It’s always difficult to scale down a list of the best films of the year, yet here I am doing just that for your viewing pleasure. Throughout 2018 there were a lot of great films I had the pleasure of watching; after much deliberation, I ended up choosing ten movies which I can happily recommend from a very good year in film. But it’s only fair to give some honourable mentions first.
No film in 2018 felt more like a cry for help by its director than Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. It discusses a fascinating and relevant topic—that of climate change—along with being a character study of a broken man who’s holding past sins and present doubts. Ethan Hawke’s magnificent performance which is inflected with confusion, loss, and desperation. It’s without a doubt one of the most visually stunning and thought-provoking films I’ve seen in a long time.
Steve McQueen’s Widows was an absolutely fierce film about desperate women having to execute a frantic heist. With some brilliant social commentary from a screenplay by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn, it’s a heist thriller with emotional resonance and thematic substance.
Hereditary is one of the most dread-filled films I’ve ever experienced in a cinema. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of the year in this film, which deals with the pain of inherited trauma. I will warn you, no jump-scare is as terrifying as the car scene in what is 2018’s best horror film.
Lynne Ramsay, once again, isn’t receiving enough recognition for her latest film—You Were Never Really Here. It features a pain-stricken performance by the ever-brilliant Joaquin Phoenix, some of the most striking cinematography of the year and a brilliantly chaotic score from Jonny Greenwood.
American Animals truly speaks to the young generation of today, delving into the thematic idea of having a life purpose and the emptiness we, as youth, feel while we’re transitioning into adulthood and realise that we have a whole life ahead of us. All of this is packaged in a humourous, yet heartbreaking heist film.
If Beale Street Could Talk is Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Best Picture winner Moonlight and he delivers a romantic tale which delves into racial tension surrounding African-Americans in ‘70s Harlem. It contains a stellar score from Nicholas Britell and typically intimate direction from Jenkins.
Alas, we come to the best of the best—and, just to clarify, the below list is in alphabetical order and not ranked.
Let’s do it!
I still think it’s a tragedy that non-US audiences—including myself—didn’t get to see Alex Garland’s latest in theatres. Annihilation is Garland’s follow-up to his scintillating debut Ex Machina, and he delivered a cerebral sci-fi creation once again with one of the most psychedelic and gorgeous films of 2018. It may look like a sci-fi-creature-feature on the surface, but what makes it so much more is its thematic deep dive into differing self-destructive tendencies we humans face throughout our lives. It features the year’s second most iconic cinematic bear (you’ll know the most iconic later) and a showstopping performance from Natalie Portman. It’s on Netflix, so go and watch it immediately.
There wasn’t a film in 2018 which seared itself permanently into my brain stronger than Blindspotting. It pitch-perfectly discusses the issues of gentrification, police brutality and racial identity in a script co-written by its two lead stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal over a period of ten years. Carlos Lopez Estrada—in his debut feature film—delivers crazy surrealism combined with some of the most seamless melding of comedy and drama I’ve seen in recent memory. In a perfect world, Daveed Diggs would be in the conversation for the Best Actor Oscar and his script with Casal locked in for Best Original Screenplay. I’ll happily spread its praises by saying it’s poignant, hilarious, emotionally raw and a flat-out masterpiece.
Burning is a film that builds and builds over its 148-minute runtime evolving into one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in recent years. I will warn you, this isn’t a conventional thriller by any standards. It begins as a simple narrative where a quiet, humble man loses his grasp on his girlfriend to a charismatic and mysterious man, but it evolves into something far more sinister and tension-filled. Writer-director Lee Chang-dong brings a large layer of ambiguity to the narrative, making each of our three lead characters more compelling. Steven Yuen delivers one of 2018’s best performances along with stellar work from Yoo Ah-in and Jeon Jong-seo. It offers up interesting commentary regarding social class in South Korea and its heavily symbolic narrative had my brain bending immediately after viewing. Chang-dong delivers a film which you’ll want to unpack and dissect, and I certainly want to watch it again … and again.
This is the type of film which could’ve so easily fallen into the endless clichés of the teen coming-of-age subgenre, yet writer-director Bo Burnham delivers a refreshingly authentic film which taps into the zeitgeist of teens today. In these types of films, we expect specific story beats to take place, but Burnham subverts them in the most fantastic ways. Elsie Fisher delivers arguably the biggest breakout performance of the year as Kayla—a lead character in a teen movie that actually feels like an outsider. Fisher portrays Kayla with all of the awkwardness that makes her so endearing to the audience; however, you understand her when she unrightfully gets angry with her father—played with pure sincerity by Josh Hamilton. It’ll make you laugh, cringe and cry—all in the best ways possible.
Whiplash, La La Land and now First Man; I’m confident Damien Chazelle can do no wrong as a director. Christopher Nolan described First Man as “the most extroverted story ever told in the most intimate way” and he couldn’t be more correct. Chazelle completely diverts from his La La Land style—which contained gorgeous wides and a constantly flowing camera—into something far dirtier and more immersive. As he shoots a large chunk of the film with handheld, we get a grounded look into the life of the insular Neil Armstrong. Portrayed with perfect subtlety and emotional reservation by an always in-form Ryan Gosling, we follow Neil from 1961 all the way to the famous Moon Landing in 1969. Claire Foy is brilliant as Neil’s wife Janet and Justin Hurwitz delivers one of 2018’s best scores. It also contained one of the most jaw-dropping third acts I’ve ever seen in a cinema. It’s truly (inter)stellar.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The Mission: Impossible series rightfully cements itself as the best blockbuster franchise today, delivering one of the best action films ever made. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie returned after helming the fifth instalment—Rogue Nation—and managed to somehow top that film. Fallout delivers some of the greatest practical action you’ll ever have the pleasure to witness, surrounded by a story which fits into your usual ‘save the world’ mould, but manages to dissect the psyche of Ethan Hunt as a character and deliver some of the franchise’s most emotional moments. Tom Cruise is in his finest form executing some of the most insane stunts you’ll ever see. Yes, he actually did a HALO Jump and learned to fly a helicopter for this film! Shot incredibly by Annihilation cinematographer Rob Hardy, it’s the best-looking blockbuster of the year, containing a suitably moody and atmospheric visual look. If you simply want to be entertained, Fallout is this year’s film for you.
Paddington 2Now this is the best cinematic bear of 2018. Paul King once again takes heavy inspiration from Wes Anderson’s visual aesthetic and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie in what I’m happy to call one of the best family films of all time. Paddington 2 takes everything that was great about the first film and kicks it up a notch. Paddington is one of cinema’s most endearing protagonists, promoting kindness and never being looked down for his naivety. King and Simon Farnaby deliver one of 2018’s best screenplays containing some of the best set-ups and payoffs of any film I’ve seen in years. Hugh Grant delivers possibly his best performance as a washed-up actor with incredible range (the self-awareness is real) and Ben Whishaw continues to provide some of the best voice-work in film today as the titular bear. I can hear everyone saying, “it’s just a kids’ movie”—and I understand why you say that, but you’re wrong. This is a film for everyone.
Legendary filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron returned five years after receiving the Best Director nod for his work on Gravity and delivered a beautiful film. Instead of Cuaron employing his usual subjective direction with frequent use of Steadicam, he employs an omniscient presence behind the camera in a film which was formed from his childhood memories growing up in 1970’s Mexico—which is where the film is set. It’s a film driven by the ups and downs of life, seen through the life of Cleo—a maid for a wealthy family. There’s no lazy employment of cheap sentiment, and despite Cuaron’s objectivity behind the camera, it feels incredibly intimate—just like peering into someone else’s memories. Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo with beautiful reservation, innocence and vulnerability, making her one of 2018’s most likable and connectable protagonists. This was a beautiful film to experience in the cinema, but luckily for you it’s on Netflix—so there’s no excuse not to watch it!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Twenty-eighteen was easily the biggest year ever for superhero cinema. Despite Avengers: Infinity War assembling almost every MCU character and Aquaman showing us a giant octopus playing the drums, it was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which stood out amongst the pack. It’s rare that I watch a film and think it will change the industry; but while I was experiencing this masterwork for the first time, I had a feeling many studios would see it and want to replicate its stunning animation style—which combines various forms of animation and frame rate differentials to give the film a distinctly comic-book like visual flair. It understands that Spider-Man is a character who constantly gets beaten down, yet gets back up again. While it could be considered a kids’ film, it has many emotional and dark moments that many superhero films don’t even try to tackle. It also contains excellent voice work from every member of its cast. We don’t need another Spider-Man reboot, I thought, but then I saw this.
First things first, this is no ordinary period drama. Filled with profanity, sex, deviance and decadence, Yorgos Lanthimos injects his signature brand of caustic wit into a story filled with tragedy. In short, this film has a classic rom-com setup: two people are vying for the love and affection of the same person and will do anything to gain said affection—even if it means going to very dark places. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are the Holy Trinity of 2018 cinema delivering some of the best performances of the year. Stone has never been better as the sweet, yet devious Abigail, and Weisz is at her seductive best as Abigail’s cousin Sarah Churchill. Colman is transcendent as Queen Anne. You’ll loathe her, sympathise with her, adore her and loathe her again all throughout as she transitions between varying emotional beats with ease. Lanthimos’s frequent use of wide-angle lenses (as evidenced in the above screenshot), helps give the film its desired offbeat vibe, and its wit-filled screenplay only solidifies that. Weisz also utters the term “French whore’s vajuju”, so if you’re into that, The Favourite will be one of your favourites of 2018.