By John H. Foote
It was, at the movies, a very good year. Not like 1939, 1956, 1974 or 2007 but damn, it was a great year at the movies.
With streaming services online and television better than ever, film has been challenged in a way they have not since the fifties.
I CHOSE NOT TO INCLUDE STREAMING FILMS ON MY LIST, TO QUALIFY FILMS MUST HAVE HAD A FULL THEATRICAL RELEASE!!! This means I could not include Springsteen on Broadway, but please, see it, because you are watching America’s blue-collar poet in his element.
Beginning nearly a year ago with the superb horror film A Quiet Place, running right through to the year ended Stan and Ollie, 2018 was a damned fine year in film. In between we had such greatness as Annihilation, Ready Player One, Tully, Incredibles 2, BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me
We are still plagued with big-budget superhero movies, which eventually will ruin a studio with failure, it is just a matter of time. As long as superhero films make money, they are with us, like it or not. At this point they are Critic proof, it does not even matter if they are good films, and frankly, most of them are not, as long as they make money. And the studios are not concerned with reboots within three years, it seems the super suits fit anyone but only a very select few find success portraying them. Since 2006 we have three young actors portraying Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, to which begs the question how do we invest in a character? My views on this genre are well known, I hope for a swift end to it.
I am asked often what kind of films I like? Answer: good ones. Films that risk, directed by artists who push the envelope allowing their artistry to bloom, to explode across the screen. Movies that say something, that superhero by numbers movies written and produced by a committee, directed by a puppet director.
I like good films.
Of the year’s best films, First Man towers over them all, an extraordinary exploration of Neil Armstrong’s life, the climax of which is being the first man on the moon. Yet the film has been a box office disappointment since being released. Rave reviews, and
One of the more original science fiction films in recent years, Alex Garland directed this
9. THE HATE U GIVE
From the opening scene where around the dining room table, a father teaches his kids how to behave if encountered by a police officer, through to the shocking killing of a teenager, to a teenager girls growth into a responsible activist, this superhero film opened my eyes to so much. Set in the world of a black teen, superbly portrayed by Amanda Stenberg, the film explores the deep love of a family living just on the edge of fear, frightened of the local drug Lord, one of their own, and the local police, responsible for the killing. It is a profoundly moving study of racism and a young girls realization of just how life-altering prejudice is. Stenberg is the real thing, an anonymously gifted actress on the cusp of greatness. superhero is a long way from Ru in The Hunger Games (2012).
8. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
In a dark, unsettling, career-altering performance Melissa McCarthy is absolutely superb as writer Lee Israel, struggling after a severe case of writer’s block and brutal depression. Living in a filthy apartment with cat feces throughout the place causing an unbearable stench that in her depression Lee does not even notice, her life is bleakly making her a toxic presence wherever she goes. To make money she begins falsifying Private letters of famous people, selling them for a substantial profit, changing her position in life. With her drunken friend, portrayed with delightful self-loathing by Richard E. Grant they profit until their undoing, which ruins her. Grant is superb but this is McCarthy’s movie and she owns it completely. Oscar-bound.
7. A QUIET PLACE
Modern horror films tend to be slasher or torture porn film that are more about slicing and dicing the human body than horror. It is difficult in today’s world to figure out what can scare an audience, they are so de-sensitized. But John Krasinski directed, wrote and took a supporting role in this knock out of a horror film that is frightening throughout, filled with overwhelming tension, and outstanding performances. An alien race has wiped out most of humanity, vicious meat eating predators attracted to sound. Thus to survive, humans must be quiet, live in near silence. The film opens with a young family on the road back from foraging in town. To their terror, their little boy, four has taken a toy from a store that makes loud noises. He sets it off, and the family freezes in absolute terror. Swiftly, at terrifying speed, one of the creatures bursts from the forest and slaughters the child before his parents can move. The rest of the film has you on edge, waiting for the next burst of noise. Well directed by Krasinski, and the performances are superb. Shockingly great.
What a pleasure to have Spike Lee back, making
5. THE FAVOURITE
The Queen is loopy, a complete whackadoodle with a deep affection for rabbits. Competing for her attentions are Sarah (Rachel Weisz), her current bedmate and the ambitious, scheming Sarah (Emma Stone) more vicious than the other two combined. The trio delivers three of the finest performances of the year, Stone especially a delight, giving what is arguably her finest performance. Queen Anne is, for lack of a better word, nuts and Colman has great fun in the role but also makes her a sympathetic character in a profoundly fine performance, but let’s be clear, it is a supporting role being promoted as lead. It is a beautiful film to look at, like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), and those ladies rock that script. Outstanding, biting with black
4. A STAR IS BORN
Bradley Cooper’s’ accomplishment with A Star is Born cannot be ignored. He helped shape and write the script, he directed the film, he cast and fought for Lady Gaga and he worked hard to create his character, a rocker at the end of his career. Speaking with a low voice that rumbles out of him like thunder, people might have missed how incredible Cooper is in the film. Yes, Gaga is luminous, extraordinary, for which Cooper deserves even more credit. The music and songs are terrific, Sam Elliott is heartbreaking as Cooper’s brother/ manager, and Andrew Dice Clay is great as her dad, who fancies himself a latter day Sinatra. A beautiful, fully realized love story that will both take your heart soaring, and by the end, shatter it into a million pieces.
Though much will be made, and rightly so of Christian Bales’ stunning transformation into Dick Cheney, watch the whole film, follow the entire film because it is loaded with greatness. Yes, it begins with Bale, who like Lon Chaney again alters his physical being to play Cheney, gaining weight, at least sixty pounds, and wearing makeup that turns him into the former Vice President. Bale nails the speech pattern and those eyes, filled with contempt for the very humanity he serves. It is one of the most extraordinary achievements on screen by an actor. Amy Adams is all but fire-breathing as Lynne Cheney, the woman behind the man who understood what it was to have power. Sam Rockwell is perfect as George W. Bush, a dim bulb man headed for the Oval Office and only to happen to let Cheney advise him. Tough-minded, blackly funny, and constantly alarming. Brilliant.
2. GREEN BOOK
Though some politically correct morons have attacked the film for being old-fashioned, do not listen to them. Green Book is a lovely, warm film about the beginnings of a lifelong friendship in the sixties between a gifted black musician and a rough and
1. FIRST MAN
Damien Chazelle’s awe-inspiring film explores the difficult life of Neil Armstrong, an astronaut in the NASA Space program who in 1969 was the first man on the moon. Chazelle brilliantly decided to show the story from the point of view of the astronauts, Armstrong specifically. A melancholy, sad but fiercely intelligent man, Armstrong was forever impacted by the death of his three-year-old daughter, which, of course, impacted he and his loyal wife. Ryan Gosling gives a great internal performance as Armstrong, while Claire Foy is equally fine as his wife. Where the director and film truly soars is of course during the sequences in space, which are utterly breathtaking. The actual moon landing is extraordinary, as we see what the astronauts saw, the vastness of the moon and its dusty surface, and the moon, hanging in the sky taunting Armstrong, yet growing closer and ever larger. While on the moon, he gazes back at earth allowing the enormity of what they have accomplished to linger for a few seconds. Yet we know and understand, every single second he spent of that Planet was seared into his mind forevermore. An astounding achievement for Chazelle.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.