(UN)POPULAR CULTURE

The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

As I stated in the first group of five in my Top 10 listing of films, 2018 has been a slim year for me in what I’ve been able to see. While I imagine some of these would still end up on a best of list, would they be top 5? I’m not sure. It’ll be an ever-evolving list.

I’d love to hear your Top 5’s though. I have a litany of recommended pictures I’ll work through in time but there could well be pictures I haven’t seen that are worth recommendation, so do point me in the direction of them.

Okay then, for better or worse, here are my Top 5 Films of 2018…

5. First Man (Damien Chazelle)

Tragically, First Man was D.O.A at the box office, which does baffle me a bit, I have to say. Ryan Gosling as star, alongside Claire Foy who is riding a beloved trail since The Crown. Damien Chazelle behind the wheel, himself riding on the Oscar-success of La La Land and the critical darling that was Whiplash. And is there a bigger American hero success story of the 20th century than Apollo 11’s mission to the Moon? Yet Americans just didn’t take to this Neil Armstrong biopic.

We may never know why. Perhaps it was a word of mouth which no doubt reported how Chazelle had not made a rousing, nationalist piece of myth out of Armstrong’s journey, and rather internalised his struggle to survive the death of his daughter in infancy by growing obsessed with reaching the lunar surface. Doesn’t sound very Friday night with a bucket of popcorn, does it? Yet First Man is every bit as visceral, tense and exciting as any number of action movies, as Chazelle drops you inside a NASA rocket like never before.

If you can get past Gosling’s maudlin (if excellent performance), First Man is a beautiful and tragic film. I expound more on why here, but don’t miss it.

4. Game Night (John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein)

If you had suggested at the start of 2018 that a cheeky comedy by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, a directorial pair best known for the reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation and writing both Horrible Bosses movies, I would have laughed as hard as I did watching Game Night. Yet this pointed spoof of David Fincher’s 1997 underrated thriller The Game is the sharpest comedy I have seen in years.

Now, I’ll be honest, I liked Horrible Bosses (the first one). It made me laugh like a drain. Game Night, however, has everything a comedy needs. Jason Bateman is at his best both deadpan and with his back against a wall, and Rachel McAdams with the right script has a rare gift for comic timing. Game Night takes an action thriller premise, throws some brilliant actors at it (Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Jesse Plemons), and a truly razor-sharp script, and brews up a concoction that by all accounts may look routine Hollywood comic fare, yet is anything but.

Honestly, you won’t believe how great Game Night is until you watch it. Just trust me on this one.

3. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Many would argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been in desperate need of Black Panther. Lots of critics and some fans believe the MCU is running out of steam, that the superhero bubble will soon burst, and that the litany of pictures from Marvel are becoming routine. This isn’t something I subscribe to (at all, in fact), but Black Panther is a great example of how to take an origin story and make it truly, defiantly, almost instantaneously iconic.

Ryan Coogler, riding off his impressive success rebooting the Rocky franchise with Creed, fashions Black Panther into a stylish, sexy fusion of superheroics, science-fiction and James Bond, allowing Chadwick Boseman ample chance to expand on T’Challa, incumbent King of Wakanda, after his introduction in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Coogler explores the mythology of Wakanda, presents a real journey for T’Challa, and even throws Creed star Michael B. Jordan in as Killmonger, one of the MCU’s strongest villains to date. In the mix we get some stunning action beats, particularly a super slick casino brawl in Seoul that is straight out of Skyfall.

It’ll be incredibly hard for the eventual sequel to top Black Panther. Not just an iconic MCU picture, but an iconic hero for black culture for decades to come.

2. Mission Impossible: Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

Here’s a challenge: name a sixth film in any franchise which is better than either the original movie, or some of the sequels. Star Wars? Revenge of the Sith better than A New Hope? Nah. Star Trek? The Undiscovered Country stronger than The Wrath of Khan? Not quite. Keep going. Try and find a film with the scope, grandeur, reach and stylishness of Mission Impossible: Fallout that is number six in any franchise. I’ll be waiting over here…

Fallout, I’m convinced, is an anomaly. There isn’t a better Tom Cruise-led MI movie before it (I can say that now confidently after three viewings), and I doubt a better one will follow it. Christopher McQuarrie delivers not just the first true sequel in the franchise, after laying the groundwork in the stylish and fun Rogue Nation, but also the closest I’ve seen an action franchise get to feeling like a Christopher Nolan film that isn’t directed by the man himself. It has set pieces that blow you away, a plot filled with suspense, great performances – particularly from an (almost literally) moustache twirling Henry Cavill – and you even feel the emotional weight of it like never before.

Up until a week ago, Fallout was my favourite film of the year, and the most fun I’ve had at the movies in 2018. It is practically perfect in every way. Speaking of which…

1. Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall)

Nope. Before you ask, no I’m not joking. And no, I didn’t expect to be typing that Mary Poppins Returns is my favourite film of 2018 either. Though I expected a good film given the talent involved, as someone who has never before loved a Rob Marshall film and someone so invested in Mary Poppins as a film, I never expected a sequel that at times comes close to topping the 1964 Disney original. And yet…

Look, I am fully aware nostalgic sentiment partially has me clouded here. Mary Poppins Returns made me well up on numerous occasions, so moved was I by a repeat of beats that always get me about Mary Poppins itself, and therefore I am a compromised viewer, struggling to find objectivity. Nevertheless, I still think Marshall’s film is a gem. It looks stunning throughout. Marshall’s direction has a pace and verve that shows his love of the material. Emily Blunt is wonderful as Poppins and not just a poor shadow of Julie Andrews, and blow me, the songs are largely as brilliant as the originals – even if they’ll never be as iconic.

This was two hours of pure joy. That rarely happens to me with cinema these days. When it does, that deserves championing. I just hope Mary Poppins Returns gives you what it gave me. Can you imagine that?

That’s my Best Of lists done, but check in for the 12 Films over the next 12 Months I’m most excited for, and why…

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