Back in the room? Perfect! In 2018 some things changed; some things stayed the same. Cinematic universes expanded, Asian representation in American cinema got a few welcome boosts. The movies provided us laughs, thrills, tears and sobering reflections of our tempestuous world.
Without further ado, let’s get on with it. These are my top 10 recommendations of the year. From Sacramento to space travel, into The Expanse and back again. There’s even room for a Marvel movie… The 10 best films released in the UK in 2018.
10. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Gerwig’s celebrated and quasi-autobiographical (if that’s a thing?) directorial debut scored a sensational lead performance from Saorise Ronan, herself surrounded by notable support. Self-conscious indies about the pains of growing up are ten-a-penny, but Lady Bird rises above the ranks with its sense of the specific and the real. Its funny but not really cute, wry without being cloying. The joys are in the smallness. A little gem that will find audiences for years to come.
9. First Man (Damien Chazelle)
First Man is not the film it looked like it would be. This suspected Oscar-bait turned out to be a peculiarly insular piece of work, one that gently probed the nature of living with grief, framing Neil Armstrong’s involvement in the NASA project as a kind of years-in-the-making reconciliation. At home it is sad and distant, when it touches the skies it is immediate and thrilling, shot through with grainy period hues and containing some frankly ballsy choices. The cinematic equivalent of a Boards Of Canada record.
8. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
Superhero movies are rarely taken seriously. Very few receive acclaim from broadsheets and fandoms alike, finding a common ground between style, substance and commercial reach. Ryan Coogler’s movie changed all that with its strong representation, barnstorming female characters and glorious Afro-Futurist production design. Also Michael B Jordan’s turn as Killmonger. This ambitious entry in the mega-bucks Marvel soap opera meant serious business, conquered the box office, and set the bar for future installments very, very high indeed.
7. Widows (Steve McQueen)
Widows works in the opposite direction to most films, moving from closed to open. It’s difficult at first; a world determined by its own rules that doesn’t acquiesce to the viewer, who is left on the back foot. By the end, a whole city has unfurled and its stories spread out of it like freeways. Widows looked to be Steve McQueen on cruise control, dipping his toe in the world of director-for-hire Hollywood. Not a bit of it. The most searing heist movie since Michael Mann’s Heat, McQueen’s Gillian Flynn-spiced caper is dead serious and features several jaw-drop performances from the likes of Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya.
6. The Miseducation Of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan)
Capitalising on the promise of her underseen debut Appropriate Behaviour, Desiree Akhavan confirmed herself as the real deal with Cameron Post. Chloe Grace Moretz has never been better than as the titular character, deposited in at Christian gay conversion therapy camp in the mid 90’s. The film treads deftly, injecting as much humour and zeal as it does accusatory dramatic heft. Kindred in spirit to the also excellent Short Term 12 from a few years ago, this generated very little noise in the UK and deserves your attention.
5. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
Having cut his teeth on the rather excellent Ex Machina (and also Dredd if rumours are to be believed), Alex Garland considerably upped his ambitions with this film, which follows a stellar female cast (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and more) into the unknown, exploring an alien presence in the Florida swampland. Another casualty of the inexorable pull of Netflix, this one really would have benefited from cinematic release – not least for the scope of its finale – and its a measure of its quality that it still rings as a modern sci-fi classic on the small screen.
4. Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino)
Remaking Suspiria seemed like a fool’s errand, but credit to Luca Guadagnino for taking the bones of the venerated original and producing a radically different interpretation, one that meets and confounds an audience’s fears and expectations head-on. The result – whisper it – may well be an improvement on Dario Argento’s style-over-substance classic. Guadagnino’s movie is a tougher, somehow stranger beast. It’s expansive running time divided audiences as much as some of its content, but for those that went with it, a spell was well and truly cast.
A festival darling on the circuit in 2017 that didn’t quite explode as expected on hitting the UK back in the spring, 120 BPM investigates the lives, loves and deaths of AIDS activists in Paris in the early 90’s. It’s a sprawling, coolly heartrending piece of work that more than matches up on repeat visits. An essential, tender and angry experience, dusted with euphoric beauty. If that piques your interest at all, please investigate.
2. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
Hirokazu Kore-Eda is one of the great filmmakers of our times. His predeliction for family tales and understated emotion generates many worthy comparisons to the great Yasujiro Ozu. But Kore-Eda is also his own man. Shoplifters – winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes – is a particularly modern take on family, focusing on a group held together by necessity on the fringes of society. Blood relation takes a backseat to outcast camaraderie. Shoplifters is by turns heartwarming and tragic, while the bittersweet is a mainstay. With perfect performances from its multi-generational cast, this is among the finest in a frequently stunning career. And it’d have taken the top spot if it weren’t for a very special 2017 holdover…
1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The US got Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent masterpiece at the tail end of 2017, giving us the heads up that this was going to be a special one. A beguiling, sinuous examination of OCD and a very curious extraction of what makes an S&M relationship work, Phantom Thread funnels these themes into a 1950’s romance picture about a fusspot dressmaker and his muse. The result is nothing short of phenomenal. Phantom Thread opens with fire playing upon the face of Alma (Vicky Krieps). She is a source of warmth brought into the chilly palette of the House of Woodcock; a place of riotous backhanded dialogue and utmost precision..
Daniel Day-Lewis has called this his swan song and his prissy Reynolds Woodcock is as full-bodied as you would expect. But the women here are more than his equals. Leslie Manville is positively acidic as Reynolds’ managerial sister Cyril. And then there’s the mystifyingly under-praised Krieps. She powers the film as Alma, by turns vulnerable and calculating, and always in love. Love propels Phantom Thread and, in its perfectly played final act, this blooms into something both wicked and wonderful. PTA, acting as his own DP here, captures everything with immaculate elegance. In terms of exactitude and finesse, Reynolds himself would certainly approve.
It’s a modern masterpiece.
Thank you for reading.