by Simon Ong
4. Paddington 2
Directed by Paul King, screenplay by Paul King and Simon Farnaby
Paddington 2 was very nearly not included in this list. Most movie websites list the film as a 2017 film, as that’s when it was released in the UK, though it did not see its American release until January of this year. But as I began to put this list together, I realized I couldn’t not talk about Paddington. It just wouldn’t be right.
This was the year of that little bear — or at least it should have been. For a movie that scored the rare 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the family movie flew frustratingly under the radar. Perhaps the whole thing is simply too genuine for American audiences: there’s none of the usual cynicism and corporate pandering we see in many American family films that beat out Paddington 2 at the box office this year. But that’s a shame, because Paddington 2 is the perfect family film. Not an element is spared, not a moment wasted. Every little thing that is introduced, every last detail comes back and becomes important later in the film. It’s a masterclass in the Chekhov’s Gun.
It also certainly helps that every last detail of this movie is undeniably charming. If you had to live in the world from a film, you would be a fool to not choose the world of Paddington 2. The world is vibrant, from the bright colors to the happy people roaming about London, despite its flawed criminal justice system that would convict our titular bear of a crime he didn’t commit. (Yes, Paddington is sent to prison in Paddington 2. That is just one of the many hijinks the little bear gets up to in the big world around him.)
The cast from the first film returns, with a special shout-out to Sally Hawkins in the role of Mrs. Brown who deserves a shout-out in every last film she’s in. But that additions to the Paddington 2 cast from its predecessor are really where the magic of this film lies. Hugh Grant as the dastardly Phoenix Buchanan is perfectly cast and Brendan Gleeson as the tough-as-nails-con-with-a-soft-side Knuckles McGinty also is of particular note.
Look, folks, if you haven’t seen Paddington 2 or its predecessor, I really can’t speak to you. You are denying yourself a very important exercise in self-care because no film is crammed so full of joy as these two and I pray to any higher power that is out there that they continue to make these movies with as much love as they have these first two until the end of time.
3. The Favourite
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Having seen most of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous filmography, I was aware of how brutal a filmmaker he could be. Lanthimos strips his characters bare, revealing their often-harsh human nature in what is usually some torturous trial. At first glance, The Favourite is far less brutal than the earlier installments in his filmography. However, a closer look reveals that Lanthimos’s world in The Favourite is just as harsh, just as unforgiving but subtler. There’s no supernatural force slowly killing a family, no alternate reality where the fight for companionship is synonymous with the fight for survival.
No, The Favourite, is more straight-forward. It tells the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and the rivalry between two women in her court, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), as they compete to be the Queen’s closest confidante. But if the world of Lanthimos’s latest film is more grounded in reality, that makes the danger of it all the more menacing. The brutality of the world is organic to the people themselves within it. The hunger for power, the atavistic desire to destroy one’s enemies, are characteristics so consuming in these characters that they’re essentially personified in whole. None of this would work without the strength of its three lead actresses. Colman, Weisz, and Stone understand what this world is about and are, at every turn, informed by it. Even those moments when the film may want to lull you into a sense of safety, into the notion that these characters can’t all be so driven by greed, Lanthimos turns them on their head and continues his streak of pretty bleak portraitures of human nature.
So, yes, The Favourite is easily Lanthimos’s most mainstream to date, but it is no less brutal, no less harsh. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Lanthimos as he garners more and more mainstream acclaim, but The Favourite is a pretty good indicator that he will carry the weight well.