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Filmotomy’s Naughty or Nice of 2018: Aaron’s List

We’ve taken a leaf out of Santa’s book, and have decided to reflect on the films of the year by determining which ones have been ‘good/nice’ and which ones have been downright naughty/bad. All of the team have put forward three films on their nice list and three for their naughty lists, giving their reasons why certain films have made the right or the wrong impression. So, grab a mince pie and some egg nog and join us to examine the lists. Ho, ho, ho!

Naughty

We’ll start with the bad. But first, a couple quick caveats. One, despite the fact that I’ve picked three “naughty” films and three “nice” films, that does not mean that I felt this year’s crop of films were evenly split between films I liked and those I didn’t. I feel that 2018 has been an incredible year for movies, and if you feel differently, I have a sneaking suspicion that you simply haven’t watched enough movies. Two, just because a film is listed here doesn’t mean I thought it was a bad film, per se. Two of these films were ones that I highly anticipated was disappointed upon watching them. The other one…well…that’s why you have a “naughty” list.

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The Other Side of the Wind

You can’t ask for a whole lot more as a cinephiles than to have a “new” release from one of the greatest directors in movie history. We got such a gift this year when Netflix released the long-gestating Orson Welles project – The Other Side of the Wind. I was anticipating this release all year, and I couldn’t have been more excited to watch it when it finally opened for streaming on Netflix.

By about halfway through the film, that excitement had completely vanished.

While some of Welles’ signature style is present, the effects of having multiple people piece footage together after the director’s death are certainly clear. The film is a discombobulated mess. While some of that may have been part of Welles’ artistic vision for the film (you can read the film as a satire on European arthouse cinema and the moviemaking business in general), I think it reaches a level that hinders the experience overall.

Another reason to place this film on the “naughty” list is its graphic use of nudity. Welles didn’t use nudity much, if at all, in his earlier films. In the Netflix companion documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Welles discusses the decision to use nudity here (it can also be interpreted as supporting the satire of European cinema). There is an entire storyline about a film within the film (also titled The Other Side of the Wind) that treads near the line between feature film and pornography. That coupled with the film’s bewildering storyline put it squarely on the “naughty” list for me.

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Zama

Much like The Other Side of the Wind, I was very much looking forward to watching Lucrecia Martel’s 2018 release, Zama. I had heard great reviews, and I awaited seeing it with eager anticipation. But anticipation is about the only emotion I felt while watching the film. Nothing really happens. It’s just a lot of waiting. Sure there are some interesting sub textual aspects related to colonialism, but I can’t say that interested me all that much.

Maybe my inclusion of Zama here has more to say about me than it does about the film, as it was roundly praised and will undoubtedly find its way onto multiple critics’ year-end lists. But it didn’t work for me, and that’s putting it lightly. For the disappointing experience I had watching it, Zama ends up on my “naughty” list.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

For the third “naughty” movie, we’re taking the definition of that word to a whole new level. There was one film I saw this year that certainly has a strong case for being the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I’m embarrassed to say that I sat through the whole movie, though it was on a flight so I had nowhere else to go. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fails on every level. It isn’t even entertaining. To be able to accomplish that with dinosaurs and Chris Pratt is actually kind of impressive. I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible to fail quite that hard.

It is unnecessarily long, and its plot (using that term lightly) is absolutely preposterous. Characters in the film make choices that they would never make to set the film up for another sequel that should never happen. Somehow it manages to make dinosaurs boring, and that’s a sad fact, indeed. This series has fallen so far from the original, that it is almost incomprehensible that they share a title. Comparing this film to Jurassic Park is like comparing roadkill to a fine steakhouse cut. They’re both meat, but one will make you gag rather than salivate.

If that metaphor was difficult to follow, let me be clear – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will make you gag.

Nice

Now let’s move on to the positive side. 2018 has had a wealth of fantastic films, but these three stand out from the pack. These are the films that were “nice” to me in that they each gave me a memorable experience and impacted me in a palpable way. Without further ado, here is my “nice” list.

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Widows

It is the best 2018 release I’ve seen. Steve McQueen, the acclaimed director of 12 Years a Slave, finds ways to breathe new life into the heist genre. There is so much going on in this film that you cannot possibly take it all in at once. It lingers with you long after the film is over. Take for instance the car ride by Colin Farrell’s character. McQueen showcases his virtuoso talent as a filmmaker by keeping the camera’s focus completely outside the car as we hear Farrell’s politician engage in conversation with his staffer. We see as the neighborhood drastically changes, and we consider the ramifications.

Add in the fact that Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya all give fantastic performances and you have a film of rare quality. Each year, there may only be one or two truly great films. I’m convinced that Widows is a great film from 2018. For my full review of the film, you can head over to my website.

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Annihilation

For much of the year until I saw Widows, this Alex Garland-helmed sci-fi picture was my favorite film of the year. Annihilation is such a moving film in so many ways. There are certainly moments that scare you. Most of them are a scary in a weird sense. You aren’t quite sure what it is you’re seeing, but you know that it leaves you feeling unsettled.

Then there are the acting performances – most notably from Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson. Each one brings so much to their specific role, and the entire film is populated by an incredible cast. The music also adds so much to the film. In the closing scenes, I remember being utterly blown away by the cumulative experience that the music and the images create.

There are other moments that make you think, and there are other moments that fill you with a palpable sadness. But I’ll never forget leaving the theater after watching Annihilation for the first time. I had this feeling that I had just experienced something that changed me in some way. Much like the film’s main character, I entered an experience but I did not leave it as the same person. Or did I? Questions like these and the feelings they conjure are why Annihilation surely makes my “nice” list.

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Private Life

I end my “nice” list with a film that is so touching in the slice of life it chooses to depict. Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life is the story of a couple struggling with infertility – something about which Jenkins knows firsthand. It is that personal touch that makes this such a striking film. Well, that and two fantastic performances from Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti.

I wrote about Hahn’s performance for Filmotomy. I think she clearly deserves an Oscar nomination. Her reactions and her choices evoke so much feeling. Her work in the film is a wonder to behold. The film itself is noteworthy for its ability to merge difficult situations with humor. There is so much truth here and so much honesty. There are few qualities, if any, that are more admirable in a film. Go stream Private Life right now on Netflix. You’ll soon see why it made my “nice” list.

So there you have it. These are surely not the only bad or good films released in 2018, but they give you a small window into the kind of movie watching year I had. But I’ll stop before I give any of these films a lump of coal or even cookies and milk and simply say that I’m thankful for all the films we received this year. Whether they were naughty or nice, they certainly gave us moments and experiences to consider and talk about. And that is always a good thing.

Even if it involves exploding volcanic islands and mansions with secret dinosaur chambers.

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