Film critic Scott Wilson looks back on 2018 and gives his top 10 films of the year.
It’s been a banner year for film. Superhero movies got bigger than ever, Netflix continued to change the cinematic landscape, and there was even a new Orson Welles film. Top 10 lists are subjective and plentiful, you will not be left wanting for them at this time of year. But for this critic, these are the essentials that made 2018 such a great year to go to the cinema – or to turn your TV up loud.
- Hearts Beat Loud
An adorable father and daughter pairing in Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemmons, along with a killer soundtrack, makes Hearts Beat Loud one of the year’s easiest films. Like the similarly warm School of Rock this is a story about expressing yourself through music: when times are hard, when you fall in love, when there’s nothing else to do but create art. Criminally underseen but a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Emotionless Amanda is forced to socialise after killing a horse she claims was suffering. She and Lily used to be close but grew apart, the latter more popular and studious compared to the former’s borderline nihilism. Lily is being paid to show compassion for the troubled Amanda, but the two do form a sort of bond, one which gives birth to the idea of killing Lily’s step-dad. A quirky and dark story for an overmedicated generation about empathy, Thoroughbreds sets itself apart from the pack with two killer lead performances and a sinister sense of fun.
Could Roma be Netflix’s first foray into Best Picture territory? Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate portrayal of a maid working for an upper-middle class family is a slow, almost relaxing watch, the camera panning as smoothly as a surveillance camera as Cleo looks after the kids, does the dishes, and tries to have some fun on the side too. But in telling the maid’s story, it humanises a role integral to and forgotten about in Mexican culture. There are moments of horrifying tragedy, a deep seated sadness about the role of both the lower class and women generally. But if storytelling is a tool for empathy, Roma is its pinnacle. Should it win Best Picture, there would be none more deserving.
- First Reformed
If 2018 has taught us one thing it’s that faith is out and cynicism is in. Politicians have let us down and the world feels evermore like hell is bubbling just below the surface. First Reformed’s Reverend Toller is feeling the weight of doubt, uncovering corruption in the church which sees politics take precedence over religion. Global warming threatens God’s creation, but who cares when there’s money to be made? As Rev Toller says, “somebody has to do something!” There’s a frustration that drives First Reformed to a divisive ending, one which this critic thinks is ultimately hopeful, but which others have said leaves them downbeat. If it makes you feel at all then the film is doing the something that the Reverend is desperate for.
Netflix’s refusal to show Annihilation on the big screen outside of certain countries almost overshadowed the film itself when it hit the UK back in March. While its sensory maximalism would thrive in cinemas, its intelligence and originality make it a worthy watch wherever possible. Natalie Portman leads a crew into the mysterious Shimmer, an iridescent canvas over the landscape which no one – apart from her husband, now profoundly different – has returned from. This is sci-fi with big ideas at its very best.
- Phantom Thread
Daniel Day-Lewis’s swansong and what a note to go out on. This majestic tale of a couturier and his muse is perfectly realised, as intricate as the dresses themselves. Far from a bog-standard historical drama, Paul Thomas Anderson weaves something discordant, where what ought to be clinical is anything but. It is as much a ghost story as it is a criticism of gatekeeping, as much a psychosexual story of dominance and submission as a showcase for Jonny Greenwood to score a film in such a way it changes its whole mood. In careers filled with masterpieces, this is another feather in both Day-Lewis’ and Anderson’s caps.
- Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut landed her a Best Director nomination at the Oscars at the start of the year and it’s no wonder why. Telling the story of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson as she navigates faith, boys, and her relationship with her mother, it’s an ode to Gerwig’s own teenage years in unremarkable Sacramento. As a love letter to the place you grew up and the world-changing things that happened there (feuding with friends, the coolest boy in school looking at you) it is universal in its specificities.
- The Shape of Water
2018’s Best Picture winner was a worthy one. Guillermo Del Toro has always humanised his monsters and made monsters of man, and The Shape of Water follows this grand tradition from the current master of dark fantasy. Telling the tale of a woman falling in love with an amphibious River God sounds like a hard sell but audiences and the Academy loved it. Pure cinema.
- Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace has the honour of being the second highest rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (just behind Paddington 2). Debra Granik’s story of a father and daughter living off the grid is a delicate one, balancing a life defined by PTSD with a young girl’s hope for a future where she is allowed to be normal. There is a sense of love between these two characters that denotes an understanding, but hanging over them is the unsustainability of how they live. Something quite extraordinary, totally deserving of its Rotten Tomatoes claim.
Every shot of Columbus could be featured in a museum. A pristine modernist playground gives Jin and Casey space to walk the city, each architectural wonder a checkpoint in their time together. But it is no romantic film. Jin’s in town because his dad had a heart attack, unsure of how he is supposed to feel given their distant relationship and cultural customs. Casey has potential but is content with her unrealised plans, instead staying home to look after her recovering addict mother. They both take comfort in each other and in the short time they spend together find a kindred spirit who might be able to give them what they need. Quite resoundingly, Columbus is the best film of 2018.
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