Monday, January 14, 2019


Just like every year that has come before it, there are a plethora of new releases that are slated for release in 2019 that I am eagerly anticipating. However, 2019 looks to be potentially a particularly strong year, as a very large number of my favourite directors are releasing new films. From last years list, I'm still waiting on releases for Neil Jordan's “Greta” (which was originally titled “The Widow” during production), Brian De Palma's “Domino”, and Martin Scorsese's Netflix crime drama “The Irishman”, which are still hugely anticipated and should be considered an extension of the below list (but I do not like including the same titles for multiple years). Besides the titles below that I am shining a spotlight on, 2019 will see a number of new and exciting films from talented directors, the likes of Terrence Malick (“Radegeund”), Ang Lee (“Gemini Man”), Roman Polanski (“J'Accuse”), Tim Burton (“Dumbo”), Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”), Tomas Alfredson (“Jonssonligan”), Trey Edward Shults (“Waves”), Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“To The Ends Of The Earth”), Sean Durkin (“The Nest”), Rob Zombie (“Three From Hell”), Jordan Peele (“Us”), and the Safdie Brothers (“Uncut Gems”), to name but a few. I am excited for them all and many others but below are the eight films that I am most anticipating for 2019.


While I still think that South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has yet to direct a bad film, his recent big budget Netflix film “Okja” was my least favourite of his so far. While technically very proficient, the story just did not grab a hold of me like some of his previous films. Still this has not dampened my anticipation for his brand new film, which “Parasite” just happens to be. Very little is actually known about the film except that it is a return for Bong to a Korean language drama (after the international productions of “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”) and that he has re-teamed with Song Kang-Ho who plays the leading role. The imdb does have a brief plot synopsis which seems to give away little: “ All unemployed, Ki-taek's family takes peculiar interest in the Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.” Sounds very intriguing.


I was a very big fan of Robert Eggers “The Witch”, which was released in 2015, and was super stoked when he revealed that his next film was going to be a remake of the silent classic “Nosferatu”. He seemed like the perfect director to tackle this story once again, but for reasons that I am not totally sure about, the film got put on hold, and Eggers quickly found himself in production on “The Lighthouse”. Again, very little is known about the film with the only plot information from imdb being “The story of an aging lighthouse keeper named Old who lives in early 20th-century Maine.” It appears to be a very small production with the cast list only having two names on it, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, but from all reports, “The Lighthouse” is something of a horror film. There has been some talk too that it was quite a hard shoot with tensions flaring a number of times, but hopefully this benefits the final picture. The thing that I am most excited about in regards to “The Lighthouse” is Eggers decision to shoot the movie on 35mm using actual black and white film stock. With him re-teaming with his cinematographer from “The Witch”, Jarin Blaschke, one thing is certain, this is going to be one gorgeous looking film.


After the critical and financial disaster that was “Pan”, Joe Wright bounced back very nicely with his WWII drama “Darkest Hour” which saw Gary Oldman net a Best Actor Oscar for playing Winston Churchill. Wright, always the chameleon and never tackling similar material with consecutive films, has this time followed up with what appears to be a thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mould. It is about “an agoraphobic woman living in New York [who] begins spying on her neighbours only to witness a disturbing act of violence”. Playing the lead role is the super talented Amy Adams, with Wright immediately reuniting with Oldman who, along with Julianne Moore, seem to have a significant roles in the film also. From the plot description, this film is totally in my wheelhouse; I love thrillers, I love “Rear Window”, and I have always wanted to see Wright tackle a film like this, with his superior visual style. I am also excited to see that his cinematographer for “The Woman in the Window” is once again Bruno Delbonnel who is fast becoming one of my favourite cinematographers. If all that wasn't enough, Wright has also hired Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to work on the score for the film. I have the feeling that “The Woman in the Window” could turn out to be something very special.


Unlike the rest of the films on this list, “In Fabric” is already finished and had festival screenings where it has been met with mostly positive reviews. The film is a horror movie about a cursed dress (!) where as it is passed on from owner to owner, the wearers each suffer devastating consequences. While the plot sounds very bizarre, it is the brainchild of writer/director Peter Strickland, who thanks to his previous work, I have complete faith in him delivering a compelling and very unique horror film. Strickland is a filmmaker who is influenced by European genre cinema of the past and uses the visual tropes from them to explore themes and stories that are interesting to him. In “Berberian Sound Studio” he used a lot of the visual language from Italian gialli of the 70's without creating a giallo himself in the process, while “The Duke of Burgundy” was clearly influenced by Jess Franco's work while also being considerably different from them too. The best thing that I have ever seen from Strickland was his segment in the omnibus film “The Field Guide To Evil” which he did in the style of a silent film, and it is the best section of that film, and visually sumptuous. From all reports, “In Fabric” is also magnificent in terms of its visual style and I cannot wait to check it out. To give me more confidence in the film, my favourite distributors in the US, A24, have picked up “In Fabric” for release.


Like a lot of these anticipated films, the plot of “The Dead Don't Die” is unknown but what we do know about the film is enough for me to be salivating for its release. This is the latest film from Jim Jarmusch and it is a zombie comedy. While that may not sound like the two things should go together, it was only six years ago that Jarmusch graced us with his version of a vampire tale with “Only Lovers Left Alive” which turned out to be freaking amazing in every way, so if he can produce the same sort of gold with his take on zombies, I am all for it. Jarmusch has also assembled quite an amazing cast for “The Dead Don't Die” with him even reuniting with some old favourites. In the film are Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez (!), Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones. Wow! While I am a Jarmusch fan through and through, his two previous films I have absolutely loved to bits, so I am totally chomping at the bit to see “The Dead Don't Die”.


The latest film from genius Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is “Pain & Glory” and its about “a director reflecting on the choices he has made in his life as past and present come crashing down around him”. For the past thirty years, I can not think of another director who has been as constant as Almodovar at releasing brilliant and challenging films, so whenever the man ever has a new film coming out, you can guarantee it will end up on my most anticipated list of that year. The new film sees him once again collaborate with Antonio Banderas, who plays the lead here (and maybe Almodovar's on-screen alter-ego? Who knows?), as well as one of his favourite actresses in Penelope Cruz. These two actors always produce their best work, in my opinion, when they work with Almodovar so I am expecting big things out of “Pain & Glory”. As usual, Almodovar has put together his regular team of Jose Luis Alcaine as cinematographer, and Alberto Iglesias doing the music, who he works with beautifully. With “Pain & Glory” due to be released in Spain on March 22nd, you would assume that we will see a trailer for it very soon. As usual, I cannot wait to watch the new Pedro Almodovar film.


As I have said on numerous occasions, any time Quentin Tarantino brings out a new film, it will be added straight onto this list and will almost always be right at the top. The imdb describe “Once Upon A Time In Hollwyood” as so: “A faded TV actor and his stunt double embark on an odyssey to make a name for themselves in the film industry during the Helter Skelter reign of terror in 1969 Los Angeles.” Tarantino has indicated that this is most like “Pulp Fiction” in style compared to his other films, which works for me. It appears that he is working on a huge canvas here, and just from looking at the cast list, I am expecting a film with a significantly extended running time here. Much has been made of the casting of Margot Robbie in the role of Sharon Tate, but apparently the film is not about the Mason family rather that story serves in the background. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are the stars of the film but the cast is teeming with names like Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern and Luke Perry (!). Since Quentin Tarantino is the creator of this movie, you know that it is going to be shot on 35mm film and once again Robert Richardson is Tarantino's cinematographer. This film screams “EPIC” and if QT stays true to his claim that he will only make ten features in his career before retiring, then that makes “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” his penultimate film.


My most anticipated film of 2019 is Paul Verhoeven's “Bendetta” (although I much prefer its original title of “Blessed Virgin”) and to be honest, the reason I am so looking forward to it is really nothing more than a gut feeling that it is going to be great. Well that is not entirely true, as I am a massive fan of Paul Verhoeven's directorial career and “Bendetta” seems like a movie that totally fits his talents perfectly. On imdb it is described like so: “A 17th-century nun in Italy suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is assisted by a companion, and the relationship between the two women develops into a romantic love affair.” I guess it could be very easy to just classify this as Verhoeven's “lesbian nun” film but while Verhoeven never shies away from nudity or sexual content of a story, he doesn't just do so to titillate like he is often accused of. Rather he often tackles difficult subjects and stories that have this component and stays true to the presentation of these moments as opposed to just glossing over them or ignoring them completely. Following on from his most recent film “Elle”, this is another French language project and he reunites with that films screenwriter on “Bendetta”. Interestingly, Verhoeven's longtime writing partner Gerard Soeteman until recently shared a writing credit on this too, but has distanced himself from the project by asking his name to be removed from the credits as he felt the film focused too heavily on the sexual aspects rather than the political nature that he deemed more interesting. With this recent development, it only whets my appetite more to see just how “Bendetta” turns out.

Well, that is it. My enormous round up of the year that was 2018 is finally over. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it and got something out of it, but how about we go back to watching some new films now?



Bradley Cooper's excellent directorial debut, “A Star Is Born” (which is the forth incarnation of this story to be made for the big screen) was quite the surprise for me, mainly because of just how great Lady Gaga was in the role of Ally. I am not going to go through all the things that make this film such a standout (although big props to Matthew Libatique for his impressive cinematography), rather I want to highlight what I considered the best scene I saw in any film in 2018. Anybody who has seen the film, immediately knows which scene I am going to talk about, because it is the absolute highlight of “A Star Is Born”. The scene in question is when Ally shares the concert stage for the first time with Jack (Bradley Cooper) to perform the song “Shallow” to his sold out audience. The scene works so well because of Lady Gaga's performance while singing this song, as her face exposes all of the many emotions she is going through in this life changing moment for her. When Jack first asks her to join the stage with him, Ally is initially reticent. She sits backstage and when he begins singing the words she has written, you can see her begin to melt, stunned that this is really happening. Thirty seconds in when he reaches the chorus, you can now see how overwhelmed she is but understands that this is an opportunity she is likely never to get again, and as such finally heads out into the stage to sing. When her voice finally leaves her mouth at the start of the second verse, you can feel all of her nerves and her uncertainty about whether she is good enough. As Ally continues, her natural ability takes over; she is a singer and this is what she is good at and loves to do. However this newfound confidence is broken when Jack shares the chorus with Ally, and it snaps her back into the reality of the moment. It is also during this chorus that Ally notices the audience for the first time, when they cheer for her. Suddenly her eyes widen, looking like a deer in headlights, but fear is not going to ruin this opportunity for her. Jack then invites her to take centre stage; she is shocked but goes with it, almost subliminally knowing that “THIS. IS. IT”, this is her moment to change her life and introduce herself to the world, and she takes the opportunity with both hands (literally, as she uses both hands to pull down the microphone). It is here when Lady Gaga's god-given talents take off and she belts out a chorus of the song that is just stunning to listen to. The wave of emotions that you see in her eyes as she witnesses the audience responding to her voice sends chills down your spine, and then once again, Jack joins her for a part of the chorus; this time sharing the same microphone. Initially she appears embarrassed that she is singing with such a famous singer, but then again, she eases into the song and just enjoys singing with her friend, laughing along the way, while never losing eye contact with him. They continue singing the song while looking into each other's eyes and when the song is over, the spell is broken and Ally sees just how big the audience she sung in front of was. Scene over. Truly amazing and special scene; a perfect movie moment and my favourite scene I saw from any movie in 2018.

I need to also mention just how great Cooper's direction and staging of this scene is from a narrative perspective. It is very important to notice the distance between Ally and Jack at the start of the scene. They are at opposite sides of the stage on separate microphones, but as the song progresses the distance between them decreases until they are sharing one microphone, staring at one another, brought together by their combined love of music. They started the scene off as friends, but by the end of it, they are one, never to part until the end of the film. Cooper is also smart enough to know that this is Ally's/Lady Gaga's scene and plays the majority of it on her face. His character is still part of the scene but often seen in the background of shots (foreshadowing of the future) but Cooper refuses to dial the scene in; he commits fully in his performance, starring at Ally full of total pride and happiness that she is getting this moment to share to the world. Did I happen to mention that it is a perfect scene?


The latest film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “The Wild Pear Tree”, is another three hour epic that just flies by. Going into the film, the running time intimidated me but thanks to the film's intelligent script tackling salient issues in a very human and real “conversational” way, I found myself totally mesmerised by the experience and the character's plights. The film is about a man returning to his small country town after graduating from college, intent on finding a publisher for his book. However as soon as he gets back into the town, he is his hounded by people enquiring about his father's gambling debts. This is a point of tension amongst the family, and is something that disgusts Sinan (the son). However, through his exploits in the film Sinan must come to terms that he is more like his father than he realised, while also understanding that he is not above where he came from. The film is structured around very long conversations between Sinan and numerous people he comes into contact with. Each conversation seems to tackle a certain theme such as love, friendship, religion, politics, money and art, but is done so in a way that feels totally natural and never forced. There is a danger that these kinds of topics could come across as dry or boring, but that just is never the case here and instead, it ends up creating a well rounded and defined character out of Sinan. Interestingly, the actor who plays the part of Sinan, Dogu Demirkol, is a stand up comic in real life yet his comedic roots are never apparent in his portrayal of this arrogant and somewhat prickly young man. It is a brilliant layered performance, full of many complexities, but what is most surprising is that he makes us care for this character, who at times can be quite unlikable. Ceylan has once again collaborated with Gokhan Tiryaki as his cinematographer and the pair, as usual, have created stunningly beautiful images, this time focusing on the country landscapes of Turkey, primarily using an autumnal colour palette that is something to behold. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is currently working at the peak of his powers, and “The Wild Pear Tree” is another stunning achievement from this brilliant Turkish director. Click here to read my original review.


If you have ever read any of my previous top twenty lists, it would become apparent pretty quickly that I am a huge fan of director Wes Anderson. His quirky visual style and odd stories that he tells just appeal to my own sensibilities, so any time a new film arrives from this talented director, it is a big occasion for me. Anderson's previous stop motion animated film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, was absolutely to die for; brilliantly conceived, hilariously written and performed, and amazingly was able to continue the same visual style as Anderson's live action films. In saying all of that, you would assume that I would be chomping at the bit for Anderson's latest, “Isle of Dogs”, especially as it too was animated in the same style as “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. However, I was totally unimpressed by all of the trailers for the film, and thought a lot of the character designs looked rather bad. I was actually worried that Wes Anderson was about to deliver a total dud..... and I was totally wrong!! As usual, I loved every second of this silly film and laughed out loud numerous times. One of my favourite things about the film, was the gossiping dogs (“Hey, you heard about the.......”); they were hilarious and to have the main gossiper voiced by Jeff Goldblum, that was total genius. Like most of Anderson's films, they move very quick and there are lots of little jokes that fly by, so re-watching his films are always a joy because you pick up on so much each time. While my favourite scene of 2018 was in “A Star Is Born”, “Isle of Dogs” has arguably my second favourite scene of the year; a scene that had me howling with laughter. The main dog character of the film is Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston); a black stray dog, very scruffy and always grumpy. He is the leader of the pack, and what he says goes (or at least the other dogs agree with). He is one that is totally against a dog having a human master, but when the “little pilot” crash lands onto the island and he begins travelling with the boy, his opinion of having a master begins to soften. Eventually, Chief and the rest of his pack get briefly separated, and the boy offers Chief a bath.....which he accepts. The after-bath reveal is total genius that I never saw coming, and I had tears streaming down my face, I found it that funny (I really want to explain the reveal but don't want to ruin the enjoyment of experiencing the scene itself). What I also loved was when he meets up with his pack again and they ask “What happened to you???”, to which he nonchalantly answers “I had a bath”. The comedy of this scene is obviously only apparent when you have seen it, but it was another moment that had me in stitches. “Isle of Dogs” is full of such comedic moments, not to mention heartwarming moments and it is yet another success for Wes Anderson.


Forty years in the making, and finally finished long after his death, comes the final film from the great Orson Welles, “The Other Side of the Wind”; a film unlike any other from his oeuvre, in fact it could be said that it is almost unlike any other film ever. One thing is for sure though, it is a fantastic film and a worthy, if belated, swansong for this truly special filmmaker. “The Other Side of the Wind” is about an ageing director, Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston) who is straddling the line of genius and has-been, who is mid-way through production on his latest film which is also titled “The Other Side of the Wind”. In an attempt to secure financing to finish the picture, Hannaford holds a gala party on the occasion of his birthday where he intends to show what he has shot already of the film. Invited to the party are names from all over the industry, as well as a large group of influential members from the press, who are given carte blanche to record the whole event with no topic of conversation off the table. Through fragmented moments from these conversations we are witness to a man who is obviously both enamoured with Hollywood and totally over it. Through the course of the night, we watch as people we assumed are friends of his, turn out to be enemies and realise that some may be there not to celebrate the man, but to watch him fall. It also becomes apparent that the shooting of this latest film isn't going the smoothest with producers having no idea what the film is about, and unsure on when Hannaford will finish it. Then comes the film within the film itself, which looks like some sort of arthouse spy film shot in a very arty manner with bold use of bright colours, and chock full of nudity and sex. As I said above, this is unlike any other film Welles made previous but I found it endlessly intriguing and so exhilarating in its execution. The film is deliberately messy due to the faux-documentary style as we are witness to footage shot by all these different reporters. As such, the editing is quick and rough, and multiple film stocks are used, including both black and white and colour. Dialogue is rapid fire, and the whole thing moves at a breakneck pace, so watching it can be a little exhausting. What is interesting though is that the story of the film mirrors what Orson Welles himself had to go through in the making of “The Other Side of the Wind” in an attempt to get it finished, so you have to ask yourself is this a case of art imitating life or vice versa? Either way, you can not walk away from this film thinking that it isn't autobiographical in some fashion, with Huston essentially playing the onscreen alter-ego of Welles himself. Huston is fantastic in the role too. He was such a powerful man, just in his presence. He had a weight to him that everyone felt when he stepped into a room, and he uses this trait perfectly while portraying and lifting the mask on his character, Jake Hannaford. I have to make mention of the footage of the film within the film, which just proved that Welles never lost his ability to shoot stylish and visually interesting footage, it was just the money and opportunities dried up. It is shot all in colour and is gorgeous to look at. While I have mixed emotions about Netflix's place in cinema at the moment, I have to applaud them for getting in there and financing the completion of Orson Welles's final film. It is a cinema nerd's dream and does not disappoint, although I will admit it will not be an easy watch for the casual viewer.


Part fairytale, part absurdist black comedy, part love story; “November” is a true gem of a film, and as unique as they come. I have mentioned many, many times that I am a huge fan of fairtytales and folklore, but this was my first exposure to Estonian folklore and I loved every second of it. The plot of the film as per imdb is as so: “In a poor Estonian village, a group of peasants use magic and folk remedies to survive the winter, and a young woman tries to get a young man to love her.” While there is mention of magic in there, the plot sounds relatively normal but it is within this world of witchcraft and darkness, that so much of the bizarre takes place and it is all so good. For example, the farmers create these creatures out of sticks or tools called “kratts” but to give these things souls so they can live and move (and help the farmers steal), they must head out into the forest and make a deal with the devil: blood for a soul. However, the villagers have worked out a way to trick the devil by crushing berries into their palm so it looks like blood and they get what they want out of him for nothing. Then there is the tragic love story between our main character Liina and Hans. Just as she falls in love with Hans, he is a victim of love at first sight when he sets eyes on a princess. In an attempt to get Hans back, Liina goes to the local witches for help who come up with a plan to kill the woman Hans loves. Then there are elements that are so odd and silly such as when the plague enters the town (in the form of a goat) and to survive, the townsfolk all huddle together in a barn and put their pants on their heads so it looks like they all have two bums. The theory is that the plague will believe these people are already hit hard enough and move on without killing them. Seriously, what the??? I am not making this stuff up either. Did I mention that one of our characters is also a werewolf ? I have only mentioned just a few of the unusual things that happen but in the context of this amazing movie, all this craziness just works and feels of the world created. “November” will surely open doors for director Rainer Sarnet who has done a spectacular job of making this odd world feel tangible and real. I loved that he actually designed and built the “kratts” and had them puppeteered rather than resorting to cgi. By them actually being within the frame interacting with the actors, it makes their existence that much more believable. The sense of atmosphere and beauty that Sarnet also imbues on this film is impressive and vital in the telling of a fairytale. Speaking of beauty, the black and white cinematography from Mart Taniel is breathtaking while at the same time creating a world that is both harsh and at times, ethereal. I absolutely adore this film, and hope that in the future it becomes more widely known because it certainly deserves to be.


This was my “biggest surprise” of 2018, and as I wrote a big write up on this film in that section, I wont be doing so again here. I will say that it is a truly fantastic film that attacks today's instagram lifestyle, and questions how politically correct we have become and if this correctness is actually more harmful than good. It is an angry, loud, aggressive and very bloody film. It is also anything but subtle, hammering home its points. This is not a technique that I usually respond to but in the context of this film and the world it is presenting within, it seems right and works perfectly. There are also a couple of moments of cinematic bravura from director Sam Levinson, including an amazing single shot moment where the camera circles a multi-storey apartment where our girls are holed up in, watching what they are doing inside, as they are unaware of the people outside trying to break in. “Assassination Nation” is destined to have a huge cult following in the future, but buyer beware, this is a film that goes down some very dark and uncomfortable places.


The best horror film of 2018 easily went to John Krasinski's “A Quiet Place”; a film filled with nerve wracking suspense and a gimmick that was treated anything like one. “A Quiet Place” is set in a world where monsters with super sensitive hearing exist amongst us. A human's only chance of survival from them is to stay completely silent, never make a sound because the slightest noise will alert these creatures of your whereabouts and once they have found you, you do not stand a chance. What is so great about this film is that, due to the rules of surviving this world, there is very little dialogue in it at all. The family interacts through looks and most importantly, sign language. The sign language is significant because their daughter also happens to be deaf, which adds another danger element to the film as she is unaware if things are making noise so she needs to be extra careful. Amazingly, the family at the centre of the film have been able to survive for well over a year but we learn that they have come up with a lot of precautions to have done so. For instance, they have sand laid out on pathways and parts of their house so their footsteps remain silent, gaming pieces from monopoly have been made out of wool, and they have also come up with an intricate system of letting members of the family know of danger in the area without making a sound via the use of red light bulbs. John Krasinski has done a fantastic job of creating this world and making it, and the decisions the family make, believable. He has also imbued the film with scenes of the most unbearable suspense. You are constantly on edge watching this film, as Krasinski delivers classic scene after classic scene, such as the nail in the staircase scene, the bathtub birth scene, and the grain silo scene. The lack of dialogue hasn't hurt the actors at all as real life couple, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, are brilliant as the parents of this family. As I mentioned before, it is all in the looks that the actors give each other and it totally works. Millicent Simmonds has been cast in the role of the daughter, and just like her character, Millicent is deaf in real life so it adds another layer of realism to the project which helps it immensely. It is also through her character, that the heart and emotion of the film lies too. Unlike “Bird Box”, “A Quiet Place” shows the monster in full detail and numerous times, and he is a terrifying creature. Even though he is rendered in cgi, the creature carries a real weight to it and you feel its aggression whenever it is on screen. Interestingly, Krasinski himself played the monster, in that it was him in the motion controlled suit that animators then built the monster onto his movements. Personally this little detail impressed me so much in showing just how much care Krasinski put into all the details of the film. I have to also commend him on creating a film with a ninety minute running time. The film never outstays its welcome, rather it tells its story and then ends rather than needlessly padding its running time to the detriment of the story. Finally, the greatest thing “A Quiet Place” did was it figured out a way to get patrons in the cinema to shut the hell up for once. When the film started, and it was so quiet, you could sense an uneasiness amongst everyone because this was not the norm. As they were opening up their chip packets, drinking their drinks and shovelling popcorn into their mouths, people soon figured out that everyone could hear what they were doing. By about fifteen minutes in, the film had them and you could hear a pin drop, the cinema was so quiet. As such, it was one of my favourite cinema sessions I attended all year. Also I was so glad that my initial screening of “A Quiet Place” was in a cinema because it added so much more to it, thanks to the brilliant sound design and editing. This is such a great film, a stunning achievement on all levels, but I am a little bummed that the incredible success of “A Quiet Place” has led to the development of an unnecessary sequel, but a sequel I will still definitely see.


Reminiscent of Guillermo Del Toro's “Pan's Labyrinth”, in the fact it is about children trapped in a world of real violence, turning to fairytale's as a way to cope with their reality, Issa Lopez's “Tigers Are Not Afraid” was my favourite film that I saw at MIFF this year. It is such a powerful film that will move you; it will make you angry, and at times it will make you sick to think that children in Mexico are living the reality we see in this stunning film. “Tigers Are Not Afraid” is about a group of homeless kids, orphaned by the drug cartels, attempting to survive day to day without running into the cartels themselves while surrounded by constant violence. Our main character is Estrella, whose mother only recently had not returned home. Earlier in the day, whilst she was at school, she was given three pieces of “magic” chalk from her teacher that give her the ability to ask for three wishes. However, when Estrella uses these wishes, the outcomes are not exactly what she hoped for, which gives the saying “be careful what you wish for” all the more power. Like Del Toro's masterpiece, Lopez is not afraid to show the violent reality these children are exposed to. She is also not afraid to show children as the victims of this sickening violence. One of the really sad things about the film is the fact that this violence is so regular, that the kids are so desensitised to it all. They are actually used to it to the point that it barely affects them. Lopez has created an angry film as she obviously condemns the situation that exists in Mexico with the cartels but also with the lack of government interference to improve the situation. In fact Lopez goes one step further to suggest that the reason why the government doesn't do anything is because they actually benefit more from the cartels being in ultimate power. What is interesting though about the film is that while it deals with a very dark subject manner, the film itself is not always doom and gloom and this is due to the children themselves. These are kids who have effectively lost their childhoods and forced to grow up quick due to being orphaned, but there are times when the kids are just kids, playing together and just goofing off. These scenes are quite lovely and needed in a film that is at times heavy. It gives a sense of just what these kids have lost. In regards to the fairytale elements of “Tigers Are Not Afraid”, they are not as pronounced as the elements seen in “Pan's Labyrinth” but Lopez has handled these little moments with the a lightness of touch and whimsy. The majority comes from Estrella's wishes, as I mentioned before, which never seem to go as she planned while at the same time fulfilling her wish as spoken. The result of her third wish is! I never saw it coming (and that is all I will say about it). “Tigers Are Not Afraid” is such a brilliant film but beware, it is a brutal film. People die. Children Die. The violence within the film is also violence that you feel; it is not the cool Hollywood violence without consequence. However, no matter how uncomfortable this film is at times, it is a powerful film experience that makes you want to yell “STOP THIS MADNESS!!”. Issa Lopez has created a stunning film with “Tigers Are Not Afraid” that I recommend wholeheartedly for viewers who can handle dark, but relevant tales. Click here to read my original review.


With “Killing”, Shinya Tsukamoto has created his best film since 2004's “Vital” (although 2011's “Kotoko” isn't too far behind). Set during the Edo period of Japan, “Killing” is about a samurai who has all of the skills to be a great swordsman, but finds out that he does not have the temperament to take a person's life. When you head into a samurai film, you often go in with expectations of grand battles and bloodshed and while that initially appears to be where Tsukamoto's “Killing” is heading, it ends up taking a sharp turn and becomes a much more intimate affair that examines just how hard it is to kill someone, and what it does to a person when that line is finally crossed. It is an extremely powerful film and Tsukamoto is firing on all cylinders here. What I was particularly impressed with was the way Tsukamoto dealt with the swordplay compared to the real life violence. When our main character, Mokunoshin is seen training and sparring, the battles are extended and involve impressive swordsmanship. Editing is limited in these shots as the samurai's skill is put on display. However, when Mokunoshin is thrown into a real life or death battle, Tsukamoto changes the way he presents these scenes, making the camerawork very messy and shaky with the actual swordplay lasting mere seconds, with the blood spilled being excessive. He quickly shows the difference between sparring and the consequences from a real battle. A real fight is quick, intense and bloody, with no time to show off your nice technique. Also the real damage that you can do with a sword is considerable, and it is all of this that sees Mokumoshin reassess his life's goals. With Tsukamoto working on a smaller canvas than is the norm for a samurai film, he trades in scenes of grand battles with a film that looks at themes related to violence. The film is ultimately about the effects of violence on, not only the body, but also the mind of both victim and perpetrator. It also looks at just how hard it is to kill a man and how dirty and bloody an act it actually is. The cycle of violence is also explored in how violence begets more violence, and how at the end of the day, it all ends up being rather pointless and destructive. Staying true to the themes of the film, (and because, lets face it, “Killing” is still a samurai picture) Tsukamoto has created a very violent and bloody film with “Killing”, however the violence is never gratuitous nor glorified. One aspect of the film that I have to mention is Chu Ishikawa's very impressive score which compliments the images perfectly while also articulating the mental anguish and descent into hell that Mokunoshin is going through. Ishikawa's scores are always impressive, but this one feels extra special. On a sad note, this is the final score we will ever hear from Iskikawa in a Tsukamoto film, as the composer passed away in December 2017. His music always added so much to Tsukamoto's films and he will be sorely missed. I cannot express how grateful and ecstatic I was to have been able to see “Killing” on the big screen. It is the first Tsukamoto film I have seen in a cinema since 2002's “A Snake of June” and I loved every second of it. Click here to read my original review.


My favourite film of 2018 was none other than Guillermo Del Toro's adult fairytale, “The Shape of Water”. I saw it very early in the year, in January, and even then I stated that it would be hard for a film to topple it as the best film of the year, which proved prophetic. It actually feels strange talking about this film now, as it was released in late 2017 in the US, and has since gone on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, as well as a Del Toro win for Best Director. While I am amazed that I live in a world where a monster film has won a Best Picture Oscar, the award is thoroughly deserved. I immediately fell in love with this story about two outsiders falling in love, while the violent world around them attempted to keep them apart. Everything about this film is pure bliss. The visual style is to die for, the world shot in gorgeous green hues. The cast is perfect with everyone giving fantastic performances. I absolutely adore Sally Hawkins as mute woman Elisa who ends up falling in love with the monster. Being mute, she has lost one of an actor's strongest tools, her voice but Hawkins just steps up to the challenge filling this beautiful character with so much love and respect, which you can see through her eyes, body language and reactions. Honestly, I can not believe that she was an actress I couldn't stand once upon a time. Speaking of, I used to never like Michael Shannon (as hard as that is to believe) but he is terrifyingly good as the man determined to take the monster apart to see how he ticks. I've never seen him as a heavy before, but he excels in the role and is quite intimidating in a number of scenes. An actor I have always loved (but doesn't everybody) is Richard Jenkins who plays the lonely neighbour and best friend of Elisa. Del Toro has actually given this small character quite an interesting side story, as we see he is a man out of his time; no longer relevant in the advertising world where he works, as well as struggling with being a closeted gay man. One of the main themes of the film is intolerance against people who are different which is obviously apparent in the way the creature is treated and abused, but also in the way Richard Jenkin's character is verbally attacked when he makes a subtle gesture towards a man he likes, as well as some brief racial intolerance in some small scenes. Rounding out the impressive cast is Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg who are their usual outstanding selves (with Stuhlbarg impressing in multiple languages) but special mention must be made of Doug Jones who is able to make a real character out of the amphibian creature and emote beautifully through the prosthetic make up. The design of the creature is also beautiful, very clearly influenced by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. “The Shape of Water” is also filled with such wonderful little moments or scenes that really make it stand out with my favourite being the tap dance moment Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins share on a couch while seated. It adds nothing to the story but it is a beautiful moment that adds plenty to the movie. Another moment that must be considered brave from Guillermo Del Toro is the ball room dance sequence between Elisa and the monster. This could've turned out laughable but again ends up being a lovely moment in the film. Speaking of brave, Del Toro chose to be upfront in regards to sex between Elisa and the creature, rather than alluding to it; he explains just what happens and how, which results in a rather comical scene. Another aspect I need to mention is Alexandre Desplat's score which has a light and old time feel to it, which really compliments the fairytale atmosphere of the film. Being a film from director Guillermo Del Toro, “The Shape of Water” is also at times a very violent film. Del Toro rarely shies away from violence and always exposes the ugly and bloody side to it, which he does again here. Anyway, you put all of the above elements together and you get a very special film, that also turned out to be my favourite film of 2018.

Well there you have it, that was my  round-up of the year that was 2018; hopefully you got some enjoyment out of it. Now before I finish, lets have a brief look at the upcoming year and my most anticipated films of 2019.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


Let's get onto the good stuff finally.  I am not going to do any honorable mentions, this is it, my top 20 of 2018, and while the title of this list states that these are the "best" films of 2018, that is not really the case, these are my "favourite" films of 2018.  Alright, enough talk, lets begin with my:



This film was one of the most bizarre films that I saw this year, but it also felt like one of the most undiluted examples of a singular vision from a director that I had ever seen. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the film director Panos Cosmatos had envisioned before making it and even if certain things did not make sense to the viewer, it was true to the world that Cosmatos had created. “Mandy” is like a descent into hell, with Nicolas Cage's character Red going out for revenge against the cult who murdered his wife. It is unlike any revenge story that has come before it and it is an audio and visual delight. Cage is at his most unrestrained here, but he is fantastic as the emotionally devastated man. You can feel the pain that is within him and wanting so desperately to transfer onto someone else all in the name of payback. I was lucky enough to see “Mandy” at MIFF on the big screen where I was able to get lost in the world of this film, drawn in by its unusual images and truly stunning score by Johann Johannsson (sadly one of his last). The sold out audience lapped up this symphony of insanity, loudly applauding during key moments such as when Red makes his axe, has his chainsaw fight and when Cage delivers the line “Crazy Evil”. I am blessed that I got to see this amazing film in an environment that worked best for “Mandy” itself. I guarantee this is not a film for everyone, but if you are on the same wavelength as it, you are in for one of the most wild trips of your life.


When the initial trailers for “Bird Box” came out, I actually ignored them thinking that the film could only be watered down horror with Sandra Bullock in the lead. However, since this was a heavily marketed film for Netflix, it was almost impossible not to see a trailer or advert for it and once I did, I was impressed by what I saw and then highly anticipated it. My wife and I immediately watched it as soon as it hit Netflix and both of us were highly invested and impressed by the final product. It was a fantastic horror film built around a great premise. The opening ten or so minutes are absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking and devastating, and I imagine should have most viewers totally hooked by the end of them. For those that have been living under a rock, “Bird Box” is about an apocalyptic event that sees much of the world's population dying, where if you look directly at the evil, you will see your greatest fear and thus kill yourself. As such, characters have to walk around with blindfolds on in the event that they just happen to come upon this evil. One of the greatest choices the filmmakers made with “Bird Box” was never showing what this evil looks like. They leave it up to the audiences imagination and it is terrifying, much more so than if we got a look at what the characters themselves see. It is no spoiler to say that the story ends up jumping ahead in time, where suddenly children are involved in the dangers which adds that much more to the angst onscreen. It says a lot that Sandra Bullock's character doesn't even name her kids, referring to them only as “boy” and “girl”, such is the life expectancy of the world she inhabits. Like most of these types of films, it ends up being about trying to find a place of refuge, but this is all I will say about this superior (and successful) horror film. Oh, and Sandra Bullock is great in it too, going to some very dark mental places.


This is another Netflix film, but this time around it is an Indonesian action film and it is one of the bloodiest films that I have ever seen! Back in 2014, I named “The Raid 2: Berandal” as my fourth favourite film of that year, and while this year's “The Night Comes For Us” doesn't quite top it, it comes much closer than I ever expected any film to get in terms of onscreen blood and carnage. One thing that I have always loved about “The Raid” films is that they live in a world that is kill or be killed, so every move the character's make is there to either hurt, maim or kill your opponent; it is not just a flashy martial arts move to look cool. Also, if you have a weapon, it is used to cause the maximum damage possible. “The Night Comes For Us” continues this tradition so there is always a sense that any character can die from any fight. As I mentioned, this is truly one of the bloodiest films I have ever seen included a bit when a knife is impaled into a woman's arm and then pushed straight down to totally open it up. While Iko Uwais is cast as the hero of “The Raid” films, this time around he is the villain. Personally, I think he is more suited to the hero role but he still does a great job. The director of “The Night Comes For Us” is Timo Tjahjanto and for mine, this is his best directorial outing yet (he also directed in 2018 a fantastic Indonesian horror film, “May The Devil Take You” that just missed out on making this list). His previous action film, “Headshot”, was a bit of a mess and I thought he really struggled with his action set-pieces, but he has excelled with them in “The Night Comes For Us”. This is kinetic cinema of the highest order and if you are into action films at all, I'm sure that you will love this one.


It has been ages since director Gus Van Sant has made anything close to a good film, so to say that I entered this film with high expectations would be a total lie. In fact, the only reason that I ended up seeing it was due to Joaquin Phoenix starring in the lead role, but even with his involvement, the thought of watching the story of an alcoholic confined to a wheel-chair due to paralysis, attempting to reach sobriety with the help of the twelve steps, was something of a hard sell. I couldn't have been more wrong because I loved this movie so much, and it was quite life affirming and didn't dwell in the darkness of it all, rather it saw the positives of getting on with life and living again. Do not get me wrong, the film does not sugar coat what John (Phoenix) is going through, as it certainly deals with just how tough to reach sobriety is and facing everyone you have hurt in the past, but it does focus more on the positive aspects of succeeding. Personally I was unaware of John Callahan, the real life cartoonist, whose life story this film is based on, but through Gus Van Sant's very good film, I enjoyed learning about this very flawed man. Phoenix, as expected is wonderful as Callahan giving a much lighter and amusing performance than I was expecting. However, it is Jonah Hill who is the big revelation here. He is astounding in the role of Donny, who is the leader of the AA support group that John attends. So much love and humanity pours through this man as he attempts to help others to help themselves. His physical transformation is also so thorough that I was watching him onscreen for at least fifteen minutes before I realised it was Jonah Hill. The final scene between Hill and Phoenix is so emotionally heartbreaking and yet like everything else in this movie, it is a scene that celebrates a positive too. I was seriously surprised by Van Sant's lightness of touch with a story that could've been either too heavy, or too saccharine sweet but he gets the balance perfect. The film is much funnier than I was expecting and definitely more emotionally rewarding too. The sight of seeing Phoenix zipping around in his wheelchair is hilarious.


This was one of the last films that I saw in 2018 but I always expected it to make this list as director David Lowery's previous two films, “Pete's Dragon” and “A Ghost Story”, ended up high on my best-of lists of the years they were released. “The Old Man & The Gun” is the beautiful tale of a man finding something in life that he loves doing, so continues to do it whenever he can. It just so happens that what Forrest Tucker loves doing is robbing banks. Robert Redford is fantastic as Tucker and if this is truly his swansong as he claims it to be, then it is a fitting performance to go out on. He imbues the man with so much charm that it is easy to see why everyone finds him so likeable because we, the audience, are also immediately attracted to him despite his “hobby” of choice. I can understand some viewers thinking not much happens in this film because it is really a quiet film, but personally I was mesmerised by it all. Sissy Spacek is lovely playing Redford's love interest, and I thought Casey Affleck was at the top of his game playing the cop who is intent on catching Tucker. Redford and Affleck have a fantastic scene together in the men's room where the two men essentially announce their respect for one another while also showing how much they are enjoying this cat and mouse game between them. While it may not have the intensity of the Pacino/De Niro meet up scene in “Heat”, it is still a highlight from this much lighter film. These days I really enjoy watching older actors getting a chance to flex their acting muscles again because you are reminded just how great they used to be and why they were so popular. Besides impressive performances from Redford and Spacek, we also get a couple of nice scenes with Danny Glover, and two hilarious moments with Tom Waits whose story on why he hates Christmas is to die for. This is a sleight film, almost old fashioned but I loved every second of it and was very impressed with Lowery's decision to shoot it on 16mm film which added a lovely photographic quality to the whole thing.


Another repeat offender on my best-of lists is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, with both “The Lobster” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer” featuring high on them in the past two years. When I saw “Killing of a Sacred Deer”, Lanthimos had already finished shooting “The Favourite” but when I read the plot, it sounded like a typical period piece, the like I never could envision from this director. I also noticed that this was the first film he had directed which he had no hand in writing. Foolishly, I assumed that this was a change of pace for this insane genius and that “The Favourite” would not be making this list this time around. Turns out that I could not be more wrong. Even though Lanthimos's name is nowhere to be found in the writing credits, the finished film has his fingerprints all over it. While it is true that yes, this is a period piece about a Queen, and the two women manipulating her affections for their own personal gain, if anyone is going in thinking this is a normal quaint period film, they are about to get the shock of their lives. “The Favourite” is hilariously filthy in its frank depiction of sex and with the language used. “F” and “C” words are regular vocabulary for the characters in this tale, and hearing such words coming out of the mouth of the delightful Emma Stone is yet another reason to see this hilariously demented film. I loved the scenes between Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz on the shooting range where they are very clearly threatening each other but using gentile ways of talking to do so. Olivia Colman is the standout though as the ailing queen being manipulated from all sides but not as helpless as those around her think. Visually, the film is magnificent with the period details you would expect from these kind of films, with the girl's costumes being the highlight. I must admit though that I did have issue with some of the (very) wide angle photography that Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan employed at times (especially when the camera was moving), and I wasn't a massive fan of the film's ending which tends to fizzle out rather than end with a bang. Still this is an extremely fun, devilishly dark and very dirty film, that if you are not easily offended, you should really enjoy as I did. Oh, and the poster for “The Favourite” (above) is coincidentally (pardon the pun) my favourite of the year.


As I mentioned in my worst of list when discussing “A Wrinkle in Time”, having two young daughters sometimes leads to seeing films that you initially had no interest in seeing. While a “A Wrinkle in Time” is the cautionary tale of disappointment and total wasting of time, “Paddington 2” is the complete opposite; a truly charming film that has been impeccably designed and directed. To be fair, I was aware that reviews for this film were exemplary so I did not go into this film kicking and screaming like I did when I watched “A Wrinkle in Time” but did I expect to be wowed by “Paddington 2” as much as I was? Certainly not! I have actually never seen the original film, but being as smug as I am and with it being a kid's film, I thought I would be able to cope with the sequel without having watched the first one and I was right. I just thought this film was utterly delightful in every which way. The storyline was cute, the actors were all great (especially a scene stealing Hugh Grant as the film's villain) and Paddington himself was adorable, but it was the visual style and direction of the film that blew me away. This is a film that is not afraid to use bright, bold colours and it just livens the whole thing up. I actually loved the pink used in the prison scenes and the moments with Paddington and Brendan Gleeson's tough prison cook, Knuckles McGinty, were my favourite. This is very high praise but the whole thing reminded me, in style, of Wes Anderson's “The Great Budapest”. I normally bemoan the use of bad CGI in films, but I am happy to say that it has been extremely well done here, and I now look forward to catching up with the original film.


I was totally bowled over by director Warwick Thornton's debut feature “Samson & Delilah”, and it has taken him nine whole years to deliver his follow up, however the wait was definitely worth it as “Sweet Country” is another fantastic Australian film. This film plays something like a western, set during the 1920's, where an aboriginal man is put on trial after killing a white man, who forcibly entered his home. After killing the man, the elderly aboriginal man goes on the run because he knows no one will listen to his side of the story, just because of the colour of his skin. A posse is then created and sent into the outback to find the man and bring him back to face justice. This film came out way back in January here in Australia, and it has stuck with me since. It is such a powerful piece of filmmaking with a total gut-punch of an ending. What is sad is that today, some 100 years after this story takes place, we as a nation are still dealing with the same unjust situations which is disgusting to think that we have still not evolved and learned. The highlight of “Sweet Country” is the beautiful and amazing Australian countryside. The outback and desert is truly stunning to behold and has never looked better than here in Thornton's images. Thornton, once again, serves as his own cinematographer (along with Dylan River, who is also the director's son). He has an amazing ability to capture the essence of the Australian outback. The entire cast of “Sweet Country” does exemplary work with Hamilton Morris shining as the accused aboriginal man, Sam. Bryan Brown is his usual excellent self as the Sergeant tasked with tracking Sam down, and Sam Neill gives a very sensitive performance as Fred, the local preacher. “Sweet Country” is a classy and brilliant Aussie film like shines a light and puts on trial the racism still prevalent (sadly) in this great country of ours.


This was another film that I saw very early in 2018 that has never left me. After the debacle that was “Jane Got A Gun” that saw her leave the director's chair on the first day of shooting, Lynne Ramsey ended up finding her next project in the seriously disturbing and very violent “You Were Never Really Here”. The film is about a war veteran named Joe who tracks down missing girls for a living. Clearly traumatised by the horrors he has witnessed and performed, Joe is a quiet man who isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty to get the job done. When Joe is hired to locate the young daughter of a missing politician, he finds himself caught within a horrific conspiracy involving the sexual exploitation of young girls; a racket that he can not live with himself if he does not bring it down. This fabulous film is anchored by a truly amazing and internal performance from Joaquin Phoenix. He is beyond brilliant here and his performance is completely different to the one he gives in “Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot”. Here, everything is contained within, all of his emotions are bottled up but you can tell this is a man in pain and he is about to explode. Phoenix has very little dialogue in the film, so everything we learn about Joe is through his body language and the brutality of his actions when he works. The film has a very “Taxi Driver” feel to it with Joe doing everything possible to protect this young girl from the situation she has found herself in, and then dismantling it all, even if it ends up costing him his life. One element of the film that has to be acknowledged is Jonny Greenwood's perfect score, that totally enlivens the film and almost acts as another character as it sets the tempo of the action onscreen. Finally, “You Were Never Really Here” features one of the most beautifully human moments amongst a world of extreme violence when two hit-men lay next to each other (one wounded and dying, the other alive and well), hold hands and together sing a tune until one of them breathes their last breathe. It is a sublime moment, in an equally sublime film.


“Shadow” sees China's greatest living director, Zhang Yimou, return to the martial arts drama for the first time since 2006's underwhelming “Curse of the Golden Flower”. The story of “Shadow” is about a great King, set during China's Three Kingdom's Era, who in constant fear of assassination hires a double to take his place during battle and dangerous negotiations. However after facing all of the danger and getting none of its rewards, surely it is only a matter of time before the King's double wants what he has fought for and to take the King's place on the throne for his own. From this ambition we are witness to all the political manipulations and machinations for the double's plan to come to fruition. I was very lucky to have seen “Shadow” on the big screen here in Melbourne when just by chance I found out that it had come out the week prior. As usual, Yimou's attention to detail is front and centre here with all of the costumes, and locations, the interior and exteriors. However, unlike his previous film, the horribly under seen “The Great Wall”, he has gone against the use of colour and instead made a film relying only on black and white shades. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a black and white film, as it is definitely shot in colour, it is just that everything is in shades of black, white, and grey in an attempt to mimic a style reminiscent of calligraphy, which plays an important role to one of the characters in the film. It is such a bold and dangerous decision that comes off brilliantly, as the black and white also plays against the rules of good and evil, ying and yang, villain and hero. The only other colour that really shows up in the film is red, when blood is spilled in the battle scenes. Speaking of the battle scenes, while they have been very well choreographed and staged, they are few and far between and are relatively quick so if you are going to see “Shadow” for the fight scenes, be prepared that the film is more about political intrigue than martial arts. After the huge canvas Yimou worked with on “The Great Wall”, he is working within a much smaller world here, but his efforts are no less grand. Yimou truly is a master filmmaker, and has already shot his next film (entitled “One Second”), which will be ready for 2020.