There was an era when Hollywood released films without any thought to the actual date and the possible financial windfall. Drama, comedy, horror, adventure, and documentary films — high profile and low — came out throughout the year with every month and season seeing their share of winners and losers.
This began to change in the 1970s when the studios started recognizing their “prestige” releases — the (mostly) dramatic productions they hoped would reap industry awards — would fare better in the fall. The problem was many of these films failed to rake in the (generally) higher box office take of their more audience-friendly comedies and action offerings. With the arrival of “Jaws” in 1975 the film industry came up with a release strategy that continues pretty much unchanged to this day.
From March through July, it’s mostly the tent pole action and comedy franchises and their assorted prequel/sequels. From September through December it’s top-heavy with Oscar bait. January, February, and August serve as the dumping ground for titles that don’t quite fit into either camp usually due to questionable marketability.
Many critics and virtually all critics groups follow Hollywood’s lead by putting their focus on the fall schedule, mostly because these films better suit their tastes and intellect. While summertime fare is largely critic-proof, the fall movies are much more vulnerable and critical accolades or derision can make or break some of these titles. This is the time of year when studios pay very close attention to what critics write and especially their solo and group Top 10 lists which are frequently used on posters and in ads in order to bolster the public perception of the movies’ quality.
Most, but not all, of these Top 10 lists don’t include any titles released before Labor Day and by the time the awards nominations process begins in earnest the following February, movies released in the year’s first half have little to no chance of getting notice. Only four films released before July over the last quarter-century (“Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” and “Crash”) have gone on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
This week, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle announced their Top 5 films of the first half of 2018, the first of its kind for any U.S. critics group. Co-founded in 2017 by myself and film/arts critic Felicia Feaster (Burnaway.com, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), the AFCC is comprised of critics providing content to print, online, TV and radio outlets with a membership which is atypical to that of other groups, a point made all the more clear with their eclectic choices on their Top 5 list (conceived by AFCC member Jason Evans of WCNN).
Taking the number one position on the list is producer/director/co-writer/leading man John Krasinski’s horror thriller “A Quiet Place”* — a film produced for $17 million which has brought in $329 million worldwide and still counting. Co-starring Krasinski’s off-screen wife Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place” (as the title suggests) is a near-silent film which garnered raves by audiences and hearty accolades from critics and currently holds a 95 percent “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
Not faring quite as well with audiences was writer/director Alex Garland’s labyrinthine sci-fi thriller “Annihilation”* based on the book by Jeff VanderMeer. Containing many of the same spare storytelling elements found in Garland’s previous “Ex-Machina,” “Annihilation” (87 percent fresh on RT) was also low on dialogue and special effects and forces the viewer to pay close attention and often to come up with their own narrative conclusions.
Tied with “Annihilation” for second place on the AFCC list is writer/director Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” a morality play of sorts starring Ethan Hawke in a career-defining performance as an alcoholic cleric. Never one to shy away from controversial subject matter or creating morally conflicted characters, Schrader’s thorny film (95 percent on RT) is his finest effort since “Light Sleeper” from 1992.
Claiming fourth prize is director Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” the second highest grossing movie of 2018 and ninth all-time worldwide. Arguably the most culturally significant film released thus far this year, “Black Panther” (97 percent fresh on RT) pulled in new audiences previously uninterested in comic book or super hero adaptations and is regarded by most critics as one of top three finest Marvel Cinematic Universe efforts to date.
Rounding out the top five is “Paddington 2,” the sequel to the 2015 original again directed by Paul King. Rarely do family films make it on to any group’s best-of lists, but “Paddington 2” – at 100 percent on RT – is the highest rated movie on the AFCC list and proves high-quality is not regulated to often-depressing, too-long dramas seeking awards recognition while often losing money and audiences in the process.
All winning films (save for “First Reformed,” scheduled for August 21) are currently available on home video and through various streaming services.
* indicates a film reviewed in full by Michael Clark on Newsmax.com
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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