Welcome to the JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2018: “it allows us to see things”
“I don’t know what space exploration will uncover, but I don’t think it’ll be exploration just for the sake of exploration. I think it’ll be more the fact that it allows us to see things. That maybe we should have seen a long time ago. But just haven’t been able to until now.” – FIRST MAN
This quote from Damien Chazelle’s stunning FIRST MAN resonates, I think, throughout the nine films I’ve chosen in my JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2018. Because although they don’t all deal with space exploration, they are all about the challenge of venturing into the unknown and what is learnt from that journey. There’s a wartime leader mounting a daring rescue against all the odds and the owner of a newspaper risking their reputation for a story they believe in. You have a mighty hero having to re-learn everything he knows and a courageous young boy on an intrepid search for someone he loves. Then there is an eager policeman wanting to make a difference, the joy and pain for two talented musicians of finding the love of your life and the fearless odyssey of discovery for one great man. Finally, you see a politician striving to be the best leader for his country and a virtuoso group of musicians create the greatest band ever. Ooo, I have been thrilled by every one of the movies on my list this year.
So, let’s get started. As always, the films are in release date order and to read my full review of the film, simply click on its title.
I began the year being gripped by DARKEST HOUR director Joe Wright’s hugely impressive recreation of Winston Churchill’s ascent to becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940. Set over three key weeks in the country’s history, we watch Churchill (an Oscar-winning Gary Oldman) battle against everyone from members of his own party, to fellow MPs and to begin with even King George VI (a brilliant Ben Mendelsohn), in his pursuit of the belief that to negotiate peace terms with Hitler is madness. Wright, from the very first frame, instils the movie with a sense of danger and presents these events as a kind of modern thriller. The film doesn’t lose any of its power in that regard on a second viewing and Oldman as the gruff but wily Churchill is absolutely superb.
Another key moment in history is played out in THE POST Steven Spielberg’s incredible and very timely movie. In 1971, publisher Kay Graham (a wonderful Meryl Streep – is there any other kind?) is presented with the crisis of her career when her newspaper The Washington Post uncovers classified material relating to a cover-up at the highest levels over the Vietnam War. With her editor Ben Bradlee (an imperious Tom Hanks) they have to decide whether to put their livelihoods on the line to ensure the information gets out to the general public. Taking place right before Watergate, Spielberg imbues everything with a rich sense of time and place and makes this urgently essential viewing that speaks so clearly to our current relations between governments and journalists.
It would be an odd year in movies if there wasn’t Marvel film (or three) released but not all are quite as much fun as THOR: RAGNAROK. It was certainly a great day when the head honchos at the studio had the genius idea to hire New Zealand director Taika Waititi to helm this third film in the franchise. Having made one of my films of 2017, the wildly funny and wacky Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi brought a similar sensibility to this movie and the result was a box office and critical delight. Chris Hemsworth turns in a really winning performance as Thor this time around, revelling in being allowed to make his character a little looser and humorous as Thor finds himself imprisoned on the planet Sakaar and in a race against time to prevent the destruction of Asgard. Most of this fun is due to his sparring with Mark Ruffalo’s wonderfully charming Hulk. And with a supporting cast including Cate Blanchett as Thor’s very wicked older sister Hela and a scene-stealing and fantastically freewheeling Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster of Sakaar, it’s a joyous way to spend a couple of hours.
I felt the same way about Wes Anderson’s latest animated delight ISLE OF DOGS. I called it a doozy of a film in my post and indeed it is. Following the quest of brave young boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) to recover his beloved dog Spots from the aforementioned island, it features an incredible roster of vocal talent including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Bob Balaban as the main gang of mutts whom Atari meets, as well as Greta Gerwig, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, and Liev Schrieber. It has all the hallmarks of Anderson’s inventive animation Fantastic Mr Fox mixed with the humour of his star-studded The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is terrific.
If you were looking for a shot-in-the-arm kind of experience at the cinema in 2018, then I’d say Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN fitted the bill. This extraordinary movie based on Ron Stallworth’s extraordinary story of how, as a black police officer, he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1979 shocks you and makes you laugh in equal measure. John David Washington (son of Denzel) plays Ron and the remarkable Adam Driver is his Jewish colleague Flip who Ron convinces to go undercover as a white supremacist. The parallels of then and now are disturbingly apparent in the film and it’s one of the very best movies of Lee’s prolific career.
And then there was FIRST MAN. I had such an overwhelming emotional reaction to this film, it may have been my singular experience at the movies this year. As I said in my review, I’ve always been fascinated by films that explore the space race and it’s bizarre to think that it’s taken this long to tell this momentous story. So huge kudos (and thanks) to Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle for bringing to life the events from 1961 to 1969 when NASA attempted to get a man on the moon and in doing so, creating such a visceral and richly emotive picture. The incomparable Ryan Gosling delivers a brilliant performance as the reserved but heroic Neil Armstrong, on whom the movie focuses, and he leads a fantastic cast which includes Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong as well as Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas. And Chazelle’s fellow La La Land Oscar-winner, the composer Justin Hurwitz deserves all the awards going for possibly creating the score of the year. I cannot wait until this film comes out on Blu-ray as I’m first in line to buy it and revel in its magnificence once again.
I was a big fan of the tv show Alias which apart from launching the career of Jennifer Garner, introduced me to a certain Bradley Cooper. This fabulous actor wowed me big time in 2018 with his astounding directorial debut A STAR IS BORN. Moving, romantic, tragic, it had everything – as well as a quite stupendous soundtrack of new music, much of which was composed by Cooper and his tremendous leading lady, the spectacular Lady Gaga. What a performance she gives, it will reduce you to tears as you watch her struggle to balance the love she feels for Cooper’s megastar rocker Jackson Maine whilst her own singer-songwriter goes stratospheric. Gosh, I want to see it again and blub.
And before I wrap up my JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2018, I do need to include two more films which I didn’t review this year but which were nevertheless amazing viewing.
The first was BLACK PANTHER, director Ryan Coogler‘s billion-dollar Marvel comics smash. What an astonishing movie. It’s a more serious picture than Thor: Ragnarok but it’s also hugely exciting, as we watch Chadwick Boseman’s majestic T’Challa fight off a challenge for his country’s leadership from Michael B. Jordan’s fantastically dangerous Erik Killmonger. Coogler assembled a brilliant cast for this groundbreaking movie and they all inhabit their roles with passion and grace – it’s exhilarating to watch.
The second was BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, which charts the rise to superstardom of the band Queen and their iconic lead singer Freddie Mercury. Being a Queen fan, I found this a really poignant and emotional experience, as you also get to see behind-the-scenes of how the band’s acclaimed tracks were created. And Rami Malek turns in a stunning performance as Freddie Mercury. He not only looks uncannily like the singer but he brilliantly captures Freddie’s charismatic stage presence. Gwilym Lee also portrays a spot-on Brian May and Tom Hollander delivers another of his terrific supporting turns as the band’s lawyer then-manager Jim Beach, cheekily turning up the pa system at Live Aid to make the band the loudest of all the acts – a lovely insight into an iconic event.
So there you have it – my films of 2018.
Looking forward to 2019, I can already recommend you catch Jacques Audiard’s fantastic new film The Sisters Brothers which opens in April, after being wowed at its first UK screening as part of the London Film Festival in October. And on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve liked the first glimpses of Captain Marvel, in which the Oscar-winning Brie Larson becomes the first female lead in a superhero movie – it’s out in March. Before those, you have a whole slew of great-looking films to be released as we head towards the Oscars on 24th February, including Beautiful Boy, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Vice.
Let’s get movie-going!