The Best of 2018

The top ten

Phantom Thread
Shoplifters
120BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Suspiria
Annihilation
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Widows
Black Panther
First Man
Lady Bird




Film Of The Year
Phantom Thread

“Despite their varying ways of hiding and protecting themselves, Reynolds and Alma are two of the most intimate and open characters that Anderson has yet presented us with, when wounded and when wicked.”

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. 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.



Shoplifters

“There tends to be a sense of gentile, reserved distance in Kore-Eda’s work. That is slightly infringed upon here. Because of the lack of space, these characters are frequently boxed in together or appear closer than usual. Within arm’s reach.”

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. 



120BPM (Beats Per Minute)

“The activists are mostly in their twenties, and in a strange way the film comes to both celebrate and eulogise youth. Infected or not, dying or not, the people before us all feel the inadequacy of time.”

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.



Suspiria

“Make no mistake, the final act of Suspiria in 2018 contains some crazy shit. You’ll be provoked to either cower or break out in laughter.”

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.



Annihilation

“What makes this all the more impressive is its ability to carry not just cerebral weight but to also pack an emotional punch thanks to Garland’s investment in character.”

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 Annihilation, 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.



The Miseducation of Cameron Post

“Akhavan’s film is a lament for squandered or forsaken youth. Not forsaken in the sense that these minors are sinners; they’re not. No, forsaken in the sense that they are smothered at a time when they should be soaring.”

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.



Widows

Widows is a dark bruise of a film, and in no way the departure for McQueen that it may have first appeared.”

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.



Black Panther

“The spirit within this thing is gigantic and it pays dividends. Can’t we just have 17 more of these?”

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 Black Panther 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.



First Man

“Enigmatic as it is, distant as Armstrong remains, Chazelle’s space race feels like his most personal film yet.”

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.




Lady Bird

“The goals here are to evoke and entertain, and Gerwig – and her entire cast – achieve at both. Smart, wise and pretty, Lady Bird will no doubt give similar pleasures when watched and rewatched down the road.”

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.



The best of the rest…

A Quiet Place
Sorry To Bother You
Leave No Trace
Let The Sunshine In
Blindspotting
Hereditary
You Were Never Really Here
Thoroughbreds
The Shape Of Water
Wildlife
A Star Is Born
Roma
Custody
The Tale
A Simple Favour

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