12. Set It Up
When Set It Up released in June 2018, the fresh spin on romantic comedy tropes resonated with many viewers. Starring Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell, Claire Scanlon’s film effectively highlights the gap between young professionals and older, more experienced individuals who seem painfully out of touch. Incidentally, character charisma is crucial for Set It Up's premise, and Deutch impressively leads the way as the endearing yet awkward female lead. Supporting players like Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Pete Davidson, and Meredith Hagner all have their moments, but Deutch is the most valuable scene-stealer.
For some viewers, Powell’s Set It Up character may be entirely unlikable, but that’s crucial to the dynamic with Deutch’s Harper Moore. They’re continuously at odds but invested in a mutual goal. In that sense, Set It Up presses hard on genre tropes, as there’s the usual hustle and bustle of big city life, and - surprise - Deutch’s character is an aspiring journalist (a major genre cliche), one who doesn’t seem to actually write much. As a whole, Set It Up works because it feels timely, fresh, and self-aware. For the collective characters, immediate happiness is more important than the next big promotion, and there’s value in appreciating the moment, along with the small, gradual changes that pave the way for a more mature outlook in life.
One one level, Shirkers is exhilarating for its depiction of three young women who make an indie film in Singapore. The production scenes offer insight into the Do-It-Yourself approach, along with all the compromises that must be made while executing a collective creative vision. However, Sandi Tan's Shirkers isn’t focused on the absolute brilliance of the original “Shirkers,” but rather how a man named Georges Cardona took the production footage and never explained why.
Essentially, Shirkers is a dual character study about Cardona and Tan herself. Through interview footage, both subjects are presented as egotistical figures, in entirely different ways, with Cardona being the most enigmatic (and for a good reason). Whereas some film industry figures show no shame while taking advantage of others, Cardona’s documented behavior raises questions about his intent from the beginning. Above all, however, Shirkers celebrates the filmmaking process, and how moving pictures don’t necessarily need complementary audio to tell an effective story.
10. Gerald’s Game
Based on Stephen King's 1992 novel, Gerald's Game is a master class in suspense. Set mostly in a bedroom, the film's narrative examines the plight of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino), who is stuck handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) dies from a heart attack after a sexual foreplay fail. Gerald’s Game succeeds for two big reasons: director Mike Flanagan’s ability to sustain a claustrophobic mood, thus immersing the audience into Jessie’s frame of mind; and Gugino’s rollercoaster performance.
By exploring Jessie’s worst fears in Gerald's Game, Flanagan balances psychological horror with traditional gore. Gugino carries the load and sells the film with her facial expressions alone, however there’s nothing quite like a WTF moment to elevate a film to the next level. That comes when Jessie reaches the moment of truth, and must decide whether she’s going to die or live. Overall, Flanagan displays his virtuosity as a filmmaker via unnerving and apocalyptic images, thus foreshadowing the brilliance he would bring to the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House the following year.