Looking back on the last twelve months, there has been some really great stuff happening in almost all corners of movie-making. No matter what your tastes, there really was something for everyone this year.
2018 was a banner year for horror buffs. Heaps of first time film directors made their mark with the likes of A Quiet Man and Hereditary spooking audiences at the cinema. This year also gave us Mandy, Halloween, Annihilation, Unsane and Cam. Whats great is just how different each one of these films is from the next. There are a lot creative and talented minds making horror films these days.
I feel like many of the year’s biggest films – Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Mission Impossible: Fall Out – were outstanding and much better than the standard blockbuster fare of previous years. As the costs involved in making these huge productions continues to soar, you’d think that these films would begin to feel too safe or kinda stale. But there is a creative energy beating at the heart of Mission Impossible: Fallout that I never would have expected for a sixth film in the franchise. A decade ago we saw the likes of Pirates of the Carribean and Transformers have a pretty sharp decline in quality as each instalment rolled out but Marvel have bucked that trend and I find their latest films far superior to their earlier efforts.
Award Season Films
It sucks trying to watch art house movies in Australia. Whilst we get blockbuster movies day and date with every other country in the world, cinema chains usually hold back award-season movies until February or March, months after they’ve released in their country of origin. As a result, a lot of Australians resort to piracy and so their experience of watching art house movies is reduced to seeing some grainy low-res copy that has a FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION watermark stamped across the bottom of the screen.
Happily, it looks like Netflix distribution deals are starting to fix all that. The Coen Brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma both got scooped up by Netflix and arrived in Australia in November and December respectively. They still have cinema distribution deals in place so for those who want the big screen experience, they don’t lose out on that opportunity either. This is a hugely positive development in my eyes.
Weird and Wonderful
This year I saw a film shot entirely on an iPhone (Unsane), a film that is recorded entirely on a computer desktop screen (Searching) and I saw Nicholas Cage running around in his y-fronts, screaming at people and waving a chainsaw around (Mandy). It’s been a great year for creative film making. My pick of the bunch for downright weirdness is Boots Riley’s wonderful Sorry To Bother You. Ostensibly a film about white collar workers struggling at a crappy telesales company, you might think you have an idea what happens at the end of the film but trust me, it really goes places. Track it down and watch it knowing as a little possible for the optimum experience.
A New Generation Picks Up The Slack
If I’m honest, in 2018 a lot of my favourite directors made some pretty average films. Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One), Wes Anderson (Isle of Dogs) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles 2) all released new movies that could charitably be described as ‘not their best work’. There was also a Star Wars movie that people forgot about the week after it launched (Solo) and a sequel to a cult classic that they probably shouldn’t have bothered with (Super Troopers 2).
But the good news is that there were so many amazing films from first time screen writers and directors that it didn’t really bother me. A special tip of the hat to Netflix and production companies like Blumhouse for taking a chance on fresh, unproven talent.
With that said, here it is, my ten favourite films of 2018.
FILM OF THE YEAR
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
“All power to all the people”
There was once a black guy who was a member of the KKK. True story.
This bizarre but true story has been adapted by Spike Lee into BlackKklansman, one of the film industry’s first great polemics about the Trump administration and the roots of his populist movement.
BlackKklansman is an exceptional piece of film making and a real return to form for Spike Lee. It is a particularly well rounded tale that works effectively as a crime drama, a Seventies blaxploitation homage and a dark comedy all at once. The subject matter at the heart of the film -white resentment – is politically charged and highly topical, but Lee successfully walks a tightrope juxtaposing scenes that delve into the intense hatred of the klansman with moments of light and levity as Stallworth and his allies work to infiltrate their organization.
I feel like a lot of people have been sleeping on this film. Of course I’d recommend every film on this list but BlackKklansman is one that I feel has been particularly underappreciated this year. I get the sense its going to be overlooked in the upcoming awards season so I’ll do my little bit to help spread word of mouth about this film. It’s one of the best movies of 2018 and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya
Black Panther deserves every bit of success that comes its way. It is a project that could easily have felt like tokenism but instead this is well and truly a big budget, no-expenses-spared black Marvel super hero film done right.
It has one of the most talented young directors in Hollywood at the helm in Ryan Coogler. It has one of the most talented cast of black actors ever assembled including Chadwick Boseman as the lead. Everything right down to the soundtrack (produced by Kendrick Lamar) and costume design has been arranged as a showcase of black excellence. Considering how popular and far reaching super hero films continue to be, particular to young children, its impossible to overstate how important a film such as this is, that breaks down the monolithic white face of Hollywood heroism.
As far as origin stories go, it’s an absolute corker. Conceptually, Wakanda is a fascinating idea and a key part of the Black Panther mystique. In the super hero pantheon, I can only really think of Gotham City as a setting that is as memorable and integral to the make up of the protagonist. And in Killmonger, they have one of the most exciting and compelling Marvel super villains in years.
Black Panther is a cinematic marvel (pun intended). It’s a long overdue shake up to the status quo and just like Wonder Woman last year, it carried a huge burden and had plenty of people who would have happily seen it fall flat. But Black Panther is a resounding success story. It is a satisfying super hero origin story in its own right and so much more.
Director: Bo Burnham
Writer: Bo Burnham
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Apparently, if you ask a group of kids today what they’d most like to be when they grow up, one of the most popular answers you’ll hear is “Youtube Personality”.
Now, there wasn’t anything like that (or any social media at all) when I was in Middle School but regardless, I found Bo Burnham’s debut feature Eighth Grade about a shy and introverted teenager who aspires to be a Youtube star to be a touching, sincere and achingly relatable film about the anxieties and pressures of adolescence.
Eighth Grade is a bittersweet film of real quality. A lot of the time its characters are either unhappy, unsure of themselves or both. There’s plenty of humour in the film but a lot of it is rooted in sadness, like Charlie Brown never kicking the football or having the nerve to talk to the Red Haired Girl. Kayla is maybe the best cinematic portrayal I’ve seen of a Generation Z kid, trying to fumble their way through the challenges of modern life. Elsie Fisher really delivers an incredible, understated performance.
Without doubt one of my favourite films of the year.
Crazy Rich Asians
Director: Jon M Chu
Writer: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Cast: Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh
“I can’t believe this airport has a butterfly garden and a movie theatre. JFK is just salmonella and despair.”
I saw Crazy Rich Asians nearly four weeks after its cinematic release, which made me a crazy late Asian joining the party.
I came into the screening with extremely high expectations. I read Kevin Kwan’s book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had seen the incredible critical reception it had received online (its only recently dipped below a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The amazing thing is, it delivered on all my hopes and then some.
First and foremost, Crazy Rich Asians is an excellent rom-com, with Constance Wu and Henry Golding having a warm and natural chemistry together. But it is also a film that is consistently funny, a wonderful bit of promotion for visiting Singapore and (at long last) a film that actually resembles the Asian culture I know and grew up in.
Crazy Rich Asians is a landmark film in Hollywood and its commercial and critical success should hopefully make it a bell-weather for more positive roles for Asian actors in Hollywood.
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac
“I don’t know what it wants, or if it wants, but it’ll grow until it encompasses everything”
Annihilation is the most recent movie I think of whenever I need to be reminded of how stupidly hard it is to get a film made and distributed out of Hollywood. Annihilation released earlier this year on Netflix but it only landed there because director Alex Garland was unsuccessful shopping this film around to various film distributors for a cinematic release. That’s right, the guy who did 28 Days Later, The Beach, Ex Machina and Never Let Me Go couldn’t find anyone interested in distributing a sci-fi film with a cast including Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Good thing for us that Netflix is around because it has made the film accessible to a wide audience and guess what, it’s a damn fine movie.
Annihilation is an ambitious and sophisticated sci-fi, that is stylistically unlike most of its contemporaries in the genre. It has a very cerebral and thoughtful tone. I’m not sure how much of that is owed to the original creator’s vision or whether Garland is just a bottomless well of inspiration when it comes to making these films.
A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski
Writer: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Cast: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
“Your father will protect you. Your father will always protect you.”
A Quiet Place lays down the ground rules in the very first scene. Whatever you do – don’t make a sound. If you do, very bad things will happen. A family forages around a decimated supermarket, looking for food and supplies. They communicate in sign language. They tip-toe around in barefoot. They daren’t say a word. Instinctively, the audience follows suit.
I watched A Quiet Place in the company of at least two dozen people. They chatted during the trailers and snacked on popcorn and drinks. Once the opening credits rolled, you could hear a pin drop. For ninety minutes this went on. It was a cinematic experience unlike any other.
A Quiet Place is a gripping monster movie that has a fantastic core idea from which Krasinski is able to ring out the maximum amount of mileage. It already feels like a bonafide horror classic and reminds me stylistically of the best Stephen King tales. In fact the famous horror author publicly endorsed Krasinski and the film, giving it a full throated endorsement after seeing it.
And why not? This is a film that is inch perfect in achieving what it sets out to do. It is a lean, mean ninety minutes and there isn’t a single wasted second on the screen. A Quiet Placestarts out strong and finishes at precisely the right moment, nailing that memorable final shot.
Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
Cast: Eddy Galland, Bobby Shafran, David Kellman
To go into Three Identical Strangers knowing as little as possible is the best way to experience this film. The miraculous tale of how the three were reunited is fascinating but truth be told, it still sounds like the type of story that could be encapsulated in an evening news segment and that would just about cover it.
What makes this documentary so damn fascinating is that the story of the triplets getting reunited is just the beginning. Director Tim Wardle steers the film down a path that explores the idea of nature versus nurture. The triplets have been apart their entire lives, grew up with parents in three different socio-economic backgrounds, and yet they shared an uncanny number of similarities. What makes a man? the film asks. That these three could grow up in such different circumstances and yet be so similar in their interests and their personalities.
Three Identical Strangers is an incredible documentary. It starts as a human interest story. It asks questions about our childhoods and what makes us who we are. Then it unravels an incredible mystery that is at the heart of what happened to these three young men that had me shaking my head in utter disbelief.
A genuine case where truth really is stranger than fiction.
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
“Who’s gonna take care of me when you die?”
Hereditary disorients, unsettles and gets under your skin.
This debut feature from Ari Aster opened to rave reviews on the festival circuit and with good reason. It is an unusual and creepy tale that bucks convention and revels in making its audience uncomfortable. It’s not really clear if there is a main character as the story shifts from the perspective of one family member to another. This is a tale about a family with a major dysfunction but we’re kept in the dark as to its true nature until the very end.
Hereditary works particularly well thanks to the ever reliable presence of Toni Collette. In the hands of lesser actor, its possible that Hereditary couldn’t have worked. But when you have an actor of Collette’s immense talent who is utterly convincing as a shattered soul who is rapidly losing her mind…that’s when the film really goes places and cements itself as one of the best horror films of recent years.
There’s one particularly intense scene from this film that will stay with me for a long time. When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Hereditary is an incredible debut feature. It’s a modern day Rosemary’s Baby.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage
“All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger.”
I think director Martin McDonagh is right. There aren’t enough great female anti-hero characters in film. Of the countless films I’ve seen over the years, I can’t really think of anyone like Three Billboard’s ferocious, take no BS lead Mildred Hayes.
Three Billboards is the funniest film that Martin McDonaugh has made, which is saying something as it stares unblinking at some of the American heartland’s darkest societal challenges. This is a film about institutional police racism. It is about the collapse of industry in small town America. Sexual assault and battery committed by military troops abroad. The church’s attitudes towards child abuse victims. Gun violence. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Domestic violence. You name it.
I lost count at the number of times Three Billboards made me laugh out loud and I guess a big part of it is that it’s not shy about the ground that it treads and there is nothing restrained in Mildred’s verbal evisceration of the men who enable these problems.
Frances McDormand has turned in some amazing performances over the years in Fargo, Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn’t There to name three off the top of my head. Three Billboards is probably her best role yet. If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Writer: Aneesh Chaganty
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing
“I didn’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter.”
Searching is a film that takes a challenging premise – tell a story shot entirely from the perspective of a computer desktop – and makes it work to a far greater degree than should be possible.
The film’s success primarily rides on the strong performance put in by John Cho who is engaging and convincing as a father gradually breaking into a panic as he realizes his daughter has gone missing and may be in trouble.
It’s also a credit to editors Nicholas Johnson and Will Merrick who are able to communicate information to the audience via Skype, Gmail, Google Maps and other apps in a fashion that not only holds the audience’s attention but builds suspense, engages in the occasional bit of misdirection and delivers the thrills of a good old fashioned Hitchcockian mystery movie.
Sorry To Bother You – Boots Riley’s debut feature about a guy who works his way up the ranks of a telesales company is a sharp, visceral skewering of capitalism and is the anti-thesis of Wolf of Wall Street. It’s also the weirdest film I’ve seen in 2018.
Mandy – Nicholas Cage does the full Nicholas Cage performance here. Not to be missed.
Avengers: Infinity War – Honestly, there’s no way this movie should work as well as it does. It has a million characters in it and is the culmination of eighteen super hero movies coming together. Somehow, it actually comes together.
Unsane – An interesting experimental film from Steven Soderbergh who shot this thriller starring Clare Foy entirely on an iPhone
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – This Netflix adaptation of a popular novel would be the best teen film of 2018 if Eighth Grade didn’t exist. Features a star making performance from Noah Centineo
The Shape Of Water – This film got a bit of a backlash after it won Best Picture at the Oscars but you’re gonna get that when a film about a woman in a romantic relationship with a fish becomes a mainstream picture. It’s not my favourite Guillermo Del Toro film but I still found it highly entertaining.
Mission Impossible: Fallout – The final sequence in Mission Impossible Fallout runs for forty five minutes and is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in an action movie. Holy shit guy.
Upgrade – an enthralling sci-fi revenge tale made in Australia.
Ladybird – Saoirse Ronan stars in a funny and heart warming coming of age tale about a teenager in Sacramento that can’t wait to leave home.
Venom – at long last, Venom has his own movie! It’s been a long time coming and this strange horror/comedy/super hero hybrid defied some stinky critical reviews and overachieved at the box office.
Worst Film of 2018
Isle of Dogs – Perhaps to underscore just how important Crazy Rich Asians is, in 2018 we got Isle of Dogs from Wes Anderson, which is about a pack of stray dogs in a fictional version of Japan that has robots, sumo wrestlers, cherry blossoms, haikus and every other tired Japanese cliche you can think of. All of the Japanese characters speak un-subtitled gibberish and are ruled over by an authoritarian tyrant until the film’s only white character saves the day.
Honestly, even setting aside the casually racist undertones of the film, Isle of Dogs is a very creaky, by-the-numbers Wes Anderson production that pales in comparison to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore! or Grand Budapest Hotel. This film gave off the same sort of vibes as those later Tim Burton films where the director is clearly trading on the aesthetic and charm of his earlier works.