M.N. Miller’s Film Year in Review
2018 was a thrilling year in film. Below are some musings, thoughts, observations, and some random geek-swagger of what I took away from the year that was, admittedly, while offering completely biased opinions on what I felt strongly about this past year.
Worst Trend 2018
Films that end with cliffhangers
Kin, The Darkest Minds, Robin Hood: all films that put such little effort into their scripts that are so utterly pointless, offer no real value, and attempt to set up a franchise without a care for the current movie they are making make me want to scream, “Don’t waste my mother-f*****g time,” like Al Pacino in Heat. Even Netflix’s How It Ends doesn’t offer a real ending but an opened-ended finish to pave the way for a streaming series. Reward your audience with a good movie first, then steal their money with a franchise later; it’s the polite way to do business.
Best Trends of 2018
Female filmmakers come to the forefront.
Films about racial tensions and divides come to light
Of my top 15 films this year, 67% of film directors are either female or part of a minority class.
Award Groups Playing it Safe
Tepid and politically-correct
Major awards groups not awarding films like BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You, The Hate U Give, and If Beale Street Could Talk and go with safer choices is head-scratching. I liked the film Green Book quite a bit, but this film played it safe compared to the above list of bold, imaginative films with so much to say.
Best use of real-life subject acting in films
Director Chloe Zhao fashions a story around Brady Trudeau, a man from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation and a cowboy, who was training horses; years later, he was thrown from a horse, which caused a head injury that would leave him prone to seizures, and a metal plate in his head. Just watch Trudeau; he is not in the moment. Acting is about listening, and whether he looks out into the Dakota plains or the eyes of his best friend as he simulates for him one last ride, he is always in the moment.
Worst use of real-life subject acting in films
15:17 to Paris
The subjects of the film are no question heroes. Unfortunately, they are like walking cardboard cut-outs, making every syllable seemed forced and even lethargic. It’s honestly cringe-worthy, but I don’t blame the actors; they are trying their best. I take exception to Eastwood for letting them fail so badly.
The Year of the Popular Documentary Film
I think it’s clear we are now in the golden age of popular documentary filmmaking. Whether it’s streaming films on hard-to-watch subjects like Recovery Boys and The Bleeding Edge, or more watchable fare like Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Andre The Giant, or Whitney, these films are finding an audience.
Oddest Film of the Year
An odd film, Blue Iguana, doesn’t know if it wants to be an 80’s throwback or a spoof. What is clear is it is such a homage to that mercurial decade. I half expected Chuck Norris to show up with a sweaty headband. Calling this film irritating doesn’t do it justice.
Best Use of Product Placement
Searching perfectly uses product placement in the story like no other film I have ever seen. The father searches for his daughter through name-brand online search engines, apps, and social media sites, without taking the viewer out of the world you’ve become immersed in. The film builds so much spine-tingling suspense that you literally sit on the edge of your seat without knowing it; imagine if the product placement took you out of that?
Worst Use of Product Placement
Product placement has always been a huge pet peeve of mine. It ruins movies for me, and it takes you right out of the experience you immersed yourself in. The gold standards of bad product placement have always been The Day the Earth Stood Still, where the meeting place for aliens is in a Mcdonald’s parking lot, or when Brad Pitt bought a Pepsi from a vending machine to see if he could escape zombies undetected in World War Z.
That was until I watched Netflix’s Like Father. If you put any scene from this movie next to a scene from a Royal Caribbean commercial, you couldn’t tell the difference.
The most obvious twist
It is a mystery that is more than obvious from the beginning, from the film’s trailer, and even, frankly, its title. The mystery is the only way the film would work, so what suspense is there to be had?
The best twist of the year
I think twists aren’t twists if you mention or even hint at them, so I won’t dare spoil that here.
Most Underrated Comedy
You wouldn’t think this Netflix comedy would amount to much, but you would be wrong. It’s an absurd, gross-out, go-for-broke comedy that leaves nothing on the table. Most studio features wish they could be this ballsy. So damn funny it doesn’t just push the envelope. It completely tears it apart. The laughs, let’s put it this way, cut deep.
Most Underrated Performance #1
Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting
While confronting the white cop, he saw a gun down a defenseless man. Daveed Diggs’ final act is mesmerizing. It’s a byproduct of a group that has felt unfair treatment and feelings of social injustice that comes pouring out in one explosive, ultimately moving, scene.
Most Underrated Performance #2
Carey Mulligan, Wildlife
A showcase performance for Mulligan, whose performance is hypnotic, leaning on her son for mature guidance, a victim of the era she was born into, and trying to break free of the predefined role society has chosen for her.
Most Underrated Performance #3
Claire Danes, A Kid Like Jake
Danes is a revelation, playing a character that flips the script on gender-based parenting norms. Her character is abrasive, annoying, even abusive, as she deals with the anxiety of not knowing how to raise her child. Alex is so much more than the standard “lean against a door frame, then look concerned, disapproving, or supportive of a man’s trouble” role that most actresses are saddled with
Best Film Debut
Rafael Casal, Blindspotting
Casal, in his first film role, displays a split-second rage reminiscent of a young Al Pacino. His performance is a hurricane, a true force of nature. He may not walk away with any recognition this awards season, a travesty, in my opinion. Still, five years from now, everyone will remember Miles from Blindspotting as one of the great characters of the decade.
Natasha Josefowitz, Three Identical Strangers
Even though she is in the film for a brief cameo, she provides a revealing look into someone who has no moral compass and doesn’t even know it.
Best Villain, Second Take
Riley, Eighth Grade
No scene this year caused so much angst inside a theatre that I was in than when Riley (played by Daniel Zolghadri) propositions young Kayla. Everyone in their seats instantly became her adoptive parents and was powerless to help.
Harry Bellefonte, BlacKkKlansman
In a powerful turn, retelling the lynching of Jerome Turner to a group of young activists. The scene is so moving it causes a visceral reaction for the right and wrong reasons.
Best Cameo, Second Take
Brad Pitt, Deadpool 2
He might be on-screen for less than 2 seconds, but the visual makes for one of the most memorable cameos in recent memory. Gleefully absurd.
Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace
McKenzie’s eyes are a gateway to what her character is thinking, and the very definition of “less is more.” With one stoic look, you can see she is torn between wanting to take care of her father and her own natural autonomy and desire for more from life. Her performance doesn’t have a false note in it.
Breakout Performance, Second Take
Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You
You may know him now, but before his breakout role, you probably have watched him and couldn’t place him. Whether it’s playing a closeted dying gay man of faith in Come Sunday, a troubled resident in Short Term 12, a frightening vision of African-American oppression is getting Out, a civil rights activist in Selma, or Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton, Stanfield has the unique ability to disappear into any role he takes on. His talent is undeniable; a method actor at heart and now should become a household name.