Swansongs, halo jumps and finger-snapping.
Truly, what a year for cinema we’ve had. History has been made on both the production side and the endgame, extraordinary feats achieved for the benefit of us viewers and box numbers flourishing for sometimes the most unexpected of releases (Venom, by the way, does not feature on this list). But disregarding all of that, the quality of 2018’s film selection has been a richly satisfying smorgasbord of titles both humble and grand. The very nature of ranking movies on such a finite scale tends to provoke mild irritation/anger at omissions/inclusions – please feel free to let me know in the comments (or on Twitter @frewfilm) what your favourites of the year are.
Upon first watch there is the odd editing hiccup and some jarring musical cues, but the incendiary nature of BlacKkKlansman burns through on further viewings. The wicked bite of the humour hauntingly plays against the assaulting and very real tale of small victory on a disturbing scale that only Spike Lee could balance so inspiringly. The performances across the board are a revelation, particularly Adam Driver in a challenging role packed with sickening lines.
Review verdict: “Say what you want about the film, but the crux of it is this – Lee is furious, and you should be too.”
9. The Old Man & The Gun
David Lowery’s aptitude for the gentle was shown beautifully in his unlikely popular love letter to grief, A Ghost Story. His latest feature is a similarly moving but more up-tempo adventure, with Robert Redford in his final performance before retirement as an ageing, dedicated bank robber, with a rigid stance on mannerly crime and an affinity for the chase. A complete delight from start-to-finish, it’s a warm hug disguised as a movie.
Review verdict: “An unreserved, mellow triumph that soothes the soul.”
Could Netflix win the Best Picture race? Quite possibly. Roma isn’t necessarily the most entertaining movie of 2018, but as a display of human storytelling and technical mastery, it’s the stunning culmination of Alfonso Cuaron’s already stunning oeuvre. Such is life, the lens looms across tragedy and levity without a breath, bringing beauty into the most heartbreaking of moments.
Review verdict: “Perfection. Cinema doesn’t get as rich as this.”
7. You Were Never Really Here
Straight from the west of Scotland, Lynne Ramsay is an undaunted filmmaker. You Were Never Really Here, her first picture in seven years since the brutal but captivating We Need To Talk About Kevin, is a visceral knockout. The excess is stripped but the violence is sore, the drama is deep, raw and never compromising. The hitman genre is so often steeped in theatrics, but this a much more personal tale of redemption (or the lack thereof) in a suffocating world.
Review verdict: “A gutsy display of impressionist filmmaking and a reminder of Ramsay’s superlative talents.”
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sony’s relationship with the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger is tetchy at best. Sam Raimi’s trilogy has a nostalgia appeal, even in the chaotic, hilariously messy third entry. Then there was the Amazing reboot, with more lows than highs. It’s a modern miracle then that in 2018, we got one of the supreme Spider-Man movies of all-time from the studio. The craft is spectacular, with stupefying, majestic animation. But the cast are magic too, and when all is said and done, the film actually has something to shout from the crowd.
Review verdict: “Beautiful, hilarious, enthralling, inspiring; everything Spidey stands for and more. Masterpiece.”
5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Fallout was a risk – despite the fact the franchise has been on the up since M:II, never had the same director returned. Christopher McQuarrie will go down as a luminary of however. Elevating everything that worked in Rogue Nation and ironing out the itchy wrinkles, the fifth entry is not only the elite, but one of the all-time great action spectaculars. Breathtaking set-pieces galore and a killer soundtrack from Lorne Balfe; how will they ever top it?
Review verdict: “An absolutely triumphant feast of an action movie. Narratively strong, the ensemble are electric and the direction is historic levels of excellence. Bravo, team.“
4. A Star Is Born
It’s a tale as old as time, but one that has yet to fail on the big screen. Bradley Cooper is the latest filmmaker to bring the birth and death of fame alive, but even for a debutant director, this is a fantastic piece of work. The live music scenes are enthralling, the soundtrack is jam-packed with pulse-racing ear-worms, and the lead turns from Cooper and Lady Gaga leave a painful mark as the credits roll. It’s already an Oscar-front runner, and it’s not hard to see why.
Review verdict: “Cooper has landed a masterpiece on his first go. You could say, a star is born.”
3. First Man
Every so often a film comes along that feels tailor-made for you. As a fan of Damien Chazelle already (both Whiplash and La La Land are in my top 20 of all time), the hype was large prior to the release of First Man. But this is not director-bias on my part; First Man is a tour de force. Authentic, breathless filmmaking evokes joy, wonder and importantly, fear. Space is an unforgiving void – Chazelle moulds a lesson on grief out of a familiar victory.
Review verdict: “The film is many things; magical, surprisingly intimate, remarkably suspenseful. But what it does best of all, and most importantly, is inspire pure awe.”
2. Avengers: Infinity War
When the final shot of Infinity War cut to black, the sense of devastation in the air of the cinema was palpable. It wasn’t just that ending; the whole experience was intensely gratifying on a scale hitherto undreamt of. The Russo’s did the impossible; a ginormous ensemble in a comprehensive, decade-spanning finale. Yes, it’s part one, but the emotional gravity isn’t lessened; it’s strengthened. God, the wait for Endgame physically aches.
Review verdict: “A phenomenal, superheroic ensemble masterclass that more than surpasses the hype. Audaciously epic and stirringly entertaining, it’s a devastating, historic spectacle (emphasis on devastating).”
Horror is a devilishly difficult genre to crack. The classics are held in intimidatingly high regard, often used as comparisons any time a successful contemporary feature is released. That’s what happened with Hereditary; fawning reviews started to appear with dangerous claims that it was “this generation’s The Exorcist“. While that tendency can lead to risky, detrimental preconceptions, Ari Aster’s debut feature film deserves all the praise the world of criticism can afford. It’s a tirelessly demented, incredibly traumatic, breathtaking trip into the darkest depths of psychological, family horror, anchored around a sublime cast, but most of all a legendary performance from Toni Collette. Fear is subjective; Hereditary is my worst nightmare, but it may just be the finest horror movie ever made. Petrifying.
Review verdict: “An outstandingly horrifying achievement from a debut filmmaker, Hereditary is a classic in the making, built on rock-solid, terrifying, atmospheric terror.”
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm