Year In Review: Ten Of The Best Films Of 2018

on Friday, February 22, 2019
Words: Saam Das

As ever, the recent Oscar nominations lead to discussion of what is and isn't worthy of celebration across the last year or so of film. This list of our favourite films of 2018 may evoke a similar response from some readers. Alas, a number of 2018's acclaimed films have escaped our attention ranging from Alex Garland's Netflix Original 'Annihilation' to Bollywood comedy-drama 'Pad Man', and there's plenty of honourable mentions to address first.

'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'Black Panther' were both critically acclaimed, led by majority BAME casts and tremendous successes worldwide. Kogonada's meditative indie 'Columbus' quietly picked up acclaim, while Pawel Pawlikowski's melodramatic 'Cold War' broke through similarly humble beginnings to garner a Best Director Oscar nomination. Steve McQueen's 'Widows' featured particularly intense performances from Viola Davis and Daniel Kaluuya before Nicolas Cage said "hold my beer" in the outrageous 'Mandy'.

10) 'American Animals'

Speaking of outrageous and audacious, Bart Layton has established himself as a director with a keen eye for the extraordinary in his documentary career thus far. He won a BAFTA for 2012 doc 'The Imposter', and 'American Animals' arguably offered a step up in quality. Once again returning to the true-crime genre, Layton's inventive layering of documentary and re-enactment floored viewers as he explored a 2004 heist at a Kentucky-based university. As the tagline aptly notes "This is not based on a true story. This is a true story."

9) 'You Were Never Really Here'

Understandably, there was some unhappiness that British auteur Lynne Ramsay missed out on a Best Director nod in this year’s Oscar nominations, particularly with the lack of female representation. 'You Were Never Really Here' was a tour de force from the writer-director who teamed up with one of the finest male actors of his generation in Joaquin Phoenix, to deliver this brutal thriller about a hitman with demonstrable physical and mental scars.

8) 'Leave No Trace'

Debra Granik's 'Winter's Bone' elicited a breakout performance from Jennifer Lawrence, and with the affecting 'Leave No Trace', she's performed similar magic with newcomer Thomasin Mckenzie. Her outstanding performance was matched by Ben Foster, the duo completing an unorthodox father-daughter relationship that wowed critics to the extent that 'Leave No Trace' is currently the second most-reviewed film of all time to have received 100% fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. (Only beaten out by 'Paddington 2', which made our Best Of 2017 list.)

7) 'Phantom Thread'

The combination of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, composer/Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, and multiple Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis has combined to astonishing effect once already, with 2007's 'There Will Be Blood' - 'Phantom Thread' continued the trend. Day Lewis was at his electric best as an intensely particular fashion designer, while Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps were absorbing as the women in his life. We'll even forgive the scene where Day Lewis manages to order a pot of lapsang souchong tea in a 1950s countryside B&B.

6) 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

A prolific and notable playwright, Martin McDonagh's third and latest feature film saw him achieve mainstream success as well as profound cultural impact, as activists used the titular tactic of 'Three Billboards' to address the lack of justice surrounding London's Grenfell Tower tragedy. Featuring a fearsome central performance from Frances McDormand, amid a slew of notable supporting acts, McDonagh's film combined wit and grief adeptly. The film's divisive handling of racism, in particular relation to Sam Rockwell's character, deserves further reflection however.

5) 'Nancy'

Sadly, Christina Choe's absorbing psychological drama 'Nancy' did not receive the theatrical release it deserved in the UK, but at the very least, it screened to captive audiences at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. This was another superb demonstration of Andrea Riseborough’s notable talents, who recently impressed in the aforementioned 'Mandy' as well as 'Black Mirror' episode 'Crocodile'. Her beguiling performance here, was complemented perfectly by Steve Buscemi and J Smith-Cameron, and the trio combined for a bittersweet exploration of love, pain, and the truth.

4) 'Coco'

Disney Pixar’s foray into Mexican culture was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and unsurprisingly came away with the Best Animated Feature prize at the 2018 Oscars. (Also, snagging the Best Original Song for 'Remember Me' - Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez's second win in this category following their 2017 win for 'Let It Go' from 'Frozen'.) Visually resplendent and a whirlwind of emotions, it was the animation's thoughtful and heartwarming take on family that undoubtedly resonated with audiences.

3) 'Avengers: Infinity War'

While it was Ryan Coogler's iconic 'Black Panther' that became the first ever superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, our own pick had to be its counterpart 'Avengers: Infinity War'. The former film was an important step in terms of representation - as well as showcasing one of the finest villains in comic book film history, in Michael B Jordan's Erik Killmonger - the latter almost literally had the weight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its broad two-and-a-half-hour shoulders.

The result however was a triumph, with Josh Brolin's Thanos finally stepping out of the shadows in imperious fashion, pitted against a veritable supergroup of heroes we've seen across ten years. Nineteen films into the MCU, and this was arguably its best. Regardless of what happens in the upcoming 'Avengers: Endgame', we must congratulate The Russo Brothers on this tremendous effort.

2) 'Roma'

Unlike 'Nancy', which surely hoped for a wider theatrical release, Alfonso Cuaron's latest film 'Roma' restrained itself largely to Netflix. Somewhat of an autobiographical take on Cuaron's own childhood, this black-and-white drama set in 1970s Mexico saw a star-making turn from Yalitza Aparicio as a quietly diligent housekeeper. Her performance at the heart of 'Roma' is truly revelatory, while Cuaron's world-building feels intimate even as the scope widens as the film progresses. While not essential to see on the big screen, the heart-stopping beach scene excels in such a setting.

Already the first ever Netflix Original feature to become a Best Picture Oscar nominee, we're quietly confident that it may go one step further. Our only complaint is the lack of attention given to family dog, Borras - pet him, you monsters.

1) 'Lady Bird'

Greta Gerwig's stirring yet witty coming of age tale won our hearts all the way back in January 2018, and it hasn't escaped our clutches yet. Capturing the highs and lows of teenage life in the early noughties, with thanks to wonderful performances from Saoirse Ronan as the title characters and Laurie Metcalf as her mother, and a dazzling script from Gerwig. Notable supporting turns from rising starlets Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet added to the sense that something special was brewing on-set.

Special credit to Gerwig for making Dave Matthews Band cool again (possibly for the first time?) with an impeccable usage of their 1996 single 'Crash Into Me' - turning an erstwhile innuendo-driven track into something stunningly heartfelt. Not to mention the appearance of fictional outfit L'Enfance Nue in the film, featuring Chalamet's effortlessly cool character, Kyle. The fact that his facade is chipped away during the film is one of the many reasons that 'Lady Bird' feels so engrossingly relatable.

For more of our top things from 2018, click here.

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