MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018

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A little later than usual this year but here is my third annual favorite films of the year list. I was fortunate with my freelance work, Karen winning comps and just being in a general a regular cinemagoer to see 58 films either in cinemas, via screeners or released via Netflix. This includes films that were 2018 American releases but reached Australian cinemas early 2019 hence why this list is always a little delayed. I’ve also been part of end of year lists for X-Press Magazine and put together an end of year list for HEAVY magazine which includes disappointments and surprises for the year in cinema.
There were some films I’m sad to say I haven’t got around to seeing yet that I think might have made the list if I had, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could TalkBlacKkKlansman, Cold War, Isle of Dogs and most of all You Were Never Really Here and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? So that tradition continues for another year but this is a list of the ones I did see below. I had a good run of films at the Brisbane International Film Festival this year and some screeners for my work for X-Press magazine turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding films of the year. Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.

 

Finding Your Feet Not Reviewed ***

Last Flag Flying Not Reviewed **1/2

I Feel Pretty Not Reviewed ***

Ellipsis Published at X-Press Magazine 15FEB18 ***

We Don’t Need A Map Published at X-Press Magazine 22FEB18 ***

The Death of Stalin Not Reviewed ***

Deadpool 2 Not Reviewed ***

12 Strong Published at Scenestr Magazine 07MAR18 **1/2

In The Fade Published at X-Press Magazine 08MAR18 ***

Ant-Man and The Wasp Not Reviewed ***

Border Politics Published at X-Press Magazine 18JUL2018 **

The Spy Who Dumped Me Not Reviewed **1/2

Solo Not Reviewed **1/2

The Wife Not Reviewed ***

The Happytime Murders Published at Scenestr Magazine 24AUG18 **

Book Club Not Reviewed **1/2

The Flipside Not Reviewed **1/2

The Predator Not Reviewed *1/2

Loro Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP18 ***

A Simple Favour Not Reviewed ***

Celeste Published at Scenestr Magazine 15OCT18 **1/2

Terra Nullus Not Reviewed 1/2

My Generation Not Reviewed **1/2

Halloween Not Reviewed ***

King of Thieves Not Reviewed **

Bohemian Rhapsody Not Reviewed ***

Loveling Not Reviewed **

Spitfire Published at X-Press Magazine 15NOV18 ***

Colette Published at X-Press Magazine 20DEC18 **1/2

Creed II Not Reviewed **1/2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Not Reviewed **1/2

Aquaman Published 10JAN19 9 Likes – 46 Views ***

Bumblebee Not Reviewed **1/2

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Not Reviewed **1/2

Stan & Ollie Not Reviewed ***

The Mule Not Reviewed ***

On The Basis of Sex Published at Weekend Notes 07FEB19 ***

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

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Mission Impossible: Fallout Not Reviewed ***

It is just as well this list is called My Favourite Films of the Year rather than the Best of. It’s hard to remember the distinction sometimes and to make peace with those that end up in the Top 10 and those that don’t even rate a mention. The Mission Impossible films are style over substance, nothing has quite matched the 1996 original and yet in director/scribe Christopher McQuarrie they have found something new that works. They’re all set up and payoff for mind blowing action but cleverly staged with tongue firmly in cheek. In briefing rooms characters murmur about their past and stare off into the distance but the best performers are those who convey much with little. Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby I’m looking at you. My father once told me the James Bond books by Ian Fleming were light fare but the character of Bond became more whole and nuanced as you read more of them and that is the case with Ethan Hunt and his movies and to a lesser extent his team. McQuarrie plays with the history finally and gets some good results. There was a moment with a sweeping shot of Tom Cruise running across a rooftop with a panoramic view of London and I just thought who the hell else is making movies like this anymore with a movie star. Barring Christopher Nolan, the answer is no one and Nolan doesn’t shoot action like this.

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Tully Published at X-Press Magazine 10MAY18 ***

Tully sank like a stone at the box office but I enjoyed this film, aided in no small part by the work of Charlize Theron. This film deals with the “reality” of being a parent, that sense of losing yourself and your future. It can be gloomy but it taps into a certain feeling that is only part of the parenting experience but it is a part and one that should be acknowledged. “She’s also in that time and place where everybody sees her as a Mum first and foremost including even herself and she’s wondering what the hell happened to me? All except Tully, Tully wants to know who Marlo is and acts like there’s more to her than being a Mum while telling her that is the most amazing thing about her.

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A Quiet Place Published at Scenestr Magazine 05APR18 ***

A Quiet Place may not be the deepest most profound movie made last year but it is cleverly put together and a lot of care taken. First of all it actually creates characters with depth and for extra points it does this with minimal dialogue, it takes its central premise seriously and plays with the sound effects of the film as a result and it leaves an air of mystery for us to fill in the blanks. The best stories are always about something deeper and this one is not about monsters coming for you if you make a sound. This is about the fear that drives parents to protect their children and the bond that creates. We can expect big things from first time director John Krasinski and actress Millicent Simmonds, Emily Blunt remains a talent. “The oldest child (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and a teenager. This sets up two great ideas. The first being a young girl who can’t hear, but she is prey to creatures that can hear but not see her. The second is how do you express and work through your emotions as a teenager with your parents in a world where you can’t make a sound for fear of death.

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Black Panther Published at Buzz Magazine 22JUN18 ***

Black Panther was a cultural milestone for a lot of people and I am happy for all that were touched so much by this movie. I cannot share that same level of enthusiasm but I find a lot to recommend. I am often drawn back to my favourite scene where the villain Killmonger is reunited with his father in their apartment in Oakland. The vistas of  heavenly African plains seen outside through the blinds are out of their reach. Their forebears no where to be seen, just a son and the father he lost when he was too young. The depth of what director Ryan Coogler was saying in this moment and how it would resonate with audiences immediately touched me. In Killmonger, Coogler gave one of the most compelling Marvel villains ever by reuniting with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. The finale becomes too much of a CGI fest, other character motivations feel wrong and purely there for plot convenience but there are rich themes here, a fantastic roster of supporting characters, a great action sequence set in Korea and a rousing score. “All of the above characters are effectively sounding boards for T’Challa to hear a different point of view. You can’t help but wonder if an amicable chat couldn’t have solved most of the problems the characters face but then again maybe that’s the point. T’Challa’s character arc is to learn how to be a good leader and he learns this from engaging with his mirror image found in Killmonger.” It’s just too bad they wasted Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and that’s something I can’t forgive.

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Roma Not Reviewed ***

For a while there, Roma was the frontrunner for Best Picture and I would’ve been perfectly happy if it had won. Roma is gorgeous, spiritual, moving and audacious. For the first time in my life I saw a film on my television and I thought it really needed to be seen on the big screen. The fact that it was Netflix release is beyond ironic. Things seem to be happening in the foreground that are missed way too often. I admire the approach of director Alfonso Cuaron demanding that we pay attention, meditate on what is being shown and consider our own lives and what is truly important. There are scenes that I still think about now that exemplify his skills as a master storyteller. The central performance by Yalitza Aparicio is one for the ages. Yet some things, passed me by, some things dragged on too long and some things were hard to take in on the TV. I really wonder if seeing it on the big screen really would’ve rendered a completely different experience?

Vice Published at Scenestr Magazine 19DEC18 ***

Vice is not as entertaining as director Adam McKay’s previous “serious” film The Big Short but it is more ambitious in intent and scope which is saying something. I was disappointed that Christian Bale did not get more acknowledgment for the strength of his performance which is more than just make-up effects. Amy Adams and Steve Carrell are also good, this stirred up a lot of old feelings from my youth and I hope the film resonates and gets us thinking about what type of a world we want to leave our kids. Yet it also feels like a film that will play one way to one audience and another way to the other. The Big Short was more clear cut and an easier story to connect to I believe. “In the end the man famous for his heart problems is seen losing his heart both metaphorically and physically in the quest for prolonged life both politically and literally. Meanwhile the rest of us have to live in the aftermath of his decisions. Is that a criticism of unbridled power or just proof you either have it or you don’t?“.

The Breaker Upperers Published at Scenestr Magazine 27JUL18 ***

The Breaker Upperers highlights the talents of writer/directors and stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami and New Zealand comedy in general. It plays as a broad comedy in the first half and then it swerves into a more testing second half where it surprises with some of the characters choices and dealing with them. I’ll admit I found the second half more troublesome but it still remains one of my favourite films of the year with jokes and performances I continue to revel in. “As directors, the pair balance conflicting emotions in any given scene, one example is a slow-mo sequence that plays up the awkwardness of an enforced striptease while also taking in the realisation of betrayal on someone’s face at the same time. They show a deft hand for portraying how perspectives and truths can be different for each character, reserving judgement of most to allow each cinemagoer to come to their own conclusions“.

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Woman at War Published at Weekend Notes 18OCT18 ***1/2

Woman at War from Iceland has rich themes and is centred around the engaging character of Halla played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, a middle aged choir conductor secretly conducting a one woman war against corporate greed and environmental destruction. The film has something to say but maintains a quirky sense of humour throughout and features some wonderful Icelandic landscape. “The film has a wonderful subtle underline about the way women of a certain age are viewed and the choices they have to navigate. She is in a job that is artistic and nurturing and in her spare time she carries out rebellious and dangerous acts. She appears to have no social group outside of work besides her twin sister. In a telling dichotomy, she releases information to the masses of her actions unseen and hidden and yet shows openly the child she is set to adopt with pride to her small choir. The reactions are telling too.

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Ash Is Purest White Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Ash Is Purest White is a time spanning crime film that showcases the changing prosperity of China by focussing on one character, a female criminal with more integrity than any of the men who surround her on screen. I loved the small details in this film, the way director Jia Zhangke lets moments breathe and observes human behaviour and the extraordinary performance by star Zhao Tao. “It’s a love story first and foremost, but not in a romantic way – it’s about the imprint of a man onto a woman of his strength and value system, even though he seldom proves capable of living up to it himself.

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Green Book Not Reviewed ***1/2

Brushing aside Oscar controversies, the behaviour of Spike Lee who if he was white would have been called a sore loser, I’d ask you to reflect on this film on its own merits. Maybe you will find it lacking and if you do that’s fine and valid. Me? Well I liked it, the audience I saw it with liked it, they laughed and cried in all the right places. Just like they had in Hidden Figures or Darkest Hour or any other number of mainstream history films where filmmakers seek to evoke emotions and play things as broadly as possible. Maybe you wanted something more incendiary or original and I hear you but I liked this movie. I liked the central relationship, I liked how it made me feel and I liked what happened to the characters along the way and how they could be honest about where they started. This was definitely one of the best films I saw last year.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Avengers: Infinity War Published at Buzz Magazine 01JUL18 ***1/2

This definitely feels like the first part of a two part season finale for a TV show. If you’re not watching the show it’s going to play very differently for you than a fan but a fan… I am. Plot delivered on the run, characterisation in singular moments built off the backs of previous films, by any standard metric this film cannot be judged. Yet for what it is, it is wholly satisfying, epic, exciting and moving. We could take for granted what Marvel Studies have pulled off here but we won’t. “Knowledge of previous films certainly helps but you have it to the Russo brothers as directors, they seem to know what to do with these characters. Nordic God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in five minutes here seems to be more consistently and thoughtfully fleshed out here then he was in his three solo movies. The introduction of the bantering mixed bag of space mercenaries, the Guardians of the Galaxy is so in keeping with the tone of their movies that you imagine their director/writer James Gunn was brought into consult but no it seems the Russos just get it.

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9. Arctic Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Much like A Quiet Place, Arctic‘s strengths is knowing what type of film it is and leaning into that rather than looking externally. The central character performed here by the ever effective Mads Mikkelsen remains sparingly outlined, he’s a man lost in the icy wilderness trying to stay alive his actions saying more about him than any dialogue could, how he treats a hill to climb as much a revelation as any mention of his father. There’s hints here and there but the situation and how he navigates it remains the most compelling part of the tale and from it a spiritual musing on the meaning of life and death comes forth. “There are no sweeping vistas either of the landscape – if our hero can’t fly away over the next horizon then neither should the camera, further allowing the audience to share his perspective. There is a spare and matter of fact observance of what is happening which makes everything as a result far more dramatic, including for example a reveal of frostbite. In this film, actions speak louder than words and slowly we understand very clearly what this man is risking and what he will potentially gain.

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8. Annihilation Not Reviewed ***1/2

Annihilation is not a fun movie but it will become a modern sci-fi classic. A mystery at the centre of it is genuinely thought provoking and the film proves unsettling with no real easy answers and horrifying images. The complex characters don’t ask for your sympathy either. This may be the scariest film of the year. The lack of success for the film and its distribution by Netflix worldwide speaks to the changing nature of blockbusters in Hollywood but as long as people like Alex Garland get to tell stories we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

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7. The Endless Published at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2

The Endless is cut from the same cloth as Annihilation, a site of strange going-ons with a central mystery entered by our heroes who have their own complicated histories. Shot on a much more low budget the writer/director/leads Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made a great movie that has a bigger heart and more satisfying resolution than the Natalie Portman star vehicle. See it with as little foreknowledge and expectations as possible. “The Endless works best the less you know about the story, a gradual unfolding of mysteries centered around two brothers who don’t have much more than each other and how that can keep you going but also fill you with resentment. A low budget film that feels very low-key but gradually grows more epic as time goes on. The production values of a B-grade genre film matched with the mindboggling premises of a David Lynch or Alex Garland film.

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6. Lost in Paris Published at X-Press Magazine 24MAY18 ***1/2

Every year there are unexpected gems that come along, I had no expectations for this film but it very quickly grew on me. A light quirky comedy with pathos and romance it makes you fall in love with old slapstick, warm heartedness and yes Paris itself of course. “Yet it is Gordon and Abel so comfortable in their own skin that are a joy to see front and centre in a romantic comedy. Neither looks the conventional idea of a movie star which adds authenticity to their characters and their plight but as the film goes on they become more beautiful to us just for being who they are. At one point Dom is asked “Where is the handsome man?” by Fiona who he is falling in love with. The implication of her question is rife with embarrassment and Dom looks embarrassed. She then looks him in the eye and says “You? No way.” Dom straightens up and says “Yes, way.” Before lighting a cigarette and looking like a cool cat, and I thought how very French and how very charming. Just like the movie.

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5. Ladies in Black Not Reviewed ****

Cracking the Top 5 is Ladies in Black, an Australian film from director Bruce Beresford about a young girl Lisa (Angourie Rice) coming of age in post-war Australia. There were times I thought of my own parents and the households they grew up in and the friendships they made during this movie. It’s true the film is gentle and broad and comforting in a way that it could have chosen not to be but in looking back it is a reminder that change has always been present and always navigated by the young and old. There is a moment when a young couple talk about their past lives while looking out over a mountain range. In the end while they’re honest about the past they choose to not dwell on it but to move forward and it is one of my favourite scenes.

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4. In the Aisles Not Reviewed But Mentioned in Our BIFF 2018 Coverage ****

Seen at BIFF 2018, In The Aisles is a film I hope many others discover in time. Set around a night shift of retail workers it is meticulously constructed and moving. We get to know these people but only gradually outside of the prism of who they are at work. The film understands the landscape of the shelves, the grace of the pallet jacks, the secrets of the back rooms, the tensions of the work parties and the longings created by a staff member not showing up. It is aware that while not all of who we are is what we do at work it is where most of our waking hours are spent and how much purpose and identity the roles and relationships we have there give us. Just a fantastic movie.

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3. The Favourite Being Edited ****

A perfectly rendered period film with a little bit of edge to it. Forget all the talk about historical accuracy, the film is a character piece about three fascinating women and the changing nature of their relationship. The three leads Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revel in the opportunity to sink their teeth into such meaty parts too. There is some very clever choices made visually which harken back to different periods and commentary on gender tropes throughout. “We begin with Queen Anne guided by Lady Churchill almost maternally. Weisz cuts a figure often in men’s clothes, constantly shooting off rifles in the field and meeting the gaze and remarks of the men of parliament as she runs the country. Queen Anne relies on her a great deal for confidence and affection and Lady Churchill never lies to her about anything. Enter the younger impoverished cousin of Sarah Churchill, Abigail Hill. She needs work and patronage and we find out quickly that she is a survivor.

2. A Star Is Born Published 26FEB19 7 Likes 21 Views ****

A Star Is Born will stand the test of time, people will remember this film fondly, they’ll become nostalgic about it as one of the great romantic films of their youth, Cooper will go on to become a powerhouse director and Lady Gaga will now shift between art forms and being alternative and mainstream. Because while this is a star vehicle in the very classic sense it is also a moving portrait of addiction and the kind of pain that feeds it and the kind of love that redeems it. Everything seen and heard has been well thought out to the ninth degree but all in service to authenticity, a wonderful balancing act that has been pulled off to create one of the most moving films of the year. “The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

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1. First Man Published at Scenestr Magazine 11OCT18 ****

I’m an surprised as you are following such out of the box choices with Eye in the Sky in 2016 and In This Corner of the World in 2017, I thought In the Aisles might get it but in the end I keep realising how much I loved this movie. How much its singular focus on one man, one marriage and one family better told the story of the whole space program and all involved. How its visceral action scenes were more exciting than any comic book movie and how poorly overlooked the wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy were. Most importantly of all how much my heart aches looking back and thinking of that scene on the moon. “No great thing is done by one great individual alone. ‘First Man’ reveals this by focusing on one individual achieving something great. What drove him and those around him to do the impossible? Up in the heavens, his home planet the size of his thumb and in quiet solitude, the film offers one possible answer with an action taken by Neil Armstrong. Yet the film also reminds that it is the journey not the destination that matters. This is one of the year’s best.

 

Well that’s it for another year, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings about your favourite films from 2018. I’m also sharing Honest Trailers Oscar 2019 from the team at Screen Junkies or as they are now called Fandom Entertainment.

-Lloyd Marken

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A STAR DIRECTOR AND A STAR LEADING LADY ARE BORN ANEW

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A Star Is Born is a heartbreaking love story, a torch song for the dream of being a true artist and an intense reflection on the impact those who truly matter have on our lives. On one level this is a sweeping romance between two sexy leads living the dream of being rock stars and on another an indulgent weepy effortlessly evoking strong emotions. General audiences can go along, ship the relationship and cry with the main characters amidst their struggles. Director Bradley Cooper has structured the film to work on this level and work well but it is far more layered than that and I think part of its success has been due to audiences picking up on the nuances too and loving these aspects as well.

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Our two star-crossed lovers are Ally (Lady Gag) a waitress and aspiring singer/songwriter and Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) an established star currently on the wane due to personal suffering more than anything else.  Ally has never had anybody believe in her talent the way Jackson does and Jackson has maybe never had anybody love him so unconditionally as Ally does. There’s a lot of choices made by everybody involved in this production that has come together under Cooper’s drive. Ally and Jackson are artists, they show an interest in each other after they first hear each other sing, they fall in love with each other less as a meeting of the souls and more out of their shared love of their craft. The first night they spend together they barely touch each other, when Jackson tells her how he views his fame and she tells him part of a song she’s working on this is a much deeper connection and shared intimacy for them than sex ever could be. The sex comes, a well choreographed scene that seems to evoke both how sex can be with someone hung over and yet also be passionate and consuming. Yet Cooper knows how important that first night staying up and talking can be more important for the characters and more important for the narrative. After that first night we’re in all the way with Ally and Jack and the rhythm of the film, like it can be in a relationship, never quite gets back what it was like that first night.

Instead the narrative plays out with one star ascending and the other on the wane. The rest of the film isn’t quite as effective as those opening scenes, characters come and go a little bit for narrative purposes, an agent comes in to personify the division between Ally and Jack and later on in and remains a heartless villain but not without some reason. Yet the relationship never stops feeling real and drawing you in. Cooper and Lady Gaga have a nice relaxed chemistry that reads as authentic, their dialogue never feels manufactured and so many of their conversation scenes take place in domestic settings away from the spotlight. Gaga in particular is on point throughout, there’s been a lot of talk of how new she is to this game but she actually trained as an actor, has had roles in other films and television before this. As her first feature film lead role it fits that her performance is natural and not over affected, I do sincerely believe this is part of her talent but also part of the confidence and focus that Cooper has given her on set. His performance is very much across the same lines feeling real and raw but it is not his acting that stands out here.

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This has to be one of the best looking and best sounding films of the year, expertly cut in the editing and meticulously crafted every other way. Small token shots have lights and smoke timed perfectly for maximum effect and yet in the moment reactions are captured. No matter how many takes it took, how many elements were in play or how close the cameras were to the performers’ faces everybody involved makes it appear everything is happening in the moment for the first time and maybe it is. Also it presents the physicality of the bubble of fame that comes around a person as they ascend. Walls of people gather round, fans, staff, groupies and with it a hum of noise. Leaving a concert early on Jackson is surrounded by noise and activity until he crawls into the back of his limo and is met with utter silence and loneliness. One lone driver upfront to make small talk to, who understands part of his job is to be quiet if that is what his employer wants. A high amount of camera work is up close and personal and on the move perfectly evoking the perspective of characters through small intimate scenes to moments at big public venues. The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

The music such an important part of the story reflects the themes of the tale. The central duet ‘Shallow’ has lyrics that reflect an us against them mentality but also an individual about to take flight and reject her fears. The other songs are beautiful, Cooper in particular has a nice country ballad in ‘Maybe It’s Time.’ For a musical the soundscape is on par with any special effects laden film released this year.

Earlier versions of this film were set in a different time when getting help was maybe less discussed. Jackson seeks help in this film, I won’t spoil what happens but it offers a much deeper emotional connection to the ending as a result and maybe raises some conversations. A cutaway perfectly timed that closes the film will have most in tears. This is an old school Hollywood film in the greatest sense, it has big stars, big themes and delivers big emotions. It is one of the year’s best.

-Lloyd Marken

 

LLOYD’S RECAP OF THE FILMS OF 2018 AVAILABLE AT HEAVY

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New Year’s Eve I was scrambling to get a submission in for HEAVY Magazine which I have been contributor for since April 2017. I’m not always able to be as prolific as I would like but a chance to contribute as one of their film reviewers to a recap of the year’s films was too good to miss out on. Similar to how I feel honoured to contribute to end of year countdowns for X-Press magazine. I’ll of course be putting together my annual Favourite Films of the Year later on in 2019 but this will give you an idea of who is in the running at the moment for a Top 10 entry. You can find the post here https://heavymag.com.au/a-re-cap-of-the-films-of-2018/

I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment or give any social media love.

Heavy is an independent magazine and website that is all about the music and specifically heavy music and supporting the Australian music scene in general. Fortunately for me they do cover film as well and I have been fortunate to have a few things published there.

-Lloyd Marken

HOW WOULD YOU DO THE OSCARS?

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It was February 2005 when I watched the 77th Academy Awards hosted by Chris Rock. That’s the last great Oscars telecast I remember. It was a gradual thing Jon Stewart took over the following year and it wasn’t as good but that was alright because Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t been as good as Billy Crystal right? As time dragged on though, and more ceremonies occurred I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Oscars just didn’t measure up the same away anymore. If I look back over the past few years there’s always bits and pieces I love from all of them but always something lacking. The host sucks, the host was the only good thing, not enough skits, the skits sucked, the speeches were boring, the people accepting were played off by the orchestra before they could start. I would not be surprised either if I popped in a tape of a show that I remember as praiseworthy from the 1990s to find its no worse or better than the ones we see today. The thing I can’t shake though is that at some point the Oscars got scared, it rushed itself not allowing time for individual moments to breathe and organically occur and it worried about getting viewers in rather than celebrating its own community. It would be too easy to pick apart the high pressure work performed by dozens of professionals on a grand stage in front of a worldwide audience. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to put forward some ideas of my own and inevitably celebrate that which has worked in the past.

The Host

Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are the Kings of Oscar hosting. This year the television networks have allocated their respective late night hosts to the Awards Show they’re broadcasting, CBS gave James Corden the Grammys, NBC slotted in Jimmy Fallon for the Golden Globes and so ABC have given Jimmy Kimmel the Oscars. Kimmel is edgy, very LA and approaching gravitas that comes with long term tenure. There’s a hope he will shake up things but there was a similar hope when Seth McFarlane was named to host and we know how that turned out. Choosing a late night talk show host makes sense given Carson’s reign at the gig but Carson was lightning in a bottle, Image result for the academy awards johnny carsona superb comic performer, movie star good looking with average folks appeal in his Nebraskan sensibility. Jon Stewart did this twice with only middling success, my favourite David Letterman bombed big time with his snark going over like a lead balloon with the celebrities on their night of nights, Fallon the current king of late night looked intimidated at the Globes earlier this year leaving basically day time host Ellen DeGeneres as the best since Carson – and her Emmy Hosting gigs were far superior to her Oscar ones. I’d love to see Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver tear the place down and I think James Corden actually could do a real good job but I would be looking at a stand-up comic more than a talk show personality to be named host.

A few big hitters include Jerry Seinfeld (he’s so big and established he wouldn’t be afraid to push people around but maybe is too much of an outsider), Louis C.K. (same thing but again outsider) Aziz Ansari (too TV maybe go with Emmys or Golden Globes for him first) and Amy Schumer.Image result for AMY schumer award shows Schumer is hip and cool, not an old white guy, has a hit movie and would take aim and fire at some of the absurdities of Hollywood. Would be more than happy to see her have a go but I can’t help but think that a funny Hollywood comic superstar would be a good choice. Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg have all had their go. You know who never did? Who has the gravitas, the comic chops and was king of the box office for a bit. Eddie Murphy. Now I know Eddie hasn’t been a big deal in a while but a few years ago he was announced to host with Brett Ratner producing, then Brett said dumb shit and had to pull out and Eddie stood by his friend and withdrew too. Related imageBut Eddie can deliver if he has a good writing team behind him because I believe this sincerely, people would like to see a comeback from that kid who did Delirious. The monologue should be solid, few have been bad in the past few years (Franco and Hathaway I’m looking at you) and as a former stand- up he should be able to spot opportunities when they come up. My favourite hosts of the past decade are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the Golden Globes three years in a row but they don’t seem interested and others like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig only seem interested in doing presentation skits in awards shows rather than the whole thing. By the way look for Key and Peele to host Oscars soon, they’re good comedians and solid actors in their own right and I find it hard to believe the Academy hasn’t already asked them at least once.

The Opening

In 1996 a landmark occurred when Billy Crystal returned after Letterman bombed. It had been a couple of years since he hosted and he was missed. He was inserted into old movies as himself and that year’s nominees. Letterman even showed he was a good sport and showed up in it to mock his failure from the previous year. It feels more played out these days but when done well it never really gets old. Hell even Anne Hathaway and James Franco had some good bits in one such skit. Last year there was an amazing opening montage, easily the best from the past decade that Oscar has done. It displayed moments from the nominees, blockbusters and everything in between; themed around personal perseverance in a day it brought tears to my eyes with its empathy and hopefulness. It does mean however that if the AMPAS want to they can go big this year, one year they had Cirque du Soleil perform up in the rafters. Maybe it’s time to go big again Academy. Imagine Eddie or Amy inserted in Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences or Arrival.

The Presentations

If you look back over the years there are always at least a couple of good presentations. Some from really good actors being given funny lines and some from some of the funniest people we have working in Hollywood.

Ben Stiller, the aforementioned Wigg, Ferrel, Fey, Poehler, Steve Martin, and it would be great to see them all back doing their thing. It probably doesn’t get more moving than Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair after the riding accident. Sometimes there can be real quirkiness in the choices, one year a sound effects choir introduced those categories. R2D2, C3PO and BB-8 came out last year. However not everybody has to have a bit, some can wax lyrical about cinematography “The camera allows us to see ourselves like we’ve seen ourselves before – looking like Ryan Gosling.” or something like that and then get off the stage. It would be nice if before presenting the nominees for technical awards like sound editing, sound effects editing to remind the nominees that there’s five of you and nobody gives a shit about your arse cause you ain’t famous so you know you got five seconds each. Thank your wife and then let your buddies thank their wives. Because if you want to get laid tonight you better thank your wife if you win. If there are any female nominees in the technical categories don’t worry, your husband will not hold out having sex with you if you don’t thank him. You get back to the hotel room and he’d be like I can’t believe it, I gave you twenty two years of my life, supported you in your career, helped raise the kids and you couldn’t remember my name in front of a billion people. I am so upset, I’m not having sex with you tonight…..oh you’re wearing those stockings. Never mind. And this is why you really are running the world. But seriously male or female nominees either nominate one person or let everybody thank everybody real quick. If one person in your group is shy or boring, they’re out. There can be no room for weak links. You have got 30 seconds. Actually that’s not true, Harvey Weinstein has 30 seconds, and a special effects supervisor has 12 seconds. If you’re ugly you got 10! So that’s two seconds for each of you!

Sketch Bits

In the old days this might have been a montage of animal performers before Mike Myers hurriedly grabbed the envelope off a grumpy Bart the Bear. These days it will have Neil Patrick Harris re-enact Birdman’s famous scene in his tighty whities or have Ellen DeGeneres get pizza for the stars in their million dollar frocks.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s the growing trendy of daggy celebrities done so well by Fallon. I believe the host should remain present throughout the rest of the evening but more of less reacting to what’s going on. I got a long night planned anyway.

Montages

Hollywood used to do the best montages and then a few years ago the kids on YouTube started doing it better. The day after a tribute to James Bond was done at the Oscars, better online contributions went viral. Jon Stewart even joked one year that the whole show was montages. Yet done well they elevate the whole thing, one year they brought performers on stage to perform a raft of best songs from previous decades and it linked you to previous generations. This year I would suggest two major montages. One saluting women of cinema, given the range of strong female performances this year it would be neat and also relevant given current cultural dialogue about gender politics. Hidden Figures for example taps into this in a big way. Imagine iconic moments from Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Liv Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Lilly Tomlin, Noomi Rapace, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Hattie McDaniel, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Cher, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Amy Adams, Felicity Jones, Cate Blanchett, etc.

The second would be long overdue, the work of stunt performers. There’s been a push for at least the past decade for them to get their own Oscar category and maybe this would be a step in the right direction of proper recognition. Sure practical stunts are being replaced by CGI since the heyday of the 70s and 80s but there is still plenty of stunt work being performed and a montage could show the classic stunts we all know and love with behind the scenes footage giving these men and women their day in the sun. There are plenty of stories too. Rick Sylvester’s Union Jack Parachute Ski Jump from The Spy Who Loved Me, Image result for movie stunts Jophery Brown’s bus jump from Speed “ If I’d been directly in the driver’s suit it probably would have broken my back”, Image result for movie stuntsBud Elkins driving that motorcycle over the border fence in The Great Escape, Zoe Bell on the hood of that Dodge Challenger in Death Proof, Related imageVic Armstrong’s work as Indiana Jones, Heidi Moneymaker’s work as Black Widow, Bill Hickman stunt driving in The French Connection, stuntwoman Lila Finn who doubled for Vivien Leigh and Donna Reed right through to doing work on Robocop 2, Yakima Canutt who pulled off that famous stunt in Stagecoach. Image result for yakima canuttAnyway the list goes on. The montage could include personal anecdotes about their injuries, close calls, relationship with stars they double for or love of the job. Perhaps mention of some stuntmen and stuntwomen who died doing what they loved. To introduce this montage get an actor who is noted for doing some of their own stunts, Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise if you believe the hype, and Johansson who trains phenomenally hard in her role as Black Widow often doing more interesting stunt work than her male co-stars in The Avengers movies. Maybe the most perfect choice would be Jackie Chan.

Song Performances

Most song performances have been strong over the years, something as intimate as Dolly Parton singing Travelin’ Thru, to Beyoncé and Idina Menzel giving sterling performances right through to moving pieces as Lady Gaga was joined on stage by real sexual assault survivors performing Til It Happens To You. The energy of Everything is Awesome to the power of Glory. As a template, you could see the potential from this year’s best song nominees. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is idiotic but kind of catchy. Hopefully they’ll avoid trying to get the crowd involved with a bunch of middle aged actors looking uncomfortable although it would be worth it if Harrison Ford ended up punching Timberlake in the face – hey we can dream. Still it is an up-tempo number and if you put a bunch of kids there on stage enjoying it my cold heart will melt.

Superstar Sting showing up to sing Empty Chair with the lights dimmed and a montage of reporters lost in the field would be particularly moving. Don’t even say the clip was of all reporters lost doing their job until after the clip too. Not everybody is going to know it’s from the critically lauded documentary Jim about the sadly deceased correspondent James Foley. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) needs a big performance from a big star, Beyoncé, Gaga, somebody of that calibre. Maybe a Broadway star the film community doesn’t know. Think Idina or Kristen Chenoweth before everybody knew who they were. The big production number should go to How I’ll Go from Moana and come early in the piece in case any kids are still up. Lots of lights, moving props and dancers with Auli’i Cravalho singing her heart out.

Which leaves us with City of Stars; this should be sung by Emma Stone and Gosling at piano with their innate chemistry while dancers recreate scenes from the film in the background. The power of the ending should be recreated in this on stage performance. Think Eugene Levy’s wonderful touching of Catherine O’Hara’s cheek at the end of performing A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow in character or the heartfelt singing of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Falling Slowly.

Speeches

Look there’s no denying we want to hear Emma Stone more than who won Best Film Editing speak and so she’ll be given more time. That is fair enough, but give the editor 30 seconds and if it looks like they’re wrapping up soon let it go. They might be about to tell you that their parent recently fought cancer. This can’t be stated enough, some of the most heartfelt and best moments of Oscars past are the speeches that were allowed to just happen in the moment. Don’t terrify people; let them tell their story at a moment of personal triumph. If after 30 seconds they’re bombing jokes or boring us nobody is going to have a problem if the music starts to kick in a little. Hell the recipient will probably thank you even. But stop apologising for the length of the telecast, this is your community you’re celebrating and the people tuning in aren’t just interested in the next blockbuster to pack their kids away in air conditioning for two hours, they’re cinephiles and they’re digging this as much as footy fans dig the halftime commentary.

Honorary Oscars

I know this is never going to happen, The Governors ball allows AMPAS to honour at least 3 recipients a year, focuses an evening more on just a few awardees and takes away the pressure of a live television audience but we’ve lost something with not handing out these Oscars on Oscar night.

Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Blake Edwards, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Deborah Kerr, Ennio Morricone, Michelangelo Antonioni. These were some of the lifetime achievement awards handed out in the years I started watching. Films like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man got on my radar because of Eastwood’s montage for the Irving G. Thalberg award. Who amongst us didn’t have tears in our eyes when Kirk Douglas made a speech having prepared endlessly for it following a stroke.

Michael standing with his brothers in the stands just a proud son. Deborah Kerr years after retiring flown over from the other side of the Atlantic who simply said “I’m amongst friends.” Anybody know who Michelangelo Antonioni is? He’s an Italian film director who I doubt I have seen the films of but I also doubt I have not seen the films influenced by his work. Oscars always echoed the ghosts of the past, gave a sense of community amongst this sea of celebrity that these rich pricks really just wanted to tell good stories and that the past was never forgotten. As a film buff my first awareness of so many classics came from Oscar ceremonies that remembered and championed work from the past as well as the present. A good choice for a foreign director of lauded classics now would be Wim Wenders who has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. After ruining the perfect symmetry of Sly Stallone winning the Oscar for Creed last year it’s probably time to give him an Honourary Oscar but maybe some kids out there know who he is. They won’t know who Gene Hackman is; imagine a montage of his work on Oscar night followed by him making his first public appearance in close to a decade. The crowd would go ballistic!Image result for gene hackman oscarAl Pacino, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Frances McDormand are all potential presenters. Traditionally Honourary Oscars go to those who haven’t won in competition but to see Gene I’d just about do anything and if some young film buff out there notices his work and is inspired to watch The Conversation or Missippi Burning the way I was to watch Bronco Billy or Serpico then that’s a goal scored.

Well they’re just some thoughts, any pet peeves or treasured moments you have from previous Oscars or any things you would suggest for the broadcast. Whatever happens next Monday, I’ll be tuning in, judging the fashion with my wife and mother, texting my best friend during the ad breaks in another part of the country long into the evening about who won and who missed out. Maybe the ceremonies since 2004 haven’t been that bad, maybe the ones before weren’t that great. It doesn’t matter; it’s Hollywood’s night of nights and mine too.

-Lloyd Marken