Cinema in 2018 Defined – The Lessons Hollywood Learned (and Failed?)
Every new year is like a different chapter of a never ending book that’s always changing. A new beginning, but of something continued. That’s how I see film. As 2019 enters our horizon, we can now reflect on 2018 within our rear view mirror. Cinema evolves with every year and a new year gives us film fans a way to digest what strides came from the industry, what stories were told and what type of lessons were learned. Films are defined by the era they are made, the zeitgeist of society and the mood of the creators. All these factors are timely. As films are stories of people, they mirror what went on at the time. So let’s take a look at what happened in 2018 that defined cinema…
Crazy, (thematically) Rich Representation
Movies: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians
2018 was the year of breaking records. For Black Panther, it not only destroyed the Box Office, but made strides in the representation of African-Americans on film. Black Panther was the highest grossing film of the 2018 US Box Office and with an almost entirely African-American cast and crew – this was unheard of. BP showcased African traditions and cultures that were almost unseen in the mass media. It demonstrated the importance of representation and why it matters. BP was key in breaking the record for largest gross for black directors at the box office with $1.6 billion. The article on CNBC states that “out of the top 100 Fictional movies at the Box Office, 16 of them were directed by black filmmakers”, three times more than last years. This could also be said for the Asian community as well with rom-com success story Crazy Rich Asians.
The last few years gave us blunders of white-washed casting with Emma Stone in Aloha, Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange and most famously Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. To finally have an all Asian cast and crew in mainstream American cinema boasted a collective move in the right direction. The last film to do this was The Joy Luck Club, a whole 25 years ago. CRA was an unexpected success at the Box Office and a crowd pleaser for all demographics that rejuvenated the dead genre of the romantic comedy. It became the highest-grossing romantic comedy from a major studio since 2009’s The Proposal. At the core, both these films are a celebration of unique, beautiful cultures who for so long have been begging for the big screen. These films shared with us the art, experience and most importantly the people. These films resonate and were historic for cinema in 2018.
From left to right: Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther, Henry Goulding and Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians
High Concept Horror’s Quiet Comeback
Movies: A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Annihilation, Bird Box
In a year where many high profile, studio horror franchises did not hit well with critics nor audiences (the likes of The Nun, The First Purge and even The Predator), it gave the chance for original and high concept horror to steal the limelight. 2018 saw smaller, moderately budgeted films win critics over with the intensely chilling sci-fi survival of Annihilation and the constantly uncomfortable and creepy atmosphere of Hereditary. A film that managed to scare the hearts of both critics and audiences was John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. Keeping up the trend of comedians doing horror after Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Krasinski created an active viewing experience, where it’s premise of being absolutely silent to survive seeped its way into viewers minds. It was exhilarating, Hitchcock-ian in it’s execution and a unique horror experience that grabbed us and didn’t let go. Finally they all can’t be winners, but they can generate conversations and debates. Films like Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the Italian 70’s classic Suspira divided critics for testing your patients with its incomprehensibility, yet others would argue that its feverish dream state sticks it’s claws right into your skin. The same can be said for Bird Box, an internet phenomenon where it’s premise will intrigue, but execution was their downfall. This didn’t stop 45 million Netflix accounts streaming it in its first week. Maybe audiences are getting fed up with the traditional, trashy jump scares of horror that plagued the genre for years. 2018 showcased what could be done with horror outside the tired tricks and cliches we’re all too familiar with.
John Krasinski in A Quiet Place
Movies: Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Annihilation, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
With the aforementioned Bird Box under their belt, Netflix was king in 2018. They became one of the leading studios for original films, changing both the market place and the way we view films. Netflix came out with over 80 original features that covered the whole spectrum, with some of them being absolute master classes in cinema from the most prestigious filmmakers. Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to Mexico displayed a powerful tale of loss, sacrifice and the human condition; a real front runner at this years Oscars. You thought Cuaron was good? Try The Coen Brothers, who made The Ballad of Buster Scruggs with Netflix. Their first anthology film that showcased the nihilism of the old west where it balanced light comedy with the brutality of the west, held together by unforgettable characters. Alex Garland’s follow up to Ex Machina, Annihilation came out internationally on Netflix. It’s a hard sci-fi thriller with haunting imagery and visuals. Garland’s lesser accessible follow up may have gone even more unseen without Netflix’s global reach.
Netflix managed to maintain what they’ve been known for as well as break boundaries. They’ve been the studio to dominate the rom-com market as this year makes no exception with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The first decent, heart warming teenage rom-com in sometime with John Hughes-esque drama and quirky characters, you can’t help but reminisce that there may still be steam in this genre. And finally, Netflix pushed the envelope by creating a whole new interactive film experience with Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch. One of the first of it’s kind where the viewer makes decisions for characters within this seamless narrative. Not unseen in video games, but certainly an interesting first in movies. Netflix knows they’ve got a big hand within the upcoming years on how we consume films, and I’m excited to see where they take it.
From left to right: Sandra Bullock in Bird Box, Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, Tim Blake Nelson in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Feminine Fatale No More
Movies: The Favourite, Ocean’s 8, Annihilation, Widows, A Simple Favour, Eighth Grade, Colette
Taking inspiration from last year’s mega hit Wonder Woman, female empowerment has never been stronger. There were many stories of the female experience triumphing over challenges like Keira Knightley’s Victorian era Colette about the French author with the same name, along with modern day high school anxiety with wicked new comer Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade. We had many female ensembles such as the all female reboot of the Ocean’s franchise Ocean’s 8. Headlined by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett, it was a thrill to see these serious dramatic actors have fun with the heist romp the franchise is known for. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick’s A Simple Favour endowed us with a quirky comedy drama that pitted two of our most likeable actresses against each other. Widows showed us women can be a gritty type of bad-ass and could easily finish any job a rugged criminal could. Viola Davis knocks it out of the park with her stern yet vulnerable performance. She was magnetic. The same could be said for the aforementioned Annihilation, which did not even make a fuss that it was an all female cast. Director Alex Garland was more “worried about making sure [the characters] were dimensionalised in that respect than anything else” instead of filling any sort of agenda. It’s humbleness in its representation showed normalised strides for these types of cast.
And finally, my personal best for this year, The Favourite. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz play off each other so well, they all deserve Oscar attention. They absolutely chew up each scene with their bitey dialogue and conniving ploys, tugging for the spotlight with each scene. It’s remarkably funny and a highlight for the theme of woman dominating cinema in 2018.
From left to right: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez in Annihilation
Australia Making Waves in Hollywood
Movies: Aquaman, Upgrade, Ladies in Black
(Words by Dominic Kwaczynski)
You might be surprised to learn that Aquaman, the billion-dollar grossing DCEU juggernaut, is, in fact, an Australian co-production. Helmed by Australian director James Wan and shot in sunny Queensland, the film holds the distinction of being the fifth highest grossing film of 2018, which is no small feat. There’s been a definite swing towards the affirmative for major Hollywood production companies using Australia as a viable filming location for big and small-scale action films alike. In fact, Wan’s frequent collaborator, Leigh Whannell, shot his low budget but wildly imaginative sci-fi action-er Upgrade on the streets of Melbourne, using the cultural hub as a double for a futuristic cityscape. On the more family friendly side of things, the live action/computer animation hybrid Peter Rabbit was shot predominately in New South Wales with Sydney based animation studio Animal Logic (best known for the Lego movies) bringing the furry critters to life. While big strides were made in 2018 for Hollywood films being made in Australia, locally produced films had a bit of a tougher time getting international recognition. CinefestOz winner Jirga, a small scale but compassionate film about bridging cultural divides during wartime, was Australia’s selection for Best Foreign Film at the 91st Academy Awards but missed out on any major awards contention. Oscar nominee Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black and Simon Baker’s adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Breath both struggled to secure international theatrical distribution despite gaining fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (at the time of writing they sit on 83% and 79% respectively). Here’s hoping the waves Australia makes in Hollywood also reverberate on the micro-level in the future.
James Wan directing Amber Heard, Jason Momoa and Willem Dafoe in Aquaman
And The Oscar goes too… who?
Movies: Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born, Vice and more
As most years at the Oscars go, there are so outliers and odd nominations here and there. However this year found there were a lot more ‘suprisises’ than expected, and I’m not alone. Now I wouldn’t say I’m an expert Oscar prognosticator, but I know the rules and facts to tell you this is a strange year.
This year shows off some oddly weaker films in the limelight. Bohemian Rhapsody is the “worst reviewed best picture nominee since 2012” (since Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). Vice too, a very controversial and angry film is also nominated for Best Picture, while notable omissions such as Eighth Grade or If Beale Street Could Talk are nowhere to be seen. The Academy can nominate 10 films, so the fact they chose to nominate eight and didn’t feel others were worth of the two empty spots is odd. There is no proper front runner this year. Most bets are on Roma, however in the Oscar’s history, the 11 Foreign-Language films that were also nominated for Best Picture have never won. What’s also notable is Roma doesn’t have a film editing nomination. It’s rare for a film to win Best Picture without also a nomination for Film Editing. Since the Academy’s invention of the award in 1934, only 9 films have won Best Picture without at least an editing nomination. That’s over 85 years of statistics. Another coveted rule of the Oscars is a film doesn’t win Best Picture without also a Best Director nomination. Crowd favourite A Star is Born does not have a Best Director nomination for Bradley Cooper, which shows maybe the Academy’s love for that movie isn’t as strong. Only four films have won Best Picture without Best Director, most notably and recently 2012’s Argo won Best Picture without Ben Affleck being nominated for Best Director. However that is a very rare exception.
Although there is more to pile on like the Green Book controversy over accuracy or director of Boh Rap Bryan Singer and more allegations of his coming to light, there are some notable strides too. Netflix has it’s first ever Best Picture nomination, shaping the way we view films on demand. Black Panther is the first ever superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, even The Dark Knight didn’t get that nomination. Spike Lee has his first ever Oscar nomination (ever) for directing BlacKkKlansman. And Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a shoe in for best animated film after winning the Producers Guild Award for Best Animated Film (a good indication for the Oscars).
From left to right: Christian Bale in Vice, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
With a diverse range of films representing 2018, it seems Hollywood learned that it was time to showcase important stories about underrepresented cultures as well as better female led films. Over the last few years, there has been a hunger for more unique and underseen narratives. The audience has played an exceptionally large role in this. Filmmakers as well as studios learned to listen to the cinema going public. They’ve voiced outcry for better horror and better on-demand content. The movies that were most popular are nominated for Oscars, the movies that have been most talked about are getting sequels. The film industry learned the streaming services are slowly becoming the future. They’re not all the way there yet, but they’re slowly learning to recognise the influence and reach of streaming after a few years of Netflix ridicule and booing at prestigious film festivals. The Australian film industry has learned of their potential in both the blockbuster market, by dipping their toes into the big pool of Hollywood, as well as creating their own authentic stories. Australian cinema has always had a voice but right now it’s bigger than ever. With all this being said, what awaits in 2019 is exceptionally exciting as well. A chapter book ending to the MCU, Jordan Peele’s second film, another Tarantino film and more. Hopefully more Australian films will get recognition in international markets too. Although The Oscars may be (and forever will be) a rough patch, Hollywood, you learned some valuable lessons in 2018.
Keep it up.
By Thomas Tang, Film Editor