7:20 AM |
The Films of 2018, List 2: The Rest Outside of the Top 50
A General Introduction
Sometime early in 2018, I resolved to watch as many films as I could and duly rank them according to how I liked them, and briefly note how each one impressed me. It proved to be a herculean task, so much so that sometimes the ranking sufficed but the brief annotation did not; often it was because of some difficulty having to set my thoughts on each film right after viewing it: opinion, I quickly found out, was a flighty, restless bird, and a film I thought I liked after an evening's screening would somehow evolve to some lesser evaluation the next morning. The otherwise also proved true: I would have visceral hatred for a film, but once I started putting down my thoughts in words, I would surprise myself by actually possessing some admiration, often begrudging, over it. And the whole exercise proved to be taxing. How does one exactly find the time to watch at least three movies a night, just to keep up with the sheer volume of film being produced worldwide? I watched a total of 204 films last year; I barely cracked half the titles in my list.
But 2018, on the whole, has certainly been a fantastic year for film, and while Hollywood films consumed most of my attention this year -- it is simply because they are easier to access -- I have noticed that the rest of world cinema has been muscling Hollywood out in producing films that are not only excellent in terms of technical execution, it has managed to produce most of the dazzling and memorable films of the year. Take note of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and Chang-dong Lee's Burning, which remained with me weeks after I watched them. On that note, I must make mention the fact that I have not seen many Filipino films this year. Philippine Cinema, without doubt, is one of the most vital national cinemas in the world, but it is one that has become the sole province of the Manila-based cineast, that privileged creature who has access to festivals and cinematheques. I have decided not to be bothered by this fact.
Please note that as of January 8, these are the major films I have yet to see, and are thus unranked: At Eternity's Gate (Julian Schnabel, United States), Ben is Back (Peter Hedges, United States), Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton, United States), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, United States), Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, United States), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, United States), On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder, United States), and Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, United States and Italy), as well as Ash is Purest White (Zhangke Jia, China), Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy, Russia and Kazakhstan), Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, Colombia), Border (Ali Abbasi, Sweden), Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon), Dear Ex (Chih-Yen Hsu and Mag Hsu, Taiwan), Girl (Lukas Dhont, Belgium), Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany), Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan), and Tale of the Lost Boys (Joselito Altarejos, Philippines and Taiwan). On to the lists...
THE REST OF WHAT I REALLY LIKED
Every list has an end point, and one simply cannot accommodate everything in one's Best 50. The following titles are the ones who are essentially the runners-up in this game, all of them films I really loved. They entertained me and made me think, and any one of them could have made it to the Top 50, but one has to make sacrifices.
51. Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard, United States)
What I admire about Drew Goddard is the consistency of his obsessions in film, at least in those he has directed, which includes the genre-wrecking meta-horror movie Cabin in the Woods: he is fascinated with surveillance, and he is intent on bending genres he loves. What he has done for horror he now does for film noir, and he does it with the twists, betrayals, and elegance of old but with a palpable subterfuge of undermining the entire exercise with loads of the ironic. Here he gathers several people with secrets into a lonely hotel somewhere in the borders of California and Nevada, and their collective encounter unleashes mayhem and bloodshed, much to our delight.
52. American Animals (Bart Layton, United States)
Bart Layton's American Animals would have been sad if it weren't also very funny. A stylish dramatisation of the botched University of Transylvania library heist -- where four privileged young men in an upscale Kentucky neighbourhood thought to steal rare books from the library's special collection, including first editions of Audobon's The Birds of America and Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, only to have everything fall apart for bumbling execution and sheer lack of preparation -- it is a gripping film that rips apart white privilege and youthful boredom, made the more engaging by talking head participation of the real culprits in the crime.
53. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
54. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, United States)
Oh, the think-pieces this Marvel concoction has spawned, each one more elaborate and thought-provoking than the one preceding it. It is not puzzling, the pop cultural cache it has engendered; so much can be said about its relevance [some would also argue non-relevance] for our troubled times. What cannot be denied however is the film's pulse throbbing with pure entertainment. It is crafted to amaze, and what breakthroughs it has accomplished are just icing on the cake.
55. Malila: The Farewell Flower (Anucha Boonyawatana, Thailand)
Anucha Boonyawatana's Malila: The Farewell Flower is deliberately slow -- almost prayerful in its slowness, in its respect for the pregnant pause, in its contemplative pillow shots and close-ups. I take that as its way of being meditative with its themes, which cover death, loss, love, and farewells, all woven together like the jasmine blossoms they fashion into decorative bunches. Two men in the Thai countryside -- one about to be ordained a monk, and the other about to die from lung cancer -- reignite their passion for each other as they prepare to embrace what the rest of their lives entail for them. It is a lovely film, and Sukollawat Kanarot and Anuchit Sapanpong are lovely leads. And then in the second half, it turns into a surprising hallucinatory quest.
56. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (Ol Parker, United States)
All the material really needed was a better helmer, and Ol Parker directs Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again into one of those rare sequels that vastly improve on the original. What fun this was. All the old cast are in it doing their bit with equal measure earnestness and irony, mellowing into the ABBA songs with such ridiculous joy it is impossible not to be infected by it. And the new flashback cast proves equal to that infection, and as led by Lily James as the younger version of Donna, we get a movie that resonates with characters we are surprised to know we actually care about. And in Lily James, we are also treated to a star-turn that burns; she is a surprise, the human foil to Cher's glorified cameo -- which is still fun, no matter how unnecessary.
57. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, United States)
What a strange, lyrical, violent film that is at once both riveting and funny and repulsive. Lynne Ramsay never shies away from subject matters such as this, and this time she chooses to follow a man on a mission to free a girl from white slavery, anchoring it on the superlative performance of Joaquin Phoenix. A strong casting choice, because Phoenix always manages to combine gravitas with quirkiness. My favourite scene has to be the killing in the kitchen, which ends in such a remarkable way I still cannot get over it.
58. The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, United States)
Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers is the French filmmaker's first English-language film, and he carries over to this new effort the same intimate probing into human relationships he had sharpened in his earlier French films, but perhaps with a sharper eye for the picturesque. [It is truly a beautiful-looking film.] Here, Audiard delves into the Western genre, and follows two sets of men -- assassins who are brothers [the titular siblings], and a scout and his subject who are at first adversaries and then comrades, as they cross the Wild West in gold-prospecting territory. The story itself is nothing much -- it is simply a chase -- but such simplicity is perhaps what is necessary in a film interested more in composition, and mood, and relationships. And for a very violent film, it is also surprisingly tender.
59. On Happiness Road (Sung Hsin-Yin, Taiwan)
60. The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr., United States)
61. Widows (Steve McQueen, United States)
I can see the appeal of doing a heist movie by Steve McQueen. It makes for perfect filmmaking exercise, especially if you want to put your own twist to the genre. Here, the twist is gender: a bunch of professional thieves die in an explosive accident, taking with them millions they have taken from a certain mob boss. Now that mob boss is after their widows to put up the missing sum -- or else. It's Ocean's 8 with grittier feel, and the performances here, especially that of Elizabeth Debicki's, make the story feel lived-in and vital. But the film overall just slips away from me, tempting to be unremembered.
62. Tea With the Dames (Roger Michell, United Kingdom)
The set-up for this documentary is simple enough: Roger Michell, of Notting Hill fame, has gathered together, for tea, four of the best British actresses who not only happen to be dames, they are also fast friends who have matured together in the teeming world of British [and also American] theatre and film. We are essentially invited to eavesdrop on an extended conversation between Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Maggie Smith as they reminisce over their lives and their careers, dropping delicious gossip about this and that, with the ghost of Sir Lawrence Olivier [Plowright's husband] being the most present. On the whole, this is a very slight film, but you're in the company of greatness and that's all that matters.
63. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada, United States)
64. All About Nina (Eva Vives, United States)
65. I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Zambia)
66. What Keeps You Alive (Colin Minihan, United States)
I love that the lesbian relationship at the cold heart of this well-made thriller feels ordinary and matter-of-fact, and that adds greatly to the effectiveness of this story. Colin Minihan presents a story of a couple seemingly in love as they venture into a vacation in a nice cabin somewhere in some woods -- until one of them is pushed, literally, into the realisation that her wife is a psychotic serial killer and she is her next prey. Minihan stages all these with sterling editing and pacing, and while the motivations of the characters often feel contrived, she does everything with finely wrought tension that you are simply drawn into enjoying every murderous turn.
67. Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico)
68. The Clovehitch Killer (Duncan Skiles, United States)
69. Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker, United States)
70. Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore, United States)
71. On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke, United Kingdom)
Ian McEwan's novella about a marriage gone awry gets a wonderfully realised adaptation in Dominic Cooke, which uses the story's conceit about time and memory as its basic narrative form: it hopscotches through time, going back and forth in memory as it contrives to tell the story of a young couple in love whose incapacities in sex renders have repercussions for their future together. Saorsie Ronan gives a committed performance as the young wife and talented violinist and Billy Howle as the historian husband is odious but I guess necessarily so. Are we prepared to make certain intimate sacrifices in the name of love? The film says we should, at the risk of future regrets. That it does a fine point doing that is the film's greatest achievement.
72. Science Fair (Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, United States)
73. Colette (Wash Westmoreland, United States)
74. Alpha (Albert Hughes, United States)
This is really just a simple story of a boy and his dog -- only that in this conceit, the world is that long ago past when man was just slowly inventing society and civilisation and dog is really some primordial wolf, perhaps the perhaps of its kind that would become the modern-day domesticated dog. The movie is their relationship, developing from initial distrust to one of friendly alliance -- and the simplicity of the story is augmented by the grand vista of the film's cinematography, so lovely, so perfectly composed.
75. Jonathan (Bill Oliver, United States)
76. The Cleaners (Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block, United States)
Watching The Cleaners, the documentary by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck on the "gatekeepers of community standards" in Facebook who are mostly based in the Philippines, makes my blood pressure rise.
77. Searching (Aneesh Chaganty, United States)
78. BlackkKlansman (Spike Lee, United States)
79. Unsane (Steven Soderbergh, United States)
Steven Soderbergh on iPhone mode is still a genius. In Unsane, he follows a woman taken into the wards of a psychiatric hospital against her will, and descends to madness and paranoia when she finds her stalker among the staff. It is an effective thriller with a committed performance by Claire Foy, and I love how stripped down and DIY it feels: it makes the horror more chilling.
80. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, United States and Canada)
When Nicolas Cage tells the rampaging being bent on devouring him, "You're a vicious snowflake," I knew this was going to be my favourite Deranged Nicolas Cage Movie. What is going on in this film? Simply put, it is both deranged and beautiful, its bloodbath and mayhem interspersed with so much inexplicable beauty I simply have no words to describe what makes it work. But it does. Let's just say it's about a couple in love but terrorised by a demonic biker gang slash cult. But enough said of this film, the better. Part of the pleasure is surrendering to the ridiculousness of its premise, and finding it all very, very entertaining.
81. The Tale (Jennifer Fox, United States)
Is there a more wrenching film this year than Jennifer Fox's biographical investigation of her own sexual abuse in The Tale? The story begins with an older Jennifer [played by Laura Dern] who only has good memories of a childhood learning to ride horses, taught by a young couple who seems to only have her best interest at heart. Those memories were golden for her. Years later, her mother unearths an essay she had written as a girl, which points to some shady shenanigans from that childhood. And then the memory slowly unfurls. And the devastation mounts. It's a perfect study of repressed memories and the lengths we go to survive trauma, and it's a perfect testament to the #MeToo times.
82. Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, United States)
What else can one say about Anthony Russo and Joe Russo's ambitious chapter-ender for the second phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It's long and bloated, for sure, but it's also grand and dexterous, managing quite well the almost impossible task of juggling so many characters and storylines into a cohesive whole, and gives us a complex villain in Thanos who eclipses all the other half-hearted villains that came before this. The film, a coda in the series, ends everything in the rightful melancholic note that quickly reminds us how much we have actually emotionally invested in all these characters for the past decade. All that came before was build-up and intensive characterisation; this is the reckoning. This is the rare Marvel movie that made me think.
83. Christopher Robin (Marc Forster, United States)
Marc Forster has proven once more that he is the director to go to if we wanted reimagining the fantasy staples of our childhood. He did Peter Pan in Finding Neverland, and in Christopher Robin, he gives us a surprisingly heartfelt live action rendering of Winnie the Pooh and friends. It is a sentimental film, but it works just enough to skirt mawkishness. And Ewan McGregor as the adult version of the title character manages to underline the film's theme about the beauty of remembering our childhood sense of wonder and play. I was moved by this movie.
84. Aquaman (James Wan, United States)
85. McQueen (Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, United Kingdom)
What I love sometimes about fashion documentaries is how someone else is always bound to hijack the focus from the subject. The fearless Grace Coddington ran away with The September Issue, which was ostensibly about Vogue and Anna Wintour. Now, in Ian Bonhôte’s McQueen, about the iconoclastic fashion designer Alexander McQueen, I was more riveted by Isabella Blow, a fashion maven who ultimately becomes a tragic figure in the film [like McQueen, she also died of suicide, in 2007] — but she was somebody who we best remember as always having an unerring eye for beauty, although the industry she thoroughly loved paid her back by betraying her.
86. To All the Boys I've Loved Before (Susan Johnson, United States)
The rom com has seen its resurgence in 2018, thanks in large part to Netflix, and in this cute tale of a girl whose never-meant-to-sent love letters to five different crushes actually get sent, we get also a redo of our expectations. I have a feeling the film is actually a better take of the YA novel this is based on. It's an enjoyable confection, and I am thankful for its feel for the genre, enough so that it can remake it in its own way.
François Ozon is not new to the film of stylish mystery -- he is a capable master of many genres, and a prolific one at that -- but this is the first time I've seen him handle something approaching the noir. A disturbed former model seeks therapy, and ends up in a relationship with her psychiatrist. That relationship leads to the mystery of the film, and the conundrum of the title: her partner has lied to her about having a brother, and that brother is in fact a twin -- the total opposite of him -- and this unleashes in her conflicting sexual urges. To say more is to rob the film with its steady doses of surprises. But it is sleek and disturbing, and totally deserving of a place among Ozon's masterpieces.
88. The Price of Everything (Nathaniel Kahn, United States)
89. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, United States)
90. Dumplin' (Anne Fletcher, United States)
91. Ideal Home (Andrew Fleming, United States)
I smiled a lot during the entire course of Ideal Home, Andrew Fleming's comedy about a very stylish, often bickering middle-aged gay couple -- one is a Martha Stewart type with his own lifestyle show, and the other is his director and collaborator -- whose lives are suddenly upended with the arrival of a grandson whose uncouth ways at first unsettles, but soon teaches everyone about love and kinship. It's so full of gay stereotypes but brandishes them with so much carefree, knowing abandon that I was just simply taken by it. Plus Paul Rudd. Paul Rudd always does gay so well.
92. 1985 (Yen Tan, United States)
There's something almost noble about this story, set in the titular year, about a young closeted gay man who returns to his childhood hometown and to his fundamentalist Christian family, to see them perhaps for the last time. He has HIV/AIDS, but he keeps it a secret from everyone, touching base with the people in his life, before getting back to the big city to live the rest of it. It's poignant and well-made, and the performances are emotional without being too earnest.
93. King Lear (Richard Eyre, United Kingdom and United States)
94. Come Sunday (Joshua Marston, United States)
95. The Little Stranger (Lenny Abrahamson, United States)
96. The Seagull (Michael Mayer, United States)
This is probably the most accessible cinematic rendering of one of Anton Chekhov's most famous plays. I did not care for Sidney Lumet's 1968 film, and my take on that film largely coloured my initial acceptance of this 2018 offering, despite its stupendous cast. But after a rough 20 minutes, where we also had to wade through the unapologetic American accents of everyone involved, the film does prove to have a good sense of structure, and a good sense of the tragedy that lies at the heart of this story. The cast feels mostly wasted in uninspired direction -- but the screenplay is good.
97. Quincy (Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones, United States)
Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones, Quincy Jones' actress daughter deliver a finely tuned biography of the music legend, which is occasionally poetic and frequently honest, asking us to consider Quincy Jones' rise to the top as a consequence of family tragedy, but also talent and grit, and ultimately a dance with mortality.
98. The Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, United States)
I wish sequels didn't have to exist for our favourite films, and Brad Bird's first take to this super-powered family in 2004 is one of my favourite things in animation. It was just brilliantly conceived: the tug of the narrative especially, and the brilliant 1950s aesthetic of the animation made us sit-up all those years ago. We do get more of the same in this belated follow-up, but more of the same feels almost like an anti-thesis, no? I enjoyed the movie -- I enjoyed most of all the multi-powered shenanigans of Baby Jack-Jack, which alas did not have a pay-off -- and the gender twist of having ElastiGirl take on the world while Mr. Incredible does domestic duties is perfectly suited to our contemporary gender sensibilities. The villain the film introduces is truly heinous, too, but the reveal in the end felt like a disservice to its conceits, and also like a twist we somehow knew was coming. It didn't feel like a surprise, but it felt like a kind of let-down. I probably wouldn't feel this if the 2004 film was a bust, but it was brilliance. And how does one exactly follow up to brilliance?
99. Sid and Aya (Irene Emma Villamor, Philippines)
Sid and Aya bills itself as "not a love story," but of course it is. It is just that the film, Irene Emma Villamor's follow up to Meet Me in St. Galen and Camp Sawi, opts to frame the love story in grittier subtext, giving us two people of disparate economic circumstances [informed by such lived-in know-how regarding current class struggles] who choose to establish a transactional relationship, only to find themselves overwhelmed by how quickly it could blossom to something else real. Anya is a flighty barista with dreams of making it to Tokyo as an entertainer, beset with family responsibilities she cannot escape. Sid is a relentless stockbroker bent on making it big in the rat race and whose insomnia could be a metaphor for the deadly dullness of his ambitions. They meet, of course, in a coffee shop, the favourite haunt of Villamor's assorted cinematic characters, and both proceed to go about Manila late at night, in cinematography so lush and precise cinematographer Pao Orendain should be lauded. This could have easily been another Star Cinema confection the way the story promises to be on paper. But Villamor chooses to tell it in elegant spurts and ellipses that you are quickly reminded this is not your usual Filipino mainstream cinema. True, it dips occasionally to the needlessly histrionic, especially when we are in the company of supporting characters making up Sid's and Aya's extended families -- but it mostly even-keeled, and in the central performances of Anne Curtis and Dingdong Dantes, we get committed depictions of complicated lives. The film ends in an ambiguous happy note, but it left me devastated for some reason. That is a compliment.
100. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, United States)
I love two things about veteran filmmaker Ron Howard's take on the Star Wars universe in Solo, the charming rogue Hans Solo's origin story:  that it is an old-fashioned heist story, with twists upon twists of betrayals, and  that it is so far away from being any part of the whole family soap opera that is the Skywalkers, because caring for a universe that is determined for the most part by the emotional minefields of that family story has become such a stretch. The film does what it does, and executes it with panache and dispatch that is satisfying, and I don't mind very much that it lacks the quirkiness it promised to have when this film was still being directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It's enough that we get the backstories of how Han came upon Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon, and Lando Calrissian, although new characters Val Beckett and L3-37 could have used more screen time for the delightful turns. It lacks the gut-wrenching end of Rogue One, the previous standalone movie in the Star Wars franchise, but I've learned to appreciate films for the accomplishment of what they set out to do, not to how they fit my expectations. Solo is all right: I grinned myself through it.
101. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, United States)
I love how Ant Man embraces whole-heartedly the fact that it is a "minor" film in the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, literally and figuratively, and thus goes about it knowing it is a palate cleanser after the busy, busy episodes of Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. And so it could afford to feel small, and still be brilliant about it. Peyton Reed comes back to direct, and injects into the narrative some female-centered conceits of The Wasp and the search for Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet van Dyne in the Quantum Realm. It's all good and fun in fits of snickers -- only to be reminded of Infinity War gloom right at the end credits. The movie is a filler, knows it is a filler, and does mighty things to being a filler. I hope people get that.
102. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, United States)
103. Whitney (Kevin Macdonald, United States)
Is it difficult to separate the music legend from the cautionary tale? This is the second biographical film centering on Whitney Houston, one of the greatest pop singers of the 20th century, albeit the officially sanctioned one, and once more we are dragged through a tale of incest, sexual abuse, drug use, parental neglect, homophobia, and so on and so forth. Perhaps it is to justify the real life tragedy, and within reason, the film makes a convincing case for finding fault in certain people -- mothers don't fare well in this documentary -- but for once, I just want to focus on the music.
104. Studio 54 (Matt Tyrnauer, United States)
Matt Tyrnauer revisits the story of Studio 54, the legendary pop cultural mecca of the late 1970s, and does a fine job in assembling exquisite footage and wizened talking heads, in an effort to take a closer look into the behemoth that defined the excess and the glamour of that decade, which would soon fizzle out in the Raegan reckonings of the 1980s and the spectre of AIDS. In its straightforward, if nostalgic, documentation of those heady days, Tyrnauer demystifies the discotheque for our age, but at the same time ponders on the magical that made it happen in the first place.
105. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (Jerrold Tarog, Philippines)
This sequel to Heneral Luna takes a quieter tact than its predecessor, which has proven divisive. Some really like it, some really find it a disappointing follow-up. I was not in the least interested in the way the film tries to deepen our understanding of the life of the historical Gregorio del Pilar -- his subservience to a flawed leader for example, or his tendency to embody the playboy of the Katipunan set -- but once the film kicks into high gear in its depiction of the Battle of Tirad Pass, it drew me in. What a tense third act that was, what splendid direction, what awesome cinematography.
106. Meet Me in St. Galen (Irene Villamor, Philippines)
107. Alex Strangelove (Craig Johnson, United States)
Gay teen romance finally finds a John Hughes in Craig Johnson, and in Netflix's Alex Strangelove, we get a coming out tale about a likeable enough high school boy whose quest to have sex -- finally -- with the right girl, his best friend and fellow vlogger, gets derailed when he finds himself getting attracted to another boy. It's a simple enough tale that's not explored too often in mainstream cinema, but then again, it's difficult to present a nuanced story about two boys in love with a girl standing in the middle of that romance, and still remain fair to the girl's side of the story. Johnson, however, manages to balance everything, and all characters just go adorably towards their fate while still maintaining the complexity of the sexual identity in millennial times. That it has that bittersweetness John Hughes was popular for in his teen tales is the icing on the cake. This is an adorable film.
108. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot (Gus Van Sant, United States)
This is Gus Van Sant's love letter to AA, done via the memoir of the late cartoonist John Callahan, who found hard-earned redemption from his alcoholism through iconoclastic art, the persistent love of friends, and a very good AA sponsor. Which all proved daunting, considering the devil-may-care nihilism of the anti-social Callahan in real life. Joaquin Phoenix gives his role his usual intensity, and manages to convince us of Callahan's humanity even through his worst excesses. Jonah Hill is effective in his role as a wise-cracking, no-nonsense AA sponsor, and gives the film an unexpectedly elegant gravitas.
109. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (Stephen Nomura Schible, United States and Japan)
Coda is Stephen Nomura's intimate documentary on the life and rumination of the famous Japanese composer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto, Oscar winner for the score of The Last Emperor. It has its own sense of urgency, defined for the most part by the Fukushima disaster that begins the film, and then the eventual diagnosis of cancer that the composer receives -- which leads him to reassess his life and his art. It is a little too scattered in places, not quite certain about how to shape this fascinating artist's story, but it goes about its randomness with style, and that helps us digest the film more.
110. The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery, United States)
As reportedly Robert Redford's last foray into acting, it seems proper that the esteemed actor -- a Hollywood legend -- would mark his retirement with a role that calls to mind Redford's preference for playing the ordinary chap going against all odds, but doing so with charm and aplomb. In this case, it's a gentleman bank robber who finds meaning in his life by leading this kind of criminal life -- until a young police officer finds it in his best interest to pursue him to justice, and until a woman comes into his life seemingly ready to understand his life choices. It's a slight film, but enjoyable enough because of the charm of its performers. That this is Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek's first time to star together is astounding -- but at least we got this pairing, after all these years.
THEY WERE FINE:
These are the films that I also liked, but not as much as the preceding list. These are good and very admirable movies, many of them well made, except that they lacked something extra to truly move or engage me.
111. And Breathe Normally (Ísold Uggadóttir, Iceland)
112. Ramen Teh [Ramen Shop] (Eric Khoo, Japan and Singapore)
Eric Khoo's ode to ramen, memory, Japan, and Singapore feel heartwarming, and it is. It's just not a very good film. It's about a young Japanese man working in a small ramen shop in Tokyo who feel estranged from his distant father, both of whom are still grieving over the death of their Singaporean mother and wife. After the father dies, the young man takes it upon himself to go back to Singapore to learn how to make ramen teh from an uncle he has not heard from in years. So the film becomes a story of recovering memory. That's nice. But I was unmoved, because frankly it's not really a well-made film.
113. Gemini (Aaron Katz, United States)
114. Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley, United States)
115. Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub, United States)
Marc Turtletaub's Puzzle is a modern-day version of David Lean's Brief Encounter -- although in this case, the affair is not brief, it is more than an encounter, and it is certainly not chaste. Kelly Macdonald plays a bored housewife whose life is too-centered in the running of a house to be aware of the world outside, until the gift of a box of jigsaw puzzles turns on her curiosity, leading her to an illicit romance with another puzzle enthusiast, much to the chagrin of her husband. Perhaps in that sense this is a retelling of The Bridges of Madison County? Macdonald plays her housewife just right, but I am led to fully commit to the decisions she has to make in the story.
116. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Matt Tyrnauer, United States)
117. The Children Act (Richard Eyre, United States)
Emma Thompson gives a vivid portrait of a British judge who has to make a life-or-death decision over the case of a young man, still 17, debilitated by leukaemia and whose chances at life is complicated by the fact that he is a Jehovah's Witness. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, it delves deeper into the ramifications of that decision -- but the twist feels a little too outlandish, and one wonders if the story dives into complication just for the sake of complication. It's still compelling story-telling, but the pursuit of its themes is a little too unbelievable, you come away from it curiously underwhelmed because unreal. But Thompson gives the story an electrifying performance, which redeems it.
118. Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, United States)
The sophomore effort is always the tricky thing: how does one top the high expectations brought about by the successful first outing? The simple answer is this: YOU CAN'T, and people will always be disappointed one way or the other, and not always over the same thing. The Pitch Perfect sequels imploded by doing the standard Hollywood way of stretching the formula: be more, no matter how ludicrous "more" is. [Thank God, that franchise is dead.] David Leitch's Deadpool 2 is "more" -- it has more blood and gore, more CGI, more humorous pop cultural references, and more cameos -- but it is Teflon in this regard: by being the meta monstrosity that it is, "more" is part of its cinematic genes, and thus the film works whether you wanted it to or not. I liked Deadpool 2. It had me in equal parts wincing and laughing, and I've approached it by understanding what it was trying to do and judged it by whether it managed to accomplish that. Well, it knew what it was, and it did what it did -- so what else could we ask for of it?
119. Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen, United States)
Beautiful Boy is directed so horribly, not even Timothee Chalamet's chilling performance as a young man spiralling into addiction hell and taking his family with it can save it from the mess it makes. What is even more galling is that you get a sense that Felix Van Groeningen feels he is going about things in the best possible way, and you cannot help but hate him for the audacity of his conceit and style.
120. Smallfoot (Karey Kirkpatrick, United States)
Who knew? Warner Brothers is not known for churning out animated feature films that stay with you, the way Disney and Pixar does it, for instance. But Karey Kirkpatrick springs a surprise, and gives us a film that is funny, and with songs that are begrudgingly brilliant. A yeti accidentally comes upon a human being -- his community of yetis call the "mythical" creatures "smallfoot" -- and his pronouncements lead to a banishment. Egged on by friends, he goes on a short quest to find an actual "small foot" to redeem himself. That's the story, but it soon proves to be able to go beyond the strictures of narrative to become something else. There is a problem with the third act, but then again I couldn't see any other way out for the filmmakers to deal with the moral conundrum they had to wrestle with. That we are actually talking about "moral conundrums" is one of the best surprises Smallfoot gives us.
121. The American Meme (Bert Marcus, United States)
122. Destination Wedding (Victor Levin, United States)
This is probably the most misunderstood film of the year, garnering terrible reviews when it came out. But something about it felt deliberate that I had to make myself see it on the level of what the film was trying to do -- and I think the film accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and did it with a side of charm that's strangely wrought, but then again, it involves Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, who play it hammy and do a marvellous job at it. It's a romantic comedy involving two of the worst misanthropes this side of the genre, two admittedly anti-social persons, and that's an initial difficulty for the filmmakers, given that we are supposed to feel that this two ultimately deserve love, and given that the film entirely surrenders itself to their banter, with a nary a line of dialogue from the cast that surrounds them. I took that as the film's way of making us feel the wholly interior, wholly removed from humanity existences these two inhabit. And so we get their diatribes against everyone else in the world, why life has no meaning, and why love is a trap. But of course that's just all preamble to the biggest irony the movie leads to: even misanthropes need love.
123. Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg, United States)
Much has been said about Steven Spielberg's return to form in Ready Player One, a blockbuster based on the nostalgia-ridden fanboy fantasies of Ernest Cline -- that this is the filmmaker rediscovering the old joys of E.T.-style pure entertainment and that this is a just treatment of the controversial [and often rabid] mindset of fanboy culture the Cline material was totemic of. Both are correct, but I am more satisfied of the film over one simple critical criterion: I enjoyed it, despite myself. I enjoyed its realization of a video game world, and I enjoyed its conceits, and I enjoyed the final act bathos I knew was engineered to move me. I'm a sucker for finely tuned sentimentality, and Spielberg is its primary genius.
124. Ocean's 8 (Gary Ross, United States)
This retread of the testosterone-filled heist trilogy should be a welcome thing: it's a film that takes actressing very seriously, and what a treat to have to witness a cast like this trying to do the men of Ocean's Eleven (and its sequels) better. Only that it doesn't really: it's fun enough (especially Anne Hathaway's glorious self-knowing performance), and it's good enough, but it doesn't live up to its promises. The eight don't really get to do anything, and we wish they did.
125. Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle, United States)
126. Mid90s (Jonah Hill, United States)
Crystal Moselle's Skate Kitchen and Jonah Hill's Mid90s are essentially the same story following the same essential beats -- lonely kid in a somewhat dysfunctional family finds friendship, with all its attendant camaraderie and challenges, with a bunch of skaters. And then we get that beyond the passion for skating, everyone has lives on the brink of some personal disaster. The only difference is the gender flip. Moselle's film follow girls -- which is a refreshing take. And Hill's follow boys, but gives it texture by setting the story in the titular timespan, and infuses it with a sensibility that reminds me of Larry Clark, minus the edgy stuff. They are very good films with very observant eyes, clearly made with autobiographical passions. They, together with the documentary Minding the Gap, make 2018 very much a year of the skater movies.
127. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville, United States)
This documentary on Fred Rogers, icon of children's television and moral voice for the transforming power of the arts, has become one of the year's most successful documentaries, which means it has definitely found an audience. It's a fine document chronicling the life of a pop cultural hero. And yet something about it plods, which leaves a sense of disinterestedness in its subject that I cannot shake.
128. Johnny English Strikes Again (David Kerr, United States)
129. Chappaquiddick (John Curran, United States)
I still do not get the appeal of Jason Clarke, but I can understand why he has been cast in the role of Ted Kennedy in his prime: perhaps because of the physical beefiness, and perhaps because of the quiet machismo both inhabit. But he does a fine job detailing the late politician's privilege and turmoil as he and Kennedy-adjacent friends dealt with the infamous Chappaquiddick accident where a young woman drowned while Ted was behind the wheels of the car that had plunged into the river. The film makes an epic over an incident.
130. Stella's Last Weekend (Polly Draper, United States)
Part of the pleasure of Stella's Last Weekend is seeing actual brothers Nat Wolff and Alex Wolff play siblings in a movie directed by their mother. It's the nuances they give off -- you could see they're performing with so much knowledge of each other's history, and a lot of that contribute to the success of the story, which is about dying pets, betrayal, and the lost love. The chemistry helps, given that most of the characters are simply unlikeable; yet by the time we get to the ending, we have learned to care for them, which is telling of the film's undercurrent of charisma.
131. I Kill Giants (Anders Walter, United States)
Anders Walter's I Kill Giants really is a retread of A Monster Calls, the 2016 dark fantasy directed by J.A. Bayona, but I don't mind the shared DNA of grieving child, fierce embodiments of psychological monsters, and dying parents. There is sincerity in the storytelling, and there is wonder in the raw performances of its young leads. It feels a little bit too stretched-out as a story, but never mind that.
132. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, United States)
The last film directed by Orson Welles -- arguably the greatest and most influential American film director -- has finally hurdled all its legal troubles and has been assembled, according to the vision of the late filmmaker. We rejoice of course. This film has become legendary for its unfinished status, and now that it is here with us, it is simply a gift. That is its sole saving grace. Because the film itself -- a thinly veiled self-assessment by Welles where he follows the travails of an ageing director [played by the great John Huston] contemplating his last film, also titled The Other Side of the Wind -- is not much to look at, and is incoherent in so many places, it becomes a chore.
133. Postcards From London (Steve McLean, United Kingdom)
Steve McLean took a long time to get his follow-up to Postcards From America (1990), but here he is with Postcards From London, and he retains his stylish take that reminds me somewhat of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle (1982) but minus its brazen sexiness and danger. Which is strange because he puts the glorious Harris Dickinson front and centre in this tale of naive boy from Sussex who finds himself in London becoming a special kind of male escort: someone who titillates you intellectually in post-coital bliss, and someone who aspires to become an artist's muse. It's a strange tale that should have worked, given how McLean stages this in theatrical soundstages and through tableaus -- but it is mostly lifeless. It's very pretty to look at though.
134. The Wife (Björn Runge, United States and Sweden)
Meg Wolitzer's novel never mentions that the literary prize at the centre of the story is the Nobel Prize; that's a detail original to the film. And that is its greatest strength. Because it gives exquisite detail to a ceremony we are not really privy to. But the film is not a documentary about the Nobel Prize; it is the domestic drama about a housewife who has to come to some reckoning when her novelist husband receives the prize -- and we soon learn he's not totally deserving of it, because of certain secret reasons. As essayed by Glenn Close, the film becomes a watchable drama of her character's inner struggles, and she is very, very good in the role. The film that surrounds her however is a failure in execution, constantly uninspired in its aesthetic choices and pacing.
135. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, United States)
136. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, United States)
Take the absurd zaniness of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and mix it with the social message of Martin Ritt's Norma Rae complete with a hood vibe, and you will get Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, an idiosyncratic comedy about a down-and-out black man who finds himself becoming a telemarketer, soon ensnared in the strange games of labor relations and slavery and climbing the ladder of success ... and human experimentation? It's funny in bits and pieces, but I'm not sure it holds up as a whole of a piece.
137. I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, United States)
Sometimes you just wish a film didn't have to hit its predictable marks, especially given a strange dramatic development you just wished the film stayed in. But Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein wants a formulaic redemption story, so this is what we get. Amy Schumer is a New York girl working for a cosmetics company in the bowels of their online shopping department, and seriously plagued with a body image problem and crippling self-doubts. That is until she hits herself in the head in a freak gym accident, and suddenly sees herself in a new light: she finds herself very beautiful. The conceit of the film is that we never get to see what the character sees in her "new" body, and so it is abstractly fascinating to find Schumer going about her new life with such zest and charisma. But the third act calls, and you quickly lose interest.
138. Mercury 13 (David Sington and Heather Walsh, United States)
Mercury 13, David Sington and Heather Walsh's documentary on the women pilots tested for space flight in the 1960s but who were eventually denied their chance to fly by NASA, is eye-opening and saddening, giving us another potent document on male privilege and the fight against discrimination. It unfolds chronologically, offering us a taste of the earlier days of flying from the female perspective, and gives us the expected beats of feminist narrative. But it fails to give new insight, and engages only this much. I think it's a matter of framing.
139. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (Genndy Tartakovsky, United States)
This third entry in the Hotel Transylvania series gives us more of the colourful lives of the monsters we have come to love -- somewhat -- but transposes everything from a hotel to a cruise ship bound for the Bermuda Triangle, and also gives us a story where Dracula falls in love. It's all cute, and arguably unnecessary. But Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter's Laboratory fame is an animation legend, and if he wants to continue with his Transylvanian monsters shtick, well, let him.
140. Peter Rabbit (Will Gluck, United States and Australia)
Ugh, fine. I was so prepared to hate Will Gluck's all-too-contemporary adaptation of Peter Rabbit -- I did not want another miscalculation like 2015's horrid The Little Prince -- but there's something about it that eventually won me over. Maybe just the general huggability of the CGI rabbits [with the titular character voiced by James Corden]? Maybe it is just the endless charms of Rose Byrne, and the unexpected pratfalls of Domhnall Gleeson? The movie is a tale about warring neighbours who soon unite for the common good, in this case love, and it can be commended for telling a story where there are really no villains. Which is refreshing. I giggled all throughout, always against my will, and in the end I just surrendered to it. Certainly not a film that will prove to be a classic, but it will do.
141. Psychokinesis (Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea)
For South Korea's first superhero movie, Yeon Sang-ho's Psychokinesis is absolutely bonkers, a kimchi-styled Hancock with a dash of Batteries Not Included for measure. Which probably is for the best. This is not your superhero movie of the Marvel or DC mold; this is an Average Joe finding out he has telekinesis and can fly, deals haphazardly with his newfound powers, and tries to use it for the good as he fights to save his relationship with his estranged daughter and aid her in her neighbourhood's fight against a mob-controlled developer eager to raze their neighbourhood to make way for a cheap commercial complex geared towards Chinese tourists. (Ha.) It's all bumbling comedy in the execution, and perhaps that's for the film's benefit. I enjoyed it, but it was a little too bumbling for comfort, hitting all the usual predictable dramatic notes I could see the ending from far away. I enjoyed Jung Yu-mi's brutal and ditsy Director Hong, however, a true delight -- which proved a satisfying counterpoint to Shim Eun-kyung's exasperating Shin Roo-mi. Perhaps that's the source of my ambivalence for this latest film by the director of Train to Busan -- Roo-mi's the emotional fulcrum that the story insists we must root for; I couldn't buy her awful, one-note characterisation, hence I could not root for the film's conceit. When you're rooting for the villainess instead of the damsel in distress, there's something wrong with the story.
142. Veronica (Paco Plaza, Spain)
A Spanish entry into the ouija board subgenre of horror movies, Paco Plaza's Veronica makes up for its too-subtle scares [frankly, it is not very scary] with its command of cinematic inventiveness. That it also immerses us thoroughly into the relationships of the siblings the demons of the film would soon be terrorising is also a commendation; their tribulation is our torture -- and for that, we are grateful.
143. 6 Balloons (Marja-Lewis Ryan, United States)
Marja-Lewis Ryan's 6 Balloons is one of those small films that thrive quite well in their smallness: without expectations attending it, it manages to surprise, and not just because it is effective filmmaking, it is a film that delves into a difficult topic and limns it well. Two siblings try to get through a day and a night, challenged by the fact that the brother is heroine-addicted, needs a fix, and can't seem to get into rehab, and the sister loves him but has had enough. It is affecting drama, with adequate performances from its two leads, and I liked it.
144. Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (Jun Robles Lana, Philippines)
I hated her excruciating performance in That Thing Called Tadhana (2014), but when Angelica Panganiban does hijinks comedies, as she did in Here Comes the Bride (2010) and now in Jun Robles Lana's Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes, she shines as a talent -- which frankly unfortunately boxes her in, but what can you do? A performer is defined by her strengths, and she is a comedienne through and through. In this comedy of manners that crosses over to LGBTQ territory, she teams up with Judy Ann Santos, and both play hapless wives to two men who have suddenly left them for each other. Drama, and much hilarity, ensues. The film is a little too long, but it is an enjoyable romp.
145. Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug, United States)
I found the reboot of Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander gripping and relentless, the caricature of old stripped away to give us an origins story, actually -- Lara Croft before her adventures, brave and obstinate and strong and vulnerable in equal measure. That bike chase. That endless action trying to escape from close calls. That delicious Daniel Wu.
146. Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, United States)
Guillermo Del Toro's touch that made the first Pacific Rim film fun and idiosyncratic essentially is absent in this Hollywoodized update on the robots vs. monsters story, directed by Steven S. DeKnight. Forget Mako Mori -- the character from the first film, whose character arc defined a new way to view female roles in film [the so-called Mako Mori Test is an adjustment of the more famous Bechdel Test] becomes practically inessential fodder in this cinematic effort to sell merchandise. That very thing, Mori's irrelevance, becomes the new film's gaping hole where its heart used to be. For the regular popcorn crowd though, I doubt that would matter: the film -- which centers on a sneak appropriation by kaijus on jaeggers -- delivers on the action and the spectacle, and alas that seems enough for almost everyone. I enjoyed the film, frankly speaking, but I had to readjust my expectations to that of unthinking audience member, which spells "forgettable" for this latest entry in a franchise that could have been the epitome of being the "anti-Transformers."
147. Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, United States)
What is puzzling about Mary Poppins Returns is that Mary Poppins Returns is barely in it. Sure, she's in almost every frame -- but the story of this film, directed by Rob Marshall with so much reverence for the original the latter seeps into the frame, unfolds without much contribution by Emily Blunt's titular character. She mostly observes, prompts others into various instances of song and dance, embodies sly naughtiness in prim and proper casing ... and that's about it.
148. Green Book (Peter Farrelly, United States)
This is Driving Miss Daisy in reverse, but still retains much of that old film's problematic racial undertones. A slightly racist Italian-American man becomes the chauffeur and assistant to an African-American concert pianist as he tours the Deep South, and hijinks and an unlikely friendship occur, just as formula dictated it. It's charming enough and it works enough -- but one of the year's top best? I don't think so.
149. Lionheart (Genevieve Nnaji, Nigeria)
150. Early Man (Nick Park, United Kingdom)
151. The Oath (Ike Barinholtz, United States)
This is what happens when divisive politics enter the personal, ruining a family's Thanksgiving and generally leading to blood and mayhem. The President of the United States has issued some decree -- is this even legal? -- that all citizens must sign a patriotic oath, swearing loyalty to the Presidency, and the deadline is Boxing Day. The usual political divide sweeps the country, pitting everyone against everyone else. It's a comedy, of course -- but it also feels prescient. It is the dark comedy to define these times. I only wish it was better written, and better directed.
152. Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce, United States)
I could see this as Jodie Foster's answer to Old Men Actioners, trending of late and mostly starring Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone. She plays an ageing, often heartless nurse with a secret past who somehow runs a special hospital, called the Hotel Artemis, which is dedicated to providing instant medical care for the city's wounded and ill criminal underworld. With the city in the throes of a deadly riot, the visitors to the hotel rise considerably, and deadly drama ultimately ensues with the arrival of a ruthless kingpin, and a wounded police officer. It's an amusing, if forgettable, exercise in style that has Foster enjoying her game.
153. A Cool Fish (Rao Xiaozhi, China)
154. Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa, Japan)
155. Intimate Strangers (Lee Jae-Gyu, South Korea)
156. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Yuasa Masaaki, Japan)
I love films that make me do work, that is structurally challenging, that do not easily give away their secrets to me -- but I must say that even Yuasa Masaaki's The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is one animated film that went beyond my ken. I don't think it's bad -- I even like the unusual style of its animation -- but it's a little too idiosyncratic for me, and perhaps it may be due to not understanding cultural subtleties. It's about a girl who can outdrink anyone as she goes out to town with a couple of friends -- and some sort of mayhem occurs, one episode after another. It's quirky all right, but I wish I understood it just a bit more.
ON THE BRINK:
These are films that are seriously flawed in some fundamental ways, but they have something that exempts them from becoming total disasters. That something, or several somethings, made me enjoy them at some level, but they are in the long run, forgettable titles.
157. Bel Canto (Paul Weitz, United States)
Great books often do not make great movies -- even something as brilliant as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is still awaiting its appropriate cinematic rendering, although you will have to convince me that Baz Luhrmann's 2013 effort was already not that. This new film is adapted from the superb book by Anne Pratchett, a sinewy combination of opera and terrorism, a story that explodes when a bunch of rebels in an unnamed South American nation holds hostage the partygoers in the Vice President's palace. The party had been in honour of a visiting Japanese businessman who is being convinced to build factories in the country, and he has been led to attend because of the promised presence of a great opera singer, played by Julianne Moore, whose voice had been the one captivation in the Japanese businessman's life. The book is human and deliberate in its design, while the film is a collection of images without vision, gathered together in want of a better execution. But that final sequence though will break your heart. What is art and how does it humanise us? is the film's big question. Despite its many, many weaknesses, the film does manage to give us some answers.
158. Backstabbing for Beginners (Per Fly, United States)
I guess it couldn't be helped. How does one dramatise the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme scandal for film? Per Fly tries hard, giving the story a lot of fictionalised cloak-and-dagger sheen, helped for the most part by the committed performances of Theo James as a newbie diplomat suddenly caught in the crossfire and Ben Kingsley Jr. as a corrupted U.N. official, but the film ultimately slogs along, unable to fire up a story of a scandal that's really about high-level bureaucracy. But if you're in the mood for high-minded thrillers with realpolitik undercurrents, this film is tailor-made for you.
159. Bleach (Shinsuke Sato, Japan)
160. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Lasse Hallström, United States)
161. Down a Dark Hall (Rodrigo Cortés, United States)
Rodrigo Cortés takes on the YA novel by Lois Duncan, which posits that art and artists are haunted creatures [and enough said in that regard, lest we spoil the story's biggest conceit], and updates it a bit by giving the girls we follow delinquent pasts. Because of their transgressions in society, they are forced to enroll in a boarding school -- a good alternative to prison, they are told -- with only five of them as students, and just as many teachers. Strange, no? But what's stranger still is the way the students suddenly develop artistic and academic abilities they never possessed before -- and soon the story becomes a haunted mansion story. Cortés tries, and the film never relents with its craftsman pacing, but something is off about the film. We are never really terrified, and we never really feel for the characters. Only Uma Thurman as the French head mistress seems to be having a grand time, but she was Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin, so she knows what to do exactly in a story that amps up the visuals but falls short of the heart.
162. The Darkest Minds (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, United States)
Some time in the near future, an epidemic has killed 90% of children, including teenagers, rendering the survivors with enormous powers, the veracity of which a shocked society has divided into colours in pop-up concentration camps -- the relatively safe blues, greens, and yellows, and the extremely dangerous reds and oranges, the last two of which are always slated to be exterminated. The film follows an orange girl who has survived by pretending to be a green, and upon escape from camp, joins a ragtag bunch of superpowered kids in search of safety. It's forgettable entertainment, but passes the time well especially if you're just up to nothing in general. It's essentially YA dystopian drama with a touch of the X-Men, and while the film was ravaged by critics upon release, a no-expectations approach actually yields small pleasures, especially from the committed child actors. Plus I'll watch any film with Harris Dickinson in the cast.
163. Mary Shelley (Haifaa Al-Mansour, United States)
It's a paint-by-numbers biography of Mary Shelley, the writer behind Frankenstein, and how she survived her testy relationship with her husband Percy Shelley, anchoring that stormy relationship to the stormy night in the Swiss house where she first concocted her famous monster. The production is lush, and there are moments where the film struggles to become a better vehicle for the story, but it ultimately falls flat -- and largely because of the casting.
164. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan, United States)
165. Blockers (Kay Cannon, United States)
This comedy -- about parents going to extreme comic lengths to make sure their daughters don't succeed in their pact of losing their virginity come prom night -- has its moments of delightful shenanigans, and the leads are fine in what the movies requires of them. But it's ultimately a forgettable effort, and you know the movie is aware of that. I wish American comedies are not made to be disposable, but there you go.
166. Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis, United States)
Garth Davis's sophomore effort is well-intentioned, and I very much wanted to like it: who doesn't want a proper reassessment of Mary Magdalene, victim of centuries' worth of character assassination in Biblical lore? This one promised to be a proto-feminist take on Jesus' great disciple, the only one who was there at his death and then at his resurrection, but denigrated to prostitute by a Church not keen on making a woman a major figure in Jesus' story. Davis tries hard -- but there is no gravitas to his version of the Gospel, and while Rooney Mara displays some strength as the titular character, she is much too contemporary to be taken seriously. Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, however, is a tougher pill to swallow. It's a film done in by its miscasting.
167. The Last Movie Star (Adam Rifkin, United States)
Somewhere near the end of Adam Rifkin's The Last Movie Star, Vic Edwards, the former movie star played with autobiographical undertone by Burt Reynolds, provides an interesting insight about life, correlating it to a film's narrative arc: "People will forgive a shitty second act if the third act moves them." Truth to tell, the first and second acts of this movie are quite shitty and banal, but something about the third act moved me. In Rifkin's film -- a sophomoric effort that needed a better screenplay -- Reynolds is offered a chance to examine his own film persona, that of box office king, sex icon, and famously assholic actor, and what results is a searing reckoning of a life either well-lived or squandered. That the film does this by pitting the old and greying Reynolds in actual "conversation" with his famous [and younger] movie roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance adds a certain gravity to the effort. It's easy to dismiss this film as being too minor, too much wastage of the stature of the actual movie star starring in this, but if we're generous enough to accept this as Reynold's confession, we will see that perhaps we have been given a privilege of a movie star baring his soul.
168. The Polka King (Maya Forbes, United States)
Jack Black always does well playing characters who are endearing and untrustworthy in equal measure. School of Rock is the epitome of that precarious balance, and he does it again in this biopic of an infamous Polish emigre who has translated his polka music fame into an elaborate, if silly, pyramid scheme. That it is based on a true story is simply one of its brazen characteristics. As a commentary on the American Dream, it is a sharp rebuke. As a vehicle for Jack Black, it is a well-conceived comedy that makes you laugh and makes you sigh in resignation at the same time.
169. Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, United States)
The Atlantic is right in calling Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as directed by Paul Verhoeven. It is Cold War drama -- but terrifyingly set in the contemporary -- that follows a former Russian ballerina as she ascends the ranks of the espionage world as a "sparrow," the name for agents who are trained to seduce marks, and it is executed with the panache of a burlesque. As a spy thriller, it lacks the tension of a cat-and-mouse game; instead it substitutes that expectations with vigorous sex and violence that only serve to mildly titillate. But Jennifer Lawrence's commitment to the title role elevates the film somewhat. The most powerful scene in the film -- during a training class where she is made to undress and provoke a fellow trainee to have sex with her in front of everyone else -- illustrates that commitment: this is clearly the actress' way of getting back at all those men who ogled her naked photos when her phone was hacked a few years back. When the classmate, who had earlier tried to rape her, failed to "rise" to the occasion, she finally answers her instructor's question and directive at the start of the class. What does he want? "Power, that's what he wants," she says, and demonstrates that she can take it away from men when she is in-charge of her own body. Alas, the scene has nothing much to do with the rest of the film's story. But good on Jennifer Lawrence.
170. The Nun (Corin Hardy, United States)
The Nun -- an expansion of The Conjuring cinematic universe which traces the origin of Valak, the evil entity from The Conjuring 2 that takes the habit as part of its corporal form -- knows what it is, and delivers just as much. Which means there is no real disappointment in this schlocky by-the-numbers horror film. It does what it does, it doesn't pretend to be anything else, and it gets its job done.
171. Fahrenheit 451 (Ramin Bahrani, United States)
Ramin Bahrani contemporarizes Ray Bradbury's classic by making it a reflection for our latest foibles in the world, tantalisingly played out as harbingers for a future without books, and with a hatred for critical thought. I admire it for sharpening the book's argument that the book burnings did not actually begin with the censoring fire men; it began with the people themselves complaining too much of the things that "offend" them in literature and popular culture. It lacks some of the book's subtlety and complexity as it jettisons some of its narrative elements -- and perhaps that's what makes the new HBO film a bit too much of a lowkey affair, curiously lacking bite, even as it deals with heavy issues.
172. Book Club (Bill Holderman, United States)
I really expected more from a film that stars the combined star power and actressing gusto of Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen. They are a quartet of successful women whose humdrum lives get a charge from reading 50 Shades of Grey for their titular book club. The banter was fun, and the promise of what it could be kept this from becoming too much of a bore, but even the sheer enjoyment of the actresses on screen cannot elevate the flimsy material, and it ultimately becomes forgettable even halfway through. The film is as bad as the Photoshopping of the actors' faces in their younger photos together.
173. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Eli Roth, United States)
It feels like a throwback to the Amblin titles of yore, which is fodder for nostalgia. And that can be good. It's also a surprise to find Eli Roth of Hostel infamy behind the wheels of a children's movie, which is about an orphaned boy sent to live with an eccentric uncle, who turns out to be a warlock, and sets about learning magic from him. Eventually, it boils down to a confrontation with an evil but dead warlock who has nefarious plans to erase the world via magic, connected somehow to the mysterious ticking of a clock hidden somewhere in the house. Lots of cute stuff, too, including a topiary lion that goes about its business in the most random way. But I cannot get fully behind a story where many of the plot points move along simply because the boy central to the story makes a lot of stupid decisions.
174. Venom (Ruben Fleischer, United States)
There's a buddy comedy bubbling beneath this unlikely superhero movie -- plausible since this is from Ruben Fleischer, the director who gave us Zombieland, who infused the horror movie with comic chops. Whether this was the intention for Venom we don't exactly know, but then again, it's a film that doesn't know what to be, and seems designed to be completely forgettable. Tom Hardy is a hero for trying to make this material work, and he wins us over with his commitment to this role, and when the movie indeed limns towards the comedy of living with an alien monster inside of him, it can be a chuckle and a half. But this is very much Marvel's equivalent of DC's Catwoman, that misbegotten Halle Berry project.
175. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (Ari Sandel, United States)
I am not a child. It has been a long time since I read a Goosebumps novel by R.L. Stine. I am not the audience for this movie. I cannot tell whether this is a good film or a bad film -- I remain indifferent to it. Does it engage? I don't know. Does it have some modicum of charm? I don't know. Did I at least enjoy it? I don't know. I am not the audience for this movie.
176. Game Night (John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, United States)
Game Night has an ingenious premise: fun, game-playing couple and their friends go through a suddenly all-too-real-and-with-such-bloody-high-stakes "game night" courtesy of a brother and his shenanigans with the elements of the criminal underworld. But the laughs are flat, and the performances are phoned in, and the film endures twist upon twist upon twist, it might as well be a game of Twister. A disappointment of no real consequence.
177. A Midsummer Night's Dream (Casey Wilder Mott, United States)
Casey Wilder Mott transports one of William Shakespeare's most famous -- and most engaging -- comedies into contemporary life with all its sensibilities. The lovers and the fantastical creatures of that play suddenly become denizens of Los Angeles, going about Hollywood like its some enchanted forest. The line readings by some of our favourite television actors are bad. It is a charming mistake of a production, but still very much a mistake.
178. Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (Wim Wenders, Germany)
179. Maineland (Miao Wang, China and United States)