I keep this list every year, for fun and for reference. The list only reflects films seen for the first time.
I don’t do a numbered ranking, but my #1-most-fun-I-had-at-the-movies award goes to Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE. Visually inventive and spectacularly violent, this rough-and-ready cyberpunk B-movie felt like a return to the days of ROBOCOP, or peak John Carpenter. Bravo!
Kudos, too, to the makers of SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE. It’s got heart, it’s got style (more than one, actually) and it’s so smart, fast, funny and original it makes all the other superhero movies look kinda stupid by comparison.
Have you ever been watching a movie when a moment comes along that suddenly shifts your entire sense of what it is you’re watching? I LOVE that. It’s rare to get even one of those in a film, and it happened to me twice while watching Ali Abbasi’s BORDER. This one’s about a Swedish customs officer who can literally smell fear. That’s all I knew going in, and all you need to know too. Don’t read the reviews.
I’ll buy that for a dollar! Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU takes place in the same universe as ROBOCOP and Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. That’s just my theory. But it’s true.
Other 2018 theatrical standouts for me included ANNIHILATION, A QUIET PLACE, THE FAVOURITE (seen in 2019 so it’s not on this list) and (sniffle) WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
On the TV series front, favorites at our house included The Crown, The Good Place, Better Things, Travelers, and Killing Eve.
The rise of Netflix streaming is very much in evidence in this year’s list. Standouts include Tamara Jenkins’ note-perfect PRIVATE LIFE (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn as a middle-aged couple racing against their biological clocks), and writer/director Macon Blair’s 2017 release I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. By turns funny and violent, the latter stars Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a woman in way over her head as she tries to recover her grandmother’s silverware from some burglars. Ruth’s simple, heartfelt plea is one for our times: “For people to stop being assholes.” Amen, honey.
Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.
MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A Wrinkle In Time
Isle Of Dogs
A Quiet Place
Finding Your Feet
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse
MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping*
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
My Happy Family
Beauty And The Beast (2017)
All That Heaven Allows
The Secret Life Of Pets
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
The Passion of Joan of Arc
For The Love of Spock
The Florida Project
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Battle Of The Sexes
E Il Cibo Va
The Land Of Steady Habits
The Trip To Italy
Sorry To Bother You
Rick and Morty
The Good Place
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design
The Great British Baking Show
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes
F*ck That’s Delicious
Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister
BOOKS and OTHER READING
Spill Zone – Scott Westerfeld
The Best American Short Stories 2009 – ed. Alice Sebold
Orfeo – Richard Powers
Creatures of Habit: Stories – Jill McCorkle
This post contains spoilers for ARRIVAL.
ARRIVAL is one of those rare birds, a sci-fi movie for grownups. It’s aesthetically and conceptually elegant and at the same time very moving, and if you haven’t already, you should see it before you learn too much. Not that there is a huge and sudden reveal: there is no SIXTH SENSE moment. At least, there wasn’t for me: it was more a gradual, growing awareness of the story’s main premise and all its implications.
The protagonist of ARRIVAL is linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), recruited to communicate with alien visitors who have appeared in our skies. As the story begins, language is seen by all the characters in the film as a means to an end. Slowly and simultaneously, you and the characters on screen come to realize language itself the point.
Central to the film is the notion that language shapes perception. As Louise learns to parse the aliens’ looping pictographs she also acquires their ability to perceive time in a non-linear way. Exploring this concept, ARRIVAL does that amazing thing science fiction can sometimes do: it re-situates you, offering a unique vantage point from which to consider the conscribed parameters of your human experience. After seeing it, your own inability to perceive events before they happen may feel to you a sorry limitation, like a kind of blindness.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer employs non-linear story structure to represent Louise’s expanding perception. As directed by Denis Villeneuve, it’s a fairly daring tactic that tosses the audience without warning or cues into key scenes in Louise’s future. A sequence in which Louise and a high-ranking Chinese general collaborate to avert global catastrophe is breathtaking, cross-cutting between Louise’s present and future while defying notions of cause and effect.
But the film is not just a think piece: in ARRIVAL, the intellectual and the emotional are unified, inseparable. For Louise’s newly expanded perceptions also allow her to foresee a great personal tragedy. Ultimately she embraces the choices that will lead to that tragedy, fully aware of the terrible cost. I found myself turning her decision over and over in my mind for days afterward. That says everything about the strength of the film.
2. Action plays out in sleazy/swanky private clubs & posh hotels, apparently all catering exclusively to rich gangster-types. Silly.
3. SPOILER ALERT there is an adorable puppy! The puppy dies! YOUR GIRLFRIEND HATES THIS MOVIE AND YOU AND HOW COULD ANYONE EVER
4. You can feel the producers of John Wick back-patting themselves thinking they made a hip, stylish film. They are easily impressed.
5. Dated typography & wall-to-wall shitty techno actually makes JOHN WICK feel cheap & super-90s. IDK maybe that’s cool now
6. Anyhow, there IS fun to be had. But if you’re in the “JOHN WICK is an overlooked gem” camp, YOU’RE easily impressed.
7. *BONUS* JOHN WICK tweet: Marilyn Manson sucks.