Swampflix’s Top Films of 2018

1. Annihilation A beautifully terrifying tale of life, death, rebirth, and the trauma that haunts us throughout it all. On one level, Annihilation is just a visually gorgeous, weirdo monster movie that reimagines Tarkovsky’s Stalker with a pastel color palette & more traditional genre thrills. On a deeper level, it’s a powerful reflection on how grief & trauma transform us into entirely different people, to the point where that change becomes physical & irreversible. Our bodies and our minds are fragmented into their smallest parts until not one part of our original form remains. The fact that the movie itself is its own creature separate from its source material novel also makes it an oddly fitting adaptation, since transformation and change is an essential part of its DNA.

2. Mandy The most metal movie of 2018 (and maybe even of all-time?). When Nicolas Cage axe-murders biker demons & religious acid freaks in an alternate dimension 1980s, Mandy is headbanging party metal, a blood-splattering good time. In its quieter moments it also captures a stoned-and-alone, crying over past trauma to doom riffs version of metal, where the flashes of fun & cosmic absurdity are only reminders of how cruelly uncaring & meaningless it can feel to be alive.

3. The Wild Boys An erotic fever dream that’s part Guy Maddin, part James Bidgood, part William S. Burroughs, and part Treasure Island adventurism. Its visual experimentation, transgressive gender politics, and surreal depictions of sexual violence achieve an unusually focused version of imaginative dream logic. Both beautifully & brutally old-fashioned in its newfangled deconstruction of gender, it lives up to the “wild” descriptor of its title in every conceivable way, delivering everything you could possibly want from a perplexing “What the fuck?” cinematic bazaar.

4. Sorry to Bother You Incredibly dense, gleefully overstuffed sci-fi satire about the Amazon Prime-sponsored hellscape we’re already living in today – just bursting with things to say about race, labor, wealth, and the art of selling out. Boots Riley’s debut is remarkably well executed despite the sheer number of ideas it throws in your face, especially in how it handles its brazen third-act rug pull. Still, its most impressive feat is how it captures the moment we’re currently struggling through, but somehow finds a way to make it even worse.

5. Unsane Filmed on an iPhone and shamelessly participating in every mental institution thriller cliché you can imagine, Unsane is a purely Soderberghian experiment in the lowest rung of genre filth. Since it trades on the worn-out clichés and tired tropes of the Scary Asylum genre to induce its ugly, cheap-thrills panic attack, it’s not the most original movie in the world, nor the most sympathetic or responsible. However, it does use that unlikely genre platform to explore themes ranging from capitalist greed in modern medical & prison systems to male-dominated institutions’ dismissal of the concerns of women to the power dynamics of money & gender in every tier of society.

6. Paddington 2 We always say we wish more children’s films were ambitious in their craft & purposeful in their thematic messaging; Paddington 2 wholly satisfies both demands. It’s timelessly wholesome, visually precious, and emotionally fragile – all while teaching kids an important lesson about applying simple concepts like politeness & manners to their interactions with social & cultural outsiders. After praising so much exploitative horror & lowly genre trash year after year, Paddington 2 was a welcome change of pace for the crew. It lifted our spirits and made us want to be better people. (It even inspired James to learn how to make marmalade).

7. Hereditary Effectively gaslights the audience by starting as a fairly down-to-earth exploration of mourning, rage, helplessness, and grief before fully descending into the supernatural – striking an uneasy balance between heart-wrenching family drama & spine-chilling horror. Where Hereditary overachieves is in anchoring all of its glorious 70s horror vibes & stage play familial viciousness to the best Toni Collette acting showcase to reach the big screen since Muriel’s Wedding.

8. Cam A neon-lit, feminist cyberthriller about modern sex work, Cam is set in a digital world where identity is no longer stable nor protectable. It mashes up Unfriended-style user-interface horror about the Evils of the Internet with smutty Brian De Palma modes of building tension through eerie sexual menace. It’s excellently written, staged, and performed for a movie of its modest budget, one bolstered by subversive politics that will have you cheering for a sex worker to return safely to her profession instead of being punished for her supposed sins, which is sadly extraordinary for its subject & genre.

9. You Were Never Really Here Lynne Ramsay’s latest grime-coated vision of a real-world Hell obscures the emotional release of traditional macho revenge thrillers by focusing only on the violence’s anticipation & resulting aftermath, never the act itself. This is a powerful film about the tolls that violence takes on its enactors & its witnesses, tracking the many ways it can destroy a soul. It hypnotizes and mesmerizes, but not in an uplifting way, just in a way that makes you feel hollowed & alone.

10. Eighth Grade With a piercingly astute eye for the way social media has reshaped & mutated adolescent anxiety into an entirely new beast, Eighth Grade excels both as a snapshot of what life online looks like in the 2010s and as a distinct, character-driven drama even when removed from that of-the-moment focus on social media. Following an actual 8th grader as she relives our own past moments of unbearable anxiousness, we both identify with her all too well and feel a desperate need to protect her from the world. It’s both a fresh, important coming of age story for modern kids and a timeless anxiety Litmus test for all ages.

HM. Dirty Computer An anthology of music videos with a dystopian sci-fi wraparound, this “emotion picture” delivers on the genre film undertones of Janelle Monáe’s early pop music career while also advancing the visual album as a medium to a new modern high. Its story of non-conforming Others being captured to have their culture erased becomes such an explicit expression of Monáe’s own identity as a queer black woman in an increasingly hostile world, it reaches a point where a tyrannical government is literally draining the gay out of her in tubes of rainbow ooze before she rises against them in open bisexual rebellion. It’s fiercely queer, femme, and black – the most defiant, punk thing you can be in modern times.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here & here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read CC’s picks here.
Hear James’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Britnee’s Top Films of 2018

1. Hereditary Toni Collette, my favorite actress of all-time, gives the best performance of the year in the best movie of the year. Hereditary falls somewhere between a heart-wrenching family drama and spine-chilling horror film. It’s beautifully haunting, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the first time I watched it.

2. Mandy The most metal movie of 2018 (maybe even of all-time?). Nicolas Cage proves that he’s more than just a “bad movie” actor while playing a complete badass who gets revenge is the most brutal ways imaginable. It’s a headbanging, blood-splattering good time.

3. Unsane Steven Soderbergh’s high-anxiety thriller is my worst nightmare. It stressed me out so much that I popped the hair tie that was around my wrist from pulling on it during all the intense parts. There were a lot of them.

4. The Ritual The best Netflix horror film ever. It’s an amped up non-found footage version of The Blair Witch Project mixed with Norse mythology. The 2nd most metal movie of 2018.

5. Elizabeth Harvest A modern, stylish retelling of Bluebeard with a fun sci-fi twist. The film has a slow pace yet manages to be entertaining the entire time. It’s absolutely mesmerizing.

6. Mom and Dad Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair are suburban American parents that try to murder their children after an unexplained phenomenon causes parents to randomly start killing their kids. It’s wild and funny as all hell.

7. Paddington 2 After watching so many horror movies this year, Paddington 2 was a nice change of pace. This movie lifted my spirits and made me want to be a better person. Paddington is my idol.

8. The Wild Boys Brandon let me borrow his copy of the film a few weeks before the end of 2018, and it shot up my list immediately. It’s such a weird mix of beautiful imagery and disturbing scenarios that it made me smile and chuckle through the end.

9. Annihilation A beautiful tale of life, death, and rebirth with lots of freaky sci-fi scares.

10. Apostle Yet another fantastic Netflix horror film release from 2018. While it may seem to be a cheap knockoff of The Wicker Man in the beginning, it becomes a wild gorefest with tons of one-of-a-kind horror elements.

-Britnee Lombas

Paddington 2 (2018)

“If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”

I stubbornly ignored all recommendations for the first Paddington film for a solid two years, mostly out of disgust & disinterest inspired by its advertising. The CGI design of the titular bear was especially a huge turn-off, giving off the feeling of a computer-animated Charmin commercial flavored with a pinch of British whimsy. When the unanimous praise for Paddington 2 started rolling in recently, I finally decided to give the first one a shot (it was lurking on Netflix, after all). The experience turned out much better than other recent experiments where I allowed critical praise to bully me into watching children’s films I had zero interest in (Moana and Coco both come to mind), but I still couldn’t quite match the consensus enthusiasm. Paddington is a decent, occasionally clever children’s film about an undeniably lovable bear. Paddington 2, it turns out, is a massive improvement on that initial outing: a total, absurdly wholesome joy. Where the first film only got past my heartless cynic defenses enough to elicit a few chuckles & “awwwww”s, the sequel made me cry for the last five minutes solid, both out of grief & out of elation. Paddington 2 reminds me of the trajectory of the Babe series, where the first film is a simple, adorable portrait of a wholesome talking animal and the second, Pig in the City, is a feverishly ambitious work of fine art that contrasts that lovable animal against a harshly cruel world that does not deserve them. Like Babe, Paddington makes everything he touches better through pure, unashamed kindness, so it only makes sense that his own film franchise would only get better the more time it spends with him.

I suspect this is a holdover from the Paddington storybooks, but the real crux of this series is its function as an allegory about modern immigration. An orphaned bear “from deepest, darkest Peru,” Paddington is a sweetly polite, courteous cub who is shunned on sight by most strangers he greets in London. Peter Capadli is the most flagrant racist in Paddington’s life, referring to the bear as “an undesirable” and forming a “community defense force” to keep an eye on his potentially criminal behavior. The first Paddington film profiles a white, affluent London family (featuring Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville & The Shape of Water’s Sally Hawkins) as they grow to love the bear for the kindness inside him, despite their initial prejudices. Paddington 2 finds their neighborhood transformed into a harmonious cultural tapestry where people of widely varied backgrounds coexist in functional peace, thanks largely to Paddington’ s bottomless aptitude for kindness & politeness. We then see how grim the world becomes without the impossibly wholesome influence of this Peruvian bear. While merely attempting to purchase a birthday present for his aunt, Paddington is framed for a white man’s crime and leveled with a ten-year prison sentence, thanks largely to old-fashioned racial profiling. Of course, he makes the best of this situation as he can, transforming his Dickensian hellhole of a prison into something resembling a Wes Anderson confectionary or a live-action adaptation of Animal Crossing. It’s still a difficult-to-stomach injustice, though, one that leads to a speeding train conclusion more befitting of an action thriller than a children’s movie. I don’t want to spoil any of the weird, emotionally traumatic places the movie goes as its story flies off the rails in a delightfully excessive climax, but I will say this: when Paddington does finally get his aunt a birthday present, I cried like an idiot baby. I’m having a difficult time just writing about it without crying; it’s that goddamn wholesome.

Besides its heartwarming empathy for immigration narratives and general, genuine sweetness, the Paddington franchise also impress as a visual achievement. The dollhouse miniatures of the first film were an excellent start for an aesthetic perfected in the second. Paddington 2 is a multimedia sensory experience, mixing in 2-D pencil-sketch animation, pop-up book landscapes, and even more complex miniatures to convincingly capture a sense of childlike wonder. There has always been dissent against the wholesome tweeness of visual artists like Michel Gondry & Wes Anderson (whose Grand Budapest Hotel feels like an especially strong influence here), but those naysayers typically don’t give full credit to the deeply devastating sadness that lurks just under their works’ meticulously manicured surfaces. Paddington 2 nails both sides of that divide – the visually precious and the emotionally fragile – while teaching kids an important lesson about applying simple concepts like politeness & manners to their interactions with social & cultural outsiders. It also backs up its precious visual indulgences with an informed, classic sense of physical comedy, directly influenced by silent era legends like Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton. I could see an outsider being turned off by the promised whimsy of the film’s steampunk circus backdrop, treasure map side plot, and cutesy pop-up book illustration asides, but director Paul King carefully arranges all these visual influences & aesthetic touches with such a careful sense of craft that it’s near impossible not to be won over by them in the moment. We always say we wish more children’s films were ambitious in their craft & purposeful in their thematic messaging; Paddington 2 wholly satisfies both demands.

I don’t want to suggest that watching the first Paddington movie was a waste of time or a total letdown. If nothing else, it functions as a kind of superhero origin story (if kindness & politeness can be understood as superpowers), laying a lot of the visual & metaphorical groundwork for what’s accomplished in its magnificent sequel. It’s worth watching just to get accustomed to Paddington’s world, as everyone from the director to single-scene side characters returned for the second go. Everything about Paddington 2 is an improvement on its predecessor, though. The physical comedy is funnier. The visual craft is more inspired. The villain is more entertaining & complex (I swear Hugh Grant is channeling Theatre of Blood-era Vincent Price here). Even Paddington’s impossibly sweet selflessness in the face of prejudice – as he sacrifices his freedom to improve someone else’s birthday – comes across more clearly. Paddington 2 is the perfect, heartwarmingly empathetic children’s film confectionary everyone’s been trying to sell me with the first movie for the last two years. Now it’s my turn to be an annoyance and hyperbolically promote this picture to people who have zero interest in watching it.

-Brandon Ledet