Image: The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods
This is really one big send up of the horror genre and all of the tropes people love to hate. It’s a slasher film which critiques slasher movie tropes and archetypes, while also leaning into them knowingly. Joss Whedon brings his trademark wit to a bunch of colourful characters, but there’s more to this than you’d ever expect. It’s got one of the most bonkers third acts in any horror film. It should be as well-renowned as Scream.
Annihilation got dumped on Netflix outside the US because of fears it was ‘too intellectual’ by the executives at Paramount last year. It turns out it was one of the best films of 2018 and delivered all of the haunting creepiness you’d expect from Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina. Is it a full-blown horror film? Not exactly, but there’s a scene with a bear which is one of the most disturbing bits of cinema I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately Netflix doesn’t have many films from before the turn of the century, but this is one of the best of them. It’s got a huge cult following for a reason and is now rightly considered one of the best ever films in the genre. Come for John Carpenter’s classic chilling atmosphere, stay for ‘80s Kurt Russell—objectively one of the best things to have graced this planet.
Train to Busan
Before it gets the remake treatment, it’s essential to watch an entry in the long line of great genre films set on trains. We even have another one on this list coming up! It’s yet another example of why Korean cinema is some of the best in the world. Korean cinema is a great rabbit hole to go down, and the zombie thrills of Train to Busan is a good place to start. And you can brag to your friends that you watched it before the inevitable remake comes out (to my disgust).
Piercing is easily one of the weirdest films I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s literally a date movie, and by that I mean it contains one of the most chaotic, messed up first dates you’ll ever see put to screen. In fact, that’s wrong, because you’d have to be psychotic to imagine something like it. It’s very ambiguous in its narrative but it’s loaded with some fun dark humour. The forever underappreciated Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska are fantastic.
Do you like Biblical allegories and violence towards babies? Well then Mother! will likely be your favourite film ever. Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker who doesn’t stray away from tense craziness and Mother! is definitely that. Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for a Razzie for this which says everything about why that joke of an awards show should be forever ignored. It’s disturbing and not the easiest of watches, but once you’re on Aronofsky’s wavelength you just have to go with and embrace it.
If there’s one film you’ve seen on this list, it’s likely Gone Girl, but if I get any chance to praise David Fincher I will obviously do it! If you somehow haven’t seen this you’re in for one of the best thrillers of this decade. It’s loaded with Fincher’s classic cold and precise direction along with brilliant performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The fact that Pike hasn’t gone onto become a bigger star is a crime and should be investigated by the FBI.
It’s Christopher Nolan, so I’m obviously going to recommend this until the day I die! In a filmography with iconic films, The Prestige flies a bit more under the radar—and it shouldn’t. It’s basically an advertisement as to how amazing magic is, but unlike Now You See Me, it’s also an exploration of how desperate the business is and how it can take a toll on oneself. Christian Bale is in reliably brilliant form and Hugh Jackman is in career-best form. It also has David Bowie. Imagine not loving David Bowie!
Image: Phantom Thread
It’s Adam Driver driving a bus, there’s your hook. Watch this simply for Adam Driver who has transformed himself into one of the best actors of his generation. He can do just about everything, and Paterson will only make you appreciate his incredible talents even more.
Only the Brave
Fair warning, I cried like a baby when I saw this in cinemas. Forgetting the bland title, this is an inspirational and gut-wrenching tale about the bond and camaraderie of firefighters. I’m not exactly selling this well, but if you want to be moved, this should do it. It’s also got Miles Teller’s best work outside of Whiplash.
Beasts of No Nation
This is one Netflix original which oddly didn’t blow up—especially considering it’s director Cary Fukunaga’s follow-up to the first season of True Detective. Fukunaga did seven years of work on the screenplay for this; it’s undoubtedly his passion project and it’s an uncompromising look into war’s human cost. It’s not the last time you’ll be seeing his name on this list!
Alfonso Cuaron won the Best Director Oscar at this year’s Oscars for his work on this beautiful film. Just because it has subtitles doesn’t mean you should avoid it, because it’s a truly human film with some of the best visual storytelling I’ve seen in any film over the past year. Cuaron is one of the best directors this century, and while it’s definitely not his most spectacle-filled work, it’s his most personal—and it really shows.
It feels odd for me putting this in the drama section because I find it incredibly funny in a weirdly off-kilter fashion. It’s a lavish period piece about an obsessive dressmaker which contains a delightful mix of drama, comedy and tension which can only be achieved by someone as talented as Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel Day-Lewis is absolutely masterful as expected in what is his final performance ever. He left on a high note!
Bong Joon-ho is one of the best directors working today. Period. This was his first English language film and similar to all of Bong’s work, it’s a hugely entertaining genre film with real thematic substance. It follows a man named Curtis Everett, who leads a revolution on a train which carries the last remnants of humanity. It’s a fantastic story about class struggle which is hugely original and emotional to boot. Chris Evans is superb along with Bong regular Song Kang-ho.
When discussing time travel films, Looper needs to be up near the top of the list. It’s an odd thing to say because it doesn’t really focus on the mechanics of the time travel itself. The story’s hook is an instant sell: a man from the future is sent back in time so the younger version of himself can kill him and then he can close his…loop. Confusing? Not as much as I’ve made it sound. It evolves into a story which deals with the classic concepts of free will versus determinism and the brilliant writer-director Rian Johnson puts all of these heightened concepts of the story into an entertaining package.
Image: Good Time
No, this is not based on the 2012 Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen song! All I know is that Good Time will stress you out, there’s no question about it. I’d go as far to call it one of the most stress-inducing films ever made. The Safdie Brothers construct a concoction of madness about a criminal who goes to break his brother out of jail, and a crazy night ensues. Robert Pattinson gives an astonishing performance, and Oneohtrix Point Never’s pulsating synth-driven score beautifully chaotic. Their upcoming film Uncut Gems is coming to Netflix very soon, look out for it.
It’s one of the bleakest films you’ll see, but it’s also brilliant and is another jewel in master director Denis Villeneuve’s crown. It’s about an FBI agent who teams up with an elite taskforce to take down a major Mexican drug cartel, but that generic hook doesn’t do it justice. It’s atmospheric, grimy and haunting. Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt deliver some of their best work, and cinematographer Roger Deakins proves for the umpteenth time why he’s the best in his field.
I’m technically cheating with this because Cary Fukunaga’s Maniac is not a film—it’s a miniseries. I was so frustrated this barely picked up any traction in 2018, because it’s one of the most creative shows I’ve ever seen. It also reunited Emma Stone and Jonah Hill on screen for the first time since 2007’s Superbad. I just had to put this on the list! Nearly every episode is in a different genre for reasons I don’t want to disclose. This is one which is better to go in blind. I truly can’t wait to see what Fukunaga does with the next entry in the Bond franchise—No Time to Die—next year.
Michael Shannon and Jaeden Martell played father and son in Midnight Special long before they did in Knives Out! It’s about a boy named Alton and his father who have to escape the government after he discovers that Alton has powers. It’s Jeff Nichols’ homage to Steven Spielberg and you can really feel that seeping off the screen.
Image: Begin Again
This is truly one of the best dark comedies of the decade. Emphasis on dark! Martin McDonagh is a master of dark comedy, having also written and directed In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. We follow a writer who is struggling to write a screenplay called—you guessed it—Seven Psychopaths. His friends also steal peoples dogs and they accidentally steal Woody Harrelson’s—who plays a gangster. C’mon, you know you’re sold.
John Carney really made one of the best ever comfort films with Begin Again. It’s filled with pure sincerity, heart and empathy. Along with that, it also has some incredible music. New York City as a setting has never felt more homely. Keira Knightley delivers a stunningly tender performance and Mark Ruffalo is at his rugged best. Get a blanket, cosy up with your partner and do some happy crying. And if you’re forever alone like me, you’ll still get all the wholesome feels anyway.
Ingrid Goes West
Influencers aren’t all as they seem, and that’s what Ingrid Goes West is about. It’s a very timely story filled with legitimately great social commentary. It’s a dark piece of satire and one which is essential for all people in their teens and twenties to watch. It exposes some dark truths, I’ll say that.
The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling’s screams invented cinema. I’ve asked Martin Scorsese personally and he confirmed it as a fact. Shane Black’s film is full of biting wit and incredible one-liners which I’ve been casually quoting for over three years now. The fact this flopped at the box office is a sign of earth’s inevitable doom. Gosling and Crowe are a comedic duo for the ages and the ’70s setting is perfectly realised. If you want laughs, this is exactly what you need. It’s masterful.