Features

The best of 2018: Our films of the year

There can be little doubt that 2018 gave cinephiles one of the most diverse and exciting years of the new millenium. It was a year that produced such rich satires as Sorry to Bother YouBlackKklansman and Make Me Up, and where one of the most beloved films explored the intersectionality of ethnicity, class and memory through the story of an indigenous Mixtec maid.

The politics that have long served the subtext of horror in 2018 became explicit text, with offerings such as Assassination Nation and the terrific Netflix film Cam dealing with #MeToo, Trump and online identity theft head on. Was this artistic fecundity related to the era’s political volatility? With contemporary cinema such as this, there can be only one answer to that question.

In many respects, cinematic culture is becoming more fractured – while blockbusters dominate the multiplex, indie and arthouse fare vie for attention on the festival circuit while debates rage over the ‘correct’ spaces to properly access and enjoy films like Roma and Annihilation. With such a multiplicity of cinema cultures, it’s difficult for end-of-year lists such as these to truly reflect the variety of experiences and achievements in film.

With respect to this, in addition to a conventional top 20 list, we have also shared our thoughts on our personal favourites of the year; the honourable mentions that may not have garnered the accolades they deserved, and the personal experiences that collated scores always seem to flatten out.

The Grand Bizarre (dir. Jodie Mack)

Jodie Mack’s feature debut is an experience akin to having your brain re-wired. Those familiar with the animator’s short work will be familiar with a stop-motion presentation of textiles, but in this instance, she has expanded beyond the boundaries of her previous experiments. The Grand Bizarre blends synth-pop beats with a world travelogue of fabrics and swatches, jerkily frothing out of suitcases or flowing along a beachfront. It’s a dizzying visual feast in the first instance but transcends its form as it begins to poke through forms of commerce and communication to overlay and intercut patterns emerging through image, language, music and more. A transfixing tapestry. Ben Nicholson

 The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) 

In a year of dysfunctional leadership, The Favourite was my definite favourite. A political satire of true scatological ire as Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz plot for dominance, while Olivia Coleman shows the pitiful state of an absolute monarch in a state of absolute vulnerability. John Bleasdale

Cold War (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

Paweł Pawlikowski’s latest feature was partly inspired by the tumultuous relationship of his parents. Cold War is memorable for its melancholic mood, Lukasz Zal’s atmospheric cinematography and terrific performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot. Beautifully shot in monochrome, Pawlikowski’s passionate love story is set against Poland’s repressive communist past. Zula (Kulig) and Wiktor (Kot) meet in 1949 during auditions for a state-sponsored folk-music ensemble. Particularly striking is the juxtaposition between the colour and vigour of the troupe – an image the state wanted to project nationally and abroad – and the bleak political landscape they inhabit. A perceptive and powerful drama. Lucy Popescu

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Lords of Chaos  (dir. Jonas Åkerlund)

An unexpected salve of joy, laughter and absurdity is Jonas Akerlund’s Lords of Chaos, based on the origins of Norwegian Black Metal and the darkness inherent to its emergence, as well as the book bearing the same name. Set in an Americanised Oslo and Bergen in the early 1980s, it tells the story of the infamous founders of Norwegian Black Metal. Mayhem, with our unreliable narrator Øystein/Euronymous (Rory Culkin) is our guide through the ever-increasing theatre of farce; suicide, murder and arson all dealt with at an ironic distance, and his bandmate Death, played with humour – and the touch of a young River Phoenix – by Jack Kilmer. The editing zip zaps in the manner of Edgar Wright, or a farcical, more jesting Darren Aronofsky. This distance works to give the film a disjointed feel, the tone always on top of and outside of its subject matter, ready every second with a joke at its expense. Katie Driscoll

Possum  (dir. Matthew Holness)

Matthew HolnessPossum excels because its horrors are original and unimaginable. It shows us the true nature of abuse – that even when we try to cast our minds to the most extreme or shocking thing someone could do or say to you, we can never come close to the reality of physical or sexual abuse. All abuse is original in its horror. Based on Freuds theory of the Uncanny, his story of ugliness centres on Phillip (Sean Harris) and his return to The Terrible Place, in this case, his childhood home, haunted still by his grotesque uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong). Both are puppeteers, but its Phillips manifestation in the form of Possum, his puppet, that envelopes the film in its horror. Slow dread becomes submerged sickness. KD

First Man  (dir. Damien Chazelle)

The one highlight of the year which everyone seemed to miss was Damien Chazelle’s First Man. Ryan Gosling gives the performance of his career as Neil Armstrong, a private man hanging onto his humanity as he disappears into the stratosphere of iconic leadership. Breathtaking visuals. And that score. JB

In Fabric  (dir. Peter Strickland)

Much has been made of late of horror’s acceptance into the mainstream. While debate over the usefulness of terms like ‘post-horror’ grumbles on, there’s no doubt that 2018 was another bumper year for the genre, with blockbuster entries like Hereditary, Netflix’s sex worker thriller Cam, and the cerebral Annihiliation all doing stellar genre work. But for me, Peter Strickland’s fourth film, In Fabric, was the year’s true horror stand out – a glittering, hypnotic neo-giallo with an ineffably British sensibility and an absurd sense of humour. The film’s unexpected mid-point turn may unbalance the whole somewhat, but In Fabric is nevertheless the best horror film of the year. Christopher Machell

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Crazy Rich Asians

There are all manner of reasons that Crazy Rich Asians is an important film but laying questions of representation aside for a moment, it’s also a highly accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable one. Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel brilliantly balances rom-com tropes (both adhered to and subverted) with genuinely interesting characters and engrossing relationship dynamics. They’re amply served by a raft of strong performances (Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina FTW), while Jon M. Chu’s direction brings the requisite glamour and spectacle. Dazzling, funny, deceptively insightful and genuinely charming, Crazy Rich Asians is everything you could want and more. BN

High Life  (dir. Claire Denis)

Decades after their releases, the aesthetics of high-minded science fiction cinema are still informed by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien, begging the question, is there anywhere else for the genre to go at this point? Director Claire Denis’ answer with High Life is quite a lot, actually. Forgoing both the pristine white surfaces of Kubrick and the gothic B-movie chills of Ridley Scott and Paul WS Anderson, Denis superlative entry instead opts for psychosexual textures, right down to the tactile fabrics of her psychotic crew. Bodily pleasures, base desire and animalistic drives are brought into relief against the sterile, formless void – this isn’t just good sci-fi, it’s great cinema. CM

CineVue’s Top 20 Films of 2018

1. Shoplifters  (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

What we said: “The performances are peerless, with Lily Franky again exceptional as the ne’er-do-well father figure whose Fagan-esque tutelage seems inspired as much by childish exuberance as criminal inclinations. Stealing is fun. Sakura Ando, as his life partner, suggests a deeper more moral person: someone who knows she is wrong and tragically understands that a deserved emotional reckoning is coming. The children – as ever – provide such naturalistic performances, the word doesn’t even apply.”

2. Roma  (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

What we said: “It’s fitting that [director Alfonso] Cuarón is also the cinematographer, as Roma is a deeply personal handsome vision. Cuarón is a master at visual storytelling, pointing to a small change in the frame that will be important later on. A scene where the children get into trouble swimming in the ocean is as thrilling and tense as anything in Gravity. The depth of his focus and the black and white photographer that is so crisp and varied as to belie its reductive moniker. Good black and white photography is always in colour and this is as good as it gets. There are hints of Bergman and Fellini in the mix here too.”

3. Happy as Lazzaro  (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)

What we said: “Alice Rohrwacher returns with her remarkable third film about a rural Italian community. Happy as Lazzaro sparkles with soul, enchantment and introspection – it’s no wonder that it took the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes this year.”

4. If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins)

What we said: “Narrative conventions that would hobble a film in less capable hands become near-transcendent moments under Jenkins’ direction. That crutch of the literary adaptation – the voice-over, here delivered by Layne – becomes delicious poetry spilled across a screen dominated by deep browns, rich caramel and swirling smoke. James Laxton’s gorgeous cinematography, in harmony with the costume and set designs, underlines the film’s opening thesis that Black America as a culture and identity springs from the urban environment. It’s difficult not to simply get swept up in the sheer beautiful craft of it all, but underneath the aesthetic pleasures lies a celebration of and rallying cry for black identity”.

5. The Sisters Brothers  (dir. Jaques Audiard)

What we said: “At the heart of the film are two pitch perfect lead performances. Though Reilly and Phoenix don’t look particularly like brothers, they certainly behave like them. Their endless teasing and bickering make for some of the best moments in the film. Reilly is the put-upon elder brother who feels he needs to protect Charlie from his worst excesses, but even Charlie also has something like a dirty innocence. He’s a wounded soul whose blank incomprehension when he finds one of his victims praying is both funny and horrifying: “What are you talking about?” he says before delivering the coup de grace.”

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6. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

What we said: “At the film’s centre are three irresistable performances. Colman transforms herself into a wretched, insecure tantrum-throwing baby, her chin flecked with vomit as she compulsively crams hunks of blue cheese into her face. Yet among the venal power struggles moving around her frail figure, Anne somehow retains something approaching sympathy. Meanwhile, Stone gives the performance of her career, a creature equal parts venomous, scheming and desirable, her mannerisms are peppered with Lanthimos’ typical moments of deadpan surreality.”

7. Cold War (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

What we said: “[Director Pawel] Pawlikowski challenges the naïve notion that for those living behind the Iron Curtain, happiness simply meant making it to the West. Neither Wiktor nor Zula are able to truly settle down in Paris, despite Wiktor’s connections in the film and music industries and Zula’s promising beginnings as a French chanteuse. In one especially beautiful sequence in what is an extremely beautifully film, the couple take a silent midnight boat ride down the Seine. As they float past Paris’ iconic monuments, the camera itself seems almost alienated by the grandeur of the architecture, as if to say that these émigres will never truly feel at home here.

=8. Suspiria  (dir. Luca Guadagnino)

What we said: “What do we want from our big-screen remakes, if we even permit their very existence? In the case of Suspiria, should we really have expected – from an Oscar-nominated filmmaker – the same exact runtime, the same exact tone, and to have rehired the same exact actors playing the same exact roles but 40 years younger? From the very outset, Guadagnino simultaneously confirms and subverts our expectations, retaining the overall plot while inflecting it with an air of Baader-Meinhof-era paranoia.”

=8. Border (dir. Ali Abbasi)

What we said: “Based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist – the author of Let the Right One In – Border is a grown-up fairytale about self-discovery, evil and love. From Angela Carter to Shrek, outsiders, ogres, werewolves and trolls have been given their own perspectives and allowed to voice the complaint that it is humanity that is truly monstrous. But here the argument gets a new witty twist and the surprises are excellently produced.”

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=8. The Grand Bizarre  (dir. Jodie Mack)

=8. Ray & Liz  (dir. Richard Billingham)

=12. Climax  (dir. Gaspar Noé)

=12. Make Me Up  (dir. Rachel Maclean)

=12. An Elephant Sitting Still  (dir. Bo Hu)

=12. Vox Lux  (dir. Brady Corbet)

=16. Widows  (dir. Steve McQueen)

=16. TERROR NULLIUS  (dir. Soda_Jerk)

=16. Lords of Chaos  (dir. Jonas Åkerlund

=16. Leave No Trace  (dir. Debra Granik)

=16. A Star is Born  (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Daniel Green

1. Roma
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
3. Burning
4. The Sisters Brothers
5. Shoplifters

Christopher Machell

1. Shoplifters
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
3. Roma
4. The Favourite
5. Widows

Ben Nicholson

1. The Grand Bizarre
2. Make Me Up
3. TERROR NULLIUS
4. Happy as Lazzaro
5. Consensual Healing

Patrick Gamble

1. Ray & Liz
2. An Elephant Sitting Still
3. Happy as Lazzaro
4. The Sun Quartet
5. A Family Tour

Katie Driscoll

1. Suspiria
2. Climax
3. Lords of Chaos
4. Mandy
5. Wildlife

John Bleasdale

1. Border
2. Vox Lux
3. The Sisters Brothers
4. The Favourite
5. First Man

Caitlin Quinlan

1. Happy as Lazzaro
2. Roma
3. A Star is Born
4. Shoplifters
5. The Old Man & The Gun