Those I Didn't Love | REGARDING 2018
I have noticed a small swell of internet critics and content creators rejecting the idea of "worst of" lists. Certain social media communities, especially in 2017, became notoriously toxic, so perhaps this rejection is a reaction to that. Besides, it kind of sucks to be told you are among the absolute worst pieces of creation that existed that year; smaller voices on the internet echoing that sentiment just isn't productive for anybody.
So while these were the movies I liked least this year, I wouldn't consider this a "worst of" list. In fact, I mostly enjoyed all but one movie I saw this year. Even these "lesser" few had something I really dug. But as part of this 8-part retrospective on 2018 cinema, I think it is worthwhile to discuss the common theme that kept me from loving these films:
The purposeful decisions of the filmmakers did not gel with me.
Consider Deadpool 2.
I enjoyed myself when I saw it May. While it wasn't as dirty as the original, it didn't look as clean as it, either. The first one worked within the limitations of its budget; the second one takes it past its breaking point. While some special effects were not very good, the movie was such a fanservice blast that I wasn't bothered.
But the movie struggles to maintain consistency within itself and the larger X-franchise (which granted, has so many continuity issues on its own). While I was laughing and enjoying myself during the movie, I found myself caring less everyday, partly because it makes little sense. I believe the filmmakers thoroughly intended to do what's most immediately entertaining first and anything else second; it's this philosophy that gave us an amazing opening credits song performed by THE Celine Dion. Yet it runs against a contrary intention to be more story-heavy and emotional than the original, going so far as to utilize an unusual five-act structure and controversially killing off major characters.
(SPOILER ALERT for JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM)
Two films, though, particularly inspired this thesis. The first, Aquaman, is terribly cheesy. Characters run in slow-mo with overdramatic faces. A light argument plays out like a student short film, stock-sounding music and all. An octopus plays the drums (I actually liked this part).
But James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7) embraces and enhances the cheese; this is purposeful. This is where a lot of the film gets its appeal and $1 billion at the worldwide box office. And similar to how the "entertainment first" mantra produced some greatness in Deadpool 2, Aquaman's "fun first" mantra produced some excellent action sequences. Everything else just worked less for me.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is also a movie that entirely is what it set out to be. I really love J. A. Bayona's (A Monster Calls) direction and his horror tinge to the setpieces. Much of this is more enjoyable and rewatchable than the first Jurassic World. I can even appreciate how it sometimes acts as a cautionary allegory for irresponsible human influence on global climate change.
But I do not like very many of the story decisions. I think the addition of human clones in a dinosaur story is dumb, but it is technically in line with the themes of the series. At the same time, this is used as an excuse for an illogical decision to propel the franchise forward. I don't like that.
And based on Jeff Goldblum's bookends, writers Trevorrow and Connolly know what would be logical. Out of the Goldblum's mouth comes reason! We're not supposed to agree with the key players on everything. These are purposeful decisions that are executed technically well. I just do not like them at all, and it's my least favorite Jurassic movie, despite the excellent setpieces.
There's also The Cloverfield Paradox, which I did not like. The concept of taking one script and adding IP to it has worked before. It's worked with the first Die Hard movies, and it did glorious wonders for this film's predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane. But the transition from God Particle to Paradox was rough, with references to the Cloverfield multiverse shoved awkwardly and noticeably into place. Even the crazy science fiction elements--including a sentient dismembered hand--happen without rhyme or reason (which is part of the story, but it's deeply unsatisfying). There's no tension, and the final shot almost tricked me into liking the movie. Despite this, there is one wonderful bright spot, and her name is Gugu Mbatha-Raw. This Netflix Original is almost worth watching just to see her.
There are elements that I didn't love in other films, too. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald made some weird directorial choices that led to emotional detachment that I'm not sure was the intentional outcome. A Wrinkle in Time's script disappointingly began like a Disney Channel Original Movie, which distracted from its awesome mise-en-scene and effective withholding of tessering. The more-than-watchable The Nun doesn't really provoke any sort of reaction.
But I can honestly say that I liked those three more than the aforementioned. Again, I didn't find most of these films bad, and they certainly shouldn't be entirely written off. Whether it's Gugu or Bayona, Celine's vocals or Wan's action direction, there's something great in all of these. That may be the thing I've learned most this year: to watch films critically, but not aim to be critical.
To see what the film is doing and what it means to be before holding a gut reaction against it for a meaningless score.
If we judged films for doing something that seems to break the rules, Jeanne Dielman, Vivre sa vie, and The Conformist would not be international cinematic classics. If all wooden acting was bad acting, cinematic genius David Lynch would not have had a career.
I tried every time to meet the films of 2018 where they were. And I think I understand their intentions. And for the most part, they fulfilled what they set out to be. But for one reason or another, these were those films I just didn't love.
For more of my 8-part REGARDING 2018 series, click here!