Top 10 of 2018

This is a list of the 10 films I liked the most that I saw for the first time in 2018, in no particular order. There aren’t actually any films from 2018 in this list…

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017)

A mystery film centred around a murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation starring Jeremy Renner as a tracker and Elizabeth Olsen as the investigating FBI agent. The cast of characters is pretty rich and multi-dimensional and the central mystery of the film, though pretty conventional on the surface, is enough of a driving force to move the plot along and allow us to explore the central characters further. It also looks great, with the harsh Wyoming winter landscape looking particularly unforgiving.

The Ox-Bow Incident (William A. Wellman, 1943)

The simplest way to think of this film would be as a Western 12 Angry Men, especially since they both star Henry Fonda, but it’s not so simple as that. While admittedly not as great as 12 Angry Men, The Ox-Bow Incident came out 15 years prior and is a worthy study in the viciousness of mob mentality, something that is still very relevant today. It paints a fairly bleak and powerful picture of the more unsavoury aspects of human nature, and I would implore anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so at their earliest convenience.

Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 1940)

A wartime thriller set just as World War II is about to break out, the Nazis kidnap a Czechoslovak scientist working on a new type of bomb as well as his daughter, and a British secret service agent goes undercover in an attempt to recover them for the British war effort. The film is well-paced and not too overbearing with comedic touches to add a bit of levity, particularly from the characters of Charters and Caldicott (who I recognised from a similar film of that era, The Lady Vanishes). There’s a nice set-piece at the end involving a cable car, and the dialogue is always interesting and keeps the plot moving along nicely. The chemistry between Rex Harrison’s secret agent Dickie Randall and Margaret Lockwood as the scientist’s daughter Anna Bomasch also works extremely well, with the supporting roles such as the various Nazi officers or aforementioned Charters and Caldicott also contributing nicely to the overall picture.

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Barbara Stanwyck plays a con artist named set on conning Henry Fonda’s Charles out of his money, but the two end up truly falling for each other. A series of farcical mishaps and misunderstandings break them up, but the two’s love somehow endures. Stanwyck and Fonda are both great in this, with really believable chemistry, and the plot and situations set out are fairly amusing. The supporting characters help build on this playful atmosphere as well, and overall I found this film sweet and funny.

Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

Audrey Hepburn stars as a princess named Ann who is in the midst of a royal tour of Europe and currently in Rome. She’s growing tired of the pressures and responsibilities of her royal duties and ends up escaping her minders into the city itself, falls asleep on the street and ends up in the company of an American reporter named Joe Bradley played by Gregory Peck. Joe doesn’t realise Ann is the princess at first, letting her sleep at his apartment so she doesn’t get picked up by the police for vagrancy, but when he finds out he plays along with Ann’s ruse that she is simply “Anya Smith” and hides his profession from her, hoping to get a story he can sell for big money. The two spend the day together in Rome and, of course, start to fall for each other. While it’s hard to believe that a princess could walk around a major city without anyone recognising her, even in 1953, I was happy to suspend my disbelief because the film and characters are just so charming (especially Audrey Hepburn, who won an Oscar for her performance). I liked the ending a lot too, which was very bittersweet, and I can’t help think that it would be incredibly different if mainstream Hollywood made the film today.

The Ballad of Narayama (Shohei Imamura, 1983)

Inspired by the 1958 film of the same name, 1983’s The Ballad of Narayama is set in a small secluded village in 19th century Japan, which has a tradition where once a member of the village reaches the age of 70 they must make a journey to a remote mountain nearby to die on its peak. Our main character is Orin, a 69 year old woman, and we see her final year in the village before making the journey. Although almost 70 she is still extremely healthy and capable, but resolves not to be taken by fear and to make her journey to the mountain with dignity and to cause no embarrassment to her family. The majority of the film deals with life in the village, and it seems like an extremely brutal and harsh place to live. Near the beginning of the film we witness the discovery of a dead baby who had been hidden in the snow, found after the thaw of Spring. The reaction to this is not as dramatic as you might expect, and seems to be taken much more as a part of life in the village rather than an earth-shattering revelation. Later in the film a family found to be stealing from others in the village is punished in a particularly harsh and brutal manner as well. It seems in the village it is all about survival, and to emphasise this point there are various short sequences of nature (animals fighting, mating, hunting each other for food) spread throughout the film, creating a parallel between the village and its natural surroundings, both ruled through the idea of survival of the fittest. The film is gorgeous too, the village and its surroundings beautifully presented. Perhaps not something you would recommend if someone just wants to be entertained, but The Ballad of Narayama is harsh, beautiful, artful and raw.

Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1958)

Previously all I knew about this film was that it served as the inspiration for John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), which is explicitly evident in some sections of the film, but upon watching Rio Bravo I saw there was much more to it. The protagonist, sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) is steadfast and fearless in his belief in upholding the law, and it explores loyalty, redemption and the idea of community. Chance even turns down help at various parts of the film, only accepting help from those who are capable and truly willing. The action is well-staged, the characters engaging in different ways and a well-paced story which does not drag in the nearly two and a half hour run-time of the film.

The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980)

I’ve seen a fair few haunted house films in my time, and it’s safe to say The Changeling is probably the most creepy and effective of them all. George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a composer whose wife and daughter die in a road accident, and so he leaves New York City for Seattle where he rents a large, old mansion to live in, which had been unoccupied for the previous 12 years. Shortly after moving in strange things begin happening, starting with loud banging and escalating to ghostly apparitions. John finds a locked room with some disturbing old artifacts of the previous occupants and puts his mind to finding out more about the history of the house and its residents. The mystery of the house reels in the viewer just as it does John, and I found myself invested throughout. There are some genuinely chilling moments, where the hair on my arms stood on its end. I won’t divulge much in way of detail, I’ll only say you should definitely watch this film if you have any interest in horror, and even if you have no interest in horror, you should probably watch it anyway.

Marty (Delbert Mann, 1955)

This one is all about the performances of the two central characters. The story follows perpetual bachelor Marty (Ernest Borgnine), a kind and good natured man in his mid 30s who works as a butcher and is constantly asked “Why aren’t you married yet?” by friends and family. Marty has tried but never been able to find a partner, attributing this to his looks and station in life. After being badgered to go out by his mother, he meets a girl named Clara (Betsy Blair) who everyone dismisses as plain and seems destined for old maid-hood herself, but Marty connects with her and they spend the night talking. The chemistry between Blair and Borgnine is warm, endearing and easy to get lost in, and is integral in positioning them as a good match for each other. The supporting characters like Marty’s aunt and mother provide the conflict in the story, first pushing Marty to find a girl then trying to pull him away once he finds one, and this conflict makes the conclusion seem more rewarding, but the best thing about the film is definitely the connection we see on screen between Marty and Clara.

I Wish (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2011)

In I Wish, we see two young brothers with separated parents, each brother living with a different parent and in different cities. The older brother, Kohichi, hears a rumour that the first time two bullet trains pass each other it generates a mysterious energy, and if you are there to witness it you are able to wish for whatever your heart desires. Kohichi hatches a plan to go to the place where two trains will intersect on a particular date and meet his brother Ryunosuke there to wish for their parents to get back together, and each brother brings some friends on the journey with them. The film is nostalgic, whimsical and incredibly sweet, and the child actors all engaging and real in their own ways. It all feels very wistful and heartfelt, with the rich emotion of familial connections explored not only through this grand wish quest, but also through the smallest of interactions like baking and music. An emotional film which is sure to make you look fondly back on your own childhood friends and adventures, and long for the capacity to believe in wishes again. A masterful sequence of associative editing near the end of the film is particularly affecting, and only adds to the film as a whole.

A 2017 List

Since I’m an incredibly boring individual, at the beginning of the new year I looked back on the 12 months before, thought about what I had watched during that time and came up with a list. It’s my ten favourite films I watched in that year that I had never seen before. I prefer to do this rather than a “best of 2017” list because I won’t pretend to have seen even half of the worthwhile films that came out in 2017 by the time New Year rolls around, especially since lots of films haven’t even been released in UK cinemas by then. In any case, here’s the ten I came up with (in no particular order):

Boyz N The Hood (John Singleton, 1991)

I really liked Ice Cube and Lawrence Fishburne in this, and the other actors did a pretty good job for the most part too. A grim look at growing up as an African American in South Central LA, with the associated gang violence and racial issues you would imagine in that kind of setting. It made me curious to watch some of Singleton’s other films, then I saw he directed Shaft and that curiosity somewhat dissipated…

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016)

There’s a few films on this list from 2016, which means if I made a best of 2016 list in January last year it would be incomplete. So I feel vindicated in not getting involved in that kind of shenanigans. Anyway, off to the UK now for more grim and heartbreaking storytelling involving the poor and deprived. This is just an excellently portrayed scathing indictment of the UK benefits system and its labyrinthine bureaucracy, and we see the characters struggle with the consequences of not being able to get the help they need. The food bank scene in particular is harrowing to watch, I struggled not to just burst into tears. Not something you’d look to put on if you need a laugh, but an incredible and incisive film.

Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, 1996)

Having enjoyed his 1991 film Naked immensely, I was interested to see more of Mike Leigh’s work. Secrets & Lies is another great film of his which explores familial relationships. The dynamics between the characters is wonderfully realised, and you can really believe and feel the resentments and issues each character has for their own position both in life and in the family.

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)

Another UK film set in a deprived area and dealing with working class people. For some reason I seem to find that these types of films are much better done in the UK than elsewhere, but that may be because I’m from the UK myself and so get a better sense of realism compared to some US films portrayals of deprivation and poor areas which often seem cartoonish and over the top. In all honesty, Blade Runner 2049 is probably a better film than this and should replace it on the list, but I enjoyed Harry Brown a lot. It’s a simple Death Wish-esque vigilante story but Michael Caine is pretty good as the lead and the setting and some of the supporting characters are excellent (particularly Sean Harris’s drug dealer).

Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

This one sounds pretty silly when you read about it, a “ramen western” featuring a guy dressed like a cowboy helping a woman set up her noodle bar and perfect her ramen recipe and skills, but the direction, colours and general likeability of pretty much every character kept me hooked the whole way through.

Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

I had been waiting to see this one for quite a while, after loving both 5 Centimetres per Second and The Garden of Words, and even after the anticipation and long wait I was not disappointed. It’s absolutely beautiful, as all of Makoto Shinkai’s films have been so far, and there’s an unexpected twist about halfway through that turns a light and comedic teenage/high school love story into something a little bit more than that. I’d implore anyone to watch it, whether you like anime or not.

This Is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)

Once again, back to the UK for more working class shenanigans. Not much more to say on this one other than the TV follow-ups are all worth watching too, which I was compelled to do after finishing the film.

A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)

Another anime film here. This was one that I read the synopsis of and thought “That sounds pretty interesting”, then watched and thought “No, that was fucking incredible.”. It’s about a young boy who bullies and mistreats a deaf girl in his class and becomes ostracised by the rest of his class because of it. Years later, he seeks her out and attempts to right the previous wrongs. It’s incredibly emotionally impactful, and looks gorgeous too. If that sounds at all interesting to you, get it watched right now.

My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras, 2016)

A French stop-motion animated film about children in an orphanage. Once again quite sad subject matter, but there is hope found nonetheless in the interactions between the children (after a rocky start) and in the main character’s journey. Handsomely animated and fairly short at 67 minutes, well worth the watch.

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

The best film I saw in 2017 that was also released in 2017. I think everyone knows about this one already, it appeared on pretty much every Best of 2017 list (might as well appear on mine too eh?). Will be looking forward to Jordan Peele’s next picture as well, whenever that might be. If you haven’t seen this yet, get out and watch it (snicker), the critics aren’t wrong on this one.

 

And that’s it, there’ll be another list next year as well I imagine, I don’t see myself getting any less boring in the next 12 months!