The Best Films of 2018

By Alan Mattli

A_The Best Films of 2018

According to my Letterboxd account, which I’ve started cultivating in earnest in 2018, I spent roughly 378 hours of said year watching movies – 206 of them, to be exact – averaging four viewings per week. Now, as the year has drawn to a close, it’s time once again to pick my favourites from that selection, as I’ve done on The Zurich English Student for the past seven years (’11, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17). In 2018, I landed on a comparatively modest set of 15 films, though that is the result of perhaps a more rigorous decision-making process than in the past, which led to the shutout of such high-quality offerings as Steve McQueen’s Widows, Xavier Legrand’s Custody, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

As usual, my list differs from those by the likes of David Ehrlich or Priscilla Page – to name just two of my favourite critics – in that it is missing a few essential players from the 2018–19 awards season (The Favourite, If Beale Street Could Talk) and instead includes a few familiar titles from last year’s Oscar campaign. The reason for this is the same as ever: my list adheres to the Swiss release schedule, which all too rarely coincides with its U.S. equivalent. So what follows are my top ten films that opened in Switzerland in 2018, preceded by five honourable mentions (highlighted in bold).

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What Was the “Matrix” Trilogy All About?

Matrix 1

By Gabriel Renggli

The Matrix movies are a strange beast. The Matrix redefined the action genre, using cinematography, choreography, costumes, and special effects to raise shoot-outs and punch-ups to new levels of stylisation. The Matrix Reloaded was bigger, louder, and less focused, but cool enough to have our teenage selves excited, for the most part. The Matrix Revolutions was my first big lesson in how thoroughly an anticipated production can let down its fan base. Revolutions helped to get underway some considerable backlash, as people started looking more critically at the other two films, too. By now, the consensus seems to be that we allowed ourselves to be taken in by a case of form over substance. As in: boy, did these films ever look good, but, boy, did they make no sense at all from a story-telling or philosophical point of view.

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“Black Panther” and “Isle of Dogs”: The Limits of My Criticism

By Alan Mattli

NOTE: This is a translation of my own article, originally published in German.

Black Panther 1What do Ryan Coogler’s Marvel blockbuster Black Panther and Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs have in common? Well, there’s the fact that both titles feature animals. Oh, and both are American films that, crucially, are set outside the United States. But the two most important similarities are about reception: not only are both movies among the year’s best so far; few other releases generated as much discussion in the media. You’d think that this fact, along with my opinion of the two films, would be more than cogent reasons for me to review them.

However, since February, when I saw both works for the first – and not the last – time, I’ve been putting off writing about them, even though I’m less than enthusiastic about the thought of letting two five-star movies pass me by without comment. The reason for this is not a lack of intriguing talking points or stylistic choices but the knowledge of not being able to add anything meaningful to the existing discourse.

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The Great and Terrible Beauty of “Annihilation”

By Alan Mattli

AnnihilationWarning: This review contains major spoilers.

An ambitious and overwhelming tale of biological hybrids and a cinematic hybrid itself, a curious case of Apocalypse Now-meets-Under the Skin, Alex Garland’s sci-fi horror film Annihilation, a Netflix exclusive outside of North America and China, is something of a masterpiece. Based on the eponymous novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Garland’s sophomore directing effort expands upon the subdued, slow-burning intensity of his 2015 debut, the brilliant Ex Machina, and fully commits to the idea that in some stories, suggestiveness, abstraction, and open questions trump neat resolutions.

Plenty of commentators take issue with what Garland has attempted here (just take a look at the IMDb reviews), with some criticising the film for its supposed failings as an adaptation while others dwell on what they perceive to be immersion-breaking plot holes. Some also make more valid points, mainly highlighting issues with the script, which is fair enough: its language is functional, steely and stylised, which works a treat in some instances but jars in others.

But here’s what strikes me after three viewings of this extraordinary movie: I don’t care. Continue reading “The Great and Terrible Beauty of “Annihilation””

Chasing the Sun: Metalhead Releases Pop Album

By Raph al Guul

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Chris Bay may be the frontman of a highly successful German metal band, but no one ever really doubted that he is a child at heart. If anything, his PG-rated metal act is living proof that this kind of music is not just for angsty teenagers and middle-aged bikers, but, as Freedom Call proudly proclaims, “for everyone”. But what happens when you take the shredding dress away and dig down to a more barebone sound? Bay’s first solo effort Chasing the Sun gives us a glimpse. Continue reading “Chasing the Sun: Metalhead Releases Pop Album”

Review: “The Disaster Artist”

By Alan Mattli

The Disaster Artist_PosterIf, for whatever reason, you have managed to elude the pop-cultural phenomenon known as The Room, here is the short version: in 2003, Tommy Wiseau, a mysterious and inexplicably rich eccentric of possibly Eastern European descent, poured millions of dollars into the making of a romantic drama film called The Room. Written, directed, and produced by, and starring Wiseau, it made less than $2,000 during its two-week run but later gained an international cult following for being hilariously awful in every respect.

Naturally, such an artefact, whose release and subsequent rise in popularity coincided with the dawn of Web 2.0, is ripe for mythologizing. People wondered how such an atrocity could ever get made. Continue reading “Review: “The Disaster Artist””

The Best Films of 2017

By Alan Mattli

A_The Best Films of 2017

The year is over – time for the best-of lists to pour in; time for me to throw my own picks for the best films of the year into the mix. It may be excruciating to choose favourites – arguably even “anti-art”, as New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum puts it – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to the process every single year, again and again. In 2017, I didn’t even struggle to find a clear film of the year, which, as regular readers of my lists will know, has become something of a rarity recently.

All in all, 18 films made it into the circle of year-end favourites, some of them being holdovers from the 2016-17 Oscar race. As always, my list doesn’t abound with current critical darlings because works like Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, The Post, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri have yet to open theatrically in Switzerland. Eight honourable mentions (highlighted in bold) will set the scene before I present you with my choices for the top ten films of 2017.

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Top 5 Album Releases 2017

By Raph al Guul

Over the years, I have really grown to appreciate the musical album as a unit of art. I think it started with American Idiot, a record that really offered a lot more to those who sat down for consecutive and uninterrupted listening. Obviously, not every album accomplishes this, but I still like to listen to new albums from front to back without interruption, at least the first time around. And I look out for new records each year, hoping for a gripping hour or so.

Compiling a yearly top five from the results of this quest makes sense – listing is what I expect the artist to do for me. The track list is the fulcrum of listeners’ emotions during playback and what I now do is reciprocally list them like a fractal. Only this time it does not occur artfully, but at least I hope tastefully.

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