2018 has been a very strong year for cinema. From perfect summer blockbusters to award season darlings and everything in between. There have been movies from big shots Steven Spielberg (x2), Wes Anderson, the Coens, Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuaron; while a number of exciting young filmmakers like John Krasinski, Paul Dano, Bradley Cooper, Damien Chazelle and Ryan Coogler (x2) have made their mark.
We all know the end of a calendar year is the perfect time to reflect on the past 12 months, and that’s exactly what we’ve decided to do here at RGM. So, our Film Editor Gethin Morgan has picked his top ten films of 2018. Enjoy.
Almost certainly the least-seen film on this list, Lucky follows the life of its 90 year-old titular character, played incredibly by the late-great Harry Dean Stanton. Lucky has a simple, lonely but quite lovely life. It’s almost a meditative experience watching him go about his daily routines, stopping only for the occasional philosophical chat. Yet in the background is this constant grapple with the meaning of life and death, and since Dean Stanton’s passing in 2017, that presence feels even stronger. Few performances this year have been so rich in character and so expertly brought to life.
9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The latest movie from the Coen brothers was a straight-to-Netflix Western anthology film. Split into six separate short stories, it’s a bit of an exhibition of what the directing greats have in their wheelhouse. Zany musical numbers, gallows humour, sweet character pieces and beautiful love stories, the Coens can do absolutely anything. Their deft touch with tone makes the transition between stories seamless and their love for the Western shines through. ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’ starring Zoe Kazan and ‘All Golds Canyon’ with Tom Waits are the highlights.
8. A Star is Born
There have been several iterations of this ‘washed-up musician meets young star’ tale over the last 80 years, but due to the ever changing nature of society and the music industry, it kind of makes it ripe for remaking. Bradley Cooper took the reigns on this one, making his directorial debut in stunning fashion. It’s clearly a passion project for him and that shines through. The music is fantastic, the performances from Cooper and Lady Gaga are two of the best of 2018, and the emotional impact is huge. I look forward to seeing what Cooper does next.
Another directorial debut from another established actor – Paul Dano. While Cooper is impressively assured in his work, Dano displays a craft and proficiency that should not be possible for a first timer. He moves the camera so effectively, keeping it in one position for long periods and moving or cutting away at precisely the right time. He manages to capture this incredible atmosphere from the very beginning – this ‘calm before the storm’ feeling which never really goes away. Most notably he harnesses three terrific performances from Ed Oxenbould, Jake Gyllenhaal and the astonishing Carey Mulligan, forming the perfect American family who slowly unravel as the husband struggles to find work and the wife begins to have an existential crisis.
Another Netflix Original from a great auteur. While I would potentially rate Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Children of Men more highly, this is clearly his magnum opus. Taken almost entirely from his childhood, Cuaron re-imagines 1970s Mexico City in stunning black and white. It begins with comfortably the best opening shot of the year and continues from there to be the most visually beautiful movie of 2018. With a gorgeous soundscape and wonderfully naturalistic performances from an unknown cast, this is a uniquely brilliant piece of work.
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s hard to believe this Oscar winner came out in the last 12 months. It was the very first film I saw in 2018 and, 43 films later, only four have managed to top it. Uncompromising, searingly original and deeply funny; it is Martin McDonagh’s best work yet. Following the attempts of a mother to get justice for her murdered daughter, it challenges institutional racism within the police, along with grief and violence. The tonal shifts are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I would laugh out loud at one line and be stunned silent by the next. Frances McDorman and Sam Rockwell deliver the most deserved Oscar winning performances imaginable, while Woody Harrelson also puts in an excellent turn as the chief of police.
4. A Quiet Place
Who could have possibly dreamt that Jim from The Office (US) would deliver one of the best horror films of the last decade? Built around the very simple concept of monsters whose only sense is sound, John Krasinski builds a fascinating post-apocalyptic world within that framework. The monster design is great, the set-pieces are brilliant, and the use of sound as a cinematic device has rarely been so effective.
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
After a monster shoot which was delayed by months when Tom Cruise broke his ankle performing a stunt (the shot of the break is actually in the movie), Christopher McQuarrie made one of the best action movies of the 21st century. Reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road in its relentlessness, the calibre of action sequences is second to none. With a HALO jump from a plane (which Cruise actually did), a stunning bike chase through the streets of Paris (which Cruise actually did) and a helicopter fight (which, you guessed it, Cruise actually did), they’re all put together masterfully, somehow forming a coherent story despite not really having a script.
If there is one film this year which will become a cult favourite in years to come, it will surely be Mandy. The first act is a tranquil, trippy love story between Nicolas Cage’s Red and Andrea Riseborough’s Mandy. Though when the clearly impending danger finally arrives the direction changes completely as Red goes on a psychedelic revenge rampage packed full of drugs, extreme violence and chainsaw fights. It is completely batshit crazy. Nic Cage is at his mad best and director Panos Cosmatos drenches the film in a gorgeous neon red, while Johann Johannson, taken far too young at 48, delivers his final score – a special piece to go out on – the best score of 2018 from a genius composer who will be missed dearly.
1. Avenger: Infinity War
It can’t be very often that the biggest film of the year is also the best, but I shamelessly have to put Infinity War in the top spot. It is so bold, so cataclysmic in its stakes. There has never been a superhero film like it. To sustain non-stop action for two and a half hours without becoming dull, without it feeling any longer than two hours, to be so funny yet so serious, to juggle 20-30 superheroes all at once; giving each and every single one time in the limelight. With a stunning structure which follows three big strands of narrative, the Russo brothers did such a good job of putting it together, transitioning from Earth to space and back with ease. They manage all that by pinning the story on villain Thanos, in their own words he is the main character here, and the entire film revolves around him. He’s a brilliant villain who carries a film full of superheroes magnificently. A huge achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. I cannot wait to see what the Russo’s do next with Avengers: Endgame.