Cruel to be kind: In Fifty Shades Freed Anastasia and Christian finally found what they’d always pined for.
The Good, The Bad and The Great Unwatched: 2018 in Film
While it’s no surprise that the year was dominated by giant franchise films from Hollywood, what is a little unusual is that most of them were actually quite good and helped push 2018’s global box office to a new record.
In the US a new benchmark was set as blockbusters helped domestic box office ring the bell at $11.8 billion according to Comscore, which is a few dollars more than the previous record set in 2016 at a mere $11.4b.
That swelling of cinema love reflected the situation around the planet, with the global box office hitting $41.7b, up a few dollars on 2017’s record of $40.6b.
This jump was due to the wave of huge Christmas time films such as Aquaman, Bumblebee and Mary Poppins Returns
Much of the haul went to Disney’s sock drawer. The studio simply owned the year with a global take of about $7 billion, much of that thanks to its ridiculously lucrative Marvel Studios division producing such runaway hits as Avengers: Infinity War (the year’s biggest film at $2b), Black Panther (runner up at $1.3b), Antman and the Wasp ($620m) and Deadpool 2 ($735m).
Of the studio’s more traditional animated fare Incredibles 2 chimed in with $1.2b while the much loved Ralph Breaks the Internet contributed some handy pocket change with $350m.
Oh, the studio had its misfires. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms had trounble fimnding a realm with a caring audience in it while A Wrinkle in Time failed to properly capitalise on its one major asset – a 50-foot Oprah Winfrey.
But why worry? If anything, Disney is set to deepen its global footprint in multiplexes once it’s done swallowing 20th Century Fox.
Nobody in the count room was happy that Solo: A Star Wars Story ($392m) was such a troublesome child, with veteran director Ron Howard having to step in and salvage the film after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired for making a goofier film than the studio wanted.
After a costly four-month production shut down Howard ended up filming most of the film, earning him sole credit. With an inflated cost of around $250m, it’s paltry take of $393m was well below the billion dollar take expected from each chapterndf was tghe first Star Wars film to have the phrase “box office flop” stitched to it.
Three films heralded an odd new trend whereby films are unjustly credited with “breakthrough” status. Black Panther was meant to usher in a new era of big films headed by black actors, even though it’s been nothing new for several decades. Australia’s Sweet Country, dealt with historical racial crimes but far from Australia far from finally being ready to confront such content, it’s been around since the 1980s.
And, of course we had Crazy Rich Asians, which topped the local box office for three weeks. A fine, funny film based on a best seller, it again was heralded as some sort of landmark on account of its all Asian cast, conveniently forgetting Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Memoirs of a Geisha and The Joy Luck Club, not to mention the host of major recent films featuring Asians in major supporting roles.
So, why the rush of collective amnesia? It could have something to do with the hyper sensitivity over diversity issues thanks to the persistence of political correctness and the rise of identity politics, which favours agendas over facts.
Australian film had another mediocre film, box-office wise.
It began with a promising couple of hits: Breath, the directorial debut by actor Simon Baker, took a terrific $5m and Stephan Elliott’s 1980s throwback comedy Surfing Safari $1.6m, and ended with Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black, the biggest local film of the year with a hefty take of $12m after a healthy three month run and Sweet Country made a respectable $1.8m.
As usual, however, most local films floundered with little or no public profile, despite most of them being very good. The terrific motorcycle drama 1% couldn’t catch a ride, barely making $100,000; much-touted festival favourite The Merger took a disappointing $400,000; the award winning Jirga took around $90,000.
Interesting to note not just that the dark comedy Brother’s Nest made by Kenny boys Shane and Clayton Jacobson took $200,000, but how. The lads made the film outside the system due to fatigue battling with bureaucracy and toured the film around provincial Victoria, old-school style.
The formula for making successful comedies remained as elusive as ever, as demonstrated by a series of terrible Australian comedies including The BBQ, The Flip Side, That’s Not My Dog, In Like Flynn and David Wenham’s aimless directorial debut Ellipsis.
Most other Aussie films got scant notice due to the usual lack of marketing: Strange Colours, Book Week, West of Sunshine, Upgrade barely took a breath in cinemas before disappearing.
A couple of docos did well: Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy took $820,000,and Gurrumul earned a solid $984,000.
So all up it looks like local films might account for about $50m of the year’s box office, and possibly pip 2017’s year’s total.
But it’s still the same old story. A few mainstream hits, too many duds, and lots of good films disappearing without trace because nobody knew about them.
Whatever the future of Australian film is, this can’t be it.
To close out the year, here are lists of the ten best and ten worst films of the year, followed by some honourable mentions.
First Man – It took them long enough, but this docu-style account of Neil Armstrong’s trek to the Moon on Apollo 11 in 1969 was surprisingly intimate and deeply affecting, especially in Imax.
Chappaquiddick – While man was landing on the moon fulfilling JFK’s prohecy, his dopey brother Ted and his team were trying to deal with the accidental death of an assistant. Superbly directed by John Curran, probably the most underrated film of the year and destined to be ignored come Oscar time. A pity.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Having just taken out several major Golden Globes, this hit biopic of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury is now being pilloried in the same way the band was in the 1970s. What detractors are missing is that the film is a cinematic valentine to a man who was loved and is truly missed. Freddie is effectively brought back to life for two hours, hence all the plaudits to what sould otherwise have been a standard musical biopic.
Mission Impossible: Fallout – His age might be showing but Tom Cruise proved with a ripper MI film that he’s still got it.
A Star Is Born – Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut might be floor-to-ceiling Oscar bait, but it’s so well done, with a stellar co-lead in Lady Gaga, w ell, who cares? So long as it works, folks.
Vice – Christian Bale disappeared under the skin of Vice President Dick Cheney in career-topping turn. Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short) the film would have been funnier if weren’t so true.
The Death of Stalin – Prime political satirist Armando Iannucci (Veep; The Thick of It) turns the passing of the Soviet Union’s mustachioed leader into a dark comedy with a top ensemble.
Ready Player One – Steven Spielberg proved he hasn’t lost his populist touch with this winning, self-referential adventure that meshes gaming and sci-fi. His biggest box office hit since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and a de facto apology for it.
A Quiet Place – Cinema audiences across the world fell into a collective hush while watching John Krasinski’s directorial debut about a post-apocalyptic world where the slightest noise attracts the attention of killer aliens. Fresh, novel and very effective.
Avengers: Infinity War – The mega-sized superhero block party came with two things nobody expected – a great story that actually held together and a killer ending that tested the faith of the franchise’s global fanbase. It worked.
Ocean’s 8 – As if the painful lesson of the all-female Ghostbusters wasn’t enough. Flat performances, dull story, this copy-cat exercises did society no good. At least it wasn’t in 3-D.
Suspiria – Some people found the femme horror film frightening and deep. The rest of us slept.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Not so much a film as background notes for the next film. An excruciating example of franchise padding. Whatever shame JK Rowling had left has clearly withered away.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – Murky nad overlong, Ron Howard was brought in to try and salvage the mess made by Christopher Miller & Phil Lord, who shot about 75% of the film before being fired by the producers who were not happy with their slapdash direction. It didn’t work. As well as being the first Star Wars film to not feature any stars, it is also the first Star Wars film to register as a box office flop. The Force was clearly not with this one.
Red Sparrow – Jennifer Lawrence tries imitating Charlize Theron as an action hero. Doesn’t cut it.
A Wrinkle in Time – Disney mammoth Oprah-lead children’s fantasy about diversity and togetherness was a dog whistle to audiences. They should have stuck to the vision of a 50-foot Oprah and built a film around that.
Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson’s use of old-school stop-motion animation for his dog story was impressive. The rest of the enterprise was a dog.
Christopher Robin – Ewan McGregor rarely bores, but he did so as the creator of Winnie the Pooh. A flat attempt as a children’s fantasy that failed to bringh Robin’s creations to life through ultra-realistic CGI.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls – a magical fantasy adsventure sprinkled with visual effects that never came to life. No fault to Cate Blanchett.
Fahrenheit 11/9 – Michael Moore’s attempt to repeat the triumph of his Bush-bashing classic Fahrenheit 9/11 backfired with this anti-Trump tripe. But it sure was entertaining.
Cold War – From the director of Ida, a post-war romance about two people you couldn’t possibly care less about.
The Old Man & the Gun – Robert Redford allegedly retires with this terrific crimedy, set in the 1980s.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – a terrific sequel to a reboot that brought the horror of hungry dinosaurs into our bedrooms.
Skyscraper – Dwayne Johnson scored many cred points as a hero with a disability who saves his family from a torched tower while battling terrorists.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot – A powerful film about the dark power of alcohol; Joaquin Phoenix was terrific as John Callaghan. An Oscar-worthy performance, likely to be ignored.
Sweet Country – Warwick Thornton’s period drama drew plaudits and a sizeable audience, but what we need a are more films about how indigenous people are faring in today’s Australia, not yesterday’s.
The 15:17 to Paris – Clint Eastwood’s tribute to three off-duty soldiers who stopped a terrorist act on a train starred ther real heroes themselves. Not a great film, but in keeping with Eastwood’s defiant celebration of American heroes.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure – A satisfying closing chapter to the teenage dystopia franchise that is better than Hunger Games in so many ways.
Fifty Shades Freed – A satisfying closing chapter to the slap’n’tickle mummy porn trilogy. Christian and Anastasia are finally free – and so are we.