Back Row’s Films of 2018: Eden’s Worst 5

EDEN CACEDA

When it comes to the Top 5 Worst Films of 2018, I actually felt a lot more decisive than choosing my Top 10 Best Films list. Fortunately for me, I didn’t see an overwhelming number of terrible films over the past year, but the ones that I did see, were ones I hope to never see again or subject anyone else to watch. Perhaps the least shockingly of all is that all of these films were made by big Hollywood studios, all with the intention to be big blockbusters. Two of these were among some of the highest grossing films of the year. Two were also kids movies that never seemed to click with younger audiences or the adults dragged along to also watch them. But there is only one in which I was privy to a row of sleeping adults right before I had a quick nap, before waking up and not feeling like I missed anything and left the theatre wishing I never arrived…

5. Tag
Want to watch a bunch of (semi) talented actors squander in an unfunny and lame movie that is made all the much worse by the realisation that the true story that inspired it is probably so much better? I give you Tag. Based on the Wall Street Journal article about a group of friends still playing tag after years and years, it seemed like a great chance to combine a true story and a great script. But instead the film is so forgettable, even by the standards of Hollywood comedy, which are the lowest of the lows. The writing isn’t sharp, the characters are overblown and when the mood changes in the last act to so overly earnest, you can tell it’s just a veiled attempt to make the film seem like it was actually trying to make a profound comment on male friendship.

4. Venom
Venom, more like vomit. Just thinking about this unnecessary Marvel spin off makes me want to gag. Add in the big question mark on why Michelle Williams, a respectable actress, is in this mess of a movie, and there are so many unanswered questions. The script is so uninspired, particularly having come out in the same year as the excellent Black Panther which puts this film to shame, and the story is just bleugh. Tom Hardy takes it all in his stride, acting so sure with the character he is trying to portray, that he is actually, dare I say it, good here. Riz Ahmed is insufferable, trying his best with the awful material, but ultimately the worst, and I mean the worst, villain in a superhero movie in a long time. With rumours that a sequel is lined up, I will most certainly be avoiding this one with a ten foot pole.


3. Fifty Shades Freed
The third instalment that (maybe) at one point had the eyes of the world on it, now flails to its end in such an anticlimactic (pun intended) way, you’d be forgiven for forgetting it came out in 2018. Even after hours and hours of acting, leads Dakota Johnson and Jaime Dormer are still as wooden as ever as Anastasia and Christian in a relationship as steamy as a sushi roll. Marcia Gay Harden’s short appearance begs the question why she is in this appalling film. And probably the worst part is that this is the film with the most exciting parts! Anastasia is kidnapped by her former boss and even with this average plot line, the movie fails to have any dramatic tension and make us even care that this privileged woman with the personality of a potato COULD possibly die. Kill me now.

2. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
All style and noooo substance, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is, frankly, a dud. Visually pleasant, this adaptation of the classic ballet is horrific to say the least. Without any chemistry between the characters, forgettable performances from Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren and a storyline that screams WTF, even Misty Copeland’s beautiful dance performances fail to liven up the story for contemporary audiences. With such simple and iconic source material, something had to have gone very wrong in production for this film to limp at the box office. Most of all it doesn’t accomplish two things that should have been at the heart of this: create a compelling film in a similar vein to the classic ballet or create a children’s film that is remotely good. It fails on both counts.

1.Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
As a long time fan of the Goosebumps series, it took me some time to watch the film adaptation with Jack Black as R.L. Stine, and I actually didn’t mind it. But Goosebumps 2 is so awfully goofy, painfully boring, idiotically organised and downright shit, that it has to be my worst film of 2018. The books which it attempts to take inspiration from are practically stripped of any artistic integrity and there is so much wasted potential all around here. Characters were so inconsistent in their thinking and actions, it made me wonder if the same writer saw the screenplay through. This was pure, unadulterated money grabbing, attaching a hit to a Halloween themed story, with little regard for an engaging or even cohesive story. The film tries to redeem itself by including Black in the final moments, even though he appears quite heavily in the trailer, but its too little too late. Just. the. worst.

Back Row’s Films of 2018: Eden’s Top 10

EDEN CACEDA

For the first time in a few years my Top 10 Films list span a wide variety of genres, from blockbuster thrillers to historical comedies to art house dramas. But more profound than these differing genres has been 2018’s commitment to diversity in the presentation of human stories. There has been diversity in the way filmmakers are showing films, with one major picture receiving a wide release on Netflix, redefining how audiences experience and have access to excellent movies. But most importantly of all there is diversity in storytelling and diversity on screen for the first time that doesn’t seem tokenistic and actually packs a punch. It’s not the best year for films in recent history in my opinion, but it’s an excellent set up for years to come.

0. Crazy Rich Asians
Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestseller, this romantic comedy sees Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) goes to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), unbeknownst to that he is the heir to a million dollar business. One of the best things about this adaptation is how refreshing and original it feels in the landscape of Hollywood cinema. Yes, it uses flashing art direction and broad humour to appeal to general audiences, but its originality lies in the honest portrayal of the cultural and intergenerational differences between Rachel and Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michele Yeoh) in an appealing and easy to watch way.


9. Love, Simon
This John Hughes-esque film is the romantic comedy that touches all the right nerves and gives gay teenagers the right sort of visibility that has been missing in mainstream filmmaking for the longest time. When Simon (Nick Robinson) learns that there is another closeted gay at his school, his search begins. His relationship with his friends bring a lot of laughs and give it the teen film angle that teenagers love to watch. But it’s the moving moments with Simon and his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) that really make it feel like more than a cheesy film and draws a few tears. It’s funny, sentimental, smart and groundbreaking, but has a lot of heart.


8. Sorry To Bother You
Director and writer Boots Riley goes big in this provocative and outlandish film, tackling outrageous ideas about politics, labour and society. Centering on telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who uses his “white voice” to make sales and climb the corporate ladder, before learning the truth behind the company he works for, there are plenty of twists and turns drawing the viewer in. It’s surreal, original and wild in its approach to a story that holds an anti-capitalistic message very loud and clear. And certainly paves the way forward for this kind of  atypical filmmaking in years to come. While its ending may be too far for the average viewer, it cements Stanfield as a leading actor with plenty of charisma and Riley as a director with plenty more to give.

7. The Wife
When Joe (Jonathan Pryce) is announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) travel to Norway for the ceremony to celebrate his body of work. What plays out is an enthralling story of Joan, the wife, who’s elegance and composition is at odds with Joe’s vanity and arrogance, all driven from his acclaimed body of work. The Wife is a look at a woman’s role when she is dedicated to the role of a successful man’s sidekick and little more. What we learn is that there are secrets and betrayals that lurk beneath this couple’s perfect facade and ultimately a powerful figure comes to the fore to claim what has been theirs all along. Close deserves all the awards for this performance.

6. A Quiet Place
Before there was Bird Box, there was A Quiet Place. This near voiceless film is an enthralling roller coaster that shocks and scares all without making much of a human sound. With director John Krasinski in the lead role as Lee, surviving with his wife Evelyn and their children (real life wife Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, respectively), there is plenty of tension accompanying the eeriness throughout. All of the performances are strong and Krasinski’s ability to create anxiety with restriction of sound and verbal emotion is a cut above the rest last year. Whilst the ending is predictable and a sequel is to come which could unravel it all, Krasinski’s steely and effective direction is thrilling.


5. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler’s high budget and subversive political critique is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe full stop. The ideological conflict between the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the American rebel Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) really blurred the lines between the good guys and the bad guys for what felt like to me the first time in 21st century superhero stories. The attention to detail in the African influences in Wakanda’s architecture and technology is bold and iconic. Rather than succumb to the traditions and staples of superhero filmmaking, Coogler does his best to bring gravitas to the material, creating an intense and exhilarating experience incomparable to past Marvel films. Here’s hope that the vigour and attention to detail will continue into further sequels.

4. A Star Is Born
In a story told time and time again (and again), there is the tragic love story that births a legend. In this reincarnation director, producer and writer Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard rocking Southern singing star takes soulful Ally (Lady Gaga in her film debut) under his wing to make her a superstar. With Gaga taking centre stage (literally) in this tragedy, there is only one ending in very clear sight. Yet despite this, Cooper turns this tired story into a refreshing take on a classic, working with Gaga’s singing ability and vocal style in a collaboration that actually feels legitimate. The power ballad Shallow brings both voices together in a fantastic blend that will no doubt be the film Song of the Year. Whilst the third act loses steam as it dribbles towards the end, the last few minutes of Gaga’s beautiful vocal strength validates the love story and no doubt will launch her film career.

3. Blackkklansman
It was only a matter of time until visionary auteur Spike Lee made a comment on the state of US society and politics. That comment is Blackkklansman, telling the outrageous true story about Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he tries to infiltrate the KKK in Colorado Springs. Encouraging colleague Flip (Adam Driver) to be part of his investigation, they team up to take down the organisation from the inside. The film’s ability to balance both comedy and drama is to be commended as is Washington’s star turn as Ron. The commitment to drawing parallels between the 1970’s fight against prejudice and the current situation of racial tension in the US does come across as documentary like at times, but the impact is lasting. I felt angry by the end of it. Its gut wrenching but empowering, timely and brawny in its storytelling and lasting in its power.

2. Roma
Every director has their passion project. More often than not, these projects fail because director’s have this vision that has stewed inside them for years that when presented with the opportunity falls into a huge mess. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is not one of those films. Directed, written and co-edited by Cuaron, this Spanish language film takes us back to the Mexico of his past. Following the life of a housekeeper to a Middle Class family, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), Roma isn’t concerned with appealing to any particular group of viewers or following the beats of other dramatic films. Aparicio’s performance is so moving and particular, it is hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Roma is visually rich in detail, beautifully written and most of all you can feel Cuaron’s passion behind it, delicately unraveling his vision for this story. It’s deeply personal, as we follow Cleo’s days and life through the tumultuous 1970’s Mexico, engrossing throughout. It speaks for itself in its presentation, a moving portrait on the complexity of a simple life but one that is not worth any less than anyone else. It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple.

1.The Favourite
Historical dramas are dime a dozen this year (see Mary Queen of Scots, The Crown, etc.) but what about a historical comedy? It’s 18th century England, Olivia Colman is Queen Anne, at her side is Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, fundamentally ruling the kingdom while at war with France. That is until a new servant and Sarah’s relation Abigail (Emma Stone) turns up to stir the pot and strives become the court favourite herself. Yorgos Lanthimos makes all the right moves here. Camera angles are weird, with really unusual uses of fisheye lenses and slow panning scenes. We see slow motion scenes of duck racing and tomato throwing interspersed throughout, highlighting the ridiculousness of activities at this time. The three key actresses Colman, Weisz and Stone have such great timing and banter that you would be mistaken for thinking they haven’t done a comedy together before. But it’s the humour that takes the cake, the sharp dialogue and entertaining beats that actually makes this history…seem fun! Whilst its not 100% historically correct and never tries to make it seem so, Lanthimos puts a twist on this war of personalities to make it appealing and understandable for the average viewer. It doesn’t make a mockery of these women but embraces them, warts and all, with their vulnerabilities and their ferocity. The wit of the script balanced with the darkness of the period, the original and WTF direction that you would never see in any other royal re-telling, the stupendous acting from the cast who all leave a lasting impression, the art direction, the costuming and all of it is as weird and wonderful as one would expect, even more so as a history lesson. That’s why The Favourite happen to be my favourite of 2018.

Back Row’s Films of 2018: Francisco’s Top 10

FRANCISCO SILVA

I started this year contemplating how sparse 2018 was for me. Didn’t watch as many films as I’m used to, and worse, kept it to a narrow range of represented countries (three, in fact). It’s like I made a mockery of my obsession for the medium, and now both future and past me hate my 2018 self. It could be the excuse that I got married, got pregnant, was unemployed for a good amount of the year, and abroad for another good chunk. But in the end I’m the one to blame for the fault – I even missed some of the Netflix films and, as of today, I’m yet to  see Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Annihilation and Hold The Dark (and I consider Jeremy Saulnier the most exciting new American filmmaker). They were right there for me to see in my own comforting couch, but alas…

Missing from this list are also works from filmmakers that I know I’ll regret not catching in the big screen – Shoplifters, Cold War, Widows, Let The Sunshine In, Peterloo and Faces Places all have the look, and the weight behind them, to join this group of 10 should I ever revisit it later this year.

And yet this is still a good group of 10! Solid and diverse, indicative how exciting 2018 was for cinema. A year that blockbusters not only vindicated their position in pop culture, but opened themselves to non-white male filmmakers. A year that, to my mind, saw the birth of no less than two (and maybe 3) bona fide classics. And that not only helped to mitigate how frightening and tumultuous of a year it was, but also channeled some of the anger that we’ll need to see us through 2019.



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0. The Favourite
The first Yorgos Lanthimos I enjoyed because it felt that it had a genuine drive behind it. The period setting is only incidental, as the film seems to play by its own stylistic rules, that lie somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon. It’s obviously not historically accurate, but at least it’s not pretending to try and understand history through the prism of modernity. Instead it delivers dry humour, sometimes grotesque, and a honest to God great moral thesis (something new to Lanthimos). And holy shit Olivia Coleman! The range she has!



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9. Sorry To Bother You
As subtle as a good hip-hop song, the first film of musician Boots Riley lives, dies and resurrects by its own rules. Starting as a satirical allegory for institutionalized racism, it snowballs into a monumental avalanche of anti-capitalist sentiment. It’s like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil if it was trying to save the world and not just be quirky and zany. Bustles with life and anger, and then grabs you by the balls and won’t let go until way past the credits. And it has the most genuine “what the fuck” moment I’ve seen all year.



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8. Leave No Trace
Debra Granik’s follow-up to her seminal Winter’s Bone is not as grim but still as compelling. A father (Ben Foster) protecting his daughter (Thomasin Mckenzie) from the perils of the outside world is usually grounds for easy dramas about the rift between generations. But  when they are forced to join society, what separates both characters is much deeper and poignant. Quiet and contemplative, and yet it ends in such a hopeful note that is pretty much the kind of feeling we need today to remind us that there’s a way through. If there’s any justice in the world Thomasin McKenzie would get a nomination for an Academy Award.



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7. Suspiria
Luca Guadagnino’s re-imagining of Dario Argento’s classic starts with the right foot by being almost completely different from the original. It’s denser and drenched in so many metaphors I wouldn’t put it past it that many of them are red herrings. So extravagantly directed that no two shots are the same, it paces itself during almost 3 hours to reach the most over-the-top blood-drenched finale since the Evil Dead remake. Tilda Swinton turned heads by playing so convincingly several different characters (one of them an old man), but I still believe that it’s Guadagnino’s audacity that made this worth it. I mean, the nerve!



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6. You Were Never Really Here
The second film directed by a woman in this list is also the most brutal of them all. Joaquin Phoenix plays a quiet contracted killer that sees himself in a situation where he has to protect a defenseless child. Haunted by suicidal thoughts, and a particular traumatic past, this take on the “man on a mission to protect the princess” not only goes out of it’s way to break the rules, it completely shatters them and deems them irrelevant. The plot is so thin anything else I could say would be a spoiler, but the slow pacing, and Lynne Ramsay’s keen eye make this the best anti-Taxi Driver we didn’t know we needed.



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5. Roma
How hard is it to make a film set a decade before I was born, in a different continent, that I end up relating so much I was almost nostalgic for a time and place I never experienced? According to Alfonso Cuaron it’s really not that hard at all! The story of his childhood told through the perspective of his caretaker (Yalitza Aparicio) is more than just a series of episodes about life in Mexico. No, it’s imbued with so much humanity and social consciousness I was emotionally in cackles even before the one birthing sequence. And for someone who admits, right upfront, to have experienced all this from the side of rich privilege, it looks into all the social divide in the least patronising way possible. Cuaron’s best film since Y Tu Mama Tambien.



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4. The Square
It’s ironic that Ruben Ostlund’s film won the Palme d’Or as one of its targets are the elites amusing themselves with art that never really confronts them. Set in the art world of Stockholm, it follows a curator dealing with both professional and personal issues as he’s about to open a new controversial exhibition. But the boldness, the insolence, comes from little moments where its protagonist (and, more often than not, other men – because it’s always men) can’t deal with their own masculine insecurities. It’s a theme that Ostlund had already explored in his previous film Force Majeure, but here he cranks it up to 11 to make sure nothing is left unsaid. It also has, hands down, the best scene of the year – you’ll know when you see it.



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3. Hereditary
I don’t know if the genius of Ari Aster’s film debut is how well it was conceived, or if part of it came from the impressive marketing campaign that managed to hide the reveal in the inciting incident from everyone! But whatever it was, watching Hereditary remained an unnerving experience only accentuated by how gladly lost I was in that plot. By the point the climax kicked in I was already convinced and willing to take whatever resolution Aster wanted me to have. Toni Collette is tremendous and sadly forgotten this awards season.



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2. Blackklansman
I could write 1000 words on Blackkklansman alone and still feel like a lot was left unsaid. The true story of an undercover police operation to infiltrate a KKK chapter is organised by an African-American police officer (John David Washington in terrific form) and his white-Jewish partner (Adam Driver). And yet Spike Lee takes this opportunity to shed a light to cinema itself, the medium he uses to tell this story. The film starts with a sweeping epic shot from Gone With The Wind that culminates, with patriotic fervour, with the flag of the Confederacy. Later on, in the centerpiece of the film, a group of Klansmen watches and cheers D. W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation. An angry Spike Lee always brings the best out of himself, but here he exceeded the expectations by holding his own peers accountable. And, if that wasn’t enough, finishes with a footnote that goes all the way to MAGA-wearing hats and Charlottesville, like turning a mirror at its own audience. The revolution may not be televised, but it’ll start here.




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1. Phantom Thread
“It fucked me up! This is cinema”. The words of Jordan Peele about Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, and I can’t disagree with them. Almost feels like cheating putting this film on the list as Anderson seems to now be working on a different realm than the rest of his colleagues. There was a time that I could pinpoint the references, homages and inspirations behind a new Anderson film but now if he’s fishing for ideas somewhere must be from an interdimensional portal where time and place are interchangeable.
The plot starts like many others about troubled artists (always men) destroying their pure virginal muses (women). In this case is Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) enchanting Alma (Vicky Krieps, severely underrated), but it’s only time before Anderson throws us an unexpected curveball to break any convention or expectations we might have on this subject. All this so perfectly shot, so formal and concise. Every scene presented, beat by beat, with such security. Every frame is so gorgeous they could all be in it’s own museum. And maybe this will be Anderson’s downfall, this almost academic perfection so air tight it doesn’t lead itself to the unpredictability of mistakes. Because, in the end, Phantom Thread isn’t even close to be his best film, precisely because it lacks flaws. But for 2018 there’s no other answer. Or if there was it would feel like a betrayal.