The Best Films of 2018

In formulating a list of my favourite films of 2018 it was rather difficult narrowing it down to just ten. Having seen close to 100 new releases this year there were no shortage of quality films, so before getting to my best picks I wanted to highlight a few Honourable Mentions that I either enjoyed or admired, but ultimately fell short of making the final cut.

1985A Simple Favour, Annihilation, Bao, Blockers, Cargo, Creed II, First Reformed, Leave No Trace, Overlord.

Note: As mentioned with my previous lists I haven’t seen every film released in 2018. There are no objective criteria in determining the placement of each film – all that matters is that I loved each of these films and highly recommend you seek them out for yourself!


10. Bumblebee / Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

In a time where sequels and reboots have become ubiquitous, these two films found new life into stories that have been well worn. More than merely surpassing the low bar of the Transformers series, the direction of Travis Knight worked wonders for Bumblebee in telling a compelling and identifiable story revolving around giant fighting robots. Referencing the history of the storied character while being accessible for all audiences, the visual style and humour of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made for an immensely enjoyable superhero film, arguably among the finest ever made.

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9. Disobedience

Filled with tension and intrigue as to what went down in the past, the recoupled relationship between the two Rachel’s – Weisz and McAdams – sensually captures a vivid sense of place within London’s Orthodox Jewish community. Intimate in its setting and character interactions, Sebastian Lelio’s first English language feature, Disobedience, transports viewers into a world that appears foreign on the surface, only for very recognisable family conflict to emerge.

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8. The Night Comes For Us

Many terrific American action films have been released in the 2010s, but most pale in comparison to the ultraviolent awesomeness coming out of Indonesia. Similar to Gareth Evans’ The Raid films, The Night Comes For Us is a master class in the artistry of killing. Relentless in transitioning between fight scenes, the story of an enforcer protecting a young girl amid gang warfare is largely secondary to Timo Tjahjanto’s mesmerising choreography and bloody effects.

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7. Come Sunday

As someone who holds a strange interest in films made by and about Christianity (despite being agnostic), Come Sunday is nuanced in showing the importance of faith, while being willing to question the very thing that can shape someone’s entire identity. Based on the This American Life feature on real life evangelist Carlton Pearson, Chiwetel Ejiofor shines as the conflicted man of god whose outsider struggles are sure to resonate – irrespective of personal beliefs.

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6. Sorry To Bother You

For as twisted as Boots Riley’s directorial debut becomes, there is a serious message presented in Sorry To Bother You with very real implication. Loaded with ideas about race, class and identity, the struggle for economic security rings true in a time where trickle down economics has become apart of mainstream political discourse; yet for as unwavering as the film is in its intentions, the style and humour remains entertainingly accessible.

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5. Widows

From the opening scene of Widows I was enthralled by the latest from Steve McQueen. Much like his earlier films, especially Hunger, the British artist/director seemingly presents a particular type of film – in this case, a heist – only to deviate from the expected conventions. Boasting a stellar ensemble, including a spine-chilling turn from Daniel Kaluuya, the heist itself may lack the glossy sheen of Ocean’s 8, but makes up for it in substance and filmic craft.

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4. Eighth Grade

Gut wrenching and incredibly empathetic all at once, Eighth Grade could easily be repurposed as a horror film given the way recognisable moments of teenage angst are depicted. There were multiple times throughout I wanted nothing more than for Kayla (Elsie Fisher) to be shown the slightest display of compassion by her peers – all too often her pain was achingly real, so to see another teenager finally act with kindness towards her filled my soul in the knowledge she would be ok.

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3. Juliet, Naked

I came into the latest adaptation of Nick Hornby’s work with no expectations and left utterly delighted having experienced the most charming hidden gem of 2018. Starting out reminiscent of the English writer’s previous interests in 30-something males and their obsessions, Juliet, Naked remains familiar but from a different perspective. Featuring a trio of layered performances from Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and scene-stealer Chris O’Dowd, the film understands how people become stuck in their lives while treating its characters with empathy in spite of what they have (or haven’t) done.

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2. Lean On Pete

Emotionally devastating in telling the story of a teenage boy needing to find his feet following family tragedy – “when you don’t have anywhere else to go you’re kind of stuck” – Charlie Plummer gives one of the best performances of the year in Lean On Pete. Based on a book by Willy Vlautin, director Andrew Haigh breathes in the beautiful American scenery, while James Edward Barker’s score heightens the uncertainty as young Charley plans for today in order to keep an aging racehorse from ‘heading down to Mexico’.

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1. BlacKkKlansman

Set in the 1970s but unnervingly relevant in 2018, veteran director Spike Lee delivered his most accessible film in years with BlacKkKlansman. Walking a fine tonal line throughout, the ugliness of white supremacy is purposely presented to make audiences uncomfortable, while still being a film filled with humour, introspection and most memorably, joy. John David Washington echoes his legendary father in the leading role, Terence Blanchard contributes one of the best scores of the year, while Topher Grace and Ashlie Atkinson embody how hatred and division are masked behind affable veneers. Unapologetic in alluding to the current state of politics, the final sequence demands your attention by holding a mirror up to the world emboldened by ‘agent orange’ with unflinching urgency. There were many great films released over the past 12 months, but few brought about a response as strong as BlacKkKlansman.

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Check out other instalments in my 2018 YEAR IN REVIEW:

2018 Memorable Moments in Film
The Best Songs of 2018
The Worst Films of 2018

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‘Bumblebee’ movie review

It is overly simplistic to attribute the success of the latest Transformers film Bumblebee on the absence of Michael Bay, but given the restrained action, engaging characters and enjoyable tone the easiest deduction is likely the right one.

Directed by Travis Knight in his first live-action outing following the stop-motion success of Kubo and the Two Strings, the prequel to 2007’s Transformers opts against the worst tendencies of its predecessors in favour of a smaller-scale story about outsiders seeking acceptance, reminiscent of 2017 Best Picture winner The Shape of Water crossed with 80’s references.

Opening on a CGI-heavy sequence on the Transformer’s home world of Cybertron, the heroic Autobots are forced to flee from the warring Decepticons in order to regroup on the distant planet of Earth. Arriving in 1987 with enemies in pursuit, B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien, The Maze Runner) encounters a military task force headed up by Jack Burns (John Cena, Blockers) whose immediate instincts are of the threat posed by the foreign arrival. Forced into hiding and without the use of his voice due to further conflict, 18-year-old Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) discovers the wounded Autobot in a junkyard before donning him with the moniker Bumblebee. With Charlie dealing with her own hardship following the passing of her father, the relationship between the unlikely pair blossoms, all the while government agents and the Decepticons remain on the hunt with their own nefarious agendas.

Familiar to a fault, there are few narrative surprises to be found in the screenplay from Christina Hodson (Unforgettable), yet for whatever derivative elements are present, the charm and emotional core of Bumblebee more than merely surpasses the incredibly low bar of the series to stand on its own as the type of blockbuster sure to appeal to all ages through its universal themes.

Critics of the series have long bemoaned the incomprehensible action and weak human characters reheated to diminishing returns over the past decade, but in narrowing the scale to a character-driven level, the action set pieces are spaced out efficiently, while Steinfeld echoes her terrific turn in The Edge of Seventeen (minus the intense misanthropy) to give audiences a protagonist worth investing in. Supporting roles from Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Love, Simon) and John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) enhance the overall story, while the 1980’s setting makes for an enjoyable soundtrack with a touch of nostalgia for fans of the original cartoon.

In a time where pre-existing properties and sequels reign supreme at the box-office, Bumblebee proves that when done right a blockbuster action film based on action figures doesn’t have to be a cynical exercise in exploiting childhood nostalgia. Just as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse managed to change the way audiences think about one of the most beloved superheroes, Bumblebee is the live-action Transformers film to seek out rather than avoid.

The Worst Films of 2018

In previous years I’ve made an active effort to seek out the worst films possible for the primary purpose of having ammunition for an annual worst of list. Not being a paid critic my approach has softened recently, but alas 2018 still managed to inflict a number of releases for which my time could have been better spent.

The criteria for what makes a film worthy of being one of the ‘worst’ is largely contestable, but as with most year-end lists the selections are entirely subjective.


Before getting into the official list, a few Dishonourable Mentions that contained just enough redeeming qualities to avoid complete derision.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Following up 2015’s Sicario, the Stefano Sollima directed sequel features elements worthy of recommendation, particularly the performances from Benecio del Toro and Isabela Moner. However, in such a vicious political climate the opening 20-minutes of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing as people seeking asylum are depicted in a manner that fuels the hateful rhetoric espoused in the MAGA era. Released around the same time vision of children being forcibly separated from their parents and detained in cages demonstrated the lack of humanity shown by the current US administration, the set-up of Sicario: Day of the Soldado is repulsive before settling into an effective action-thriller that goes some way towards cleansing the misguided opening.

Private Life

I recognise that I am not the target audience for the latest film from Tamara Jenkins. As a 23-year-old with no aspirations to start a family in the short-term, I can see how audiences with greater life experience would get a great deal from Private Life. That said – I found the three leading characters to be unbearable in their self-absorption. When people use the term ‘white people problems’ derisively, this is what they are referring to. I’m not so bold as to suggest the personal challenges faced by middle-aged financially independent individuals lack any legitimacy; for a terrific example of how this type of film works incredibly well, I recommend Mike White’s 2017 drama Brad’s Status. I cannot say in good faith this is a bad film, but I did find watching it to be incredibly testing of my patience.

Gotti 

Off the back of terrible reviews and a loathsome marketing campaign designed to malign critics, my curiosity in seeing Gotti ended anticlimactically. Does it warrant a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes? No. Is it any good? Not really. Amid all the animosity generated my response was boredom; in a less toxic media culture this film wouldn’t warrant a mention, such is its blandness.


5. Bohemian Rhapsody

As someone who grew up loving the greatest hits of Queen I wanted Bohemian Rhapsody to be great. Instead the “Brian Singer directed” music-biopic presents the story of a creatively ambitious group in the most generic of ways – imagine Walk Hard without a shred of irony. While the musical performances skilfully convey a sense of excitement, the context in which Queen and Freddie Mercury exists within is so poorly developed that unless you come in already knowing about this period, you get no sense of what Queen’s success meant. What does it mean to grow up of Parsi descent? Why was Live Aid a significant cultural event? What was it like to be diagnosed with AIDS during a time of political and cultural hostility towards queer people? The film is not interested in any of these details. Above all the biggest issue with the film is how boring it is – I struggle to recall such a squandered waste of potential in recent memory.

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4. Unfunny Comedies (Night School / The Spy Who Dumped Me / Pitch Perfect 3)

Technically a cheat by listing multiple films under one slot; a common thread unites the three selections of not being funny despite the descriptor of ‘comedy’. Boasting star-studded casts who have demonstrated genuine laughs in the past, the combination of a lack of structure (Night School), tonal inconsistencies (The Spy Who Dumped Me) and deviating so far from what made the original delightful (Pitch Perfect 3) left me deflated having been promised laughs that never arrived. In a year that saw Game Night, Blockers, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse generate big laughs in inventive, emotional and self-referential ways, there were plenty of accessible studio comedies that warranted greater attention than the trio highlighted.

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3. Life of the Party

What distinguishes the latest Melissa McCarthy star vehicle above the other unfunny comedies mentioned above is the structural incompetence displayed. There is a solid premise in a middle-aged woman going back to college after being left for another woman by her husband, but what follows is a collection of disparate scenes that could be assembled in any order with no impact on the film’s structure. The jokes are rarely sighted with the exception of one hilarious payoff involving the son of the other woman, but it is little consolation for a film in which nothing matters. There are no stakes, the character progression rings false and above all it isn’t consistently funny. In the hands of a better writer and director Life of the Party may not have been a film fondly remembered in years to come, but it wouldn’t be the total waste of time and talent it is.

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2. The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a good performance in one of the worst films I’ve seen for a number of years – these two thoughts can co-exist. Adapted from a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, writer/director Sara Colangelo’s second feature subscribes to a misguided view of creativity that becomes outright offensive through the actions of Gyllenhaal’s character. The Kindergarten Teacher would have viewers believe that abusing a position of authority by kidnapping a child is the tragic road taken by people who have been creatively suffocated by a world that doesn’t value art. On its own the idea of society not appreciating creativity is not without merits, but the manner in which the final shot of the film condones Gyllenhaal’s actions was an affront that I took to be a personal middle finger from the filmmaker. The only reason the philosophy of The Kindergarten Teacher avoided the ignominy of being the ‘worst film of 2018’ was that something even more reprehensible screened in theatres this year.

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1. Death of a Nation / The Trump Prophecy

In selecting a joint worst film in which the multiple-times bankrupt charlatan currently residing in the White House plays a prominent role, my own political leanings factor in less than the dangerous claims made by the respective filmmakers. Having watched several of Dinesh D’Souza’s previous ‘documentaries’ (in the loosest use of the term), the revisionist history espoused exists only to appease individuals wanting to legitimise their own prejudices, while provoking those with enough intelligence to know that the ideas put forth are false into fits of rage. Where Death of a Nation is filled with heinous lies in the name of political point scoring, The Trump Prophecy seeks to bore viewers into submission before presenting *that man* as ‘”the one anointed by god to return America to its greatness” with no case made in favour or against him. The wilful ignorance displayed by director Stephan Schultze is debatably more egregious than D’Souza’s revisionist history in that no justification is needed when “god wills it”, but for as derisible as the film’s politics are the technical qualities displayed are nothing short of inept. In a time of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, the ideas proposed by these two films aren’t just grating, but intellectually offensive in blatantly disregarding evidence that fails to align with a predetermined worldview.

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Check out other instalments in my 2018 YEAR IN REVIEW – 2018 Memorable Moments in Film and The Best Songs of 2018.

The Best Songs of 2018

In the second instalment of 2018 YEAR IN REVIEW, check out the 10 songs I’ll be voting for in the Triple J Hottest 100.

I don’t pretend to be well versed in the biggest commercial / alternative hits of the year; the songs selected resonated with me over the past 12 months. Some have carried through since January while others are newfound favourites.

Note: Some of the selections are reworked versions released by the original artist in previous years. The order of the list is largely arbitrary, the criteria used to elevate #7 above #8 is based upon my thoughts at the time of writing. However, the top half is a strong representation of my 2018 musical preferences.


#10. ‘Still Unbeaten Life’ – Gang of Youths

Officially released as part of the Let Me Be Clear EP in 2016 (although a demo version appeared on The Positions as a digital exclusive), the closing track of Gang of Youths’ MTV Unplugged (Live in Melbourne) encompasses the band’s strongest attributes for emotionally profound lyrics and compositions boasting spiritual qualities. With the live orchestra and brass complementing the grandeur of frontman David Le’aupepe’s lyrics, Still Unbeaten Life is more than just a fan favourite – it’s one of the band’s defining songs.

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#9. ‘Orc Cop!’ – Rap Critic

Remember Bright, the Netflix original film starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as a human-orc buddy cop duo? You would be forgiven for failing to recall the fantasy / racial allegory, however it did lead to a spot on parody from online music reviewer Rap Critic (aka Daren Jackson / Masta Artisan). Penned in collaboration with Demi Adejuyigbe for Lindsay Ellis’ phenomenal analysis of the critically derided film, Orc Cop! goes beyond simply parodying the mannerisms of Will Smith’s late-90’s soundtrack tie-ins to become a great example of how sampling old R&B hits (Stevie Wonder’s Skeletons is incorporated excellently) can enhance new tracks.

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#8. ‘The Idiot’ – Amy Shark

In an era of hyperbolic overpraise and outrage, I feel comfortable declaring Amy Shark’s Adore a perfect pop song among the best of the decade. Capturing a universal sense of angst and longing, it’s unlikely she’ll pen anything that evocative again – but even if songs like The Idiot aren’t on par with her best, she remains a resonant talent to emerge out of Australia in recent years. Retaining the same sense of vivid details and vulnerability that made Adore instantly memorable, The Idiot paints a picture of emotional naivety while being mature enough to know that in spite of heartache life goes on.

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#7. ‘77%’ – The Herd ft. L-FRESH the LION

Originally released back in 2003 in response to the racist rhetoric perpetuated in the wake of the Tampa refugee crisis, the sentiment of The Herd’s provocative track remains dispiritingly relevant in 2018. Retaining the same venom in Ozi Batla’s verses, the fury brought by L-FRESH the LION manifests into the best rap verse of the year. Taking aim at the bipartisan policy of detaining people seeking asylum, racially motivated fear mongering used by conservative politicians to win votes and a shout out to 2PAC for good measure, the updated 77% may be less profane, but just as incendiary.

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#6. ‘Nice For What’ – Drake

As someone who enjoyed Take Careera Drake, the ubiquitous presence and praise of the former Degrassi star has been a dog whistle I’ve been unable to hear in recent times. With his latest album Scorpion being a torturously overlong 90-minutes, Nice For What is the kinetic antithesis from his usual boredom-inducing MO. Boasting a pulse of life and interesting braggadocio that made Forever and HYFR memorable, Drake showed that at his best he can produce an undeniable banger.

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#5. ‘Arrest The President’ – Ice Cube

Following up last year’s bombastic police brutality anthem Good Cop, Bad Cop, one of the pioneers of gangsta rap delivered another solid latter day entry, this time taking aim at Donald Trump. Far from the first to use music to express vitriol for the current POTUS (see YG’s FDT), Ice Cube’s musical return to form Arrest The President shows that far from merely playfully winking at his intimidating image, he can still flex his lyrical muscles with a strong beat to back him up.

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#4. ‘All The Stars’ – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA 

At the risk of being labelled an iconoclast for finding Black Panther *fine*, my feelings towards the soundtrack album’s lead single have only grown over time. Among the year’s first big singles released back in January, the combination of Kendrick Lamar and SZA works tremendously in tandem with the production from Soundwave and Al Shux to create a lighter vibe without compromising quality. Following up a string of critically acclaimed albums with the versatility to deviate into commercial sensibilities, All The Stars adds to a compelling case for Kendrick Lamar as the premier rapper of the 2010s – especially given the waning quality of Kanye West.

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#3. ‘Confidence’ – Ocean Alley

Tight. Smooth. Soulful. These words and more aptly describe Confidence from Ocean Alley’s second full-length release Chiaroscruo, but the best fit for the Sydney outfit’s single is timeless. Boasting a terrific baseline and lyrics that give simplicity a good name, it is easy to envision it fitting in amongst AOR hits of the 70s, while possessing the groove to stand out on its own merits in 2018.

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#2. ‘The Story of Adidon’ – Pusha T

The history of hip hop is littered with feuds between rappers delivering diss tracks back and forth in an effort to claim ultimate bragging rights. Embodied by the likes of Hit ‘Em Up, F*** wit Dre Day and the pinnacle of the sub-genre No Vaseline, 2018’s most memorable face off saw Pusha T silence Drake with a verbal assault titled The Story of Adidon. Incorporating the beat from Jay-Z’s The Story of OJ, the three-minute track takes time to launch into proceedings, but after taking aim at the Canadian rapper’s artistry, cultural identity and paternal status only the most partisan of Drake stans could have any doubt over the feud’s victor.

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#1. ‘Straight To You’ – Gang of Youths

I make no apologies for loving the music of Gang of Youths. In a short period of time they have become a band I want to hear new releases from along with the music that informed their own creative decisions. Similarly producing my favourite song of 2017 with a cover of The Middle East’s Blood, David Le’aupepe and co. possess the ability to take the words of others and transcend them into compositions that feel akin to the modern classics of The Positions and Go Farther In Lightness. Some may deem choosing a 26-year-old Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds cover as a betrayal of annual best of lists, but having carried the emotionally affecting song with me since March, I can think of no greater representation of my musical love in 2018 than Straight To You.

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Voting for the Triple J Hottest 100 opens December 10, 2018 before closing on January 22, 2019 at 9am (AEDT). The full countdown of the year’s most popular songs – as voted by you – takes place from midday on Sunday, January 27. Vote Now.

2018 Memorable Moments in Film

As has become customary at the end of each year, the slew of best and worst lists allows people to reflect on the previous twelve months across various media by highlighting works that enriched our lives, along with delivering a final blow to the content that wasted the valuable commodity that is our time.

Before settling on a list of the Best Films of 2018 (that will invariably change order moments after posting), take this opportunity to look back on some of the moments from film this year that left a lasting impression.

Note: I haven’t seen everything released in 2018. The films mentioned aren’t inherently good or bad – I just had a strong reaction to them. The list order is completely arbitrary.


Best opening to a film: The heist gone wrong in Widows

Working alongside Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn to adapt the 1983 British TV series of the same name, acclaimed artist/director Steve McQueen left an immediate impression unmatched by any other this year with Widows. Cutting between an ill-fated heist orchestrated by Liam Neeson, while introducing the titular women of the film with minimal details revealing the various relationship dynamics, the thrilling atmosphere established by McQueen laid the groundwork for a truly great film that showed Ocean’s 8 how it’s done.

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Oh god, this character is frighteningly real: Anna Kendrick in A Simple Favour

On-screen depictions of the internet being integrated into our lives have moved away from dystopian fears in recent times towards recognition and exploration of how people present a specific version of themselves online. Drawing upon the wealth of ‘mommy b/vloggers’ dealing out parenting advice, the opening moments of Paul Feig’s A Simple Favour sent chills down my spine that no horror film could hope to emulate. Watching Anna Kendrick’s portrayal of a suburban housewife sharing recipes on how to get kids to unknowingly eat a full serving of veggies was unnervingly accurate, not only in establishing so much about the character of Stephanie Smothers, but in embodying the overenthusiasm of an aspiring online personality.

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Biggest unintentional laugh: Christian Grey’s piano serenade in Fifty Shades Freed

For as titillating as the Fifty Shades series would claim to be, the overwhelming legacy left is a combination of boredom and blandness. There is of course one notable exception from the third (and thankfully final) instalment, Fifty Shades Freed when out of nowhere Jamie Dornan serenades Dakota Johnson with a piano rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. I’m sure the filmmakers intended the scene to be taken seriously, however my reaction of bursting into hysterical laughter, much to the embarrassment of my friend and annoyance from the packed audience, ensured I was provided with at least one instance of pleasure from the otherwise flavourless trilogy.

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I wish this had been the whole movie: The restaurant scene in Venom

In reviewing Venom back in October I referred to it as “a perfectly fine, if not completely disposable comic book film”. Lacking much of the visual and comedic flair that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse a sheer delight, the cinematic symbiote wanting to be unleashed manifested itself during a bizarre sequence at a restaurant wherein Tom Hardy jumps into a lobster tank to eat raw crustaceans, all the while Michelle Williams looks on in horror. Had director Ruben Fleischer allowed the film to stay on that zany wavelength throughout, Venom may have taken over the reign of The Book of Henry as the WTF! film of recent years.

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Too close to home: Chris O’Dowd’s music blog in Juliet, Naked

One of the hidden gems of 2018 was undoubtedly Juliet, Naked, the latest adaptation of English author Nick Hornby’s work. Having vividly captured the role being a sporting fan plays in a person’s life in Fever Pitch, Hornby’s take on the way musicians are placed on pedestals is simultaneously empathetic to the importance music plays in providing meaning to people’s lives, while also shattering the illusion of the individual as a creative genius. As someone who has spent hundreds of dollars purchasing merchandise, seeking out live recordings and discussing the music of Australian rock band Gang of Youths online, I found Chris O’Dowd’s character to arouse the type of nervous laughter that comes from being dead on in its depiction.

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Favourite Death: Malin Akerman being eaten alive by a genetically mutated gorilla in Rampage

For as gloriously violent as The Night Comes For Us is in continuing the inventive body counts of Indonesian action films, the manner in which the ridiculously entertaining Rampage offed Malin Akerman proved the most satisfying demise of a character in 2018. Having indulged in cartoonish villainy as a nefarious CEO responsible for genetically engineering various animals for biological warfare, the sight of Akerman being picked up and swallowed whole by a giant gorilla allowed audiences to unashamedly feel good about applauding the death of someone who had it coming.

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The most unexpectedly inappropriate line of 2018: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams in Book Club

In a year that saw John Cena chug a beer through his anus, the dirtiest moment came by way of four senior citizens making the type of joke usually reserved for Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith. While Book Club remains a bland comedy uninterested in exploring the emotional and physical desires of mature adults, hearing Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen refer to Candice Bergen’s vagina as ‘the cave of forgotten dreams’ evoked the type of shocked laughter to be wholeheartedly endorsed.

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Most uncomfortable scene of 2018: The car ride home in Eighth Grade

What makes something uncomfortable when watching a film isn’t always the act itself, but the dread of being helpless to prevent it. Similar to last year’s emotionally wrecking Algiers Motel sequence in Detroit, the tension of seeing Kayla (Elsie Fisher) being driven home by an older male acquaintance in Eighth Grade elicited the same feeling as seeing Han Solo reunite with his son – instinctively I knew something very bad was about to unfold. Taking on additional impact given the current cultural climate, the all too real horror of Kayla’s trauma makes the eventual compassion shown towards her by another peer vitally reassuring.

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I am my father’s son: “I am Prin” in The Commuter

In the decade since its release the succession of Taken-copycats have maintained a reasonable degree of quality while giving fans a reliable source of Liam Neeson being a badass. Teaming up with Jaume Collet-Serra for a fourth collaboration, The Commuter is familiar to a fault, but in a third-act cliché that is both played out and beloved, the response shared with my father left no doubt that I am his son. With the film’s MacGuffin revolving around which train passenger is Prin – the witness to a murder – the Spartacus routine taken by the passengers elicited mutual memories of the crucifixion scene from Life of Brian­ – “I’m Brian and so is my wife”.

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I wasn’t expecting to shed tears: Ivan Drago throwing in the towel in Creed II

Having first seen Rocky IV as an 11-year-old, the over-the-top villain Ivan Drago instantly represented the silliest departure from the working class tone of the original film, while being immensely entertaining in its divorced from reality style. Viewing Dolph Lundgren’s character as a punch line known only for delivering menacing one-liners – I must break you” – the manner in which Drago is recontextualised as a tragic figure in Creed II proved to be the film’s most emotionally affecting aspect. Seeking redemption through his son having been exiled three decades earlier, the sight of Drago throwing in the towel as a sign of love for his son brought tears to my eyes and I am not ashamed to admit it.

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The dumbest moment of 2018: Darth Maul’s appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story 

As a child who grew up on the Star Wars prequels my perceptions of George Lucas’ films have changed dramatically as I have aged and been immersed in popular culture. Having enjoyed the largely reviled The Phantom Menace during my primary school years, I have come to recognise the flaws present (especially in comparison with the originals), but even as an adult I am comfortable in maintaining that the Duel of the Fates lightsaber scene ranks among the best of the entire saga. Part of what makes that showdown so satisfying is the technical craft involved in choreographing the action, as well as the emotional heft in unexpectedly killing off and avenging a major character. Better episodes have allowed heroes to be sacrificed, but only the death of Qui Gon-Jinn allows evil to triumph over good in such a shocking manner. In resurrecting Darth Maul for a cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the result “is an unnecessary justification to be up to date on 10 seasons of appendices”, while robbing the catharsis of his demise in an undeniably iconic moment from the prequels. As someone who found Solo to be an enjoyable time at the movies, the inclusion of Maul irks me as an example of the worst form of appeasing fans at the expense of quality.

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Favourite Scene of 2018: The Dance Scene in BlacKkKlansman 

For a film filled with moments to confront, amuse and provoke thought, the enduring feeling left by the dance sequence in BlacKkKlansman is of complete joy. Set to the soulful sounds of Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose’s ‘Too Late to Turn Back Now’, the sight of John David Washington and Laura Harrier falling in love on the dance floor acts as much-needed respite from the horrors of white supremacy depicted on-screen that remain uncomfortably relevant in the time of agent orange.

WashHarrier


 

“Creed II” movie review

Three decades after its release, the fanciful excess of Rocky IV remains a far cry from the grounded nature of the original Academy Award winning boxing drama that turned Sylvester Stallone into a star. Born out of 1980s US/Soviet tensions, the idealised story of an American underdog overcoming the might of Russian sports science would appear tonally incompatible with the character-driven drama of recent Rocky entries. However, in inverting the cartoonish villainy of the series’ most larger than life figure, the result sees Creed II rank among the most emotionally-affecting big-budget releases of 2018.

Taking place three years after the events of Creed, the struggle to forge a reputation outside of his legendary father’s shadow has seen Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther) rise to become the world heavyweight champion under the guidance of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo). Experiencing similar romantic fortune after successfully proposing to singer-songwriter Bianca (Tessa Thompson, Sorry to Bother You), tensions arise when Viktor Drago (real-life boxer Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, Aquaman) – the man who killed Adonis’ father Apollo Creed in the ring decades earlier – arrives in Philadelphia to issue a challenge for the title. Intent on facing up to the Russian opponent, the fight goes ahead despite protestations from Rocky, while complicating matters further a newly-pregnant Bianca leaves Adonis to contemplate not being around for his own child due to the all to real potential fatal consequences.

Drawing upon similar beats from the Stallone-directed Rocky sequels, the story plays out with few narrative surprises, but rather than feeling familiar to diminishing returns, the insights provided into the various paternal dynamics pack a far greater punch than the iconic training montages.

With Rocky IV depicting Ivan Drago as a superhuman behemoth prone to occasional spoken declarations of intent – ‘if he dies, he dies’ – the tone taken by director Steve Caple Jr. (The Land) and screenwriting duo Stallone and Juel Taylor treats the character and his son with great empathy, providing the audience with a level of understanding for Drago’s plight that manifests into a climactic showdown with an emotional heft not seen in a sports film since 2011’s Warrior.

While the inversion of Drago adds an unexpected flavour to the mix, the relationship between Jordan and Thompson is the film’s true strength. Presenting the couple’s romance with mutual tenderness, moments of levity highlight Bianca’s progressive hearing loss while also allowing her character to take an active role in the final fight that goes beyond mere emotional support.

Garnering significant acclaim for his reprisal as Rocky Balboa in Ryan Coogler’s 2015 predecessor, Sylvester Stallone delivers an emotional arc in a smaller role that should serve as a satisfactory conclusion for the iconic character, while Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show), Wood Harris (The Wire) and a selection of notable cameos from the series’ 40 year history round out an impressive cast.

At 130-minutes Creed II doesn’t overstay its welcome with a strong use of editing on display, along with a hip-hop inspired score that once again blends elements of Bill Conti’s work, culminating in a crowd-pleasing use of Gonna Fly Now. Aside from the derivative plot points, the primary flaw on display rests with the authenticity of the HBO commentary that detract from the overall filmic quality by over explaining the emotional point conveyed during certain scenes instead of trusting the audience to pay attention (“I can’t imagine him being satisfied not taking the fight”).

Following up the delightful surprise of three years ago, Creed II draws heavily upon the history of the Rocky series, for better and worse, to deliver an immensely entertaining film that will go the distance with bone crunching fight scenes before delivering a knock-out off the strength of its characters.

Newcastle fans – Friday 6pm is not the end of the world!

Hi Newcastle fans,

Before I go on let me preface this by saying I’m one of you. I love the Knights. I make a point to get to as many games as possible. One of the main reasons why I moved to Newcastle was to see more of the side in action. I sat through all of the 62-0 loss to Cronulla back in 2016 because I support the team.

I am on your side, so please hear me out.

As I’m sure you know the first round of the 2019 NRL Draw was ‘leaked’ (strategically released) in the News Limited press on Sunday. Based on the online reaction you have made it abundantly clear that the scheduling of Friday 6pm home games is less than desirable.

I get it.

For 9-to-5 workers and families the logistics involved in getting to the ground on time can be a tightrope. In an ideal world every home game would be on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Yes we receive more Friday 6pm games than other clubs, but do you know why? The Knights can draw a crowd in the fixture.

We are the exception to the Friday 6pm rule. Rugby League is a business in which broadcasters want content to sell subscriptions and advertising, while the business has to be willing to compromise in the name of getting the best possible deal. If the people making decisions can justify scheduling the Knights at Friday 6pm, I highly doubt the negative sentiments of a few supporters will dissuade from the money to be made.

The NRL aren’t ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘taking advantage of the fans’. There are 15 other sets of supporters who have to worry about picking up kids, leaving work early or any other number of issues that come with being an adult. If not being able to get to a rugby league game at 6pm on a Friday is the biggest worry in your life – you are doing fine.

I can recall a similar confected outrage a few months back during Members Appreciation Round. Some supporters took issue at not being ‘looked after’ by the club while others (supposedly less deserving) received special treatment. Lets get something straight – the club and the NRL do not owe you special treatment. You are not entitled to a draw that caters to your every need.

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be scheduled in the graveyard shift as often as we have over the past two years. The full draw is supposedly released on Thursday. Perhaps we will receive fewer Friday 6pm games. Maybe we will get more. In either case the world will keep happening and if it means you are unable to attend as many matches as you would hope to – that’s ok.

I would watch the Knights whenever they played – but I’m realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. I know how much this team means to a lot of people – so instead of bemoaning the ‘unfairness’ of a draw that you have five months to plan around, accept what it is and support the side in your own way.

Regards,
Rob

(All hate mail can be directed to @robert_crosby95 on Twitter.)