Written by Patrick Holman, founder and managing editor of Salt Lake Film Review.
2019 is underway and there are many new films and blockbusters to expect this year, all ranging from great to miserable. But, as we make our way through award season, we must look back on the previous year.
Upgrade received little love and attention when it released in June, falling just short of earning $12 million domestically. And, while its release didn’t coincide with any major titles, it still had to contend with other movies, such as Deadpool 2, Solo, and Overboard, which all debuted earlier in May. However, Tom Hardy doppelganger Logan Marshall-Green put on an exemplary, and exciting, performance as a troubled soul who must make the best of the situation he’s presented with following his wife’s murder and his paralyzation. There is no dull moment to be had with Upgrade and it’s one of Blumhouse Productions better releases in 2018. This fast-paced, high-stakes struggle presents some moral and ethical quandaries on what it means to be human and what free will actually is.
9. The Death of Stalin
The Death of Stalin is a clever, quick-witted, and dark comedy that largely flew under the radar upon its March release in the United States. With big names such as Jeffery Tambor, Steve Buscemi, and Jason Isaacs, along with a slew of others making up this film’s ensemble, nothing but the best should be expected. And that’s exactly what we get. The Death of Stalin is one of the funnier and more self-aware releases in 2018 as it skillfully navigates a situation full of ridiculousness and tension.
8. Lean On Pete
Lean On Pete made its mark as a quiet and thoughtful story about a boy trying to find his way. After a set of unfortunate circumstances are thrown at him, Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) must find a way to make money and to keep busy. After finding work with at the local racetrack to assist horse owner Del (Steve Buscemi). From taking care of the horses to doing manual labor, Charley is there to assist. Once he learns that his favorite horse, Lean On Pete, is about to be sold off for slaughter, Charley steals the horse and runs off in what becomes a lonely trek. It’s a journey that Charley may not be prepared for.
7. A Private War
A Private War was yet another film that went mostly unnoticed, often popping up for screenings only for a night in many cities. Fortunately for me, it had a one-week engagement near me toward the end of 2018 and I was able to see it on its final night. A Private War chronicles the real-life story of Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), war correspondent, who threw herself into the middle of terrible conflict and devastation, particularly in the Middle East, to cover the stories of those most affected by the war and violence waged by their governments. The result is an emotionally powerful, and relevant for our times, biopic that sheds light on the work of Colvin and her role in international journalism and war reporting.
Annihilation is suspenseful and thrilling; it is thought-provoking and cerebral. Led by Natalie Portman, playing biologist Lena, a team of women ventures into a disaster zone that nobody, up to that point, has come out of. Each person on the team brings their own set of skills to the mission, making it a scientific expedition, and what follows is a test of endurance, patience, and sanity. Annihilation provides some startling moments, but it also manages to show off some beautiful, mesmerizing ones, too. By the end, it becomes a cerebral experience that must be seen and heard as it is unlike any other film of the last year.
Roma is the definition of cinema and it’s unfortunate that we don’t see enough of it today. As Netflix’s first real push for award recognition, Alfonso Cuarón’s story of a housekeeper, and sometimes nanny, to a family in Mexico is breathtakingly beautiful. Cuarón’s long takes are on full display here and, although the film is entirely in black and white, the story is as colorful as it ever could be. Roma is a story of social status, family struggle, politics, culture, and uncertainty as different lives and personalities come crashing together like waves on a beach. Roma has won numerous awards already this year and is on track to be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this month.
4. A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born impressed me so much that I had to see it twice during its opening weekend. The sound is great during the concert and performance sets, actually making you feel like you’re at a show, and the emotional pull throughout the film is strong. Lady Gaga, playing young amateur singer-songwriter Ally, shines brightly next to a darker, troubled Bradley Cooper, who plays singer Jackson Maine. The two bring forth endearing chemistry that makes it difficult to not get invested in the story. One of two song-centric films in 2018, the other being Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born is the better experience.
Not having seen the original film, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into with Suspiria. What ensued was an experience so disturbing that it was amazing, and I was able to see this on Halloween night. As a fan of suspense and horror, when it’s actually done correctly and doesn’t come off as cheap, Suspiria checked all of the right boxes for me. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to Call Me By Your Name couldn’t be any more different. It is, however, the same level of storytelling that we’ve now come to expect from Guadagnino, who has become a master of his craft. This film, starring Tilda Swinton as the director of a dance troupe in Cold War Berlin and Dakota Johnson as a young aspiring dancer, is an experience in its own right. It is, in part, a social commentary about women in society and also the role of guilt and national identity. Combined with horror elements, this makes for an interesting story that, little by little, turns into something so bizarre and strange that you can’t take your eyes off of it.
2. Paddington 2
My love for this film cannot be understated. It is perfect. Paddington 2, the sequel to 2014’s Paddington, follows Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he continues to live and adapt to life in London. In this story, he comes up against the villain Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) and soon finds himself in prison. The circumstances reveal themselves quickly enough upon viewing, but Paddington’s time in prison makes up the bulk of the film and it is a charming, clever, and heartwarming experience that, because it is done so well, children and adults are all able to take something away from it. The idea that a talking bear in London could be so adored is absurd, but lightning struck twice with Paddington 2.
And, finally, Hereditary. From director Ari Aster, this is a story about family. Family drama, misunderstanding, guilt, and tragedy. It is also a horrifyingly, suspenseful tale that is captured incredibly well by the film’s cast. Annie (Toni Collette) is doing all that she can to keep her family together after the passing of her mother, but she isn’t perfect and she has her own grieving and soul searching to do, too. Along for the ride are her son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro).
Peter is your typical teenage boy who is forced to grapple with the family’s loss and he soon finds himself forced into an impossible situation as the state of his family changes. Charlie is weird. Odd. Different. I could go on, and on, and on. But she was her grandmother’s favorite. Their father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is doing all that he can to be a steady force and to keep his family together and happy.
Film distributor A24 has an impressive track record with what it acquires and puts out to the public. Hereditary is no exception and it’s an impressive thriller that rejects the cheap jump scares and cliché tropes that have hurt the horror genre. It is much smarter than The Conjuring series and it isn’t sickening like the Saw series.