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

DENZEL GETS AS GOOD AS HE GIVES IN THE MOVIE FENCES

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Fences is not an easy film to watch at times, at its centre is Denzel Washington shaking off his established screen persona to play a very flawed man but a human being none the less. He is Troy Maxson a garbage man in 1950s America raising a teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) with his lovely wife Rose (Viola Davis) in working class Pittsburgh. This is a man who holds centre stage in his house, he is the king of a court that usually numbers no more than four or five but it means a great deal to him. His best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) who he works with nods in agreement more often than not, Rose not always in agreement will let things slide as wives sometimes do, his son from a previous relationship Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory exist as challenges to his authority to be shut down at all costs and then there is his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) damaged by the war who is the only one he can’t control.

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For Troy no achievement is good enough, he’s 53 years old and the windows of opportunity are closing. After a wild youth he’s chosen being a responsible patriarch and he wants to ingrain into his sons that sense of responsibility but this maybe because he secretly envies their possible futures. Troy makes a decision that a lot of men make when faced with a mid-life crisis, this small court of admirers is no longer enough and like all men responsibility has made him forget that his burden as a patriarch is also his privilege. The consequences for his family will flow down through the years.

Viola Davis in her award acceptance speeches throughout this season has said that playwright August Wilson with Fences gave voice to the African American working class of the last century who kept the country running and allowed their children to finally gain college educations and with it opportunities. Everybody wants to know their life matters and for swathes of men and women who never got their names in history books August Wilson’s play is a tribute that powerfully tells their ghosts “Yes you mattered.” Yet it might be important to remember that not all of them were this deeply flawed and resentful as Troy. My own grandfather was a welder, he didn’t cheat on his wife he took care of her when she suffered a stroke at the age of 36 and he didn’t resent his children succeeding he encouraged it. I don’t know if he regretted any decisions, if he rued any missed opportunities or was haunted by any unfulfilled dreams. Because he never spoke of them but Troy Maxson speaks of them a lot.

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Denzel Washington is arguably the greatest living actor of his generation, a man who has played many different characters, action roles for Tony Scott, punk runaway slaves in Glory, a variety of roles for director Spike Lee including Malcolm X but you may never have seen him like this. He’s not cool here. He’s lively, gruff and even a little old and worn out. As an actor lacking any vanity he gradually strips away Troy’s dignity. We see the hypocrisy of his actions, the pain in his outbursts and the fragility in his powerful but out of shape physique. This is Denzel as you’ve never seen him before, so effectively does he embody the spirit and life of a man like Maxson. A man who in one instant can beat himself up about owing owning a house to his brother, and then in the next lecture his son about how saving to afford repairs on the house is a man’s responsibility. Yet look at the small exchanges, the expressions on his face in moments where he does not speak. This man was capable of love even if not how to express or value it properly.

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Mykelti Williamson starring as Gabriel Maxson who received a head injury in the Pacific and now acts erratic also gives a great performance. This is a time where understanding of what he was struggling with would have been limited and the burden of taking care of him would have been substantial. Williamson brings real pathos to the role but anybody who has been around those with mental disability, mental health or autism will tell you such people often take your breath away with insightful and timely words. Not to mention they often bring forth the better angels of our nature. Jovan and Russell play their roles effectively, we see they only want to earn their father’s love and respect while they are growing weary of their treatment at his hands. Henderson’s turn as Bono will be less celebrated because it’s all in subtle choices playing in the background while other people are saying their lines but he does have two stand-out scenes with Washington where the nature of their friendship take a turn.

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For all the accolades Washington should receive, Viola Davis may give the best performance in the film. Viola Davis as Rose is a buttress of support not just to her husband but to her family and to her community (we see her leaving for Church with food in one scene.) Women like her endured much to hold whole towns together with their stalwart love and bottomless depths of forgiveness. In the film’s most powerful moment she lays bare the limits and hopes for housewives of that era and it is beautiful and devastating. If the character of Troy is hard to sympathise with, the film should be seen for Davis’s moment alone.

Denzel Washington as director is happy to stage the film as naturally as possibly, we leave the house for bits but we can see clearly this story was once told as a stage play. No showy flourishes are made with the camera but close ups are played for maximum effect. We see the hill, we see the house – the front and back and inside, we feel intrinsically what it was like to grow up in it and the world that is hinted at outside. It’s a strong straightforward telling of the story for the camera, this remains first and foremost a tale told through performances.

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As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.

-Lloyd Marken