TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

This Top 10 again is published late because of U.K release delays but I have watched over 80 films in 2018, with the results posted in an incoming post after this. Reviews were missing this year but I have compiled miniature reviews of my Top 10 movies. The reviews will continue normally with the 2019 movie releases. Back to 2018, again like 2017 I found it to be a disappointing year with few great movies but no genuine masterpieces that will be remembered as the decades best.

The films that really didn’t click for me this year that critics and the award season picked up were Bohemian Rhapsody (including Rami Malek’s performance), First Reformed, Vice (minus Christian Bales great performance) Blackkklansman and Shoplifters. For me the biggest disappointments of the year were Mute (which was meant to be Duncan Jones follow up to Moon) and Apostle (which was Gareth Edwards first film since working on The Raid). Both these films had potential but for me ended up being some of the worst films of the year. For me 2018 in cinema was the weakest year of the decade but there was still some very interesting and ambitious movies made that will be remembered.

Once again we have films that didn’t quite get a U.K release in 2018 for me to review including:

High Life (dir. Claire Denis), Ad Astra (dir. James Gray), Radegund (dir. Terrance Malick) again.


 10. ROMA (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

Roma was a film that some hailed a masterpiece and others thought was boring, in my opinion it can be taken either way. The film isn’t Alfonso Cuaron’s best film but it is his most personal film, a film that was created from a memory of his childhood. This memory is recreated with perfect ease and Cuaron has immortalised his memory of Mexico, the wanderlust of his childhood mind and the story of the women who raised him. This message he tries to portray across the film is universal, a message of strong female role models many people around the world grew up with. The cinematography and direction is some of the years best and for Roma Cuaron took over the role of cinematography instead of using his long term collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki. What comes through is Cuaron’s own style of cinematography that never feels relatable to Lubezki’s work in the past. The frames are still and filled with so many details you would need repeat watches to fully embrace the encapsulation Cuaron has tried to create with this memory. The main theme of the films visual was naturalism and each shot felt fluid with the realism coming to its creative peak by the time the beach scene starts rolling.


9.  MID90S (Dir. Jonah Hill)

(Dir. Jonah Hill)

If I’m honest I didn’t have high hopes for Jonah Hill’s directional debut, the story seemed interesting but it came across like a copy of Harmony Korines K.I.D.S . The final result was a complete throwback to growing up in the 90s. It was era before the digital age and connections were creating through real social interactions. These social interactions growing up shape us into the people we become as adults and Jonah Hill completely captured the feeling of wanderlust and the longing to fit in and find your own image. This was a film set with a backdrop of skating and Los Angeles but for me this film resonated past its backdrop, especially as I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Martin Scorsese and Spike Jonze both helped Jonah Hill shape this story and the element that is influential from these directors on Mid90’s is its use of realism. This realism creates a naturalistic setting which makes the film play out like more of a documentary feature. Regardless of these influences it never feels like Jonah Hill borrowed his style from anyone else and instead you get an original organic product. All the performances across the cast were strong and although the reception to this film is mixed I think the film can be an acquired taste. If you ever grew up with a rebellious childhood you can relate Jonah Hill’s exploration of this 90s time capsule he has created.


8. MINDING THE GAP (Dir. Bing Liu)


2018 was a great year for American documentaries, you had Free Solo, Three Identical Strangers and various others depicting real life in America. The one documentary that stood out for me and reached my Top 10 was Minding the Gap, the second skateboarding related feature in my Top 10. However, just like Mid90’s, Minding The Gap is not a film about skateboarding. Instead it is a mediation on the lives of those growing up in the Rust-Belt of America. The film showcases the transformative lives of three teenagers and their progression into adulthood. This look at the different ideals of masculinity and the dangerous terrority of toxic maxculinity and how it can shape a person. Director Bing Liu is one of these three men and his own personal journey is one of the most emotional aspects of the film as he deciphers his own life story through this documentary. This is the documentary that explores the lives of the regular people, stuck in this town full of poverty, unemployment and the lack of prospects for young adults. This is a problem that can be related to many cities around the world and the realism of their coming of age struggle. (


7.  MANDY (Dir. Panos Cosmatos)


Mandy is the film that was the years biggest trip, it was a film that felt like psychedelic ride into the mind of director Panos Cosmatos. With his second feature film Cosmatos gives us a more fluid structured film compared to his first but in no way does that mean this a structured film of any kind. Mandy is like a pulp 80’s revenge thriller on acid with a dream like quality that I haven’t quite seen on film before. Sure there are pacing problems with Cosmatos self indulgent editing and the plot is wafer thin. However, Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography combined with Cosmatos’ vision creates a unique visual experience. Loeb’s use of artificial lighting, dark muddy colours and blood red become reoccurent themes that paint the story through the its visuals. The script itself just becomes a vessel for the films eyes and its originality comes from the world you are transported to, a realm that exists outside of reality. The mystery of Mandy’s world is never revealed but its this mystery that keeps this world alive in memory after watching it. Mandy also features the final score from the late composer Johan Johannson which is exactly how you would expect, full of broody 80’s synths. It was a dark eerie score with flashes of heavy metal which shaped the film into the Rock Opera theme. This was one of the most unique scores of the year and that saying something when its been such a competitive year for original scores. Panos Cosmatos has created something unique from a cliche revenge story plot, it exists in its own world where it isn’t bound by movie troupes creating one of the most immersive experiences of the year.


6.  SUSPIRIA (Dir. Luca Gaudagnino)

(Dir. Luca Gaudagnino)

Its an unpopular opinion but I was never a fan of the original Suspiria, sure it was a very interesting story with amazing cinematography and an iconic score. However, the film itself and its acting let me down which made me interested in seeing another take on the film. Director Luca Gaudagnino took quite a detour from his last film Call Me By Your Name with his first take on a horror film and such an iconic one at that. However, what he created was an uncompromised unique vision. This isn’t your usual horror film, instead what you get is a multi layered, interpretive mediation on the original story. This film was based in the 70’s Berlin , a place still reeling from the after effects of Nazi Germany; and in many ways the themes of Suspiria can be related back to WWII and the generational guilt during this Cold War era. The first shock was the lack of a vibrant colour palette which was replaced for murky, muddy, muted colours. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom creates the paranoia and uncertainty of the story through his cinematography and you can see the effort that is gone in to using the camera as an observer. It is this observer who retains the mystery amongst the viewers and creates this paranoid atmosphere. Another stand out aspect of the film is its great ensemble of female characters especially that of Tilda Swinton who plays three characters in this film and gives one of the years best performances as each one. The final piece in the film was Thom Yorke’s unique score that was an interesting addition to the film but it still felt dissapointing when compared to Goblin’s original. Although, the whole point of this remake was for it to be a complete original vision which it has become. This new version of Suspiria barely has an comparisons to the original aside from its basic plot elements and thats what makes it so unique. The film is rich full of symbolism and the it can be interpreted in many ways from its views on the guilt from Nazi Germany, Cold War era Germany, Feminism and the crazy supernatural elements that show up in the films final act. Suspiria is a unique film that will be studied for years to come and regardless of its fault it becomes a very interesting take on the Horror genre.


5.  FIRST MAN (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

(Dir. Damien Chazelle)

Damien Chazelle has been on a roll with Whiplash and La La Land and now he has again not dissapointed with First Man. Another film about the moon landings, another biopic that no one really wanted to see. The only thing that got me interested in seeing this was the involvement of Damien Chazelle and just like Pablo Larrain with Jackie, you get to see how a talented director can shine a unique light on over done story. This wasn’t a film about the moon landing this was a film about Neil Armstrong himself and the psychoanalysis of his mind preparing to reach the moon. The best thing this film does is encapsulation with its unique clastrophobic visuals and eerie score. Straight away Linus Sandgren has given us the years best cinematography with his documentary like imagery which reminded me of those space travel shots from Interstellar. This film has an intense and memorable opening scene and from this point the cinematography tries to recreate the cockpit of the pilot and the fear and claustraphobia of it all. Never has flight been replicated so realistically before and Sandgren manages to capture Neil Armstrong’s fear of being in this metal box scoring towards the moon with basic 1960’s technology. First Man becomes like a documentary but also becomes a horror movie and aside from Sandgren and Chazelles focus on the horror of space flight you also have a beautiful yet eerie score by Justin Hurwitz. Alongside the amazing sound design inside the space shuttles, Hurwitz has created a beautiful score to accompany the films themes. A stand out track is Quarantine which resonates against the wanderlust of Neil Armstrong and the whole world watching as he was the first man in uncharted territory. Another stand out aspect of this film was its performances, whilst very subtle and nuanced they still managed to reflect the emotions of its characters. Ryan Gosling again gave a very subtle performance but it represented the shock and fear that muted Neil Armstrong before he went on the moon. Claire Foy also gave a subtle standout performance as Mrs Armstrong and showcased her fears of Neil’s mission and the frustration from trying to see the world through his eyes. I went in expecting First Man to be your typical biopic of a story we have all seen before. The final product itself was very different, elevating a small story with the collaboration of the director, cinematographer, composer and actors of this film. You can see strong elements of each of these roles throughout the film which is what makes it unique compared to other films covering the same subject.


4.  ANNIHILATION (Dir. Alex Garland

Alex Garland has always been an interesting writer but recently who has become a director but his previous effort Ex Machina disappointed me. It was a Science Fiction story told on a small scale now Garland has returned with Annihilation which is told on a much larger scale. Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, this story follows a biologist who enters a mysterious “shimmer” that is constantly expanding and has already claimed her husband. Natalie Portman is the lead role here, giving another powerful yet minimalistic performance as Lena. This isn’t one of her best performances but it still one of the best performances of the year that has become memorable for me even though the film was released in early 2018. The whole supporting cast are great as the team who aid Lena into the Shimmer but the real star of the show is the story. Its a mystery that slowly unravels as the plot progresses and once the team enter the Shimmer it tries to enter into the Horror territory. The film is essentially a Science-Fiction film but it doesn’t try to blend genres but at its core its this mystery behind the science that creates this horror. However, the true meaning behind this film becomes the human trauma of each character. Theres many theories and analogies surrounding that shocking ending but essentially Annihilation becomes a unique parable of our own self reflection. It can also be related back to the destruction caused by cancer as The Shimmer itself is refracting, mutating and expanding across the body of the land. Annihilation is a very ambitious Science Fiction film and its this ambiguity that can make its reception very divisive. If you follow the simple storyline from point A to B you may be disappointed but if you look further into the themes VanderMeer and Garland try to channel you will see how under rated this film really is.


3. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. Bradley Cooper)

This tale has been created by Hollywood many times before but in my opinion this is the best it has ever looked. The classic story itself about an alcoholic superstar and his up and coming other half is a beautiful Shakesperian tale that hasn’t been translated well to the big screen. The previous film versions for me have been good films but not great films and this adaption has finally given this old tale justice. The film starts off following the journey of famous country singer Jackson Maine played by the director of this film Bradley Cooper. My main worry for this film was that this was Cooper’s directional debut and sometimes this transition from acting can be hard especially when he placed himself in the lead role. The problem with this film wasn’t its direction, Cooper guided the film with his vision of the story and created a powerful film. Its hard to try create a film of this calibre when the remakes and reboots are usually frowned upon by critics. Opening up the film you see some of the best filmed scenes of this movie which are the live performances the characters recreate on stage with lighting cutting through the picture and a calmness in its erratic camera work. Matthew Libatique takes care of the cinematography of this film and just like his last film Mother!, this is full of claustrophobic close ups that capture a unique sense of atmosphere that he usually creates with Aronofsky films. It was interesting to see his camera work on a film of this genre using  small details create a sense of realism, especially in the musical performances. This has a lot to do by the strong performances with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga giving the best performances of their careers. When it comes to Awards season I think both Cooper and Gaga will be top contenders for their respective Oscars. The passion they portrayed, their natural chemistry and the singing elevated their performances into more than just a portrayal. Lady Gaga is a professional singer but it was refreshing to see Bradley Cooper take up another role as a live singer and be able to stand up to Lady Gaga’s performance. This tale has been created by Hollywood many times before but in my opinion this is the best it has ever looked. In an era where remakes and reboots are disappointing, it was refreshing to see a genuinely powerful film. Matthew Libatique is behind the cinematography of this film and just like his last film mother!, this is full of claustrophobic close ups that capture a unique sense of atmosphere that translated well into the bustle of live performances. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper also give career best performances and their chemistry created some of the best performances of the year. The film can be cliche and the tale has been told many times before, it isn’t an original concept but it translates to a modern era. Bradley Cooper impressed with his directional debut and seeing him equally impress in his acting role shows him working at the peak of his career.


2. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

Barry Jenkins gave us one of the decades best films in 2016 with Moonlight and now he has returned with his follow-up film. If Beale Street Could Talk is based on the famous novel by James Baldwin and it was refreshing to see this literary classic portrayed on the big screen. The film can be compared to Denzel Washington’s Fences, another film based on a literary classic covering themes of the African-American struggle. Beale Street reaches heights Fences didn’t and although very theatrical, it feels like a natural play unfolding slowly. The locations are minimal and the shots are long but once Baldwin captures a conversation he lets Baldwin’s prose carry the film. The script is full of dialogue that is sharp and snappy and something you would expect from Quentin Tarantino. However, the themes of the Black Struggle and racial discrimination is told in the most poetic of ways. The way Jenkins handles his films are quite poetic, they remind me of a Terrance Malick covering racial themes. This again is another film that reaches its heights because of a collaborative effort. Returning from Moonlight you have cinematographer James Laxton and composer Nicholas Britell. The cinematography is dream like as it fluidly follows the character full of close up’s capturing the emotions the two leads portray without even speaking. KiKi Layne and Stephan James take the lead roles and gave amazing performances that are transformative to the times and representational of their literary counterparts. Its an impressive feat for these new actors and they stand out as some of the years best performers. The final part that elevated this film was Nicholas Britell’s score which reached the same heights his score for Moonlight did. The overture and violin drowned out the scenes but instead of masking its emotions it added depth to the image. His scores seem quite sombre and sad but they accurately reflect all the stages of a relationship in this film. From the early days of the characters love you get a score full of wonderment and imagination that slowly slips into heartache as the film goes on. This is a beautiful film and truly an important part of American and African American history that showcases the struggles people lived through only a few generations ago. In modern times this struggle hasn’t ended so this sadly a reflection of modern society as well as that of the 1970’s. Without overdoing the aspects of police brutality and racism Beale Street showed us how these problems can affect anyone and everyone.


1. COLD WAR (Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawel Pawilowski is quickly becoming one of my favourite modern directors after his last film Ida also topped my list back in 2014. For me that was his magnus opus but Cold War is still a groundbreaking film that stood far ahead of its peers this year. The story explores various themes from toxic masculinity and femininity and how these two aspects fall together to represent the toxicity of relationships. The film has the back drop of Cold War era Europe and Pawilowski has perfectly recreated the mood of this time in history and the setting itself becomes a character that is constantly shaping the relationship of this love story. In its short 90 minute run time Pawiowski covers decades of time and covers various themes of love, history and music itself. Music is also a very important aspect of this film and although like most european arthouse films this film features no score. When the music comes through it is beautiful and the films theme song constantly echoes through various scenes and it represents the emotions of the films characters. The visuals just like Pawilowski’s last film Ida feature cinematographer Lukasz Zal who again brings his crisp black and white imagery. The film feels raw, it never feels like a modern movie; instead it transports you back to the 1950’s. This collaboration between Pawilowski and Zal is a perfect combination that creates such a raw image for the screen. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot give career best performances with natural chemistry that we see play out during various era’s. However, it is Kulig’s performance as Zula which becomes hypnotic as Pawilowski employs a male gaze to draw the viewer closer into her trance. This Shakespearian tale exists to display the human emotion of love and how it can shift into obsession and lead to toxicity. The film tries to become more than a cliche love story and its characters represent the toxicity of both the male and female gender. His toxic masculinity is apparent as he chases to possess the relationship he can’t seem to get in his grasps. The female embodiment becomes the role of the femme fatale as Zula uses her sexual powers to bend men to her own will. At the core of this story is essentially this power struggle between both genders as they have both met their toxic equivalents which leads into a toxic relationship. Cold War stands far and above the other films of 2018, for such a brief film it covers various themes that are still relevant in modern times.


Honorable Mentions

Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)

The House That Jack Built (dir. Lars Von Trier)

Isle of Dogs (dir. West Anderson)

The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Burning (dir. Chang-dong Lee)

This was the year of alternative cinema with some great surrealistic films being released such as The House that Jack Built, Suspiria, Mandy and Annihilation. Its very easy to have a misfire when making avante-garde films and it was surprising to see them reaching into my end of year list. Documentaries were very strong this year and in an important political era many eyes were towards American society with film films such as Minding the Gap, Monrovia Indiana and Hale County this Morning this Evening. However, 2017 was definitely the year of Romance as all the Top 3 films of 2018 for me were Romances, Tragic Romances to be precise. It was also the year of the couples chemistry with Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), KiKi Layne/ Stephan James (Beale Street) and Joanna Kulig/ Tomasz Kot (Cold War) all giving amazing performances. This was the year of love and each film told a story of an obstructed love by toxicity, racial tension and inner demons; showcasing the wider spectrum of love through cinema.


Best Director

Nominees

Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War *Winner*

Barry JenkinsIf Beale Street Could Talk

Bradley Cooper  – A Star is Born

Damien Chazelle  – First Man

Alfonso CuaronRoma


Best Cinematography

Nominees

Linus Sandgren – First Man *Winner*

Lukasz Zal – Cold War

James Laxton – If Beale Street Could Talk 

Benjamin Loeb – Mandy

Alfonso CuaronRoma


Best Original Score 

Nominees

Justin Hurwitz – First Man *Winner*

Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk

Johann Johannsson – Mandy 

Thom Yorke – Suspiria 

Anna Meredith – Eighth Grade


Best Actor In A Leading Role

Nominees

Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born *Winner*

William DafoeAt Eternity’s Gate

Christian Bale Vice

Tomasz KotCold War

Ryan GoslingFirst Man 


Best Actress In A Leading Role

Nominees

Lady Gaga – A Star is Born *Winner*

Natalie Portman – Annihilation 

Toni Colette – Hereditary 

Joanna Kulig – Cold War

KiKi Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk


Best Actor In a Supporting Role

Nominees

Daniel Kaluuya – Widows *Winner*

Timothy ChalametBeautiful BoyD

Richard E. Grant  – Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Jake GyllenhaalWildlife

Steven YuenBurning


Best Actress In a Supporting Role

Nominees

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite & Disobedience *Winner*

Emma Stone – The Favourite 

Claire Foy – First Man

Tilda SwintonSuspiria

Amy AdamsVice