A cinematic portrait of a small town stock car track and the tribe of drivers that call it home as they struggle to hold onto an American racing tradition. The avant-garde narrative explores the community and its conflicts through an intimate story that reveals the beauty, mystery and emotion of grassroots auto racing.
Release date – January 22, 2018
Slender Man tells the story of a tall, thin horrifying figure with unnaturally long arms and a featureless face, who is reputed to be responsible for the haunting and disappearance of countless children and teens.
Release date – August 10, 2018
An untested American submarine captain teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general.
Release date – October 26, 2018
Love, Gilda is a true autobiography of a pioneering woman, told in her own voice and through her own words. It weaves together audiotapes, rare home movies, diary entries, and interviews with her friends and those inspired by her.
<strong>Release date </strong>-September 21, 2018
A CIA field officer and an Indonesian police officer are forced to work together in confronting political corruption. An informant must be moved twenty-two miles to safety.
Release date – August 17, 2018
Once upon a time, the annual San Diego Comic Con was an event that celebrated comic books. Today, it still does that, but the focus has shifted to what most geeks really care about: movies and TV. And every year, the biggest moments in the convention are the reveals of new trailers that get us all buzzing. Now, we did get a trailer for the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody right before the Con, and one for Alita: Battle Angel right after, but this post is about the 10 best trailers revealed during the Con itself.
Download our app to view all latest trailers – Spotflik Hollywood Movie Trivia Quiz & Trailers
After the lackluster financial performance of last year’s Justice League, Warner Bros is hoping that James Wan’s (The Conjuring, Furious 7) Aquaman can be the movie that rights the ship for their DC movies. Now I’m in the minority when I say I’m not a fan of Wan’s work, and this trailer didn’t particularly help with my excitement for this movie. So many one-liners are stuffed into Arthur Curry’s (Jason Momoa, Game of Thrones) mouth, it feels less like a superhero movie and more like Fast & Furious. That said, what did impress me was the epic scope of Atlantis mixed with a personal core conflict. While I am looking forward to the movie, it will release on December 21, the same weekend as Mary Poppins and Welcome to Marwen, so it will have to do something really special in order to stand out.
The beloved animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars ended years ago without being able to wrap up its plot, leaving many fans dissatisfied. Now, to the delight of many, the series will get the conclusion fans have been clamouring for, and this trailer gives a good feeling for what it will look like. While I appreciate the rousing music and was impressed by the opening shot with the row of Stormtrooper helmets, the reason the trailer places this low on the list is that just like the previous seasons, the art style and the animation simply do not look very good.
When I saw David Yates’s 2016 movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my reaction was much the same as my reaction to this trailer: it’s good, I just wish it was great. The movie managed to recreate the awe and wonder we associate with the magical world, but fell short when it came to the lead characters played by Eddie Redmayne and crew. Newt Scamander and his three friends are simply not as interesting to follow as Harry, Ron and Hermione were, and that’s the soul of the world Rowling has created. Fortunately, the sequel has two advantages. First, we see Newt’s time at Hogwarts, which led to the best moments in the trailer. And second, we have here two characters far more interesting than any of the leads, Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore and the controversial Johnny Depp as the dark wizard Grindelwald. While I don’t expect much depth from the moral conflict of “should muggles be ruled over by wizards and witches?”, I do expect depth in the characterisation of Dumbledore and his relationship with Grindelwald.
Matt Groening, beloved creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, returns with his third satirical animated comedy, Disenchanted. The Netflix series follows a princess who, just like Princess Merida in Brave, chooses to escape the plan society has for her, and goes off an a fantastical adventure with her magical companions. I honestly don’t have much to say about this trailer. This is a comedy, its purpose is to make me laugh: the trailer made me laugh. The first 10 episodes will drop on Netflix on August 17, and I will be there to watch them.
Call yourself a movie buff? Test your moviebuff-ness – Spotflik Hollywood Movie Trivia Quiz & Trailers
Gareth Edwards’s 2014 monster movie Godzilla was not received well, and for good reason. While the scenes featuring the titular creature were appropriately epic, far too much time was spent with an uninteresting human lead played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The sequel, directed by Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat), seems to realise this, as the focus seems to be shifted to the monsters themselves. The human characters, played by Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins and Vera Farmiga seem a tad more interesting than last time, but who cares when you’ve got Godzilla encountering the three-headed dragon Ghidorah? I particularly loved how the trailer balanced the terror of these monsters with their beauty and their majesty. Done right, this could be something special. But even otherwise, it’ll at least be a fun kaiju movie.
This very short teaser impresses the hell out of me. Everything wrong with season 1 seems to have been fixed, and this looks like the Iron Fist we’ve always wanted to see. During the events of The Defenders, Danny grew as a person through his interactions with Matt Murdock, and when he showed up in one episode of Luke Cage season 2, people loved this mature version of him. This teaser, in addition to having terrific action, shows us that improved Danny, a street level hero committed to protecting Hell’s Kitchen.
This trailer is absolutely delightful. Not only is it great to see a kid who fights bullies rewarded with superpowers, there’s something very exciting about the idea of teaming up a superhero with a kid who loves superheroes. Zachary Levi is charming as hell in his portrayal of a child in the body of an adult, and his banter with his best friend is endearing. I have little hope for Aquaman, but this really could turn the tides for DC, especially since it’s followed by two movies that both also look like they could be good, Wonder Woman 1984 and Joker.
Like The Clone Wars, Young Justice is another beloved animated series that ended way too soon. It left us fans with a cliffhanger that was frustrating because the show had been going so well! Clearly, I’m very invested in this story, and might not be completely unbiased in evaluating the trailer, but to me it represented the best of what I love about the first two seasons, the smooth animation and complex relationships. This is easily my most anticipated TV series of 2018, and the trailer lived up to the hype.
I had no idea why I was so excited for Glass. I thought Unbreakable was good, Split was better, but I didn’t exactly fall in love with either film. This trailer made it clear: I’m excited for Glass because of the potential for greatness, not the likelihood of it. There’s already so much to explore in the interaction between a super-strong guy, a super-smart guy, and, well, whatever James McAvoy is, and the addition of Sarah Paulson just makes it more interesting. The trailer knew to tease just the right questions, like what is Anya Taylor-Joy saying to James McAvoy and why? If done right, this will complete M. Night Shyamalan’s resurgence.
Look, Avatar: The Last Airbender is not just the greatest animated series I have ever seen, it’s one of my favourite TV shows ever. The Dragon Prince, the new Netflix series from Aaron Ehasz, who was the head writer on Avatar: The Last Airbender, looks like it has all the elements that made it a great story. It’s an epic fantasy with humour, action and magic, and some of the shots in the trailer are truly breathtaking, especially the dragon at the end. Moreover, the medieval setting looks good too, and opens up the potential for complex political storylines. Most importantly, though, I just can’t wait to get lost in the vast fantasy world and learn the rules for how magic works here.
So what about you? Which trailers were your favourite? Which movies and series are you most excited for?
To stay updated with latest movie news, trailers and play interesting movie trivia, download our free android app – Spotflik Hollywood Movie Trivia Quiz & Trailers
Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido, a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious past.
Release date – December 21, 2018
A woman must fly back to her hometown when her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother, wanders into a blizzard. The return home forces her to confront her past.
Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and to be a hero to the world.
Release date – December 21, 2018
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word–SHAZAM!–this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam, courtesy of an ancient wizard.Still a kid at heart–inside a ripped, godlike body–Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Doctor Thaddeus Sivana.
Release date -April 5, 2019
The new story follows the heroic efforts of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species—thought to be mere myths—rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
Release date – May 31, 2019
Gellert Grindelwald has escaped imprisonment and has begun gathering followers to his cause—elevating wizards above all non-magical beings. The only one capable of putting a stop to him is the wizard he once called his closest friend, Albus Dumbledore. However, Dumbledore will need to seek help from the wizard who had thwarted Grindelwald once before, his former student Newt Scamander.
Release date – November 16, 2018
A war is raging on the planet Cybertron. Optimus Prime leads the Autobot rebellion against the tyrannical Decepticons. He sends his loyal soldier and friend, B-127 (soon to be called Bumblebee, voiced by Dylan O’Brien when he has a voice) to Earth, since Decepticons have not found it yet and it can be used as an Autobot base. Soon after he arrives on Earth, Bumblebee finds himself without a voice, on the run from the military and with no memory (that last part isn’t really explained). His mission: to protect the planet’s inhabitants and keep its location safe till the other Autobots arrive.
None of that is what the story is really about. Instead, it’s about Bumblebee’s friendship with highly skilled car mechanic Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), who is learning to cope with her dad’s death, and it’s about how each of them grows because of that friendship. Think How to Train Your Dragon, Charlie is Hiccup and Bumblebee is Toothless. That description, to me, sums up both why this movie is so good and also where it falls short of greatness.
What director Travis Knight of Kubo and the Two Strings acclaim gets completely right with Bumblebee is the tone. He creates a playful 80s teen movie atmosphere that is perfect for this story, even in the midst of extreme peril. There’s a sweetness to the interactions between the leads, and they’re both so likable that you don’t question their immediate connection, you just root for them. And when the film seamlessly transitions to robot v robot action, Knight shows the same finesse with the camera that he did with Kubo, creating some kinetic, fluid (and also surprisingly violent) fight sequences.
Hailee Steinfeld, who plays a character not that different from her rebel teen character in The Edge of Seventeen, is just as great here, pretty much carrying the movie herself. Her arc is not particularly well-written, and her growth can feel a little disconnected from the events in her life, but her acting is always beautiful. She never lets one emotion define her, making all the sullenness and the excitement convincing as parts of the same person. I did not, however, get that feeling that I’m watching a real person while watching John Cena as the soldier who first encounters Bumblebee. He does well with scenes of levity, especially when his character is first introduced, but stumbles in more dramatic moments.
What did not necessarily work for me was Bumblebee’s memory loss, and the way it was used to make him feel less like Charlie’s friend and more like her pet at times. I would’ve been much more interested in a story where two people, thinking at the same capacity, become friends. The barrier of one of them being mute could then have made this something truly special. The memory loss plot device also hurts the narrative in that major changes in Bumblebee’s character arc are based on tech instead of his friendship with Charlie. It left me feeling like I was watching two Bumblebees, a confident Autobot soldier in his speaking scenes and in the scenes with Charlie, little more than a Herbie knockoff.
This feeling of familiarity is omnipresent. You know what it means when a robot has red glowing eyes instead of blue, because it’s basic movie language, and that which can’t predict, we aren’t surprised by. The only thing new is to leave the theater with positive feelings after watching a Transformers movie. It does not take a great film to earn the title of best Transformers movie.
Underwhelming sequels are not exactly uncommon. But when a sequel follows the route taken by two of the best sequels in recent years, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed, that is, taking the plot structure of the original and reusing it for a new generation, it is disappointing to see it feel so rote and unimaginative. It’s great to once again enjoy the charismatic screen presence of Mary Poppins herself, and Emily Blunt in that role is practically perfect in every way. But the movie also includes a father (Ben Whishaw) who sometimes gets unreasonable cross at his kids and must learn to find the child in himself again. It includes a mother-like figure (Emily Mortimer) who is fighting for an important social cause but is sometimes laughed at for it. It has a lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who was not only an apprentice of the chimney sweep (among other jobs) from the original, but plays exactly the same part here. And finally, it has the bank. Bank troubles fuel the initial conflict, a banker (Colin Firth) is the antagonist and a showdown at the bank acts as the climax. Just like the first one. Even the one random cameo in between (Meryl Streep) that has no bearing on the plot feels oddly reminiscent of the scene from the original where they all fly to the ceiling.
Those are just the major instances that immediately stand out. I could take the time to detail all the little jokes here are rehashed from the first without any comment on them or any significant addition to them, but by now you get the idea. The premise is simple: 25 years after the events of the first one, the Banks children have now grown up, Jane Banks a labour activist and Michael Banks a widower artist with a job at the bank. As the movie begins, Michael learns that he must pay off a loan in a few days in order to keep his house. He, Jane and his three kids must figure out a way to find the large sum required within that time, and that’s when Mary Poppins comes back into their lives to remind them what’s important, and in the process, teach them some very British manners.
The best children’s stories entertain or educate children, and simultaneously offer adults something more to chew on. Mary Poppins Returns isn’t quite complex enough for that, and the best adults could really take away from it is a pleasant sense of nostalgia for the original, but that’s not to say it’s not a great entertainer for kids. The technical production is fabulous, with stunning visual effects that not only make the Mary Poppins magic fit seamlessly with the live action world around her, but manage to make the live action characters not look odd when they find themselves in a 2D animated world. Moreover, the children are immediately lovable, and since their mother’s death has left them responsible and wise beyond their years, they also act as great role models for the little ones watching.
2019, at first glance, looks like an orgy of reboots, remakes and sequels. I say give it a second look. Sure, there are ten superhero movies releasing this year, three of them in the same month. Disney is making at least five movies bound to make more than a billion dollars worldwide (see top image). And three of its upcoming movies are remakes of animated classics translated faithfully to live action and CGI images. However, look beyond them, look between their release dates, and you will find a treasure trove of movies with intriguing premises, stellar casts, and fimmakers with unique voices. And that is not even counting movies we don’t yet know about, movies by yet to be known filmmakers that come out of nowhere and take over film festivals.
In assembling this list, I first made a larger list of all the films I was really excited for, then cut down as many as I could, making some painful edits along the way. That still left me with a 20 movies long list. Looking at a list of movies hitting theatres (or in one case, Netflix), I just felt this deep happiness, for even though some of them won’t live up to their promise, there’s just such a wealth of brilliance, and variety of brilliance ahead of us that whatever does end up working will be enough to make every Friday special. It’s truly a treat for fans of all flavours of film.
Instead of describing each film in detail, I’ll highlight the key elements that make these films worth looking forward to, or rather that have me personally excited to see them. It’s also evenly balanced between blockbusters and auteur cinema, which I promise is not by design. 2019 just happens to be evenly balanced.
10. The Irishman
What it is: Netflix original crime drama.
Release Date: TBA
9. Toy Story 4
What it is: The toys adjust to life without Andy in the fourth installment, directed by Josh Cooley.
Release Date: June 21
8. Bulbul Can Sing
What it is: Indian, specifically, Assamese coming-of-age drama.
Release Date: TBA
7. Captain Marvel
What it is: Superhero space movie set in the 90s, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
Release Date: March 8
6. Gloria Bell
What it is: A spirited middle-aged woman dances and loves and lives life to the fullest.
Release Date: March 8
5. Star Wars: Episode IX
What it is: Culmination of the Rey trilogy that started with The Force Awakens.
Release Date: December 20
4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
What it is: A quirky dramedy adapted from a novel.
Release Date: March 22
3. Spider-Man: Far From Home
What it is: Globe-trotting Spidey adventure directed by Jon Watts.
Release Date: July 5
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
What it is: Period drama about an actor and his stunt double, set in 1969 Los Angeles.
Release Date: July 26
1. Avengers: Endgame
What it is: You know what it is.
Release Date: April 26
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful 2019! I know I will.
So a lot happened in 2018. Like, even without leaving the domain of film, a hell of a lot happened. Documentaries became cool. Netflix started pumping out awards-worthy dramas one after the other. Netflix also released an interactive science fiction film, with plans to use the format for more films in the future. Superhero movies started to look very different than they ever have, with the black-dominated cast of Black Panther and the diverse Spider-people inhabiting a uniquely animated world in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. James Gunn got fired from Mervel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and quickly hopped on board DC’s Guardians wannabe franchise Suicide Squad. And now, as we find ourselves in the thick of awards season, we find a foreign language film in serious contention to win Best Picture at the Oscars, which would be an unprecedented achievement. The landscape of cinema looks remarkably different now from what it looked like a year ago.
In the midst of all this, my own experience of the movies of 2018 was that, while there were many movies that were excellent in very different ways, there were fewer outright masterpieces than I’ve seen in the last few years. Granted, there are quite a few remarkable movies I’ve been unable to watch, that I’ll be catching up on before the Oscars. But even so, it’s difficult to call 2018 either a better or worse year for film overall than 2017, because I really don’t know if I’d rather see many excellent movies or a few that are practically perfect in every way.
Here are the best movies released in 2018 that I have seen so far:
10. Support the Girls
Films are often built around a central character facing one big challenge, and the ways they try to overcome it. With Support the Girls, director Andrew Bujalski reminds us that sometimes the biggest challenge is to get through the day. And once we’re completely engaged in the story of one fateful day in the life of Lisa (played with admirable depth by Regina Hall) and the day-to-day problems that just keep piling on her, we get to the most enthralling aspect of the film: women helping each other stay afloat, keeping each other sane. It’s a glorious celebration of female friendship, and that lands it a spot on this list.
9. Black Panther
I wrestled with this choice a lot. I’m still fighting myself over it. Ever since it released to an outpouring of love back in February, much of the conversation around it has focused on its flaws. And yes, it’s flawed. And yes, I could easily have replaced it with Incredibles 2 or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, both exhilarating superhero adventures. I suppose my final decision came down to the feeling the movie left me with, and after the big, CGI-heavy, disconnected battle, Black Panther used its closing minutes to give its villain an emotional gut-punch of a moment, and closed out its hero’s arc showing his growth in action in a way that resonated. That’s the kind of catharsis I’m always looking for in movies, and rarely find.
8. Village Rockstars
The best thing about movies about little kids is that they tend to have the biggest dreams. In Indian filmmaker Rima Das’s Village Rockstars, a girl living in poverty in a remote Assamese village dreams of owning and playing a guitar. An antidote to poverty porn, the film is realistic about how insanely difficult such a goal is for her, and in general about how difficult life is in that village for financial, social and natural reasons, but chooses to focus on the good, the fun, the hopeful. Its unsentimental optimism is infectious, and its impeccable technical quality on a miniscule budget heralds Rima Das (who wrote, directed, produced, shot and edited this movie) as a creator to watch.
I’m not a documentary person. Usually. But there’s nothing usual about Sandi Tan’s Netflix original Shirkers. The story of a film she made decades ago (also called Shirkers), and the reasons it could never be finished, Shirkers beautifully captures both what goes into making a movie and what it takes out of you. We see from the clips of the original Shirkers in this movie that it was a quirky, hipster, arthouse film with a strong sense of creative identity. Sandi Tan’s unique sensibilities shine through just as much in the documentary. And most impressive of all, she manages to shine a light on herself as well, laying bare her flaws for the world to see. One can only hope she gets back into directing fiction.
6. First Man
The last two films Damien Chazelle directed, Whiplash and La La Land, landed in most top 10 lists for their respective years. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how good 2019 ends up being, those two movies each deserve a spot in top 10 lists for the decade. So of course First Man doesn’t live up to their lofty standard, and of course that’s not a bad thing. This is an unconventional biopic, one that tailors its style and tone to its subject, Neil Armstrong: passionate and energetic and focused when on the job, low-key and muted at home. Ryan Gosling perfectly conveys Armstrong’s inner turmoil without overt displays of emotion, and his lack of energy is more than made up for by the fiery Claire Foy. And the moon landing is one of the best scenes I saw all year, in any movie. The word “exhilarating” was coined just so it could eventually be used to describe my feeling watching this.
5. A Star is Born
Exhilaration is also what it feels like when you see a nervous Ally (Lady Gaga) first take the stage and, gradually getting lost in her music and her love, own the stage. First time director Bradley Cooper plays up the drama in every scene, extracting every ounce of emotion from the audience, and it doesn’t feel manipulative because the relationship we find ourselves invested in is so delicately constructed in front of our eyes, through moments big and small. The romance is born of the music, and the music in turn comes from their love, which makes this the perfect story for the musical treatment. By the time the film hit the crescendo, I found myself spent.
Aneesh Chaganty’s feature debut is a perfect example of a film where form trumps content and that’s not a bad thing, because the content is still solid. A whodunit thriller that we observe entirely through digital screens, Searching has its foundations in a well-constructed mystery with unpredictable twists and interesting characters portrayed by skilled actors, especially John Cho as the father of a missing girl. On this solid foundation, Chaganty has constructed a complex, layered maze of computer interfaces, where the different operating systems and softwares we see aren’t merely plot devices, instead the way they’re used becomes a part of the film’s central theme of interpersonal communication. Near the end, the film essentially turns into a crowdpleaser, which ends up being a good thing, because we’ve already been put through such a ringer that catharsis, in plot and in character growth, is appreciated.
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
While this is easily one of the best movies of the year, that’s not even the most important conversation it’s a part of. What it is is one of the greatest action movies ever made, up there with The Raid: Redemption and Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a celebration of what mainstream blockbuster cinema can do. One, it has an unabashedly heroic hero, who really does want nothing more than to save lives and accomplish missions. Two, it has a crew of characters whose dynamic with each other has the kind of wit and heart that makes you want to just watch them banter or bicker when you know they could be out there kicking ass. Three, it flows. The rhythm established between plot twists, emotional pauses and action set-pieces is the kind of thing that makes Christopher McQuarrie the ultimate action director. But fourth and most important is just how insane the situations are that Tom Cruise finds himself in. The bike chase is exemplary of how bike chases in movies should be done. The bathroom brawl is the pinnacle of hand-to-hand combat, at least in Hollywood. And the HALO jump is so crazy and unprecedented, you’re not left asking what action filmmakers can learn from this, you find yourself asking, how is Tom Cruise still alive?
2. The Tale
Because it didn’t get a theatrical release and was exclusive to HBO, Jennifer Fox’s autobiographical character study largely went unnoticed by the film fan community. Laura Dern plays Jenny Fox, a documentarian who, in her late 40s, realises that what she considered an innocent relationship she had as a teenager with an older man might have been worse than she remembered. More importantly, it was very different from how she had remembered it. The movie digs into the unreliability of memory in truly unsettling ways, made all the more powerful by the fact that it’s a true story. Also worthy of applause is Isabelle Nélisse as young Jenny, who has to act in some extremely uncomfortable scenes. The film left me shaken and unsettled.
I said there weren’t many cinematic masterpieces this year, but I didn’t say there were none. Alfonso Cuarón already proved himself to be a master of cinematic storytelling with Gravity, but with Roma, he has cemented his position as among the greatest directors of the 21st century. Not since 2011’s A Separation have I seen a movie that so perfectly captures the rhythms of day-to-day life, the joys and challenges. Its sound design immerses you into its 1970s Mexico setting before you’re even past the opening shot. And the slow initial build up pays off when, in its later scenes, it pulls the rug out from under us, and shatters its audience’s hearts. There are movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and First Man where I think of wrecking ball moments and immediately come up with the Live Aid performance and the moon landing respectively. With Roma, a few different scenes jump to mind, and I get choked up just thinking about them. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the protagonist Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and even though this is clearly not the kind of movie that gets a sequel, I can’t help but wish I could get to live more of her life with her.
What were your favourite films of 2018? Was it a good year for film in your opinion? Are you excited for 2019? Either way, happy new year! May we get more great films.
Critics who announced their top ten lists before December 28, 2018 must be kicking themselves. If Bandersnatch is indeed a movie, it’s one that’s easily worthy of a spot. Directed by David Slade, whose filmography shall always remain tainted by the fact that he directed one of the Twilight movies, Bandersnatch is an experience the likes of which we’ve never seen in live action before. Not even those of us who have watched interactive choose-your-own-adventure style videos.
There’s a major debate in video gaming over how much freedom a player should have for the best experience, about whether we really want choice or just the illusion of choice. Bandersnatch doesn’t just find a place for itself on this spectrum of freedom versus illusion and then use it to tell a narrative. Instead, it tells a story that is precisely about navigating the spectrum. On one level, this manifests in the dialogue and the themes of the story itself. But beyond that, you also feel it ingrained in the structure of the movie, in the sense that how much choice the game gives you at any moment directly impacts your emotional involvement in that scene. There are times when being presented with a false choice (where both options lead to the same outcome) is frustrating. But there are also times when you wish you weren’t given a choice at all because both options presented are, to say the least, unpleasant, and making the choice makes you feel responsible for the consequences.
And that’s just one of the ways in which Bandersnatch plays with your mind.
I suppose now is when I should tell you what it’s all about. It’s 1984, and Stefan (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk) is adapting Bandersnatch, a choose your own adventure novel, into a video game. In the process, he gets to meet and interact with his idol, legendary game developer Colin Ritman, (Will Poulter, The Revenant). Early on, we learn that the process of creating an interactive novel drove the author crazy and he killed his wife. In the film, we follow Stefan’s own descent into or struggle against madness and paranoia (though depending on your interpretation, his fears may actually be well founded). One can only hope that the writer of this movie, Charlie Brooker, does not turn crazy and murderous himself.
Beyond what I’ve already said, it’s not easy to discuss Bandersnatch without taking some of the fun away. Much of the surprise lies not just in the plot twists but in realising how far it’ll take its gimmick. The word bandersnatch, incidentally, comes from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books, a fact I only mention so I can say that the further you go down the rabbit hole of choices in this film, the curiouser and curiouser it gets. This is a sci-fi thriller, not a comedy, yet there are moments that make you laugh at their sheer audacity. Hours after having gone through it twice, and having watched, as far as I can tell, all possible endings, my friends and I are still trying to sort through the various questions it left us with, from abstract philosophical questions of responsibility to the kind of weird questions only great science fiction can tackle.
Lest we let form take over content, I should address the quality of the clips themselves. The screenwriting here is fantastic, with efficient dialogue that skillfully uses interactions to build character. The philosophical conversations are just the right level of on-the-nose. On a technical side, Slade ably does the job of translating the material to screen without adding much. There’s no flair to the cinematography or the set design. It could almost have felt like a drag if not for the terrific performances across the board. Fionn Whitehead had already shown us what he could do with very little dialogue in Dunkirk. Now we know how good he is with dialogue, and a lot of it. Will Poulter, who’s always great, is unsurprisingly great here too, perfectly conveying both Colin’s brilliance and his nuttiness.
In addition to being an excellent movie on its own merits, Bandersnatch is also groundbreaking. On the one hand, I’m excited to see this format go mainstream. It’s certainly versatile, and can be applied to genres like fantasy, romance and even superheroes. But on the other hand, Bandersnatch may have deconstructed the very notion of interactive storytelling so thoroughly that any future stories in the format run the risk of feeling contrived.
Your move, Netflix.
In 1992, 3 young adults tried to make what could have been Singapore’s first indie film, a road movie called Shirkers. The 3 women were writer, assistant director and producer, and Georges Cardona, a living breathing mystery of a man, was the director. I’d rather not tell you much more about what happened, since everything in this documentary is a surprise, but suffice it to say that this documentary-about-the-troubled-production-of-a-movie is unlike any other.
Sandi Tan conceived of the original project and wrote the screenplay. The film would follow a teenage serial killer as she drove around the country, “collecting” hapless victims, taking them along with her on her journey. We get glimpses of the movie Shirkers in the documentary Shirkers, and from what we see, it’s remarkably thoughtful and introspective, given the writer’s age. Sandi Tan and her fellow filmmakers, Sophie and Jasmine, were young visionaries, with the kind of creativity and passion that would have served as an inspiration to other young filmmakers regardless of whether their movie turned out great or terrible, if only it had been completed.
Earlier this year, I watched The Tale, an HBO movie starring Laura Dern as a fictionalised version of the director Jennifer Fox. Fox and Tan used The Tale and Shirkers respectively to tell the stories of how they, in their 40s, finally came to terms with a messed up period from their youth where they put their faith in a charismatic older man who, in completely different ways, took advantage of them. Fox is a documentary filmmaker who chose fiction to tell this story from her life, whereas Tan is a fiction filmmaker who chose documentary. They are two of the best movies so far this year.
Shirkers is just as compelling in its first half, when it’s following the production of the movie, as it is in the second half when it follows these characters as adults trying to figure out exactly what happened, and exactly who this Georges Cardona was. It works because of how much of an enigma Cordona is, and also how much Tan herself isn’t. Her own personality, her flaws are laid bare in front of us, to the point that many may end up with the conclusion that she’s an inconsiderate asshole. This isn’t a documentary trying to make you like her, just to empathise.
The other reason Shirkers works comes down to its audio-visual style. It’s punk rock, it’s jarring, it’s nothing short of captivating. At 96 minutes, it’s already brisk, but the energetic editing makes it seem even more so. When it ends, it leaves you wanting to know more. Watch it.