Best & Worst Films Of 2018
Let’s have a somewhat quirky look at the year’s films, with one cavil: Due to the odd way I watch movies, through screenings and previews, I’m never quite sure what comes out when. But here are a few that left their mark on me this year, and not always in a good way.
Queen Anne ruled at the end of the 17th century and was (if I can remember from the most important British history book, ‘1066 And All That’) the sister of Mary as in ‘William &’. It comes from a long-gestating Deborah Davies script that takes a small incident from Anne’s reign (the ditching of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough for a chambermaid, albeit a fallen 2nd cousin of Churchill’s) and weaves a tale of Machiavellian cruelties, power-plays, seductions and betrayals, firing it through with scabrous black-ice wit. It also looks astounding, thanks in part to the genius costumes of Sandy Powell, who once diplomatically said that the best part of seeing ‘Hamilton’ was the anticipation before it started. This is what monarchs get up to; punching women and racing ducks.
Avengers: Infinity War / Black Panther / Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse
The first two sorted out the casual observers from the nerds as the end of Phase 2 Marvel approached – these are the stories that pretty much began around 1968 but no-one had the ability to film before. Avengers will be gibberish to anyone who hasn’t read the comics or seen the previous films, but for many of us Marvel provided a mythology for our childhoods, a complex web of kings and queens as structured and knotted as the hierarchy of Indian gods. Marvel honours its fans with moments of pure graphic art, recreating iconic scenes in its film versions, nowhere more so than in Infinity War.
Black Panther has been feted as much for its barrier-breaking black cast as its recreation of a comic. After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king, and it’s a technological marvel, in a world where Africa is not exploited and corrupted but the cutting-edge leader in future tech. There are several political Black Panther parallels in the story, which is interesting because Stan Lee actually wrote the first Black Panther tale before the movement was founded. Oh, and the plot about the rare ore Vibranium – that’s the stuff from which Captain America made his shield.
‘Spiderman’ is a very different take on a story we’re all bored with. The live action versions had a problem. On the page, a teenager coping with super-villains dressed as goblins and rhinos is fine, but translated to film it seemed ludicrous, and no director could get the tone right. This version is the nearest we’ll have to the experience of reading a comic, right down to the reproduction of the dot-print process, when pages sometimes slipped out of register. The story of multiple spider-persons (including a pig) need not concern you – just watch and thrill to sheer zipping graphic gorgeousness, knowing that this is how Spiderman should have looked all along.
Arthouse movie haters look away now. It’s a good idea to see this film, read about it and see it again, because of the formal fixed-camera method of viewing each scene as a painterly tableau. Lucrecia Martel, the most acclaimed filmmaker of Argentina’s New Wave, brings us – after a nine year wait – an adaptation of a 1956 novel by Antonio di Benedetto about a 17th century colonial bureaucrat losing his way at an outpost on the Paraguay River. Period drama, if performed accurately, would be entirely alien to us from our vantage point, and so it proves. As Diego di Zama waits for a transfer he is beleaguered on all sides by confabulators, thieves and the systemic corruption of Spanish colonisation. You know from the outset that this system, of which he is so much a part, will come around to bite him in the arse, although the apposite route it takes proves shocking. Seeing a man dismantled from a high position is always satisfying, but ‘Zama’ is revelatory.
I could mention ‘Vice’, ‘Roma’, ‘Shoplifters’, ‘Widows’ or ‘Cold War’ here as equal favourites, but here are the dogs.
Aquaman: A ludicrous idea gets a suitably flat and relentlessly silly film – the curse of DC strikes again. It needed Dwayne. Everything with Dwayne Johnson in is terrible, and this year offered up Rampage and Skyscraper. Johnson, who looks like someone drew a face on a bollard, could be acted off the screen by an Easter Island statue. Plots are infantile, dialogue sounds as if it’s been run through Google Translate twenty times, FX are bedroom laptop level. He’s probably a lovely guy. Other movies hit rock bottom, including the jaw-dropping The Trump Prophecy (Trump’s arrival foretold by the bible, a big hit in the oblong states), God’s Not Dead, The 15:17 To Paris (both creepily religious). Gotti and The Death of a Nation helped to drag Hollywood down when, faced with plunging domestic figures and competition from the new world order of Netflix and Amazon, it needed to raise its game. Next year, perhaps, although a look at the lineup is deeply unedifying.