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Film The top film trends of 2018, from duelling Rachels to the best and worst of Netflix’s romcom-aissance

For dedicated moviegoers, December can be spent in one of two ways: Catching up on all the awards contenders you can until the sight of a screen provokes instant nausea – or reliving the year by making unexpected (perhaps far-reaching!) connections between everything the year in cinema had to offer. To explore the latter option, The Globe and Mail presents its fourth-annual roundup of the fads and trends gleaned from a year spent alone in the dark.

Best track record: Brian Tyree Henry

Brian Tyree Henry poses for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press

There was a lot of competition here, considering that 2018 offered stellar runs from Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Vice), Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk, Assassination Nation) and Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale) – under-the-radar performers who consistently match the ambitions of their directors, as well as elevating whatever sub-par material they might be stuck with. But this year’s champion is Brian Tyree Henry, who made a huge impression in all-timers Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk, while also providing a reason to keep watching Hotel Artemis and White Boy Rick. And that’s not even counting his voice work in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and his deadpan brilliance on television’s Atlanta.

Worst track record: Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp waves to fans at the Japan premiere of his film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in Tokyo.

Shizuo Kambayashi/The Associated Press

Why are we all collectively tolerating Johnny Depp, toxic prince of stale whimsy? Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow nostalgia can only carry us so far, yet here we are. While audiences had to endure Depp adding a layer of stink to the already-putrid Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, at least most of us were spared the long-delayed London Fields (which never made it to Canadian theatres) and the actor’s Tupac Shakur/Notorious B.I.G. murder conspiracy thriller City of Lies, which was pulled before its August release, with no new date yet announced.

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Best Rachel (tie): Rachel McAdams in Game Night and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Rachel McAdams as Annie and Jason Bateman as Max in Game Night.

Warner Bros.

If the world was just (ha!), Rachel McAdams would net an Academy Award nomination for her turn in Game Night, which proved to be a master class in comedic timing. More likely, competing Rachel (Weisz) will collect awards for her equally hilarious, but Much More Prestigious, performance in The Favourite. Why one film gets awards traction and the other is left for weirdos like me to defend involves a host of somewhat arbitrary factors – timing, the lack of respect mainstream comedies are afforded – but suffice to say it was a very good year for both of the industry’s leading Rachels (especially considering they also starred opposite each other in this past spring’s underseen Disobedience).

Best (and worst) villain: Ben Mendelsohn

Ben Mendelsohn in The Land of Steady Habits.

The Land of Steady Habits proved that Ben Mendelsohn can play characters who aren’t monsters (just mere run-of-the-mill jerks), but mostly, the Australian actor has found steady work playing power-hungry maniacs. The type-casting worked well enough in Ready Player One, with Mendelsohn nearly saving Steven Spielberg’s otherwise chaotic fan-service mess. But there was only so much he could do as the Sheriff of Nottingham in this year’s Robin Hood reboot, which despite coming out the second-last week of November already feels like a relic of some forgotten, godforsaken era (oh wait, that does sound very “2018” … never mind).

Winner of the romcom-aissance: Netflix

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor in To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

About 165 “original” movies in, Netflix has figured out a niche it excels at: the romcom. Mostly neglected by traditional studios, the genre can be great, frothy fun, and feels perfectly suited to the small screen, and anyone hoping for one of those “Netflix and chill” situations I’ve heard so much about. (What goes on during such a thing, I wonder, staring outside my window as it rains gently, Rilo Kiley playing in the background.) This past summer, the streaming giant produced two zippy, zeitgeist-catching hits, Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the latter of which Netflix claims is one of its “most viewed original films ever,” whatever that means (the company rarely produces hard audience data). Swoon!

Loser of the romcom-aissance: Netflix

In keeping with unofficial company policy, the streamer values quantity over quality, meaning that its so-called “Summer of Love” slate also produced the drippy, mostly dreadful romcoms The Kissing Booth, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and Like Father. Is it time to see other streaming services? At the very least, let’s open this relationship up.

Most unexpected exposure: men

Chris Pine stars in Outlaw King.

David Eustace/The Associated Press

It’s tempting to label this year’s preponderance of big-screen full-frontal male nudity a sign of the changing times. Finally, men are being subjected to the same lusty gaze female performers know all too well. Equality! In the sense that everyone is treated as a mere slab of meat for the grinder that is Hollywood. More likely, it’s simply a fluke that audiences became familiar with the penises of Outlaw King’s Chris Pine, Roma’s Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Suspiria’s Mikael Olsson, Fred Kelemen and Tilda Swinton (the latter in a prosthetic way) and Border’s Eva Melander (ditto).

Best movie about pop stardom (three-way tie): A Star Is Born, Vox Lux, Her Smell

Natalie Portman in Vox Lux.

It’s happened before with asteroids, volcanoes and animated ants – a case of accidental Hollywood timing that exposes audiences to several movies about the same narrow topic in the same calendar year. In 2018, that meant we got three different movies about the perils of being a female musician in these modern times. Fortunately, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux and Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell couldn’t be more dissimilar, with each worthy of close attention. What I wouldn’t have given, though, for a few more visions on the same topic courtesy of female filmmakers.

Best Chris: Pine

Chris Pine at the European premiere of Outlaw King in London, U.K., on Oct. 17, 2018.

Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In the continuing battle of the Hollywood Chrises, Pine reigns supreme. Not only because he dropped trou with abandon in the aforementioned Outlaw King, but also due to the general sense of commitment and glee he brings to each of his oft-middling endeavours, including this spring’s A Wrinkle in Time. Up next: The sequel to Wonder Woman and I Am the Night, a delightfully nutty-looking TNT series directed by his Wonder Woman collaborator Patty Jenkins. As for the other Chrises? Evans only popped up briefly in Avengers: Infinity War, Hemsworth flailed in 12 Strong and Bad Times at the El Royale (although he nicely rocked an eye patch in Infinity War), and Pratt barely survived the sludge of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, when not being the most irksome element of Infinity War.

Best dog: Olivia

Move over giant cows, and get the heck outta here, Central Park’s “Hot Duck”! Easily the most entertaining animal of the year was Olivia, the West Highland white terrier who appeared in Widows, Game Night and Netflix’s Insatiable. The furry hat trick is all the more impressive considering Olivia’s critical presence in Widows, in which she inadvertently uncovered a huge plot twist and nearly stole the show from the best human cast assembled this year (Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, the aforementioned Brian Tyree Henry and Cynthia Erivo).

Most accurate title: Bad Times at the El Royale

Chris Hemsworth in a scene from Bad Times at the El Royal.

Kimberley French/The Associated Press

Oof, what a chore this was. Writer-director Drew Goddard assembled a killer cast (Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Erivo) and his last stab at genre dissection was exhilarating fun (Cabin in the Woods), but this retro-tinged crime thriller made sex, murder and hippie cults crushingly boring.

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