- 20 Dec 18
It was a year filled with some truly memorable and powerful movies – but the stunning Dublin Oldschool topped them all.
Surprising nobody, in 2018 we were looking for someone to save the world.
But seeing as Trump is still in power, Brexit is apparently going ahead, the Earth is ending because we can’t be bothered to protect the environment, our own Presidential election was tainted by racism and prejudice, women’s underwear are being held up in court to prove they were asking for it, and Westlife are getting back together – well, we may be too late.
But when we couldn’t find any real superheroes to swoop in and save the day (no Elon Musk, you don’t count, sit down), we paid to see them onscreen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe became the first film franchise to release six billion-dollar grossing films, with Black Panther joining the esteemed ranks of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War. Not to be outdone, Avengers: Infinity War promptly earned over $2 billion, and MCU ended the year with the release of Ant-Man And The Wasp, making it the first film franchise to earn over $17 billion.
Off course, Black Panther wasn’t just notable for its gross; Ryan Coogler’s film not only marked the first time that a black protagonist took centre-stage in a superhero blockbuster, but it was also the first mainstream film to imagine a world where black people triumph over the influences of capitalism and colonisation. Think of the amount of films you’ve seen about black suffering. Black Panther is one of the first ever stories about black privilege. But while the groundbreaking nature of the movie was obvious to all, and justifiably rewarded, other films were also proved revolutionary when it came to the portrayal of race onscreen.
The diverse casting of the young adult fantasy A Wrinkle In Time and the heist thriller Widows both took important steps in normalising girls and women of colour as heroines of their own stories, while Widows also showed that dark-skinned black women could be love interests to white men – a still all-too-rare sight onscreen. Casting was also crucial to the decadent rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, which became the first Hollywood-backed film in over two decades to feature an almost entirely Asian cast.
And then, of course, there was Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman. The astonishing true story of an undercover police investigation that saw a black detective being granted membership into the Ku Klux Klan – yes, you read that right – saw the director’s compelling social observations and satirical brilliance shine. Blackklansman ends with a montage of recent white supremacist marches in America, including the horrific violence in Charlottesville in 2017, where dozens of anti-racism protesters were injured and Heather Heyer was killed, reuniting past and present in an uncomfortable truth: racism isn’t just persisting, but reigniting. And it asks us the question that needs to be asked: who are the ordinary people who are going to take a stand?
It’s a question we’ll continue to grapple with in life, though many films did show people willing to stand up for their own sexuality and gender, as Love, Simon became the first studio-backed teen rom-com to feature a gay teenager as its protagonist. The Miseducation Of Cameron Post took a more complex and hard-hitting approach to teen sexuality, showing the dangers of so-called “gay conversion camps” which are in fact growing in the States, and are abusing LGBTQ youth. And the beautiful, Oscar-nominated drama A Fantastic Woman tackled the experience of a trans woman with grace, sensitivity, and most importantly authenticity, as trans actress and singer Daniela Vega Hernandez gave an emotionally nuanced performance.
But in 2018, it wasn’t just onscreen characters who were finding their voice; this year, Irish filmmakers have produced an unprecedented amount of new, exciting and thoroughly original work. Societal issues were tackled by a variety of genre movies, documentaries and award-winning animation. Indeed, the Irish film industry is taking more risks, supporting new and fresh voices – and we are reaping the cinematic rewards. Our Film Of The Year, Dublin Oldschool, examines drugs, friendships and the party scene in Dublin in ways that are both evocative and effervescent, and has justifiably made the politically-minded poet, performer and writer Emmet Kirwan a household name. Irish women are also making a name for themselves behind the camera, with directors such as Rebecca Daly (Good Favour) and Aoife McArdle (Kissing Candice) both making incredible films this year. Nora Twomey, meanwhile, received an Oscar nomination for her solo directorial debut, the stunning animated film, The Breadwinner.
Social issues were front and centre in Irish films and of course this year, homelessness was a topic on every Irish person’s mind. Homelessness was a major concern for the character of Daniel in Dublin Oldschool, while Roddy Doyle’s immersive, heartwrenching drama Rosie captured the pain and struggle of finding yourself with nowhere to go. Michael Inside is a devastating portrait of class, drugs and how the criminal justice system is biased against young working class men, while Alan Gilsenan’s incredible true drama The Meeting tackles rape culture and restorative justice.
The increasingly xenophobic, prejudiced and anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been festering in this country, and which was on full display during the Presidential election, was perfectly tackled through metaphor in David Freyne’s excellent zombie film The Cured, showing that Irish writers and directors can do socially conscious horror with the best of them. And it wasn’t the only excellent genre film doing the rounds – Brian O’Malley’s gothic horror The Lodgers and Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation The Little Stranger captured a particularly Irish fascination with history, land and family.
But as we know, sometimes horror in Ireland is all too real. The shocking documentary A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot examines life in a Derry housing estate that is still devastated by ripple effects of the Troubles, resulting in murder, suicide and gang violence. And of course, the violence, struggle and oppression in Ireland’s history was captured onscreen in Black 47 – unbelievably, the first ever feature film set during the Famine. Lance Daly’s film earned over €1 million at the Irish box office, and its success, along with the critical acclaim and consistent audience support earned by other Irish films this year, proves that not only is this country overflowing with talent, but audiences are hungry for representation, and eager to support good work. Long may this continue.
But without further ado, here is the list of Hot Press’ top ten films of the year – feel free to passionately disagree with our selections with friends. But keep it friendly – after all, it’s nearly Christmas.
1. DUBLIN OLDSCHOOL
Jason (Emmet Kirwan) spends his days swaggering around Dublin like he’s young and carefree, though neither is quite true anymore. The late nights of coke and yokes have turned into a never-ending quest for them that is slowly taking its toll. He’s missing work and letting down his friends – but sure it’s all good craic, right? It’s not until Jason bumps into his estranged brother Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson) on the streets of Dublin that he realises it might not be, anymore. Daniel is slowly recovering from heroin addiction, and as the two brothers address their issues over a series of meetings in Dublin city, Jason is forced to confront his sense of superiority about which drugs he uses to escape reality. Kirwan and Lloyd are both compelling performers, with Anderson bringing a melancholic intelligence to the role. He serves as a beautiful foil to the more outrageous and comic characters in Jason’s life – and there are many. Dublin Oldschool is consistently uproarious in its portrait of young Dubliners always looking for bants and raves. Director Dave Tynan’s vision of Dublin is authentic and raw, capturing the exuberance of gigs and house parties; the brain-slowing, sense-heightening experience of drugs; and the warped Lynchian cinema that is memory. This may be Oldschool, but it’s a new telling – and it’s thrilling.
2. MICHAEL INSIDE
Class, masculinity, violence and incarceration are all in for empathetic examination in Michael Inside, Frank Berry’s engrossing drama. Starring newcomer Dafhyd Flynn as naïve 18-year-old Michael, the film’s power lies in its realism. Extensively researched and workshopped with the Irish prison rehabilitation service Pathways, Michael Inside charts how easily hopelessness, poverty and prejudice can create a pipeline leading young men into prison – and can draw their families into cycles of debt and crime. If modern freedom relies on opportunities, money and a support system, and some people have none, how accountable are they for the decisions they make? Berry’s film addresses these points subtly, focusing on the intimately carved journey of his characters. Stunningly acted, never didactic and yet provoking endless important questions, Michael Inside is a tense portrait of a damaged system, and the boys we lose to it.
3. THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo del Toro is one of those rare directors still astonishing and captivating us not just with the emotion and artistry conveyed onscreen, but with ornate original ideas. Set in 1962, The Shape Of Water is a sensual, gothic fairytale, featuring the beauty, the Beast, and the pitchfork-brandishing townspeople who just don’t understand. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute working as a cleaner in a top-secret government laboratory groaning under the weight of anti-Russian paranoia. Doug Jones plays a kaleidoscopically scaled, algae-covered fish creature, who is being held captive and experimented on by scientists determined to find out how his powers could help America in the Space Race. They fall in love, because of course they do. Del Toro’s film blends carnality and the ethereal into a beautiful, dark example of magical realism. Deep, mysterious, sparkling in some places and ominously murky in others; and containing wonders few can imagine.
4. FIRST MAN
Damien Chazelle’s films (La La Land, Whiplash) have always focused on the obsessive, painful effort of passion, and his turbulent and enthralling drama about Neil Armstrong’s journey through the 1960s space programme allows him to show just how high the stakes can be – literally. Gosling plays Armstong as a man left traumatised by the death of his young daughter, while Claire Foy gives an Oscar-worthy performance as his wife Jan, who never knows if he’ll survive his next mission. As Armstrong experiences, ideas of national loyalty sometimes collide with personal and parental responsibility, and Chazelle beautifully captures the painful, arduous journey we sometimes take to discover our priorities. For his vision of space travel, Chazelle eschews the traditional, awe-inducing panoramic views of space in favour of a more experiential, POV approach. Handheld cameras, juddering soundscapes and violent, dizzying cinematography capture the hurtling physicality of each voyage – the endurance test before we ultimately glimpse the majesty of space.
5. A FANTASTIC WOMAN
Trans actress Daniela Vega plays Marina, a woman whose older boyfriend dies suddenly. Marina’s shock and grief is almost immediately interrupted. Realising that she is trans, the medical staff, her boyfriend’s family and the police all begin treating her with suspicion and unmasked disgust. Director Sebastian Leilo rarely leaves Vega’s face, capturing her reaction to the relentless tide of bigotry and aggression. Vega’s performance is remarkable, capturing the hyper-aware composure of someone who realises she is always in danger. Interludes of sparkling cabaret performances show Marina as empowered and fun, breaking the victim narrative and capturing the beauty of Marina’s journey, which isn’t a performance, but a becoming.
6. A QUIET PLACE
Actor and director John Krasinski has created a modern silent film – and so quietly that you may not have noticed. Set in the aftermath of a devastating invasion, a family has managed to survive by never making a sound. Every dropped object, every involuntary yelp of pain, and every misstep onto a creaky floorboard is treated like a potentially lethal failure – and it’s soon revealed why. Krasinski masterfully navigates creating tension alongside characterisation, as each member of the family is affected by their silent existence differently. Krasinski, Emily Blunt and young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds put in beautiful performances, while the exploration of the tension and pressure of silence will leave you terrified and breathless. A truly original, unnerving horror. You’ll want to scream – don’t.
7. FIRST REFORMED
Ethan Hawke stars as Reverend Ernst Toller, a pastor in upstate New York whose congregation is ebbing away – along with his faith. He’s sick, drinking too much, and plagued with guilt over the death of his son. Toller is tested when parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to speak with her depressed husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). Michael’s radical environmentalism intertwines with Toller’s spiritual and personal crisis until the threads become indistinguishable from each other. Hawke’s performance is compelling, conveying both the calm, compassionate demeanour his vocation demands, while his anger and bitterness emerges in the private sanctum of his home. His agonised intensity is echoed in Schrader’s cold, slow and imposing visuals, interrupted by one surreal scene that captures the hope of a utopia. Masterful.
8. I, TONYA
Opening his film with the claim that it is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews”, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers explore how Tonya Harding became one of the most famous skaters in history, and then the most infamous, after Harding’s ex-husband orchestrated an attack on champion Nancy Kerrigan. Gillespie explores the attack, but it also delves into the classist, sexist and image-obsessed nature of not just competitive ice-skating, but celebrity. Margot Robbie is incredible as a poor, hardscrabble and flawed woman who is understandably bitter that the game is rigged against her – but reacts in extremes. Despite the heavy subject matter, I, Tonya overflows with jazzy, kinetic edits and inventive visual and narrative flourishes. Sly, self-aware, and superb.
9. AMERICAN ANIMALS
Based on a true story, Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters play Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka, ordinary college students who seek notoriety through an accidental plot to steal rare books from the library of Transylvania University. Director Bart Layton superbly intercuts the action with interviews with the real thieves, now in their late twenties, sombrely reflecting on their youthful impulsivity. Layton turns the fragile nature of memory into a fourth-wall-shattering flourish, changing the appearance of characters or the sequence of events mid-scene to accommodate the conflicting accounts, heightening the absurdity. Layton styles the heist the way young men would imagine it – with slick, zippy visuals, dialogue lifted from Reservoir Dogs, and a killer soundtrack. But as the men learn, violent crime isn’t fun, or glamorous – it’s terrifying and anxiety-laden and ultimately, doomed. But my god, is it fun to watch.
10. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
Boots Riley’s rambunctious, surreal comedy that dissects capitalism, racism and the media is a biting political satire - and it’s fun as all hell. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a black Oakland native who is getting nowhere at his thankless telemarketing job – until he’s told to use his “white voice”, to make his customers more comfortable. Cassius does so (thanks to David Cross’ voiceover), and suddenly he’s rapidly progressing up the corporate ladder – but the company he works for is also selling a 21st century form of slavery. The ethical dilemma this poses to Cassius is heightened by the radical activism of his artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), but little does he know how weird things are going to get. Thanks to playful, joyful, inventive storytelling, Riley manages to push a radical, progressive message while never sacrificing a coherent and truly original vision. The soundtrack by Merrill Garbus and Riley’s own band, The Coup, is fantastic and the skewering of Silicon Valley is utterly delicious. Acid-trip activist art at its finest.
THE NEAR MISSES: Apostasy; Black Panther; The Breadwinner; You Were Never Really Here; The Square, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Coco and Lady Bird.