And the contenders are:
- Annihilation, directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer (Paramount Pictures / Skydance) [my review]
- Avengers: Infinity War, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios) [my review]
- Black Panther, written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler (Marvel Studios) [my review]
- A Quiet Place, screenplay by Scott Beck, John Krasinski and Bryan Woods, directed by John Krasinski (Platinum Dunes / Sunday Night) [partial review]
- Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley (Annapurna Pictures) [my review]
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony) [partial review]
In a time when Marvel superheroes are dominating the box office it isn’t a a surprise to see three Marvel films in the list even if one isn’t strictly an MCU film. Superheroes aside we have one fairly conventional sci-fi thriller and two films where the conventions got eaten either by some kind of swamp creature or a man-horse hybrid.
The only way to tackle this is in two halves: a superhero league versus weird-shit-happening-to-Americans.
Clash of the titans
Bless its mega-crossover heart but Avengers: Infinity War is not a serious contender for the best science-fiction film of 2018. It is a notable bit of film making but it’s rather like what ends up on your plate when you* visit a really nice buffet — lots of tasty things but not a carefully constructed dining experience. I get why it’s here instead of Thor: Ragnarok^ but Thor 3 was a better contender as a sci-fi movie.
That leaves a face-off between Black Panther and Spider-Man. Both are visual treats. Spider-verse pulls off the remarkable feat of creating yet another reboot of Spider-Man as a film character in a way that makes me genuinely excited (doubly remarkable as the MCU version of Spidey was pretty good too).
However, overall Black Panther was a better story and a more well rounded film. Tough contest though.
A metaphor for the alienation of Americans from America
Or maybe just freaky things happening to people. Of the non-superhero films only Sorry to Bother You is overtly a social satire but there’s a sense of isolation from reality in all three of these non-cape wearing films. How to rank them though? They all have excellent acting and interesting stories to tell.
A Quiet Place is the most accessible and commercial of the three, a post-apocalyptic alien-invasion monster movie. Very tense and some excellent performances particularly from younger cast members. However, as a science-fiction story it is nothing new.
Annihilation, really doesn’t care about whether you need to know what is going on or not. There is no apologies for the fact that any depiction of the incomprehensible must necessarily be incomprehensible. Yet the film manages to make you care about a set of characters who are themselves just a little more than cyphers.
Sorry to Bother You, shares Tessa Thompson with Annihilation and is the least polished of all the nominees. It’s also the most original of the films listed and darkly funny. The film rattles through ideas like it is unsure where to put the next one and expects the viewer to keep up. The whole film delves into the fantastic via more mundane aspects of reality but events later in the film make it indisputably science-fiction.
As a set there’s no way of avoiding comparing apples versus oranges (or at least they look like oranges but maybe they are simply the fruiting bodies of some kind of cosmic organism, also the apple is a bear with a human voice) but on balance, Sorry to Bother You beats the others on story grounds. Annihilation is more of an experience than a plot and A Quiet Place isn’t original enough for the top spot.
The final round
It’s Black Panther versus Sorry to Bother You, the unusual blockbuster versus the persistent independent. I may change my mind but I think originality counts for a lot and Sorry to Bother You is refreshingly different.
My final rankings:
- Sorry to Bother You
- Black Panther
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- A Quiet Place
- Avengers: Infinity War
*[and by ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, except that wouldn’t be grammatical]
^Because I forgot it came out in 2017…