Welcome to 2019!
Before we count down to the new movies coming out in the next 12 months, we take stock of what came out in the past 12, starting with the ones that rocked our world. It’s a monster task so we enlist 8 DAYS contributors Tay Yek Keak and Gold 90FM’s Chris Ho to round up of the best flicks of 2018. Let the debate begin...
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Tay Yek Keak’s picks
1. A Quiet Place
Mary Poppins, sorry, I mean, Emily Blunt doesn't sing, sneeze, snore or even talk a peep in this post-apocalyptic horror-drama. If she or any of her family members make a sound, they would be torn apart by ferocious monsters lurking in their midst. One of her sons gets killed in an awful scene when he activates his toy accidentally. Here's the genius of director/co-writer/star/real husband of Blunt, John Krasinski – it's a brilliantly simple concept which he controls masterfully from start to finish. He sets up this silent-movie premise and then spends the rest of the film challenging, threatening and attacking this very idea. As the beleaguered family lull themselves into a tenuous kind of soundless normalcy using facial expressions, notes and sign language to communicate, anything even whispery can make everything fall apart terribly any second. Man, when a pregnant Blunt steps on a nail on the floor, we — the queasy, uneasy audience — muffle our screams as much as she does hers. Seriously, where is that silent-mute Transformer, Bumblebee, when you really need him?
Despite having an ending that’s farfetched and too convenient, you’ll sit engrossed by this gripping tech-based drama-thriller — from debut director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty — and wonder how they are going to keep up its high concept of displaying the entire movie on a computer monitor, laptop screen, mobile phone, news report, live stream or CCTV. Because nothing here is viewed through a direct camera. Instead, every bit is seen via a secondary screen which makes this film basically a terrific tech feat by itself. As his young daughter goes missing, John Cho (in constant close-ups), goes from concern to worry to sheer panic. But hey, its the Internet. You can find anybody anywhere, right? Wrong. Suddenly, contrary to her social media posts, he finds out that his kid isn't really that social. She transfers money to a mysterious online account. And the assigned cop (Debra Messing) seems to be two steps behind the digital-footprint leads which Cho himself, a non-techie crash-coursing desperately through the alien world of Facebook and Instagram, uncovers.
A group of people live together as a happy family in a small home in Tokyo. They routinely steal stuff. But the odd thing is that, except for an old granny and a younger woman, none of them are actually related to each other. In 2004, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda helmed the fascinating Nobody Knows about four abandoned juveniles fending for themselves in urban Tokyo. This time, his exposé into Japan's invisible people is a superb drama about love, kindness, togetherness and a Zen-like illegitimacy about the whole arrangement becoming so ironically legit it makes normal squabbling families look like failures in parenting. The lost, isolated souls here are drawn together by fate and fortune which starts out as misfortune. Falling through the cracks of society, they go on to fill up their own holes to stand on. Literally. Because when one person dies here, they simply bury the body under the house. It is this unsanctioned existence of invisibility requiring hiding from the authorities in plain sight that makes this film, its natural cast and its accidental humanity such an absolute must-see. It starts with a sad young girl being accepted by this Fagin-style collection of misfits. She fits in perfectly with the illegal gathering. So do we.
All you need for a truly spooky horror movie is the face of Toni Collette. We've seen her eerie expertise in 1999's The Sixth Sense when she played the scared kid's mom. She possesses the unsettling ability to look frightened and frightening at the same time. As the mother here who sees her daughter beheaded in a road accident, her son getting all weirded out to head-slamming level and her husband (Gabriel Byrne) bursting into flames, she is one big nervous wreck in very scary regression in this atmospheric chiller where you keep screaming to yourself — “Can somebody please turn on the damn lights?”. A mysterious and deadly occult menace lurks and Collette conducts a séance to find out what the hell is happening. It doesn't help that her profession happens to be a horror-movie staple – she builds super-creepy miniature houses and figurines which would put anybody into cuckoo-land rehab for decades. The most unnerving aspect about going on a descent of abject fear and trepidation with Collette is that while she is as vulnerable and freaked out as the next gal, there seems to be an Aussie spirit – no pun intended – inherent in her that kinda works in an extra element about her being somewhat miffed by the unknown at the same time. It's a latent fierceness which, when even that chickens out over here, makes us truly terrified.
5. The Spy Gone North
Right after the surreal Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit here in Singapore, we get this even more incredible tale based loosely on a true story. In the mid-1990s, a South Korean spy, codenamed Black Venus, infiltrates North Korea's nuclear programme all the way to personal meetings with Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong Un's dead dad played by a dead ringer). This enterprising fella (Hwang Jun Min from The Wailing) poses as a businessman selling dictator Kim the insane idea of filming capitalist South Korean ads in the communist North. Due to the outrageous but apparently true improbabilities of events here, this flick, the Korean version of Argo, is curiously captivating in the way you just can't take your eyes away from a car accident. Most amazing are the scenes of the SK agent entering Pyongyang. Coincidentally, the outside world had a real good peek into the Hermit Kingdom's secretive urban scape when North Korea released its Kim-In-Singapore video after the Trump summit. The Spy Gone North is shot mainly in Taiwan.
6. Avengers: Infinity War
To pack so many characters and so many recognisable superheroes in one single movie and then make each one of them seem like they have contributed in some meaningful way to the sheer audience excitement and box-office gazillions earned here is no easy feat. This mega blockbuster needed two directors (brothers Anthony and Joe Russo). Maybe next time for even bigger gatherings, they need to find triplets to manage this. Splitting up the big picture into smaller ones — Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man in one corner of space; Thor and the Guardians Of The Galaxy in another, as others hold the fort on Earth against a super alien invasion — is basically the very clever equivalent of a cad balancing a wife, mistress and girlfriend at the same time with the end game of everybody getting him home for dinner. If you think this is a cinch to handle, look at Justice League trying to juggle even far fewer characters. And here's the most fascinating bit — Thanos, the Big Bad, actually makes a point about humanity pertinent to our current overcrowded world. Exactly what is so bad about reducing half the planet's population with a snap of the fingers? Hey, this is the age of MAGA, right? Let's Make Armageddon Great Again.
This sounds totally bonkers. A black cop (John David Washington, Denzel's son) in Colorado goes undercover as a white racist and soon becomes phone pals with the infamous David Duke (Topher Grace), Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Except this really happened in the crazy 1970s and in the divided America of today, it's like a joke which very good people on both sides — as Donald Trump calls it — can have a laugh about. Primarily about how stupid racists truly are. In case you're wondering, the black guy talks like a white supremacist on the phone and sends his white-cop buddy (Adam Driver) to meet the nasty-dumb Klansmen in person. Starting off as some kind of gag, Spike Lee's Afro-cool dramedy takes on an inbuilt urgency as the walls close in on the Fake White Dude and the hate bombs and actual bombs get nearer. The whole thing becomes a sort of twisted “I Don't Have A Dream” parody turning into a timely commentary about the white emperor having absolutely no clothes. Funniest bit is the black cop posing for a photograph with the KKK. It's scenes like this which make even bigots giggle under their hoods.
8. Beautiful Boy
Gotta say this: I wish I'm Timothee Chalamet, previously seen in Call Me By Your Name. He's hot, has great hair and, boy, he sure can act. Especially in a bio-drama which allows him to play a tortured teen who just can't stop relapsing on the drugs he's hopelessly addicted to. This is the sort of role that gets a young actor an Oscar nomination — in Chalamet's case, a second nom — before he's 30. The Oscar though ought to go to Steve Carell, who for so long is thought of as a comedian and by now, a 56-Year-Old Virgin. But if you look closely at Carell being funny, deep down he always seems to retain the sense of a man suffering pain in a hidden, subsumed manner. As the father of Chalamet's unsalvageable junkie here, he is enthusiasm, exasperation and explosion combined in trying to help his kid conquer the dope demon at the expense of his family's unity and his own sanity. Carell is simply compelling. The way he urges, begs and eventually confronts Chalamet is parental guidance stretched to raging adult level. In the drug menace culture of America, this intense domestic struggle between concerned father and wayward son is a heartfelt tug at the oft chance of dope turning into hope.
You wonder if an Ocean's 8 type of story can be kinda reworked into an intelligent #MeToo film and, well, here it is. There's a bunch of female thieves, of course. But their incentive to steal isn't to look super glam in a cocktail party. It's to repay debts left behind by their bank-robber husbands wiped out in a shoot-out with the cops. Okay, it sounds contrived but Brit director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) is too smart about real-world politics to simply leave out the male species. Indeed, the operative words here are “male” and “politics”, prime motivators for inexperienced innocent wives in the corrupt city of Chicago dominated by men to stake out their target for robbery like pros, put on masks and arm themselves with guns. As the lousy immoral men bicker, lie and betray each other over dirty political campaigns, ruthless gangs and basic greed here, the gals stick together as a team fighting back with the indomitable Viola Davis as their accidental mastermind. She fronts her crew and whips them into shape with the unsentimentality of a mama bear willing to let her cubs die in the necessary act of survival. You root for this band of sisters to succeed in their dark turn to crime because, heck, spiritually in a legally iffy way, it just looks like the right thing to do.
10. Project Gutenberg
What's enjoyable about this Hongkong-China deal is the sheer audacity of the film in ripping off a very notable Kevin Spacey movie, its absurd but engrossing plot, plus the lively performance of Chow Yun Fat who actually looks and acts 10 years younger here. If I tell you which Spacey film it is, I'd give the plot away instantly. Let's just say it involves something about folks not being who they seem to be. Chow totally relishes playing a violent and outlandishly cocky bad guy who recruits mousy small fry Aaron Kwok into his criminal outfit that counterfeits American dollar bills by the truckloads as though they are running a laundry shop. In the way HK-China flicks plot themselves crazily all over the place, the first half here looks like a heist movie before the show turns turtle and segues into A Better Tomorrow redux with Chow firing two machine guns at the same time. His energy contrasts sharply with Kwok's reserved nature here. Keen movie buffs will see the great twist heading their way. Although I didn't sense it because I was too enthralled by Mr Fat looking so Mr Fit as to believe him to be CGI-ed. We're not talking about an art film here. We're looking at a good commercial flick — fake dollar notes notwithstanding — that entertains briskly all the way.
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Chris Ho’s picks
1.Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A loving salute to any underdog fighting injustice and bigotry, its sterling performances from the three leads — Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are simply breathtaking.
2. Phantom Thread
A classy study of love and the willful ego. With this elegant masterwork, director Paul Thomas Anderson comes through as the American Michael Heneke. This far deserves the Best Film Oscar than the pretty but one-dimensional The Shape of Water.
3. Crazy Rich Asians
Some cynics were looking for a cinema of realism from a pop-culture rom-com a la The Hangover and Bridesmaids! Ultimately, the clincher is the mahjong scene — a poignant morality-scoop within the narrative of Singapore: It is not about money/power or even winning but… hey dude, integrity! Not to mention, Michelle Yeoh’s finest screen role — she’s quite stunning in this.
4. Bad Times at the El Royale
Like a Coen Brothers-meets-Quentin Tarantino with a Philip K. Dick setting, this is an explosive tale of obsession and redemption, not least with music as powerful metaphor and catalyst. Introduces Cynthia Erivo, a shining newcomer to the silver screen.
A mesmerising work of masculine intensity (what intensity!) centred around the notion of loyalty, chivalry and deception — a masculinity that Zhang Yimou characteristically accords here in a stylish and masterly mode.
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
This psychological thriller — starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and the terrific Barry Keoghan —from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is a brilliant exercise in muted, minimalist horror. A deceptively forthright yet phantasmagoric layered look at revenge and villainy of the everyday as well as extraordinary diabolical mind. (More Christopher Nolan than Christopher Nolan himself!
7. Promise at Dawn
Based on the autobiography of real-life novelist Romain Gary, this touching French epic-portrait of a man whose every existence is tied to his mother’s aspirations, insecurities and neuroses (robustly played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) offers strong persuasion that there is no right or wrong in the way we come to be as individuals, just a unique path honed by destiny and family.
Without Nicholas Cage for star-power, this indie flick would never have made it to our box-office. A neo black metal movie (without black metal music) but with an atmospheric gloom-drone soundtrack akin to the ambient-metal of Sunn O))), this is a true-to-form R-rated graphic-novel as film. Not unlike 300 or Sin City as a genre-piece, just utterly and spectacularly underground.
9. Isle Of Dogs
Here, Wes Anderson has come up with an animation-feature that can be said to be too cool even for the hipster-audience he appeals to; in other words, he’s outdone himself again. Everything about it is spot-on wonderful, from the deadpan allegorical tale of corruption and environmental decay to the retro-chic art of its stop-motion animation. All adds up to one classy act in today’s over-pop (and Instagram-starred) world.
10. Bohemian Rhapsody
For all its factual inaccuracies and measured craft, the best thing that can be said about this Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic is that it does both the artists concerned and the fans proud.
Honorary mentions: A Star is Born, American Animals, I, Tonya, Unstoppable, Ready Player One, A Simple Favor, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Disaster Artist, and BlackKklansman.
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Douglas Tseng's picks
More Rosemary's Baby than The Exorcist, Ari Aster’s harrowing debut feature is a familiar tale of children being punished for the sins their parents committed, except the sins here are down payments on a demonic pact. No wonder Toni Collette is freaking out. Thanks for nothing, ma!
2. A Quiet Place
Silence is golden and scary in John Krasinski’s sound-sensitive creature-feature — produced by noise-meister Michael Bay (what an odd combo) — which has moviegoers reflect on their cinema etiquette (hey d***head, go easy with the nachos). Yes, we need more movies like this.
Spike Lee returns to do what he does best: addressing the state of race relations in the US. This time, it’s filtered through a buddy-cop movie: a black policeman (John David Washington) infiltrates the KKK via a proxy, his white partner (Adam Driver), in 1970s Colorado. Angry, poignant, funny and, considering what's happening in Trump's America, terrifyingly resonant.
Winner of the international critics’ award at Cannes and South Korea’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Lee Chang-Dong’s enigmatic thriller is about a poor bloke who suspects his love rival, a rich playboy (a chilling Steven Yeun), is a sociopath. The ending is frustrating, but it’ll burn into your mind.
5. Sorry to Bother You
Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield stars as a telemarketer who finds success after he starts using a “white voice”. Recalling the works of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, rapper Boot Riley’s directorial debut is a cheeky, twisted and bizarre (we need to talk about that Act 2 reveal) commentary on race and the pursuit of the American Dream.
Count yourself lucky if you caught Alfonso Cuaron’s heartfelt Netflix drama — about a domestic helper (a wonderful Yalitza Aparicio) for a middle-class family, grappling with personal issues in the 1970s Mexico — on the big screen. It’s just as fine watching it on the telly (not on the phone, please!) but a little harder to appreciate the stunning black-and-white cinematography.
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
While most sequels last year stick to the law of diminishing returns (Deadpool 2, Pacific Rim: Uprising), Tom Cruise’s sixth tour as superspy Ethan Hunt breaks it. That, and his ankle, smashed in one of the movie’s many death-defying stunts. Jackie Chan should be jealous.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
If Thanos were Darth Vader, then this has to be The Empire Strikes Back of the MCU movies! It ends on such a down note. And that’s what life is, a series of down endings — even if you know some of the characters who bit the dust (literally) will return in Avengers: Endgame. That better not disappoint.
9. American Animals
The fascinating true-crime thriller — about four college pals trying to pull off an art heist — had to open in the same week as Ocean’s 8, and got buried by the latter’s big-name hype and glitz. Pity because documentarian Bart Layton’s debut feature, which playfully mixes fact with fiction and truth with conjecture, is far more intriguing.
You think Alicia Vikander is badass in Tomb Raider? Or maybe Jennifer Garner in Peppermint? Wait till you see Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz’s rape victim take on her attackers with extreme prejudice in the barren and perilous Moroccan desert in this nasty and sometimes surreal exploitation flick for the #MeToo era .
Honorary mentions: Mandy, Isle of Dogs, Blockers, Searching, The Post, Shirkers, Shoplifters, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies and A Star is Born