2018 offered up a lot of worthy contenders in the world of film, many of them spanning a variety of genres. Here’s Wavegirl’s list of the titles that stood out the most…
The Shape Of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s dark tale of romance not only enthrals with its captivating tale of a love story between a cleaner at a secret government laboratory and the amphibian creature it houses. But the whole film breathes a stunningly captivating use of colour and mood.
Sally Hawkins invests the right amount of innocence and passion into the character of Elisa. The scenes with her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) are so wonderful, that there’s probably a whole other film that could have been crafted from their relationship. Instead, the film keeps its focus on Elisa’s initial curiosity with the all-too human amphibian (deftly played by Doug Jones) which expands into something much deeper – and eventually leads to a plot to free him from the grim mercies meted out by Michael Shannon’s brutal enforcer.
It’s not difficult to see why it cleaned up at the Academy Awards (the film won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score). Yet it was another labour of love initiated by del Torro which bears some similarities with the fairy tale aesthetics of his earlier films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone.
The film’s amphibian star deliberately pays homage to the classic Universal horror character featured in Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), but casts a more favourable light over the ‘monster’ in this outing.
The Shape Of Water is a whirlwind of stunning visual ideas and concepts, which is easily del Torro’s most accomplished film to date.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Despite the unusual title, this Martin McDonagh outing delivered an accomplished character study that packed a real emotional punch.
There’s a solid strand of black humour in a narrative propelled by Frances McDormand’s character fighting for justice. Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell bring their A-Game to the film and there’s even a role for Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage.
As a film, it delivers some touching, poignant moments exploring ideas of resilience, friendship and hubris. There’s a surprising turn in its final third and the film is smart enough not to go precisely where you think its going to go. It’s no surprise that McDonagh, who wrote and directed Three Billboards, was also responsible for the excellent In Bruges which dabbles in similar waters.
As a point of trivia, comics fans will also notice that Rockwell’s character likes to read comics – and is seen in several scenes reading Mark Waid’s Incorruptible which, for those who know, offers some nice foreshadowing.
Female Human Animal
There’s a strange blurring of the lines between fact and fiction in this curious vehicle directed by Josh Appignanesi and starring London-based writer Chloe Aridjis. Utilising the surrealist paintings of Leonora Carrington as a backdrop, the film alternates between documentary and drama.
Themes of identity, myth and sexuality weave their way into the film’s progress as it explores the world of Chloe Aridjis (or at least a stylised version of her). Challenged by a friend to expand her dating horizons, Aridjis comments: “The man I’m looking for doesn’t exist.” But when a strange and elusive man enters her life, Aridjis is slowly tipped into a world of obsession and uncertainty.
There’s a mesmerising quality to Female Human Animal conveyed, in part, by the fact that it was shot on VHS. This lends the film an unusual, nebulous quality which enhances the surreal elements and gives the whole affair a dreamlike atmosphere. Meanwhile, a mostly electronic soundtrack (including a contribution from iconic synth-pop outfit OMD) helps to enhance the dreamlike qualities of the film.
Read the Wavegirl review.
Sea To Shining Sea
The world of skateboarding has always been home for strange and unusual characters. The independent film Sea To Shining Sea showcases two of these distinct characters as they blaze a trail across America as part of a classic road trip.
The chemistry between Robert Boerleider and Monihan is the key component in a film that flits between documentary and drama and offers an ongoing commentary on America, life, friendship and the correct use of an AC unit in a car.
Sea To Shining Sea is a curious film that offers up an engaging story. It’s a journey with a unique window on America observed through the lens of friendship, but at the same time invites the viewer to ponder on the same themes.
Read the Wavegirl review.
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird was one of the understated gems of the year. Starring Saoirse Ronan as the self-monikered Lady Bird and set in the California of 2002, the film is essentially a coming-of-age tale set against school and family dramas.
Much of the film deals with themes of friendship as well as the typical growing pains of bratty teenagers. While this could result in a cast of characters that are simply caricatures, there’s something in the diverse cast that viewers will find familiar. Either the brooding teenage musician, the sibling rivalry or the over-enthusiastic best friend, it all resonates with echoes of our own teenage years.
Saoirse Ronan excels as Lady Bird, whether arguing with her long-suffering mother (an equally excellent performance from Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf) or desperately trying to impress the cooler kids in school. There’s a neat development over the course of the film which doesn’t necessarily see Lady Bird have a blinding epiphany, but the final segment of the film certainly reveals a character who has come a long way from a self-absorbed teenager.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo was a surprisingly lot of fun, despite the fact that as a story slotting into the larger Star Wars universe, it was mostly unnecessary.
There’s some solid set pieces, the casting was great (without the leads falling into bad impersonations of the originals) and it managed to hit the beats that a classic Star Wars film should deliver. It perhaps makes the mistake of making that universe a little too small by all the call-outs and nods to other elements of the Star Wars universe, but not enough to take much attention away from the main narrative.
Equally, Rogue One offered a grittier take on Star Wars which, although it was tied into a lead-in to the first Star Wars film, nevertheless had a self-contained story that worked. On that basis, it’s a little disappointing that the main Star Wars films seem to be complete misfires two times in a row.
Solo manages to get the tone right, plus there’s enough wit and action to keep the viewer engaged. Hopefully, the actual episodic entries in the series can get back into that particular groove.
Sicario: Day Of The Soldado
Following on from the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario in 2015, this sequel spends more time focussing on the dynamic between Graver and Alejandro in the middle of the escalating war on drugs on the US/Mexico border. Josh Brolin does sterling work crafting the disturbing ‘any means necessary’ character of Graver. Benicio Del Toro, meanwhile, offers a slightly softer take on the cold hitman he delivered in Sicario.
The film drew some controversy on its release, particularly for its apparent stereotypical portrayal of Mexicans as being simply brutal cartel operatives. It also drew fire for its similar portrayal of Muslims as being purely terrorists. The truth is that there’s very little in the way of redeeming characters in a fairly grim thriller and certainly not enough space to bring in more nuanced characters (something the 2015 outing did with the FBI agent played by Emily Blunt).
Day of the Soldado isn’t quite on the same level as its predecessor. The excellent Isabela Moner is criminally under-used – and there are a few moments in the film that do seem to drag on too long. But there’s enough startling set pieces (and one surprising twist) to keep things interesting.
Read the Wavegirl review.
There’s never a tougher road for film to take than a video game adaptation. That said, Tomb Raider has had a fairly impressive track record dating back to the days when Lara Croft was played by Angelina Jolie.
This rebooted version starring Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) in the title role does a serviceable job bringing the franchise into the modern era. Keeping the tale as an origin story of sorts, it still presents plenty of action sequences that are worthy of its gaming legacy. The supporting cast present good foils for Vikander and the plot doesn’t threaten to spiral into too much CGI nonsense.
As with the rebooted video game, it’s a little more grittier than the Jolie outings of the early noughties. But there’s enough of a balance between action and some emotional moments to keep things interesting.
Avengers: Infinity War
The latest in Marvel’s crossover extravaganza had to do some heavy lifting across its two and a half hour running time. One of the problems with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the shared world element introduces an increasingly convoluted story where story beats in one film only really make sense if you’ve seen another film. Plus, the story has to contend with a large cast of characters who all need their turn in the sun.
Despite the complexity of dealing with such a huge cast, Infinity War breaks the plot down into smaller stories in order to separate out the various characters and allow for a more manageable narrative. Along the way, it mixes things up so that we get the unusual chemistry of having various characters interacting together, such as Thor and the Guardians as well as Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin does a remarkable job in painting a foil for our heroes that isn’t simply a scenery-chewing cartoon villain.
The end result is a story that moves at a brisk enough pace to keep things interesting, while also telegraphing the galaxy-spanning disaster like a ticking clock.
Read the Wavegirl review.
The horror genre has managed to put out some polished efforts in recent years, including the likes of Get Out and It Follows. Bird Box joins those ranks with a tale whose initial concept is pretty absurd, but in execution results in a chilling tale that ramps the fear factor up in a series of unsettling sequences.
An epidemic sweeps the world in which people are exposed to some (apparently) supernatural force which reveals itself as their worst fears. As a result, the people exposed to this force immediately try to commit suicide. Bird Box follows the story of Malorie, a mother-to-be who seems to prefer a life of isolation. Played with a gritty demeanour by Sandra Bullock, Malorie is forced to hole up in a neighbourhood house with other survivors, including characters portrayed by the likes of John Malkovitch and BD Wong. The need to discover more about this threat – and the frayed nerves of the bottled-up and weary cast – leads to some grim moments.
Bird Box makes good use of viewer’s own imagination, but also introduces additional threats to keep the pulse racing. The simple task of organising a journey to a supermarket for supplies becomes an unnerving sequence of harrowing moments. The discovery that birds can detect the presence of this malignant force (hence the title) only seems to exacerbate the tension.
He writes for outlets such as J-Pop Go, Electronic Sound, All The Anime and The Electricity Club. He ran the Julian Cope-focused Screaming Secrets for many years and also administers Virginia Astley's official website.
He has been featured in a variety of press and media features including the Metro and Japan Update Weekly.
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