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I am here to see if tales of the extraordinary being are true.

23 to See in 2019
As I said of 2018's 21 to See, I don't necessarily expect everything that follows to be good, but it should at least be interesting; that’s ultimately why number one on this list is number one (given the hurdles it has to cross to satisfy). Last year's lot have had mixed fates, from languishing unreleased (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, De Palma's Domino) to reshoots that rendered them not all that interesting actually (The Predator), to several that didn't result in a 2018 appearance, two of which I've returned to on this year's list (Serenity, Benedetta; the others were Alita: Battle Angel and Captive State) to "Who knows what will happen?" now Luc Besson's had various fingers pointed at him (Anna). And then there were the Netflix disappointments (Hold the Dark, Apostle, Mute). I've yet to see Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Destroyer, both of which have received good notices. Without further ado then…

If we don't drown, I'm gonna strangle you myself. I don't care how many exploding teeth you try to spit out at me.

Top 10 Films 2018
I don't usually do an annual Top Ten, mainly because I invariably catch up on many of the films that make my list in the subsequent six to twelve months. Nevertheless, here's the current incarnation, subject to considerable change. Included are movies that had their wide release in the UK during 2018, hence several of them may appear quite passé to US readers.

You have no animality.

Watership Down (2018)
(SPOILERS) To call the BBC's animated mini-series a travesty would be giving too much credit to its anaemic failure to capture the poetry, majesty and melancholy of Richard Adams' novel. It's simply inept, from the shockingly basic CGI animation – it's astonishing this was deemed acceptable for primetime broadcast, and likewise that the usually ostentatious Netflix should have attached its name to something so threadbare – to the underwhelming voice cast – evidence if it was needed that simply being a name actor doesn't necessarily mean your larynx is an instrument of lustre – to the pervasive lack of atmosphere and mood. That these resounding failures can't entirely ruin Watership Down is only down to the sheer quality of the source material, such that even in this sorry state the story engages.

I think we’re in china, so to speak.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
(SPOILERS) This 54-years-later sequel has to be admired for its dedication to replicating the look and flavour of the beloved Julie Andrews original, and it gets several elements very right – most importantly the recasting of the title role – but the side-effect of such devotion is that its comparative deficiencies are unflatteringly laid bare for all to see. Most particularly, the songs. They don't outright suck, but only one of them is remotely memorable, and you need them to be if you're to make the all-too wholesome medicine go down. The other biggie is Rob Marshall, the choreographer who rose to the status of sought-after Hollywood director while exhibiting negligible discernible talent in the field. He's certainly no Bob Fosse.

If you say you understand relativity, then I believe you understand relativity.

Insignificance  (1985)
(SPOILERS) Something of a high concept doodle, based on Terry Johnson's play, a "What if?" confection in which leading lights of their particular fields converging on a 1954 New York hotel. Johnson's intent was to draw attention to the disparity between these figures' public personas and their actual selves; Roeg's attraction to the material was on a more general level, a personal realisation that "Good God, nobody knows a damn thing about anyone". I'm not sure how successfully Insignificance actually gets to grips with that idea, and I'm not sure, despite the bits and pieces of expansion Roeg nurtures, that it ever really becomes more than a (very well filmed) play. Nevertheless, by virtue of the director's imprimatur, the picture still evidences the fascinating thematic and textural qualities explored throughout his career.

How many did you expect to make it back?

Journey’s End  (2017)
(SPOILERS) I can't say I was ever the greatest fan of the play Journey’s End (I wasn't and still am not of the remotest fan of the Doctor Who story of the same title), but not because I didn't recognise the quality of RC Sheriff's piece – even as a whatever-year-old. Rather, it was having to read it and reread it as a set text at school, its unremitting despair and hopelessness – even with the more overtly comic characters, which rather went to underline than relieve – surmounted any positives after a while. I was very glad never to have to set eyes on a copy once exams were over. And then it showed up in Withnail & I (it's the part Marwood has to cut his hair for) and like Withnail, I thought he must have been mad to take the part. But time can be a restorative, and thirty years later, the work's considerable merits are fully in evidence in Saul Dibb's film version.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

We can still think our own thoughts, like you said.

Leave No Trace (2018)
(SPOILERS) It would be easy to assume director Debra Granik has a thing for the wilds. Leave No Trace, adapted from Peter Rock's 2010 novel My Abandonment and set largely in the woods of Oregon and Washington, is her follow-up feature – doc Stray Dog came in between – to Best Picture Oscar nominated Winter's Bone. That was set in the Ozarks, and of course, brought Jennifer Lawrence into the limelight; this may not immediately do the same for Thomasin McKenzie, as hers is a less overt, attention-grabbing role, but she's no less of a discovery.

You counselled him and then he shot himself.

First Reformed (2017)
(SPOILERS) This uneven at best Roman Catholic – I know, it concerns a protestant church, but who are we trying to kid? – eco-guilt picture from Paul Schrader that has been hailed as his best in years, which it probably is, but these things are relative. Schrader has made, for the first hour or so, an engrossing study of faith, doubt and despair, but his choices after that, particularly during the last half hour, undo much of the effort.

It’s okay, Joe. It’s okay.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)
(SPOILERS) I haven't been fully on board with a Lynne Ramsey film since Morvern Callar, and I have a feeling that one would somewhat suffer from a revisit. Of course, there's only been one feature between that and this, 2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin, which evidenced in abundance her virtuoso filmmaking skills but left me less impressed by its horror/comedy impulses. There's a similar mutton-dressed-as-lamb quality to You Were Never Really Here; sterling lead performance, masterful direction, but in service of a screenplay that wouldn't be out of place in a Stallone movie.

Once you get a real taste of the bitch at work, there’s only one thing you’re gonna be able to see, and that’s fuel.

Only the Brave (2017)
(SPOILERS) This firefighter movie, based on the 2013 Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy (Only the Brave was originally called Granite Mountain, which is more memorable and much less generic than what we got) is a curiously ungainly affair. The main body of it, the "assemble the team, train the team" wouldn't look out of place in your averagely formulaic Jerry Bruckheimer flick, while the event itself is rather perfunctory, in the sense that it rather suddenly overtakes the men; there's little of the build-up that one might expect. Indeed, one wonders if the makers seriously considered the story's cinematic potential beforehand.

If this whole thing goes wrong, I want my kids to know that I just didn't sit there and take it. I did something.

Widows (2018)
(SPOILERS) Widows might have made a decent comedy. It’s certainly the only way its premise and ensuing plot wouldn’t have seemed ludicrous. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Lynda LaPlante's 1980s TV series (tellingly, he'd have been thirteen when it was first broadcast, a great leveller of an age in terms of accepting daft ideas at face value - see my love for Dempsey and Makepeace) has been mystifyingly venerated by critics, apparently wont to leave their faculties at the door when it comes to an art house director brandishing content easily clutched to bosoms if it has even a whiff of political acuteness.

McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl, so no stranger to absurd twists herself) adapted LaPlante's work, but the basics remain in place; the wives of a gang of robbers, none of them remotely experienced in criminal ways aside from spending their husbands' loot, decide to pull a heist when their spouses die in a job gone wrong. They have a month…

A great ape on a football field. That's what she called me.

This Sporting Life (1963)
(SPOILERS) In a piece for The Guardian last year, critic Peter Bradshaw rightly feted This Sporting Life, Lindsay Anderson’s film of David Storey's novel (which Storey also adapted). Confusingly, however, his last line claimed Richard Harris' rugby league player Frank Machin, was "a great working-class hero for the screen". Which made me wonder if we saw the same picture.

You are either in possession of a very new human ability... or a very old one.

The Dead Zone (1983)
(SPOILERS) I wouldn't call myself a Stephen King fan, or particularly a Cronenbuff, although there's material I rate by both (and in the latter's case rate very highly). The Dead Zone arrived at the onset of a glut of King adaptations, and as Kim Newman and Alex Jones suggest on the Blu-ray commentary, it was the first version of his work to really publicise itself as a King piece first and foremost (published in 1979, it was his first hardback to hit Number 1 on the bestseller list, which may partly account for it). Which isn't to say it doesn’t feel like Cronenberg made it – there's a certain dovetailing of interests here – but that the previously vaunted movie adaptations (Carrie, The Shining) were overshadowed by their auteurs.

Magic blooms… only in rare souls.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
(SPOILERS) First things first: that title. Or rather, subtitle. Since it's indicative of some of the broader issues with the movie(s). Let’s ignore for a moment that Fantastic Beasts, as a prescriptive main title, is entirely unrepresentative of this developing prequel universe, as out of place as the nominal protagonist who comes with it. The Crimes of Grindelwald is an inert, passive, unimpressive slab of nothing. The Harry Potter sequels presented themes, mysteries or goals in their subtitles; they incited interest. Here we have a statement, regarding which we'll be none the wiser when we've watched it. You could perhaps see a movie The Crimes of Jack the Ripper and know you’re getting something eviscerating in return, but then you'd only really need his name to get that. There's no hook here. If you want to impress upon the viewer urgency to see your movie, throw in a "strike" or "attack" or …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

The virus is airborne. It's inside the walls.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)
(SPOILERS) Purely by dint of having no outright terrible instalments – see the Twilights – and through actually finishing its story – see Divergence – without the succumbing to inadvisable hacking in half of final chapters– Hunger GamesMaze Runner ends up as one of the more consistent YA adaptations. Which isn’t to say it's ever been outright great; the premise is much too wonky for that. But director Wes Ball has lent the trilogy a degree of consistency that's relatively rare. Indeed, the biggest problem with the final instalment is that it doesn't know when to quit.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

It is the greatest movie never released, you know.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018)
(SPOILERS) They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Morgan Neville's documentary on the making of Orson Welles' long-gestating The Other Side of the Wind, is much more interesting than the finally finished article itself, but to be fair to Welles, he foresaw as much as a possibility. Welles' semi-improvised faux-doc approach may not seem nearly as innovative nearly fifty years on – indeed, in the intervening period there's a slew of baggage of boundary-blurring works, mockumentaries and the whole found footage genre – but he was striving for something different, even if that "different" was a reaction to the hole he'd dug himself in terms of bankability. On the evidence of the completed film, he never quite found the necessary rhythm or mode, but the struggle to achieve it, as told here, is fascinating.

He's a rough magician, isn't he?

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes it may be better notto get what you want and to carry on dreaming about how splendid it would be if you had it. The Other Side of the Wind has been one of those elusive grail items; "Wouldn't it be amazing if we finally got to see Orson Welles' great uncompleted masterpiece?" The critical response to getting it at last has been generally kind, but generally kind in the sense of considering it would be churlish to rip it to shreds after all the effort that has gone in to getting it out there, and out of respect to the fat man. Really, though, it's a bit of a mess.

Oh man, they wronged you. Why they gotta be like that? You exude a cosmic darkness.

Mandy (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes you're left scratching your head over a movie, wondering what it was about it that had others rapturously raving while you were left shrugging. I at least saw the cult appeal of Panos Cosmatos’ previous picture, Beyond the Black Rainbow, which inexorably drew the viewer in with a clinically psychedelic allure before going unceremoniously off the boil with a botched slasher third act. Mandy, though, has been pronounced one of the best of the year, with a great unhinged Nic Cage performance front and centre – I can half agree with the latter point – but it's further evidence of a talented filmmaker slave to a disconcertingly unfulfilling obsession with retro-fashioning early '80s horror iconography.

How are you, Mrs Gale? I’ve been unravelling the intricacies of your drinks cabinet.

The Avengers Seasons 1 & 2 Ranked - Worst to Best
I didn't get around to providing a worst-to-best ranking of the first three seasons when I revisited through them, so this is to remedy that. Obviously, there's a slim surviving selection from Season One, but I opted not to include it with Two. Both represent a show gradually finding its direction, first with the pairing of Keel and Steed, the gradual evolution of the latter from mysterious hard guy to the laidback toff we know, and then the patchy partnering with King and Venus before the groundwork for The Avengers' best-known format is established with Cathy. In this capacity, a handful of classic episodes point the way for the show’s high-water mark to come.

We need to fail. We need to fail down here so we don't fail up there.

First Man (2018)
I was ambivalent about the need for First Man. The space race movie had already been made in The Right Stuff, and couldn’t possibly be bettered, and the “tribulations in space” movie had been one of the better Ron Howard pictures (still only solid, rather than great, though). Was another Hollywood production promulgating the official history of NASA needed? Probably not, as there's nothing very new here on that score, but what impresses about First Man is rather the perversely unglorifying approach it takes – which isn't to say it’s anything other than in awe of the risks taken by the risk takers – resulting in a piece that's almost the opposite of Philip Kaufman's film in scope, scale and design, despite sharing some of its iconography; it could even be seen as an anti-epic.

That kind of nonsense can come back and haunt you down the road. If you killed her, I mean.

Suburbicon (2017)
(SPOILERS) I wonder what the Coen brothers really thought of George Clooney (and Grant Heslov) rewriting their long-on-the-shelf screenplay. Clooney’s record with such tampering isn’t exactly spotless (Charlie Kaufman was most unimpressed with the changes he made to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), and his decision to mash up their '50s-set crime story with their own segregation drama, as a reaction to Trump, is only deleterious to the whole. Apparently the Coens gave him their blessing, but they were probably just being polite.

I don’t catch wolves looking where they might be. I look where they’ve been.

Wind River (2017)
(SPOILERS) Taylor Sheridan's second feature as director sees him continue tapping a vein of political-toned genre writing that informed his two breakout successes, Sicario and Hell or High Water. He's a bit of a plodder as a helmer on this evidence, however, lacking the energy or flair Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie brought to those screenplays.

Why can’t it just be about the skating?

I, Tonya (2017)
(SPOILERS) The conflicting accounts that I, Tonya wears as a badge of pride, courtesy of screenwriter Steven Rogers' decision to wallow in the distinctive points of view of its protagonists rather than attempt to sift through them to reach some level of ostensible truth, are both a stroke of genius and the picture's Achilles' heel. Because once that choice has been made, it lends the proceedings an archness that, while entertaining and often very funny, is distancing.

This train’s freakin’ me out!

The Commuter (2018)
(SPOILERS) I've found the previous Liam Neeson/Jaume Collet-Serra collaborations entertaining for the most part (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night), but there's definitely a cumulative sense of them punching below their weight. Indeed, instead of solving dastardly deeds on a plane (Non-Stop), this time the actor and his director are on a train doing likewise.

People are going rabid!

Train to Busan (2016)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps I just had my expectations raised too high, based on all the praise lavished on Train to Busan, but this South Korean zombie flick, largely situated – surprise, surprise – on the titular train, is merely adequate. Sang-ho Yeon offers perfectly serviceable zombie action – albeit without the resort to freneticism so common in the US versions – but rather falls down when feasting on lumpen and obvious social commentary.

All in favour of Chief fighting the robot dog, say ay.

Isle of Dogs (2018)
(SPOILERS) I didn’t have very high hopes for Isle of Dogs. While I'm a big Wes Anderson fan, give or take the odd picture (The Life Aquatic just doesn’t do it for me), the trailers almost felt like they were intended as a patience-testing parody of his quirky tableau style. Plus, I wasn't enormously keen on The Fantastic Mr Fox, although that may just have been my wanting a respectful adaptation of Roald Dahl's story, rather than one Wes'd up to the max. Yet this, his sophomore animation, is as a very pleasant surprise. Perhaps because it allows him free rein, without impressing himself on someone else's material. Most of the criticisms aimed at the picture have some validity, but they're very much outweighed by its significant merits.

Of course, I’m not all right, you idiot. I’ve just been massaged by a pig.

Early Man (2018)
(SPOILERS) This ought to be a sobering lesson in what happens when an auteur is given a free hand and no one has the bottle to tell him he's come up with a stinker. Sure, Early Man had generally sympathetic reviews, but that’s really because Nick Park – rightly – has built up an enormous amount of goodwill over the years. Sometimes, though, you have to be cruel to be kind and call a turkey a turkey.

Wasn't it her brother who murdered all those babysitters?

Halloween (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that you can keep going back to the same crumbling well and there'll still be a ready and willing (nostalgic) audience to lap up the results, at least for the first weekend. The critics seemed to like this sequel to the first movie, though, which expressly wipes out Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later – which also retconned out of existence everything aside from the first two movies. Mind you, the makers would do that, since both cover similar ground, while this Halloween ends up not being noticeably all that superior.