2018 Top Ten

Well, another year has gone by and it’s been a barnstorming year for cinema. From superheroes becoming dust and Black Panthers to a luxury Singapore wedding there’s been a boom in film from all walks of life. Also, it’s definitely been 365 days where the horror genre has stepped forward as an exciting one to watch…if you forget about ‘The Nun’. It seems that each year it gets tougher and tougher to whittle down a best of list and this year is no exception, so much so in fact that I just can’t leave some movies out so a Top 50 run will follow very soon…

So without further-ado, here is my countdown of my favourite ten movies to be released in UK cinemas from 2018:

10 – SEARCHING

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John Cho leads a frenzied hunt for his missing daughter in a screen-set thriller that is anything but a cheap gimmick. The tension is palpable and the story is riveting as it’s portrayed through calls, Facebook and other social media searches. No need to search for my review as it’s right here — ‘Searching’

9 – HALLOWEEN

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Michael Myers returned, swiftly and thankfully, slashing away all the sequels, letting this story follow on 40 years after what happened to Laurie Strode that fateful Halloween night. David Gordon Green shows he has a skill for the horror genre and the entire team clearly adore the original which is why this feels like a perfect chilling return to form for the Shape. Head down Haddonfield with my review — ‘Halloween’

8 – LADY BIRD

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Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a brilliant, humour filled coming of age story about mothers and daughters. There are great pangs of emotion and with perfect performances from Ronan and Metcalf, you feel wrapped up in a comforting blanket watching this film. My review — ‘Lady Bird’

7 – HEARTS BEAT LOUD

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Well, here is a film that bowled me over and completely surpassed my expectations for it being a generically mediocre Sundance indie. What this film is, is pure charm and sunshine, with Offerman and Clemons providing great music as a dad and his daughter. Check out my thoughts at Flickfeast — ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

6 – BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY 

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I truly do not care what some film fans and critics have been saying about this film. I positively adored the majority of this foot-tapping, hand-clapping tale of Queen and its front man, the legendary Freddie Mercury, who is exquisitely played by Rami Malek. The film is fun and the music speaks for itself. Rock on over to my review — ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

5 – I, TONYA 

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Margot Robbie steps onto the ice as Tonya Harding in this fresh and exciting visceral take on the wintry ice-skating scene. Allison Janney is a great supporting feature as Harding’s mum and throughout we see a story presented in way that’s unreliable but entertaining, which makes the latter emotional moments that more resounding. Skate on over to my review — ‘I, Tonya’

4 – REVENGE 

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This had been a blood soaked film sitting pretty in my top three up until the very last moment. It’s still no less fantastic, a film which escapes the schlock way of vengeful flicks and becomes an engrossing thriller capably led by bad-ass Lutz. This is an explosive female led and directed movie from May, that I haven’t forgotten about in the slightest. See my review — ‘Revenge’

3 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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The spot most recently filled by ‘Revenge’ has snapped its fingers and shifted up a place, I mean, I saw it three times and didn’t tire with any minute of it, so it has to claim a bronze medal. Unlike repeat viewings of ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Age of Ultron’, this is a blockbuster outing which grows better upon more watches. There’s the might of a superb villain, great visuals and a cracking conclusion to ten years of MCU building. Further thoughts — ‘Infinity War’

2 – SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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Miles Morales swings into the hot spot of second in the only animation to feature on my top ten. Yes, he’s fended off Pixar’s ‘Coco’ and the internet busting moves from ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ because this is not only one of the most sensational animations I’ve seen but one of the best films, full stop. The styles are incredible, the voice work is perfect and the story is just right for the Spider-Man world. My review — ‘Spider-Verse’

So…they were my top 9. It’s time to unveil my all time favourite movie that I saw in 2018. A movie with grand stunts, great scope and a moustache to set the internet alight, yes here is my number 1 – 

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

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This is the sixth instalment in the M:I franchise and it is showing no signs of exhaustion, in fact it’s quite the contrary, with action hero Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie again teaming up to make Ethan Hunt and his globe-trotting, ankle-breaking antics an exhilarating treat to see. The stunts are next level and knowing that they are practically done makes you appreciate the action that much more than a second rate movie filling in set pieces with CGI. Fallout is 100% the real deal and is one of the finest action films I’ve seen…ever. My review if you choose to accept it — ‘Fallout’

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Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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It’s been 54 years since ‘Mary Poppins’ came out, so it’s definitely been a while in terms of sequel making. ‘Chicago’ and ‘Into the Woods’ director Rob Marshall in charge of this one, would the gap seem like a pleasant breeze or should it have been a one time only deal?

The Banks children; Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw & Emily Mortimer) are 30 years older but with their father’s home on the line it seems the skies need to send down the witchy wisdom of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) once again. She is on hand to help Michael’s three children and with the assistance of lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a new generation of Banks’ will witness the brilliance of Mary.

The 1964 original is a bonafide classic and appears on UK televisions pretty much every seasonal opportunity, so there was no fear that Disney couldn’t pull in audiences with a sequel but does a new Mary capture the same fire? Almost is the answer. It takes a while to really get into the swing of things, even Mary’s arrival doesn’t kick-start the fun, once the characters crack on into the China bowl then the musical gets into its stride. The ending is fairly flat too, like a balloon flopping to the floor when you’d wish it’d soar but the middle is grand.

It can easily be seen that this movie is cashing in on the nostalgia appeal of which Disney is definitely not shy of lately; what with 3 House of Mouse remakes landing in 2019. This plot feels like it’s just hopping from song to song with a faint thread of banking troubles to link them all together, but smile past this and you’ve got a toe-tapping film which is enjoyable for the whole family.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is almost as sweet as the marmalade goodness and Britishness featured in the ‘Paddington’ films and what with Julie Walters playing virtually the same character and two Peruvian bears in the cast, it does feel like Disney are aiming for that charm just within the olde style of England and Poppins universe. There is a charm to be found but it doesn’t feel bold, it feels like it’s just leaning too heavily on what’s come before.

In terms of musical numbers they’re not exactly memorable ditties but they are alright in their own way. ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ of the movie but wonderfully dings with 1930’s BMXing and lamppost choreography instead of leaping sweepers. ‘The Royal Doulton Music Hall’ is a bouncy bop and ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is the best song by a mile.

Those last two songs appear in the aforementioned China bowl sequence which is the highlight of the entire film. The production value throughout the movie is stellar but especially so in this part. The crockery world features 2D drawings and painted costuming as Mary, Jack and the 3 Banks’ find themselves surrounded by celebrating animated folk making for a marvellous section in the story.

Blunt is practically perfect in every way and brings the strict yet nonsense-making, magic mistress quality of Julie Andrews to life. She encapsulates the sheen of the film in its better moments. Lin-Manuel Miranda easily tackles the songs as you’d expect from Hamilton master; his tongue twisting storytelling in ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is pure exhilaration to listen to, Miranda also busts some of his own moves as Bert 2.0 and manoeuvres around the Cockney twang as he pleases but is better than what Dick van Dyke did years ago. Speaking of which, his return is sublime and you can’t help but beam as he dusts off some dance steps. If only they hadn’t revealed his involvement, the appearance would have been an even finer cinematic moment. Meryl Streep and her Russian flavoured role is a hoot and filled with joy, it is a scene that mirrors ‘I Love to Laugh’ but it looks amazing and is catchy.

So whilst the fantastical journey of Mary Poppins’ homecoming isn’t overly magical, it’s saved by the talented duo of Blunt and Miranda.

7/10

 

 

Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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The show must go on. After ups and downs that would sink even the sturdiest ship, this production has survived lead actor changes and a fired director to keep its head afloat and finally see release. It was worth the wait because this biopic docks with dynamic delight and is a blast of fun.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ chronicles the birth of the band Queen up to their Live Aid performance in 1985. It mostly follows the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), as he both deals with his sexuality and identity and the hopes that the group will achieve greatness for providing something different to the music landscape.

The story predominantly follows Freddie Mercury as his is the most captivating presence to observe. As a Queen affair, the other 3 members don’t play too much of a part, it’s mostly their music that does the talking and quickly this film sounds like a rock musical. Their incredible songs take over and though it would have been much better to let the film take some time in setting up their genesis, the sounds of their classic tunes can’t help but course through you and get your head nodding and your feet tapping.

This early rush of Mercury joining May and Taylor and before the audience knows it, the foursome are touring in America feels like a wasted opportunity for a gradual climb to their success but as the film progresses like the operatic vision in Freddie’s mind, it fills out with chords of fun brilliance and beats of more dramatic emotional moments. Though it plays fast and loose with a lot of facts, it’s a movie that gets better and better and when the credits roll you wish that it wasn’t over.

Bob Geldolf’s massive Live Aid concert bookends this film, the first scene is just a gorgeous snippet that tickles the senses to the arrival of a phenomenal band. It is the ending scene that plays out like a cinematic concert. The guitar riffs, drum smacks and Mercury’s vocals ring out and reverberate around the screen in the biggest and best possible way.

It isn’t solely their music that makes you go Radio Gaga, there could have been more to the privacy of Freddie and his band-mates but the brush strokes which paint us Freddie’s personal life are more included than you may expect. The LGBT scene of the period, his mannerisms and ultimately the disease which took his life at a cruelly young age aren’t flippantly tossed away, they were part of this icons magnificent character and the film ensures to include this side of him. The support of May, Taylor and John Deacon do come into play more as we see how supportive they are through thick and thin, without them Mercury would go on a full self-destructive crash.

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury is inspired casting and though he felt unaware at first of Queen’s back catalogue, he quickly embodies the singer in such a way that there’s numerous times you think you are watching the real man in front of your very eyes. The movements of Malek are exceptional, he possesses an otherworldly electric grace that fires up the stage as Mercury did so well. These enigmatic and flamboyant touches are vibrantly sold by the actor. Lucy Boynton is a wonderful, sweet presence as Mary Austin, the woman behind Freddie. The actor can tell a thousand stories through her expressive eyes and the emotion she delivers shared with Malek are touching, you can really gauge their closeness despite everything. A semi-cameo from Mike Myers is amusing even just for his almost Shrek accent and ‘Wayne’s World’ reference.

This may definitely be a film that comes across like a self-congratulatory pat on the back to the band, with their hits zooming out of the speakers like a crazy stadium jukebox but it’s the most fun, energetic musical ride. At the end of the day, music is a universal language and Queen’s speaks volumes to how bold and visionary they were and will always be which the film very nearly reflects.

8/10

A Star is Born (2018)

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From comedy star in ‘The Hangover’ to more dramatic turns in films like ‘American Sniper’, Bradley Cooper has certainly been down many avenues and now he throws his stetson behind the camera for his directorial debut; a musical romance and fourth remake of the ‘A Star is Born’ brand.

Hugely famous country star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) seriously struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. On a desperate trawl to find a bar, Maine staggers into one where waitress by day-singer by night Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. He quickly falls for her looks and talent and they begin a whirlwind relationship that sees Ally become a singer/songwriter idol.

In the 1950’s Judy Garland headlined the first remake and the 70’s saw Barbra Streisand take the lead in a rock and roll setting, one Bollywood film later and now it’s mega popstar Lady Gaga’s turn to take the cinematic stage. There’s no doubt that she’ll be up for an Oscar nomination because her performance is sensational and she makes the film what it is. The road to success with tricky obstacles and media manipulation is ripe for the times currently in Hollywood and the music perfectly encapsulates Ally and Jackson’s rocky relationship.

This movie is like a biopic of Gaga’s career, you can just see how the films’ content of moulding someone to how the management want them to be, mirrors her Poker Face days, before her songwriting and more heartfelt tunes took flight. The pop music side of Ally’s journey and the SNL showbiz aspect are necessary attributes in showing how the industry works and really demonstrates Ally as a strong individual to stick with all these changes in the dream of being recognised for her talent. She also sticks with Maine because he saw that spark within her, their relationship may be odd and harbour some cheesy moments but it feels real and the pair work beautifully together.

At a certain point it does feel like the film stretches ever so slightly and you could almost check out of the plot but thanks to the music you get drawn back in. Also, there is a very predictable narrative to follow but there’s some stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique which goes from a pristine bathroom to a gorgeously crimson tinged drag club and the films final shot rests on a powerful, stunning image and though it is silent it sings a thousand words. On top of the great DoP work, the musical numbers themselves are toe-tappingly heartfelt and ‘Shallow’; a song penned by Gaga and Mark Ronson is gunning for an Oscar nom as well and rightly so because it screams with drama.

Cooper, with his flushed red cheeks and slurring Western drawl embodies the stereotypical drunken cowboy singer but softens this rough edges with a clear love for his Ally rose. Gaga is incredible throughout, her voice is a God given gift that fills the heart and the speakers with power. It isn’t just her singing talents that sell the film, she makes Ally a fully rounded character and you truly buy into her rise to stardom with a difficult romance aiding the way.

‘A Star is Born’ is a country and western musical for modern times and like TV show ‘Nashville’, it hits with lyrical gems and dramatic characters to soar to the top of the charts.

7/10

First Man (2018)

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There’s no doubt that the moon landings of 1969 were a monumental achievement, but is Damien Chazelle’s latest feature as monumental an experience?

‘First Man’ follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he takes up a job for the Gemini programs, as NASA and America hope to reach the stars and send a man to the moon. As the Soviets claim their own space race victories, Armstrong becomes determined to succeed even if that means losing time with his family and wife Janet (Claire Foy).

Chazelle’s directorial career is extraordinarily good, this is only his fourth movie and in less than ten years. Each one has been critically acclaimed and adored by audiences so there’d be no surprise if the 33 year old would feel pressure to follow suit with this Armstrong biopic. The film may not be his most stylistic one but as you’d expect the use of music; scored by Justin Hurwitz, is exceptional. Chazelle truly knows how to utilise sound, whether Hurwitz’s score is twinkling like the stars or cutting out completely to really create dramatic tension, it’s a bold demonstration of sound mixing that adds to the formidable power of space.

Another positive about the film is that it isn’t afraid to highlight the costs and questions these Gemini and Apollo missions cause. People waving placards or queries about the price of human life to achieve this daring quest become little drop points amongst the course of Neil Armstrong’s pursuits. This is a blessed relief because the actual focus on the astronaut is less than engaging, a large percentage of ‘First Man’ feels like a paint by numbers drag which does little to excite.

This is a biographical look not at the exploration of space or the moon landing itself but more about the man, Armstrong himself. It never really rockets to anything special and dare I use the B word; it often feels a little bit boring. It is as if the film cannot really connect to Neil, even if the camera feels forever by his side. There are some absolutely amazing shots in this film but the story drags the whole thing back down to Earth.

Gosling is a charismatic actor and he manages to ensure his portrayal of the first man on the moon is reflective and he shows off this quiet, laser-focused attitude but a lot of the time it makes the film less than interesting to follow because he’s so drained of emotion. Claire Foy is the stand-out as the woman behind the man, she displays a great balance of love and sadness to the man who wants to step on the lunar surface.

‘First Man’ has a lot of impressive visual standouts, so when we’re being thrust into the capsules or training pods with the astronauts the film is exquisite, it’s let down however by the grounded home-life and disengaged approach to Neil Armstrong.

6/10

Yardie (2018)

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Idris Elba has proved to be a great presence on screen, but does his recognisable voice translate to be as effective behind the camera? ‘Yardie’ is his debut film as director and though, at times it feels like a frustrating muddle of scenes, there’s a powerful collection of actors and music tracks to keep the movie from failing.

Jamaica 1983 and 10 years after his brother was shot, Dennis Campbell aka ‘D’ (Aml Ameen) is told by King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), to head to London with a cocaine package and deliver it to British gangster/club owner Rico (Stephen Graham). The drug deal becomes a bust and ‘D’ could end up starting a war between cultures in London which will have an impact on people back in Jamaica.

A large percentage of this film, majoritively in the earlier stages has a feel reminiscent of Brazil’s 2002 ‘City of God’. The style choices made in this recent release with freeze-frames on certain characters, the tropical setting lit by rays of sun and the story of a young kid growing up on a path of gangs and violence add to the Meirelles/Lund parallels. This is no bad comparison as the first parts of this film are strong, it’s just a shame that as the central character hits Hackney, the story doesn’t quite keep to its convictions and feels a bit tame.

It is clear that Elba directs with an eye or perhaps ear on creating heart in his first feature. He probably had a major influence over the music choices, what with his extra curricular DJ activities, he ensures the story pulsates with Caribbean reggae sounds. The soundtrack gives this film a great aural power, which isn’t mirrored by the plain plot. The main revenge arc is simple and could be effective but is lost amongst other plot points which flit in and out. The characters don’t help this narrative too much either, ‘D’ isn’t always that enthralling, King Fox is an interesting character but there’s never enough of him to keep the tension bubbling.

Ameen is good as Dennis, he does bestow this chap plenty of cheek and charisma in places, if not enough innocence to make his journey more charged with an engagement factor. Stephen Graham is the stand out, he is a captivating presence in this film. The shifting of accents, bearing of golden teeth and the nasty unpredictability are all expertly mastered by the actor and he stops the London-set scenes from being empty on erratic tension.

A fine debut from Idris Elba in the controlling chair, just not a riveting one that secures him as a director with a leading voice, yet. ‘Yardie’ becomes a film which feels long but there are sights and sounds of soul in this drama which help give it some needed liveliness.

6/10