Films of the Year Part 1

Was 2018 a vintage year for cinema?

I’d give it a 10 myself. If I was marking the movies at my local multiplex. 10 out of 100, that is.

It’s been yet another year of superheroes, sequels, spin-offs and reboots. More punters paid to see Fifty Shades Freed than The Shape of Water. Avengers: Infinity War topped the British box-office moneymaking list while You Were Never Really Here failed to dent the Top 100. Dwayne Johnson has somehow become the planet’s second highest paid ‘actor’.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy many films that started their British theatrical runs or made their streaming debuts during the course of 2018.

20. Pin Cushion

At times, Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion looks like television. The script is uneven. Much of the acting is mediocre at best, and there’s an off-screen incident that illustrates why the adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ became a screenwriting truism.

So why is this in my top twenty? Two reasons. Joanna Scanlon (who’s still maybe best known as Terri in The Thick of It) and newcomer Lily Newmark. Both are in staggering form here as a highly eccentric mother and daughter duo – Dafty One and Dafty Two – beginning a new life for themselves in a small Derbyshire town.

19. Annihilation

A science fiction/horror hybrid written and directed by Alex Garland, this features a great turn by Jennifer Jason Leigh. I’m surprised Annihilation wasn’t a bigger hit at the box-office. Maybe it doesn’t spell things out enough for the type of cinema-goers happy with hyped-up blockbusters aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator audiences.

18. Burning

A fantastic ensemble piece from South Korea that is never predictable. Underappreciated in the West, this is one of the most watchable chillers of 2018.

17. The Night Comes for Us

Timo Tjahjanto’s film Indonesian Triad crime epic might be the goriest movie of the year.

At least ten minutes of the running time could have been cut and it’s a little confusing at times but the fight choreography is generally breathtaking and the cinematography so inventive that these flaws can be forgiven.

16. At Eternity’s Gate

Last year, Loving Vincent, an animated feature about the life of Van Gogh, was one of my favourite films, and Willem Dafoe gave one of my favourite performances in The Florida Project.

In 2018, he again turned in one of the year’s best performances, this time as Vincent Van Gogh in his deeply troubled final days.

An artist himself – making his name with giant canvases covered in thickly impastoed paint and broken crockery – Julian Schnabel directs and Mads Mikkelsen and Emmanuelle Seigner impress in supporting roles.

15. Hitler’s Hollywood

Rüdiger Suchsland’s documentary examines the rigid political and cultural censorship applied to the thousand or so films made in Germany during the reign of the Nazi Party and I reviewed this one here.

14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Joel and Ethan Coen’s anthology of six Western-set tales of varying lengths starts brilliantly but doesn’t quite maintain that promise. It is, though, generally very entertaining and proves that even on their B game, the Coen brothers are still head and shoulders above most of the opposition.

13. Private Life

Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, Private Life is often laugh out loud funny and occasionally devastatingly sad. Paul Giamatti is, as ever, excellent but newcomer Kayli Carter is every bit as good as his twentysomething niece Sadie. Keep an eye out for her.

12. Lady Bird

An initial 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes was without doubt over-generous. In fact, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age drama quickly became the most-reviewed movie ever to maintain a 100% on that review-aggregation site.

It has fallen now to a mere 99% due to a negative review from one Tomatometer-approved critic Cole Smithey, who dared to observe that: ‘There are dozens of coming-of-age films that far outweigh this lightweight contender. Think ‘Kes’ or ‘Murmur of the Heart.’

I wouldn’t judge Lady Bird as lightweight myself but it’s not exactly deep either, is it? The film is certainly an assured debut by Greta Gerwig, funny and with all round top-notch performances, especially from Saoirse Ronan.

But Kes and Murmur of the Heart are better films. As is a more similarly themed movie from 2001, Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, which came to mind as I viewed Gerwig’s debut.

11. First Reformed

Now forty plus years into his career – the man who wrote Taxi Driver Paul Schrader returned as writer/director of First Reformed.

Ethan Hawke is Reverend Toller, who preaches at a beautiful though sparsely attended church in upstate New York. He is a complex man with a painful background. who is in poor health which he tries his best to ignore.

He’s also experiencing a crisis of faith, and this is sent into overdrive after he meets a depressed environmental activist, and then a man heavily involved in pollution. Who coincidentally is a major donator to the First Reformed Church. Similarities with Travis Bickle begin to emerge. Every hour is the darkest hour.

The movie is overly reliant on Hawke’s voice-over but the actor is superb here and Amanda Seyfried is surprisingly good too. This haunting and powerful work might be Schrader’s best directorial effort since 1990’s The Comfort of Strangers. A real return to form.

Look out for numbers 10 to 1 in the coming days.