Song of the Day #3,862: ‘Taiko Drumming’ – Kaoru Watanabe

This week’s countdown of my favourite 2018 films continues.

First, a recap of the list so far:

10. First Reformed
9. Black Panther
8. Support the Girls
7. Crazy Rich Asians

And now, the next two films.

#6 – The Favourite

Sometimes the movies you wind up truly loving are ones you didn’t expect to even like. I was so turned off by director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, and by everything I heard about his Killing of a Sacred Deer, that I actively avoided The Favourite, despite nearly unanimous critical raves. Big mistake.

The Favourite is a costume drama about the battle for Queen Anne’s favor during England’s early-18th century war with France. The central conflict is between Sarah Churchill, the Queen’s longtime advisor and friend (and lover) and Abigail Hill, Sarah’s poor cousin, who is invited to the court as a servant. Merchant-Ivory could have made a stately, chaste version of this story in the mid-90s and racked up a dozen Oscar nominations.

Indeed, The Favourite boasts elaborate costumes, immaculate production design and a stirring classical music score, and it managed ten nominations from the Academy, but the similarities end there. Lanthimos, working with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, crafted a sexy, viciously witty film that spends as much time in the mud as it does in the throne room. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone bring wit and pathos to characters we alternately root for and despise. The film is a master class in acting, screenwriting and tone management.

For the longest time, I didn’t want to see The Favourite. Now I’m dying to see it again and again.

#5 – Isle of Dogs

2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox proved that stop-motion animation was the perfect medium for writer-director Wes Anderson’s obsessive attention to detail and desire for control over every aspect of his frame. With Isle of Dogs, Anderson makes the most of that complete creative autonomy, delivering his most visually and thematically overwhelming entertainment to date.

The film is set in the near-future, in the imaginary Japanese city of Megasaki, where a dog flu epidemic has prompted the mayor to exile all canines to an isolated garbage dump called Trash Island. A boy pilot crash-lands on the island in an attempt to rescue his guard dog, Spots, and is helped in his quest by a quintet of abandoned pooches. The imagination in the movie’s premise alone is impressive, but the ingenuity and creativity in every inch of every frame takes things to another level.

Add in Anderson’s trademark dryly witty dialogue (voiced by an all-star cast including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand and Scarlett Johansson) and his usual liberal dose of melancholy, and you have a feast for the head and heart alike. I’d even call this Anderson’s most political film, as the idea of politically-motivated walls and cages is sadly all too familiar in the real world right now.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Isle of Dogs is an astonishing technical achievement. I can’t think of another example of stop-motion animation this ambitious or this flawlessly executed. The time and care put into literally every frame of its 105 minutes is evident onscreen. For evidence, just check out my favorite opening credits sequence of 2018, embedded below.

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,862: ‘Taiko Drumming’ – Kaoru Watanabe

  1. Maddie says:

    Glad you got my two least faves out of the way together :p also, in regards to Isle of Dogs, Kubo runs circles around that movie. Jusssttt sayin’.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    My dislike for Isle of Dogs is well known and on record, so no need to reiterate here. I’m equally confident I would have little use for the Favourite, Next!

  3. Amy says:

    I, too, liked The Favourite far more than I anticipated, though there were elements of that score you laud that made me want to put my head through a wall! I found it to be a triumph of screenplay and acting more than directing, as I continue not to be a fan of the choices made by Lanthimos (let alone the choice to give him Ryan Coogler’s spot at the Oscars!). This is a film that is getting more praise than it warrants because it is oh so shocking… that said, there are powerful moments throughout, and I love that Emma Stone’s involvement likely brought the film and her costars more attention than they otherwise would have received.

    As for Isle, I still haven’t seen it. 😦

    • Clay says:

      I would argue that Adam McKay took Coogler’s spot at the Oscars, though I wouldn’t have nominated Lanthimos either. My five directors would be Alfonso Cuaron, the Coen Brothers, Ryan Coogler, Spike Lee and Paul Schrader.

  4. Peg says:

    Thought the Favourite was certainly thought provoking and kept me thinking about it. Have not seen Isle yet but hope to at some point.

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