Perhaps that feeling seemed especially strange in the light of the last couple of years' Top lists. Blade Runner 2049, The Force Awakens, Interstellar - all these were clear-cut no. 1 candidates from the moment I saw them, and most of them had good competition on the next couple of spots. This year, I couldn't come up with a single obvious candidate.
During the year, as I note the movies I watch, I give them a rating from 1 to 10. I hate ratings like that, so these are purely for private use, because that makes it easier to get started on the Top/Bottom lists. Normally whatever ends up on the top spot will be a "9" film. I rarely dish out a "10". This year, however. There were no 10's, no 9's and only a few 8's. In other words, this wasn't the most impressive year for films in recent memory. Oh well, on with the show:
20) The Lodgers
What a delightfully little creepy film this was. Two siblings live alone in a gigantic decrepit mansion and must apparently follow some strict rules or all hell breaks loose. An intriguing, simple setup, great performances from the two young leads, and excellent production design. This was the film Crimson Peak should have been!
This Norwegian disaster movie - a follow-up to the more aquatically centered The Wave - delivers exactly what it promises on the box. Unlike its American counterparts it delivers the goods in a simple, focused manner, shying away from over the top violence or over-elaborate visuals, and instead choosing basic, relatable human emotions to drive its drama. And it just WORKS.
18) The Christmas Chronicles
What a genuine surprise this Netflix Christmas movie turned out to be. Kurt Russell is energetic and fun as jolly old Saint Nick - just don't call him fat - and his enthusiasm lifts the entire movie, creating an enjoyable ride for the whole family that I instantly fell in love with. Sure, it's stuffed to the brim with clichés, and the plot is the most basic of Christmas movie plots, but despite that the movie - in no small part thanks to Kurt - still managed to bring me instant Christmas spirit, and I suspect I will be able to count on it to do the same in the years to come.
Civil war has broken out in America! There's fighting in the streets. Gangs of thugs attempt to take advantage of the chaos. And in the middle of all this we follow a young woman and a brute who are just trying to get home to their families. The film uses long uninterrupted shots to create a palpable tension along the way, and Dave Bautista surprises with a genuine, heartfelt performance. Plus, the general feeling of a society on the verge of collapse feels a little too real, given the status quo of the world we live in.
A young, well-off photographer spends her time taking pictures of prostitutes, while interviewing them for an art project. She meets an older call girl and the two begin a relationship. Cue lots of awesome lesbian sex, right? Wrong. This is a melancholic, intimate film about tortured souls caught in impossible situations. The journeys of the two main characters are completely different than the setup would suggest, and so much more rewarding. You may want to watch this in daylight, though. This is a rough ride.
15) It Stains the Sands Red
This little gem took me completely by surprise. The story seemed beyond silly - a stripper is stalked through the desert by a zombie - but it didn't take long before the film revealed that it was going to be more than a simple one-note joke. It Stains the Sands Red has more depth, more guts (no, the metaphorical kind) and more heart than most indie movies, even though it sounds so simple at first.
14) The Kissing Booth
This adorable little teen romance from Netflix took me by surprise. It's a story about a girl who falls in love with her (male) best friend's brother. Certain aspects of the story are tackled with surprising maturity, while others are as silly and schmaltzy as I hoped for. Plus, it does take the predictable route with its story. Joey King is adorable as the lead, Joel Courtney (of Super 8 fame) is adorable as her friend, and even Jacob Elordi, who plays the brother and looks like a brainless block of meat, turns out to be more capable than you'd think. This is the kind of movie that makes you want to use the heart emoji, when you tell your friends about it.
13) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Wait what? The Jurassic World sequel? This is your TOP list, you do realize that, right? Why, yes inner voice, I do, but here's the thing: I loved it! I had a blast watching this sequel! I HATED the original - those fucking kids just needed to die - but this one I enjoyed from start to finish! An escape from an island in the middle of a volcanic eruption? Dinosaurs chasing our heroes through an old wood panelled mansion? What's not to like? Even the kid was tolerable!
12) The Cloverfield Paradox
I love science fiction movies and it's rare we get a big one like this with almost no warning! Sure, The Cloverfield Paradox steals almost every idea from other movies, so much so that it comes off like Best Of compilation of science fiction tropes. But I don't care! The drama worked! The thrills worked! The Sci-fi nonsense worked! Even the sporadic humorous moments worked.
11) Darkest Hour
We kind of knew Gary Oldman would kill it as Churchill from the moment his participation was announced, and he did, delivering an Oscar-winning performance to rival all previous versions. Oldman is practically frothing at the mouth with sheer glee playing this larger-than-life statesman and his enthusiasm is highly contagious. What I didn't expect, though, was that the film itself would be so much fun! After all it's a serious story, dealing with important historic events, and it could easily have turned into a dusty, dull history lesson. Luckily Joe Wright delivers an energetic, bubbling and wonderfully cheeky film.
When I first heard about this film I thought the techno-terror story sounded rather dull and predictable. Fortunately Upgrade turned out to be a highly inventive science fiction film that rarely betrays its low-budget roots. It's got quite a few tricks up its sleeve! It manages to open up quite a few interesting ethical questions while at the same time just being a kick-ass, bloody, cool B-movie.
9) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This gutsy, often brutal, honest, funny, highly controversial and complex movie should be shown in every classroom. It creates a world full of difficult ethical questions and it never dumbs anything down or takes the easy way out. The characters are incredibly layered, the subjects it tackles are really important, and the film feels both light on its feet and dense beyond words. My only issue with Three Billboards is that it doesn't have an ending, it just sort of stops, but I can live with that, given what the film has to offer along the way.
This brutal revenge story doesn't really break any new ground. It's the familiar tale about a young girl getting attacked, sexually violated and left for dead by a bunch of entitled, gross men, and then she takes her.... Revenge! The visual style is stunning. The direction is sharp. And Matilda Lutz is hypnotic in the lead. At first she's just straight up gorgeous, but then, when the revenge begins she turns into a fierce, lethal opponent.
7) Hot Summer Nights
I love coming-of-age stories. I love 80's movies. I love, dark and moody love stories. This film had every one of those elements. Hot Summer Nights takes a little while to get going, but manages to build up an intriguing world that feels oddly timeless, while constantly referencing specific decades. There's music from the 60's, mentioning of theatrical releases from the 90's, while the story comes across as a coming-of-age remake Scarface! A very impressive debut from director Elijah Bynum.
6) The Hurricane Heist
I fully admit this is way too high on the list (like WAY too high), but I also have to admit that this was one of the most fun film-experiences of the year. The critics trashed it predictably, but most of them are morons, so who cares. This is Twister meets Hard Rain - except here the bad guys actually count on the bad weather and use it to their advantage! Toby Kebbell is a likeable hero, but it's Maggie Grace who really steals the movie, and she gets to be the John McClane of the show! Sure, this is one of the dumbest films of the year but I maintain that it KNOWS it's dumb! I love heist movies! I love bad weather movies! I love B-action movies with A-film aspirations! The Hurricane Heist is all that and more.
5) The Post
Imagine my surprise! It's been 29 years since Steven Spielberg made a rock solid masterpiece. Since then he's made an abundance of movies that flat out frustrate me. He's also made a few decent ones, and a few I can only describe as pure garbage. The Post was solid as hell. I didn't expect that, I didn't expect a film good enough to stand close to All The President's Men, albeit slightly hidden in its shadow.
4) Look Away
It sounded like a simple, rather basic horror story: "A trouble teenage girls begins to talk to her mirror image". Cue scary scenes with a mirror and some murder, right? Well, it quickly becomes obvious that Look Away has so much more to offer. It's much more interested in its lead character's internal struggle than blood or cheap scares. It's far more layered and elegant than your average teen horror movie, and it ventures into some dark, dark territories along the way! I had a hard time shaking the film off when it was done.
3) I Kill Giants
Danish director Anders Walter cashed in his Best Live Action Short film Oscar-win for this project, and it was the perfect choice. I Kill Giants comes across as a more tender, youth oriented version of The Fisher King. Except, we know Robin Williams is crazy, we're not sure Barbara, the young heroine referred to in the title, is similarly afflicted. I loved the gentle way the movie handled her journey, and I loved the delicate balance act it manages between reality and fantasy. This is an elegant little dish, far more nutritious than the big budget fast food movies Hollywood usually serves up to the young adults.
2) At First Light
A young man gets a desperate call for help from an ex-girlfriend he knew he shouldn't have let go. The drama from that situation could feed a whole film on its own, but the reason for the call is what really sold me on At First Light. The ex has experienced a close encounter! Yeah, we're talking flying saucers! At First Light manages to combine a relatable teen love story with a sort of low-key X-files plot. There's a haunting quality about the film that really struck a cord with me, and the two leads are wonderfully intense. Star-Crossed lovers indeed!
1) Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo is by no means a masterpiece. We're all familiar with its sordid background story, and we can see the scar-tissue from the operations that saved it midway through the production. I also fully admit that I can't really argue against anyone claiming that this was completely unnecessary. It probably was. And yet, I found it delightful. Second and third viewing really brought it home for me. Now I don't even think about all the surrounding nonsense, I just enjoy watching young Solo take his first steps towards becoming the scruffy-looking nerf herder we all fell in love with. The visuals are gorgeous, the robot is funny as hell, and the many hints to the Star Wars canon make me smile. I watch Force Awakens if I want old school Star Wars feel. I watch Rogue One for the desperate, emotional suicide mission. Solo, however is the kind of fun heist adventure movie that makes me want to revisit the original Indiana Jones movies. That's a pretty damn perfect feeling for a Han Solo film to create.
And there you have it. Like I said, not the most impressive year for films. I haven't caught any of the 2018 Oscar contenders yet, they may make it to the 2019 list, we'll see, but for now, my favorite 2018 film is the one where there's a guy who pretends a rock is a hand grenade. Make of that what you will.