By Kryshan Randel
2018 was a year of out-of-nowhere surprises. For every film from an established master (Schrader, Lanthimos, Noe), there were films helmed by directors like Bo Burnham, Ari Aster, Ali Abbasi and many others whom I had never heard of before. My usual preference for dark comedies and thrillers are here, but overall this is a way more diverse list than usual.
1. EIGHTH GRADE
A coming of age story as visceral and emotionally complex as the real thing. Anxiety, terror, comedy and heart co-exist, sometimes all in the same scene. Elsie Fisher’s performance anchors all of the successful shifts in tone, and the film’s understanding of social media is peerless.
2. FREE SOLO
Riveting documentary about a daredevil free climber who scales Yosemite’s 3000 foot high El Capitan wall without a rope. A thrilling, incredible character study. A perfectionist meets his match and we are right there with him, body, mind, heart, soul, with every perilous step.
An undercover reporter pretends to be swayed by an ISIS recruiter, until she falls under his spell for real. The greatest trick of this film is that we can understand why; the recruiter is charming, convincing and all too persuasive. The best of the laptop found footage movie genre (movies taking place entirely on laptop screens.)
4. FIRST REFORMED
A rigorous examination of faith, with a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke as an anguished priest. A bleak film driven by rage and sorrow, made with tremendous discipline and self imposed restrictions.
A beautiful nightmare, Gaspar Noe’s latest provocation combines ecstatic dance with extreme horror, and will send some screaming for the exits while it puts others in a trance-like state. Possessed performances and dazzling experimentation create a film that is experienced rather than just watched. Just like Noe’s Enter the Void, this is an uncompromising work of art, extraordinary ambitious, expanding the possibilities of what cinema is capable of more than any other film this year.
The family trauma endured here sets the horror bar so high that the supernatural elements can’t quite surpass it. Still, expert direction and flawless performances from the entire cast, especially Toni Collette, result in the rare genre film that will haunt you for days.
7. THE FAVOURITE
Period costume dramas are not usually among my favourite genres, but Lanthimos’ latest is the opposite of stuffy and formal. This is outrageously farce, with endlessly witty, quotable dialogue and a contagious tone of glee and madness.
8. GAME NIGHT
Creatively staged comedy that never lets up for a second, with every kind of joke imaginable, and some memorable action sequences too. The Fincher-esque tributes and stylistic flourishes are the icing on the cake.
A non-human customs officer who can smell fear, falls for a similar creature who shows them their true self. A deranged original from the writer of Let the Right One In. It’s an unclassifiable modern day fairy tale so grounded in the real world that when the surprises show up (and there are many,) they land with intimate shock.
10. GREEN BOOK
It’s not often that I fall for an Oscar baiting Hollywood crowd pleaser as I much as I did for Green Book, probably not since Titanic. However this irresistible road movie is tremendously engaging, funny and moving. Old fashioned entertainment in the best sense of the term.
The vulnerable genius artist portraits THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING, MCQUEEN, FILMWORKER, SHIRKERS and A STAR IS BORN; the epic sci-fi spectacles AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and READY PLAYER ONE; the fascinating shot-by-shot breakdown of PSYCHO’s shower scene 78/52; the moving survival tale ADRIFT; the beautifully sincere WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR; the escapist comedy CRAZY RICH ASIANS and pitch black comedy BLACK KKKLANSMAN; the raw time capsule MID90s; the haunting thrillers BURNING and MANEKO NORI; the period horror of APOSTLE; the extraordinary powerful THE HATE U GIVE; the neurotic authenticity of PRIVATE LIFE; and the non-stop creativity and spectacular storytelling of the all-ages winners PADDINGTON 2 and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE. The transcendent last thirty minutes of ANNIHILATION are also worth a mention too.
Lazy storytelling and anonymously vacant, with a total blank of a lead performance. The worst STAR WARS entry since their Holiday Special.
TOP TEN MOST ANTICIPATED 2019:
Claire Denis’ lost-in-space trippy HIGH LIFE, Jordan Peele’s latest thriller US, Ari Aster’s Hereditary horror follow-up MIDSOMMAR, Dan Gilroy’s Altman-esque horror film set in the art world VELVET BUZZSAW, the Safdie Brothers’ heist thriller UNCUT GEMS, James Gray’s space quest AD ASTRA, Tarantino’s 60’s epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, Scorsese’s DeNiro/Pesci/Pacino team-up film THE IRISHMEN, the sci-fi/action/superhero showdown AVENGERS: ENDGAME, and Doug Liman’s CHAOS WALKING, co-written by Charlie Kaufman.