Film critic Calum Cooper reveals the 10 films from 2018 that left the biggest impact on him.
Deciding our favourite films of the year is a strenuous business even for the casual moviegoer. For critics, who see as many as 200 films a year, it can be borderline impossible. 2018 has displayed such a euphoric track record across various genres that it pains me to leave so many out. I can think of dozens of other movies that deserve attention too. But alas, I can only talk about 10. After much pondering and reflection, let’s celebrate what’s been a tremendous year for cinema with my Top 10 Favourite Films released in UK cinemas this year.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Animation often gets dismissed as purely for children, a belief I find pompously narrow minded. Into the Spider-Verse is not only a sentimental love letter to Spider-Man, as well as Stan Lee’s legacy surrounding the character and his various incarnations, but it’s a prime case study on what animation can achieve when placed in the right hands. The action, the humour, and the sheer imagination meld with the well-realised story and characters, and the explosively colourful comic book visuals to produce spellbinding results. A fun and exhilarating acid trip of insane but delightful proportions.
- A Quiet Place
The concept and ingenuity behind A Quiet Place is what earns it its spot on this list. Silence and sudden noises have never been so stressful. Yet it’s so much more than just its inventive gimmick. The selective way it utilises sound to heighten all our other senses is spine-chilling, and the atmosphere that permeates the film via its actors, cinematography and dark visuals is impossible to escape from. Like all the best horror films it carries a foreboding sense of dread throughout its runtime, and it never lets up. An intelligent setup for a haunting movie.
- Sorry to Bother You
Boots Reilly’s directorial debut is the funniest, most outlandish middle finger to capitalism I’ve seen in ages. Think Terry Gilliam’s Brazil on steroids. Its staunch criticisms of white privilege and selling out to climb the money tree are written with the sharpness of a dagger. The characters are interesting, the alternative present is manic, and the eventual twist is simultaneously scary and bonkers. However, what I like the most about this mad satire is that even if you somehow don’t know what’s being satirised, it still works brilliantly as an absurdist feature. A very promising start to Reilly’s film career.
- You Were Never Really Here
Glasgow’s very own Lynne Ramsey delivers a beguiling experience with her latest film. Even though it has plenty going for it already, with its intriguingly complex lead, as well as Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative portrayal, the true mastery lies between the lines here. Ramsey weaponises the show don’t tell rule, using colour, distant shots, and general obscurity to construct our tragic anti-hero and the melancholic world he inhabits. Its uncompromising violence is matched only by a sinister tranquillity, which adds even more layers to the story and characters, enriching the thrills and the drama. Ramsey admirably places trust in her audience, and the visual style she and her team have crafted makes her film a captivatingly suspenseful thriller. Who knew such relentless intensity could be presented through such gorgeous filmmaking?
- Cold War
Romance is a genre often exploited for clichéd stories and redundant, even cynical, ideas. Not here. Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War serves as a companion piece to his Oscar-winning Ida, but it also reveals the true power of love in the darkest times. Spread over fifteen years and across both sides of the Iron Curtain, it follows the on and off romance of two characters caught in the ever-growing hostility of the Cold War. It can be a bleak experience at times, but its stylish cinematography, intoxicating musical score, and patient construction of the characters and their romance all leave you thoroughly absorbed in its world and powerful themes.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
One of 2018’s first releases still leaves an unapologetic sting almost a year later. It showcases the very best of Martin McDonagh’s talents, including sharp, vicious dialogue, complex, morally grey characters, and a story that leaves you sad and disgusted, but completely invested. Elevated by commanding performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, it’s a film that takes no prisoners and shines a light on concepts of moral ambiguity and action in the face of complacency or uncertainty. It’s brutally stubborn in its creative choices, but it’s also darkly funny, robustly crafted, and morbidly engaging.
As the son of two architects I’m going to be pestering them to watch this film until they eventually get round to it. Columbus is a breath-taking work that examines relationships and youthful ambition in effortlessly humble fashion. Via its characters and their shared passion for architecture, the film explores where one should draw the line in chasing after or altering your dreams, with each building the duo visit serving as visual gateways into their deeper emotions. The architecture on display feel like characters in their own right, and the film’s ultimate conclusion is organic, smart, and sincerely sweet. The more I think about Columbus the more I love it.
Easily Alfonso Cuarón’s best since Y Tu Mama Tambien, if not his greatest movie. Whether it will be the first Netflix and Foreign Language film to win Best Picture is too early to tell, but there’s no denying the film’s remarkable craftsmanship and estimable belief in solidarity. Created as a tribute to the women who raised him, Roma is Cuarón’s most personal film yet. It encompasses striking cinematography, grand and subtle imagery alike, astonishing direction, and stellar performances. Still, it maintains focus through the character of Cleo, taking us through joy and tragedy while never losing its empathetic touch. Delicately helmed and artfully impactful, Roma is an exquisite piece of cinema.
- Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is one of those rare perfect films. It’s cinema in its purest form. It’s a beautiful, universal tale about a father and daughter living off the grid. Anchored by two award-worthy performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, the film dexterously balances youthful optimism for the future with the horrors of the past and how they never truly leave you. The journey these two go on is both fascinating and heart-breaking to watch. Debra Granik’s stunning direction lets us experience their lives to the fullest, and, much like Roma, its sheer abundance of empathy leaves me teary-eyed. The fact that it’s able to convey all of this through only small conversations and actions is a testament to Granik’s mastery as a storyteller. If it wasn’t for the UK’s weird distribution habits it would’ve comfortably been my year’s best. It is just terrific!
- Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s heartfelt passion project, Lady Bird, is a film I’ve thought about religiously ever since I first saw it. It’s hard to even put my finger on why. Something about the way it tells its story and portrays its characters and themes just clicks with me. It’s more than a mere film. It’s a time capsule to the beauty and stress of growing up, of realising what you want out of life, and learning the value of family and where you come from. Filled with rivetingly lifelike performances, refreshingly intricate characters and relationships, gripping slice-of-life drama, and virtually flawless direction from Gerwig, the film left me entranced, awestruck, elated, humoured and, eventually, in tears. To me it’s a wonderfully humanistic experience that’s brimming with heart and soul on top of its spirited craftsmanship. Its Oscar nominations were thoroughly deserved, yet its failure to win any is nothing short of a travesty. Nonetheless, Lady Bird wears the crown of being my favourite film released in UK cinemas in 2018.
Honourable Mentions: Black Panther; BlacKkKlansman; Calibre; Coco; Hereditary; Incredibles 2; Mission Impossible: Fallout; Searching; Shoplifters; The Breadwinner; The Shape of Water; Widows
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