One last time with these.
The end is in sight, friendos. Four more days and then Listmas 2018 is in the books (plus whatever I decide to do for my favourite albums of the year). But because I traditionally love withholding the much-anticipated Bottom Films list from you until the last possible moment, you’ve first got to get through my yearly sham of an awards ceremony. Real talk: I started this whole thing back in 2015 to counter the fact that my third year of uni workload and a Summer spent dying from undiagnosed diabetes had put an enforced stopper on my writing about many of that year’s released films, so I needed an outlet to vent my spleen a little more. My excuse this year is that I turned it into a yearly thing and I highly doubt I’ll get to go this in-depth with my Listmas content again so may as well send it off with a bang. Split across two parts, because only now do I care about my articles turning out too long for normal eyes to read, we’re all going to eat our vegetables before we dine on that delicious pudding which is the Bottom 10 (for you) and Spyro Reignited and Gravity Falls on Blu-Ray (for me). Let’s get it.
2018’s 2017 Film of the Year
Winner: Lady Bird
Every year that I’ve been doing these lists (expect 2013 and I would retroactively leap back in time and correct such Early Instalment Weirdness if I could), I have deliberately done what most British film critics do not and that is disqualify any film which had a UK cinema release in the year of these lists but was originally released in America the previous year. Back in a pre-Internet, pre-digital age, where one had to actively work in order to hear gossip about great films that played overseas and had no choice but to wait for whenever their international distributors deemed was the best-fitting release date, it made a kind of sense. But nowadays, when the Internet means that we over in Britain hear about these great films from basically the second they premiere at swanky film festivals and therefore have to suffer through Discourse and Best Of lists for at times half a year before we finally get to see the bloody thing, and in an age where a lot of the time these films hit illegal download services (or even legal Home Video services in America) long before they sniff a UK cinema, I don’t understand how this is still a thing! You only end up hurting the movies you’re trying to sell! Sorry to Bother You was five months late to UK shores and ended up being utterly buried by its distributor, Universal, by releasing it the same day as their big blockbuster for the holiday season into a third as many theatres with no promotion.
I was going to make this the subject of my non-list-based Listmas feature for the year – especially after talking with many Press & Industry folks at the London Film Festival and finding out that I was not alone in my thoughts on the matter; EVERYBODY is sick of this – but then I lost a few days, started late on this series overall, took far longer than anticipated on most articles, so I’ll have to touch on it some other time. Anyway, that’s why this award exists, to give a consolation prize to those dicked over by idiots. Lady Bird, for example, would have easily been my #1 film of both 2017 and 2018 had it not been caught in this lose-lose limbo. An absolutely gutting work of extreme emotional beauty primarily because it’s not aiming to be. It’s just a modest heartfelt character study of being a teenage girl in a small-town with a contentious parental relationship who wants to escape to some place greener, but one that’s made with such specificity in the details, and such control and verve by writer-director Greta Gerwig, that it dug its claws into me and would not let go. Particularly since it inadvertently played on a shit-tonne of my own personal experiences and familial baggage. I saw Lady Bird more times this year (4) than any other film and not a single viewing failed to leave me a complete shambles. Too bad Universal fucked this one over so badly that it was available on US Blu-Ray before it ever touched down on these shores.
Nora Twomey and Cartoon Saloon’s heart-stopping instant classic has received quite the shunning from the critical press as Year-End time rolled around, since the vast majority of outlets just straight up ignore animation that’s not from a major studio, save for Mark Kermode rightly putting it in his #2 slot and hopefully turning more eyes towards one of the best animated movies I have ever seen. Rather than being able to write these particular wrongs myself, however, I’ve been forced to join in on the shunning since Breadwinner received a 2017 release in America from GKIDS whilst Studio Canal held off until Solo weekend to let the film die a miserable death, just like they have for everything else this incomparable Irish studio has made up to now. It kills me inside to do this, it really does, but I don’t have many principles so I have to stick to those I do.
2018’s 2019 Film of the Year
DID YOU KNOW I ATTEND THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL EVERY YEAR BECAUSE THAT IS A THING THAT I DO! With any luck, the extremely high quality of this year’s line-up points the way towards a damn great year for movies in 2019, akin to how the 2016 festival presaged a year for the history books, so let’s stoke the fires with a brief preview of what has a good shot of getting on the list next year. After stripping out films that are technically 2018 releases being withheld until 2019 (because PRINCIPLES), the one I am most going to breathe down your ear about seeing whenever it receives a proper UK release is Jessica Leski’s absolutely joyous documentary I Used to Be Normal which examines the relationships between boybands and teenage girls in a way that’s hilarious, heartwarming, and deeply personal. A firm rebuke to the idea that women and especially teenage girls don’t know what they like and can’t explain themselves eloquently, a brilliant ode to the media that helps us realise who we are, and extremely entertaining, Leski’s pet project is everything you could possibly want out of a crowdpleasing documentary. It went down a storm at LFF’s public screenings and I adored it, so consider this another reminder that it needs to be on your radar!
In October, I witnessed the immensely talented Jessica Hynes make the jump to directing with a hard-hitting, emotionally complex, and painfully real drama about working-class discontent and exhaustion, staffed with excellent performances and a virtuosic handling of naturalism that puts most other British directors with further experience in such an area to shame. Two months later, I witnessed Jessica Hynes debase herself in a failing attempt to liven up another one of Debbie Isitt’s abysmal Nativity! movies. Someone please pick up and distribute The Fight sharpish so the latter never has to happen again, thanks.
Needs More Love
Winner: A Simple Favor
I really struggled with this award this year, primarily because I want to pick something that’s not already featured on my Top 20 only for much of my Top 20 to be rarely featured on other “professional” critic’s lists, plus my prior-stated feeling that this year was largely “eh.” Still, even I think I’ve underrated this one primarily because I only got the time to see it once and, when I eventually get around to doing so, a rewatch will cause me to kick myself over not sticking it at #20. Paul Feig’s delightfully gonzo adaptation of A Simple Favor is an absolute nonsensical mess in the best possible way, an erotic thriller for upper middle-class soccer moms or those who wish to be them that delights in debasing itself in almost every taboo it can find, lurching between lurid thriller and campy comedy, featuring career-best turns from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, and proving undeniably that Paul Feig is a deviant who is very clearly getting off on the niche his career renaissance is built upon. I had a tonne of fun with this one and I hope to God that it gains the campy cult following it absolutely deserves!
Maybe it was because I don’t have Twitter anymore, or perhaps because it dropped whilst I was in the middle of my London Film Festival bubble, or most likely it was because it was a Netflix Original Movie and those are largely terrible and never promoted, but I didn’t hear a word of conversation around Gareth Evans’ (of the zeitgeist-capturing Raid movies) latest either in the run-up to release or the aftermath of said. That’s a shame because he turned in yet another strong entry in the late-10s’ horror renaissance with this grim and grimy folk-horror that presupposes “what if The Wicker Man but also extremely gory?” The results are oppressive, atmospheric and deliberately paced, but also don’t skimp on the money shots when it comes time to blow everything off in the last third. Check Apostle out if you’re yet to.
I Don’t Get It
Winner: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Well, what else was it going to be? Seriously, I have never felt so completely disconnected from my fellow Film Critic circles as whenever a new Mission: Impossible comes along and especially with the universal adulation being flung Fallout’s way. This one has been the token blockbuster on more publications’ lists than Black Panther, which is absolutely bewildering to me. I tell people that I don’t get what the fuss was about, that I was actually bored for almost the entirety of Fallout, and they either tell me that they don’t understand how I could feel that way or politely (and jokingly) insist that we can never be friends. Because, again, even I don’t know why this series and especially this movie do absolutely nothing for me! And I think it’s that fact, that even I can’t put my finger on why I just don’t jive with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which rankles me more than anything by this point. Either I should be able to love this series tailormade for me, or I should be able to have at least one valid reason as to why I just do not care so I can file them away in my brain as not for me and mention that fact in future discussions/arguments. But, no, I’m stuck not knowing. Come back next year when we do this all again with the latest How to Train Your Dragon sequel!
Now, see, this? This I can easily explain! It’s just not very good. BOOM, NEXT! OK, actually, it’s more that I’m not the target audience. Early Man is meant for football fans, even the title is a punny reference to Manchester United when combined with the cavemen’s uniforms, with an almost non-stop barrage of jokes based around football that I could only barely grasp because I am not a fan of football. So, in this instance, I literally didn’t get it and that’s ok. Story’s still an absolute mess, the voice acting is across-the-board poor, and it feels more like five different films smushed together in a way that allows none of their potentials to be properly realised, but those were issues I’d have been able to ignore had I any interest or knowledge in football. It’s not for me, that’s ok. Instead, bring on that Shaun the Sheep sequel!
Best Worst Film
Winner: Status Update
The thing to remember about the Best Worst Film category is that for a movie to qualify it needs to be, in its own strange way, kind of brilliant and watchable. The snark you and your friends will heap upon it as you watch needs to merely be a bonus to the madness rather than the only way one can make it through with their sanity intact, hence why seemingly perfect-sounding movies like Patrick and Walk Like a Panther are exempt from consideration. But Status Update? Status Update is kind of incredible! A High School teen comedy in which an awful idiot jerk gets his phone fixed by The Fat Jew (trying his hand at acting and being about as funny as his non-plagiarised jokes) and is resultantly given a magic social media app which functions in much the same was as Cosmo & Wanda from The Fairly Odd Parents. Extended Bruno Mars lipsync numbers, attempted statutory rape scenes passed off as jokes, cheap-ass martial arts fight scenes, dialogue that makes it clear writer Jason Filardi has never conversed with another human being before, and Rob Riggle ensue. IT IS SOMETHING ELSE, FOLKS! In America, it went straight-to-video, but in England it got a multiple-week country-wide cinema release and THANK GOD IT DID because I secretly live for movies like Status Update. One for your next Bad Movie Night, trust me.
Runners-Up: Book Club, Dog Days, Robin Hood, Show Dogs, Tad the Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas
Foreign animated shovelware badly dubbed and dumped into cinemas for easy money fascinate me too much for me to bag on like other critics do, acting as windows into how the evolution from 2000s DreamWorks wannabes that Animation went through diverged from ours in other cultures. And whilst a pair of such films have cracked my Bottom 10 (look at me teasing), Tad displays too much ambition and uniquely terrible ideas for me to not at least have a soft spot for it. I mean, how many other films out there are attempting rip-roaring adventure serial throwbacks? And how many of them would actively populate their cast list with especially irritating and ill-conceived comic relief characters who have zero relevance to the plot of this film, yet were apparently featured in previous non-exported adventures that presumably featured something in the realm of character development rather than relentless screaming and anachronistic selfie “gags?” Again, too fascinatingly bad for me to hate it.
Winner: Ocean’s 8 (Daniel Pemberton)
2018 has seen many excellent film scores, but the one that I kept coming back to over and over again was Daniel Pemberton’s playful, jazzy and at-times clattering score to Ocean’s 8. Stepping into the shoes of previous composer David Holmes must have been a daunting task, as Holmes’ work with previous director Steven Soderbergh consistently yielded some of the 00s coolest scores, so Pemberton wisely doesn’t even try to. Where Holmes provided an oft-laidback masculine cool that insinuated a cheeky mirth in its protagonists’ actions, Pemberton instead goes loud and raucous, employing tumbling percussion on “NYC Larceny,” an elastic bassline on “Nine-Ball” and sprightly flourishes on ‘The Gala Plan’ that communicate the unbridled fun these women are having on the job. It’s still jazzy, but where Holmes took inspiration from cool stately nightclubs that only sometimes exploded into joy, Pemberton’s instead feels made for a big-ol’ swinging knees up that’s fun, energetic, and honestly rather badass when all the recurring melodies and leitmotifs combine in the climactic “The Actual Heist.”
Erik Friedlander’s work for Thoroughbreds is a scatterbrain affair, operating in fits and starts like it’s stuck in a tumble-dryer, oftentimes only vaguely approximating what it thinks a film score should sound like, and the few times it does build up a sustained rhythm it does so for entirely ill-fitting scenes like the moment at the start of Chapter 2 where he builds a kind of propulsive taiko drum charge despite the scene never calling for such urgency. Rather than any of these observations being negatives, they’re actually points in the score’s favour. Cory Finley’s characters are trying to approximate human emotions and feelings only sometimes succeeding, so it’s rather accurate for the score to have that same relationship with music and harmony.
Winner: Us (Official Trailer)
And here, folks, is why you wait until the year is definitely done before putting together your Year-End lists! On Christmas Day, man-of-the-moment Jordan Peele decided to drop a present far better than any number of Nintendo Switchs from overly-eager to impress parents or novelty items based on something you mentioned liking one time from your well-meaning grandparents. What I most love about the Us trailer, and there is a metric fuck-tonne to love about the Us trailer – from the malevolent tone, to that initial jolt when the doppelgängers break formation in an animalistic way, to the “classic pop song slowed down for creepy effect” cliché working for the first time in an age with Luniz of all goddamn things, to Lupita Nyong’o’s chilling minstrel-show delivery of “be careful” – is how I still don’t feel like I know all that much about the film after viewing. Get Out’s trailer was great, don’t mistake me, but I feel it gave the game away just a little too much ahead of time. Us, however, strikes that perfect balance between preserving some mystery and telling enough to hook a viewer in. I don’t know what self-respecting horror fan could look at that trailer and not be sold. As for me: HOOK IT INTO MY VEINS, JORDAN!
Some trailers made the cut because of their artistic brilliance (that incredible Beale Street teaser which brings me to tears each time I watch it). Others made the cut because of chill-inducing reveals (that back-to-camera turn revealing “DRAGO” at the end of Creed II is an all-timer in the realm of sequel trailers). Others still went a bit off-beat and hooked my attention because of their self-contained nature (the Tully teaser that was almost a direct lift from the film). And others were just fun and redeemed extremely shitty Killers songs (that would be Vice). But sometimes you can’t beat just firing off fastballs one after the other, which is what the Widows teaser does. “LOOK AT ALL THESE TALENTED MOVIE STARS!” it shouts. “NOW LOOK AT WHO’S DIRECTING IT, THEY ALSO DID THIS BRILLIANCE! NOW HERE’S WHO’S WRITING IT, THEY PENNED A PHENOMENON! AND SEE HOW GOOD IT LOOKS!” How in the hell this didn’t get more butts in seats for the best movie of 2018, I have no idea.
Come back tomorrow for the second half of this year’s awards!
Callum Petch will find his soul as he goes home.