Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Grant’

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sitting on this post for no good reason since before 2018 ended. I had seen everything I needed to see (within a reasonable degree of certainty) but couldn’t settle on the final order until, literally, moments ago.

I’m still not certain I got it quite right, and every film in my top five at one point or another held the top spot. So before I doubt myself and reshuffle the deck, yet again, here’s my 10 favorite moves of 2018.

10. Vice

Adam McKay’s film about the modern Republican Party and the rise, and rise, and rise of Dick Cheney has its detractors, many of whom make very good points about the film’s overt distaste for its central subjects and over-reliance on gimmickry. But there’s no denying the power of Christian Bale’s chameleon performance, juxtaposed against the otherwise surrealist take on American political “history” (characters occasionally break the fourth wall or slip into Shakespearean prose to hammer home the narrative’s points about the hollow theatrics of government).

You’re mileage will definitely vary here, but I’m always prone to award points for bending the rules of convention, which “Vice” does from start to finish.

9. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut landed with a bang during the summer, and while its status as the “it” movie of 2018 has diminished somewhat against late-arriving contenders, it’s still likely to be one of the movies that people remember even after they stop confusing the dates on their checks (Is that still a thing? Do people still write out checks?).

That’s due in no small part to the raw and dynamic performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, a killer soundtrack and a confident, observational directing style that feels as if the story on screen is something accidentally, and heartbreakingly, stumbled upon.

8. Hereditary

It’s easy to overlook the skill involved in a good horror film. Lesser entries over-rely on conventions: dark rooms, loud noises and ghastly manifestations that send a chill down the audience’s spine before sending them home with a smile on their face. Then there’s movies like “Hereditary,” which use those tools to burrow under your skin and sit with you for days.

“Hereditary” is packed with shocking, disturbing moment, but the movie doesn’t rely on stunts. There’s a mythology at play, and an examination of grief and familial bonds, all obscured under a deep and bewitching atmosphere of dread.

7. Annihilation

“Annihilation,” the novel by Jeff Vandermeer is, to put it mildly, ambiguous. It conveys mood — and particularly a deepening sense of unease — more than plot, with its characters barely attempting to describe the fantastic and terrifying things they encounter as they venture into…something.

It’s also a great read, and wonderfully adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, whose film combines beautiful and haunting imagery with a more concrete narrative about an expedition of women scientists exploring a phenomenon of likely alien origin located along a rural segment of the Florida coastline.

6. Paddington 2

I never got around to seeing the first Paddington, and I was somewhat confused when I started hearing reports that it’s sequel was the best-reviewed film in Rotten Tomatoes’ history (at the time).

So I took the bait, and I’m here to tell you the hype is real. Paddington 2 is infectiously joyful, a film that gushes sincerity and charm, and combines slapstick humor with thrilling chase sequences and, somehow, everything in between. As the film’s antagonist, Hugh Grant has simply never been better, and a stand-out scene utilizing pop-up book imagery took my breath away. See this movie, now.

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It took a few years, but Netflix finally did it. With “Buster Scruggs” the streaming giant had its first must-see feature film, a collection of six western vignettes by the Coen Brothers.

Frequently funny, often tragic, occasionally disturbing and sometimes all of the above, the Coen’s ballad has a little bit of everything and will leave you wanting more.

4. First Man

I was born into a world where man had already walked the lunar surface, with the tragedies, national rivalries and scientific uncertainties of the space race long since past. As a result, the most compelling aspect of Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic was, for me, the anxiety it conveys as now-historic ambassadors of Planet Earth set off on unproven and spectacularly dangerous missions to test the boundaries of human accomplishment.

The film’s centerpiece is a coup de grâce, as Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his crew make their decent from Lunar orbit and, once landed, step out onto an otherwordly landscape. Chazelle takes it all in, giving the scenes room to breathe without needless interruption or embellishment.

3. BlacKkKlansman

From the “You can’t make this up” file comes “BlacKkKlansman” the mostly-true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film sizzles with a sharp, darkly-comic energy, aided by the pitch-perfect, odd-couple casting of John David Washington and Adam Driver, as well as a surprisingly effective Topher Grace as KKK grand wizard David Duke.

2. Roma

The term “visionary” is thrown around a little too liberally in film criticism, but in the case of Alfonso Cuaron it applies. Consider the recent run by the director, from “Children of Men” in 2006 to “Gravity” in 2013 and now “Roma,” which was wisely snapped up by Netflix.

Known for his long takes and massive scale, Cuaron painstakingly recreates Mexico City circa 1970 for his meditative profile of an affluent family and their live-in housekeeper/nanny. It’s a movie brimming beyond the edges of the screen with life and detail, following one young woman’s path through a city, and nation, in a state of social and political flux.

1. The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a style all his own, simultaneously enticing and intentionally off-putting, as seen recently in “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” His films are absurd, but with absurdities masked under a veneer of sterile banality that he carefully cracks to expose the bizarre machinations at play.

With “The Favourite,” working off a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos focuses his singular artistic eye on the court of England’s Queen Anne (a superb Olivia Coleman) and the schemes of two women (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) who battled for the monarch’s trust and affection.

In the world of “The Favourite,” the familiar pomp and circumstance of imperial English decorum are on full display, albeit ratcheted up to farcical heights that, while deliciously anachronistic, convey the petty jealousies and political scheming that carry through to modern society. The result is a period piece unbound by the trappings of history that, through caricature, captures something wholly real, grotesquely bizarre and hilariously relatable.

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I promise, the Top 10 is coming. Unfortunately, because I live in Salt Lake City, limited release films like The Revenant, Carol and Anomalisa are slow to trickle in, and it would be a dereliction of duties to crown the Best Films of The Year without having watched all of the major contenders.

That said, I *have* a Top 10 list, which could very well remain unchanged. And as is often the case, there were more great films this year than room at the inn.

Here at Wood’s Stock, we have a tradition of honoring an 11th best film of the year. This spot is traditionally reserved for a big-budget, major-studio-produced crowd pleaser that may not be up for any awards come February 28th, but was nonetheless a blast to watch.

This year, that film was…


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In 2006, the stewards of the James Bond franchise released Casino Royale, starring a then-relatively-unknown Daniel Craig as a scowling, brooding, and occasionally bruised and bleeding take on the legacy character. It represented a seismic creative shift for the franchise, adopting a darker and focused tone as an antidote to the excessive camp and frivolity that defined the tail end of the Pierce Brosnan era.

But imagine, if you will, a parallel universe in which the makers of the Bond films creatively cleansed the franchise of its failings while still committing to the grinning, innuendo-soaked playfulness that traditionally defined the character.

That movie would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Set during the cold war, TMFUNCLE gives us con-man-turned-American-spy Napolean Solo (Henry Cavill) and Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) reluctantly forced to work together for the greater good by their respective governments.

It’s an unmistakably retro film, filled with exotic locales, fancy cars, beautiful women and booze-swilling men who crack wise and skulls in equal measure. But it’s also a film that is astutely self-aware, filled with breezy double entendres and a jazzy beat that practically stares at the camera to ask “Hey, isn’t this fun?”

Directed by Guy Ritchie, who injected a similar old-meets-new flavor into his Sherlock Holmes films, UNCLE is unafraid of keeping things lights, humming along as though its amusing itself.

The ensemble pops, aided by the gorgeous and effervescent Alicia Vikander, who adds a crucial woman’s touch to the proceedings, going toe-to-toe with her male costars. And with the exception of an over-boiled finale, the action scenes and set pieces are stellar, tightly choreographed and edited to maximum effect by Ritchie (a standout scene involves a boat chase and a cargo truck).

UNCLE is in good company this year, fun-wise, with Rogue Nation, the latest of Ethan Hunt’s impossible missions, but because of the effort and risk it takes to launch a new franchise, the edge goes to the new kid on the block. Sadly, with only $45 million in domestic revenue, it’s doubtful (but not impossible) that we’ll see the next adventure of Solo and Kuryakin.

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