The 10 best films of 2018 –

The Collection
Co-written and directed by John Krasinski, who also stars with his wife, Emily ‘Mary Poppins’ Blunt, A Quiet Place is an absolutely nerve-racking survivalist horror movie that makes cunning use of its devilish high concept: alien monsters have wiped out most of humanity, but because they are sightless, they hunt their quarry by hearing the sounds they made. What this means is that the hero, the heroine and their children have to speak in sign language and walk with bare feet; even a dropped cup or a loud laugh may result in gruesome, almost instant death. Krasinski takes the B-movie concept – and the threat to the family – seriously. He keeps finding new ways to torture the characters and the viewers, but they all arise logically from the premise and the setting. A Quiet Place has you chuckling at its cleverness while squirming with constant tension. (Credit: Platinum Dunes)
From a certain angle, the heroes of Shoplifters are not just shoplifters: they are fraudsters, child abductors, and more besides. But Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Dickensian sociopolitical drama, the winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, takes a more sympathetic view. It introduces three generations of a loving family, headed by Osamu (Lily Franky) and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando). Squeezed into a cramped Tokyo bungalow, they supplement their paltry legal earnings with small scams and thefts, and while Kore-eda doesn’t romanticise their crimes, his layered writing and wonderful cast show how gentle and well-meaning the family members are. Eventually, their actions appear necessary, even heroic, and their setbacks will have the most hard-hearted viewer sniffling. (Credit: AOI Promotion)
The very definition of two lovers who can’t live with each other but can’t live without each other, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) meet in Poland in the 1950s when Wiktor is recruiting singers and musicians for a government-sponsored folk ensemble. Their passionate affair takes them back and forth across the Iron Curtain, but, as much as fun as they have in the jazz clubs and concert halls along the way, they are never quite content. Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Ida is loosely based on his parents’ memories (“They were both strong, wonderful people,” he has said, “but as a couple they were a never-ending disaster.”) But, more broadly, Cold War is both a shrewd examination of a historical period and a timely commentary on immigrant life. Besides, no other film this year has had such ravishing black-and-white photography or such a range of catchy songs. (Credit: Opus Film)
The story of a young couple (Stephan James, KiKi Layne) torn apart by poverty, police brutality and institutionalised racism, Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel could well have been an angry polemic. But, actually, If Beale Street Could Talk is a tender ballad in praise of the healing love that comes from romantic partners, family members and friends. “I dig people who love each other,” says Dave Franco’s character. “Black, white, green, purple, doesn’t matter to me.” What is even more miraculous is the impression that Jenkins had only just discovered the medium of film. That is, you can almost believe that he had no preconceptions about chronology or colour or sound, so he had figured out for himself how music and moving pictures could be put together. He has made a dreamy, jazzy film unlike any other. (Credit: Sony Pictures)
Yorgos Lanthimos specialises in warped visions of contemporary society (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), so it was hard to picture what he would do with a historical drama about English royalty. The Favourite turns out to be as idiosyncratic as his other films, but none of them has been this funny, sumptuous, or touching. It is set in the early 1700s, when the ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) relies on her best friend Sarah (Rachel Weisz), Duchess of Marlborough, to negotiate with the country’s bickering aristocrats. But when Sarah’s ambitious cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) moves into the palace, the stage is set for a production of All About Eve, except with more sex, vomiting and lobster races. The script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is a banquet of delicious insults; and all three of its stars deserve to be the favourite during awards season. (Credit: Film4)
It has been a sensational year for superhero films, what with The Black Panther breaking new ground in its portrayal of Africans, and The Avengers: Infinity War crowding dozens of major characters into one movie. But none of them was as special as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a psychedelic pop-art masterpiece that mixes digital and hand-painted animation. In its use of split-screens, captions and clashing illustration styles, it is closer to a comic book than most superhero films, but it is also dazzlingly cinematic. And in its use of spider-themed superheroes from multiple alternate realities, it is audaciously postmodern, but it is also, at heart, the tale of a loveable Brooklyn teenager. The creators of Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both died in 2018. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the perfect monument. (Credit: Marvel Entertainment)
Chloé Zhao’s second film as a writer-director is a contemporary western about a young rodeo rider, Brady Jandreau, who was kicked in the head by a horse. He knows that if he returns to the rodeo, he is risking his life – his best friend’s brain damage is even more severe – but he can’t imagine what else to do. This humane account of his slow recuperation has fascinating things to say about macho peer pressure, Wild West iconography, and people with wide open spaces all around them, but nowhere to go. But what is truly awe-inspiring is the way Zhao stitches together fact and fiction. Make no mistake, The Rider is a well-honed drama, but it derives its power from being based on Jandreau’s own experiences, and most of the people in it are playing versions of themselves. Rarely, if ever, have documentary realism and poetic grandeur been combined so deftly or to such desperately moving effect. (Credit: Highwayman Films)
Eight years on from Winter’s Bone, its director and co-writer, Debra Granik, returns in triumph with another mature, uncompromising yet accessible drama, and another insight into the marginalised lives of American outsiders. Ben Foster is utterly believable as a damaged war veteran who lives deep in a forest in a national park; Thomasin McKenzie’s alert performance as his teenage daughter, Tom, is a reminder that it was Granik who gave Jennifer Lawrence her breakthrough lead role. The film is taut and packed with incident, but it is warm and understated, too: a bittersweet coming-of-age story about a loving daughter realising that her father’s means of survival can never be her own. Her big farewell speech goes like this: “Dad. I know you would stay if you could.” There’s nothing more to be said. (Credit: Topic Studios)
The director and star of La La Land, Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling respectively, reunite for a tightly focused biopic of Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. The film conveys with battering force just how stressful it was to be a space pioneer in the 1960s, and the bravery that was required to strap yourself into one of the most uncomfortable and dangerous forms of transport ever devised. But Chazelle and his team refuse to turn Armstrong into a gung-ho American hero. To some viewers, his stoicism made him boring, but to others (myself included) Armstrong’s modesty and reserve in the face of immense personal tragedy and professional challenges is heart-wrenching. A melancholy recreation of an ambiguous victory, the film leaves you asking whether the first man on the moon could ever be happy on Earth. (Credit: Daniel McFadden/Universal Studios and Storyteller Distribution Co LLC)
Warwick Thornton’s southern Western is set in Australia in the 1920s. Its hero Sam (Hamilton Morris) is an Aboriginal farm hand who kills his wife’s rapist in self-defence, and then goes on the run through the spectacular primal desert. The chase that follows is artfully edited, with disorientating flashbacks and flashforwards dotted through the action. But every shot and every word has a purpose – in keeping with the Aboriginal characters who are inclined to stay silent while the “whitefellas” (including those played by Sam Neill and Bryan Brown) rant and rave. Taking in the themes of assimilation, slavery, religion, the military, the rule of law, and cinema itself, this scenic saga of frontier justice and injustice is one of the best and most important films ever made about Australia’s history. (Credit: Bunya Productions)


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