2018 Summary

With awards season well under away and the fact that I have not written anything since June, I felt it was time to do a quick summary of some of my favourite movies of the year., there are still anumber that were released that i have gotten round to yet but here are some quick thoughts about some of what I did manage to see..

Suspiria

Suspiria is the remake of Dario Argento’s cult classic horror movie from the 70’s. I haven’t seen the original but I was a huge fan of director Luca Guadagino’s Call Me By Your Name, a movie that really touched me. However this is a different beast all together.

Set in 1970’s Berlin the movie revolves around a young dancer joining a new highly respected troup where she lands the lead dancer role in a renowned dance after the former girl accuses the directors of being involved in witchcraft. This is not going to be a movie for everyone and will prove divisive. It is a slow paced, art house horror movie that focusses on atmosphere and disturbing visuals while retaining a certain level of ambiguity. It is a film that has layers of subtext just waiting to be unpacked and discovered upon rewatches.

On the technical side it has some of the best cinematography of the year. It utilises a mix of different techniques to enhance the story. There is always something to appreciate going on visually in this movie, which helps keep it engrossing from start to finish. Although I will add the pacing could’ve been tightened up a little bit. It boasts some sequences that could only be described as a nightmarish, with a stand out dance/torture sequence that is utterly unrelenting and some delightfully disturbing imagery throughout. The cheoregraphy during the dances is unique and bizzare and fitting to the overall style of the movie. The film is bold enough to allow these sequence to run on for a significant amount of time yet never loses focus during them. This is also in part to Thom Yorkes musical score. There is a whole host of different compositions that help elevate the sequences. During the gonzo finale the choice to use a completely contrasting peice of music is one that may not gel with everyone but I personally loved.

All the acting is great, especially from Tilda Swinton who pulls triple duties here. The set design is also of note. The editing, sound design, setting, costumes… You name it. I felt everything really came together to make something special. My only issue is that the pacing could’ve been tightened up somewhat but I feel like I’m fishing for that, maybe other aspects will become more apparent on further rewatches but I was so absorbed watching it initially that I did not notice them. This is a movie that really impacted me and that I keep thinking about. I can’t wait to watch it for a second time to unravel some of its mysteries.

Climax

Gasper Noe’s latest movie is cinema in its purest form. The film is light on plot but is an audio-visual feast. The core premise revolves around a group of dancers who get spiked with LSD while rehearsing a new routine. From there events take a turn for the worse and descends into a hellish nightmare.

The camera serves as the perfect vessel to communicate what the dancers are experieincing, without erver showing what they’re actually seeing. This makes everything even more viceral and intesne. The way the camera moves in this movie is incredible to behold and really unnerves you, one particular sequence the camera is upside down while your witnessing carnage on screen. The level of coordination is amazing to witness, there’s so many characters on screen and in the background, always acting believably and the shots run on for a long time. You’ll be so wrapped up in what you’re watching that you’ll remember minutes later that this whole sequence has been shot in one continuous take. The contrast between the opening dance number, when everyone is working in harmony together, and the end of the film is also communicated in the camera moves. The latter half of the film has the camera tilted at really uncomfortable angles which really draws you in to the experience.

The pulsating electro score is another key element that really heightens the experience. You can always hear the music in th ebackground and as things begin to unravel it gets more and more intense, perfectly matching the insane visuals up on the screen.

I did have a few minor issues with the movie, for one I thought the middle act when the characters were just talking could’ve been cut down. I loved how naturalistic the dialogue came off and you learned a lot about the individual characters, each with a distinct personality, but I do feel it went on too long. I’m also not sure what the point in the elongated fade to black cuts was for this scene. There’s some stylistic flourishes that came off as a bit pretentious for me also, as I do not feel they really contributed anything of merit to the movie.

While this movie is certainly not for everyone, it was a delightfully fucked up experience unlike anything else I’ve seen. This was my first Gasper Noe movie and I’m certainly going to check out some of his other movies.

Mandy

Many is another arthouse horror movie that is absolutey bonkers. I personally loved it but I know that it has proved divisive. This comes from director Panos Cosmatos and stars the one and only Nicholas Cage in the lead role. It revolves around Red and Mandy living the idyllic quiet life before having it destroyed by a cult led by leader Red. It also involves a biker gang hopped up on LSD who may or may not be some sort of demons.

Basically this is a really quiote fucked up, very violent and disturbing film that is also completely nuts and doesn’t always take itself too seriously. It is held together by a brilliant performance by Nicholas Cage who proves that when given the correct character and director who can harness his energy he can really do great things. A sequence of him in the toilet is equal parts funny and sad and is shot in one unbroken scene showing the gauntlet of emotions Red is experiencing.

This really is not a film for everyone. The plot is thread bare with there not really being any surprises along the way. You know what you’re getting. What makes me love this film so much is the unique presentation. This is like an acid trip gone bad thrown up on screen.There are disturbing sequences with editing tricks that add to your uneasiness. Many people will feel it is style over substance, which is somewhat true but for me the style is the substance. The visual presentation is unlike anything I have seen, with some truly disturbing imagery and some beautiful compositions with a bold use of vibrant colours throughout. These visuals are accompanied by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s stunning score which is really something special. It is parts death metal, part eerily beautiful soundascapes or epic orchestrations.

The film could’ve been paced better at the start for sure but once it gets going it’s an absolute ride into hell that boats extreme violence and a unique presentation. Highly recommended.

Free Solo

Free Solo is a fantastic documentary that chronicles the exploits of climber Alex Honnold as he sets out to climb the infamous El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes…

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this other than the fact that I really loved it. It was a great insight into the mindset of someone who continiually risks his life seeking a rush. It was also surprisngly emotional as it shows you how much his risk taking affects his loving girlfriend, his close friends and the team who are filming him, showing how worried they get during the climb and wondering if they are going to distract him or encourage him to take risks that he otherwsie wouldn’t take.

The footage they capture from the climb is astonishing and awe inspiring, never failing to capture just how daunting this task is. Even with the knowledge that he completes the climb they still wring in immense amount of tension out of watching the climb and the failed practices. A truly great documentary that everyone should check out.

The Favourite

The Favourite is the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos and revolves around Queen Anne during the war with the French. It focusses in on her relationships with two women, Lady Sarah played by Rachel Weisz and Abigail played by Emma Stone.

Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne is an absolute revelation in this film, completely inhabiting the character in every way. In fact, every performance is great in this movie. Much has been said about the three female leads, and rightly so, however I Nicholas Hoult as the conservative leader hasn’t gotten enough love for his remarkably funny turn.

The cinematography is wonderful here, with natural lighting often being used to great effect. There are a couple shots where they utilise a fish eye lens that really took me out of the scene and I found distracting but other than that, this is some of the best cinematography of the year. The classical music used in the score is very fitting given the time period this takes place in.

What surprised me most about the film is how funny it is. I was consistently laughing throughout at the witty lines or the farcical situations. A stand out moment has to be a dance between two characters which is utterly bizzare but hilarious.

The film is a great character study exploring these women’s relationship with the Queen and their struggle for power. As the films develops you are constantly changing your affiliations for the characters as you learn more about them. Each character is so well drawn here and so interesting, with motivations that can hopefully be further explored upon rewatched.

The ending was perfect too. I remember watching and thinking this is the perfect moment to end the movie without really knowing why. It just felt right. It was abrupt and offered no closure, but it just felt right. And then when I spent sometime thinking about why it worked and where the characters are, you start to really appreciate it even more.

Green Book

What is there to say about Green Book that hasn’t already been said a thousand times after it claimed Best Picture at this years Oscars… It’s bland, cliche, and offers a very simplistic view of racism. It boasts two great performances. But it’s incredibly forgettable. It also is more problematic when you relaise the film makes never consulted the black musicians family about the movie and misrepresented the story… It’s alsmost fitting given the core premise of the movie…

Bohemian Rhapsody

Again, I don’t have much to say about this. All I have that is positive to say is that Rami Maleck is fantastic as Freddie Mercury. The rest of the film relies to heavily on the audiences love of Queen’s music without offering up any interesting insight into the character of Freddie. It’s watered down and you can feel the bands fingerprints all over. I’m hesitant to say that it’s a bad film however. Just a mediocre one.

Widows

Widows is another excellent addition to Steve McQueen’s stellar track record. It is also his most accessible movie but it does not lose any of his artistic flourishes in the process. If anything Steve McQueen takes what could have been a run of the mill, female empowerment style heist movie and elevates to something much more.

The film revolves around a group of woman who decide to pull off a heist after their criminal parnters all die and they are left destitute. One thing I appreciated about having a cast of strong, female characters is that it’s incidental. These are characters first and foremost and the film is mature enough to not be shouting from the rooftops about how progressive it is, while still exploring gender politics. The film shows aspects of crime from all angles so that it can explore themes of power and corruption. It has shady polticians, gangsters and shows the economic disparity between the have’s and the have nots. One shot sees the camera planted on the bonnet of a car, we hear the conversation continue inside but without exposition we see the contrast in wealth in the city, and how close they are located to one another. It was a really powerful shot that spoke to Steve McQueen’s ability as a visual storyteller.

All in all it’s a great film, that works as an entertaining heist film but also as a crime drama that explores that many facets that lead people to crime. It boats a great score from Hans Zimmer, amazing cinematography and brilliant performances from a ensemble cast. Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya in particular were the stand outs for me. My only issue is a late stage twist that feels unnecessary but this is a fairly minor gripe. Another home run for Steve McQueen.

 

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