Bob’s 2018 Retrospective: 200 Mini-Reviews [Part 3: The Best and the Worst]

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20 They Shall Not Grow Old

I’ll be writing a longer review soon, so this will suffice. Peter Jackson directs a World War I documentary like you’ve never seen. Given the opportunity to go through 100 hours of footage from the war and 600 hours of interviews made in the 1960s from veterans, Jackson was given carte blanche to make any documentary he wanted in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the war.  Instead of the standard war narrative focusing on particle battle or war plan, he chose to look at the soldiers themselves; how they lived, now they laughed, how the cried, how they died. To properly do so, Jackson and his production company restored the footage using a variety of techniques, making all the difference. Instead the washed out, undetailed faces of fourth generation footage we’re used to, Jackson presents World War I lives with incredible detail. To see the lines on their faces, along with colorizing and adding sounds moves these men from historical statistics to then-living people.  In addition to the footage and interviews, he uses actors to read what lip-readers state the men were saying. I’m going to cut myself off here before I end up writing the whole thing now. But if you have any interest in history, particularly of the Great War, see this as soon as you can.

19 The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’s newest film is his most accessible film, more likely to entertain those perplexed by The Lobser or The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But that doesn’t mean he’s made in any way a by the numbers flick. This story of two cousins (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) fighting over the favored status of very ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is stil a very odd, unconventional film. I have never seen a fisheye lens so often used, and used so well. Almost every shot, character action, editing choice, or much of the dialogue is so different than expected from film it’s a wonder it held together so damned well (further up we’ll see another unconventionally done female empowered film). Everyone is at the top of their game. Olivia Colman is magnificent as the ailing Queen, as are Weisz and Stone. All three of the Golden Globe (and hopefully future Oscar) nominations are well earned, particularly Colman’s win. The film is wickedly funny, biting and sharp in one of the year’s best written screenplays by Deborah Davis and Tony MacNamara. Trivia: The story is mostly true, as odd as it is – Weisz’s Sarah Churchill is the great-times-some-number grandmother to both Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales.

18 Leave No Trace

In 2010, Debra Granik presented Winter’s Bone, a story featuring how awful people be to one another. Eight years later, she presents one showing how kind and helpful people will be at the drop of a hat. Ben Foster (no relation) and Thomasin MacKenzie play a father and daugther living off the grid in a forest outside of Portland, Oregon. He’s battling PTSD in the way he knows how – separating from a world he can’t connect with. However, his daughter, while happy with their situation, is struggling as she wants to see more of others. After they are found, programs help them assimilate to society – at different successes for each of them. Their journey, literally and metaphorically, is perfectly realized, with true character and arcs. Thomasin MacKenzie joins Elsie Fisher of Eighth Grade in a commanding performance from someone so young; she handles the myriad of emotions and struggles as Tom tries to find what she needs to do for herself and for her father. As the father, Ben Foster is far more subdued than his normally outspoken performance type and is equally brilliant. As I noted in the opening, there is a strong sense of helpfulness and positivist as an undercurrent through their personal struggles, reminded us there is good in the world ready to help those who need it; and sometimes accepting that help can be as hard as not having it. Leave No Trace is a brilliant film that flew under the radar for most people but should be checked out.

17 The Tale

Laura Dern is one of the most amazing actresses working today, and has received many deserved accolades for her performance in autobiographical film written and directed by documentarian Jennifer Fox. In a perfectly timed to the #metoo movement, the film has Fox examining the “relationship” she had with her running coach as a young woman after finding a short story she wrote at that age. It’s a tough film to watch, creeping with unease in what is no doubt familiar to too many young women (and men). The Tale is fantastic with the layers of memory and just going into how these things can come to be. Sometimes it’s not as simple, one doesn’t realize they’re being groomed until years down the line – as did Fox. I doted on Laura Dern above, but everyone is strong. YOu know the other names, but I want to shine a spotlight on Isabelle Nelisse, playing the young version of Fox. To show the strength of the film, let me note my wife is not one to revisit too may films, this she watched twice in close succession. I had mentioned I was going to watch it soon on coincidentally the day she had put it on. She requested I wait to watch it with her.  The Tale is an important film. You watch it now, again in succession like my wife.  That ending. Wow.

16- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary everyone talked about this summer. Who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers? So many of us grew up on his lessons and his love. Fred Rogers was good man, maybe the best man and that’s all this documentary is about. Heck, it’s what we need right now; when the President preaches hate, a documentary of one who did nothing but love is the right choice. Don’t’ expect an expose showing some hidden dark side, Fred Rogers was the man he seemed to be. That, in itself, is amazing and makes this reviewer want to cry. I know I did through the whole film with it’s unrelenting positivist. Be the person Mr. Rogers wants you to be. The movie will make you want to be.

15 Free Solo REVIEW

Another fine documentary! A huge hit up here in Seattle, selling out the three theatres it played in during its whole run, Free Solo is a dizzying tale of extreme dedication to an insane idea. That idea? Climb El Capitan. Alone. With no ropes. Three thousand feet and five hours of terror. Why? Alec has a need to do so. The film, from National Geographic, follows Alec as he prepares and performs his death-defying feat, getting into the whys and hows of it. The climb itself is harrowing, some of the most tense sequences I’ve seen this year. Between the fascinating subject and thrilling climb, Free Solo is a must see. You don’t even have to be an outdoor person to enjoy it, I know I’m not and I love it.

14 A Quiet Place REVIEW

It’s tough for a film to lean so heavy on a particular quirk and gimmick and do well. It’s even tougher for the concept to work so well the audience even gets into it. In my screening of the film, the audience was so silent I was afraid to sip my water for fear of making too much noise. How deep was the filled theater into it? A character made a noise by accident in the movie and someone behind me shushed them in reaction. Not to be funny, just a knee jerk response. I was glad to read Reddit threads featuring similar stories. John Krasinski’s film is plotted perfectly, building and releasing in just the right beats. Sequences are tense, we care for the characters, and a great monster design.

13 Anna and the Apocalypse REVIEW

This zombie, Christmas, high-school, comedy, musical works in every last one of those categories. I received the soundtrack for Christmas and have not stopped listening to it. It’s that catchy. Put great characters behind the songs, add a bunch of blood (not too much, not to little – just enough for horror and non-horror fans) and you got a new film in my Christmas rotation.

12 Paddington 2

Both of the Paddington movies are pure joy. Like many others, I scoffed at Paddington upon hearing of it. After all there are so many lowest-common-denominator cheap kiddie flicks like The Smurfs (my recent thoughts on that pile here). But to my surprise Paddington was effortlessly charming, incredibly sweet, with clever and fun sequences, unbridled optimism, and nary a easy body fluid humor joke. Check this, the sequel is even better. It has all of the above, plus Hugh Grant in what may be his best role, ever. These films are continually clever, hilarious, and so damned positive and sweet without being saccharine. 

11 Halloween REVIEW

Following up a revered horror, nay – cinema on the whole, classic like John Carpenter’s Halloween is a very tough challenge. The existing sequels are often solid work in many aspects, and damned well entertaining, but they are a whole different beast than the 1978 original (I love you Halloween III!  … more thoughts on the series – listen to our podcast episode all about it). David Gordon Green’s forty year sequel, ignoring every other sequel to be a new Halloween II, is easily the most Halloween-like of the follow ups and solid as a film on it’s own. While it’s not a perfect film, it made the Halloween fan me very happy. Myers is legit scary and intimidating, exuding menace (the last shot of him… boy!). It has solid, often brutal, kills. The new characters are interesting, if a little underwritten (I needed more of Allyson’s friends). And of course — JAMIE LEE CURTIS kicking ass and taking names. But not just as a badass, there are themes of how this awful event forty years ago shut off her life where it was in that day. I’ve seen this three times so far – most of any 2018 film, and can’t wait for more. Biggest issue: No Ben Tamer. JUSTICE FOR BEN TRAMER!


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