BORDER. My number 1 film for 2018 is BORDER. The film is directed by Ali Abbasi from the short story Gräns by John Aivide Lindqvist (who wrote the sensational novel Let the Right One In). Abbasi, Lindqvist and Isabella Eklöf wrote the screenplay. BORDER stars Eva Melander (who gained 40 pounds for the role and had to endure 2 hours getting made-up each day) and Eero Milonoff (similarly enhanced for his role). This is a strange innovative movie that I keep thinking about. BORDER presents a woman whose job for an airline is just to observe passengers coming off the planes. She has a heightened sense of smell and can sense when someone is feeling guilty or indicating an unusual sense of fear. She is strange looking and one day an even stranger looking man walks by and she immediately has him stopped and searched.
BEAST. Number 2. BEAST is another brilliant film written and directed by Michael Pearce. Pearce has written fascinating characters and the way he presents his actors, Johnny Flynn and Jessie Buckley, will make them stars. The success of BEAST would fall on who was chosen to play “outsider” Pascal Renouf. The actor cast must have varying degrees of menace, charm, sexual charisma, kindness, and brutality – even if he is the killer. Flynn is electric and dangerously believable as someone who would liberate the sexually-repressed young woman from her cruel mother. As a director, Pearce imbues Buckley, a newcomer to movies, with magnetism. He is clearly enraptured by her interpretation of his creation Moll, an unforgettable, first class “femme fatale with problems.” I wish I had a Blu-ray of BEAST.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. NUMBER 3. Could they really show the decadence of Freddie Mercury’s life at the pinnacle of Queen’s global success? Mercury’s sexual life ripened in the 1970s and 1980s. The cliché, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll”, defined the 1970s. It was called “The Decade of Decadence.” The sexual revolution was in full bloom until the AIDS epidemic. Mercury let his freak flag fly. So really how honest could BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY be about the sexual indulgence of Mercury – a man without a “safe word”? The filmmakers could not glorify Mercury’s sexual habits – even though he died very young. And considering two of Queen’s members were instrumental in every phrase of the film, how objective could it be? The music is powerful and Rami Malek’s award-winning, star-making performance is the sole centerpiece on which the film is constructed. As far as the trouble with its director, Bryan Singer, being fired, well, who actually directed the film if Singer came to the set unprepared, was absent for days, fought with Malek and refused to come out of his trailer? Who was responsible for the scenes – Newton Thomas Sigel, the cinematographer, or the various assistant directors, second unit directors or, did the actors direct themselves? Someone deserves credit if Singer’s erratic behavior was sacrificing continuity. But the film shows no signs of being patched together or envisioned by several different directors. While Malek is brilliant, imagine what Sasha Baron Cohen would have done if his vision (“a rough-edged R-rated”) for the film – with sexually explicit content and David Fincher as director – would have been like?
OVERLORD. NUMBER 4. This was a big surprise. Directed by Julius Avery, OVERLORD is closest to one of my favorite films, Alan Clarke’s ELEPHANT. Nothing but real life can make ELEPHANT a prescient harbinger for the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay mass shooting. Like the killer in ELEPHANT, there is no explanation for the “why”. The reason, ideology, even a motive has not been found. Don’t you hate it when they don’t leave a note! The killer spent years amassing his weapons and planning. So the only reason was to impress everyone with his cunning and brilliance of organization and follow-through? He scanned arenas all over the U.S. If Middle Eastern terrorists replaced The Mob, then Nazis have replaced Middle Eastern terrorists as uber-villains. The best villain is one who answers to no one. And the Nazis were hell-bent on creating a super-race of blue-eyed killers for their Führer. In OVERLORD, a group of colorful American soldiers, led by easy-peasy Wyatt Russell (quietly and strategically plotting his quest for stardom, seemingly without using Mom and Dad like Kate does), parachute into German-held Normandy during World War II and discover the evil plan to dominate the world with super soldiers.
VICE. NUMBER 5. Talk about a horror movie! Director/writer Adam McKay seamlessly constructed the wiry career path Dick Cheney took to the vice-presidency. And through the metamorphosis of Christian Bale, we understand Cheney’s brutal philosophy of life. What was missing was Cheney’s overriding grudge. Who was Cheney getting even with? A scene between Cheney and George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) puts the entire campaign and Bush’s approach to politics in clear perspective. Cheney wants to run the country, not run for the presidency. Too much glad-handing and train stops across the Bible Belt. Rockwell is great and so is Amy Adams, who obviously gets along well with Bale. It’s brave of her to add around 20 pounds as Lynne Cheney. Steve Carell’s Donald Rumsfeld is spot on. Carell has made some wise choices in his pursuit of a movie career – except WELCOME TO MARVEN. It’s not wise to rush to carry a movie too soon. It took Matthew McConaughey over 15 years of bare-chested ridicule (and freeing himself from Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson) before KILLER JOE changed the direction of his career. It’s outrageous, but to call VICE a comedy – unless it’s an evil comedy - is doing disservice to the facts. The facts are comical. The facts are indisputable. It is mesmerizing watching Bale make gestures and use the involuntary muscles in his face to express the diabolical nature of Cheney. Bale is hypnotic. Or, better yet, Bale is terrifying. Bravo Bale! The Academy Award for Best Actor is yours.
A STAR IS BORN. NUMBER 6. A fourth remake of an old-fashioned weeper? I dreaded this sentimental tearjerker. I was prejudiced by dark, flash memories of Barbra Streisand being lusted after by Kris Kristofferson on the poster. Director and star Bradley Cooper shows he can direct actresses, and showers Lady Gaga with beautiful lighting and minimal makeup (its movieland’s no make-up make-up look). Cooper is going to be in big demand by A-list actresses. He’s being credited with giving Lady Gaga an actress career. (The best reason for Madonna to loathe her.) Whose idea was it to give a big film to Bradley Cooper to direct? Because he hung around Clint Eastwood’s sets? Regardless of the love Cooper and Gaga insist was deemed the moment he walked through her front door, there is real chemistry between them. The movie has major flaws for me: Why didn’t Cooper’s Jack put Gaga’s Ally under his management? If they wrote the songs together, why was Jack pushed aside? What about publishing rights? I know it’s said that it’s "the singer not the song", but Adele’s fans would disagree with that statement. The vicious, cutthroat music business is nowhere to be seen. I would have hoped Lady Gaga would make the film more representative of what she went through to become a star. Musical “talent” and “stars” are created by conglomerates. Without Auto-tune, lip-syncing and “featuring a legion of other performers”, no one (except the dinosaurs from the Heavy Metal era) would go on tour and perform live. There are tons of videos showing Beyoncé lip-syncing. Brittney and Mariah gave up even lip-syncing. Too many lyrics to remember!
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT. NUMBER 7. MI: FALLOUT didn’t make any Top 10 Lists? Why? There are just too many snob critics who only put films on their lists that no one except the highly regarded few in New York and Los Angeles see. SHOPLIFTERS made a lot of lists. It’s not playing here in Las Vegas. Bulgaria’s official entry for Best Foreign Film? Most critics do not even get screening links to foreign films. The Las Vegas Critics Society members had just two choices for Best Foreign Film of 2018: ROMA and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s SHOPLIFTERS about a very poor Tokyo family surviving on shoplifting. MI: FALLOUT is the sixth installment in Star Tom Cruise’s hugely successful franchise. However, I really liked his Jack Reacher movies and the terrific AMERICAN MADE. Even while watching MI: FALLOUT a third time, I screamed and yelled at the action I knew was coming. You’ve got to give kudos to Cruise for not caring about the height, youth or sexual charisma of his male co-stars. Cruise and Henry Cavill’s bathroom fight scene was sheer over-the-top brilliant. And no matter what blind gossip site crazydaysandnights.net alleges about Cavill’s time in Budapest while filming the Netflix movie THE WITCHER, he was brutally sexy. In the bathroom fight scene, he had a shoulder movement that telegraphed real determined skill. (It ranks with Alan Rickman’s stance as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD.) And MI’s femme fatales are always worthy MI Girls: FALLOUT’s Vanessa Kirby, GHOST PROTOCOL’s Léa Seydoux and the original MI’s Emmanuelle Béart. However, it’s time to retire Hunt’s wife Julia. She’s moved on.
FIRST REFORMED. NUMBER 8. Paul Schrader’s return after years of living off the renown of having written TAXI DRIVER and as one of the writers of RAGING BULL, finally seems to be at an age and place in his long career that he decided to - I dare you, watch this - explore his spiritual psyche (with side trip to Hell) after years of tango dancing in Hollywood’s hedonistic playground. FIRST REFORMED has so much symbolism, it’s entirely plausible to say it is meant as a vehicle for Schrader to purge his karmic debt.
THE FAVOURITE. NUMBER 9. Yorgos Lanthimos has brought together three stunning actresses and allowed them to flaunt their cunning, manipulative nature and sexual dynamics. Rachel Weisz, who also was so brilliant in DISOBEDIENCE this year, carries herself as the cock of the walk of Queen Anne’s court. Olivia Colman, soon to galvanize THE CROWN frenzy taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II, lets it all hang out without a moment of ego. Obviously, kings and queens were worshiped no matter how grotesque they made themselves. That’s the purest evil of power – be repulsive and no one notices. Though poor Queen Anne’s 18 pregnancies with none surviving to adulthood permits her broodmare sympathy. And completing the triad is Emma Stone, who said she initiated her topless scene herself – cleverly taking away Weisz’s alluring dominance in the film. Well played Emma! Everyone I know who saw the film went directly to the Internet to see how accurate THE FAVOURITE was. And from my reading of royal courts, kings and queens always chose favorites, just to keep everyone jockeying to unseat the chosen one. And the favorite was always fearful of losing status.
THE RIDER. NUMBER 10. A completely stunning film written, produced and directed by Chloé Zhao. Its star, Brady Jandreau, is so dazzling that Zhao was helpless to deny him close-ups and brooding Brando silences. The fact that it is a heightened true story and all the real people played themselves only exemplifies how skillful Zhao is as a director. No one looks like they are acting or uncomfortable in scenes. Whether or not they rehearsed - the script was just 65 pages – it was clearly a production without notes from studio executives. Its Zhao’s creation from her unique outsider point of view. The world of rodeo riding is one unto itself and the amount of time Zhao spent in South Dakota offers a unique curiosity and sincere interest in the lives of these highly individualistic cowboys and the dangers they excitedly pursue. FOR MORE REVIEWS AT FIR, CLICK HERE For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/