by Jason F. Koenigsberg
2018 was a good year for movies with a lot of solid entries and a few genres really evolving strongly. We saw some of the best films of the year released back in the spring and now during the awards season, the best movie out in all the big multiplexes is Aquaman. Sure the specialty box office and limited releases have some worthy films to check out but this winter has seen some of the dumbest big budget films released in years. Comic book movies were still all the rage this year and racial issues were still front and center on many mainstream movies released this year. In fact, Black Panther, one of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed movies of 2018 managed to combine both those trends and used them to its advantage.
But those two trends have been front and center in movies for years now. There is nothing new about superheroes dominating ticket sales and films about race coming in behind them on the top ten at the box office. There were also some terrific and diverse coming-of-age movies this past year, but that is also something audiences have seen and come to expect each year from new directors and screenwriters providing new voices for the youth and their struggles. 2018 brought about a few new trends to cinema that time will tell if they remain part of our pop culture or are just another fad.
Many of these trends are things that have been building and sort of became cliche this year but these are the three things that 2018 will be remembered for as the years contributions to motion pictures. Without any further ado, here are the three biggest changes in cinema from 2018.
Horror Movies Matured
Horror movies are nothing new. They are one of the oldest and most overused genres in the history of motion pictures. However, unlike many previous years. 2018 was finally the year that horror movies matured in a way seldom seen on the big screen in a twelve month period. Like the savings bond your great aunt gave you on your Bar Mitzvah, it was finally ready to be cashed in. It took decades of lousy horror movies to bring this new renaissance of terror to the big screen and it seems to be worth every bad Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers sequel. Sure every so often a great horror movie sneaks onto a number of top ten lists and crosses over into mainstream audiences like last years Oscar winner Get Out, but in the past, a film like that was a once or twice a year phenomenon. This year audiences were blessed with some of the smartest, scariest and most stunningly beautiful visions of terror to grace movie screens. The biggest and most successful horror film that smashed box office records of all its previous entries was the tenth installment of the forty-year-old Halloween franchise. No doubt about it, this year’s Halloween was absolutely the best of the series other than the 1978 John Carpenter original. It took all those years of mediocre and inept sequels and remakes to bring it to this point. The filmmakers learned from the mistakes of the other films and managed to deliver a fun, satisfying, tense and topical movie that few other horror films can even touch. There was also A Quiet Place which like the 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist proved is that sometimes movies are meant only to be seen in a dark theater surrounded by strangers and that shared experience should not be lost because of HD TV’s and more streaming options. A Quiet Place also created a post-apocalyptic world that viewers wanted to learn more about and stay in despite the necessity to remain silent. And then there was Hereditary, arguably one of the best films of the year and what would have been one of the best horror films of any year about the terrors that are within us, embedded deep in our DNA. These films also featured themes of feminism with strong, award-worthy performances from their female leads Jamie Lee Curtis, Emily Blunt, and Toni Collette respectively. The same could also be said for Natalie Portman in the sci-fi horror hybrid Annihilation which is also one of the best films of the year. Or Tilda Swinton for her supporting role in the hauntingly eerie and irreverent Suspiria remake. Sure there were some horror duds like the Slender Man movie, but overall 2018 was a breath of fresh air from an overused genre where new voices got to flex their imaginative prowess. The new visionary horror directors have learned from the masters like John Carpenter, George Romero, and Dario Argento and are taking the future of horror to bold new places, while blockbuster directors are working on the next Avengers or Justice League movies. For the first time in a while, horror is filled with fresh new ideas and is it exciting to see where scary movies are going.
The Rise of Netflix as a Legitimate Studio for Motion Pictures
Roma, Bird Box, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Outlaw King, and The Other Side of the Wind, are all some of the most talked about movies of 2018. They all have two things in common. They are all Netflix original films that you can stream right now with a basic subscription, and they all made very little at the box office in very limited releases. In previous years Netflix was a powerhouse taking away audiences from cable and network television to binge-watch their original programs. Now Netflix is tackling the movie industry and after this year it seems they are succeeding. They are changing the basic format of the movie release process from a theatrical run, to a home video and on-demand release, to premium cable and then basic cable. Netflix wants to skip all of that and show the movie on two screens to qualify for an Academy Awards run, and then give the movie to all of its subscribers for free. They are not trying to take on the studios at the box office going against the biggest releases of the year that Paramount, Universal, or Warner Bros. have to offer with opening weekends raking in $100 million dollars. They are competing with the specialty box office hurting independent films and arthouse theaters. This very well could be the new platform of motion pictures. Fewer films released on the big screen and more available right on your smartphone. This does not spell the end of movie theaters as we know it. Box office receipts for this past year were up and records were broken practically every month. There will always be a market for patrons willing to shell out money for the next DC, Marvel, or Pixar movies on the big screen, Netflix has hijacked some of the biggest auteurs in the movie business and given them big budgets and a lot of creative freedom to tell their stories. Alfonso Cuaron, The Coen Bros., and even the late-great Orson Welles all made their latest films exclusively for Netflix and there is no end in sight for that trend to continue. Next year Martin Scorsese’s new picture with a $120 million dollar budget was financed entirely by Netflix. The streaming giant is now a legitimate awards contender and has some of the biggest and most prolific directors of all time making content for their ever-expanding empire. Is Netflix a fad or are they here to stay competing with the major studios like Sony, Disney, and Fox? If they continue to lure away some of the most prestigious directors while those studios focus on remakes, reboots, and sequels, Netflix may forever alter the format of motion pictures in a way that has not been seen since the invention of home video.
British Actors playing American Icons
This is also nothing new, actors from across the pond have always played historic American figures like Anthony Hopkins as Nixon (1995) and Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln (2012), but now it seems to be going beyond presidents. Now it is as if many prestigious roles that are tailored for American actors are being given to British performers. Last year Daniel Kaluuya played an African-American dating a white woman in Get Out, a film with predominantly American values and satire on US race relations. Yet Kaluuya is not African-American. He’s British and his performance was so convincing he earned himself a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. This year we saw Christian Bale, the Welsch actor who lost weight for The Machinist (2004) and who bulked up to play Batman in three movies get under heavy make-up to portray one of the most pivotal and infamous figures in recent US history as Dick Cheney in Vice. Bale did a good job impersonating Cheney with the material he was given, but they could not get an American actor to portray an influential American politician? Could you ever picture Tom Hanks playing Winston Churchill or Harrison Ford as Tony Blair? I do not think so. Even more irritating is seeing beautiful British actress Felicity Jones playing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg in Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex. There are a plethora of Brooklyn born, Jewish actresses that could have played that part since that is where Ruth Bader-Ginsberg is from. Plus whoever plays her, the Associate Justice was never that hot. I do not care how young they go back in her biopic to portray her. British background aside, Felicity Jones is far too gorgeous to ever convince that she is indeed Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. This has been a trend on television for a while now with Brits Damien Lewis playing an American soldier turned spy/politician on Homeland and Andrew Lincoln playing a Southern lawman on The Walking Dead. But it was Vice and On the Basis of Sex that this British invasion of foreign actors taking on American icons that the trend has become rather ludicrous. Sadly it shows no signs of stopping unless American actors start to make it more of a big deal that they are losing these parts, and in doing so, these movies may be losing some of their authenticity and realistic grit as well.