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.

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 🙂

Black Panther

Black Panther follows the traditional superhero formula for films where there’s already been an origin. For filmverse Black Panther, Captain America 3 was basically his origin film. This pattern is – see the hero’s strength, see the villain’s strength, the villain rises, it appears that all is lost for the forces of good and then the hero wins.

In films like that, the important is the specific details, the character bits, the frills. And Black Panther is very good at those.

Spoilers Underneath

Chadwick Boseman has the most difficult job. Because playing good is difficult and he knocks it out of the park. Heroic good in films tends to be reactive, and given very little to actively do. It’s a hard balancing act, of being awesome and good without being too preachy.

I am taking the time to say this mostly because the rest of this is all about how awesome everyone else in the film is but T’Challa is the base of all of that.

The most important detail is that Michael B Jordan will break your heart. I mean, actually break it. With a significant assist by Sterling K. Brown. It’s that moment where you realise that the opening narration isn’t T’Challa’s father to T’Challa, it’s N’Jobu to Erik. It’s an exiled prince telling the son he fears will never get to see his homeland all about it, and that breaks me because he knows he’s about to do something that will get him exiled for ever but is going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing do. Or at least he thinks it is the right thing to, and he might be right and Marvel are doing that thing again. The whole film is full of situations like that, see also T’Challa’s father is not a bad man, he might not be a good man, but he’s not bad, but he did a terrible thing, again, because he thought it was the least worst possible option, even though he was probably wrong. Did I mention, Marvel are doing the thing!

Then there’s the “I’m not crying” tears and how vulnerable and deadly Erik is at the same time, and the contrast between that and the equivalent scene of T’Challa and his father.

And then the ending, where Erik’s ready to be let down by Wakanda, the way he has been by everything else, and he isn’t, because it is every bit as beautiful as his father promised, and he’d still rather die than be imprisoned because he knows he’s right. That was the bit that made me cry.

Killmonger is very much one particular type of Marvel villain, he is the bad man with a righteous cause. He is Magneto, down to the name, it’s just that this time the cause is that much more real.

One of the reasons why the film works is that Killmonger isn’t the only one who believes that Wakanda shouldn’t be isolationist, Ntiri does too, it’s just Killmonger’s methods that are … too extreme. Too often in films like this, anyone who disagrees with the hero is wrong, and either misguided or evil. Black Panther makes sure that that doesn’t happen. The film is very careful that Ntiri is always good, and kind, and just, and agrees with most of what Killmonger is saying. Which is tricky to pull off, and it helps when you have Lupita Nyong’o to play the role.

A lot of thought has gone into this film. I mean, more than usual. T’Challa can get away with going “no, vengence is bad” to W’Kabi because he did forgive his father’s killer. T’Challa he knows that you have to forgive to avoid a cycle of violence (the end of which, last time, was the Sokovia mess). It means that, while you might disagree with his not killing Klaue, he’s not a hypocrite when he tells W’Kabi that it was better to take Klaue in alive. They must have had at least the vague outline of this plotted out when they were writing Captain America 3 to make sure it worked. I like it when Marvel plan and have joined up thinking.

Talking about awesome, let us now speak of Okoya. Partly, she’s a stock character I like done well, it’s someone who is loyal to the kingdom, not necessarily who is on the throne. But normally, they’re crusty old men with beards (hello Colonel Zapt in “Prisoner of Zenda”) and Okoya isn’t.

She never breaks. She sticks to her word. She serves Killmonger until he, and W’Kabi, break the rules. No matter how much it hurts her, her word is her bond, and her honour upholds the throne. Yes, she might be glad that they give her the opportunity to rebel, but until they do, she sticks with her duty. Charging a rhino at her was never going to work. (I do love that W’Kabi doesn’t even try to do anything else when his rhino stops. There’s a certain sort of “no go” when a rhino doesn’t want to do something.)

I love the fighting style of the Dora Milaje. Which I love. Because it looks so effective, and they actually train to be a person down, which makes so much sense. All hail fight tactics in films making sense.

The way the right of challenge was phrased made it quite clear that T’Challa wasn’t going to be dead, I mean, beyond it being his film and him turning up in the Infinity War trailer beforehand. You only phrase things that way when you need a get out clause.

All hail M’Baku, the noblest man in the kingdom. Because he could have taken the last of the heart-shaped herb and challenged Killmonger. No-one would have known that T’Challa wasn’t dead. I do like that the Jabari’s thing seems to be “we are awkward and we enjoy it” (even if I am deeply confused by Hanuman having followers that far west. I mean, I totally support Hanuman having worshippers wherever they are but …). I was so worried that he was going to be the film’s heroic sacrifice.

The heart-shaped herb as a whole sets up some interesting things for the future. Ignoring any spiritual-mystic stuff, the idea of a plant that both gives and takes away power is interesting, as is Killmonger destroying the remaining plants. I think he does it, not just to stop any immediate challengers to the throne but because I’m not entirely sure he expects to live long enough to have children. I think that’s supposed to be one of the contrasts to his father, T’Chaka and T’Challa. I also wonder how the burning of all the heart-shaped herb affects any future Panthers, because if it’s vital then there’s a problem, but if it’s not, then they’ve got other problems.

I feel bad for leaving Shuri this late in my write-up (and her bit being so short) because I love her so. Because she’s geek girl done accurately, adorable and a genius, all the way down to the terrible sneaker jokes. (Also, really T’Challa, what did you expect to happen when she said that the new gear used hits to it to produce force? She warned you!)

It was only reading the stuff around Black Panther that told me that Everett Ross in Captain America 3 was supposed to be an annoyance rather than a budding Trask/Gyrich-esque villain. Note to self – you and Hollywood have different concepts of annoyance and villainy. I do think that he was written deliberately less irksome/villainous in this one, when he’s being irksome in the interrogation of Klaue but immediately tries to save Ntiri from a bullet. It’s only writing this post that’s made me realise why they had to have someone get badly injured for the ending to work properly. Killmonger’s choice to die rather than be imprisoned only works if we know that Wakandan technology can save him.

I refuse to accept Angela Bassett is old enough to have a grown son, never mind a son who is old enough to be king.

The casting directors deserve so much credit for how well they cast the young T’Chaka and the young Zuri. I mean, yes, they cast the actor’s son for T’Chaka, and while they swear Denzel Whitaker is no relation, I think that’s just to hide how advanced their cloning programme is, because he moves like Forrest Whittaker, but only when Zuri’s revealed to be Zuri. All joking about cloning aside, it’s a clever little bit of physical acting.

Andy Serkis knew he was playing the weak villain who gets killed to make either the good guy or the villain look strong and played the role with gleeful aplomb. On the otherhand, I’d like to know how you get Klaw out of Klaue, as, AFAIK and Afrikaans isn’t one of my languages, Afrikaans is a say what you see language. I can maybe just about get Klow-eh out of that, but not Klaw.

Which brings me to the only thing that was a little off with the film. I understand the filmmakers were aiming for “there is more to Africa than you see in the news” but they do it by making Wakanda a melange of so many cultures. I think some of it is from the comics (Black Panther was never one of my comics, I only know characters that crossed over with the X-Men), because that’s who I am blaming for Hanuman being a God anywhere in Africa. Or Bast being a goddess that far south of Egypt.

In the words of one friend, “why are they speaking Xhosa so far north.” I know why they chose Xhosa, it’s immediately recognisable but … It’s noticeable.

That does seem a picky thing to comment on when the film was so bright and vibrant and good. Which it was, and I recommend everyone go watch it.

Top 7 Films of 2017 – Explanation

The best film that was new to me that I saw last year was “Sleepless In Seattle.”

It’s so good, it’s got these little realistic touches and I found myself yelling at the screen, repeatedly.

It should be noted that the person who complained about me putting this in the post objected to me not putting “M” the year it was also the best film I saw that year. I just can’t win.

As usual, my criteria for films are:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do? (The Ebert rule)
2 – did it use it’s resources to it’s 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. It’s basically 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? And I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

This year, most of the films were failing on point 3.

Let’s start at the top:

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Yes, I am mostly rewarding the opening. But the opening contains more hope, joy and wonder than the rest of the films on this list combined.

The rest of the film was enjoyable, and I am a Cinema du Look girl, have been since I was young, so I found the visuals enormously appealing. Was it perfect? No. It needed better dialogue, Dane deHaan and Cara Delevingne are not quite strong enough actors to pull it off, and you can see the influence that the original Valerian comics had on The Fifth Element so bits of this feel like a re-run of that.

But still, it was solid and enjoyable overall.

Next come two films, where, despite their flaws, I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

My comments for GotG 2 and Thor 3 are very similar. They did their thing and did it hard and to the best of their abilities. They’re fun.

After them is where we start to get to ishy films.

4 – Blade Runner 2049

The visuals are good, the acting solid. The parts that tie it back to the original Blade Runner are the weakest parts (although that scene with Rachel is the best scene in the film), which is odd, but not as odd as the choice to explicitly say that “to be human is to reproduce” which is a peculiarly regressive message for a science fiction film.

5 – Assassin’s Creed

Things in this film I will not knock. The actors, the fight choreography, oh my goodness, the cinematography. No, really, there are shots from this film I’d have as stills on my wall.

Things I will knock – the complete lack of characterisation, or indeed names, for people who are not Aguilar. You know the how to deal with a large cast thing that Mad Max: Fury Road did really well; this did it really badly. To the point that I cannot remember Aguilar’s modern name, and modern name is the main character of the film.

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Partly its that so much money was spent making a film that was so bland in its vision of the future. There was none of that visual magic you got with the original films, which was disappointing. The plot was overwrought and stupid. It’s the stupidity I object to more.

Not as the much as I object to the stupidity of Atomic Blonde.

7 – Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde actually made me angry. The stupidity of the plot wastes so much.

It wastes an exceptional soundtrack and fight choreography, production values that are amazingly detailed (seriously, I had the same coat as Spyglass’s daughter at the same time 500 km to the South) and some damn fine performers, all for a “clever” twist. The twist is stupid, makes no sense and is significantly less cool than the writer thinks it is. It wastes everything to no good effect. It’s so … frustrating.

This could have been an excellent film, and it’s been ruined by the writer’s hubris.

Top 7 Films of 2017

Slightly fewer films than usual because 2017 was weird year. I hope to get the number up for 2018.

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

4 – Blade Runner 2049

5 – Assassin’s Creed

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

7 – Atomic Blonde