Only two? Well. You see…
I didn’t get to the cinema nearly as much as I would have liked last year, so the idea of doing a ‘best of’ is a nonsense. (I have already written about last year’s superhero movies, so go here if you want to read all about that.) I also had a run of bad luck in choosing what I did see. I saw some stinkers. More precisely, film makers that have previously made films I loved spent 2018 releasing films that I, like, really hated. I’m not going to list them, because who does that benefit? You pays your money, etc, you can’t like everything. I’m sure all those directors will make films I love in the future. And a lot of the films I didn’t like, a lot of other people did. I wouldn’t tell you to avoid a film that you may well love. Except Brad’s Status, which you should avoid like the plague, because it is a hateful piece of shit, every second of which made me want to claw at my brain through my face.
No. No. Let’s keep things positive. Let’s celebrate two films that were great and perhaps didn’t get as much love as they deserved.
One of the negative side effects of the rise of cinema ‘universes’ and huge mega-budget tentpole movies is that, because there isn’t room for all of them, some will get lost in the fog of advertising. Given the marketing budgets of Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns, it was probably a bad idea to launch Bumblebee and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse at the same time, and while neither of them have done badly at the box office, they could have easily done better with a more sensible release date. Alita: Battle Angel, originally slated to be released in December was moved to February and I can’t help feeling that Bumblebee would have benefited from a similar retreat to a quieter time of the year (especially as it is, at its heart, a summer movie anyway.)
Instead, a film that finally showed the logic, and released the potential of, making films about Transformers is the worst performing Transformers film. It is hard to see the producers not looking at the bottom line and concluding that what the world wants is more clanging, banging, nonsensical Bay-fests. It’s a bloody shame because Bumblebee is a triumph, a perfect blend of 1980s Amblin-esque joy and modern sensibility.
Hailee Steinfeld delivers an extraordinary performance as Charlie Watson, the eighteen-year-old who finds and befriends Bumblebee, bringing the heart to a franchise that has previously prioritised LOUD over quiet. The animation, direction, script, and story are all superb. The evocation of place and time are magical. One of things I do now when watching a film aimed at adults and children is partly watch it through my daughter’s eyes, wondering whether she might like it and placing it in an imaginary list of things to show her when she is a little older. Bumblebee went straight to the top of the list.
A Wrinkle in Time
I do wonder what the people at Disney think of A Wrinkle in Time’s performance, given that it barely managed to scrape back its (huge) budget. It’s hard to imagine they ever believed a film so experimental could make the sort of money that some of their other live action films do, but it’s equally hard to believe that a company so successful financially thought it was worth making whatever the return. But make it they did, and as a film like nothing else it really should have been celebrated more than it was.
I suspect a lot of the problem stems from a film that was designed specifically to appeal to the imagination of children was (like all films, of course) judged not by children but, predominately, by men in their forties, fifties, and sixties with specific ideas of how various types of film ‘work’. And so, a movie with a narrative that is far more conventional than, say, The Assassin (80% on Rotten Tomatoes) gets labelled overly ambitious and confused (and only gets 42%). It’s for children you see, so it shouldn’t get ideas above its station.
Still, what do I know? I’m not a child either. But I do think you would have to be slightly dead inside not to see A Wrinkle in Time as it was intended, a gazing at the universe with childlike wonder, an adventure in the truest sense, a unique piece of film making.