Culture Magazine

Top of 2018 So Far

By Paskalis Damar @sinekdoks

First six months of 2018 has wrapped and, even though this half has been a tough time to my blogging productivity, I have compiled top 11 most favorites movies I've seen during the first half of 2018. To compensate for the MIA, I also provided (minimum) two-paragraph reviews for each of the top movies. Please be advised that all the movies in this post are listed alphabetically. Enjoy reading.

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)

In a dystopian world where being quiet is the only way to survive, Krasinski crafts a suspenseful family survival drama-which might seem familiar; but, from the way it's presented, it feels fresh and original. The film hold dears the principle that 'silence is gold' and noise, in other hand, is an instant death. With smooth orchestration between placid atmosphere and alluring scores, every single noise-whether it is a crunch of leaves or a gasp of air-feels mortal.

That premise might be A Quiet Place' s ace of spades; but, then, the film keeps unraveling piece by piece of its carefully written thriller. Moments by moments are chained into a series of terror, which shovels audiences into the pit of frustration. Well, the series of malicious events is only get bitter with Krasinski's injection of melodrama, which makes the whole film a complete suffocating experience (although, at times, some momentous events could feel a bit hasty or short-lived). At times, the whole story feels like an allegory of parenting-especially parenting child with special needs.

Annihilation (Alex Garland)

In his sophomore directorial effort, Alex Garland ( Ex Machina) crafts a serious, high concept sci-fi about the fundamental of changing-between genetic coded self-destruction and annihilation. The result is rather stunning and... vague at the same time.

Wrapped with dreamlike visuals and mysterious ambiance, Annihilation interweaves three interrelated timelines (which might contradict each other-depends on how you see it) as we follow Natalie Portman's enigmatic character in conjunction to her experience with The Shimmer, a restricted, anomalous area which becomes the center of this story. In a similar fashion with Ex Machina, Annihilation is moving slowly and quietly; it isn't showy, but it leaves the most scars in the end. There are moments the film unravels its awe-inspiring surprises and revelations-not in an extravagant attitude, but in an ambiguous way, which probes more questions than answers.

You might talk about the film's third act, which gives you the most damage; but, if you look closely, Garland has carefully torn you apart along the way, even far before that act. His thought-provoking script (loosely adapted from Jeff VanderMeer's best-selling novel) also puts us into an awe-struck circumstance all the time-with the talk of genetic-design of self-destruction or, even, the thought that we're following an unreliable narrator. It is definitely a film you need to see more than once to actually garner a solid conclusion for yourself.

As for Natalie Portman, her placid performance is one thing that keeps us stick to Annihilation in whatever forms or states it is. There's thick air between us and Portman's character making us questioning the character although we're literally following her from beginning to end.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

In short, Black Panther is gifted with the festivity of cultural celebration that we have never seen in any superhero films before. That, crafted with enticing Shakespearean drama and real-world commentary, makes it one of Marvel films with most interesting story development.

Under Ryan Coogler's sensitive directing, the ensemble of stars could shine shimmeringly as a unison, although Michael B. Jordan is still the real MVP among all. It's another gamble that pays off for Marvel. It's also another well-done Marvel bravura with touch of auteurism (following Ken Brannagh's Thor and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok).

Game Night (John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein)

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein had proven a point in injecting tremendous energy through Mark Perez's adroit and exhilarating script, creating a vigorous crime comedy to be a sole winner in this crazy Game Night.

It's a nonchalant comedy of errors at one of its finest form. It's serious at a time, but at the same time, it's not; it's full of laughs at a time, but at the same time, it's packed with terrors. At a time, this film might remind me to David Fincher's early venture in The Game; but, when it goes deeper into the night, you'll realize that it's not that 'Game', it's the twisted, sicko cousin of Fincher's erratic thriller.

The script is full of clever banters, perfect comedic timing (while you might retort at how slapstick it could be; but, hey, it was marketed with 'from the guys who brought you " Horrible Bosses ". What to expect?), and brilliant references to other films. It might resort to a whole chaotic night premise; but, the script never leaves its heart out. There's this little heart at its center of the main characters' marriage (which is carried thoroughly by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams).

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

Witty is the new face of horror as seen in Ari Aster's slow-burn, challenging and perplexing Hereditary. 'Scary' is way too underrated to define what actually happens in this new wave of terror.

Aster cooks a more depressing Rosemary's Baby and feeds it to the audience as a mindfuck, disturbing mental challenge led by Toni Collette's terrific performance and his bone-chilling direction comprising of astute cinematography and psycho-torturing scoring. The less you know the better.

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson carefully and stunningly creates a warm (in both story and tone) dystopian story in his second stop-motion feature- Isle of Dogs (which as you might try to read it, sounds like 'I love dogs.').

Isle of Dogs is heavy on details and Anderson's trademarked symmetrical aesthetics. Each shot is neatly constructed with predetermined mise en scene which complements the auteur's whimsical plot-which now takes place in dystopian Japan, where canine-flu has forced all dogs of the nation in an exile. The setting grants Anderson lots of wildest exploration-resulting in peculiar landscapes by landscapes, which, if not paying homage to the country's cultural aspects, over-stylizes it like a loose cyber-punk world.

While the 'cultural appropriation' accusation might rear its ugly head (you can't deny it-even when it's not what it intended), Isle of Dogs never really gets overshadowed by the issue as it truly is a story of friendship between human's most loyal bestfriend and the purest of the humanity. It's heartwarming knowing that Anderson doesn't opt to simplify the story or, even, translate the Japanese dialogues. It's a bold move to celebrate the culture he is 'borrowing' to deliver the story. He lets the dogs speak English but he keeps all the Japanese details in tact. It looks as if Anderson's doing it deliberately, he prefers the audiences to believe in 'interpretation' of the story (as in the dialogues) than to swallow the whole 'fabricated translation.'

Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti)

The first time I heard of this film is in an episode of Riverdale, where this film is mentioned as a foreshadowing of Cheryl Blossom's coming out. To be having such role in such a guilty-pleasure show, to me, only has two meanings: either it is so much powerful (hence Cheryl Blossom's event) or it is so much tacky (which is in line with the show). As it turns out, Love, Simon belongs to the former.

Not in a pretentious way, Love, Simon sets up a new sub-genre embarked by big Hollywood studio-a queer teenage rom-com. Tackling an issue of coming out warmly and sincerely, not in any over-glorification way, Love, Simon does not go big; but, surely, it's a rom-com to remember for generations.

Novitiate (Maggie Betts)

Writer-Director, Maggie Betts, brings forth a poignant and provocative carefully-made observation about a Catholicism way of life most people don't dare to choose-the convent life-in Novitiate.

While presented as a daring coming-of-age drama about the call of faith, 'Novitiate' is often filled with thoughts and subtexts about living in convent in the era of Roman Catholic Church reformation in the aftermath of Vatican II. From the conservatism-which is obliged to cease for a more open, tolerant church (which is accepted with clinging reluctance), family's acceptance to the way of living, to the rise of sexuality under the robe; the film is constructed with precision and such sensitivity.

The film centers on two figures-Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), a girl coming from an agnostic family who personally decides to enter the convent fulfilling the call of faith; and the convent's Reverend Mother (underrated Melissa Leo who could've granted more award recognition for this role) who represents the church's old life. Look closely and see how their stories juxtapose each other's intriguingly.

It's a shame that a story this powerful is overshadowed by its non-universal nature and theme which made it difficult to reach wider audience. However, for this effort, Maggie Betts deserves more attention for his directorial tenure.

Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg)

Steven Spielberg once again showcases his ever-expanding expertise in creating a larger-than-life blockbuster. His adaptation of Ernest Clyne's Ready Player One, which welcomed massive pre-release backlash, actually proves its worth-an exhilarating pop culture bonanza curated in a heartfelt, CGI-laden blockbuster.

Spielberg's vision to the source material is top-notch. As he translates the nostalgia box and every geek's dream into a two-hour joyride, audiences are spoiled with visual spectacles like never before. Ready Player One keeps reminding us to Spielberg's earlier works where he's prone to deliver us a sincere cinematic ride; only this time, he's doing it big time.

Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)

Cory Finley's directorial debut is a legit mixture of 'the art of low-key thriller' and well-written black comedy about teen angst with body counts.

The story about fucked-up girls with fucked-up lives, fucked-up restraint emotion and fucked-up relationship with each other becomes the center of it. In a calm, non-threatening sense, Thoroughbreds present the story like an oddball of a mix and match. The dialogues are heavy and unapologetic as they glue both main protagonists (portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) together. The dialogues replace psycho-brutality that the premise offers; those dialogues might be explosive and killing, but that's how the movie plays out.

Finley knows how to keep the whole thing from bursting out and, instead, gives us the candid psycho-talk nurtured perfectly by both stunning casts.

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

In a machismo story about a war veteran turns hitman-who brings hammer around to save human-trafficking victim, Lynn Ramsay (whose last work before this is ,We Need to Talk About Kevin, was released 7 years prior) doesn't even bother to create a big, tough and gritty version of it. Instead, she plunges the protagonist, Joe (portrayed by almost unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix), into a masculinity-challenged persona in which he's often struggle with unsteady psychology and never-ending anguish.

At times, You Were Never Really Here feels like Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive; only with sadder lead-of a more sombre background told piece a piece in Ramsay's most visceral sense. It's melancholic, brutal and, at the same time, poetic.

Now, that's all Sinekdoks' 11 top movies of the 2018 first half. Up to this point, I'm pretty sure that someone might have been wondering "Where the hell is Avengers: Infinity War?" It's pretty understandable since I even use the image of that movie as the featured image. Now, tell me, could you find that specific scene depicted on the featured image in the movie? No. Same rule.


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