Sunday, November 24, 2019

My 10 favourite films of 2018 [10-6]

I know, I know. 2019 is nearly complete, and I'm only now dropping the favourite films of 2018 blog? In my defence, I have to feel like I really endorse all the films in my top ten to merit writing a blog about them, and, for the most of 2019, I hadn't seen enough 2018 titles which inspired that level of passion.

However, having caught up with some of the titles that came out in 2018 that I wasn't able to catch then, you can now consider me sufficiently enthused! If you're curious about what my 10 to 6 was for 2017, click here (spoiler alert: some Chalamethirst is present).

10. Game Night

Max and Annie, a married couple who are somewhat uninspired by the monotony of their lives, find their weekly Game Night upstaged, when Max's brother Brooks gets fake-kidnapped. Or so they think. As they track him down, they begin to realise that he's truly in jeopardy, and Max, Annie and their group of friends must use their wiles, resourcefulness and knowledge of random trivia to save Brooks.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play the central couple, and the two have an infectious, lived-in chemistry as they run around across Atlanta, trying to piece together clues. Max has always been envious of his taller, more dashing, more successful brother (Kyle Chandler), and this underscores the high jinx with a human element. And as someone who goes wild for a movie in-joke (the 'Let it Go' reference in Zootopia still makes me smile when I think about it), the sheer volume of references to everything from Clue to Pulp Fiction to Training Day, mean the cine-literate among us are treated to ample fan service.

But the highlight of Game Night, and what elevates it from 'diverting Friday night fare' to 'laugh out loud hilarious', is Jesse Plemons' stand-out turn Max and Annie's awkward next-door-neighbour Gary, who desperately wants to be included in the festivities, but who's weirdness precludes that. His line-readings, facial cues and body language are stellar. 

It's long been argued that the Oscars discriminate against comedic performances (because they lack the perceived gravitas of their dramatic counterparts), and Plemons not even featuring in the awards conversation this year is proof of this.

09. Searching

A single father, David Kim, finds his life appended when his 16-year-old daughter Margot goes missing. The pair had been drifting apart ever since the death of her mother several years ago. Aided by the local police, David uses his laptop to piece together the fragments of Margot's identity, in order to find her.

Searching is told entirely through David's laptop screen (via apps such as FaceTime, his messages, YouTube, and google searches), to exhilarating, yet plausible, effect. Through this, the substantial capabilities of modern technology are highlighted, but the film makes the shrewd point that all the IMs and photo messages in the world are no substitute for sitting down and having an honest conversation. It also flags the danger of finding out too much information.

Headlining the first ever mainstream Hollywood thriller to star an Asian-American man, John Cho nails parental dread and concern. As the story unravels, David begins to suspect everyone and loses his grip on reality, but the twists are cleverly placed and land with a punch. 

Filmed and edited efficiently (and with a less than $1M budget!), director Aneesh Chaganty makes a visual reference to M. Night Shyamalan early on in the film, and Searching is an intelligent twisty-turner that Shyamalan himself would have been proud of.

08. A Star is Born

The fourth iteration of the well-known story of the love story between a celebrity who's star is on the wane, and another who's a fresh new talent, was Bradley Cooper's passion project. And in undertaking it, it allowed him to flex his skills in multiple categories: directing, screenplay, producing, song-writing, and of course, acting.

Lady Gaga stars opposite him as Ally, the waitress who captures Jackson Maine, a grizzled country rock musician's eye, on an evening when she performs cabaret. As they wander around together at night, she tentatively sings some of her songs to him, and he whispers to her, 'I think you might be a songwriter'. The audience can feel the characters falling in love right in front of them.

The chemistry between the two leads is electrifying, especially when they perform together on stage (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's wet flannel chemistry is nothing compared to this). The songs in A Star is Born are bangers, especially 'Maybe It's Time', 'Look What I Found', and the now-iconic 'Shallow', which Cooper and Gaga gave a sizzling rendition of at the Oscars.

Despite being a tale as old as time, Cooper inflects this version of A Star is Born with a welcome modern touch. His turn as jaded Jackson is terrific, a career-best, and he was so much more deserving of Best Actor at the Oscars than Rami Malek lip-syncing his way through Queen songs in Bohemian Crapsody was (but that's a rant for another time).

The love/hate relationship Jackson has with his grouchy half-brother, Bobby, in particular, strikes one of the film's most impactful emotional chords. A key scene, late on in the film, when Jackson tells Bobby that it was always him he idolised, not their deadbeat alcoholic dad, moved me to tears.

07. Mission Impossible - Fallout

The sixth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise has Ethan Hunt trying to prevent a terrorist group called the Apostles from acquiring plutonium, which they would use to produce nuclear weapons. Due to various mishaps in the past, he now has to be shadowed by a CIA assassin, August Walker. With suspicion at an all time high, some of Hunt's superiors at the Impossible Missions Force suspect that he is John Lark, one of the Apostle's clients.

This rather far-fetched conceit allows Tom Cruise to fully display his action star muscles, whether he has hanging off the side of helicopters, jumping from building to building, or dangerously riding a motorbike at full pelt. Cruise's commitment to making these action sequences as real as possible has led to the actor to being hospitalised on several occasions, but they certainly reap their dividends, as they make for eye-watering set-pieces.

Mission Impossible - Fallout is an atypically brainy thriller, with a crafty plot that consistently keeps two steps ahead of the viewer. Anchored by Tom Cruise's stuntman-like physicality, the action scenes in the movie are well-shot, tightly edited and meticulously directed. There are stunning action sequences aplenty in the film, but they are embedded so well into the context, that it never feels like directorial showboating, but, exciting storytelling.

Key to all of this was the inspired casting of Henry Cavill as the slippery August Walker (who was the proud recipient of finest male in a 2018 film). Cavill's character is a more masculine, stronger version of Ethan Hunt, and by positioning Cruise next to Cavill, it underscores our seemingly-invincible protagonist's vulnerability. This injects what could have been a fairly cartoonish action movie with some genuine stakes, and makes Mission Impossible - Fallout an adrenaline-rush of a time at the movies.

06. Cold War

Paweł Pawlikowski's gorgeous romantic elegy, about a couple that can't keep away from each other, spans several decades and locations. From the first moment Zula and Wiktor lay eyes on each other, the attraction is instant and mutual, but the circumstances for them to get together aren't quite right (he's the musical director in a choir she's singing in).

And unfortunately, circumstance is a consistently cruel mistress to the star-crossed lovers. But so magnetised that they are to each other, that they refuse to let fate have any say, with even the eponymous Cold War, and all the complications that it brings, not keeping the two apart.

Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are very convincing as the central pairing. She is all moodiness and fiery spontaneity, whereas he tends to over-think things, to the point of driving himself (and her) crazy. Their flaws are what makes them such compelling and relatable characters, although their differences are also what causes them to drift apart at several stages.

Cold War is beautifully shot in black and white (Łukasz Żal's stunning cinematography makes Roma  looks simply sophomoric), and Pawlikowski depicts his homeland Poland with equal parts affection, and a clear-eyed discernment of events in its history.

There's so much at play in Cold War; a fractured geopolitical backdrop is, in some ways, the perfect setting for the tempestuous duo, and their relationship could be encapsulated by the Lana del Rey lyric, 'don't make me laugh, don't make me cry, sometimes the road gets tough and love isn't enough, I don't know why'.

Rarely has the inescapable tragedy of life been thumbnailed with such beauty and sobriety. 

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