2018 in review

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Remo D
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2018 in review

Post by Remo D » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:48 pm

Thanks to various personal issues, I'm a bit behind in my annual recap duties. Hopefully I'll be able to maintain the tradition for years to come, but no promises.

It would be a shame to leave it here, because 2018 was one of the most AMBITIOUS years for horror films in my memory. So many films aspired to do so many different things to the point where picking a "winner" was virtually pointless. Then again, it was sure easy to pick out the worst of the year... because those were usually the ones that didn't even try to do anything new...

So let's get started... and if you know me at all, you know that I don't save the best for last.

THE GOOD

ANNIHILATION could have been described as THE THING meets THE DESCENT, but then you'd only have the vaguest idea of the premise. It never quite found its audience theatrically, but I was mesmerized.

Steven Soderbergh's I-phone thriller rescued the title UNSANE from the doldrums of heavily cut Argento movies and delivered a truly clever paranoia (or is it?) ordeal set in an asyl... er... mental institution.

The "gimmick" thriller met the family melodrama head-on in the nerve-wracking A QUIET PLACE.

REVENGE brought the tried-and-true I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE formula smack into the #MeToo age but knew more about truly transforming its female protagonist than the rest of them put together.

BAD SAMARITAN took Dean Devlin from "the Godzilla guy who couldn't" to "the Hitchcock guy who actually COULD." Terrific villainy from David Tennant, too.

"Horror" was only part of the year's true buried treasure UPGRADE, one of several DEATH WISH variants to hit the screen this year but the first one to take it to this fantastic extreme. I'm the guy who stuck up for James Wan's DEATH SENTENCE... well, here's Leigh Whannell's take on the material, and it's a virtual stunner. I may not be able to call it the year's best "horror film" as such, but only because "science fiction" and "action" are equally strong components.

HEREDITARY featured some of the most disturbing shock material of the year and a wrenching performance from Toni Collette. The highly personal horrors of the A24 school are here to stay, but I'll take this one over IT COMES AT NIGHT any day... okay, even if you recognized a similarity to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 in the bare-bones plotting, this one made people jump and scream (I was there) far more efficiently.

And here comes our next DEATH WISH variant. Now, I know I'm in the minority here, but the first half of MANDY (except for the Cheddar Goblin and other little treats in that vein) tested my patience even on the big screen. But I can't even move this one down to the "middle ground" because Nicolas Cage's full-bore surreal, medieval transformation and rampage was some of the best stuff I'd seen all year!

While we're on titles composed of a single female name? LIZZIE might not have been the most historically accurate version of the legend of Ms. Borden out there, but if there was ever a father figure that deserved more than forty whacks, this movie found it, all right. Excellent work from Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart kept me watching.

NETFLIX HONORABLE MENTION: I try to focus exclusively on theatrical features, but THE ENDLESS was certainly an original standout in which two brothers must find the connection between the U.F.O. "cult" they used to belong to... and a curious string of time disturbances in the area. Apparently, this is only part of a larger story, so I'll need to do a little more investigating.

It's hard to believe, especially after you've been asked to forget NINE films in between, but the "there's the John Carpenter original and then there's our new HALLOWEEN" experiment really paid off. The 40-years-later tale was told with conviction and courage and joins an impressive roster of female-powered horror over the past year.

Can the guy who made the HOSTEL films also make family-friendly big-budget horror and make it work? Eli Roth's THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS says yes. Maybe they'll say the name "Eli Roth" out loud in the trailer for the inevitable sequel... then again, we still don't have "Stephen King's" SHAWSHANK REDEPMTION...

We then got two controversial titles in a row... and poor Mick LaSalle lost his lug nuts trying to come up with terrible things to say about both of them. First we got the SUSPIRIA remake that was ANYTHING but an "Argento" remake when it came to color scheme, score, directorial technique, camerawork, you name it. Just enough plot similarities and character names for the faithful to recognize. I had to applaud it for being a completely NEW movie, and there were certainly some strong horror high points to be had. I still need to see it again, however, because there was SO much going on that I failed to recognize or process the first time through. Oh, as for that epilogue everybody seemed to hate? David Lynch fans ought to love it in particular... I thought was a parallel to FIRE WALK WITH ME. Maybe that's just me.

And then there's THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. No, I didn't see the R-rated theatrical version... I saw the full-strength version on the "one night only" deal that caused a foofaraw with the MPAA. Considering the R-rated version disappeared from theatres almost as quickly, hopefully that particular teapot tempest can be laid to rest. Matt Dillon is provided with one "hell" of a showcase of which he takes full advantage, and the ghastly laughs the film can wring out of viewers has nothing to do with finding murder and torture "funny." I should write an article about that phenomenon.

So how on earth do I declare a single "best of the year" prize among such a wide and varied field? Oh, that's right... a little number called OVERLORD snuck out near the end of the year and absolutely blew me away with its expert combination of WWII suspense and action (I kid you not--this could have been a prequel to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) and balls-out mad doctor/zombie/uberfreak gore and mayhem. So there you go. I could have picked so many for so many different reasons, but if you want MY answer, it's OVERLORD.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY was yet another prequel in a series that regrets killing off its best character far too early. It's better than the third one (no apologies to Leigh Whannell needed because he went on to do UPGRADE), but really? Enough already.

MOM AND DAD played theatres, but not around me. I had to resort to on-demand. The notion of parents finally snapping and starting an all-out psychotic reversal of the WOULD YOU KILL A CHILD? theme was amusing, while Selma Blair and (especially, of course) Nicolas Cage were fun to watch with their mouthfuls of scenery, but then the film forgot to come up with an ending. Oh, well.

THOROUGHBREDS was a well-acted drama in which two mismatched teenage companions see murder as the logical way out of their shared dilemmas. We also got another delayed "last look" at Anton Yelchin. A good try, but the dispassionate project ultimately fails to detonate.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT? More of the same in a different location, with far too many "you IDIOT" and "yeah, RIGHT" moments to take seriously. It's watchable enough, but scarcely necessary.

Having realized that their vision of the future hadn't quite panned out as they thought it would in THE PURGE: ELECTION NIGHT, the creators backtrack and say "Oh, wait, this is REALLY how it went down" in THE FIRST PURGE. Which ends with a commercial for the new USA Network series. By the way, I still say MEET THE BLACKS is part of the series.

No supernatural elements this time around, so UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB took things to a new level of 'preposterous.' But it was enjoyable enough while it lasted.

And HELL FEST gave us the retro-masked-slasher in an enviable Halloween carnival setting. Nobody was reinventing the wheel here, but there were some good jolts and a couple of much-appreciated "mask" cameos (especially at the end).

NETFLIX HONORABLE MENTION: From the Blumhouse factory direct to your device came STEPHANIE, about a little girl trying to weather her own apocalypse. Points for the performances, less so for the predictability of it all.

THE BAD

WINCHESTER was a bunch of made-up malarkey about one of our justifiably famous tourist attractions. Maybe I was expecting too much, but I was hoping we'd gotten the stinker of the year out of the way early. We hadn't.

SUMMER OF '84 was an attempt to recapture the vibe of STRANGER THINGS with the plot of REAR WINDOW. Despite a surprisingly downbeat climax, the "my neighbor is a serial killer and nobody believes me" plot completely failed to gel or compel.

Then we had the "prestige" production of THE LITTLE STRANGER. I understand the book was a lot better, but this arthouse special served up one of the least satisfying and utterly boring ghost stories I ever fought to stay awake through. I think AN AMERICAN HAUNTING was the last one to try me so sorely.

Now, THE NUN certainly wasn't boring. In fact, it was quite whackadoodle. I thought it had to be a comedy, or at least a joke. I don't know what was funnier... the crucifixes inverting themselves on the wall (I wanted to make "elevator" noises) or the tombstone popping up on the grave that opened up and snatched up the hero (there, I wanted to make cash register noises. By the way, there WERE other people in the audience, so I did NOT actually do so in either case). I couldn't take this one seriously for a minute, Fulci references or no Fulci references.

And THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH MONTANA... sorry... HANNAH GRACE had all the potential in the world with its creepy morgue set and good cast, but most of us had already seen THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE and this had nothing but leftovers to tell its brief "story" with.

That leaves us with the two biggest stinkbombs of the year... and what a coincidence that they're both RING ripoffs with young, attractive cast members getting supernaturally bumped off one by one by a curse that nobody can stop? This time around, I give you TRUTH OR DARE? and SLENDER MAN. And SLENDER MAN is the shorter of the two films. Therefore, TRUTH OR DARE? is the primo turkey of 2018.

Good grief, what else did I see on the big screen in 2018?

Superheroes. BLACK PANTHER and THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR were two of the strongest entries in the MCU to date, while ANT-MAN AND THE WASP seemed positively anticlimactic (but still hugely enjoyable) after the latter. In the "other" Marvel worlds, DEADPOOL 2 was obscenely hilarious as expected (I never did see the PG-13 Christmas recut), VENOM was great fun (yet another "superhero film for people who don't like superhero films," I suppose) and while SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE wasn't originally intended as a tribute to the spirit of Stan Lee, I can scarcely imagine a worthier project. Oh, and AQUAMAN was right up there with WONDER WOMAN as the salvation of the new DC Universe.

Monsters. Sure, JAWS was a horror film back then, but THE MEG was never going to frighten anybody. It was just big, dumb fun. PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING was an agreeable revisit to Del Toro's "mecha" land with some pretty wacky character twists to keep it unpredictable. RAMPAGE wasn't quite up there with GODZILLA, but it'll certainly do. Oh, and since "Kong" tributes featured in both of them, I guess that's where I've got to mention the overstuffed READY PLAYER ONE (I loved the SHINING tribute, though) and the awesome RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. Oh, and MORTAL ENGINES had "monster" cities and a creepy Terminator zombie. Don't expect any further installments, but I rather enjoyed what the Peter Jackson factory did to it. And yeah, that leaves us with THE PREDATOR. Fast-paced, gory, but oh, so DUMB.

Hopefully this will be my final edit. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is so distant in my memory that I thought it was a 2017 release. As a fifth JURASSIC movie, it didn't set my world on fire, but I wasn't put off by the change of scenery and actually enjoyed the haunted house elements after four consecutive "island" movies. I still won't debate its place as a "great" movie, so let's leave it at that.

Science fiction/fantasy not involving superheroes: ISLE OF DOGS was an immensely moving, imaginative and captivating Wes Anderson animated production. You will be a better dog person upon seeing it. HOTEL ARTEMIS was a nominally futuristic all-star crime thriller anchored by Jodie Foster and a great Jeff Goldblum turn. It's good for at least one view. As for SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY? Not "bad," but probably the least necessary trip to the well yet. The "dirty" Muppet movie THE HAPPYLAND MURDERS was no great shakes, but it DID make me guffaw out loud at least twice, so I have to acknowledge that. PROSPECT was simply a classic Western set on another planet, but there's nothing wrong with that. Oh, and MARY POPPINS RETURNS may have peaked a little early for me, but as a long-delayed sequel that truly "gets it," it's right up there with HALLOWEEN and DEATH RACE 2050.

2018 was remarkable for the outstanding black-themed films I caught on the big screen as well, by no means limited to BLACK PANTHER. Okay, I was one of the few people who thought the remake of SUPERFLY was quite entertaining. But the true standouts included BLACKKKLANSMAN (probably my favorite Spike Lee film to date), BLINDSPOTTING (keeps you on the edge of your seat almost to the last second) and the truly outrageous and surprising SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (the less you know about that one going in, the better, but of all the films to invoke THE LAST DRAGON!).

Oh, there's Eli Roth again! His delayed remake of DEATH WISH was surprisingly satisfying, especially as Bruce Willis didn't try to be Charles Bronson (again, THIS is how you do a remake). And our fourth and final DEATH WISH variant of the year was the over-the-top Jennifer Garner vehicle PEPPERMINT. A review would be completely pointless--you get what you expect.

Action and/or spy thrillers include the hilarious GAME NIGHT, the outstanding RED SPARROW (Jennifer Lawrence in one of her best leads ever to make you forget ATOMIC BLONDE), the ridiculous-but-fun HURRICANE HEIST and the amusing GRINGO. SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO changed the tone of the original but still delivered the grit where it counted, and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE made you want to give up on humanity while trying to simultaneously convince you that it was worth the fight. SEARCHING was another successful "minimalist" experiment (a disappearance mystery taking place entirely on various screens), and BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is one more people should have given a chance.

Based on a true story? THE DEATH OF STALIN was remarkable as a laugh riot in which nothing particularly funny was actually happening (quite the opposite, in fact). WHITE BOY RICK... well, I preferred SUPERFLY. AMERICAN ANIMALS straddled the re-enactment approach with the documentary approach to deliver one of the best 'true crime' tales of the year. Then we go into pure documentary with the eye-opening THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS and the appropriately sentimental and loving WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (Hey, I love the nasty stuff as much as anyone, but Mister Rogers was COOL and we need more people like him.)

Almost done. Drama? 1945 was another buried treasure; a b/w mood piece in which the mysterious arrival of two Jews at the end of WWII kicks off a chain of guilt and paranoia in a small town. CREED II was well made, but it's still ROCKY 8 formula-wise and could have been half an hour shorter with no loss of impact. Director Paul Schrader made a remarkable comeback with the scorching FIRST REFORMED, but even I missed that one in the theatres. I did, however, manage to catch VOX LUX, a scathing fictional musical biography that I personally preferred to BLACK SWAN, even though it, too, only played for five days. Clint Eastwood ages gracefully and predictably includes melodrama and sentiment in the suspense/comedy package, but THE MULE is still worth watching. And THE FAVOURITE proves that even the guy who made THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER can deliver laughs along with enjoyable court intrigue.

Did I really see only two "comedies" as such? EDIT: It's actually FOUR. For the second time in a row, I forgot that I actually saw ACTION POINT. Which tells you how memorable THAT one was. HEAVY TRIP is the funniest "metal" movie since THIS IS SPINAL TAP (though it's not a mockumentary at all), and THE OATH is probably the best film of 2018 that you never saw... you think it's about the Thanksgiving family dinner from hell, but oh, it's so much more. Finally? I may be the only American who bothered with the third entry, but JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN was more than funny enough for me.

Now let's have YOUR list! Enjoy 2019!
Remo D.
Last edited by Remo D on Sun Feb 03, 2019 7:35 pm, edited 3 times in total.


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Remo D
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Re: 2018 in review

Post by Remo D » Sat Jan 05, 2019 10:08 pm

And less than an hour after I post this recap with multiple DEATH WISH references, I see that original DEATH WISH author Brian Garfield has passed away. Wow.

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Chris Slack
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Re: 2018 in review

Post by Chris Slack » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:45 am

Your recaps are one of the things I look most forward to at the start of a new year. I don't have the gift of gab as you do but these were my 10 favorites this year.

The Death of Stalin - A lot of the audience seemed disappointed with this but my dad and I laughed a LOT.
Won't You Be My Neighbor - Amazing tribute to an amazing man, seriously heartwarming.
Isle of Dogs - I am not a fan of Wes Anderson films in general but I loved "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." This one was even better!
Avengers: Infinity War - I look forward to the final part of this. I am amazed that they were able to involve so many characters without leaving the viewer feeling like they didn't get enough of any one of them.
Deadpool 2 - Better than the first, so funny!
Upgrade - Went in with zero expectations and was very happy with it.
Hereditary - Had very high expectations, they were surpassed. Toni Collete was amazing!
BlackkKlansman - Spike's first excellent film in a LONG time.
Sorry to Bother You - Just wow, not at all what I expected.
Bohemian Rhapsody - The timeline was off in a few parts and it was pretty sanitized but I still loved it. Malek was an amazing Freddie.
"Regrettable... I was hoping for a colleague, but at least we have
another experimental subject..." -Mesa of Lost Women


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