2018 felt like a transitional year for film, superhero movies refuse to die, mid-budget movies move to Netflix as oppose to releasing at the cinema, the ‘Me Too’ movement re-defines accountability within (and outside) the industry. It felt like one of the years where you realise its significance much later, where you look back and can see the defining points clear as day. But not to look too far ahead at the consequence of this year, we decided to celebrate what we loved in 2018, here’s a roundup of what stood out to us.
Top 5 movies
It’s the season for everyone’s top 10 movie lists, and since you’ve probably read a ton of those, we’ve narrowed ours down to 5 and we’re going to get it out of the way first.
– Avengers: Infinity War
– A Quiet Place
– Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
2018 had a plethora of enjoyable films, both in cinemas and on your TV. We saw Avengers: Infinity War storm the box office to provide shock & awe to viewers everywhere, the Russo brothers crafting a blockbuster that truly felt as epic and monumental as blockbusters are constantly trying to make us believe they are.
A Quiet Place built on the recent success of movies falling into the ‘suspense horror’ sub-genre that seems to be emerging following on from films such as Get Out. John Krasinski’s tense post-apocalyptic flick saw his stock rise as a filmmaker, which will hopefully lead to more movies from him in the near future.
Netflix had a hugely successful year in terms of the content they produced. As to be expected with the pure amount of film/TV they produce, not everything was of the highest quality, but films like Alex Garland’s Annihilation & Gareth Evans’ Apostle stood out as strong releases. Annihilation was one due for a cinema release which Netflix acquired, its stunning visuals and unique science-fiction vision would have made for a grand big screen viewing, but regardless of that it stood out as one of the smartest and most impressive films 2018 provided. Evans’ Apostle went under the radar a little after its initial release, but it deserved a lot more attention. With shining performances from Dan Stevens & Michael Sheen in particular, Apostle was a hair-raising hell ride which chose when to escalate a sense of dread to genuine fear with meticulous precision, hitting home with devastating effect. If you haven’t seen it yet, we highly recommend you make it your new year’s resolution.
Capping off the year was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is rightfully capturing the hearts of critics and fans alike. The animated flick thrills from the first second to the last, exhibiting a wide array of colour and fully utilising the creative opportunity animation provides. What makes the film so satisfying is that on top of the sublime visual quality it holds, this is anchored by a wonderful grasp of character, making the story equally as gripping. The thing that is very apparent in this movie is the collaborative vision that can be felt, from the animators, to the voice acting, to the directing; you can feel that there are a lot of people responsible for how good this movie is, and that they all had a sense of pride in their work. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands out as a (hopefully) watershed moment in the way that animation is seen, but beyond this, it stands out as a movie in its own right, and one of the best of the year no less.
Top 5 TV shows
– Bojack Horseman season 5
– It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia season 13
– Westworld season 2
TV seems to get better every year, experiencing a notable renaissance in terms of investment & quality. HBO churns out success at a Disney level of consistency, Netflix continues to climb the ladder with a ferocious hunger to reach the top, and cable television continues to provide a wealth of options for what to watch with the number of shows available seeming to never end.
Dynasties marked yet another stellar documentary featuring the nurturing narration of David Attenborough, whose voice provokes nostalgia akin with smelling your mother’s homemade cooking or the sound of rain hitting your window as you begin to fall asleep. This series was yet again an incredible feat of filmmaking from the crew who go to such great lengths in order to capture nature in its most raw, stripped down form. What makes Dynasties stand apart from previous nature documentaries was the focus on storytelling, each episode followed an epic odyssey in a different area of the animal kingdom, and by focusing on a specific character/set of characters throughout, the emotional investment rose tenfold.
For any show to air thirteen seasons is impressive enough, but to do so with a quality as consistently high as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is nothing short of astounding. The show garners an ever-increasing group of loyal fans even if it isn’t recognised at an award level, with the beauty of it being that it does what it wants purely for the sake of wanting. This season the show did something I didn’t expect, it surprised me. The season finale was a direction I didn’t know the show was capable of, and the choice to go in that direction was one I applaud. At thirteen seasons complacency could potentially be expected, but successful execution or not (which isn’t to say I don’t think they pulled it off, as they very much did), being able to still take risks and in such a big way cannot be lauded enough.
Bojack Horseman is a show I simultaneously look forward to and dread. I love the show but it repeatedly breaks my heart, which in turn is why I love it so much. This season was no different in that regard, as the show continues to explore the flaws and tragedy in the lives of the inhabitants of Hollywoo. The writing is some of the most morbidly beautiful on television, and wrapping it inside of an absurd cartoonish shell was possibly the wicked Trojan horse to ever be conceived.
Cary Joji Fukunaga has that ‘must-watch’ factor I associate with directors such as Christopher Nolan & Denis Villeneuve. In True Detective he created something that set the standard, and in Maniac he continued to dazzle. Maniac exhibits a quirk and eccentricity which strikes a chord not too dissimilar from the work of David Lynch, climbing on its absurdity, shouting it from the rooftops louder with each episode. The true joy of Maniac is realising that it doesn’t want to be understood, it wants to be experienced and once this is accepted, the ride becomes one close to that of a play, a mind-bending absurdist play.
One of the shows I was most curious to see develop was Westworld, its first season was an intriguing beginning to building a massive fictional reality. It felt like a show that was designed to blossom in future seasons as mysteries become un-ravelled. While I don’t think it has fully achieved that potential, season two did not disappoint. It asked more questions than it gave answers, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t satisfying to watch. Impressive as it is, with the backing behind it and the talent involved, I expect a lot from Westworld, and I sincerely hope these violent delights have satisfying ends.
Anticipation for movies can be a very disheartening process (cc: Justice League), but one of the most enjoyable things can be seeing a movie you didn’t expect anything from, and being pleasantly surprised.
– Game Night
Game Night did just that for me, before viewing I had it pinned for your run of the mill generic Hollywood comedy that is manufactured each year (which I usually enjoy to a certain degree), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein made a smart and enjoyable comedy that also works as a thriller. Performances from Jesse Plemons & Billy Magnussen (who is also wonderful in Maniac) stand out, but the story written by Mark Perez is what makes Game Night stand apart from the rest.
If you’re looking for a comedy with an appreciation for plot which still retains its comedic intention, I can’t recommend Game Night highly enough.
Hidden gem of 2018
We can’t get around to every movie. There are a lot of them.
Some things are bound to slip under the veil of superheroes, wizards and lightsabers, but it goes without saying that this isn’t down to quality.
Upgrade had a plot reminiscent of a video game (in particular Deus Ex), but it was translated into a cinematic experience more seamlessly than most attempts to make a video game movie. Filled with inventive shots and a grounded futuristic world, Upgrade is an adrenaline pumping sci-fi story. The action is handled with an impassioned hand, and the pace of the film is what drives it to be such a fulfilling story.
Leigh Whannell’s clear directive doesn’t waver, and what follows is one of the most under-rated & under-exposed films I’ve seen in some time. I think in time this will be a film that more people will come to see and come to love, especially if the rights are picked up by a streaming service. Whether it does garner more attention or not, Upgrade deserves viewing at the very least, it doesn’t disappoint.
Best film released on a streaming service
I’ve probably gushed about Annihilation too much already, and I promise you it will not stop. Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel was my film of the year, and I have mixed feelings about its Netflix release, but I can’t deny that I was glad to have instant access to it upon release.
The film is a scintillating exploration of escape internally as much as it is a film about an actual exploration.
Garland weaves a web of curiosity, beauty and suspense, one of which I think demands multiple viewings. Although Annihilation was not one of Netflix’s biggest in 2018, it was definitely one of its best.
Top 3 physical media releases
For DVD/Blu ray collectors, the possibility of a steel book or art cards is a tantalising prospect. 2018 provided a suitable number of special edition releases that had our wallets trembling.
– Blade runner 2049 collector’s edition: Denis Villenueve’s phenomenal sequel to Blade Runner was released in 2017, but its second physical release was a collector’s edition that included an extra disc with special features (including the four short films made in the lead up to the movie), a poster, art cards and a wonderful case.
– Shape of Water steel book: Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic monster flick set in a Bioshock-esque world was a delight to behold. Equally as delightful was finding this breathtaking steel book version of the film.
– Isle of Dogs (first few with free figurine set): When Wes Anderson’s latest hit shelves, it didn’t have a special edition, but what it did have were a free set of Isle of Dogs figurines with any purchase of the film for those who made it to the select stores that were sent them while stocks lasted.
As TV begins to excel and streaming services become behemoths, 2018 became a big year for film, and 2019 will be even bigger. The challenges that face the industry are new and they are varied, our only hope is that the medium continues to encourage those who work so hard to create the content we fall in love with.
As 2019 now hangs over us, our message is clear, keep supporting the artists, keep supporting the art.