My top 7 films of 2018 … explained

I once again managed to not see all that many films. I think the excellent weather this summer is a very good excuse for that.

The overall quality of the films seemed to be higher this year. Unlike the last few years, there isn’t a single film that made me want to throw things at one of the creators because of how bad it was.

In keeping with tradition, I’d also like to highlight one film that was new to me but not new. “Ethel and Ernest” which is an old-fashioned cartoon, but it hits you straight in the heart. It’s absolutely wonderful.

I continue to use these 4 criteria:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do?
2 – did it use its resources to its best ability? Or, a £250,000 film is not going to have as good explosions as a £25,000,000 film, or it shouldn’t, and if it does, there’s something wrong with the £25,000,000 film. Basically, it’s a technical merit score.
3 – Intellectual satisfaction – does the film’s plot pull some really stupid move at the last moment? Does the plot rely on characters being stupid than they are?
4 – Does this work as a whole? Did it work for me? I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

In a slight change to the usual, I will be speaking about some of the films in groups, because I have things to say where either the comments for both films are similar comments, or because I am going to use the two films as contrasts to each other.

My top 7 was
1 – Black Panther
2 – Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
3 – Avengers: Infinity War
4 – Mission Impossible 6
5 – Isle of Dogs
6 – Venom
7 – Antman 2

Let’s begin with the top two.

While I’ve put Black Panther above Into the Spiderverse, it is pretty much a toss-up. Like the year The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road came out, I’ve given top spot to the one I liked better. Noticeably, I said “liked better” not “enjoyed more” because Into the Spiderverse is the good guys doing the right thing and it is more enjoyable than what happens in Black Panther. But Black Panther has some lovely shades of grey, and people who are undoubtedly good people doing bad things, and the bad guy being allowed to be right about something things (if not in his methodology) and … okay so I am giving Black Panther the top spot just for Sterling K. Brown. Because he’s amazing as N’Jobu. With some serious assistance from Michael B. Jordan. And even months later I am all flail! on the topic.

Both films tell very traditional superhero stories but they tell them in an interesting way. Black Panther lets you sympathise with the villain a lot more than most do, while Into the Spiderverse plays with the medium in a glorious, vivid, colourful, fun way. The way Into the Spiderverse tells its story obviously looks more radical, but that’s in part because there hasn’t been another comic book film that’s been a cartoon and used that medium to its fullest. Very few cartoon films have used being a cartoon to their fullest. Because, OMG what Into the Spiderverse does is so cool. One of the things I really love is how it weaves the soundtrack and the music that Miles listens to into the way he moves. It’s just so kinetic that you can almost feel what’s on the screen. It’s magnificent.

I love both films a lot.

Avengers: Infinity Wars is less good than those two films. However, it does tell a subtly different superhero story to the usual. The difference is that the villain is defeated, but only after he’s won and the bad things happen after our heroes defeat him. I mean, the bad things that haven’t already happened. Many bad things happen in that film. I applauded Infinity Wars at the time and still do for allowing Thanos to actually love Gamorra (and, despite everything, vice versa) and still do the thing, and regret it but still think it’s for the greater good. He’s a villain with depth without sentimentalising him. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely good.

It’s after that where the ordering gets a bit haphazard and perfunctory. I’d be willing to listen to arguments for any of films 4 to 7 being in any position from 4 to 7.

I am giving Mission Impossible: Fallout position 4 because of how good the fight scenes are. Seriously, I would like to find out who choreographed the “John Lark” fight and thank them. It was excellent. It also gets points for Solomon Lane. I have railed, and will rail again, about how not every bad guy has to be the Joker from The Dark Knight, and they don’t all need to want to watch the world burn but Solomon Lane is my exception to that rule, because it works for the character and the story and they give the formula a twist. Sean Harris gives such a good blank, all-consuming evil. I also love what they do with John Lark (and that is the least spoilery way to phrase that).

On the other hand, the plot is over-convoluted to some ridiculously baroque extent.

Isle of Dogs is very Wes Anderson. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how you feel about Wes Anderson. One friend who really likes him loved it. One friend who hates him refuses to see it. That these two friends share a first name just makes it more amusing.

I am 50/50 on Wes Anderson, so I enjoyed bits of it, while finding it a bit too Wes Anderson in other parts. It is the one I was tempted to put in 7th, but I decided to give it points for not being based on something else.

Antman 2 (or Antman and the Wasp) and Venom are both stupid good fun. Venom was probably the better film, because Antman 2 had the air of being a Marvelverse filler film. They’re actually very similar in terms of lead character; charming, likeable screw ups forced to face the consequences of their actions. I loved the way they handled Spoiler and Spoiler in Antman (and all of Team Minor Criminal who I love beyond all reason). Meanwhile I adored Anne and Dr. Dan in Venom for similar reasons, and Tom Hardy appeared to be having all the fun as Venom (and Eddie in a weird way). Neither is a great film, but they are pleasing and enjoyable. So they’re coming bottom of this list, but as I said at the start, all 7 films were good and I’d recommend seeing any of them.

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Top 7 Films of 2018

Why yes, they would be the only films I saw in the cinema.

1 – Black Panther

2 – Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

3 – Avengers: Infinity War

4 – Mission Impossible: Fallout

5 – Isle of Dogs

6 – Venom

7 – Antman and the Wasp

Full explanation forthcoming, with some arguments over the positioning of everything.

The Euro 2020 Qualification Draw, Or UEFA Do Like To Over-Complicate Things

I have seen the results of draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, and I have very little to say about them, other than Austria’s draw looks okay (they can qualify second from that group), the fight for second place in group F looks like it could be tasty, and the winners of the Netherlands vs Germany will be us, the viewing public.

The interesting thing with this draw is the set of rules UEFA are using for the draw (full rules, less well explained under the “draw details” tab here).  Some of the rules make sense, some of them are more …. well, as  friend L said “I fear UEFA have seen American College Football, and told them to hold their beer.”

Starting with the sensible ones, one rule says that Spain and Gibraltar can’t be drawn together, and neither can Kosovo and Serbia or Bosnia-Herzegovina (I also suspect there would be surreptitious switching if Russia and Ukraine drew each other).  I can completely understand that one.

Next is the cold weather rule – a maximum of two countries at risk of severe winters can be in one group.  These countries are: Belarus, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia and Ukraine.  Again, I can understand that, cold weather increases the risk of postponement and if you have too many postponed games, the fixtures pile up at unfortunate points of the season.

Then there’s the distance rule about travel to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Iceland because they are too far away from everyone.  For each of these three countries there is a list of countries of which only one can be drawn with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan or Iceland (the list for each country can also be found under the “draw details” tab here).  Again, I can understand this one, because UEFA want atmosphere at the games and if you give fans too many far off places to travel then they’re not going to travel.

So far, so reasonably sensible.

Then we hit the rules where I am not quite sure why they’re there.

The first is to do with the host countries for Euro 2020.  As I am sure you know, Euro 2020 is being hosted by many, many countries.  UEFA are trying to make sure that the countries that are hosting will at least have a chance of qualifying, which again, I understand for atmosphere reasons.  As the top two teams in each group qualify, no more than two host countries are allowed in each group. The host countries are: England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Russia.  The reason I don’t like it is that it gives some of the bigger names in European football a bit of an advantage.  If you’re England, you’re glad you don’t get Germany and say Romania, because Romania are a solid and occasionally tricksy side.

However, that rule is only going to stay for Euro 2020, unless they decide to repeat the experiment for a later tournament.  The rule I really don’t like and that I can’t see going (unless the entire overly-complicated Nations League tournament is overhauled) is that the Nations League finalists have to be drawn in 5 team pools.  This is so they have a gap in the schedules for the Nations League final matches.  Those four teams are England, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands.

I don’t like this rule because the teams that will be in the Nations League final are already going to be the good teams and giving them a match off seem to be depriving a minnow of a big money match.

As per usual, I’ve seen what draw you’d get if you apply these rules to the FIFA rankings at the time of the draw.  If you apply the rules to the rankings, this is the result.

Euro2020

Belgium get a rest match due to a lack of a 56th team, having earned it by being the top ranked European team on the FIFA rankings.  Overall, the strength of the groups is similar, mostly because of the moving around that has to be done to accommodate all the rules.

Of course, depending on how the Nations League tier finals results go, there’s every chance a supercomputer is going to be required to understand who will eventually qualify, because UEFA like to overcomplicate everything.

I suspect that if the NCAA decide to expand the college football play-offs, their choices on how to do that are going to make this seem utterly logical, but then again, that might only encourage UEFA!

Peter Stringer

Since time’s arrow insists on moving forward, Peter Stringer has retired. I am somewhat behind the other write ups, but what I lack in timeliness, I make up for with love.

To an extent, my memories of rugby union are tied up with Peter Stringer. I have strangely vivid memories of Scotland winning the Grand Slam in 1990, reinforced by my mother’s Corries videos, but the first memory that is definitely mine and not just disjointed plays, is Peter Stringer’s tap tackle on Dan Luger. I think it sums his career up quite well.

It was borderline impossible, required determination and heart (and a certain bodily recklessness) and was valuable beyond measure.

How else can you describe someone who at 1.7 m and 73 kg tries to tackle All Blacks.

While opinion is mixed as to who was the best scrum half between the years 2000 and 2010, Stringer is probably not going to be on anyone’s list. Which is a shame, because he did the simple things well. I do have a fondness for excellence of execution.

His style also worked for the team he was in. You can play like New Zealand if you’ve got players like New Zealand (I’d have used France as the example, but France are having trouble playing like France at the moment).

And because he worked so well in that team, he could he set up Jamie Heaslip’s match-winning try in the 2009 Six Nations game against Scotland. That performance won Stringer the Man of the Match award and meant that Ireland could go to Cardiff for their match against Wales with a chance of winning not just the title but the Grand Slam as well. In that final match against Wales, it was Stringer’s pass to O’Gara that led to the drop goal that won Ireland their first grand slam in 61 years.

The Stringer to O’Gara connection was also vital to Munster’s successes, such as finally winning the Heineken Cup. And this would be him scoring the winning try. This was especially sweet as he was the person Neil Back stole the ball from to cost Munster the title in 2002. The try also shows what I liked about the way he played – there was sneak and guile, looking for spaces instead of running into contact, more than that, actually finding the space, and using it.

I think Stringer is very much the definition of tiny and awesome and has been (and always will be) my favourite rugby players because of that.

Comment here or on Dreamwidth, wherever you prefer.

A Better Formula 1 Calendar (Or A More Efficient One At Least)

It’s summer break time in Formula 1. That means it’s time for the traditional “there are too many races” articles from the journos. I quite like the BBC’s choose your races for a 16 race season thing because it’s something a little different to the usual.

I like “different to the usual”, and this is my contribution to that.

What if we don’t get rid of races, but, instead, find a better order in which to race them to save time, distance and cost.

There is a shiny app dedicated to solving the travelling salesman problem. Simplifying horribly, the travelling salesman problem asks “what is the most efficient route round x number of points?” The app, here, does the hard work for you. It’s really good because it copes with cross-ocean travel, which not all apps for the travelling salesman problem do.

To find the most efficient route to cover all the races of the 2018 F1 season, I tried to put in the locations of the races.

That was when the first problem occurred. Completely understandably, the app only includes cities, and several of the racetracks are not in or near cities. Therefore, I’ve gone with the nearest city to the locations of the races. The races affected by this are:

Race – closest city

Bahrain GP – Manama
French GP – Marseille
Austrian GP – Ljubljana (stop laughing in the back)
British GP – Leicester
German GP – Stuttgart for Hockenheim
Belgian GP – Brussels
Italian GP – Milan
Japanese GP – Nagoya

This was the map that the app produced

xmaatJ.png

In case you can’t read the labels, the order the program puts the locations in is Melbourne, Singapore, Nagoya, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Manama, Baku, Sochi, Ljubljana, Budapest, Milan, Barcelona, Marseille, Monte Carlo, Stuttgart, Brussel, Leicester, Montreal, Austin, Mexico City, Sao Paolo.

That’s start in Australia, fly over to Asia and race the Asian and Middle Eastern tracks. The route then moves across Europe from East to West, from the UK go across to Canada, down the Americas and finishes in Brazil.

The one downside to the solution is that it has to return to its starting point, because it solves the travelling salesman problem. That makes it more likely that an outlying point, in this case Melbourne, will be the starting point.

But, and this is the important thing, doesn’t the order that it proposes better from a logistical point of view? Doesn’t it make more sense than jumping from Australia to Bahrain, only to jump back to China. Following that, in the real calendar, there’s a slow drift across from Asia to Europe, only for the circuit to leap from Monaco to Montreal, then back to France followed by the rest of the European races bar one. Then, in the real world, we go from Europe to Singapore, back to Europe, then out to Japan, which is two long flights the smaller teams could probably do without. From Japan, it’s over to the US, then down, through Mexico to Brazil, which makes sense. Going from there to Abu Dhabi does not.

The app’s more efficient plan avoids a number of weeks where the teams barely have time to land before they have to take off again. The simplified route only crosses the Atlantic once (as opposed to four times in the actual calendar) and doesn’t cross the Indian Ocean at all (as opposed to twice in the real calendar). It avoids a trip to Singapore and back in the middle of the season. It also avoids a 15+ hour trip from Japan to Texas. Those changes should make logistics easier for the teams and mean that the pit crew (and other, even less heralded team members) might have chance to see their families once in a while.

Of course, the app is only bound by geography and the information entered. In reality, the layout of the season is determined by money and politics. Certainly, the US Grand Prix is at that point in the season just so there’s a chance that the Championship might be decided on US soil so there might finally be major US commercial interest. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Abu Dhabi’s contract is to host the final race of the season, not any old race.

Someone with more mathematical / coding skill than me would probably be able to come up with a way of running a similar algorithm with a fixed final point. That would mean you could find the most efficient route is if it has to finish at Abu Dhabi. Whatever that calendar is, it won’t be the one that F1 is using at the moment. Going all the way over to the Americas only to come back to the Middle East really adds mileage. It will be interesting to see how Liberty deal with this when Abu Dhabi’s contract is up for renewal because I don’t think anyone likes where Abu Dhabi is on the calendar.

It’s not just because I’d rather see titles decided in Brazil. Given the way the last few seasons have gone, they title is more likely to be wrapped up before the last race. My objection to Abu Dhabi having the last race is that I’d rather the last race be somewhere where we might get actual racing action.

Film Locations

Once a year I like to look at where the films I’ve watched are set.

This is a deeply incomplete look at films up to August 2015.

Pie Chart

 

That’s all locations, including fictional ones, and, as you can see, the United States and the United Kingdom dominate.  They dominate even more if I only look at real places.

Pie Chart

 

If I look at the UK-set films

 

Pie Chart

 

They’re mostly set in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland have no representation at all. I really need to watch more films 🙂