We probably say this every year, but my goodness, 2018 was a cracker for movie lovers. From Marvel knocking it out of the park, again, to wonderful biopics, to incredible storytelling, there was something for everyone.
Here are Damson’s pick of the best in no particular order….Enjoy
A Star is Born
The $30-50 million dollar adult melodrama seems bygone in this excessive era of filmmaking, but Bradley Cooper found a curious new life for an old tale anyway. This writer was hugely into the Streisand/Kristofferson version, so had big ol’ expectations. We got a great, grown-up throwback with the new A Star is Born. In the actor’s directorial debut, he took a story about love, music, and other pitfalls, and made an ultra-appealing blend of romance both modern and traditional.
Modern in its glam-slam aesthetic. Old-fashioned in Cooper’s insistence that this simply is a film about a couple in love, surrounded by ridiculous challenges. Plus, old handsome Brad can really sing, who knew! And what a debut for Lady Gaga. To quote record industry execs, she’s got the “It” factor. Presence. Likeability. And that voice, wow. Thankfully, she doesn’t go “full Gaga”, which is nice. We HIGHLY recommend watching this on a Home Cinema system (preferably the Damson S-Series obviously….), to really get the most out of the live performances. You’ll feel it when “Shallow” comes on, my goodness, what a tear-jerker!
Spike Lee has always been pretty prolific in the arts, and if BlacKkKlansman is any indication, we should be pretty goddamn grateful. All at the same time, BlacKKKlansman is a 1970’s crime thriller, a comedy, a love story, and an absolutely scathing observation on how Racism in America was, and still in some places, nothing less than Omnipresent. It’s such a riot of ideas, images and relevance, that only a filmmaker as talented as Spike Lee could hold it all together. And how he does.
BlacKKKlansman is such a mad story, that it could only be true. Taken from Ron Stallworth's 2014 memoir, it unfolds into an, at times, bitter story of racism and the way it can pollute all walks of society, with some not-so-subtle digs at American Politicians, past and present….
Its haunting final montage, as agonizing a piece of film as Lee has ever put together, offers a harsh reminder to the audience: the minute you let up, even for just a little while, the “tiki-torch mother****rs” are just around the corner again.
Also, remember this one, because it’s the exact point at which John David Washington became a movie star, and surely cannot be known only as “Denzel’s boy”.
Black Panther is big, sincere, and bombastic. This is adventure filmmaking on a grand scale that should last because the story is so good. No tricks. Only a few gimmicks. Just the
artistry of seeing a charismatic good guy on screen brought to life with a verve and imagination seldom seen in a constantly growing genre. There have been plenty of discussions and will continue to be, about the cultural relevance of the movie. One thing is for sure, it REALLY got people talking. Whatever you think to all of that, one thing that cannot be denied is that it is a rollicking good ride!
On to the two leads: Chadwick Boseman? Amazing, oozing all the charisma we have come to expect from him since “Get On Up”. Michael B. Jordan? Outstanding. Absolutely outstanding. This is the year that the MCU really cracked it with their villains. The soundtrack curated by the wonderful Kendrick Lamar is an absolute banger too.
Avengers: Infinity War
Finally, a Marvel movie where NO ONE is safe! One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the MCU is the lack of high stakes. Going into the cinema, you know, with pretty serious confidence, that your heroes are going to all come out of it in one piece, but no more! After teasing the arrival of the “Big Bad” Thanos, he finally arrives in all of his big, purple, glory. What people didn’t expect though, was that Josh Brolin would create a character so three-dimensional, that you actually see his point….sort of.
You follow him as he searches for all of the Infinity Stones, with a view to wipe out half of the universe with a snap of his fingers (spoiler alert, he only bloody well does it….), while the various hero factions work together to stop him. It’s amazing that so many characters get a moment to shine, but that’s a testament to the Russo Brother’s writing skills. With an ending that will shock and upset you, this is by far and away the most emotional movie in the MCU. Bring on the sequel in April!
Damson HQ is on office chock full of unashamedly huge Queen fans, so when the trailer was released for Bohemian Rhapsody, we were giddy with anticipation. There’s no secret that the production had its troubles, with Sacha Baron Cohen signing on as Freddie, and then leaving, and all the mess surrounding Bryan Singer, so it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise if this had been an absolute shambles. Thankfully, it isn’t. While it’s never going to be classed as a cinematic masterpiece, its bloody good fun! Rami Malek, who took over the Freddie reigns once Borat left, is a revelation and deserves all of the plaudits he is getting. He’s ably supported by a fantastic cast (including a heavily made up Mike Myers in a very amusing in-joke), Bohemian Rhapsody is really the tale of Freddie Mercury. In all honesty, the final 25 minutes, which is near enough a note for note remake of the Live Aid performance, is staggering. An absolute must watch for any self-respecting music lover, whether you are a fan of Queen or not!
A Quiet Place
It’s appropriate that John Krasinski’s alien horror-thriller snuck up out of nowhere to become one of the biggest hits of the year. The idea is ingenious: the world has been ravaged by aliens who are attracted to sound. If you stay silent, you live. If you make a noise, you die. Krasinski wrung that premise for every drop of tension it held, ably
supported by his wife, Emily Blunt, as a pregnant mother. There was no more nerve-jangling scene this year than the one in which Blunt gave birth in a bath, trying to utter a single sound. There are rumours of a sequel in the works, which we really hope they don’t do, to be honest. Let’s just leave A Quiet Place as a stand-alone masterpiece.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsey hasn’t made a bad film yet, but You Were Never Really Here is an especially powerful example of the kind of subversive, darkly beautiful work that she is known for.
Joaquin Phoenix’s haunting performance as a psychologically scarred contract killer is absolutely transformative. He works wonders with his hulking frame and bushy, ratty beard. Phoenix is such a chameleon with his acting, and again he shows it here. You know you are supposed to support his character, but he’s not all that likeable. It’s these juxtapositions which make him one of the current greats.
Framed by Ramsey’s disquietingly elegant visual style and with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s creating an eerie musical score, You Were Never Really Here will chill you to the bone
Bad Times at El Royale
Probably the most “Tarantino” movie of the year, and he had nothing to do with it. Writer and director extraordinaire Drew Goddard assembled a hell of a cast, including Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and a mostly shirtless Chris Hemsworth, but it’s relative movie newcomer Cynthia Erivo who steals the show as a struggling soul singer, caught up in all the madness. The characters converge at the mysterious and quirky “El Royale” hotel, which sits smack bang in the middle of the state lines of Nevada and California. The story takes a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s the explosive last 30 minutes that really leave a lasting impression. Some criticism was levelled at the movie for being bloated and overly long at 141 minutes, and while it could have probably had 20-30 trimmed off, the movie generally flies by. For those waiting with bated breath for Tarantino’s July release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, this is not a bad way to whet your appetite.
Now not to spoil it or anything, but they make it to the moon. Unless you don’t really believe they went in the first place, but that’s your prerogative. Damien Chazelle is quite frankly ludicrously talented. At the age of 34, he has written and directed Whiplash (5 Oscar nominations), written and directed La La Land (11 Oscar nominations), and now adapted Neil Armstrongs Biography about being the first man to walk on the moon. No pressure for your next project then Damien….
First Man chronicles Neil Armstrong’s life from 1961, to the Apollo 11 landing in 1969. Ably assisted by cracking performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, this is up there with o e of the most thrilling, and realistic movies ever made about space travel. An absolutely astonishing piece of work, chronicling one of the most momentous moments in History. Whether you believe the human race has really been to the moon or not shouldn’t matter, this is a masterpiece about the triumph of Science and human ambition. It’s expected to clean up in awards season, and to be honest, it deserves to.
We’ve all been teenagers and we were all, to varying degrees, probably awful. Greta Gerwig, the indie darling actress making her debut as a director, told a story that brilliantly navigated those years when you’re still working out who you are and not always sure you like the version you currently are. Saoirse Ronan is magnificent as Lady Bird, a precocious (read: Annoying) high school senior who has a combative relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalfe). The dialogue was sparky, very, very funny and endlessly quotable and the emotion was true and heart-breaking. One of the best films about being a teenager ever made. This is destined to become a cult classic, and one watched by hipsters for years to come. A more modern Juno, if you will.