The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Film

Navigating the intricacies of blogger law can be tricky. Just as having any kind of opinion on movies means you have to write a post about the Oscars, at the end of every year, it’s required of you to write a series of lists of media you liked over the course of the preceding twelve months. This is non-negotiable, nobody likes it or really cares, but it serves as a clearinghouse to broadcast your tastes to whatever niche audience you’ve cultivated and it looks good as a sample when applying for freelance positions if you can avoid swearing.

Usually, you start the article with some kind of whimsical, oh-what-a-year-it’s-been statement while still lamenting the inevitable passage of time, perhaps remarking on how your tastes are changing as you get older, or how becoming a new parent has colored your film or music lists as “more for those of us with little ones.” It’s all irritating. It’s long, drawn out, and we’re all judging you for it.

But here’s mine! Film, music, television, video games, but not books because I didn’t read anything that came out this year. Some stuff, particularly in the video game column, is definitely me catching up, and I don’t really care. This is stuff I consumed this year, maybe it is leftovers from the back of the fridge. We’re going to do like, five each, probably. Today is film! It’s all spoiler free, don’t worry.

Film

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Hereditary

It takes a lot for a horror movie to really scare me. Much has been said about the genre’s over-reliance on “jump scares”, gags that won’t work on repeat viewings and function as cheap startles that can usually be predicted by musical or pacing cues. Hereditary was not that kind of movie. A slow burn, which spent two-thirds of its running time as arguably the most innovative, uncomfortable horror film I’ve ever seen and wraps itself up neatly but brutal enough in a way that suggests it needed to “qualify” for the genre, this movie had the hair on the back of my neck standing up almost the entire time I was in the theater. That can’t be said for the smattering of youths I shared it with, who laughed through most of it. Toni Collette delivers an absolute tour de force of a performance, cementing herself as a wonderfully versatile actress, which you’d have already  known if you watched The United States of Tara. This movie was considered “divisive” based on audience reaction, and I’m aware the last third of the film was derided as “generic” by most horror film fans, but I believe the movie works and it made me uncomfortable in the dark and afraid of my own mother for weeks after I saw it.

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A Quiet Place

Not the same weird-looking, is-it-fetal-alcohol-syndrome(?) child actress, actually. An odd-looking-daughter double feature if you watch it after Hereditary, as well as a movie that also just really worked despite plot holes (“why didn’t they just build a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse next to the waterfall???” is the new use the eagles to get to Mt. Doom argument). Jim from The Office directs his British wife in a movie where you can’t make noise or some kind of pack of alien monster of indeterminate origin will come to your farm and try and kill your family. It’s really probably about your dad and how much he loves you. Masterfully tense, I was ashamed of myself and apologetic to writer/director John Krasinski when at the end of the film I said “what about Pam?!” to a theater of laughing philistines.

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Annihilation

I saw Annihilation at a dollar theater, the kind that shows movies that have been out for a month or two at a discount. Upon exiting, I really regretted not prioritizing seeing this much sooner, as the film was not a big success at the box office. It takes a lot of risks, and the last half of it is so surreal and visually ridiculous that I’m not surprised a lot of people couldn’t follow it. It also strikes me as a film that should have been held up as an excellent example of women-driven action/science-fiction, but everyone on both sides of that argument chose the abysmal lady Ghostbusters as the hill to die on far before this movie came out. Some of the most grisly setpieces I’ve ever seen were in Annihilation, but the heart of the movie is in its exploration of sorrow, loss, and grieving. While the Contact comparisons are a little unkind, it is a vaguely similar film, albeit quite a bit more well-done, and I’d call it closer to David Lynch going full Twin Peaks metaphysical aliens instead of Jodie Foster talking with her ghost dad.

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First Man

Spoiler alert: Neil Armstrong ends up walking on the moon. Gosling switches to his smoldering mode for what could have been easy biopic Oscar bait, but ends up being an extremely realistic and exhaustively faithful recreation of the Gemini and Apollo program as well as a compelling family drama. The best character in the film is Mrs. Armstrong, taut with worry as test pilots fall out of the sky or end up incinerated on the launchpad, as her husband attempts to literally get to space as a way to run away from his feelings. The movie does an excellent job humanizing and bringing to life Neil Armstrong, a person in history completely overshadowed by his accomplishments, and who likely is known (especially by modern audiences) for nothing beyond walking on the moon. Unfortunately, a pall was cast over the movie, without just cause, for not being rabidly patriotic enough, dividing audiences on political lines before the movie was even widely released. This is a damn shame, especially because had the movie anticipated this criticism and instead doubled-down on its relatively harmless, off-handed critique of the 1960’s space program (which is really just documenting historical remarks from say, Gil Scott Heron), it would have made for an interesting juxtaposition with Gosling’s stoic, scientific portrayal of Armstrong.

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Mandy

Without a doubt my favorite movie of the year and perhaps my favorite movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, was Mandy. Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, masterfully scored, and containing the best Nic Cage performance since AdaptationMandy reignites the Midnight Movie for a more cerebral audience in the most bizarre entry to that theater time slot’s catalog since Eraserhead. Ultraviolent campy in parts but unsettling in others, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in years. Its spectacular revenge-horror spin-off of 80’s tropes and aesthetics (a well that should have run dry already) masks basically an art film, which could be easily compared to David Lynch (again) but without the esoteric musings and with the visceral, blood-curdling action against mutants and LSD cults that make it palatable for even the most lug-headed viewer. It’s a gorgeous watch, rewarding your patience after initial pacing that might tax your average horror fan or somebody in it for living meme Cage to be losing it, and pays off in a way that will have one cheering or recoiling in horror at the screen. An absolute masterpiece that will live on at midnight showings and Halloween parties for years, I’m sure of it.

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