No year is a bad year for films; and any year that doesn’t see a new Fast and Furious or Michael Bay-helmed Transformers film released (Bumblebee doesn’t count) is a good year in my view.
So in a year so crammed full of quality, deciding what my favourite films of 2018 were was always going to be a mammoth task. Especially in a year in which we saw “the most ambitious crossover event in history”, sequels in the Deadpool, Harry Potter and Jurassic World series’ (not that all of them were successes) and a new Mamma Mia film to savour also – but if you’re expecting Here We Go Again to show up somewhere in the top 10 listing, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The films that have made it into my list are a varied bunch – from noisy musicals to quiet horrors through psychological thrillers, hopefully there’s something for everyone.
10 – A Star is Born/The Greatest Showman
And straight away, I’ve copped out and included an eleventh film – it’s a musical double header between Bradley Cooper’s beautifully understated remake of A Star is Born and the loud and bold sledgehammer to the senses that is The Greatest Showman. And although Showman was technically released at the tail-end of 2017, it only reached Mareel at the fore-front of 2018 so i’m going to include it.
Cooper’s A Star is Born is a difficult film to review, because for the first half it’s absolutely spellbinding, detailing the coming together of Cooper’s grizzled country star Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga’s Ally – from her sultry performance of La Vie en Rose in a drag bar to their first performance together onstage of Shallow, a song you’ve almost definitely heard play on the radio over the last few months. The film slightly falters in the second half though as tensions appear between the pair, suffering perhaps from the success of it’s opening hour. Invariably, it’s not only a great musical but an excellent film – don’t be surprised to see it picking up Oscars in either actor categories or in the Best Picture category next February.
The Greatest Showman is also a musical, but it really couldn’t be much further away from A Star is Born, in terms of style and grace anyway. The Greatest Showman was panned by critics on it’s release, with the sniffy reviews failing to realise just how much of a cultural impact the film would have in 2018 -but from the opening call and drum beat of The Greatest Show, the film is an endless barrage of entertainment. Hugh Jackman, clearly having the time of his life, excels in the role of circus owner P.T. Barnum, the entrepreneur who brings together an eccentric collection of losers and outcasts to form his own performing troupe. The Greatest Showman would have been nowhere near as successful if it wasn’t for the music though – the soundtrack is undoubtedly the film’s greatest asset, with This is Me and Rewrite the Stars in particular featuring almost everywhere with a speaker for the best part of 2018. The film’s soundtrack is the best-selling album in the UK in 2018, testament to the quality of the song’s scattered throughout the film. It may not be the most nuanced of films in 2018, but it’s certainly one of the most fun.
9 – Coco
In a golden age for animation, Pixar proved again in 2018 that they still lead the way. The tale of a young boy who crosses over to the Land of the Dead by accident and has to find his way back, Coco proves once more that Pixar won’t rest until they have forced you to weep uncontrollably at every situation possible.
It’s not the most original story – The Book of Life, released in 2014, follows a similar storyline involving the Day of the Dead – but it’s by far the best looking of the two films, with the Land of the Dead in particular almost flowing off of the screen, it’s rich colours a gorgeous highlight. But what makes the film stand out for me is it’s heart – it’s a truly lovely film, and there are of course the usual Pixar moments of humour dotted throughout as well. It’s the only film on my top 10 that reduced me to tears and I don’t cry at anything that isn’t Good Will Hunting usually.
8 – Isle of Dogs
Another heart-warming animated film, but a different beast altogether – literally. I’ve been an outspoken fan of Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox already, so I was delighted when Anderson returned to the stop-motion animation format again for Isle of Dogs, the story of a dystopian future in which dogs are exiled to a trash island by a dog-hating dictator. There’s the usual brilliant Anderson cast – Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray – and dry, deadpan humour which runs through his other films as well. Isle of Dogs isn’t as beautiful as Coco in the traditional animation way, yet it’s put together in such a scrappy, untidy way that you can’t help but fall in love with it – particularly whenever there’s a fight, when the characters tumble around in a cartoonish ball of cotton wool.
Isle of Dogs is everything that I hoped that it would be – charming, funny and entertaining. It doesn’t top Fantastic Mr. Fox as my favourite stop-motion Wes Anderson film, but it couldn’t be much of a closer second.
7 – BlackKklansman
If you pitched BlackKklansman to a Hollywood executive, odds are they would tell you that it was too unbelievable to make into a film –so it’s incredible to think that it’s a true story. BlackKklansman follows Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, the son of Denzel) who becomes the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police department in the 1970’s and goes on to become a member of the local Ku Klux Klan in order to gain information on them. Of course, Stallworth can only communicate with the Klan’s members over the phone so ropes in fellow officer Filip Zimmerman (Star Wars’ Adam Driver) to attend the meetings for him – a risk also, given that Zimmerman is Jewish.
BlackKklansman manages to be a funny film despite the obviously difficult subject matter in which it follows, and Topher Grace is amusing as the over-the-top ‘Grand Wizard’ David Duke, the leader of the KKK. But as funny as the film can be, it does of course possess a serious message. As the film draws to a close you may be forgiven for thinking that Stallworth’s tale is an incredible story of the attitudes of some of the worst people best left in the past – but the pre-credits reel showing 2017’s Charlottesville rally in which white supremacists rioted through the city, including the shocking footage of one supremacist driving his car through a group of people protesting against the riots complete with footage of President Trump claiming that there were bad people on both sides of the riots brings it all back into perspective, and hits home the film’s message that this sort of racism is still very much present in today’s America.
6 – The Shape of Water
Finally, a truly great film worthy of winning the Best Picture Oscar. The Shape of Water is a story that’s been told so many times – a mute woman falls in love with a fish-man.
Okay, it’s maybe not the most normal of stories but it’s a wonderful science-fiction love story, with a superb central performance from Sally Hawkins who manages to make the unbelievable premise of a woman falling in love with an amphibian creature a completely believable and heart-wrenching tale. It harkens back to the classic black-and-white romances of the 1950’s, even referencing them during the film, and it’s a truly beautiful film with some excellent performances such as Michael Shannon’s twisted Strickland, in charge of containing (and torturing) the creature, and Richard Jenkins Giles, Hawkins’ next door neighbour, who takes in the creature for a brief time.
A worthy winner of the Best Picture Oscar, and spawned a million references to fish-love.
5 – You Were Never Really Here
You Were Never Really Here is the least-known film on my list, but it’s one of the best and is certainly well worth looking out. A very hairy Joaquin Phoenix is virtually perfect as a hired gun with major trauma issues who goes into the heart of a child-sex ring to rescue a young girl who is the daughter of a powerful politician. If it all sounds a bit Liam Neeson on Channel 5 at 9pm, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (or perhaps, in this film’s case, not) at just how well it manages to balance both being a violent and bloody film and a delicate character study, with Phoenix’s performance a real tour-de-force, his character Joe giving nothing away with words while explaining all that you need to know with his eyes.
It’s a startling and elegantly shot psychological thriller that reminded me a lot of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (it has been compared to Taxi Driver also), and I can’t recommend it enough.
4 – A Quiet Place
When horror is done well, I believe it’s the most powerful genre that there is: A Quiet Place is horror done very, very well. Taking the simple premise of a dystopian future in which creatures hunt by sound, the film follows The Office’s John Krasinski (who wrote the film, and also directs it) and his real-life wife Emily Blunt as they attempt to navigate their family through a life in which you cannot make any noise. A Quiet Place, like Get Out in 2017, is an incredible horror film from a first-time director – especially one who is better known as a comedy actor.
In a year in which we got another film in the Halloween franchise, that (mostly) followed the same tired horror formula of a boogeyman chasing teenage girls around a house (sorry Halloween, I did actually enjoy you), A Quiet Place is a welcome breath of fresh air into the genre. Without giving any of the plot away, there is a scene in this film which is so unbearably tense that I could barely watch and is by far my favourite scene of 2018.
Even if you’re not a fan of horror usually, please watch this film.
3 – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
I wrote on this blog earlier in the year when I reviewed The Shape of Water that, having seen the Best Picture nominees, Three Billboards would have been my choice for the accolade. That’s still the case. Three Billboards is as black and razor-sharp as you can get – Frances McDormand is on storming, Oscar winning form as Mildred Hayes, the mother who rents out three billboards in order to shame the local police force into action after the investigation into her daughter’s death goes cold.
It’s incredibly funny for a film tackling subject matters such as rape, murder and cancer which is down to the superb script from director Martin McDonagh, the director behind the other blackly hilarious classic In Bruges. As funny as the film is, it’s also an incredible drama with some really heart-breaking moments and superb central performances from the trio of the aforementioned McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.
2 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
As surprised as I was to be including The Greatest Showman in my top 10 of the year, I would never have imagined I would have been including a Mission: Impossible film in my list – until around June, I had not seen any of them since i watched the initial Mission: Impossible around 10 years ago, and had absolutely no intention of watching any of the rest of them. Until I watched M:I – Ghost Protocol one afternoon, and was absolutely blown away by just how entertaining the film was. As much as I loved that film, Fallout is now the high point of the series – it’s an incredible action film, quite possibly one of the best ever, and certainly far more exciting than Spectre, the last James Bond outing. It had me gripped from it’s beginning to it’s incredibly nerve-wracking ending and I honestly could have come out of the cinema and gone back into watch it again. There really is so much going on at all times that it can be a little hard to keep up, but it throws a lot at you and it almost always sticks.
There’s films in my top 10 that are better made, that look better and are better written – but there’s almost nothing more entertaining than Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It’s a pure popcorn flick taking place at breakneck speed – miles ahead of any Fast and Furious or even some of the Daniel Craig Bond outfits.
1 – Avengers: Infinity War
Given I wrote a 4,500 word piece on the Marvel cinematic output a few days before this film was released, it’s probably a surprise to nobody that this is my top film of the year.
To be fair, this film could have been terrible – Marvel could have got it completely wrong and their cinematic universe could have crumbled in front of them. Instead, we got the most incredible culmination of eighteen films worth of hard work: Josh Brolin’s Thanos, the first truly excellent Marvel villain, and a film that is funnier than most studio comedies. Infinity War is a film of such epic proportions, with some of the most incredible action sequences ever committed to screen, and consequences that barely anyone could have predicted before the film was released. It’s a superb feat of modern cinema, one of the most widely entertaining accomplishments of the 21st Century, and sets up next year’s Avengers: Endgame perfectly.
It won’t be challenging for the Best Picture Oscar, it’s not got a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a lot of non-Marvel fans didn’t love it; but for me, it was the most fun film to watch in the cinema, and the one I would most happily re-watch right now.
My 3 Biggest Disappointments of 2018
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Where did it all go wrong? Jurassic World is ageing badly year-after-year, but I absolutely loved it when I saw it – it’s pure nostalgia nonsense, but it was fun at least. As bizarre as it is to say about a film concerned with the continued creation of a theme park for dinosaurs – I couldn’t believe Fallen Kingdom. With the park coming to a crashing end in the first film, the second picks up with the idea that Chris Pratt, who suddenly has gone from dinosaur lover to a man completely apathetic to the idea of the dinosaurs he helped to raise, and Bryce Dallas Howard, who has suddenly gone from a uncaring and cold park executive to a rights activist for the dinosaurs who tried to kill her only years previously, as they venture back it Isla Nublar (I mean, why wouldn’t you?) in order to rescue the dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption on the island from a volcano never previously mentioned before.
If that all sounds a bit contrived and silly, that’s because it is. And that’s only the beginning of it – I haven’t even bothered to mention Rafe Spall’s quite obvious bad guy who pretends to be good for a while, and Toby Jones doing his best Donald Trump impression. Fallen Kingdom was a massive disappointment for me, not because of the reasons I’ve just mentioned but because it was billed as having a final third entirely as a gothic horror with dinosaurs set loose in a mansion – the final third was not scary, quite ridiculous and had one of the worst endings I saw this year. Oh, and it tragically underused Jeff Goldblum and put his best bits in the trailer.
Hereditary currently has a score of 89% from 311 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Empire Magazine gave it 5 stars, included it on it’s list of the 20 best films of 2018 and said that there were no moments in the film in which the tension is ever relieved.
I genuinely must have seen a different film than everyone else did because I not only didn’t think that Hereditary had any moments of tension, I didn’t think that it was scary at all. Toni Collette is undoubtedly excellent in the lead role of the mother suffering from the death of her mother, and there is one scene in quite early on in the film which shocked me completely – other than that, there’s not too much positive I can say about it. I didn’t have to sleep with the lights on after it, I didn’t wake up in the night screaming and I didn’t spend the days after it unpacking it in my head, like some critics had suggested. The only feeling I felt was bewilderment that so many people had found it scary, when next to nothing actually happens in it.
I’m not saying that Hereditary is a bad film, which it is not, I’m just saying that for me, it was severely disappointing.
I just said that Hereditary wasn’t a bad film, but I found it to be a disappointment.
The Predator is a bad film.
Directed by Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon and directed Iron Man 3 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it had absolutely no business being as bad as it was. It was awful. While stylistically slightly better than the also dreadful Alien vs. Predator, it is a dull story which relies on boring action sequences and a lot of explosions to inject some sort of life into it.
Black’s scripts are known for being razor-sharp and darkly funny – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in particular is excellent for this – but The Predator genuinely borders on offensive in it’s attempts to be funny. The worst part of all however, is the ending which desperately tries to set up a sequel: on the basis of this film, everyone should ensure that isn’t allowed to happen.