2018 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

From top: Won't You Be My Neighbor?, A Star is Born, The Favourite, American Animals, Roma,
Isle of Dogs, Suspira, BlacKkKlansman,
and Destroyer are the year's best films
It pretty much sums up 2018 in a nutshell by saying that my two favourite films of the year are the Mr. Rogers documentary about the value of kindness and the movie where Nicole Kidman mercilessly beats the shit out of everyone. What a mood.


2018 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Tilda Swinton, Carmina Martínez, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz,
Rosamund Pike and Nicole Kidman are among 2018's top stars.
2018 might not have been a so-so year for movies, but it’s hard to find a year with a stronger list of acting credits. The films of 2018 excelled in large part by the quality of the performances that fuelled them. I could easily have limited the list of the top lead performances of 2018 to Best Actress contenders and still omitted worthy names if I capped it at 10. Not even Meryl Streep made the lists this year, the acting was so good!


Interview: Chatting with 'Birds of Passage' Director Cristina Gallego at 'That Shelf'

Embed from Getty Images

The team behind Embrace of the Serpent is back! After the 2015 arthouse hit and Oscar nominee comes Birds of Passage, an electrifying Colombian cartel drama directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. The film is Colombia's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film and recently made the shortlist.

Birds of Passage gives drug wars a tribal spin by setting the drama in the land of the Wayuu clans in northern Colombia. “Since Embrace went well, it was very easy to finance this film,” said Gallego, speaking Gallego, speaking ahead of the film’s Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It let us take the next step in the scale of film we could make. In Colombia, movies are usually pretty small because of financing.” 


'The Favourite' Leads Online Film Critics Society Awards Nominations

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman star in The Favourite
Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Yorgos Lanthimos's period satire The Favourite leads the nominations for the 22nd annual Online Film Critics Society Awards. The organization, of which I am a member, is the oldest and longest running international group supporting film culture in the online sphere.


The RBG Origin Story

On the Basis of Sex
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Mimi Leder, Writ. Daniel Stiepleman
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Jack Raynor  
Martin Ginsburg Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Every good superhero deserves an origin story. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the cloaked crusader of 2018, gets her turn in the biopic On the Basis of Sex with a spunky performance by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) charting her journey towards becoming a Supreme Court Justice and the meme-able “The Notorious RBG.” On the Basis of Sex is the second entry in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg cinematic universe of 2018 and while it’s a perfectly decent and timely film, it’s neither great nor essential viewing for anyone who saw Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary RBG. The doc is not cinematic masterpiece, either, so an RBG reboot seems inevitable.


2018 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

Meditation Park, Anthropocene, Mary Goes Round, Kingsway, The Fall of the American Empire and Cardinals are some of 2018's best Canadian films
It is harder and harder to see a Canadian film in a Canadian theatre these days. And I hate to say it, but many of the Canadian movies that actually find space on big screens are not good. However, there are some real gems in between the schlocky horror flicks, lo-fi comedies about thirtysomething males, and cheap Canadian movies four-walling a theatre simply to meet their funding requirements.

Vox Lux: A Tale of Pop Music, Tragedy, and Violence

Vox Lux
(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Brady Corbet
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy, Jennifer Ehle, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe
Celeste Vox Lux
Natalie Portman stars in Vox Lux
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures
1999. A year of pop music, tragedy, and violence.


"Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?"

(USA, 132 min.)
Written and directed by Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lily Rabe  
Dick Cheney Lynne Cheney
Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney in Vice
Courtesy eOne Films
"Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?"
-King Lear

Dick Cheney is a villain worthy of Shakespeare. The Bard deftly blended tragedy and comedy to comment upon the rulers of today and while Adam McKay might not be William Shakespeare, he certainly knows how to craft a bad guy. After skewering Wall Street, the man behind The Big Short takes aim on the White House and sends audiences back to the dark ages of the now- second worst administration in the history of the USA. George “Dubya” Bush is too easy a target though, and has already been picked apart by movies like the incendiary Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Bush-league Oliver Stone biopic W. Instead, McKay sets his sights on the junior Bush’s wingman, Vice President Dick Cheney, played in a deadpan performance by Christian Bale in a furiously funny film. Cheney is a man of many vices and McKay’s flick portrays him as a crafty, Machiavellian politician who was really pulling the strings throughout Bush’s reign of terror. Vice is an all too relevant satire when yet another idiot is running the show in 2018.

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps 2018 Go Down

Mary Poppins Returns
(USA, 130 min.)
Dir. Rob Marshall, Writ. David Magee
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke
Mary Poppins mirror
If there’s one silver lining to be found in Donald Trump’s administration, or the likes of Doug Ford and whatever other terrible people happen to be in power now, it’s that they make a film critic’s job too easy. One could have easily made a drinking game out of the number of films deemed balm for divisive times in 2018. Many films received praise for their relevance, while others got a passing grade for showing up at the right time. However, the holidays are here and everyone needs some Christmas cheer. If there’s a film to warm the heart and make the yuletide gay, it’s Mary Poppins Returns. The film is a welcome homecoming for the magical nanny who touched generations of children. Mary Poppins Returns is the grand finale to the “movie we need right now” festival of 2018!


Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Queen of Scots
(UK, 124 min.)
Dir. Josie Rourke, Writ. Beau Willamon
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, Adrian Lester, Guy Pearce, Adam Bond, Jack Lowden
Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary, Queen of Scots
400 years before Nancy and Tonya, there was the rivalry of Mary and Elizabeth. One of history’s biggest grudge matches receives a hot-blooded and contemporary adaptation in Mary Queen of Scots. The film pulses with regal tension as Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie face off as the royal rivals in two powerhouse performances.

'Ben is Back' and Roberts Returns

Ben is Back
(USA, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Peter Hedges
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges star in Ben is Back
Courtesy Elevation Pictures
Ben is Back might be the most depressing Christmas movie since It’s a Wonderful Life. But if there is a Jimmy Stewart in Hollywood today, his spirit endures in Julia Roberts’ infectious smile. Roberts is heartbreakingly good in Ben is Back playing Holly Burns, the devoted mother fighting to save her family with the same indefatigable goodwill that makes audiences cheer for George Bailey year after year. She gives one of her best and most surprising performances opposite Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased) in this engaging, emotionally draining, and ultimately rewarding portrait of addiction’s ability to tear families apart.

The Most Amazing Spider-Man Yet!

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
(USA, 117 min.)
Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman; Writ. Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake B. Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage 
Peni Parker, Gwen, Spider-Man, Miles, Peter B. Parker, Spider-Man Noir
Courtesy Sony Pictures Animation
A few years ago, two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field described her experience playing Aunt May in one of the Spider-Man reboots, saying, “You can’t put ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.” Unfortunately, that’s what far too many of these superhero movies try to do. Between putting lipstick on a pig and cramming poop into a sack, comic book movies often take themselves too seriously and forget why people are drawn to superheroes and crazy villains. Comics are great entertainment. They’re escapism and opportunities for anyone to dive behind the mask of a hero and have some fun while saving the world—and there’s nothing wrong with that.


'Roma' Tops Toronto Film Critics Association Awards

Alfonso Cuarón's Roma was named the year's best film by the Toronto Film Critics Association
Photo by Carlos Somonto / Netflix
Alfonso Cuarón's Roma is the best film of 2018 according to the Toronto Film Critics Association! The acclaimed Netflix drama won Best Picture and Best Director from the TFCA in a live vote held yesterday by film critics in the city of Toronto. Roma marks a deeply personal film for Cuarón following his special effects extravaganza Gravity, which won seven Oscars. The film is a portrait of two women in Mexico's Roma neighbourhood, a wealthy mother and her Mixtec housekeeper who cares for her children. Cuarón has called it a love-letter to the two women who raised him.


'The Go-Getters' and the Pigs of Hogtown

The Go-Getters
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Jeremy LaLonde, Writ. Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall
Starring: Aaron Abrams, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Kristian Bruun, James Cade, Christine Horne
Tommie-Amber Pirie and Aaron Abrams star in The Go-Getters
People say Canadians are nice, but I say fuck that nonsense.

We’re not “nice.” We’re just nicer than people from the USA are, and they aren’t very nice to begin with. Like, really—have you ever been to Toronto? It’s colder than an outhouse in Whitehorse!


The Favourite: The Mother of all Catfights

The Favourite
(UK/Ireland/USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Writ. Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn  
Rachel Wesiz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos / Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Favourite is a saucy delight. Buoyed by a trio of courtly wenches in award-calibre performances, this spirited portrait of the affairs of Queen Anne in 1700ish Britain is a darkly funny romp. It’s the cleverest take on All About Eve since Working Girl as social climbing strumpet Abigail (Emma Stone) seeks to dethrone her cousin, Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Malborough (Rachel Weisz) as the Queen’s BFF. Both ladies cozy up to Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and assure her that she’s the bee’s knees when all evidence points to the contrary. These mean girls have cruel intentions.


Oscar Predictions: Round 2 - Golden Globe Predix

A Star is Born- if there was ever a "Globes movie", this is it!
I completely forgot that the Golden Globe nominations come out this week so here’s a quick crack at them along with updated Oscar predictions. I’ve had a chance to see nearly all the contenders so far with Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, and Ben is Back rounding out screenings before the end of the week and the upcoming TFCA vote, so I’ve been a bit busy…stay tuned for reviews of The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, Stan & Ollie, Vox Lux and more!