FYI: I like what I like, I very much call this “my favourite” not “the best.” Art is of course subjective.
Wow, what a fantastic year 2018 was. Honestly I loved this year in film. My top 10 was so overflowing I decided to give a Top 25. Even then I couldn’t fit in some films I really loved like Upgrade, American Animals, Leave No Trace, One Cut of the Dead, Support the Girls, Searching, The House with a Clock in its Walls or Never Goin’ Back among others.
A shocking number of my Top 10 could’ve been my number one in any other year.
But first just for fun, here’s 5 appallingly awful films that deserve everyone’s disdain. I only walked out of one film this year, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which was mostly just out of boredom and disinterest. These were the 5 films I couldn’t walk out of because I hated them so much I had finish them just so I’d feel justified in criticizing them.
5 WORST FILMS I SAW THIS YEAR:
THE PREDATOR – It was one of the most tampered incoherent messes I watched all year. It was practically a sci-fi Suicide Squad.
MUTE – A boring tedious piece of crap that feels like Duncan Jones wrote it when he was 14 and never revised it.
TERMINAL – What was this movie? It was like someone decided to remake all the awful Tarantino rip-off movies from the 90s simultaneously.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – A movie that does a disservice to Freddie Mercury while stroking the ego of his living band mates (the executive producers of the movie) and offering absolutely nothing of substance. And just to top it all off it’s directed by a known sexual predator.
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM – Sigh. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The mind boggling awfulness of the ideas in this movie are so shocking I don’t even know where to begin. But my main gripe is how it took a classic about humans interacting with dinosaurs which treated them like real creatures and turned the dinosaurs into dumb boring movie monsters interchangeable with any lame B-movie creatures. ALSO SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO THE MAKERS OF THESE MOVIES WHAT DNA ACTUALLY IS!!!
NOW ONTO THE GOOD STUFF!!
25. MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN
I know, I know but if there was a film released this year that better understood the art of musical numbers in film and had a better sense of outrageous fun and pure joyous energy, I certainly didn’t see it. And full disclosure, I hate the original and have no strong opinion on ABBA so it’s not even a film I’m naturally in the tank for. I watched this on a plane and enjoyed it so much I watched it a second time on the next fight. Lily James is charm personified in it.
Normally I would hate someone saying the phrase “telling a human story” but if there was film this year it applied to, it’s this one. Great performances mixed with fantastically gentle filmmaking that highlights what Sebastián Lelio does best, personal stories and subtle drama.
23. EIGHTH GRADE
This was truly the most unsettling film of the year for me. What a fantastic debut from Bo Burnham. This film made a teenage pool party more uncomfortable to sit through then anything in any horror film released this year. One of the best films about adolescence ever made.
It is an old school fantasy epic with the packaging of a super hero movie. James Wan puts almost all of his peers to shame with his incredible grasp of action and scale, effortless making what I think is the best super hero film of the year (even though I think it wears that genre coat pretty loosely).
21. HEARTS BEAT LOUD
One of the sweetest little movies I saw all year. It is a lovely father-daughter story with charm and angst in all the right places. I can only hope someday someone will find Nick Offerman the vehicle that gets him the awards attention he deserves. Also this is the rare movie about a fake band that has the goods when it comes to the original songs. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since.
20. COLD WAR
This has the best black and white cinematography of any film this year (take that Roma). Effortlessly moves through years, countries and political regimes as it charts a mismatched romance in just 90 minutes. This is beautiful economic filmmaking.
A drug fuelled trip into an 80’s heavy metal poster with all the weirdness, hilarity and gore that should suggest. Nicolas Cage was born to play this role. I have no idea if I totally got it, or if there was anything to get in the first place but it is a film that is hard not to feel fascinated by. And if there was any justice in the world this would be in contention for the best cinematography Oscar.
18. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
This is a film that is filled with so many intriguing musings on the old west both as a historical place and as a piece of the American mythology. It is a movie that is often so cruel as to be off putting but at the same time so broad as to be low brow. Basically it’s everything about what’s weird, wonderful and genius about the Coen Brothers perfectly distilled. A shallow reading could be enough to say they “believe in nothing.” But unpicking the weird morality and strange commentary is half the fun.
17. CRAZY RICH ASIANS
This is just a great fun romantic comedy (something we’ve been missing). But as sweet as the central couple is, this really a story of the battle of wills between two strong women with two great performances by Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh.
16. GAME NIGHT
One of the best directed comedy films of the year. Exciting flashy visuals mixed with a game cast and fun premise. If only more studio comedies were like this.
15. THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
Godard famously said all you needed to make a movie was a girl and gun. David Lowery takes it a slightly different direction but gives Robert Redford the career swan song so few screen legends get. It feels like a homage to the films of New Hollywood while ruminating on the classic themes of the outlaw and frontier.
14. THUNDER ROAD
Jim Cummings pulled off something no young first-time filmmaker should by right be able to pull off (unless maybe you’re Orson Welles). He wrote, directed and starred in a film that is not some kind of tedious vanity project. Rather it is a fascinating, funny and heartbreaking character portrait with incredibly ambitious controlled long takes and beautifully observed human moments. This is basically what every low-budget indie director should aspire to.
13. MINDING THE GAP
This is a film that sneaks up on you. You think it’s just some guy following around his friends, making the sort of content that you could just go watch on YouTube. Then out of nowhere the documentary turns into something deeper, ambitious and quite moving. Some of the best editing you will see all year.
12. SET IT UP
What can I say, I love frothy romantic movies and this feels like such a wonderful throwback to the silly high-concept romantic comedies of my youth, I was powerless to be anything but utterly charmed by it. Glenn Powell and Zoey Deutch are so watchable I would happily see them slowly realize they’re in love with each other over and over in more movies for decades to come.
It’s a Gasper Noe film, but it’s kind of a musical and it’s kind of a horror film. If like me that description was enough to get you in the cinema on the first day it was out, you’ll totally understand how this film got this high on my list.
10. LOVE. SIMON
So it did feel like this was the year that the romantic comedy made a bit of a come back and I’m very much on board for it. But I think this film represented an interesting step in the genre, a mainstream film that was fluffy and broad while representing a homosexual character. There’s true progress in these stories no longer being relegated to indies and worthy dramas, but expanding into other genres and mainstream light entertainment. It is utterly charming and surprisingly heartfelt.
9. A STAR IS BORN
Truly a film I never would’ve guessed would’ve been on my list, but I was so completely blown away by the performances and chemistry of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I was also so pleasantly surprised by the sure handed direction and the gravity and subtlety that went into the portrayal of alcoholism. One of the best debuts I’ve seen an actor turned director make since Ben Affleck. Bradley Cooper is on the precipice of becoming the most powerful man in Hollywood and judging from this, he kind of deserves it.
8. THE FAVOURITE
This is a film that brings a truly black heart and intense perversion to English history. It ditches the pretty romanticism and instead revels in the grotesque nature of nobility and class. It’s absurd, funny and disturbing all in equal measure. It looks amazing and the three leading performances are fantastic.
7. FIRST REFORMED
I thought Paul Schrader was done. I was wrong. Ethan Hawke gives a career best performance. This small film packs such a punch and is such a fascinating rumination on loss, the environment, religion and terrorism. It is a truly painful movie about a man desperate in his quest for meaning and stands alongside Taxi Driver as one Schrader’s most devastating pieces of work.
This film managed one of the most shocking moments of the year. But if that was all it was, it wouldn’t be this high on my list. Fantastic visual storytelling, a sorely underappreciated central performance from Toni Collette and an ending that leads to some fascinating ponderings on the nature of mental illness and the curse of genetics. This was a truly intense horror experience, with some great intellectual weight.
Much like Paul Schrader, Spike Lee proves he’s not done yet. Like the best of his films, this story provides a soapbox for Lee to ruminate on so many political ideas and social questions. And like the best of his work, it has no real answer, it simply dumps a crazy concoction of thrills, laughs, heavy drama and intensely powerful images in your lap and asks you to go home and think about it. He is truly one of the great American filmmakers and with Blackkklansman he once again shows us why.
In a year that has seen a lot of socially conscious films about the black experience, this film seems to have been unfairly lost in the shuffle, which is a shame. Blindspotting is a film that is so charming and entertaining as a hangout movie with the chemistry of the writer/stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal so intoxicating, the heavy implications and social ideas sneak up on you until they become too intense for you to ignore. This film truly was a wonderful gem and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
3. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT
I mentioned earlier that James Wan put almost all his contemporaries in the blockbuster stakes to shame with Aquaman. There is one exception and that is Christopher McQuarrie. Mission Impossible: Fallout practically elevates action cinema to an art form as it strives to essentially re-invent the wheel. While everyone else is shooting on green screen and making films where the fantastical spectacle leaves the audience apathetic to the physics and challenge of stunts in filmmaking, this franchise brings a level of tactile reality with it’s incredible achievements in stunt work. This is incredible grandiose filmmaking on the level of old school Hollywood epics. Basically what David Lean does for scale in vistas and battles, McQuarrie and Cruise do for action. This film deserves a special achievement Oscar for the things it did for cinema this year.
2. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
An incredible exercise in atmosphere, Lynn Ramsey takes a pulp story and elevates it to art. This is fascinating counter programming to a movie like Taken. Ramsey is interested in inner turmoil and the repercussions of violence as she denies the audience the visceral thrill of action. Leaving just the end result in beautifully brutal images. This is a film you bathe in and ponder for days after.
A truly singular voice in cinema and Bodied is a truly singular film. No studio would ever fund this and it’s only through the connections and mad genius (and personal wealth) of Joseph Kahn that we get to see Bodied. There is quite possibly not a single film that better sums up and explores the culture war this year, doing it through the incredible dynamic world of battle rap. The film touches on race, gender, sexuality and politics all with the reckless abandon few filmmakers would have the balls for. And at the same time it comes wrapped in the same glossy, visually creative package that has made Kahn such a sought after music video and commercial auteur. Kahn is truly one of the most unique and underrated voices in American cinema at the moment and I only hope we don’t have to wait so long until his next film.