A Year in Movies
Throughout my adult life I have always gone to the cinema as a leisure activity. 2018 has been of note in this regard as it’s the year I’ve been to the cinema the least. I have visited my local multiplex just three times over the last twelve months. It’s not that good quality movies are not made anymore. Far from it. It’s just that they don’t always get released theatrically. Furthermore, the cost to entertainment ratio has simply become too much of a gamble. Standard tickets are priced between £12 to £15 locally and I resent such an outlay for a film that may only be adequate or worse. Perhaps my outlook on pricing is unreasonable but I am not going to pay such money for mediocre entertainment. I don’t expect every movie I see to be a cinematic milestone or genre classic but nor do I expect it to be an exercise in indifference. If I had paid such ticket prices to see The Predator or Death Wish at my local Cineworld, then I would have been singularly annoyed. Mercifully I saw them both at home and therefore at a much lower cost.
2018 has been another year of ongoing change for the movie industry. Netflix continues to release films from established directors that have been made exclusively for their own platform. Two of these of note were Mute directed Duncan Jones and Outlaw King by David Mackenzie. Some of these movies had nominal theatrical releases to raise their profile or possibly to meet the criteria for the various cinematic awards that are bestowed in spring 2019. Just prior to Christmas Netflix released Bird Box directed by Susanne Bier. Apparently, the video on demand service offers very lucrative terms to directors and a degree of creative freedom that is not always available when working with traditional film studios. There is also a more measured and open-minded approach to ideas from Netflix, allowing film makers to pursue more bespoke and niche market products.
Netflix has also become a convenient outlet for studios that have films that they wish to "offload" or have lost commercial faith in. For example, Alex Garland's Annihilation received a limited US release which generated low box office returns. Hence the film was then sold to Netflix rather than released theatrically to the rest of the world. Warner Bros. also sold Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle straight to Netflix, bypassing any kind of theatrical release. Make of that what you will. There also continues to be an ongoing debate about whether Netflix movie needs to have a cinema release to be able to compete with commercially released movies for awards. Such arguments are often driven by passions, adherence to established culture and dare I say a little snobbery. Whatever side of the debate you are on, the way we consume movies is changing and the day of the simultaneous cross platform release is not far off.
Mainstream cinema continued to be dominated by big budget, CGI driven spectacles in 2018. Such movies are frequently filled with action but often woefully lacking in plot, in-depth characters and dramatic impact. The Meg was one of the few examples of a big dumb movie that was fun. Sadly, Skyscraper was just a movie that was big and very, very stupid. Not even Dwayne Johnson’s charisma could save this one. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom offered the viewing public yet more dinosaurs and during its second act a distinctly gothic take. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation was a mixed bag which struggled to make it’s mark under the weight of its myriad pop culture references and homages. The Marvel Cinematic Universe lumbered on at the box office with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War finding both critical and commercial success. Sadly, my interest in this genre expired several years ago
2018 was certainly a good year for horror movies. Some ill-informed journalists proclaimed that the genre was back, overlooking the fact that movies of this ilk have been cleaning up at the box office habitually for the last two decades. There was a lot of buzz and hyperbole over Hereditary. It is a good movie but far from the genre milestone that some have claimed. A Quiet Place proved to be a solid all-round hit with robust central performances from Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also wrote and directed the movie). Unfriended: The Dark Web took the “screen life” genre further forward, proving it to be an interesting medium if intelligently done. However, like the “found footage” format, it may quickly suffer from fatigue if utilised too often. Two other notable horror movies released in 2018 were Halloween and Ghost Stories. The former being a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original movie and the latter being a film adaptation of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson's stage play. Both were well made, skilfully executed and entertaining.
The traditional action genre was not so well represented in 2018. Major studios remain ambivalent towards ratings higher than PG-13. Hence, The Commuter, a mystery thriller set on a train, focused more upon the convoluted plot rather than violence. It’s all a bit silly and farfetched but broadly saved by his towering presence and soft Irish tones of Liam Neeson. The latest Tomb Raider adaptation starring Alicia Vikander did not find favour with the critics. However, it was competently made and captured the tone of the rebooted games well. Its biggest flaw was not doing anything with its main villain played by Walton Goggins but it had a lot more style and depth than your average super hero movie with which it was competing. I was also greatly surprised by the critical indifference that met The Equalizer 2. It was a well written sequel that still focused on the character of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) and his struggles. The acting was top notch and there were some finely crafted visceral action scenes. Seldom does the action genre get this cerebral.
I watched the lion’s share of the movies I saw in 2018 at home. It’s something that I have grown use to now and I only like going to the cinema these days if it is at the British Film Institute or somewhere similar. In these instances, the audience are dedicated film fans and thus well behaved throughout the proceedings. I have also grown use to watching movies in 1080p and am somewhat discombobulated when I find myself having to watch a film in standard definition out of necessity. 2019 is also likely to be the year that our household upgrades to 4K, which means replacing the existing TV and Blu-ray player. It will also be interesting to see if the gap between theatrical and home media/VOD release dates get’s any shorter. It currently appears to be between two and three months. As mentioned earlier I believe simultaneous release across all platforms will not be far off. One thing I’m certain off, there will still be plenty of quality films released in 2019. It’s just that the discerning viewer will have to look across an increasing spectrum of platforms to find them.