It’s that time at The Establishing Shot to once again pick the 10 images that were my favorites from the year’s films. Here they are, my friends and followers. As always, there are spoilers contained in my descriptions so tread carefully if you have yet to see all of my picks.
My favorite image of the year is based upon an event that actually happened in real life and was recreated in Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN. Undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was investigating Ku Klux Klan activity in Boulder, CO in the late 1970s when he was inexplicably assigned to guard Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) during his visit to the city. Duke had no idea that Stallworth was the man talking to him on the phone weekly, pretending to be a white nationalist as well, so when it came time for a photo op, Duke hesitated to stand next to the black man. Sensing the ultimate irony of it all, as well as having a cheeky sense of humor, Stallworth put his arms around Duke and his crony just as the camera clicked. His delight, and their horror, became a fitting memento to his investigation.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Weddings are always romantic and moving, but few on film have equaled the over-the-top glamour and emotions that occurred in the middle of director John M. Chu’s adaptation of CRAZY RICH ASIANS. Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) are in love and have traveled to Singapore for the wedding of Nick’s best friend. Rachel is having trouble fitting in with Nick's wealthy family, but right before the bride (Sonoya Mizuno) starts her way down the aisle, the pathway floods with water for an ethereal walkway. A wedding singer croons the song "Can't Help Falling in Love" and the lyric “Like a river flows, surely to the sea, darling, so it goes, some things are meant to be” could not be any more meaningful to Rachel and Nick. As they gaze into each others' eyes, they realize that their bond is unbreakable. It made for the most breathtakingly passionate and loving scenes in 2018.
In director Yorgos Lanthimos’ searing dark comedy, two attendants of Queen Anne’s royal court in 1708 England battle to be THE FAVOURITE of hers while attempting to vanquish the other. Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) has had the ear of Anne (Olivia Colman) for years, but upstart Abigail (Emma Stone) is assertively performing a palace coup. During a round of game shooting outside, Abigail takes out a bird and ribbons of its blood splatter across the face of her competitor. Metaphors don’t come any cheekier than this one. Indeed, not only will blood be spilled in their battle, but Sarah’s pristine visage will be one of the casualties as this scene foreshadows.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
My fourth choice is another beautiful face in close-up, only this one is untarnished. Tish (Kiki Layne) and her boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James) are young and in love in Barry Jenkins’ nuanced adaptation of James Baldwin’s famous novel IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Their early 70’s romance will go through the wringer once he’s arrested for a crime that he didn’t commit. Yet every time Fonny gazes at Tish, the world is a beautiful place. Cinematographer James Laxton repeats the head-on motif time and time again, even when Fonny talks to his girlfriend through prison glass. It puts us directly in his shoes and shows us how he sees hope in the world every time he gazes upon her sweet and loving visage.
Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical film ROMA finds him wearing many hats: director, screenwriter, producer, and cinematographer. Image upon image is stunning, including the very first one in the movie. Off-camera, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) scrubs the driveway of the family she serves as their housekeeper in 1970’s Mexico City. The water cascading across the tile outdoors show the grace and poetry in her work. Then we glimpse a plane flying overhead, reflected in the upper corner of the pool. That transport is taking people to far off worlds, something that Cleo will never know. It's a brilliant commentary on the haves versus the have-nots. Still, Cleo's life in many ways is its own adventure, one that the film will soon show is full of challenges and risk even while she stays stuck in her job and town.
Filmmaker Bo Burnham made one auspicious debut with his character study of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a timid junior high student trying to be cool and popular. In one of the film’s funnier scenes, she is forced to attend the pool party of a well-off classmate, and her insecurity almost swallows her whole. As she ventures out to the pool area, Elsie slouches while she ambles, fearing that all eyes will be upon her. (She’s not helped by her god-awful, green one-piece.) Yet as she lumbers to the water, not a soul is even paying attention. Worse than unwanted attention for the young girl? Not being noticed at all. It’s hilarious, and more than a little heartbreaking, just like this superior coming-of-age film.
One of the bravest and boldest films of the year was Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED. In it, the world is taking a toll on Father Toller (Ethan Hawke). He’s losing faith after the suicide of a parishioner, and he sees an irredeemable populace unwilling to save its deteriorating planet. In the end, he gives up and drinks drain cleaner only to imagine, in his dying moments, salvation in the arms of the parishioner's widow (Amanda Seyfried). It’s a devastating end to a pointed and political film, with Schrader suggesting that there may have been some salvation for him, but tragically, that chance has passed.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
YouTube wouldn’t allow the animated comedy RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET to spoof it. Instead, the film creates a parody of it called "BuzzTube." Disney, however, was cool enough to let the movie bite the hand that feeds it by allowing the film to lampoon its princess preoccupation. In the story, young Vanellope visits the Disney site and makes friends with all of the princesses there. Each is parodied, and it's hard to believe the mega-entertainment company would let this movie take the piss out of it so. But then, the girls all chill and have a pajama party, and their knowing banter about the limits of princes and happy endings turns into the humorous highpoint of the film. If only YouTube were as willing to have fun with its own image.
A SIMPLE FAVOR
Paul Feig’s attempt at a sexy thriller with farcical overtones wasn’t a complete success, but he did manage to bring to the screen one of the most interesting villains of the year. In A SIMPLE FAVOR, he introduces the seductive and brazen Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) with an entrance so over-the-top, it earns one of the bigger laughs in the piece. During a pouring rainstorm, Emily gets out of her car to retrieve her child from elementary school, and the outfit she's wearing is so trendy and expensive, she might as well be an alien at the modest school. The first shot of her designer shoe splattering into the rain suggests a woman to whom money and responsibility are themselves items to be ridiculed. If she ruined her shoes, so what, she has hundreds of others. And soon, she'd wreck lives in the story as easily as those pricey pumps.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Here's the last shot, and it's another gem from an animated film. In SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, teen Milo Morales not only has trouble figuring out how to be the new Spider-man, but he’s having difficulty keeping track of all the different Spidey’s that a hole in the galaxy has unleashed. He knows too that if it’s too much for him to handle, it’ll be too much for his classmate as well. As the student enters the dorm room, they all leap to the ceiling and cling together using their sticky powers. Then, when the boy turns his head, the group of “spiders” moves across the surface in highly comic style. It’s one of the funnier visuals in this visually splendid film and that highlight concludes my list of favorite images onscreen in 2018.