Been a while, eh? It’s been some time since I last posted on this blog, but in this decade, I hope to start writing on here regularly again. To kick that off, I am – like for 2017 – listing my top ten films of both 2018 and 2019 – oh yes, even if they weren’t published, those lists were very much being made in the background.
These are ranked with both quality and my personal enjoyment in mind; also, I am mainly going by UK release date, so a film such as The Shape of Water would count as a 2018 release. Let’s go!
#10 – Aquaman
Spectacular, captivating and flawed, Aquaman is an ocean epic from James Wan that embraces the comic book source material and is earnestly enjoyable because of it. Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is born of human and Atlantean descent, and this duality is at the heart of the film. With his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) declaring war on the surface, Arthur ends up on a quest to prevent battle between two societies. Helping him is Mera (Amber Heard) who often steals the scene with her telekinetic water abilities; on the other hand, Arthur also makes an enemy out of the formidable Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), so his path to success isn’t an easy one. Action and locales are a feast for the senses throughout the film – both on land and underwater – with incredible visual effects throughout. There is meaning to the thrills though; a sequence in Sicily is a standout example of emotion and action combining to put emphasis on the heroic aspect of the film. Some sequences, especially toward the end of the film, feel like excess that isn’t necessary, but this is a film that benefits overall from pulling out all the stops, rather than *ahem* reining it in.
9: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
A Netflix surprise, this school-set romantic comedy sets itself apart in an at-times saturated genre. Lana Condor (Lara Jean) writes letters to her crushes that she keeps rather than sending – perhaps a harmless act, at least until one day her mischievous sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) decides to release them all. This leads to disaster control, but for one of the recipients – Peter (Noah Centineo) – it results in a deal; in exchange for silence, Lana will fake being his girlfriend in order to try and attract the eyes of Gen (Emilija Baranac). Where this could have been played as a one-note, shallow comedy, instead this film presents the complex emotions that come from the evolving situation, as the two unexpected friends perhaps realise they aren’t faking interest in each other. A diverse cast provides an engaging range of performances to show how rarely matters of the heart go as you plan – and the film manages to do this without losing a sense of fun, with plenty of feel-good moments. For fans of coming-of-age, high-school, and/or romantic comedies, this is a hidden gem – hopefully the sequels can keep the high quality going!
8: Tomb Raider
Video game movies haven’t always turned out very well in the past – this may be changing, though, with a case in point being the latest cinematic adaptation of iconic gaming heroine Lara Croft. Casting Academy Award-winner Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft is a central reason to why the movie works; this incarnation of the character is based off of the (brilliant) recent trilogy of games, with inspiration particularly coming from the 2013 reboot that started said trilogy. In this film, we meet a younger Lara who is finding her place in the world, taking part in various risky ventures to get by – such as a thrilling and creative bicycle pursuit that kicks off the film in energetic fashion. She is following the trail of her missing father Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared on an expedition to the island Yamatai. Her determination to follow this path results in many surprises and crucial lessons, as well as plenty of impressive action set pieces. One in particular, which tracks Lara as she works her way through an area of hostiles, vividly portrays the games in cinematic fashion. Alicia’s stubborn yet earnest Lara is the focus, but the supporting cast provides a great foil to her performance; this includes Walter Goggins as antagonist Mathias Vogel, Daniel Wu as the friendly Lu Ren, as well as Kristin Scott Thomas and Sir Derek Jacobi in supporting roles as Ana Miller and Mr. Yaffe respectively. Ultimately, this film portrays the key reasons why the game reboot of Lara is such an interesting and layered character. With Alicia Vikander on board for a sequel – directed by Ben Wheatley, fascinatingly – this story isn’t done yet, either (oh, and the second game of the trilogy this is based on? The best of the three… )
7: The Post
Not long after the exceptional Spotlight (2015) comes The Post from Steven Spielberg, another film about the ability and responsibility of journalism to tackle wrongs in the world. The 1970s-set film portrays the story of attempts by The Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers, and the battles against political and competitive pressure in order to do so. Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) has additional pressures to face as a female newspaper publisher in a male-dominated industry; the way in which the film shows her journey throughout this time is delicate and powerful. She has more conflicting sides to consider than executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who provides the journalistic passion that adds drive to many scenes. Tonally, The Post has a slightly washed-out, authoritatively authentic look and feel, firmly placing you into that uncertain time. The film doesn’t quite hit the dramatic stomach-punch levels of Spotlight, but has a distinct importance of its own – and in a time where influence and fake news is talked about so much, The Post allows us another chance to witness a key battle in earning that free speech to begin with.
6: Darkest Hour
From director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna), Darkest Hour tells the story of how Sir Winston Churchill got to the position of power from which his influence was so decisively felt during the Second World War. By putting focus on the people around him and why he was so motivated to make his mark in the way that he did, the film is very personal and emotional. Gary Oldman is undoubtedly the star turn here, really delving into his personification of Sir Winston Churchill; his performance is magnetic and riveting, even in the moments when the character is not as likeable. He anchors the film throughout, with the quietly superb supporting cast backing him up. To mention just one, Kristin Scott Thomas – in a relatively short amount of screen time – effectively portrays the personal sacrifice of being the wife to a man who puts so much of his time and effort into helping other people. Situations such as Dunkirk that happen during the crucial time that the film is set in mean that the film has a sense of urgency throughout, even whilst most of the scenes are set in political battlefields rather than the more literally deadly ones. Darkest Hour is a poignant reminder of the effort it takes to stand up and really fight for the justice you believe in.
Part 2 of this list is coming soon!