ISLE OF DOGS (Directed by Wes Anderson, 101 minutes, USA, 2018)
Is it too much to ask for creators to occasionally make films that can be enjoyed for their simplicity? Wes Anderson thinks it is not. Isle of Dogs offers up adult themes in a good natured, perfectly executed package. Coupled with spectacular stop motion animation, Anderson and his army of voice actors bring alive a dystopian k-9 journey that is wrapped in very human emotions. It is an enjoyable journey populated by likable characters, each with their own unique set of mannerisms that make each dog more human than the humans, and the humans a little more than the sum of their parts.
BEFORE WE VANISH (Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 129 minutes, Japan, 2017)
Celebrated filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurowsawa takes us on a dive in to the deep end of what it means to be human (at least through the lens of Japanese culture). As aliens invade and take over a number of human bodies, characters in the film become unwilling tour guides to our would-be harbingers of doom, watching helplessly as they rob people of their humanity in an attempt to understand it. It’s a philosophical exploration of our inner workings wrapped nicely in layers of science fiction that compliment its story telling intentions
THE ENDLESS (Dir. by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 11 min., USA, 2018)
American horror cinema has been in a really great place the last few years, and 2018 is no exception. While there are triple-A titles on everyones list for the year, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been quietly building a superbly imagined world of their own over the last couple of years. While loosely attached to previous films, The Endless stands on its own as a creepy, low budget mind-f*ck. It tells the story of two brothers who return to the cult they left years earlier, only to find that the shady cast of characters may have been on to something the whole time. Mulder and Scully move over!
MIRAI (Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, 98 minutes, Japan, 2018)
Mamoru Hosoda’s upward trajectory is an unstoppable juggernaut in the world of animated films. Ever since The Girl Who Leapt Through Time he has made one classic film after another. Mirai is no different – choosing to tell a very human story with fantasy running through it’s veins – it tells the timeless tale of a boy who can’t quite cope with the new family member (his sister) and the journey of discovery he takes when he comes across a magical time portal that introduces him to his family members at various ages. Visually stunning and full of over the top characters and real-life feelings, it’s the kind of movie that will appeal to children of all ages.
ANNIHILATION (Directed by Alex Garland, 115 minutes, USA, 2018)
Atmospheric, gorgeously shot, and creepy as hell, Annihilation is the epitome of what intelligent contemporary science fiction cinema should aim to be. Where movies like Prometheus/Alien Covenant meandered on heavy handed lectures on weighty themes, Alex Garland offers no easy answers, and leaves much to the imagination. The stunning visuals backed by terrifying creature design, and punctuated by short moments of intense violence, complete the world building, but much like the real world, the viewer must find their own way.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Dir. by Lynne Ramsay, 99 minutes, USA, 2017)
Lynn Ramsay brings her unique lens to the dark, lonely world of a man with nothing to lose, but who choses to spend his somber existence rescuing others from theirs. It’s this sense of purpose that gives meaning to the quiet film. Unlike similarly themed films (such as Taken and Spartan), Ramsay isn’t interested in lingering scenes blunt violence or harsh dialogue (there is little of either), but the watchful eye of absolution, and trying to stay afloat in a world seemingly intent on making one sink.
LEAVE NO TRACE (Directed by Deborah Granik, 109 minutes, USA, 2018)
Debra Granik has a gift for telling stories in parts of America that are invisible to most. With Leave No Trace she focuses her finely crafted lens on the Pacific Northwest, and a father and daughter live a nomadic existence in a state park, living off the land. However, when their peaceful existence is discovered, they must struggle against the encroaching society they have shunned to find a place to call home. With a watchful observers eye for society, and excellent performances by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace is an excellent treatise on the American family.
BLACK PANTHER (Directed by Ryan Coogler, 134 minutes, USA, 2018)
Oh holy hell am I tired of New York being the epicenter of all things super hero related. Well, NY or some alternatively named rip-off. *Cue Black Panther music*. Smashing in to the MCU like the Hulk riding on Thor’s lightening, Black Panther is a refreshing, globe-trotting romp that elevates super hero cinema to the next level at a time that it’s all starting to feel like a bit much. Throwing a much needed bandaid on the cinematic bubble, Ryan Coogler and team have not only added a crucial cultural component to the franchise, they made a film that is undeniably fun from start to finish, which is what every hero should be (and it never once steps foot in NYC).
THE NIGHT COMES FOR US (Dir. by Timo Tjahjanto, 121 min., USA, 2018)
I would not be surprised in the least if the presenter at the Academy Awards were to unfurl that envelope, raise an eyebrow in astonishment, then calmly state “The award for Best Actor in a motion picture goes to…… Blood”. Blood is a character in The Night Comes For Us – a masterpiece of balletic violence, and treatise on the lengths to which men (and women) will go to find redemption, or prevent others from obtaining it. Bring a strong stomach and steely emotions, this one will drain you, but it is a highly kinetic, finely tuned piece of genre filmmaking.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (Dir. by Christopher McQuarrie, 147 min., USA, 2018)
Breathlessly paced, funny, sexy, stylish, modern – the list of adjectives goes on. After years of watching Tom Cruise being beaten and battered as Ethan Hunt, the non-stop Fallout still manages to squeeze in new ideas to the characters sense of purpose, and give him an incredible amount of closure, while still giving the franchise room to continue, if Tom and company wishes to do so. Not since Bad Boys II has an American action movie been this gleefully fun.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Shaver is a mobile security expert by day, and music journalist at night, having spent the last decade as a concert photographer up and down the east coast. When his toddler allows it, Matt is an avid cinephile and gamer.