Qualifier: There is nothing about making a list of your favourite things that is objective. Make no bones about it - this list is mine; the essential films of 2018.
When is your 2018?
For my end of year lists, I include everything that I’ve seen that year released in the international movie calendar without specifically adhering to either Australian or U.S release date. Therefore, there are several films here that adorned the "Top Films of 2017" lists for international critics, but they were only accessible as part of their Australian theatrical/festival runs in 2018.
Honourable mentions: Squeezing your favourite films into that coveted top ten is cruel, and yet, like the Dude, I abide. So here are those incredible films that missed the cut.
BlackkKlansman, You Were Never Really Here, Burning, Roma*, Cold War, Gurrumul, Black Panther, Shrikers*, Free Solo, Searching, Hotel Mumbai, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Breaker Upperers, Leave No Trace, Annihilation
10. Paddington 2
There wasn’t another experience this year that warmed my body like a velvety hot chocolate. Paddington 2 is a sheer delight in every conceivable way. Director Paul King serves a sumptuous aesthetic that feels like you’re perpetually staring through the shop front window of a Victorian cake shop. The tone of King and Simon Farnaby’s script requires a beaming sincerity, which influences and elevates the performances; particularly Brendan Gleeson as the gruff Chef Knuckles McGinty (who is won over by Paddington’s charm – aren’t we all) and Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan (Grant’s camp and exaggerated narcissist is sincerely his career-best performance). Finally, the sense of family, community and desire to do something for those in your life that will leave you pawing for a loved one to embrace. At present, I’m trying to impose Paddington 2 on my two-year-old daughter’s kids movie rotation so that I can blame her for my reflexive re-watches.
Writer/director Ari Aster created a film that was so utterly terrifying, resonant and deeply emotionally traumatic that I could not watch it one session. I was sitting at home one evening; my family were all asleep. In the deathly quiet of my house, being hypnotised by the swelling clouds of grief like Toni Collette’s Annie and her fastidious artistic expressions to deflect confronting emotions. Shuffling on my lounge as I observed the strained and strange family dynamics; particularly the Milly Shapiro’s Charlie being drawn away from the house into a satellite tree house. In their attempt to return to regular family programming one of the most shocking moments of the film occurs. Much like the film, at that moment my home suddenly felt hostile. I had to turn it off. A full month later, I went back, restarted the movie and rigidly strapped myself in for the tsunami of unease. Genuinely in the conversation alongside The Exorcist as a film that exploits deep family fears into pure occult paranoia and abject horror.
8. American Animals
Writer/director Bart Layton followed up his fascinating and bizarre documentary The Imposter with an expression of narrative cinema that embraces the conflict between real and reel life. American Animals both examines the events and people involved (candid real life confessionals) in the daring and failed heist attempting to claim priceless literature while simultaneously dramatising the tale (featuring superb performances from the central quartet Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan and Jared Abrahamson). The recreation of the heist is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, enhanced and underscored with the insights of both perpetrator and victim alike. Would make a fantastic triple feature with Richard Linklater’s tragically underrated Bernie, and Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up.
Filmmaker Michael Mann said that his 1995 crime opus “Heat” is a “human drama, period.” He explains that he wasn’t setting out to make a genre film conforming to a set type. “Widows” seems to share this ambition. It’s a heist drama, but neither smug or flippant. It’s a human drama of grief and loss, but also frequently life-affirming. It’s timeless and yet laced with all the rich socio-political texture that comes with modern-day Chicago and its long and complicated history with crime. Quite frankly, to earn comparisons to “Heat,” from this reviewer, should be an indication of just how damned good this movie is.
What I’ll add: Widows has been wholly lost in the 2018 awards campaign noise. Take note, there aren’t many better films this year, and there are most definitely not any better casts this year. I am desperate to revisit this one.
6. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a ferocious heart-pounding cardio workout in your cinema sweat. In moment after unrelenting moment Cruise dances with death; I found myself cringing and squirming in my place. Strap yourself in for the most undisputed contender as not only the best Mission movie but without a doubt the best action movie of the year.
What I’ll add: If you watch the behind the scenes footage of Fallout and listen to Chris McQuarrie’s epic Empire Podcast about the film and don’t want to watch it at least three more times, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
Kogonada’s feature debut is a staggering expression of the deep filmmaking intuition. Columbus simultaneously follows Jon Cho’s Jin waiting to see if his comatose architect father pulls through and Hayley Lu Richardson’s Casey suffocating her aspirations to be there for her recovering addict mother. Kogonada’s flawless debut is obsessed with how its characters occupy the world and contrast their internal chaos with calculated composition and structural beauty.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is unquestionably the best-animated film of the year and one of the best superhero films ever made. Believe the hype.
3. First Reformed
First Reformed is simultaneously focused, frenzied, hypnotic, politically charged and honest in a way that only a film by a maverick auteur – who no longer gives a fuck about what you think – can be.
2. The Rider
Writer/director Chloé Zhao’s The Rider elevates the ‘based on a true story’ conceit to profound new heights. When rodeo rider Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) suffers a life-altering head injury, he must come to terms with a life where everything that he’s defined by, this iconic cowboy archetype, cannot continue. There is a deep intimacy with characters and lived in spaces and locales. There are transcendent leading performances that resist any artifice. There is excellent staged photography - especially the film’s signature scene of Brady navigating rolling grass-covered hills with the deeply poetic movement of his graceful mount. There are some of the most beautiful depictions of love and connection between friends that I can remember; but just you wait until the credits roll. As you’re reading through a curtain of tears, it may dawn on you that Zhao has collected the real-life inspirations of this tale to dramatise their lives. Is it fact? No. Is it fiction. No. It’s something more.
1. Sweet Country
Director Warwick Thornton’s outback morality tale, Sweet Country, combines exquisite visuals of Australian landscapes with a script that dabbles as much in mythical justice as deeply specific ideas of what this country is made of. With superbly crafted performances, Sweet Country is an essential Australian Western.
What I’ll add: As the credits rolled on Thorton’s second consecutive masterpiece, I had a thought. “Wow, that might be the best film I’ll see all year.” Despite several amazing contenders for the title, there’s not a film that I’ve thought about, raved about and recommended more. Great Westerns have vastly more to say about the time they’re produced than the period in which they’re set. There was not a more prescient indictment of Australia this year at the cinema than Sweet Country. It’s simply unmissable.
Published on Flicks.com.au
*Full reviews forthcoming
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.