2018 has been a strange year in film, but no stranger than any other.
The Oscars embraced interspecies erotica. The idea of the ‘critic-proof’ movie gained far greater credence thanks to a number of panned titles translating into box office gold (Bohemian Rhapsody is still going strong…) and Netflix stole more cinema-worthy titles from their rightful place. In between Hollywood howlers it was easy to sink into the suggestion that 2018 wasn’t a vintage year. That we were in a slump. That things were changing and not for the better.
But compiling this list revealed the opposite to be true. Cramming all the year’s greats into 25 spaces proved increasingly difficult.
A quick word on the notable absentees that didn’t quite make the list this year. BlacKkKlansman, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mission: Impossible: Fallout, Coco, Zama, Sweet Country, A Fantastic Woman. That films of this calibre didn’t make the cut shows what a fantastic year we’ve really had. Here we go then. Numbers 25 to 11 today, the top 10 tomorrow. The best films released in the UK in 2018:
25. A Simple Favour (Paul Feig)
Feig’s comedic twist on tacky 90’s thrillers arrived as a no-stakes offering, mis-sold (likely deliberately) as a serious venture into darker territory. In truth it gave Anna Kendrick a leading role perfectly suited to her persona, while Blake Lively stole the show as a femme fetal for the Millennial set. The story is soapy and absurd, but the approach is playful and knowing. High art? No. But one of the year’s most flat-out enjoyable flicks and so it deserves mention.
24. The Tale (Jennifer Fox)
Jennifer Fox’ remarkable, utterly disquieting film for HBO isn’t something you enjoy. A reconstruction of her own repressed memories, the focal ‘tale’ of her adolescent experiences at a horse riding school and her adult rediscovery of these traumas makes for oppressive and uncomfortable viewing. And so it should. The Tale isn’t easy, but it exemplifies the kind of brave stories that deserve further discussion. After you’ve seen it, you carry it with you.
23. Custody (Xavier Legrand)
Billed as a domestic drama but really a flat-out chilling horror that eschews all of the genre’s identifiable tropes, this debut from Xavier Legrand examines the breakdown of a family and the frightening toxicity of a man incapable of rationally reconciling his feelings. It’s a brief and bracing experience. It’ll be interesting to see how this is followed…
22. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal work to date, his follow-up to Gravity arrived on a wave of critical praise. The film is a love letter to Mexico City in 1970 and an ode to a family maid. If any film of 2018 has the serious clout to make Oscar reconsider straight-to-streaming titles for eligibility, this is it. Roma appeared late in the year, so there’s still a chance you might find it in some scattered cinema listings (probably only in London). If you can, see it large.
21. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)
A story nearly as old as cinema itself. Bradley Cooper updates A Star Is Born, adhering quite closely to the version seen in the 70’s with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisland. He’s good both behind and in front of the camera, but Lady Gaga steals the show as the rising talent with an impeccable voice. It hits a plateau in the second hour, but that first is home to one of the most charismatic meet-cutes of recent years, while that on-stage rendition of the film’s breakout hit “Shallow” is enough to put hairs on end.
20. Wildlife (Paul Dano)
Paul Dano adds another feather to his cap with this assured directorial debut, which explodes the notion of the nuclear family in small town America. The three leads are all exceptional. Jake Gyllenhaal is understated but impressive in a manner that vaguely recalls Brad Pitt’s subtle contribution to The Tree Of Life, Ed Oxenbould is an incredible find as the son we witness the increasingly awkward events through, while Carey Mulligan provokes the viewer as a believably fallible housewife making a series of terrible choices. Another great script from Zoe Kazan.
19. The Shape Of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
Del Toro’s fish tale doffs its cap to many a classic, both new and old, from the Universal monster pictures of yesteryear to the colour-corrected romance of Amelie. It’s a film in love with the movies, just like it’s jovial director. This populist peak may well lead to a retreat into personal, less widely-loved pictures. Time will tell. Regardless, this is one of his best, and the second year in a row that Best Picture at the Oscars actually went to a worthy winner. Could the Academy be on a roll?
18. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
Thoroughbreds should’ve had more of an impact when it hit UK shores earlier this year. I had to catch up, but I’m so very pleased I did. Cory Finley’s icy, dark humoured teen movie is perhaps the best of its kind since Cruel Intentions. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke are pitch-perfect as the wealthy, disaffected protagonists of this macabre tale as they plot together to off a troublesome guardian. In their midst is the late great Anton Yelchin. There’s a mischievous glee to how this all plays out, even as Finley sets himself apart as a director with a clinical eye.
Ramsay’s follow-up to 2011’s We Need To Talk About Kevin disassembles the modern anti-hero trope of the strong, silent type. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe; PTSD-addled hitman for hire whose personality is in free-fall even as he becomes embroiled in political intrigue and an underage sex trafficking ring. Phoenix delivers one of his best ever performances (and there’s strong competition on that score), while Johnny Greenwood’s score percolates all around; a stark contrast to his work with Paul Thomas Anderson.
16. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
You can’t fault Ari Aster for trying. Few horror debuts crackled with as much inspired madness as Hereditary. The film’s strengths come from its insistence of playing against pop horror conventions. Jump scares don’t really exist here. Aster prefers leaving something awful in frame for you to find. Meanwhile, few sound designs of late have shown such intent to discombobulate. Is the hysterical final act too much? Decide for yourself, but take a look.
15. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
Blindspotting flew unfairly under the radar as summer corroded into autumn this year. Showcasing both a genuine affection for Oakland and bags of up and coming talent, the film bottles particular feelings and frustrations of class and race. Don’t let it’s broad, jokey opening deceive you; this is a masterful and bruised piece of work with a lot to say. Missed it at the cinema? Keep an eye out next year for a quiet landing on streaming services. It’s worth the time.
14. Let The Sunshine In (Claire Denis)
Denis’ cinema is a frequently moody, sinister space, rich but enclosed in a grim gloaming… so Let The Sunshine In proved a surprising balm. As close as Denis is likely to get to a ‘romantic comedy’, we follow Juliette Binoche’s Parisian artist in search of true love, navigating the pitfalls of doing so at middle age. Binoche is, of course, incredible. It’s a gentle, rueful, spiky and warm piece of work as its title suggests, and that long final seen is a keeper for the ages. Denis’ next is a sci-fi with Robert Pattinson, obviously, so she isn’t done keeping us guessing…
13. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
Granik’s follow-up to Winter’s Bone is one of the year’s finest, understated treasures. Ben Foster plays a former soldier whose traumas have urged him to turn away from society. He and his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) live illegally in the forest, living respectfully off of the land… until they are discovered and forced back into society. It’s a story of change, or adaptation, told deftly. Catch up if you missed it.
12. Sorry To Bother You (Boots Riley)
Busting into the list is as a late arrival – but supremely overqualified – is Boots Riley’s energetic debut. Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, an Oakland resident who uncovers a bizarre maze of corruption as he rises up the ranks at a call centre. The film takes the baton left in an outstretched hand by Get Out, and runs with it irreverently. A superb supporting cast boost one of the year’s most spirited and original pictures. Get involved.
11. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
This was unexpected. Who’d have thought John Krasinksi, former star of The Office and Away We Go would present us something as thrilling as this? The true heir to the Cloverfield franchise, Krasinski not only directs but stars alongside real-life partner Emily Blunt in this terrific sci-fi horror; a truly cinematic achievement with touches of Spielbergian panache. Sure, there may be plot holes, but allow yourself to get swept up in the spirit of the thing – and, dependent on a respectful audience! – you’ll have a blast.
To be continued…