn’t expecting much from Solo: A Star Wars Story, the dead narrative space of prequels being as good a place as any to print Star Wars flavoured money, I guess, but not somewhere you can really relax. But I enjoyed this window into a world I have loved, formulaic brunettes and sass droids included, and was surprised by an ending that explained, pointlessly but believably, how Han became Han.

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June

In June I saw two films. The switch to an all-female crew in Ocean’s 8 suggested a freshness not present in the film at large, which instead echoed the beats and louche Soderberghian slides of its predecessors, a drag act rather than a film about actual women. And if Ocean’s held too tightly to its source, Sicario 2: Soldado let it go too lightly, shifting from an original that explored with discomfort and from a female perspective the primacy of violence in the ghostly, formless world between borders, to a film about Benicio del Toro being “turned loose” to shoot a gun really fast with the finger of the hand not holding the gun which I guess looks cool but can’t be the most efficient way not least because it precludes him holding two guns at once if necessary. It’s a sequel which mimicked the manners of reflection and disquiet established by the original while committing acts of less consideration and worth, and it deserves our suspicion.

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July

In July Skyscraper was bad in a much less suspicious way, a dull idea about an extremely determined security consultant climbing a big building which, it turns out, was not very secure. It can be usefully contrasted with Mission: Impossible - Fallout, the latest in a series which has evolved in response to the weightless unreality of modern action into a highlights reel of extremely dangerous things starring a very famous man, packaged with a revolving cast of familiar, familial faces that give it a Fast & Furious-like sustainability. July ended with one of my disappointments of the year in The Incredibles 2, a sequel I’m holding to its own high standard, and an exercise in “more of it” that didn’t have ideas in the right quality or quantity to stand up to the sustained extraordinariness of the first film.

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August

Which is also true of Ant-Man And The Wasp, except the first film here was fine instead of extraordinary, like an experiment set up in a corner of the Marvel lab to test the extent of Paul Rudd’s slightly startled likeability. The best thing about The Festival was Jemaine Clement and specifically a Crowded House-related joke made early in the film, which no later combination of mud, drugs and unsurprising romance could approach. And the best thing about The Spy Who Dumped Me was Kate McKinnon, obviously, who is funny in a physical, urgent way that women aren’t often given space to be (see also: the amazing facial expressions throughout Channel 4’s comedy Derry Girls from earlier in the year).

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September

and also October

In September I saw just one new movie, A Simple Favour, which might have been a pleasingly murky bit of suburban Hitchcockian suspense if it didn’t insist on reaching so regularly for relieving laughs. So we shall roll straight into October and find things are no better, and indeed in Johnny English Strikes Again are much worse, a mirthless mugging combined with directionless nostalgia for nothing so much as not having to negotiate with the present with any seriousness but feeling superior to it all the same. Fuck off back to yesterday. And fuck off, but more affectionately, to Bohemian Rhapsody, a film of narrative conveniences that so simplify the complex lives and dynamics of four individuals that it feels like a pipe of pre-chewed food, squeezed mouthwards to an admittedly brilliant soundtrack. This is without considering the problem of making a film about a uniquely charismatic performer who was by trade and definition inimitable, and ending it with an airless recreation of a live set that’s freely and more thrillingly available on YouTube.

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November

November was good though. Firstly thanks to Widows, which did what Ocean’s 8 could not, filling a heist thriller with women and also considering how they might think and operate in distinction from the world of men in which they find themselves. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs was an anthology of stories set in a hypercolour Old West, a rapid fire delivery system for knotted twists of Coen brothers-inflected fate you’d normally only get once a movie, and Creed 2 was gripping thanks largely to Michael B Jordan’s remarkable vulnerability, though it followed the first film’s culturally astute celebration of the Rocky series in a black context with a fast-forwarding to the panto vengefulness of Rocky IV, a good indication of how seriously we should expect to take Creeds 3 onwards. Ralph Breaks The Internet struck me as more from the same acquisitive greed that spawned Ready Player One, a greed that isn’t satisfied with the playful joy of watching characters from across worlds interact, and would instead collapse all worlds into one to point to and list and know, exhaustive categorisation at the expense of meaning, the logical endpoint of our crossover-heavy times. Let’s end the month in better mood with They Shall Not Grow Old, a collection of archive footage and audio recordings restored by Peter Jackson which use the artifice of cinema to bring us closer to something human and meaningful instead of further away, transforming flickering sketches of grey soldiers back into mortal young men.

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December

In December the only thing I saw was Mary Poppins Returns and, all the longing for a Paddington-esque British long ago that doesn’t fucking exist aside, it was fun in a way which is remarkable if you consider all the ways it might not have been, thanks in large part to Ben Whishaw’s great ability to have sadness and kindness do battle on his actual face.

And that is everything. Other things I saw at the cinema this year include the about-to-be-released-in-January The Favourite, which was the best thing I saw all year, and Terry Gilliam’s perhaps never to be released The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which was not. I watched the old Suspiria for the first time instead of the new one, rewatched Mulholland Dr. to check it is still fantastic (yes, with caveats) and I watched Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark accompanied by a live orchestra, which had the effect of overpowering the film during the fanfare moments but making smaller scenes (“lighting… fire… power of God…”) rather extraordinary. The best film I caught up with was Alice In The Cities, with its skeptical take on places in America and Europe I happen to have mostly been to, and the best TV I watched was The Good Place, shut up, you are not my dad.