Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.
As the Decade Decathlon slowly makes its way to the end, it’s becoming harder and harder to really gauge the impact of certain years and their effects on the medium. Sure, it’s easy to see how The Avengers (nearly eight years from its initial release) completely changed the cinematic landscape, but what about movies released no more than two years ago?
Most of the time, we develop hindsight in order to better gauge and qualify a movie, seeing both its flaws and bright points that we may not have noticed upon its original release. For example, Avatar still stands as being one of the highest grossing movies of all time and was lauded upon release. Today, we can still respect the movie for the advances in technology it brought, but not many people are willing to say that it’s more than just okay.
How can any of us know how important any of these movies will become a year or two from their initial release? People called The Artist a wonderful artistic expression back in 2011, but no one talks about it anymore. If you’re a movie fan, you’re constantly consuming new movies at a breakneck pace with so many movies becoming disposable, and that’s not even beginning to factor in if you’re a film journalist or if you work within the industry.
Last year I saw 60 new movies in theaters, not including the dozen I’ve seen for this series and the others I saw just because I wanted to watch a good movie. In total, I’ve probably seen somewhere around 150 movies last year, but only MAYBE 5% of those movies have legitimately made a difference in the film world.
My point is that we’ve reached a time where attempting to tie together several loose themes between random releases in a year is a fool’s task. I feel like whatever themes I could identify between all of these movies would be like trying to tie together several pieces of string miles apart. They don’t have much connection and the connections I can make would be weak at best. Instead, all we can do is look at each movie in relation to its own category and see just how those categories have been molded and changed throughout the decade.
In that regard, there are several clear arcs and trends that have developed and still continue to exist today, which is a more compelling idea to research. A decade has passed, so what have we really learned? What can we learn from 2018 in relation to when the decade began?
Now let’s get ready to go.
Most Decorated Movie: Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer/Dexter Fletcher
Total Awards: 9
Oscars Best Picture Winner?: No
2018 is an odd year for the Most Decorated Movie category because there’s not one, not two, but three movies that met my qualifications for being considered. I’ll be discussing all three of them -one of them is my favorite movie of the year so I’ll be talking about it there-, but first I felt like it was pertinent to talk about the worst of the three. This is also quite possibly the worst movie to be mentioned in this category. No, it’s not Green Book, but instead Bohemian Rhapsody.
Most of the movies that were nominated for major awards in 2018 all had some baggage with them, but Bohemian Rhapsody’s backlash was far more simpler to understand than Green Book’s “problematic” approach to race relations. Bohemian Rhapsody is bad, but it’s bad in a whole variety of ways. The Freddie Mercury biopic makes several poor decisions that attempt to retcon several key points in Freddie’s life, like how the majority of the movie really doesn’t understand his sexuality or how it paints Freddie into a much more egotistical man for the sake of “drama.”
Speaking of Freddie Mercury, Rami Malek’s performance as the Queen frontman leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It’s not that his performance is awful. It’s fine, really, but he’s not really acting here. Malek acts through a prosthetic for most of the movie and 25% of his performance is done via lip-syncing. In other words, most of his performance isn’t actually his performance. It’s the real Freddie Mercury, not Rami Malek. To see the praise that’s thrown at him for his performance here is mind-boggling to me because, again, it’s not Malek actually singing the part. This isn’t like Taron Eggerton’s performance as Elton John in 2019’s Rocketman (which as of this writing may be a candidate for Most Decorated Movie of 2019 due to its recent Golden Globe wins) where he actually sang his songs. You would get the same effect listening to a Queen album instead of watching this movie.
And then you have Bryan Singer. To make a very long and very controversial story short, Singer has been accused of pedophilia and sexual assault multiple times with his 2017 accusation forcing him to leave production of Bohemian Rhapsody and being replaced by Dexter Fletcher, also the director of 2019’s Rocketman. Is Bohemian Rhapsody a bad movie? I wouldn’t say it was awful, but if there was a candidate for Most Overrated Movie of the Decade, for all of the critical praise, awards, and box office it received, Bohemian Rhapsody might just be the runaway victor.
Most Decorated Movie: Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Total Awards: 9
Oscars Best Picture Winner?: No
Okay, here’s the film that best deserves the honor of being the Most Decorated Movie of the year. Roma is a beautiful and artistic wonder that’s tough to talk about because the impact of the movie hasn’t truly been felt yet. It’s been a little over a year since Roma released, so its impact can’t fully be ascertained. What I can say is that it’s a wonderful and honest movie that has clearly struck a chord with audiences. I am unfortunately not one of those people.
I can appreciate the artistic merit of Roma and how much of a master Alfonso Cuaron is as a director, but no matter how hard I try to connect with it, I’m just unable to. Roma is a deeply personal movie for him, as well as for many Mexican-Americans and Hispanics in general. At the end of the day, there’s a reverence and honor for a world that I’m just simply not a part of. I can only be an outsider looking in at a culture and a time that I can never be a part of. Because of that, I can appreciate the world that Roma creates and admire the beauty of it all, but I can’t truly be invested in it in the way that others can.
What I can very plainly see is just how much Roma redefined what movies can be regarded as being a critical darling deserving of awards and honors. It might not have been the first foreign language movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars -that honor goes to Le Grande Illusion-, but it was the first that finally gave Netflix an in for major awards recognition. Yes, it’s time for that old debate again.
For years, many awards circuits have had an adverse reaction to Netflix and other streaming services having films nominated for awards. Pundits will say that Netflix is a gray area due to how its movies aren’t released in theaters and therefore can’t be considered true candidates. If a movie premieres on Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, or whatever streaming service that comes to mind, it should qualify. Movies are movies and Hollywood’s elitism as for what can and can’t be considered award worthy just because of how the film is distributed shows just how Hollywood once again refuses to adjust with the times. Streaming services, Netflix included, have changed the face of entertainment forever and trying to deny their importance to the craft is frustrating.
Roma was Netflix’s first major win in this regard. Roma gave Netflix nine wins at the major awards circuits with three of them coming from the Oscars. Voters spoke that Roma was that good and the Academy, as well as other major award bodies, had to concede. It’s unprecedented, and it remained to be seen if that trend would continue into 2019, but it was a major step forward in legitimizing streaming services as homes to award contenders. Netflix doesn’t need that validation -and Hollywood is frantically trying to stave off Netflix’s eventual domination of the industry-, but validation is still validation.
Worst Movie: Holmes & Watson
Director: Etan Cohen
Razzies Wins: 4
Were the Razzies Right?: No
Bad comedies aren’t anything new. They’ve existed for decades before and they’ll exist for decades after. So with that in mind, is Holmes & Watson (a movie that Netflix admitted they didn’t want to pick up due to its quality) the worst movie of 2018? Probably not, since 2018 is the same year that gave us Slender Man, a mishandled and appallingly bad horror movie neutered to stave off potential controversy. In comparison, Holmes & Watson is just meh.
By this point, we should be aware that the Razzies have a tendency to beat up on the popular movie to hate. It doesn’t matter if the movie is truly reprehensible or not. If the Razzies have a movie nominated for worst picture, it’s usually not there because it’s an awful or reprehensible movie. It’s because the movie is easy to mock. In that regard, you can easily mock Holmes & Watson. It’s a John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell buddy comedy in the same vein as Talladega Nights or Step Brothers, though this time it’s starring Sherlock Holmes and Watson.
I wouldn’t exactly call it a cringe inducing movie, but it’s a movie where I’m left trying to find a joke to laugh at. Attempts are made, but none of the punchlines land the ways they should or were even that funny to begin with. Do I believe that audiences walked out of the theater because they were that unimpressed? Not really if I’m being honest.
Sure, it’s not exactly good, but when the movie released, there were plenty of articles titled along the lines of “Holmes & Watson is so bad people are walking out midway through!” Yeah, people do that plenty of times. Just last week I went to go see 1917 and I saw two people walk out of the theater, never to return. There was even a woman sitting in front of me who fell asleep in the first thirty minutes, but you don’t see me running and writing an article like “1917 is putting audiences to sleep!”
Holmes & Watson isn’t a good movie, but it made me realize that we really do need to re-evaluate how bad movies are judged, or lack thereof. They do deserve examination because there is merit in studying abject failures, but we need a better classification of what an abject failure is. Holmes & Watson is not an abject failure. It’s not good, but it’s certainly not as bad as people make it out to be.
Highest Grossing Movie: Avengers: Infinity War
Director: Joe/Anthony Russo
Total Gross: $2,048,359,754
My God… they actually did it.
For most of the 2010’s, the MCU always seemed to be that mad experiment that was going to fail eventually. Someday audiences would stop showing up to see the latest Marvel movie or one movie would release that was so bad it would kill the franchise. For the better part of a decade, that somehow didn’t happen. I thought it would happen, but the MCU just wouldn’t stop producing hit after hit.
Even if there was a dud, everything was building towards this. The nearly two dozen movies, spin-offs, and TV shows were all building up to Avengers: Infinity War. It was going to be an all or nothing scenario. Either the movie was a gargantuan smash hit that became one of the highest grossing movies of all time or it would collapse under its own weight and become too dense and bloated to follow.
We all know how it ends.
Marvel movies always achieved a certain level of pop cultural prowess, but nothing was quite as monumental as what Avengers: Infinity War accomplished. It took a decade worth of films, tied nearly every major character into a plot for the fate of the universe, then ripped out each audience member’s heart in a finale that left theaters stunned. To people familiar with the original comics, it was clear that Thanos’ Snap was going to be fixed. For the vast majority of people unfamiliar with the source material, seeing characters that you’ve grown to loves over several years die, never to return was devastating. The Russo’s created a situation where they had complete control over pop culture discussions for nearly a year, with fans pondering who lived, who died, and what would come next.
Endgame may have put a nice little bow on this era of the franchise (and you better believe we’ll be talking about it next month), but I would argue that Infinity War felt more important. It was proof that Marvel finally did it. They created the perfect shared universe that enveloped the entire globe. It made more than any MCU movie prior to it. Fans agreed in solidarity not to spoil the movie for weeks in order to protect those who hadn’t seen it year. Droves of people did whatever they could to get their tickets to the premiere out of fear that they wouldn’t know immediately what Thanos would do to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. No other moment in the 2010’s could possibly rival what Thanos did not just to the MCU, but to film in general. With a single snap, Marvel controlled the world.
Biggest Bomb: Mortal Engines
Director: Christian Rivers
Budget: $100-150 million
Total Gross: $85 million
Peter Jackson has had an interesting decade. Originally positioned as a producer on The Hobbit trilogy -eventually becoming the director despite having no intention to do so-, he really only had two projects that he felt truly passionate about in the 2010’s. He had his WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (which is a wonderful documentary for the record) and a passion project of his called Mortal Engines.
This was meant to be a film series based on a series of novels written by Phillip Reeve that Jackson showed interest in back in 2009. However, Warner Bros put Jackson onto The Hobbit trilogy instead, forcing him to shelve the movie until 2016. Free from the grasp of Warner Bros., Jackson enlisted longtime visual effects partner Christian Rivers to direct with Jackson producing. What could possibly go wrong?
Costing Universal approximately $175 million following its failure -making it the third biggest box-office bomb of all time-, Mortal Engines is a little microcosm of nearly every bad decision from previous bombs that we’ve talked about all neatly rolled into one package. Want a focus on special effects that aren’t all that impressive? Check! How’s about a rich and full detailed world based on a unique sci-fi premise? That’s there! While we’re at it, want to make it a YA inspired series that will kick start a new franchise? Jackson was already well ahead of you! He even had a tie-in video game planned for the eventual sequel! Spoiler alert, no sequel has been announced as of January 2020 and that doesn’t look like it’ll change soon.
Trying to ride trends at the beginning of the decade is one thing. Trying to create a new franchise without properly testing the waters or frankly looking at the current climate of cinema is another thing. This was 2018, though. Jackson and Rivers should have known that their project wasn’t going to be a major hit, especially given the time period it released in.
This was right smack in the middle of the holiday season and competing with Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Mary Poppins Returns all releasing around the same time. Releasing an expensive, high concept, sci-fi film aiming to be the new Hunger Games was not the best move to make when it was released alongside the sequel to one of the most beloved films of all time, a soft reboot of one of the highest grossing film franchises of the past decade, and two super-hero movies.
You know the phrase “history is doomed to repeat itself?” These entries feel like I’m just writing and talking about the exact same mistakes that Hollywood keeps making. They try to push for big franchises before they have a proven success. They push for sci-fi concepts ignoring how those endeavors have always failed. They pour an obscene amount of money into the production, whether it’s due to special effects or marketing, only to balk at just how much they lost overall. Plus these movies always release at the worst possible time, almost always against stiff competition.
At least Monster Trucks failed in January, which isn’t too surprising since that month is where movies go to die, but it’s better than it being released in a buys season! It’s sad that Mortal Engines failed the way it did, but I can’t say I’m too upset about it.
Most Underrated: Sorry To Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Debut features are always tough. Most of the best directors in the business take a few movies to really get into a groove. Martin Scorsese didn’t start of making hits like Taxi Driver, he had to go through a few years and a few Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door before he hit it big. In many ways, Sorry To Bother You feels like a first-time director’s film. The script is clunky at times, plot threads disappear and reappear without much context, and it jumps around between so many different themes that it’s really hard to peg down. That doesn’t quite matter to me since Boots Riley’s debut feature has such a scathing tone of indictment to it that it’s almost mesmerizing to watch.
I’ve always described Sorry To Bother You as a movie that Adult Swim would make if they had a few million dollars to burn. Nearly all of the sequences within find a nice home during their late night blocks of strangeness that have razor sharp points. In this case, Riley takes on late stage capitalism (fitting seeing as how he is an ardent advocate of socialism) in a plot that always escalates, even if the escalations don’t make all that much sense. Riley has a goal that he’s focused on reaching, but he doesn’t exactly see the straight path to get there. His attacks are lost under satire aimed at the media and at race, interspersed between side-characters whose importance changes from scene to scene.
Sorry To Bother You is definitely a first-time feature from a director who probably doesn’t care whether you liked it or not. In fact, most people are split on whether or not Sorry To Bother You is actually good. At times, the movie feels way too chaotic for its own good with people hating how Riley presents his themes and how off the rails the movie gets by the end. This is a highly subjective movie that we called our Most Underrated Movie of 2018, but I could just as easily see some people calling it the Worst Movie of 2018. Give it a watch and see, but it’s a film that you will definitely have an opinion on by the end.
Favorite Movie/Most Decorated (again): The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Why?: Immaculate Precision
So remember when I said that there were three movies that tied for having the most major award wins of the year? The Favourite was that third movie and instead of talking about eight movies in one year and putting a bullet through my head, it just so happened that my favorite movie of the year happened to be one of them. So why not combine the best of both worlds and talk about how amazing The Favourite is?
The Favourite is the only film from Yorgos Lanthimos that I’ve seen, though I am familiar with the director’s style. His movies always teeter on the edge of reality with several strange and surreal elements altering viewers perceptions of what’s happening. In The Favourite, while the story focuses on a love triangle between Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman is a role that still stands as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen), her adviser Sarah Churchill (played by Rachel Weiss), and her Lady of the Bedchamber Abigail (played by Emma Stone), it’s all framed in such a strange way that I find it hard to describe.
Imagine walking into a room that you’ve never seen before. The minute you step in, you look around, yet realize that everything is exactly where it needs to be. It almost looks fake, but the minute you try to figure out how to improve it, your mind draws a blank. Any changes you make towards the room would ruin the charm that it has. Those are my feelings towards The Favourite.
Every element of the movie feels painstakingly tested to be the most precise it could be. The humor comes in exactly when it needs to. The political drama will come in when you start to tire of the romance, or there might be a sudden burst of action after a tender moment between the characters. Nothing is out of place in The Favourite. Everything has a purpose.
Calling The Favourite a period piece would be doing an injustice to the movie. Yes, it is based on and follows a real historical figure, but it’s also a Shakespearean tragedy, a romance, a political thriller, a farce, and a story about classism. From any conceivable angle, I cannot think of a way to improve The Favourite. It rang true for its production design, acting, and cinematography, all of which are very well deserved. For something a little bit different that isn’t afraid to get weird, do yourself a favor and watch The Favourite.
Was 2018 a good year for movies?
While I can’t say that 2018 was the most significant year for movies, it was a year that I’m sure film historians like myself will look back to as being the genesis for a few key moments. Hollywood, whether by choice or through force, finally began to accept Netflix into their midst and started to pay attention to what the general population felt.
Marvel became the undisputed kings of an entire generation of filmgoers, and plenty of major pop culture moments were created throughout the year. Infinity War may have gripped viewers, but Black Panther was a cultural touchstone for African Americans, as was Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman. People learned to shut the hell up when watching A Quiet Place and bawled like babies when Lady Gaga showed she had acting chops in A Star Is Born.
There were some large moments that are worth discussing and analyzing thanks to 2018, make no mistake about that, but those moments did tend to drown out plenty of smaller movies. More and more over the course of the decade, unless you were a part of a major franchise or had a superstar like Lady Gaga headlining your movie, original movies began to fall by the wayside. Queen led Bohemian Rhapsody to nearly $1 billion, but Bo Burnham’s realistic depiction of adolescence fell by the wayside.
Movies are a business, I get that, but it’s become increasingly apparent in recent years that the art doesn’t matter as much as the profit. That philosophy will reach its absolute breaking point when we look at 2019, a year that might just be the best and worst year of the decade for a smorgasbord of reasons.
Movies from 2018 you should still see: Black Panther, Game Night, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, BlacKKKlansman, Searching, A Star Is Born, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Overlord, Anna and the Apocalypse, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman, Vice
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