From Debra Granik’s flawless drama to Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning fantasy, it’s been quite a ride. See our top 10 list below
Read the Observer critics’ review of 2018 in full here
Once again, it’s the films I couldn’t find space for in my top 10 that tell us what an exciting year it’s been. From Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (with its brilliant Jonny Greenwood score), which opened here in February, to Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite (superb performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), which previews from Boxing Day, 2018 was full of strange wonders. Whether it was Andrew Kötting’s adventurous Lek and the Dogs, Damien Chazelle’s grief-stricken First Man, or Ol Parker’s delightfully daft Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, there were simply too many terrific titles for one list.
The year got off to a flying start with the UK release of a number of awards contenders including Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (starring an Oscar-winning Frances McDormand), Darkest Hour (a wobbly film saved by Gary Oldman’s central performance as Churchill), and Guillermo del Toro’s magical fantasy The Shape of Water, which scooped four Academy Awards, including best picture.
Among the challengers for the forthcoming 91st Academy Awards, A Star Is Born (released here in October) looks a popular favourite. I was impressed by leading man Bradley Cooper’s directorial feature debut, which benefited from an assured turn by Lady Gaga.
Also in the running for best picture is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, an extraordinary black-and-white drama inspired by memories of the director’s own childhood in Mexico City. The film was one of several Netflix-backed pictures (along with the likes of Paul Greengrass’s 22 July, the Coen brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Duncan Jones’s Mute) which became part of an ongoing debate in 2018 about the merits of theatrical screenings versus television streaming.
Having been ruled ineligible for competition in Cannes, Roma skipped the festival and went on to win the Golden Lion at Venice. Elsewhere at Cannes, the Palme d’Or went to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which opened here in November, while Spike Lee’s attention-grabbing BlacKkKlansman took the Grand Prix. I think it’s Lee’s best work since his Oscar-nominated 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls.
On the blockbuster front, Black Panther helped to change the whitewashed face of the modern superhero flick. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler (who made Fruitvale Station and Creed), it was one of the best looking and most entertaining comics-based movies in years. Marvel also scored another money-spinning hit with Avengers: Infinity War – the first instalment in a two-part saga to be concluded in next year’s Avengers: Endgame.
Away from the multiplexes, it was the smaller releases that made 2018 so rewarding. I particularly loved Jeune Femme, the debut feature from Léonor Serraille, which won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes in 2017 and opened here in May. Laetitia Dosch dazzles in this superbly sympathetic and spikily comedic portrait of a young woman on the verge.
There were rave reviews for Sorry to Bother You, the low-budget debut feature from musician-turned-film-maker Boots Riley that became a classic Sundance assisted indie-hit this year. I also swooned over Cold War, Paweł Pawlikowski’s award-winning, black-and-white feature inspired by, and dedicated to, his parents.
It has been an intriguing year for horror, with fans and critics alike fawning over Hereditary, although personally I preferred A Quiet Place, in which Emily Blunt, currently winning hearts in Mary Poppins Returns, excelled.
A new incarnation of Halloween brought the longstanding fright-franchise right up to date this year, while Gaspar Noé’s Climax and Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria both explored the devilish possibilities of dance.
In animation, the year’s runaway hit was Incredibles 2, which, for me, outshone the original. But my heart belongs to Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner, a brilliant adaptation of Deborah Ellis’s much-loved YA novel, which has something of the defiant feminist spirit of the French-Iranian gem Persepolis.
In documentaries, I was riveted by Three Identical Strangers and moved to tears by Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old. But my favourite film of the year was Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, a tale of a father and daughter living off-grid in the forests of the Pacific north-west, which is as understated as it is overwhelming.
Debra Granik’s low-key gem is a textbook example of show-don’t-tell film-making; perfect.
A young girl battles the Taliban in Nora Twomey’s superb animated adaptation of Deborah Ellis’s bestseller.
Viola Davis heads up an ensemble cast to die for in Steve McQueen’s ultra-stylish update of Lynda La Plante’s 80s TV thriller.
Paweł Pawlikowski’s tale of star-crossed lovers falling together and apart through the iron curtain of postwar Europe.
Lynne Ramsay’s psychological anti-thriller, starring Joaquin Phoenix, reconfirms her position as a unique visual poet.
Daniela Vega shines in Sebastián Lelio’s deserving winner of the Oscar for foreign language film.
Splash meets Creature from the Black Lagoon in Guillermo del Toro’s magical fantasy.
One of the real surprise treats of the year – an invigorating and unvarnished character study from Léonor Serraille.
Spike Lee’s stranger-than-fiction tale may be set in the 1970s but it felt urgently relevant and contemporary in 2018.
Peter Jackson breathes new life into 100-year-old footage of the first world war with awe-inspiring results.
The most misjudged comedy of the year. Remember: no dogs is better than Show Dogs!