EJ on Film 2018: All Aboard the Kino-Coaster
Like every medium that people constantly complain is dying, film is actually pretty far away from kicking the bucket – and 2018, if anything, proved that. From dark, grisly reimagining of old tales to straight-up reinventing the (animation) wheel, film truly thrived this year, and I can only hope that this rollercoaster ride through continuously excellent movies never ends.
10. Under The Silver Lake
Making its rounds at festivals this year but (sadly) failing to enter cinemas was the new brainchild of It Follows director David Robert Mitchell. Whilst nothing near a spiritual successor or sequel to It Follows, Under The Silver Lake is so much more – a twisting, writhing mind-fuck of a movie that probes deep into the sinister undercurrent behind every so-called crackpot conspiracy theory you read on the internet. Andrew Garfield all but loses himself in his role as the obsessive Sam and gives what is probably his best performance to date, traversing the surreal and often hostile landscape of Los Angeles as urban myth. And, if that’s not enough of a kicker for you, there seems to be a code hidden within the film itself, leading to an unknown location where we’ll find… what, exactly? Who knows? They say curiosity killed the cat, but hey – at least you’ll have watched a good film while you were at it.
Climax who? Gaspar Noé who? I don’t know her. Despite a rather weedy, lacking soundtrack from Mr Thom Yorke, Suspiria was THE dance movie of the year, and frankly blew a lot of other films out of the water as well. More of a reimagining than a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 original, this year’s Suspiria traded eye-burstingly saturated colours and a typical monomythic plot structure for the sombre greys of divided Berlin and a witchy metaphor for the lingering evils of the Holocaust; replete with enough blood, gore, and gut-churning injuries to make Dario Argento proud. And if this isn’t enough to free Dakota Johnson from the shackles of the 50 Shades franchise and prove that she has truly entered Formidable Actress Territory, then, well… I don’t know what will.
8. Sorry To Bother You
Another long-delayed festival film, Sorry To Bother You didn’t burst onto the British film scene so much as meekly announce its arrival at the London Film Festival with sentiment similar to its title. And yet, as the film careened towards its absurd yet explosive finale, I had to wonder why it didn’t try making more of a splash. Perhaps the best film commentary on our modern labour economy yet, Sorry To Bother You masks smart, biting observation behind surreal, comedic farce – making its message all the more potent when it finally hits. Lakeith Stanfield stars – and I mean, stars, because boy does he give a performance and a half! – as washed-out telemarketer Cassius Green, who gets drawn into a world of violent work strikes, viral meme culture, and genetically modified nightmares after he climbs too far up the literal corporate ladder for his own good. Also, Armie Hammer says the words “horse cock” in total seriousness. Yes, that is a thing that happens in this film. Just go and see it – you won’t regret it.
7. American Animals
You’d think we’ve had one too many films about white middle-class male malaise, and yet here we are. So, what sets Bart Layton’s second directorial effort apart, you ask? American Animals is a class above the rest, partly for its highly unique subversion of the docudrama format, and partly for its excellent cast and nail-biting tension, which it miraculously and brilliantly manages to sustain for the course of almost its entire runtime. Evan Peters, in particular, shines; his freewheeling, spirited portrayal of heist ringleader Warren Lipka proving that he really could be one of the best young actors out there right now, if only Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy would release him from the dank, rotting basement of American Horror Story. This isn’t just another wooden Lifetime movie about the Birds of America heist – American Animals blends re-enactment with reflection like a master painter, until the lines between them are so blurred you wonder constantly if you’re either watching a complete fiction, or actual recorded footage of events that happened years ago, right up to when you leave the theatre still shaking from all those breaths you’d been holding in.
There are several scenes from BlacKkKlansman in which the cast members are laughing so hard, you can tell they aren’t simply laughing because they were prompted to – they’re truly enjoying themselves. Watching BlacKkKlansman pretty much results in the same experience, albeit tinged with the mild discomfort of remembering that the issues you’re watching play out onscreen are still happening today, day in, day out. In its best moments – of which they are many – the film masterfully balances comedy and suspense, highlighting how racism is based on simple absurdities, but results in horrifying consequences thanks to equally horrible people. John David Washington and Adam Driver are an electric duo onscreen, making the film infinitely watchable; one likely to be remembered as part of the zeitgeist of today’s unstable times. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel sick, you’ll go home and have a long hard think about your life. What’s not to love?
Leather-clad demons. Full-frontal male nudity. A Cheddar Goblin vomiting mac n’ cheese all over two unsuspecting kids. Nicolas Cage forging a wicked metal axe that looks like it could have been ripped out of the wet dreams of the most ardent Dungeons and Dragons players. Mandy truly has it all. The Greek god of LSD-fuelled filmmaking is back, as Panos Cosmatos returns from beyond the black rainbow (ha ha!) to bless us with a no-holds-barred Gonzo horror movie in which Nicolas Cage screams and splits open the heads of his enemies in a quest to avenge his eponymous dead wife. Think Drive Angry but on a very potent mixture of every single hallucinogen in the world – Cage’s reputed talent for overacting comes in handy as he turns every one of his sparse lines into either a darkly comedic ripper or an iconic one-liner, while formidably malevolent villains dredged from the pits of Cosmatos’s twisted conscious make hearty attempts to dismember him or, god forbid, rip his favourite shirt. Forget The Void, forget From Dusk Til Dawn. This is the 80’s exploitation horror you want to be watching. Do it for the Cage. Do it for the Cheddar Goblin.
4. You Were Never Really Here
The Joaquin Phoenix acting renaissance is truly upon us. The man hasn’t been in a bad movie for years, and You Were Never Really Here is truly the culmination of this. Clocking in at a taut, speedy 95 minutes, Lynne Ramsay whisks us through the brutal underbelly of New York City through the eyes of Phoenix’s unnamed war veteran, who struggles to overcome both his physical and mental scars as he takes on a mission to reclaim a senator’s kidnapped daughter. Phoenix’s versatility and Ramsay’s solid direction allow the film to walk the line between being an exploitation thriller and a heartbreaking character study, making for the very best of both as the film’s shocking final sequence fades to black. To garnish this already-stellar cocktail off, add a sinister, processed electronic soundtrack courtesy of Jonny Greenwood – are you taking notes, Thom Yorke? – and voila! One of 2018’s most underrated gems.
Ari Aster’s family life may be royally fucked beyond repair, but at least we got Hereditary out of it. Ever since its first trailer dropped in mid-2017, the film has been making waves with audiences and critics alike, and for good reason. Toni Collette gives a barnstorming performance as Annie Graham, a mother struggling to hold her family together in the aftermath of the death of the Graham matriarch, her own mother. What follows is an unleashing of (often supernatural) consequences so potent and uncontrollable that they would even make that most tragic of heroes, Oedipus, cry. Gone are the standard Blumhouse jumpscares from this horror movie, too. Aster replaces them with a single, uniform thread of rising dread that steadily thickens and clots right up to the film’s final half hour – a balls-to-the-wall frightfest that has heads rolling, literally. Hereditary gave us a demon king to add to horror movie lore, and the best horror movie of 2018. Thank you, Ari Aster. Sorry about your family life, but… thank you.
2. Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse
In an age where Oscar board members don’t even bother watching the animated films nominated for an award, and where the animation scene is dominated by increasing demand for ugly, hyper-realistic renditions of old characters with lovable cartoon designs – the 3D remakes of The Lion King and Sonic The Hedgehog, anyone? – Sony did us all a favour by just ripping up the playbook and going buck wild crazy in the studio. Into The Spider-Verse is a visual masterpiece that liberates animation from the traditional “2D vs 3D” divide, and is living proof that “2.5D” animation doesn’t have to be the strange, stilted, uncanny-valley figures that made the rounds during the first wave of Netflix Original mecha animes. Not to mention that it’s simply one of the finest superhero movies to have hit cinemas in a long time, or at least since Marvel and DC began oversaturating the market with awful to middling-grade boilerplate blockbusters. Being one of the last big releases to hit cinemas this year, you’re probably seeing a lot of hype around the film elsewhere on the internet– I’d advise you to very well believe it. There is hope for cartoons yet, and Into The Spider-Verse is the torch-bearer that will take us all into a new age of animation.
1. First Reformed
Every year there’s always a movie that makes me wish I could give it six stars out of five, and this year, First Reformed is that movie. It shouldn’t be possible, and yet it is – Paul Schrader has made a film that has managed to flawlessly tackle multiple hard-hitting topics at the same time, from climate change to the insidious nature of depression and even the rise of the corporate American megachurch. Ethan Hawke’s hunky dreamboat Before Sunrise days couldn’t seem farther behind him as he takes on the role of Reverend Toller, a depressed priest so nihilistic he makes Schopenhauer seem cheerful. The quiet agony with which Hawke carries himself onscreen is so powerfully mesmerising that it doesn’t take much to be drawn into his sombre orbit – your heart aches when he sighs, your chest tightens as he winces, and you feel his burdens come to life with every painstaking breath that he draws. Amanda Seyfried’s Mary Mansana, the belaboured wife of a troubled environmental activist, is an excellent counterpart to Hawke; an injection of painful reality into the feverish landscape of Toller’s delusion and obsession. No other film this year has managed such clear insight into love, faith, and our modern anxieties, and I doubt we’ll get another like it for some time.