Now who doesn’t like a fair bit of escapist pleasure in their movies? While movies by themselves are a medium of escape for many, there exists a genre of films that is fantastically far removed from reality in an effort to transport viewers to a surreal or magical reality. While sci-fi and fantasy have countless overlapping themes, the one primary difference that separates the two is a touch of reality itself. Sci-fi movies dealing with space-time continuums, AI, and all performing robots still have some tangible physical theories backing them, however little, compared to the case of dragons, magic wands, spells, potions, and other mythical objects that, however sad it makes me to admit, do not exist. This, quite frankly is all the more reason that fantasy films are able to attract a wider group of audience since sci-fi, more often than not lends itself to a more dystopian connotation, as opposed to fantasy films. The differentiation comes easy in this case, and all this banter is to enable you to know what kind of movies to expect in this list.
By comparison, 2018 was far less magical as opposed to previous years, and I feel a primary reason for that would be two of Disney’s major films ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ and ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ that had the potential to top and close this list, turned out to be subpar, while rest of Disney’s productions this year were anyway animated. Be that as it may, 2018 still had some great films that either completely operated in the realm of fantasy or had significant overlaps to be accounted for in this list. So, without further ado, here is the list of the top fantasy movies of 2018. The list includes fantasy romance movies, fantasy adventure movies, fantasy action movies and sci-fi fantasy movies.
10. The House with a Clock in its Walls
This film notices a marked departure from Eli Roth, the film’s director, previously dealing with uncomfortably gory horror productions, to a film completely deeply rooted in its PG boundaries. The film’s premise is based on John Bellair’s novel of the same name, and no questions about it, you will find the premise interesting as the name suggests, of the clock hidden mysteriously in the walls of the house our protagonist resides in with his uncle, whether or not you are privy with the source material. The film has enough magical sequences in it and startling special effects to warrant a visit to the cinema, but what really hurts here is the potential this film had, seeming too stuck in its comfort zone, despite consistently good performances from Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. For what it is, ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ is perfectly kid friendly material, and the little ones will have a good time, rest assured.
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9. Every Day
‘Every Day’ has one of the best and most promising premise for a love story that I have seen recently, with a travelling soul waking up everyday in a different body, and finally finding love. Needless to say, the film works best when it focusses on the ingenuity of that idea, rather than the now cliché trappings of the rom-com genre. Unfortunately, the film sides more with the latter, and while it does eventually foray into larger issues, and questions too big for the film to definitely answer, those are quickly discarded and the film moves from one genre trapping to the next, reaching the kind of generic ending characteristic of rom-coms. It is perfectly watchable, even delightful in parts, but this had real potential to be something extraordinary along the lines of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. However, for what it is, ‘Every Day’ seems content with itself.
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8. Christopher Robin
‘Christopher Robin’ is us. Christopher Robin is every one of us who has inadvertently transitioned into adulthood leaving behind the age of innocence and all our carefree selves, our sense of imagination associated with it. In that, if this amazingly insightful movie hits you right in the feels and reminds you to search for and live out the smaller things in life, then it probably should. One of the most stirring movies from Disney in the past years, propelled by one of my personal favourite characters, Winnie the Pooh along with the entire gang including Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and Roo.
The plot of ‘Christopher Robin’ and the themes it deals with are decidedly meant for a more mature audience, ones that can actually relate to the moribund nature of the titular character’s life, the lament, and above all, why it is important to keep the child in you live. All of them sensitive and pining topics in a regular adult’s life, but touched upon almost magically by this film. Simple yet heartfelt, this is trademark Disney, yet feels different in a good way.
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7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
I still concur that J.K. Rowling’s Potterverse is the one name in the fantasy genre to reckon with along with Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ Prequels. Expanding on the five part series of prequels kickstarted with ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ in 2016, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ opens as a direct sequel with Grindelwald imprisoned, only to escape soon after and put his plan of finding Credence Barebone to fight Dumbledore in motion, in order to acquire dominion over the wizarding and muggle worlds in his pureblood quest.
Apart from some major references to familiar names and wizarding families and a host of returning characters from the first one, this film seemed the most far removed from the Potterverse. The magic in this one was, quite literally, missing. Visually dazzling enough to warrant a visit to the cinema, and from a superb trailer, hinting at the return to Hogwarts accompanied by Hedwig’s theme, there is little else that you take home from this one. Too many subplots far too inconsequential, and a lot of world building setting up anticipation for future movies deprive the film of its own standalone identity.
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6. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’ is WB’s retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s immortal Jungle Book stories, ones Disney already took a shot at with its 2016 summer blockbuster ‘The Jungle Book’. Agreeably so, ‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’, directed by Andy Serkis, is darker, both in terms of the tone of its script and visually, and more than warrants its PG-13 rating, with mature themes and animal violence that the Disney version was understandably bereft of. ‘Mowgli’, like the title says, is the story of the man cub’s internal struggle to find a place to call home, and a person to call his own. The darker, more raw tone that Serkis seems to establish, along with the background score, visuals, the dialogue at times too deep for a younger audience to completely fathom, and Mowgli’s internal conflict at the heart of the film ended up working big time for me, and I daresay, more so than the Disney version.
The voice acting is expectedly A-rate, especially from Christian Bale, Andy Serkis himself, and Cate Blanchett in the roles of Bagheera, Baloo, and Kaa. However, the primary trump card the film has over the Disney version is Rohan Chand, playing the titular character, and man is he a performer. I was taken aback by surprise in the more emotional bits of the film, where the boy emotes with so much gravitas, and the fact that he did it surrounded only by virtually created animals demands a deeper sense of appreciation. The special effects are excellent and would have been fun to see in 3D, but the film is available to stream on Netflix now, and thus perfect for a quick screening at the comfort of the couch. The occasional lapses in screenplay forgiven, this is a better way to spend your Saturday afternoon.
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5. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
With Terry Gilliam at the helm, one can always expect wildly imaginative narratives on display, and ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ seems to be the perfect representation of his filmography, almost a passion project of sorts. Stuck in production hell for 29 years, the film received a limited release in theatres and a handful of film festivals this year. Surreal and deeply contemplative at the same time, ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ will throw narrative themes at you faster than you can comprehend, and believe me when I say that you will have to allow yourself time for the film to take over. The film blends an age-old Spanish legend with modern-day escapism, and an artist’s whimsy is a central theme it dabbles with which is all the more self-referential. I accept that it is bound to leave many viewers frustrated with all the ‘crazy’ on screen, but I believe this is one of the few films that is a result of an uncompromising vision, one that would seem the director accomplished for himself, and I can appreciate that.
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‘Suspiria’ is a remake of the 1977 original of the same name, and is directed by Luca Guadagnino who made waves at the last awards season with his film ‘Call Me by Your Name’, and if there is one thing you can be sure of about Guadagnino’s films, it is that you are going to come off with an unmistakable sense of atmosphere in his films, be it of a warm Italian summer, or of a neo goth low brow horror virtually devoid of any colours. Led by a fantastic cast in Dakota Johnson, who finally gets to display some acting chops here, and Tilda Swinton, playing not one but three roles perfectly adeptly, ‘Suspiria’ is dark, even literally so, with a near gothic aesthetic, impressively staged dance performances, gut churning body horror, and was thereby understandably polarizing in its reception. Yes, one might get the occasional ‘Black Swan’ vibes from it, but at least that didn’t have an academy run by witches.
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3. Isle of Dogs
If you are privy with Wes Anderson’s work as a director and have liked his work, there is no question that you will love ‘Isle of Dogs’, essentially embodying everything that makes the director so celebrated despite a relatively small filmography. Everything from the film’s animation, to the detail in aesthetic, to the attention and respect to Japan’s ornate culture and people, to the voice acting is novel, except the plot, which is more or less standard. But then again, if you are watching Anderson’s films for reasons more than an immersively staged aesthetic and some crackling character repartee and dialogue, you are probably asking for too much. Easily one of the most fantastically innovative movies this year, purely in terms of treatment.
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‘Border’ is an excellent Swedish production that you absolutely must catch this year. The premise of it defines promising: the film is about Tina, a woman with facial differences who has the unique ability to sense shame, guilt and rage in people through smell, and works at the Customs department putting these to use. She catches the eye of a senior officer and is tasked with tracking down a group of pedophiles responsible for seized child pornography. Enter Vore, with similar facial differences and an air of strange around him, and expectedly so, Tina’s life undergoes a radical, psychological shift.
The film makes full use of the premise to bring a story that reflects the complete opposite of what you might expect out of a typical fantasy or romantic film. One might just argue given the inherent nature of fantasy films as being ‘magical’ and more pleasantly siding than this one, but ‘Border’ subverts any and all genre trappings to deliver a strangely melancholic film, but one that is also surprisingly reflective of the society we live in, simultaneously operating as a ‘high concept’ outing, delivering an all-out blow by the end. Don’t miss it.
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1. Sorry to Bother You
‘Sorry to Bother You’ is an absurdist dark comedy with elements of fantasy, sci-fi, even surrealism, and stands true to its word on at least the first part of its description, absurdism in the world Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) creates and oscillates in between, and delivers wildly on the rest. The rest of it functions effortlessly as a satire and political commentary on virtually everything from the society, to capitalism, working class-ism, racism, and the media. As must be evident by now, it is a daunting task to confine this film to a single genre, leave alone fantasy, such is its experimental narrative and sharp, tongue in cheek commentary, but for rare films like these, it’s better to watch for oneself and decide. An absolute must watch nonetheless, I was in total awe of what I’d seen unfold.
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