It is that time again for end-of-year thoughts and reflections, brought to you by many but not all of Diabolique’s contributors. Some opinions from our core writers are missing in this list, but there are more than enough picks in this massive look back at what 2018 brought us. Of the over thirty titles here, we find blockbusters to indies, theatrical releases to streaming content, and even a few repertory re-releases from home video distribution companies. The three top titles of the year are Mandy, BlackKklansman, and Hereditary, with enough nods toward each too close to pick a “best” film of the year. And without further ado:
Simon John Ball
Peripheral takes us into the chilling world of cyber dependency and control. Author Bobbi (Hannah Arterton) is suffering from writer’s block and is persuaded by her publisher to swap her manual typewriter for a computer with self-correcting software that edits her work for the appropriate market. Fuelled by her ferocious drug habit and her looming deadline, Bobbi becomes ever more integrated with the machine as she struggles with the increasingly surreal and nightmarish events that take place within the closed environment of her flat. There is something scarily prescient about Peripheral given our increasing dependence upon information technology just to get the simplest of jobs done. There is also a cameo from Tom Conti as Bobbi’s favourite author Gilmore Trent (Kurt Vonnegut fans they are looking at you).
4. Witness for the Prosecution (USA, dir. Billy Wilder, 1957, remastered dual format reissue)
Normally the idea of an Agatha Christie courtroom drama leaves me cold, however Witness for the Prosecution also has a stellar cast, not to mention razor sharp additional dialogue from the genius that crafted Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot. Wilder described Witness for the Prosecution as his Hitchcock film and it certainly does tick all classic Hitch wronged man drama boxes. However it is Wilder’s extra scenes pitching the blisteringly pompous barrister Sir Wilfred Roberts against the dictatorial Nurse Plimsoll determined to ensure Sir Wilfred’s compliance with doctor’s orders that lift the film above a standard Christie adaptation and they are such a joy to behold. The roles are fulfilled by real life husband and wife Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, who are clearly having tremendous fun snarking and bitching at each other. Add to that a cabaret number from Marlene Dietrich and you could not wish for anything more.
3. House (Japan, dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977, Blu-ray reissue)
House starts fairly innocuously when teenage Angel (Kimiko Ikegami) decides to go on holiday with her six school chums (seven being the magic number) at her auntie’s isolated farm. It then turns into one of the maddest films I have ever seen. Angel hasn’t seen auntie for years, so it is no real surprise that she is no cute old lady and that the house is out to consume the girls. It’s a hyperactive retelling of the traditional Japanese ghost story complete with an evil cat, a bum biting, blood vomiting severed head, a carnivorous piano, a teacher who gets turned into bananas, malevolent lampshades and telephones, and other assorted deadly soft furnishings. An intoxicating cocktail of lunacy, splatterstick humour and psychedelic graphics derived from Obayashi’s past life as a TV commercial director, based upon an idea by the director’s twelve year old daughter, House is a work of genius.
Harry Dean Stanton’s final movie was written with him in mind and he plays the part of the fiercely independent World War Two Navy veteran to perfection. Lucky lives in happy isolation in a US desert town. A creature of habit, his days involve cigarettes, songs on the Mexican radio, watching game shows in his underwear and hanging out at the diner, Mexican grocery store, and bar. However Lucky’s routine gets thrown out when he suffers a fall and his buddy Howard’s (David Lynch) tortoise goes missing. A journey of self-exploration is taken involving weed, Liberace, mariachi, bugs, and fisticuffs as he approaches the end of his life, leading to self fulfilment and enlightenment. Always a compelling performer Stanton’s delivery of acerbic quips and put-downs is deliciously funny, but there is more to Lucky than wisecracking, snappy dialogue; there are highly charged emotional moments in this movie and I defy anyone not to get misty eyed at them. Funny, touching, and overwhelmingly optimistic, Lucky is a beautifully uplifting film and a fitting tribute to one of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic players.
Possum isn’t an easy watch. The story of a disgraced children’s entertainer who returns to his burnt out family home on the bleak windswept coast of Norfolk buries some really disturbing, genuine horror beneath its supernatural trappings. With only Maurice (Alun Armstrong), his filthy nicotine-stained step father for company, the vulnerable Philip (Sean Harris) attempts to exorcise his demons by getting rid of his half spider half human puppet Possum–but when Possum keeps coming back, Philip has no choice but to confront the devastating truth. Possum is the first feature film from writer/director Matthew Holness, creator of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place. The cinematography is bleak with an almost monochromatic quality making the dirt and soot-blackened grime of the burnt out house, and the windswept winter beaches almost palpable, while the real monster is far more disturbing than Possum himself.
The latest project from the directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead does not disappoint. The pair continue with their trademark mix of horror, fantasy and sci-fi, once again managing to create a genuinely compelling story that draws you in and keeps you hooked until the very end. Besides the intriguing mystery, the story is interspersed with gentle humour as well as some deeper themes of control and dysfunctional family dynamics, both of which help to add some depth to the story. If you’ve enjoyed the previous works by this duo, The Endless is definitely a must see, and if you’re not, it’s a pretty damn good place to start.
From Argentina comes one of the most original paranormal horrors of the year. Director and scriptwriter Demián Rugna has taken the tired and overused concept of paranormal investigation and turned it into something not only original, but authentically terrifying. The brutally horrific opening scene alone is enough to scare the most seasoned horror fans, and even though it might seem that nothing could possibly live up to the intensity of that sequence, surprisingly the rest of the film still does. What it might lack in plot development, it makes up in the well-crafted atmosphere and beautifully delivered scare scenes. It is a breath of fresh air in a tiresomely repetitive genre and a film that any fans of supernatural horror should not miss.
You Were Never Really Here
Another moody, hard hitting piece by the director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin, 2011), You Were Never Really Here is a decidedly unique contribution to the crime-mystery genre. Its beautifully designed cinematography, together with excellently timed editing and incredibly well executed sound design are a thing of beauty. Together they take this brutal story forward in an elegant and gentle manner, something that is quite unexpected in a story of its kind. Beautiful, poetic, and a true joy to watch.
Sorry to Bother You
Much has been said, mostly in praise, about Boots Riley’s first feature Sorry to Bother You, and I am generally in agreement. It is a clever, hip film that features the socio-politics of race, class, and art. The fantastic twist is shocking in its audacity and willingness to subvert conventional narrative far into its running time. It seems timely, although a comedy about telemarketing could have been written as far back as the 80’s or 90’s. I could watch Sorry to Bother You multiple times without getting bored, something I plan to do so in the months and years to come.
Speaking of hype, Mandy is another fresh, festival darling. In some ways it is nebulous and surreal, but able to be surprisingly simple in its core mission–by “core mission” I mean presenting a film that is aesthetically engaging aurally and visually, while also automatically entering the canon of stoner, drone metal cinema. Mandy clearly wants the audience to have dropped acid before the start of the film, but it doesn’t act like some psychedelic guru trying to initiate you into a bogus cult. Mandy is far more like that fun loving friend of yours who feels like mixing hallucinatory experiences with Hellraiser. The fact that Nicolas Cage is present, giving a suitably over the top performance, is almost like an added bonus as opposed to a galvanizing star turn.
Let The Corpses Tan
Amer is one of my favorite films of the past twenty years, and the latest picture by collaborators Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani is not as good as their first feature. Yet Let the Corpses Tan is still far above par compared to most art-genre cinema coming out today. I didn’t have a chance to see their friend Peter Strickland’s new film In Fabric, which may retroactively take the place of this film on my favorites list, but there is something about how these young filmmakers are able to use genre aesthetics of the past in order to create something quite new and singular. Some film writers can’t stand this kind of borrowing or homage, holding an allegiance to “the old stuff,” but I have increasingly found this curmudgeonly attitude unwittingly conservative and afraid of cinema progressing to new heights (or tangential journeys sideways). The beauty of cinema spectatorship is that there is no good reason to embrace cinema history or cinema now in a mutually exclusive way–I want it all in a maximalist fashion when watching movies, and Let the Corpses Tan delivers in this way.
I surely wasn’t the only one surprised at Spike Lee’s come back to acclaimed cinema, and Blackkklansman proved to be well ingrained in the great director’s well known style, while also indicating that Lee’s politics may have changed a bit since Do the Right Thing. This film about a black undercover cop who infiltrates a white supremacist gang with the help of his Jewish buddy is great in its intersectionality, while also confusing in having a protagonist who is black and a cop–two groups that tend to mix like oil and water now a days all over the US. I love films that give no easy answers and proudly exist with their contradictions and ambivalence on full display, because that is how life works. Sometimes doing the right thing means frustrating some audiences for a greater common good, and 61 year old Spike Lee is mature enough to understand that.
The most surprising and positive thing about Cam is how reminiscent it is of storytelling by Dostoyevsky. I wasn’t expecting this little festival horror picture-cum-Netflix “original” content about an online sex worker to bring me back to the old Russian masters, but indeed it did. That fear of your double, or doppelganger, creeping around right behind or in front of you applies to today’s internet landscape as much as it did to the miseries of the mid-19th century. This feeling of an avatar taking over our lives that may seem like a symptom of social media and web 2.0 or 3.0 is not new. And that is why Cam is so great. It bridges that gap between what many viewers will think is a modern, new thriller and the archetypal fears that have haunted humanity for ages.
When news broke that JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions was working on a World War II-set action-horror hybrid, like many people, I assumed that it was another Cloverfield sequel. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Overlord is just a good old-fashioned romp about soldiers going up against mad Nazi scientists and zombies. Think Saving Private Ryan meets Re-Animator and you have the basic idea. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t show up to theaters to support it and the film’s underwhelming performance has probably ensured we won’t see a big budget movie like this for a while.
May the Devil Take You
The first of two Timo Tjahjanto movies to make the cut, May the Devil Take You is an Indonesian possession yarn that riffs so heavily on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead that it might as well be their sibling. However, Tjahjanto sprinkles enough native spookery into proceedings to give this grisly chiller its own demented identity. While the film doesn’t abandon the tried and tested formula for movies of this ilk, some effective chills and a rip-roaringly violent final third is a breath of fresh air for the genre.
For his second directorial feature-length, Leigh Whannell gave up the ghosts of the Insidious franchise and delivered an action-packed techno thriller about one man’s vengeance crusade against the bastards who killed his wife. Well, not quite one man; he’s assisted by an artificial intelligence implant with a mind of its own. This the best Death Wish movie that was released in 2018, as well as the best Venom flick. That said, Whannel’s script is smart and the action set-pieces are fun, violent and plentiful, so Upgrade deserves to be regarded as its own unique entity.
Nic Cage is at his wacky and emotional best as a grieving husband out to slaughter the demons and cultists responsible for his wife’s death. He even forges his own battle axe and calls a demonic biker a “snowflake”, both of which are qualities this movie possesses that make it worthy of inclusion on this list. However, when you throw in the trippy aesthetics of director Panos Cosmatos, what you have is a simple revenge story presented in the form of a hallucinogenic fever dream that’s unlike anything else released these year.
The Night Comes for Us
The second Tjahjanto movie to blow me away this year is The Night Comes for Us, an actioner that’s basically set the bar for gung-ho mayhem and brutality going forward. It’s going to take a demented genius to top this masterpiece. Not since The Raid 2 has any action movie raised the bar so highly, and while it might not be the best action flick of all time, there’s a strong case to be made for it being the most violent. The combat sequences are impressive and grisly, with one butcher shop brawl in particular serving as a highlight. Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim beat the snot out of each other, while badasses like Julie Estelle also do their fair share of massacring. All in all, a true “hold my beer” moment.
A masterfully assured feature debut by writer-director Ari Aster. It is a horror film but a dysfunctional family drama at its core, and one is completely invested in the Graham family (Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro) before they disintegrate into a hell of hopelessness after there is a death in the family. To watch Hereditary is to witness a filmmaker who knows exactly what he’s doing, every piece of writing on the wall (literally and figuratively) part of Aster’s meticulous design, and a film that disturbs and takes major risks throughout. To sum up Hereditary, it’s like an unforgettably vivid nightmare in the form of a Greek tragedy that cares about its characters but takes no mercy on them.
Luca Guadagnino’s reinvention of Dario Argento’s 1977 kaleidoscopic giallo, is a film that has yet to leave my head. After my first screening of it, I felt hypnotized by the film’s technical elements (the painterly cinematography, Thom Yorke’s portentous and often mournful musical score, the stunning mix of dance choreography and editing), as if the film itself was a form of witchcraft. The second time I watched it, I was able to feel its emotional underpinnings and dig through its thematic complexities. What is so ambitious about Guadagnino’s take is not only how completely different it is from the source—tonally, visually, narratively—and how it expands the witch-coven-running- a-German-dance-academy premise, but how much its post-WWII Berlin milieu gives it a rich historical context. Dakota Johnson, who has always exhibited a spark even in the Fifty Shades movies, gives one of her most complex yet understated performances so far in her career, and the great Tilda Swinton gets to play three key roles, one of them an unexpectedly moving source of compassion. If viewers allow the film to wash over them and dedicate themselves to multiple viewings, Suspiria is one of 2018’s most rewarding mood pieces.
Alex Garland’s picture is another on this list that wasn’t afraid to challenge required patience and full engagement. When so many American films spell everything out rather than letting the viewer suss out their own answers, Garland’s trippy and thrillingly strange venture into the unknown perfectly captures the mystery of something that is beyond basic human understanding. Natalie Portman plays one of five self-destructive women entering a shimmery, possibly alien biodome that could either point toward the beginning of something new or the end of mankind, or both. That Annihilation even received the backing of a major studio and a theatrical release feels like a miracle; it is too bad many audiences were frustrated by the film’s ambiguous nature. The film isn’t all heady mind-fuckery, as it does deliver genre chills and thrills, but if you are like me and prefer a film that gives a lot to ponder and respects your intelligence, consider Annihilation a real humdinger.
5) Tigers Are Not Afraid (dir. Issa Lopez)
One of the most criminally overlooked films of the year, if you caught it at a film fest or got a screener, you know. Beautifully constructed. Heartbreaking and haunting, Tigers cuts to the bone in an unflinching look at childhood trauma amidst the Mexican drug war.
4) The Ranger (dir. Jenn Wexler)
I love slasher movies, but I have to go back to 1993, maybe 96, to find one that I have loved as much as Wexler’s anti-authoritarian punks-in-the-woods debut feature. Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm absolutely slay.
3) Like Me (dir. Robert Mockler)
Probably the prettiest film released this year. I was stunned by the use of blues, pinks, and yellows in this sci-fi-not-sci-fi, thrill crime, psycho drama about a social media criminal artist.
2) Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)
I did not see this movie coming. I did not expect to be so thoroughly surprised. Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby abound, but Aster doesn’t chicken out in the third act. He shows you EVERYTHING. Hereditary will make many critics’ lists and it deserves the hype.
1) Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
It is like Dario Argento made a Heavy Metal movie. A Conan art-house revenge flick. When the credits rolled, I felt like 14 year old me was going to jump out of my skin to go draw all the crazy shit Cosmatos blasted into my eyeballs. Wild At Heart had been my favorite Cage performance, but now it’s #2. Mandy is a must-own for me.
The God Inside My Ear
Writer/director Joe Badon’s surreal genre blender The God Inside My Ear was made in 13 days for only $8,000, but it certainly doesn’t look or feel like it. Badon’s talents as a comic book and visual artist translate marvelously to the big screen, and in his debut effort he has crafted a dreamlike world with psychological horror, science fiction, and thriller elements. Linnea Gregg toplines as Elizia, who spirals into a maddening world of talking pets and garden gnomes, a neighbor who would fit perfectly into a Frank Henenlotter film, and a bizarre telemarketer, to name but a few elements. Fans of David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, and Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy should find much to adore in this exciting vision of a young woman’s descent into paranoia and madness. Badon’s film picked up some impressive awards during its film festival run this year, and for good reason.
Charmingly wicked, thoroughly nasty, and featuring terrific turns by two major young genre actresses, writer/director Corey Finley’s Thoroughbreds is a can’t-miss effort for those who love both classic film noir and neo-noir. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) are two former friends from wealthy families who drifted apart. Their reluctant reunion occurs when Amanda’s mother arranges for the two of them to study together. Amanda icily proclaims that she is basically an unfeeling sociopath. Lily hates her stepfather, and when Amanda senses this, they begin plotting for hapless drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin) to rub out the man. Nothing goes as easily as planned in noir movies, of course, and Thoroughbreds is practically hypnotic in its twists, turns, and displays of malevolence. Cooke and Taylor-Joy play off each other deliciously in top-notch performances, reason enough to heartily recommend this film. Finley’s screenplay (based on his own stage play) and dialogue elevate Thoroughbreds to the category of true nailbiter.
A Simple Favor
Two mothers of young sons become fast friends — of sorts, so it would seem — which leads to intrigue, mystery, and laughs galore in director Paul Feig’s neo-noir comedy A Simple Favor. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a widowed mom with a cooking vlog and an eager-to-please, volunteer-aholic personality. Blake Lively portrays Emily Nelson, a jaded high-level executive in a failing marriage and a beautifully appointed home that she despises. After Emily asks Stephanie to perform the titular task and pick up her son from school, the former woman goes missing. Stephanie slowly starts assuming other aspects of Emily’s life, including a love affair with her husband. As Stephanie tries to play detective and find out what happened to Emily, she starts to uncover all manner of unnerving puzzle pieces. Kendrick is outstanding in her role, starting off as goofily awkward and then practically running the gamut of human emotions. Lively does a fine job, too, as a foul-mouthed woman who has had enough with those who come up short in her eyes. Jessica Sharzer, a writer and producer for American Horror Story, fills the screenplay — based on the novel by Darcey Bell — with hilarious barbs, dartlike implications, and layers of mystery that are a blast to watch unfold.
A Star Is Born
This is the widely-praised movie that the cooler-than-thou kids love to hate on. Nevertheless, it’s well written, well directed, and features stunning performances from everyone involved, most notably Lady Gaga, who absolutely shines here. This is the best of the four film versions of this story to date. Who would have ever imagined a drama of this caliber featuring supporting roles played by the likes of Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, and Eddie Griffin?
Spike Lee does tremendous work here that ranks right up there with Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. The film is spot-on with terrific writing, direction, and acting. (My only complaint was the “floating heads” sequence during the Kwame Ture speech. I found the heads distracting and felt that the speech could have been trimmed a bit.) Nevertheless the film excels at what hip-hop legend KRS-One dubbed “edutainment,” which is educating the audience about social injustice while simultaneously entertaining. The closing montage featuring footage of the Charlottesville tragedy is the most affecting thing you will see this year. (Interesting but unimportant note: both A Star Is Born and BlackKklansman feature cameo roles by Alec Baldwin. Between these turns and his Trump gig, he’s had a hell of a year by any standard.)
As a crime writer myself, I was incredibly impressed with what Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn did within the confines of the noir heist film. I wasn’t as impressed with the film’s big twist, which I found effective but a tad gimmicky, as I was by its female empowerment aspects. (I know “men’s rights activists” will whine about this, but…) There isn’t a single good male character in the film. The female characters find themselves in bad situations due to the actions of the men in the film (mirroring a lot of what we see in real life), and they work without male assistance in the attempt to overcome those situations, learning along the way they don’t need the help of anyone, regardless of gender. At the core of this film is an incredible knock-your-socks-off turn by actress Viola Davis. After I saw the film I posted on Facebook “I used to be an atheist, but now I’m not; Viola Davis is a god.” Despite her Golden Globes snub, this statement was and is accurate. Davis is always great, but here she transcends even her usual greatness. This is the female performance of the year in a year featuring plenty of powerful female turns.
Horror fans are some of the most difficult to please, so some of them have complained about this film being all tension with little payoff. I won’t dispute that, but the tension and suspense in this film are as good as anything the genre has ever produced. There aren’t a plethora of lazy, crappy jump scares here, and that is a good thing. Hereditary will displease genre fans looking for the next Saw movie, but intelligent, discerning audiences will enjoy this. I co-wrote a book two years ago called The 101 Scariest Movies Ever Made. If I wrote that book today, Hereditary would appear somewhere in the top fifteen. Also, actress Toni Collette is amazing here. This film succeeds in almost every way (except the ending, which I found dopey), but Collette still manages to stand out as the best thing about it.
This is the rare superhero movie that elicits talk of Oscar nominations and the like. Whether or not it receives them, this is a film that transcends Marvel superhero fare; this is a REAL movie, a gem supremely well-acted, well-written, and well-directed. Where naysayers expected (secretly hoped) Black Panther and Wonder Woman—superhero stories with an agenda to promote and elevate people who are under-represented—would be empty and lame, it’s wonderful that neither is. Both of these movies are among the crème de la creme of superhero films. These are films that can be judged for their substantial artistic merits rather than just whether or not they are good superhero films. In a year filled with great superhero movies, this was the best in terms of sheer filmmaking.
Sorry to Bother You
Who would have guessed that Boots Riley from The Coup’s directorial debut was going to be a Repo Man (1984) for 2018 with a heavy Michel Gondry influence? Lakeith Stanfield plays Cash, a young man living in his uncle’s garage who moves up the ladder of success in the dark underworld of telemarketing. Along the way he’s seduced into a world of corporate slavery that makes subjugation seem like an inevitable choice. The main characters are believable and relatable, making them feel like they’re trapped in a cartoon reality where extreme performance art is a reasonable way to process, and something as personal as your own voice can be changed on a whim. Viewers may recognize Stanfield as the weird friend Darius in the FX show Atlanta (2016- ); in it he adds to the bizarre tone of the show, but in Sorry To Bother You, his performance actually grounds the film. I love it when a sidekick gets a shot as the lead. There’s a shot in the third quarter of the film that made me react physically, leaping up and leaning towards the screen in gobsmacked disbelief. This is a film that jumps from idea to idea quickly and doesn’t care if you can keep up; besides, if you miss something you’re going to want to watch it again anyway.
The world may not know it yet, but we’re now in a post-BFF Girls world. I may never recover from this Hausu (1977) inspired 14 minute film. The setup is simple, almost dumb. The film is meant to be an episode of a TV show where three best friends are so obsessed over anime culture that they can actually become asian girl superheroes in order to battle evil. Luckily, this isn’t the pilot episode and we don’t suffer through one bit of origin story. Before the binge-watching phenomenon of streaming entertainment, if you heard about a crazy TV show you might not get to choose which episode you saw first. For example, the first episode of Kamen Rider (1971 – 1973) that you came across might have been one where Doctor Shinigami teams up with Ambassador Hell and turns into a squid monster. The only episode of BFF Girls that we get to see (because it’s the only one that exists) is part of a larger story arc where the heroes have dealt with the villainous Fabuloso Doom many times. But this isn’t just some pilot episode by a career minded TV executive, this is the work of Brian Lonano, director of the surreal short film shockers Gwilliam (2015) and Crow Hand (2014) and Brian isn’t afraid to spill gallons and gallons of period blood.
There are those that would list Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) or Giant (2018) as their favorite documentary biographies of the year (covering Fred “Mr.” Rogers and Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff respectively), but for me this lively and touching Hal Ashby profile had them beat. It can be hard for a documentary about a filmmaker to rise above the level of a blu-ray bonus feature, but director Amy Scott has created a polished and fast moving film that has appeal for any fan of 70s film. The amount of dense detail on Ashby’s life and work is bolstered by interviews with people that worked with him, like Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Haskell Wexler, Lee Grant, and Louis Gossett Jr., as well as gushing praise from famous fans like Judd Apatow and Alexander Payne. These aren’t people doing a publicity tour, or appearing on a contractually obligated DVD documentary, these are people that clearly WANTED to talk about Ashby because they respected him. I was lucky enough to stumble in off the streets and see this on a night when Amy Scott and composer Heather McIntosh were Skyped in for a Q and A after the screening. When someone asked a loaded question about Ashby having so many wives (implying that he may have been a misogynist of some sort), Scott replied “Hey, Hal loved the ladies.”
5 – Mission Impossible: Fallout
The sixth entry in a 22-year-old action franchise has absolutely no business being this good, and yet Mission Impossible: Fallout hurtles into 2018 to deliver a balls-to-the-wall, kinetic and completely visceral experience. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, he is a consummate professional, with one mission: you will be entertained, a goal he pursues with the single-minded, laser focus of an absolute madman. The series has come to build itself around a series of increasingly breathtaking action set pieces and is consequently involved with an ever-evolving pissing contest with itself, upping the ante for thrills and spectacle with each new instalment. The franchise is Cruise’s passion project, and a playground for him to push the limits of stunt work in the singular pursuit of frenetic, thumping, high-stakes entertainment. The action alone is reason enough to see it, but it is also skilfully directed, and the wry humour and some deft character moments amid the fray help things along.
4 – Nanette
This one’s a cheat, but I’m digging my heels in. Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special defies easy categorisation, a sort of stand-up routine cum beat poet howl of despair. It is as well structured as the best screenplay and makes expert use of set up and payoff. Gadsby deconstructs the form as she subverts it, exploiting the comedic mechanisms of tension and release, only to pull out the rug and, instead of a punchline, delivers a powerful blow right to the gut. She is a raw nerve, righteous in her anger, stunning in her honesty. A singularly unique work, it is a shout of anguish, a raging battle cry and, above all else, a work of art.
3 – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
What seemed set to be a minor addition to the Coen canon turned out to be not just one of the best films of the year, but up there with their best works. The Western provides the perfect vehicle for their distinctly wicked sense of nihilism. A sort of guided tour through their filmography in microcosm, the key to the film lies in the last chapter, ‘The Mortal Remains’, in which the two bounty hunters function essentially as stand-ins for the brothers and explicitly lays out their modus operandi and why it is they do what they do. The sum of the film is as a story about stories, why we tell them and what they mean to us. Funny, touching and, at times, strangely for the Coens, deeply earnest.
2 – Roma
To describe a work as “universal” is potentially doing a disservice to the specificities of individual existence, and yet Roma, for all its invocation of a time and a place in history, and its focus on class struggles, invokes nothing less than a very universal experience of memory and the transience of life in all its pain and beauty. The wide-shot images are not just stunning in their monochromatic beauty, but draw you into its world as the camera traces and lingers and imbues each scene with the sense of a memory slipping away as soon as it is recalled. It gives the impression somehow of the abstract intensity of feeling of the past, as well as the elusive and quixotic nature of memory and the passage of time marching relentlessly on. It is beautiful and honest, and elegant in its simplicity.
1 – BlacKkKlansman
A film that crackles; it has real blood pumping through its veins. Drawing a straight line through from the past until the present, it is captivating in its relevance, and illustrates the past is not so long as ago as we might think. Thoughtful, energetic, at times horrifying and very, very funny, it also has surprising warmth, given its polemic nature. A stranger-than-fiction true story that not only examines a situation that is sadly too relevant today, but also manages to be about cinema itself, its impact, its importance and our relation to it. The cast is uniformly excellent, but extra credit must be given to the two leads, John David Washington and Adam Driver, who hit every note with sniper precision. Vital stuff, it practically breathes. This is exciting filmmaking.