This year I’ve seen fewer films than any year for quite a while – 32, which is significantly down from last year’s previous “new low” of 48. You may need to go back to my mid-20s to find such a year of poor attendance. Yet, I think the trade-off for being less motivated and less adventurous is that I’ve seen relatively few absolute stinkers and far more films that I genuinely really liked. Picking a top-5 would be fairly hard this year, so instead I’ve decided to go the route of the MTV Movie awards, and single out incidents and occasions.
Best Scene Stealer
Death of Stalin is a hugely entertaining black comedy; there’s a seething sense of petty resentment and paranoia through the first half of the film, and then suddenly Jason Isaacs bursts into frame as Field Marshal Zhukov and kicks the whole film into another gear. He’s not on screen much, but when he is, you can’t look at anything else.
Best On-Screen Team
Mel and Jen from The Breaker Upperer’s are perhaps only a duo rather than a team, but they go through some stuff in the film and come out stronger than ever.
It’s been a year with big action films a-plenty, so picking a Best Fight is hard. In general though, the best fights advance the story or reveal character – a bit like the songs in a musical. There are some amazing set-pieces in, say, a film that’s otherwise a dumpster fire of ineptitude, The Spy Who Dumped Me, but the fantastic choreography only reveals how poorly they’re integrated into the story. The film which used its fights better than any other was Black Panther, where the titular character goes through some pretty major character growth in key fights.
Kissing (and sex in general) is bizarrely treated in films – so fetishised and fantasised that it’s often hard to recognise as a human activity. Only one film I saw this year showed any kind of physical affection that I could relate to as a human experience – Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan in Ideal Home. Their kiss may not have been “sexy”, because it was way better than that.
What is a hero? I’ve met a few people this year confused about that, describing Thanos as the “hero” of Avengers: Infinity War. Is the film sympathetic to a genocidal madman – maybe, but he’s still definitely the villain. So – who came out from behind, did the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds? It’s pretty hard to go past Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther; because he fought the toughest opponent and won – changing his own mind about something, and hence growing as a person. What? Character development in a super hero film, whatever next?
Not picking Eric Killmonger would be pretty crazy this year. I’ve got a few misgivings – such as the film never giving him a real name, and the absolutely unnecessary disposal of a superfluous girlfriend, which was done purely and only to make the audience less sympathetic to him. But, he was the villain whose motivations, methods, and purposes I understood, who was the most sympathetic, and yet who was still irredeemable.
Best Scared-As-Shit Performance & Best Comedic Performance
I couldn’t be bothered looking up their names, but the guys who did this the best were the gangsters in the bar in Game Night. Their utter terror played perfectly against Rachel McAdam’s straight-faced messing around, setting up an early big laugh that really cemented this film as my favourite comedy for some time.
Best Performance in a Movie
My cinematic year was without any Big Performances – you know, the kind of stuff that usually wins this award. The actor who really had to work the hardest though to win the audience over, hold their attention, and sell a range of emotions was probably Josh Brolin as Thanos. That would have been an extremely easy role to completely face-plant and ruin the whole movie, which relied on Thanos holding your attention.
I don’t really track TV the way I do film, so just off the top of my head, the show I’ve enjoyed the most this year was probably the latest series of Brooklyn 99.
Time for the big one. If I could only advise you to go see one film this year, what am I picking? Mission Impossible: Fallout, for showing that a franchise this long can still deliver twists, surprises, action, and the portrait of Tom Cruise? No. It’s a best in breed, but not best in show. A Quiet Place, for being so terrifyingly tense that you could hear a pin drop in the cinema? It’s an outstanding achievement in direction and acting, but maybe didn’t explode the human condition enough to be the single top pick. Blackkklansman, an incisive look into institutional racism that’s tense, yet has a light touch? It’s got to be in consideration, though it’s historical inaccuracies are a problem for some. Sorry to Bother You, with its excoriation of consumer/capitalist culture combined with an avante-garde take on race relations? Look – another 5-star all-time classic that’s just not quite as in my wheelhouse as…
The Death of Stalin. That’s my favourite film of the year. I’ve seen it twice, and both times I was completely enthralled.