It’s around this time of the year that we would normally be publishing the Failed Critics Awards after weeks of voting from you lot. However, this year, we have published a sum total of five articles; all of which are actually just blurb for individual podcasts. So I’m sure you’ll allow me the good grace this year to just run with my personal favourite ‘things’ of 2018, from films to TV and whatever else pops into my head.
Luca Guadagnino’s loose remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic Suspiria was so very, very close to being top of my year-end film list, but Ari Aster’s debut feature-length horror Hereditary pips it to the post. It has actually been a baron year for good movies outside of the plain weird folky subgenre of horror that both Suspiria and Hereditary nestle into. You can throw in there the likes of The Raid director Gareth Evans’s freakly period island-cult thriller Apostle, the disorientating ‘heavy metal’ Nic Cage-starring 80s-set Mandy, Macon Blair and Jeremy Saulnier’s reunion Hold the Dark, and even Ex Machina / Dredd writer/director Alex Garland’s Netflix Original Annihilation too as batshit crazy but insanely atmospheric, mesmerising and wholly engrossing films that I really took a shine to over the past 12 months.
But Hereditary, about a mother (Toni Collette) slowly succumbing to an inevitable mental breakdown following the death of her mother – and all the unusual, bizarre and downright messed up (possibly supernatural) goings on at the same time – was such an original and spectacular movie on so many levels, that I loved it from its first second until its divisive last. The performances were outstanding throughout, especially from the understandably deranged Collette whose mental health seemed to deteriorate further and further the longer the film went on, pushing the pace of the movie up and up like a juggernaut shifting up gears.
The ending left a lot of people upset as Peter (Alex Wolff) seemed to just stop and explain exactly what was going on and what had just happened, in case the viewer hadn’t quite caught up with it yet. Irrespective of how irritating exposition can be sometimes, it seemed the perfect way to end a film like this. Given the sheer amount of foreshadowing that was layered into the opening 20 minutes, it’s somewhat wryly amusing to see the movie only stop and take a breather to end things.
Folk horror seems to be making a resurgence of late. If the 90s belonged to teen horror, and the mid-00s to found-footage horror, then the rise of folk horror in the latter half of this decade could probably be put down to both a maturing audience and a societal influence. We are living in what is surely just the kindling of the digital age; it makes sense for horror filmmakers to strip away all these advantages and even necessities of modern living to make its audience feel uneasy. Granted, Hereditary doesn’t quite do this exactly, but it feels otherworldly, almost as if it could be set in any decade over the past 60-70 years. The evil cannot be banished by researching it online, nor is its presence really even known at all.
Or, more likely, I’m reading too much into it and should just learn to accept and love Hereditary for being the creepy weird horror that it so expertly is.
The rest of the list:
3) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4) Avengers: Infinity War
5) Outlaw King
6) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
7) A Quiet Place
8) Black Panther
9) You Were Never Really Here
1) The Terror
If you would kindly allow me to self-plagiarise for a moment, I’ going to copy something I wrote for SetTheTape.com about AMC’s The Terror at the turning point in the year. I don’t think the show was bettered in the remaining six months and it seems foolish to rewrite what I’ve already written – although I could also point you to this thing I wrote about Norsemen because that show is great and doesn’t seem to get enough love.
“Horror television programmes are few and far between. For every The Exorcist – which is bloody marvellous – there is a The River. For every The Walking Dead – which was marvellous at one point – there is a Fear The Walking Dead. For every Hannibal, there is a The Mist. Ad. Nauseam. When a Ridley Scott executive produced AMC mini-series started to quietly build hype, I resisted getting my hopes up too much given past experiences. Oh ye of little faith.
“The Terror is set in the 1840s as two British Royal Navy ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, trudge through the Arctic in search of an elusive trade route known as the Northwest Passage, led by Captain John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds). They soon get stuck and spend winter in the frozen tundra. One winter turns to two. Loyal British stiff upper lips turn to rumblings of discontent, which moves closer and closer to outright mutiny. The death of an Inuit is met by spiritual consequences in the shape of a monstrous polar bear. Even if we get away from the palpable atmosphere and intense sense of dread that permeates the intoxicating beautiful scenery, it is just a magnificently paced, written and performed series. Jared Harris puts in a career-best performance and steals the show. The BT TV exclusive series can rue the fact that it is not made by HBO for its relatively low viewing figures because there is no doubt that if this had been featured on Sky Atlantic, Channel 4 or BBC, it would be rated far higher than it already is.”
The rest of the list:
2) Better Call Saul
4) BoJack Horseman
9) All or Nothing: Manchester City
10) The Good Place
BEST NON-2018 RELEASE FIRST TIME WATCHES
I was dreading having to watch and review the remaster of Paul Verhoeven‘s medieval rape-revenge movie Flesh + Blood when the copy landed on my door mat. Don’t get me wrong, I love RoboCop, Starship Troopers and Total Recall just as much as the next person. Equally I really, really do not like Showgirls; and Basic Instinct is not too much better. His movies are a bit of a lucky dip. Am I going to watch a hidden gem like Soldier of Orange, or a load of old guff like Hollow Man? Turns out that Flesh + Blood, starring a contractually obligated Rutger Hauer as a ‘saintly’ rebel leader in the European middle ages, is actually pretty damn good indeed. So much so that it now rivals the Dutch director’s magnum opus, RoboCop, as my favourite of his.
The movie mostly acts as a satire of fascism and tries to understand its intoxicating appeal to various classes of society, but it also attempts to deconstruct the male/female relationship in a way that the veteran director has done so expertly throughout his career. This fully uncut restoration includes some incredibly controversial scenes of rape and trademark ultra-violence – and violence against women in particular – but uses them as metaphor in a much more clever way. It also looks absolutely stunning, capturing both the mud-punk attitude that so many modern medieval films desperately try to replicate, but the sets are so vivid and the colours so strong in the remaster that it all feels very real and very alive.
Aside from the use of a stupid ‘+’ symbol in the title instead of saying ‘and’ (or even using an ampersand for goodness sake) it still manages to top my list of first time watches this year. Even that minor irritant can’t downgrade it.
OTHER GOOD STUFF THIS YEAR
Album: Slaves – Acts of Fear and Love (The punk-meets-Blur album that I didn’t realise I so desperately wanted all along)
Comic: Final issues of Descender by Jeff Lemire (A comic series that just continued to get better and better with each issue, each page and each panel. Looking forward to reading the follow-up Ascender when it gets published in 2019)
Most disappointing film: The Nun (oh, what could have been a great sequel in the Conjuring Universe akin to Annabelle Creation turned out to be yet another formulaic jump-scare horror – rivalled by Aquaman which was a load of bobbins but I didn’t hate it)
Biggest surprise: Revenge (another rape-revenge thriller but one directed by a woman that completely subverts all the tripes associated with the problematic subgenre)
Best TV rewatch: Peaky Blinders (Not just because I’m from the Birmingham are, but the Steven Knight’s writing astounds me. How he successfully fits so much character, so much story and so many great memorable moments into one hour-long episode is beyond me)
Things that should be on a list but aren’t: F is for Family (underrated), She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (yep), Bodyguard (if only to discuss the hype), the FIFA World Cup (best moment of 2018?), James Acaster: Repertoire (fair play), Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Inside No. 9 Live (hu-wah I don’t even), Marvel’s Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption 2 (just because)