10. Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu)
I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy, but the reality is that in the 21st century they have been few and far between. Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians breathes new life into the genre through its culturally specific lens. The story of an Asian-American professor who discovers that her boyfriend of a year comes from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore, it uses their relationship to examine old world vs new world tensions and generational divides. It is the first Hollywood film in 25 years to boast an all-Asian cast and director, and has become the most financially successful romantic comedy in fifteen years (coincidence?). Visually this is pure wish fulfilment – the cars, the clothes, the mansions – but this spectacle of opulence is not at the expense of heart. Full review.
9. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
While a reasonable case can be made that the best superhero movie of 2018 is actually Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, you simply can’t ignore the broader impact of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. While functioning effectively as a superhero movie and doing all of the things we have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of spectacle, characterisation and expansive storytelling, Black Panther is also, from top to bottom, a powerfully Afrocentric blockbuster. No tokenistic nod to diversity, Coogler’s film draws its look, sound and feel from its African heritage, and manages to wrestle with complicated questions of isolationism and the African diaspora experience along the way. It is odds on to be the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. Full review.
8. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative filmmakers in world cinema, and The Shape of Water, this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, is the sort of film which could seemingly only have come from his unique mind. Drawing inspiration from the old 1930s monster movies but reimagining them as fairytales, this romance between a mute cleaning woman and a fish monster becomes a fable about the outsider, about those who are without a voice, whether literally or metaphorically. In an era of great cynicism, The Shape of Water is a very sincere film, with its effectiveness the result of how readily we accept their most unconventional love, thanks, in no small part, to an amazing performance from Sally Hawkins without the use of voice. Full review.
7. Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton)
Coming nine years after his debut feature Samson & Delilah won the prestigious Camera d’Or at Cannes, Warwick Thornton’s second feature, the outback western Sweet Country, does not disappoint. The story of an indigenous labourer and his wife who go on the run after they kill a drunken neighbour in self defence, knowing there would be little understanding for a black man who has killed a white man, Sweet Country brings an indigenous perspective to a genre so rooted in colonial myth making. A trained cinematographer, Warwick Thornton has a wonderful eye for visual storytelling and the western form allows for some glorious landscapes in capturing the disparity between the white and black experience of the outback. Harsh and uncompromising, it won prizes at Venice and Toronto, before claiming six AACTA awards. Full review.
6. A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born, is the fourth big screen version of this tragic love story to be made, and it is the best by some margin. A spectacular showcase for two disgustingly talented people – yes, Cooper can sing and yes, Lady Gaga can act – it takes this familiar story of two careers, one on the way up, the other on the way down, and offers new insights, particularly in its nuanced exploration of alcoholism. The music is outstanding, with electrifying performance sequences shot live on the main stage at Coachella and Glastonbury. You can lock Cooper and Gaga’s duet ‘Shallow’ in for Best Original Song at the Oscars now. Full review.
5. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)
Spike Lee, who throughout his career has been unfairly saddled with the burden of being considered the cinematic voice of black America, returned to his electrifying best this year with BlacKkKlansman, his response to the state of race relations in Trump’s America. It tells the ludicrous but true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who, in 1978, managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white body double. Functioning effectively as both a comedy and a detective story, BlacKkKlansman finds great humour in its absurd scenario and characters without ever letting you lose sight of the horror. A story about the past which resonates uncomfortably in the present, nods to MAGA and the 2017 Charlottesville rally ensure no one leaves this film under the mistaken impression that this sort of hate has been consigned to history. Full review.
4. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Greta Gerwig became only the fifth woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director this year (make what you will of that statistic) for her impressive debut feature Lady Bird. Fractionally autobiographical, it tells the story of a girl in her final year of high school, counting down the days until she can escape to college on the east coast, ‘where culture is.’ Not at all showy, this loosely structured coming-of-age story feels fresh and authentic rather than beholden to the well worn tropes of the genre. Gerwig presents glimpses of interactions and events rather than an elaborate narrative, bringing a sense of depth and specificity to a story world that feels bigger than just what we are shown. Lead performances by Saoirse Ronan and, in particular, Laurie Metcalf are amongst the year’s best. Full review.
3. Terror Nullius (Soda_Jerk)
Unlike anything else I saw this year, Terror Nullius is a wickedly creative piece of political satire. Art duo Soda_Jerk have created a feature length collage which brings together scenes and images from the history of Australian cinema with clips and soundbites from Australian politics in order to challenge national mythologies. Australian cinema has been instrumental in crafting an image of Australianness to present to ourselves and the world, but Terror Nullius invites us to see those same images in a new light, reusing our films to tell a different story of Australia, a truer and altogether more confronting story. With its duelling high and low art impulses, this film defies mainstream conceptions of what a film should be, but its humour and reference points make it incredibly accessible. Full review.
2. Paddington 2 (Paul King)
Too often discussions of the best films of the year seem to be restricted to those films deemed ‘serious’ and ‘important,’ forgetting that cinema can also be joyful, and without doubt the most purely joyful film of the 2018 was Paddington 2. Starting with the delightfully simple premise of Paddington wanting to buy a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy, this is, at its heart, a film about the importance of kindness and treating people with decency. Paddington 2 manages to be entirely genuine in its delightfulness, neither feeling compelled to wink knowingly to the audience nor veering into the sickly sweet or naff. Beautifully animated, emotionally affecting, and featuring a delicious, scene stealing performance from Hugh Grant, Paddington 2 is utterly charming. Full review.
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
For my number one film of 2018 we have to go right back to the beginning of the year. In fact, to the first film I saw this year. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the third feature from accomplished playwright and director Martin McDonagh, is a darkly comedic kick in the guts. Fittingly, for a year dominated by the ongoing impact of the #MeToo movement, it tells the story of a woman whose determination to get justice for her raped and murdered daughter is unwavering, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make people in her community. An exploration of grief, anger, vengeance, but also forgiveness, Three Billboards consistently opts for the complicated over the straightforward, asking difficult questions about communal guilt and culpability. Leading a cast of McDonagh regulars, Frances McDormand crackles in the role that rightfully won her a second Academy Award. Full review.
The Next Best (alphabetical): Annihilation (Alex Garland), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen), The Breaker Upperers (Madeleine Sami & Jackie van Beek), First Man (Damien Chazelle), Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird), I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam), The Post (Steven Spielberg), Roma (Alfonso Cuaron), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)
By Duncan McLean