We are joined by some of our Film Team to discuss their thoughts on the best and worst of Film in 2018. In the hot seat, we have: Jon Sheasby (Managing Film Editor), Ashley Harris (Film Editor), Sean Mekinda (Staff Writer & Host of Beating a Dead Horse Podcast), Joel Fantini (Staff Writer), Joshua Lami (Staff Writer), and Holiday Godfrey (Staff Writer). So, without further adieu, let’s see what their awards go to…
Favorite Film of the Year
Jon: A Quiet Place. As thrilling, inventive and emotional as any film in recent memory, A Quiet Place is not just a great horror film—it’s a great film…period. If there’s any justice in the world, A Quiet Place should at the very least get a nomination for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards like its fellow genre film, Get Out, did the previous year. Real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt perfectly complement each other on-screen, and Krasinski has finally broken through as a star of the big screen—both in front of and behind the camera—after years of underperforming efforts that failed to prove his talents as an actor, writer, and director. 2018 has been quite a remarkable year for horror but, for me, A Quiet Place stands on top of the mountain. Also, points are always awarded when a film makes me shed a tear, and that signed moment between Lee and Regan still brings a lump to my throat even as I type this sentence today.
Ashley: The latest Spike Lee joint, BlacKkKlansman, is as urgent and timely of a film as we’ve grown to expect from the auteur. The same filmmaker that answered to racial injustice and ethnic tensions with Do the Right Thing, the struggles of interracial relationships with Jungle Fever, the devastation to New York brought about by the 9/11 attacks with 25th Hour, and the increased violence and crime in Chicago with Chi-Raq provided a response to Trump’s America in 2018. BlacKkKlansman details the wildly true story of the African-American Colorado Springs police officer Ron Stallworth’s successful infiltration of the KKK. With the help of a fellow Jewish police officer, Ron’s voice and his partner acting as a surrogate for the meetings create a persona that rises up to the ranks of leadership within the organization. My most frequent complaint when watching a Spike Lee film is that he can rarely seem to stick an ending, but the final moments of BlacKkKlansman, kicked off by his trademark dolly shot, is not a finale to be missed.
Sean: I’m really happy that this is looking for my favorite film of the year—not what I think is the best film of the year—because I absolutely adored Bad Times at the El Royale. It has plots that fizzle, characters that just kind of come and go with minimal impact on the story and no clear theme or original thesis, but I will be damned if I didn’t love every second of it. It was visually striking, with every shot and angle telling a story. Plots may have fizzled, but they were fascinating to watch while they were happening. The characters were all wonderful vignettes of tropes that played off each other in the greatest ways possible while creating new and interesting situations. I think we said it best in the Beating a Dead Horse episode: it’s wonderful but flawed.
Joel: Offering one of the bleakest, most middling years of recent times, the cinematic landscape of 2018 was one of crushing disappointment peppered with occasional delight stemming from the worlds of both the independent and the arthouse throughout the year. Beginning with the extraordinary Phantom Thread by the consummate Paul Thomas Anderson and continuing with the gonzo absurdity of Brian Taylor’s brilliant Mom and Dad and Lynne Ramsay’s near-perfect You Were Never Really Here, 2018’s finest works are few and far between. Michael Pearce’s sinewy debut, Beast, and the Coen brothers’ terrific The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are highlights in a barren year of numbing superficiality and disingenuous political pandering; however, the apex of 2018 arrived in the form of Debra Granik’s haunting Leave No Trace, a quietly stunning drama of heart-breaking sincerity that overwhelms the viewer and affirms Granik as one of the most lyrical, compassionate filmmakers of our time. Featuring a revelatory turn from Ben Foster as a shell-shocked war veteran living an isolated existence away from the corruptive influences of contemporary society with his adolescent daughter (a devastating Thomasin McKenzie in tow), Granik’s understated, gestural masterpiece digs deep and rewards profoundly. The film is a flawless, wrenching and criminally underseen gem, marking 2018’s greatest achievement and one of the century’s finest films to date.
Joshua: If it’s not already obvious that my answer is going to be Hereditary, you must not be following me on Twitter. The answer is, unequivocally, Hereditary. That said, Hereditary is so good that it’s almost a cheat answer, so I’ll go with Isle of Dogs; but I already reviewed that movie for 25YL, so that might be predictable too. So, barring the obvious answer or something I’ve already reviewed, I’ll go with Annihilation. That’s three movies, technically. Is that okay?
Holiday: My favorite watch this year was Bohemian Rhapsody. I had fun watching it, writing about it and then having people tag me in every Queen meme they saw because of writing about it. I would have voted for Hereditary but I have yet to bring myself to watch it again and, as Sean pointed out, this question was my favorite film of the year and not the best film of the year, thankfully.
Most Disappointing Film of the Year
Jon: It’s hard to call a film I liked disappointing, but Halloween didn’t work quite as well for me as it did for others. As I said in our roundtable discussion of David Gordon Green’s sequel, I think it’s a good film with some clever moments and nice social commentary, but I can’t help but feel let down by its adherence to formula and lack of stakes. That being said, I’m happy it made a killing at the box office, and I’ll look forward to the potential slasher revival that will hopefully rise in its wake.
Ashley: I love The Office so much that I will follow Steve Carell into whatever film roles he decides to take. I was punished for that loyalty by sitting through Beautiful Boy. The gut-wrenching story of New York Times writer David Sheff (Carell), who struggles through his son Nic’s (Timothée Chalamet) drug addiction, plays like a big budget Lifetime movie. There’s nothing wrong with a good Lifetime movie when I’m folding clothes in my living room on a Saturday afternoon, but when I make the trip to the cinema, I expect more of an experience than two hours of emotional manipulation.
Sean: The Cloverfield Paradox. Hands down. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a genuine masterpiece, creating a small, personal story surrounded by lies and mystery amplified by the understanding of the Cloverfield mythos. The original Cloverfield is a movie that I still love and can totally understand why others may not. The big theme between these two movies, and what I would say makes a Cloverfield movie a Cloverfield movie, is that they are small personal stories that don’t set out to answer the big questions about the monster and its ilk. The Cloverfield (have I said Cloverfield enough yet?) Paradox feels like an inversion on that formula—it put answers first, then included a ham-fisted personal story. It felt largely hollow, with people just shouting exposition at one another, while dumb things happen elsewhere. There was a bit of a really cool Cronenberg movie in there, though. And Chris O’Dowd is always pretty funny.
Joel: What began as an anxiety attack incarnate slowly developed into a moronically overcooked and needlessly verbose disaster with Ari Aster’s deeply flawed Hereditary, 2018’s most disappointing film by far. Opening with startling power in its initial movements and led by an admittedly excellent Toni Collette, Hereditary condescendingly continues in its second and third acts to tarnish the likes of Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining by way of rubbishing Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and desecrating Roman Polanski’s Repulsion to mind-numbing lengths and ends. Its inane contrivances and oh-so-clever psychoanalytical approach is a symbol of Aster clutching at straws as the emperor desperately attempts to find new clothes. A dreary, frustrating experience, and the most singularly disappointing film of the year.
Joshua: Personally, I left Halloween in a bad mood. It just felt so unnecessary and forced. Am I the only one who was in the theater like, “That’s pretty much how you killed him in Halloween II.” Maybe I wouldn’t have been so annoyed if it hadn’t been touted as such a return to form. Granted, it absolutely is a return to form if you consider disappointing Halloween sequels to be the norm at this point.
Holiday: Bird Box. Please stop filming yourself running about with a blindfold on! I’ve already seen one video of what I think is a toddler getting a concussion from running full tilt into a wall. I laughed, but come on. The film was predictable, had lazy writing elements, and pickpocketed other films for their spare themes. Watching Sandra Bullock machete chop some crazy man in the neck is worth watching, though, as is John Malkovich’s performance as the bald “bad guy” that everyone says is selfish because he doesn’t want to let a man nicknamed “Fish Fingers” who is clinically insane into the fold. And while this was to me the biggest film let down of the year, thankfully this film’s hype will fade away, but our blindfold meme stash is forever.
Favorite Netflix Original Film
Jon: While I still love everything about Cargo, it would be impossible for me not to pick Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. I’ve seen the vast majority of Netflix film releases this year and, for better or worse, they’re unquestionably changing the way the film industry works and how we, the audience, consume motion pictures. 2018 has been a banner year for Netflix originals, but Roma is of a different ilk. There’s a good chance that it could walk away with multiple Academy Awards come Sunday, February 24, 2019, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would sneer should the Academy members vote in its favour. It might seem crazy to call Roma Cuarón’s most visually stunning and emotionally beautiful movie to date, but that’s exactly what it is: as spectacular as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as deep as Children of Men, and as masterfully directed as Gravity.
Ashley: Despite having never before seen a film by Alfonso Cuarón, I was giddy with excitement when news of his 2018 feature Roma began to saturate the internet. As a big fan of world cinema, as well as slow naturalistic filmmaking, Cuarón’s story of a year in the life of a maid and the middle-class family with whom she works and lives set against the backdrop of unrest in Mexico City (1970-1971) sounded like a film right up my alley. When I heard it was being distributed by Netflix, I was surprised that a director with big-budget titles like Gravity and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban would opt for a streaming-only film release. It turns out that Roma enjoyed a limited theatrical release, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to see it in the cinema, just as I consider myself fortunate to be able to watch it again and again at home since it’s already streaming. Roma is a technical marvel. Cuarón’s signature long takes, punctuated by his always-moving camera, create an incredible perspective of observation. The audience knows they’re outside of the film, just like the protagonist Cleo knows that there is a line separating her from the family for whom she works, and she exists outside of their unit. The meticulous sound design and a beautifully painful story come together to create a film that cannot be missed, no matter how one decides to view it.
Sean: Unfortunately, I only saw Mute and The Cloverfield Paradox from this year’s Netflix releases, neither of which I would call “good.” I’ve heard a lot of good things about Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, though, so I’d say probably one of those two.
Joel: Despite my abject refusal to adhere to the technological tyranny of Netflix in past years, 2018 saw one of the year’s finest films released through and produced by the streaming service. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel and Ethan Coen’s morose six-part Western anthology, provided one of the best and most surprising films of recent years from the supremely talented writer/director duo. A study in the steely hardships felt by those on the 19th century American frontier and the persistence of death haunting the post-Civil War society of the time, the film is simultaneously joyous yet melancholy; the interrogation of the archetypical conceits ever-present within the classic Westerns of yore and undercutting of generic convention by way of keenly observed parody and satire taken to wonderfully absurd and frequently bizarre lengths by the Coens. A fantastically wide-eyed Zoe Kazan leads the film’s finest segment, “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” an anguished romantic tragedy of piercing humanity and a keen generosity of spirit, with Tim Blake Nelson’s titular Buster Scruggs an extraordinary creation in what is a strange, brilliant film.
Joshua: It’s a tough choice but, at the end of the day, my loyalty to the Coen brothers remains absolute. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was truly something different, not just for the Coens, but for movies in general. Apparently, Joel and Ethan Coen had been writing the movie off and on for approximately 20 years, which makes the film all the more interesting. We’re getting vintage and contemporary work from some of cinema’s best filmmakers all in one movie. For those unaware, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology Western which ranges wildly in tone. I’m having trouble deciding which segment was my favorite, but it’s definitely between the harrowingly bleak “Meal Ticket” and “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” For what it’s worth, I think the latter of the two could have been made into a feature-length movie.
Favorite Shudder Release
Joshua: Shudder is putting out so much good original content that it’s hard to keep up. Deadwax and The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs were obviously some Shudder original programming I was a fan of, but if we’re talking strictly movies, I’d have to say it’s a tough choice between Mandy and Revenge. I may give Revenge the edge if for no other reason than it deserves as much hype as Mandy got but went relatively unnoticed. I was originally going to choose Better Watch Out but, apparently, that came out in 2017.
Holiday: Easily this one is Mandy. Original, weird, excellently filmed. And dueling chainsaws. While I loved Summer of 84, it was a bit too predictable, unlike Mandy, which was a wild ride from start to finish. I actually had to rewind it a few times and watch scenes multiple times to accurately grasp what I was viewing. “Is this really a cartoon right now or did I accidentally eat an edible?” Not a sentence you say to yourself very often when enjoying a film.
Favorite Performance of the Year
Jon: Two of my favourite actresses on the planet are Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, so I was eagerly anticipating Thoroughbreds’ general release after its festival circuit run in 2017. Needless to say, their work in Thoroughbreds gets my vote as my favourite performance(s) of the year. Perfectly blending pitch-black humour, an unpredictable plot and sharp-as-a-knife dialogue drenched in apathy, Thoroughbreds provides a stage for two of the best young actresses working today to showcase every ounce of their abilities and it’s a film I will return to again and again. Cooke, specifically, shines as the emotionless Amanda, whose fake crying tutorial scene remains one of my favourites from the entirety of 2018. A quick shout-out to the final theatrically-released performance by Anton Yelchin, too, whose presence will be severely missed in the worlds of film/TV for years to come.
Ashley: Assassination Nation was another urgent film that seemed to answer directly to the very 2018 perils of technology breaches, gender inequality, and the social media obsessed lives in which we lead. Odessa Young as Lily in Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation handles the weight of the film’s themes in an assured and confident way, all while managing to create a character that can be found in the audience—a relatable presence that allows us to see ourselves in the stylized depictions of the technological haze appearing on-screen. Calling our attention to the pitfalls of modern-day society, Young’s Lily was a breath of fresh air much needed in this year’s cinematic landscape.
Sean: Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade was terrifying to watch. It brought every awkward and stupid thing you ever did as a kid straight to the forefront of your memory, and Elsie Fisher reacted in the exact way you would have. It was awful and she was great and I loved every second of it.
Joel: A performance of nuanced complexity and great power, Thomasin McKenzie’s remarkable work as the precocious Tom in Debra Granik’s startling Leave No Trace both stuns and delights in equal measure; her steely maturity infused with the wide-eyed malaise required for her character executed with pitch-perfect conviction and unironic grace in what is 2018’s most extraordinary film.
Joshua: I’ll put it like this: The Oscars are not worthy of Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary. To nominate and give her an Academy Award for that performance would be an insult. The Academy should just retire every acting category now. Acting has officially peaked.
Holiday: Definitely either Toni Collette in Hereditary or Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury. Even if you didn’t like either film, those two performances are objectively fantastic. Toni Collette gave me chills, heart palpitations, and potential for an anxiety attack; Rami Malek gave me chills, heart palpitations, and potential for a sheer heart attack.
Most Hotly Anticipated Film of 2019
Holiday: Jordan Peele’s Us, the remake of Pet Sematary, and Zombieland 2. Us because Get Out was spectacular and the trailer for Us gave me the heebie-jeebies, the remake of Pet Sematary because it’s one of my favorite novels and the trailer for it gives me hope that this film will be way less “made for TV-ish” as the original film was, and Zombieland 2 because I love comedy horror, I love zombies, and I would like to marry Woody Harrelson at his earliest convenience, please. If I’m pushed to choose, I’ll go with Us because it’s a brand new and original film instead of a remake or sequel, and coming out with original content in the film industry is clearly next to impossible (unless you’re making a movie about a quirky, middle-class white person on a journey to self-discovery).
Joshua: This is going to be a polarizing answer because he’s a polarizing director, but The Devil’s Rejects is one of my all-time favorite movies and 3 from Hell is by and far the movie I’m most excited for in 2019. Rob Zombie has never made another movie I liked as much as The Devil’s Rejects and some part of me is worried this can’t live up to my impossible expectations, but I just can’t help myself. 3 from Hell can’t be released soon enough.
Sean: This is a tough one, so I’m just going to cheat and pick several. While knowing almost nothing about it, Jordan Peele killed it with Get Out, so Us is way up there on my list. I actually really like the 2014 Godzilla movie, and the new posters for Godzilla: King of the Monsters has me pretty excited. Finally, The Lego Movie holds my record for “most times seeing a movie in theaters” so obviously I’m super into The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
Ashley: I’ve seen Happy Death Day more times than I’d like to admit. I had only seen a trailer once for the film before finding myself with no plans on a Tuesday night and a burning desire to go to the cinema. Happy Death Day was my favorite surprise from last year, and one of my favorite films to come out of 2017. Hearing that there was a sequel in the works excited me to no end and I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day of 2019 to see how Happy Death Day 2U delivers!
Jon: As much as I want to pick Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Toy Story 4 because I’m still a child at heart, the 2019 movie I’m anticipating the most is Joker. Featuring the likes of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Marc Maron, and Joaquin Phoenix as the titular supervillain, Todd Phillips’ 1980s-set crime film has to be the most intriguing comic book movie for years. Little is know about the plot beyond the standard Joker origin of a failed comedian turning to a life of crime and chaos, but this is one film that I want to walk into a blindly as possible. They had me at Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Does anyone need another reason to buy a ticket?
So, those were our Film Team’s opinions…now we would love to hear yours! Leave a comment on social media and tell us what you think have been the best and worst moments in Film 2018.