What a year for 5-star films, in both fiction and documentary! I'm talking the beautiful Robin Williams doc, the thought-provoking Annihilation, the oh-so-fun Black Panther, the kickass-heavy Upgrade, the return of the Coen Brothers magic in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the-
OK. Let me just get to the list in a penultimate post in my Best-of-2018 series. After, check out my top longreads, podcasts and books of 2018.
As always, in no particular order...
Available on Netflix, this documentary on the life and legacy of producer Quincy Jones was truly one of the more engrossing music docs I've seen in a minute. It's inspiring to remember how Jones has been so influential in shaping the careers of Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra even Will Smith during the Fresh Prince era. I got a feeling I'll be rewatching this doc, especially with friends who might not be acquainted with the glory that is a Quincy Jones album.
If you know me, you know I have great admiration for Natalie Portman's acting talent (and yes, maybe I got a bit of a crush too, shhhhh) and with Annihilation she's able to broaden her acting range in an intelligent movie I wouldn't want to spoil by spilling too many details about its plot. What you get with this sci-f beaut are stunning visuals, original ideas standing apart from cliche Hollywood tropes and a freaky scene that could be the most horrific three minutes in 2018 cinema.
Thanks to a listicle I saw on the The Ringer, I gave this sci-film a whirl and wow, was it ever fun and unique and thrilling! Taking place in a future where AI exoskeletons and cyberweapons are the norm, Upgrade is part Robocop part Bourne Trilogy but acts as more of an homage to those films without borrowing from each of them too liberally. I have to hand it to lead actor Logan Marshall-Green aka Discount Tom Hardy for one heckuva performance.
Sorry To Bother You
Laketh Stanfield made this film a hoot but it was Boots Riley's vision, complete with absurd twists and crackling dialogue, that made Sorry To Bother You a standout flick in '18. I can't get over some of the scenes in this film, so much so I'm biding my time for a second watching when memories of the first screening fade further into the recesses of my brain. The soundtrack is this year's best IMO.
You've read all the glowing reviews, you probably revelled in the Wakandan majesty of it all, and you've heard Ryan Coogler's praises sung as high as possible. But take a step back and really dig into the main feat Black Panther pulled off in an era of superhero movies getting it wrong: the villain was actually layered. What BP gave us in Killmonger is motivation and rounded character arc, unlike one-dimensional antagonists in Spider-Man 3 (Sandman? Utterly forgettable) and Batman v Superman (Jesse Eisenberg couldn't convince me to believe his Lex Luthor).
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
If you ever saw the Heath Ledger and Chris Farley docs, you're not what you're in for with this Robin Williams retrospective, with some truly heart-breaking quotes from Williams' friends such as Billy Crystal. You'll be choking up between laughs in this remarkable portrait of a young artist caught up in drugs and booze and depression and feeling alienated even amid the parties and sexcapades. He was sad and lonely, as some of are when we put on a brave mask to face the world. I'm surprised this didn't make the Oscars shortlist for their top docs of the year, because you can't look away from how the filmmakers told Williams' story.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I always come into a Coen brothers film with high expectations, because I've rarely been disappointed by any of their work, although I have yet to see the tepidly-reviewed Hail, Caesar! With this Netflix release, The Ballad adopts an anthology model by releasing 25-minute stories only linked by the era they live in - The Wild West. Star turns from Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits and Brendan Gleeson polish this gem of a film even brighter. Some of the stories end with a faint whimper of a sigh, others with a sharp gun blast, and they each display a vision of humanity so wonderfully wrapped in a tight bow, no fat on these short films.
Three Identical Strangers
Up there for doc of the year, Three Identical Strangers takes us back to 1980s New York when three identical twins shook up America with their unusual story: they found each other separately, never having grown up with each other. Why that is forms the backbone to a self-discovery tale chock full of humour and pathos. I particularly liked the endings, but, well, liked is too tender of a word, because it aggravated to see how these mensches were wrapped up in bureaucracy beyond their control. Let's just say this is a doc you want to see all the way through aka don't put this on at 1 a.m. on a Monday.
You Were Never Really Here
I can't remember anything interesting coming from Joaquin Phoenix since The Master but this blood-drenched thriller has renewed my respect for Phoenix's smouldering emotions he brings to his characters. He plays a grizzled veteran who saves girls from sex traffickers but gets in deep with a more complex mission when a rising politician hires him to track down his kidnapped girl. The violence can be a turn-off for some, but it all fits into the narrative and never goes gory for the sake of it.
Birds of Passage
Thanks to the Toronto International Film Festival, I caught this film because I had a feeling it was going to be a winner AND not enjoy a theatrical release. I was right on both guesses, and I couldn't recommend this poetic film enough. Filmmakers will especially marvel at some of the cinematography soaking this Colombian film with colour palettes perfectly mirroring the drama taking place. A cautionary tale of how the War on Drugs shattered so many lives in South America, Birds of Passage has deservedly been nominated for an Oscar and I predict it'll take home the trophy and give director Ciro Guerra his first golden trophy.
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I write about levelling up your career as a writer and the steps you need to take to get there.