15. The Favourite
Or as it’s otherwise known, ‘Bitches be cray-cray’, am I right? Seriously though, Yorgos Lanthimos (I’m certain I’ve butchered that spelling) has always been one of those directors I’ve been meaning to check out but have never actually gotten around to doing so. I heard enough good things about The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer, but for one reason or another they never ended up directly on my plate. So I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into this.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, I was honestly kind of surprised at just how funny this movie was. Admittedly, it’s funny very much in a dark comedy sort of way, but I had a lot of good laughs when I saw this that I very much wasn’t exxpecting. Emma Stone in particular surprised me with her comedic talents, with some fantastic facial expressions to help punctuate certain jokes. Although then again, all three of the leading ladies were honestly really good. Olivia Colman has always been a underrated favourite of mine (especially considering how often she seems to show up on British TV) and Rachel Weisz makes a satisfyingly dignified foil for both her and Emma Stone. All three actors work off each other brilliantly to create an excellent product. Needless to say the Oscar noms are very deserved in their case.
But yeah, honestly this movie was great. Strong characterisation, strong acting, some great political intrigue and surprisingly hilarious to boot. If I had to pick any flaw, it does sometimes get a little too artsy for its own good, especially on that final shot, but that’s a minor blemish at best for a movie that I honestly really enjoyed
Boy, this was a really good year for somewhat trippy movies with one-word titles, wasn’t it? I’ve already covered Apostle, Mandy and Overlord, but on my list this year, nearly half my Top 20 films have one-word titles. That’s pretty damn impressive, right? Right…?
…Okay, look, I’m buying for time because I couldn’t come up with a good introduction for this. Except, obviously, that it was really really damn good.
Revenge has been touted as a feminist revenge thriller and, while I’m not entirely sure to what extent I’d agree with that descriptor, there’s no denying it’s a really great movie. Tense and exciting, with some enjoyably hateable villains and an almost cartoonish level of blood, this movie grips you from very early on and never feels like it outstays its welcome. And it doesn’t even always rely on gore or action to provide its tension. There’s one scene very early on with a very creepy ‘nice guy’ character that was almost ‘Get Out’ levels in how much it subconsciously unsettled you and made you think something was wrong, even before the actual awful stuff starts happening
Really, in a lot of ways, it’s the perfect sort of action thriller, with a likeable protagonist who you want to see survive, hateable antagonists you want to see dead, tense sequences, great use of action and a quite frankly ridiculous amount of blood. Seriously, in that climactic fight, I’m fairly certain that the characters should not have had that much blood in them to begin with, let alone actually surviving having lost it all. But it’s clearly a deliberate stylistic choice that I admit I did kind of enjoy. So yeah, it’s a fun movie and if you haven’t seen it, check it out.
I did say this was a good year for movies with one-word titles, right?
Anyway, Searching is a movie with a fairly unique gimmick, in that the entire movie takes place on a computer screen. Phone calls, texts, messages and the like are all used to move the story along and we never see anything that happens outside that screen. As far as I know, this movie isn’t the first to try such a thing, a few horror movies have also done so in the past, but this easily pulls it off the best. It’s the sort of gimmick that, if poorly handled could quickly become eye-rolling in its obnoxiousness, but the movie really manages to make it work and manages to use a lot of inventive storytelling techniques with it, from half-typed out text messages that never get sent, to google searches and messages that clearly help convey the main character’s internal feelings.
It also helps that the mystery itself unfolds pretty damn interestingly. We open with a neat little Up-esque montage of the family growing up together, followed by the mother’s death from cancer and the father and daughter slowly growing somewhat estranged. Then the daughter stops answering her calls and her father grows increasingly desperate as he tries to contact her through dozens of different methods, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that she’s gone missing. In a normal movie, much of the ‘attempting to contact her’ stuff would be skipped over pretty quickly, but this movie shows each of the father’s steps as he tries to get in contact with his daughter, in almost painstaking detail and we really get a sense for that growing panic and worry in the father’s gut as he realises something is genuinely wrong.
Honestly, I was surprised by how gripped I was for the entire movie. I won’t say basic-storywise it does anything amazingly original and there are a few contrived coincidences that lead the character to the real answer, but it’s all told in such a fantastically visual way, with the way it all unfolds or how each step of the father’s investigation is shown and how he makes logical deductions and steps. Even if there are a handful of moments where the computer gimmick feels a touch forced at times, it’s all entirely worth it for just how much it adds to the movie.
Seriously though, this movie took a gimmick that I honestly wasn’t all that sure about and really showed how it could work on the big screen. And sure, just as much credit should go to John Cho who really does hold everything together with his fantastic performance. Trust me when I saw that Boffy nom is very well deserved. To sum up, this movie was so much better than I ever thought it could be and was a very strong contender for my Top 10 for much of the year. Unfortunately, it narrowly got overtaken by a few late entries I saw towards the year, including the next movie on this list…
You know, a lot of people are fairly down on remakes these days. And, to some degree, it’s fairly understandable. Why waste money retelling a story that’s already been told and in a way that, most likely, will be inferior to the original product? But then you get remakes like this, that take the same kind of premise as the original movie (a dance academy run by witches) and takes it off in entirely new and exciting directions, providing a product that is simultaneously very different and similar and easily stands on the same level as the original movie.
Seriously, I loved the heck out of this movie, from its weird surreal imagery, to the subtle subtexts of each character’s relationships, to the haunting hypnotic dancing scenes to the way the movie almost creates its own unique form of magic, distinct and different from the original, leading to the mind-blowing (heh) conclusion. I was fairly cautious going in, since I’m rarely fond of movies with overly long running times, but this movie dragged me in quickly and refused to let me go for nearly 3 hours, keeping me compelled and interested through the entire running time. There’s one early scene in particular involving a room of mirrors (if you’ve seen it, you know the one) that legitimately might be my favourite movie scene of the year.
Still, if I did have to pick some flaws, it’s that it does feel like the movie kinda peaks a little bit early with that scene and that the climax, while involving some great make-up and an excellent twist, was a touch more anti-climactic than I’d like. Plus I wasn’t overly fond of the psychiatrist subplot. But those are more than made up for by everything else in the movie and how much genuine magic it contains.
To sum up, (and go on a very mild tangent) this movie very much goes to show why I’ve always wished we could’ve gotten Terry Gilliam’s interpretation of Watchmen, rather than Zack Snyder‘s slavish reproduction of the original comic book. Because you just plain can’t live up to a classic by copying it beat for beat. You have to go off in your own direction and make something new of it, even as you keep to the ideas of the original. And sure sometimes that won’t always work, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it? Especially if you end up with something as fantastic as this.
(Also, drink a shot for yet another one-word title.)
And the one word title domination continues with another equally surreal horror movie. I’ll admit, this movie really took me a while to get around to. I’ve been meaning to see ever since it came out, but it didn’t stick around in my local cinemas long enough to really get a chance. But boy am I glad I saw it when I did.
Now, I will confess, this was a somewhat interesting viewing experience for me in hindsight, because I didn’t go into this movie blind like most people. While waiting to get a chance to watch it at home, I’d already read a number of thinkpieces and spoiler-heavy reviews talking about and interpreting the various events of the movie. Which didn’t particularly bother me, I’m far from a spoilerphobe, but it did affect my viewing experience somewhat. Specifically, it let me appreciate just how well put together the entire movie was.
Seriously, the entire film is packed with clever foreshadowing and subtle clues, both visual, dialogue and story-wise. It was so well constructed, like those model houses Toni Collette’s character keeps fiddling with throughout the movie, even if a lot of it is not necessarily something you can easily catch on first viewing. From the very opening speech, clues are laid down and the movie masterfully unfolds its puzzle with more and more pieces and strange events. Admittedly, I can understand why a lot of people were rather confused seeing this film, considering they don’t explain a very important part of the mystery until a very clumsy throwaway exposition line in literally the last scene, but knowing what they were going for from the beginning only made me appreciate it all the more.
But it’s not just the story that I appreciated. The acting in this movie was phenomenal, with special mention to Toni Collette and Alex Wolff who both just blew it out of the park as a mother and son both collectively starting to lose their goddamn minds in different and frightening ways after a sudden tragic event. Gabriel Byrne is a little more subdued but he does fine as the skeptical grounded father trying to keep things sane and Millie Shapiro is a sufficiently creepy kid, even if she doesn’t get as much screentime as you’d expect. The direction and production design as well is great, with excellent use of darkness and various visual cues here and there.
Overall, the 2010’s have really been a surprisingly interesting decade for horror and this is yet another great notch on its belt. Haunting, well-constructed and with some genuinely Oscar-worthy performances, it’s little surprise to me that this has been getting the accolades that it has.