The countdown reaches the Top 10, and we start it off with…
10 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
It was billed as the biggest blockbuster event of the year, and it definitely didn’t disappoint in its sheer epicness.
All of Marvel’s biggest heroes, from Iron Man to Thor to the Guardians of the Galaxy, came together for one big movie to fight off the evil Thanos, and it was a big, epic battle that had every single one of the characters we’ve come to know and love across these films tested in ways they had never been tested before, culminating in a shocking conclusion that has everyone shaking in anticipation to see how it’s all going to be resolved (if at all) in next year’s Avengers: Endgame.
But outside of how grand and even operatic this movie felt at times, it also introduced us to one hell of a villain, after first being teased in that mid-credits scene in the first Avengers movie. Thanos has been looked upon by comic book fans everywhere as one of the greatest bad guys in all of comic lore, and this movie – not to mention the visually-stunning motion-capture performance by Josh Brolin – really made a strong argument as to why he’s seriously up there with the likes of Darth Vader and the Joker as one of the best villains of all time. This is a character who the film certainly sets up to be the villain, but is given plenty of focus – to a point where you could even say, despite all the main superheroes in this, he is the lead character – that really makes us see where he’s coming from, even if his plan is utterly diabolical.
It’s a fantastically epic movie that sees you jump with delight as all these heroes team up, some of them for the first time, and delivering the goods when you see them in action together. But it’s the ending, one of the boldest in blockbuster history, which really sticks in the memory, and again leaves you waiting impatiently for the next one…
9 – THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
After a career spanning more than fifty years, Robert Redford has announced that he is finally retiring from acting – and given that his last film role (at least, for now) was his utter knockout performance in David Lowery’s equally-magnificent The Old Man & The Gun, it’s one hell of a way to depart the screen.
Redford is on insanely loveable form as career criminal Forrest Tucker, a role that allows him to easily turn the charm and charisma up to its highest settings, and make you really fall in love with this guy who’s certainly doing some illegal things, but he’s really nice about it to every single person in his way, and could easily get away with it all based on how really sweet he seems to be. It’s a mesmerizingly great performance that really reminds us of what a real talent Redford still is, and why he remains a true movie star from a golden age of cinema.
The film itself is plenty of fun and very well-made, with writer-director Lowery giving the film a grainy look that makes the film look and feel like it was made in the early 1980s when it takes place, and giving us other characters outside of Redford that we can also get to know and like, such as Casey Affleck’s cop character and Sissy Spacek as the romantic interest who shares wonderful chemistry with her leading man. You could spend hours and hours with these characters listening to their stories, and you’d never get bored; in fact, you’ll have such a good time with all of them that you’ll be sad that your time with them is soon coming to an end.
It’s a film that will have you smiling even when you’re in the lowest of moods, because not only is it a sweet and very entertaining film that also happens to be about a bank robber, but it is a beautiful re-enforcement of Robert Redford’s effortless talents which makes us even sadder that he is only now calling it quits…
8 – ANNIHILATION
Out of all the films on this list, it is Alex Garland’s completely stunning follow-up to Ex Machina that has been given the worst treatment by any studio this year. Originally set for a theatrical UK release in late February, it was suddenly announced that Netflix would be releasing it on their streaming platform when Paramount producer and financier David Ellison thought that the film would be “too cerebral” for audiences after a poor test screening (keep in mind, this is the guy who also produced Geostorm from last year), and when the filmmakers refused to alter the film at his request, Ellison announced the Netflix deal.
That is some seriously poor treatment of a film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and it makes me furious that I will probably never get a chance to see such a beautiful, complex and downright mesmerising film in a cinema. With only his second film, Garland has managed to declare himself a true master of grounded sci-fi, with a film that outdoes even Ex Machina in terms of scope and ambition, whilst also moulding it around a story that’s thoughtful and bold, and characters you can easily identify and understand why they’re doing everything they do. It also contains some of the most disturbing imagery you’ll likely see in a movie all year, including the appearance of a mimicking creature that will send real shivers down your spine, but it’s smart enough to not rely too much on its highly impressive effects for its chills, as part of the fear is very much the context behind it and what you already know that has been set up through some clever writing.
Garland fills the film with gorgeous cinematography and thoughtful ideas that would make some of the more experienced filmmakers out there red with envy, and it’s astonishing that this is only his second film after being mostly known for being a writer, yet his more descriptive roots barely show in this entirely visual experience of a movie. Like I said, these are images that deserve to be shown on a big screen, but outside of the US and a couple of other international territories, that’s unfortunately not going to be possible. That’s a fact that really infuriates me even as I’m typing this, that this marvellous and undoubtedly theatrical experience was robbed from most moviegoers because a Hollywood producer thought that a film which pushed boundaries and did things that no other director would ever think of doing would be too smart for a regular audience. Whatever your level of intelligence may be, anyone can recognise that this was an extremely dumb decision on his part, and because of it we have been deprived of something that absolutely belongs in a cinema.
At least the beauty of Netflix is that you can easily seek it out, so I urge you to queue it up as soon as you are able…
7 – SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Doing to Spider-Man what they did to Lego pieces, the undisputed duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have struck again – albeit in writing and producing roles this time – with a film that takes everything we know about the beloved Marvel superhero and completely turns it upside down.
Introducing audiences to the prospect of infinite universes with different Spider-People, whether they’re young teens like Miles Morales, a black-and-white detective, an anime girl with her pet robot, or even a cartoon pig that’s straight out of a Looney Tunes world, the film marks a new high in superhero storytelling that many writers and directors in the future will definitely want to meet the standards of, and what it does in terms of story, character and especially animation – some of the most gorgeously-rendered of all time – is what most budding animators should aspire to make.
It’s an incredibly well-paced movie with laugh-out-loud nods to previous takes on Spider-Man and compelling characters who you immediately like and want to see plenty more of – hopefully this movie will do well enough so we can get the Spider-Ham movie we all deserve – and its animation is an utter joy to behold. It truly feels like a comic book come to life, more than even any movie in the MCU has managed to feel like, with designs and action scenes that just look like they were drawn effortlessly for the page, and beautifully brought to life via some truly unique styling choices. Group all of that with an awesome soundtrack, as well as some strong voice acting and so much other stuff that we don’t have much time to get into here, and you might just have the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made.
That puts a lot of pressure on next year’s helping of Spider-Man goodness, when Tom Holland’s MCU iteration returns (if, at all…) to his own adventures, because it’s going to be difficult to live up to this…
6 – FIRST MAN
This should have been a slam-dunk financial hit in the States; after all, it was a re-enactment of all-American hero Neil Armstrong’s triumphant ascent to the moon, starring Ryan Gosling as the world-famous astronaut himself, and with Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle at the helm. However, to the surprise of many, it just didn’t lift off at the domestic box office, taking in only $44 million against a $59 million budget, and that was after it debuted to glowing reviews from critics who labelled it as a serious awards contender upon its first screening in Venice.
But although its chances at awards success seem now to be significantly slimmer than before (though don’t count it out of at least a few Oscar nominations just yet), this is still a marvellously crafted film that is deserving of any praise coming its way. Of the many things to praise about this film, Gosling in particular gives a brave turn as Armstrong that in the eyes of some can certainly seem cold and uncharismatic, but that’s part of the genius of his performance as you can see the utter determination in his eyes every step of the way, as well as the sheer despair of his wife, played by an equally fantastic Claire Foy, and thanks to an early scene of despair you totally understand what it is that’s driving him to make it to the lunar surface.
It is Chazelle’s completely enthralling technical aspects, however, that eclipse even Gosling as the film’s biggest star, from how grainy and fierce the cinematography looks to how the sound design operates, whether it’s the slightest creak in the metal or the giant roar of its engines. You truly feel like you are alongside Neil Armstrong as he endures test after test, losing friends and colleagues along the way in horrific accidents, and eventually on that fateful mission in July 1969, with the effect being especially noteworthy should you go and see this movie on an IMAX screen, particularly during the final breathtaking sequence on the moon itself.
At the age of 33, Chazelle has now made three utterly amazing movies in a row, a pretty fantastic feat for any director regardless of their age, but for him it’s extra special as it sets us up for plenty of even more awesome movies from him in the future…