Another year passes and with it comes a list of my favourite films of the year. It’s certainly been a bizarre one because we received a Transformers film that wasn’t a horrendous, CGI-infested mess! That’s correct; Bumblebee arrived in cinemas this Christmas, and it didn’t sport any egregious use of product placement or unnecessary explosions!
It’s still hard to believe, but this year Disney even had a Star Wars film that flopped miserably in cinemas. Despite being an enjoyable little romp, Solo failed to impress in the box-office. Unfortunately, this impacted any ideas for upcoming spin-offs, but perhaps, this will push Disney to adopt a more careful approach with their projects in the future.
A24 had another solid year yet again, with the indie flick Lady Bird and their twisted horror, Hereditary. They somehow have a secret for distributing great films (such as The Witch, The Lobster and so on…), but we’ll see how long that continues. 2019 is looking pretty good for them though, with the director of It Follows’ upcoming neo-noir Under the Silver Lake, which will feature the underutilised Andrew Garfield.
Netflix was a bit of a mixed bag this year though, as Alex Garland’s ambitious Annihilation was a hit with most, but the streaming platform had its fair share of duds. Remember when everybody got excited over the surprise announcement of a new Cloverfield? How naïve we all were. Even Duncan Jones half-baked Mute failed to impress. Heck, after Moon and The Source Code, he was supposed to be the chosen one.
Sony Pictures even managed to somehow time travel back to 2003 with Tom Hardy’s Venom. Back then, the film would’ve been acceptable, and it would’ve even featured some Drowning Pool, but there’s clearly a new standard for superhero movies. It’s evident that Tom Hardy had something going on there, but Venom was ruined by shoddy editing and unfortunately, some of the worst CGI of the year.
2018 also reminded us that Spielberg hasn’t had a great film in a long time. Ready Player One came rolling in earlier this year, and it only took five minutes for my shoulders to physically ache from all the winks and nudges to popular culture. It’s quite hard to believe the man behind Jurassic Park made Ready Player One, but here we are.
Still, we did have some stellar releases this year! That’s correct, it wasn’t all bad. Below you’ll find a list of my top ten films, based on UK theatrical and Netflix releases only.
10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The wonders of Netflix never cease to amaze. It’s still hard to fathom that subscribers can instantly get a new Coens movie, delivered straight to Netflix. How have we deserved such treatment? Regardless, Joel and Ethan Coen did well to fill the vast hole left by completing Red Dead Redemption 2, with their anthology Western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
The film features a grand selection of talent, such as Zoe Kazan, James Franco and Liam Neeson, amongst other notable actors. Each story sports a different theme, all touching upon certain aspects of the Wild West. Highlights include a grizzled gold prospector and another story concerning a wagon train.
Don’t expect joyful tales throughout, though. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs maintains the Coens’ trademark black humour, so prepare yourself for some melancholy endings. Still, it’s another fine addition to the Coens’ ever-expanding filmography, and let’s hope this kicks off a new tradition of their films being released on to Netflix.
9. A Quiet Place
It’s been a mixed year for the horror genre, with misfires such as The Cloverfield Paradox, but word of mouth and fresh concepts helped some films get noticed, such as Upgrade and especially, in this case, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. Featuring Krasinski and Emily Blunt, the film involves a small family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by horrific nightmarish creatures that rely on sound to feed.
Of course, this concept lends itself to some truly tense scenes. Viewers will be able to hear a single pin drop during some moments of the film, as the family must utilise different methods to survive. Krasinski manages to really tap into something special here, as the importance of family even allows A Quiet Place to be surprisingly heart-warming.
A Quiet Place is a special little film, which needs to be viewed in complete silence. Admittedly, it may not be the most original concept (surely there’s a similar film out there), but it is undoubtedly a strong directorial debut for John Krasinski and an overall great horror experience.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
It’s hard to believe that we’ve come this far with Marvel Studios, but 2018 saw the release of the most ambitious and biggest superhero blockbuster to date, Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by the Russo brothers (perhaps Marvel’s biggest asset in years), the film broke new records while bringing along with it a plethora of memes, burning questions and anticipation for the following instalment.
Infinity War was Marvel firing on all cylinders. It boasted some of the finest CGI work to date, a great ensemble cast and huge action sequences that had fans grinning from ear to ear. How the Russos managed to balance out such a huge cast evenly is mind-boggling, but they deserve all the credit for it.
Will Avengers: Endgame live up the hype? We’ll see whether the Russos manage to wrap up the story properly, but considering their track record, they might just pull it off. There’s just no telling where Marvel goes from here though, as next year we enter the next phase.
Unfortunately, us British peasants didn’t receive Coco in cinemas a full three months after its initial US release, and it’s not the first time that fans have had to wait for Disney releases. It’s infuriating, but the wait was worth it. Coco is without a doubt one of Pixar’s most visually stunning films to date.
Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Coco told a pleasant, touching story of family and its meaning, with some of the finest art direction to grace our screens this year. Coco managed to carefully respect Mexican tradition, while also maintaining all the simple characteristics of a great Pixar film. It was funny, endearing and beautifully put together. While The Incredibles 2 was a fine sequel; it was Coco that took the award for best Pixar/Disney film this year.
It has been stated already, but it’s hard to believe that a Transformers film is being placed on this list. Finally, the franchise was handed to someone who had great respect for the source material, and someone who wasn’t swayed by heaps of cash.
Yes, it’s a relief to say that Bumblebee is a fun, family frolic and that’s all thanks to director Travis Knight. Known for his work on Kubo and the Two Strings, Knight helped provide us with a movie that felt like an eighties Amblin Entertainment film, with Spielberg watching from afar, nodding in approval.
The film stars Hailee Steinfeld, who has been making waves since she starred in the True Grit remake at the age of thirteen. She plays Charlie Watson, a young teen who has been traumatised over the death of her father. Down her luck, she finally finds hope and friendship in Bumblebee, a mute Transformer from the planet Cybertron.
Of course, trouble arrives in the form of two evil Decepticons and the morally ambiguous Jack Burns, who is played by none other than John Cena. It really shouldn’t work on paper, but John Cena pulls of an aggressive government agent with ease, who is leaps and bounds better than the overbearing shouty father of previous Transformers films.
Bumblebee fell behind Mary Poppins Returns and Aquaman this Christmas, but hopefully, this means there’s still some more Travis Knight Transformers on the way. It still had a decent box-office return, and the reception has been great so far. We need more blockbusters like this and less Michael Bay in anything.
5. Mission Impossible: Fallout
Somehow, the Mission Impossible franchise appears to better itself with every instalment. Despite Tom Cruise now being 56 and injuring himself on set with his crazy stunts, Mission Impossible: Fallout turned out to be the best outing yet.
It might be hard to believe for some, but it was one of the finest action blockbusters of the year. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, MI: Fallout is undeniably more of the same. Ethan Hunt saves the world from doom in some bombastic manner and looks great doing so. This time around though, Ethan is joined by August Walker, a CIA operative played by the ruggedly handsome Henry Cavill.
Henry Cavill was a fine addition to the movie, and he excels at playing any character that isn’t Zack Snyder’s Superman. The film broke box-office records this year, and it even resulted in becoming one in Tom Cruise’s highest grossing film in his career. Critics regarded Fallout as one of the greatest action movies ever made, and while that’s being a tad generous, there’s no argument that it’s the best of the franchise.
Can Tom Cruise surpass it next time with the inevitable sequel? Perhaps if Henry Cavill reloads his fists again as he does in Fallout somehow, then I’m on board. Every action movie needs Cavill doing that, in all honesty.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Having directed cult favourite In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, it was clear that Martin McDonagh was a director whose work needs to be closely followed. This year saw the release of his third feature, and it’s a strong contender for one of his finest films yet.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri focuses on Mildred Hayes (played by the fantastic Frances McDormand), a mother who rents three billboards to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter. The film also stars Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell as two police officers who engage with Mildred, hoping to find some sort of resolution. Peter Dinklage also makes an appearance, but his character does deserve a little more screen time.
Martin McDonagh is no stranger to strong scripts and terrific one-liners, and Three Billboards is no exception here. It’s a stellar black comedy, featuring some of the strongest performances of the year. Frances McDormand is remarkable as the lost mother looking for answers, and Sam Rockwell is simply brilliant as the prejudiced police officer. There’s one specific long take featuring Rockwell which is beautifully put together, and it helps remind viewers of just how capable he is when he’s playing a complete degenerate.
The film has also had a positive impact with activists and advocacy groups too, who have adopted the same method of using billboards to get their message across. Whatever Martin McDonagh does next, be sure to check it out. So far, he’s managed to have some of the sharpest scripts in black comedy to date.
3. The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water deserved all its accolades this year, and then some. That’s correct, The Shape of Water might be one of his greatest films yet, and it had nothing to do with the Hellboy universe.
Del Toro has always been a favourite despite some recent missteps (here’s looking at you, Crimson Peak), but The Shape of Water showcases all the director’s clear talents into one delightful, mesmerising feature. It displays his clear eye for intricate set design, his love for bizarre but beautiful creatures, and his knack for creative storytelling.
The film focuses on Sally Hawkins’ Elisa, a mute cleaner who falls in love with an amphibian man, who is held in a secret government laboratory. The amphibian man, played by the terrific Doug Jones, goes through a traumatic time at the hands of Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland, who seeks to abuse and exploit the unique individual.
Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon does his best ‘crazy Shannon’ impression during the movie, but the film truly excels with Sally Hawkins’ depiction of the cleaner, Elisa. She brings forth an award-winning performance, and it’s evident that Andy Serkis clearly has nothing on Doug Jones. Step aside, Gollum, Billy Butcherson is where it’s at.
The Shape of Water is a touching, inimitable romance filled with some of the best set design showcased this year. There’s inspiration from all sorts of mass media, but del Toro makes The Shape of Water his own, visually-distinctive piece of work.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
2018 was a strong year for animation, with films such as Teen Titans Go! being a breath of fresh air for DC, and Ralph Breaks the Internet showcasing the incredible talents of Disney’s animation studio. However, Sony Pictures Animation rolled in this year to cleanse our pallets of Venom, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which impressed critics and viewers alike with its unique visual style and exceptional storytelling.
Since his cinematic debut in 2002, Spider-Man has had a mixed reception. Fans have been put through the wringer with reboots and horrendous Goblin wannabes, but Spider-Verse managed to find the perfect mix for hardened veterans and newcomers alike. It successfully introduced the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, into the fold, while appealing to those who were still longing for more of the same with Peter Parker.
Into the Spider-Verse is visually ground-breaking, and it is paired with an outstanding voice cast, a bold script and a catchy soundtrack. It comes as no surprise to see that Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) played a part in the production of this film because it’s hilarious and charming throughout.
As a miserable, die-hard Spider-Man fan, it takes a lot to impress me. Into the Spider-Verse did more than that. It swiftly became my favourite Spider-Man film. It ticked all my boxes, including an edgy Spider-Man Noir voiced by Nicholas Cage. It’s a pleasure to see an animated film so far on this list, so hopefully, Sony Pictures Animation focuses on more of this and less of The Emoji Movie from now on. Yes, it’s easy to get confused as to how one studio can create both of those films.
Honestly, if someone had informed me that a Spike Lee movie would be making one of these lists, I wouldn’t have believed them. Still, here we are, and Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman became my favourite film of the year, if not one of the most important films of the year too.
Loosely based on real-life events, BlackKKlansman features newcomer John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a police officer in the 1970s that sets out to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. With the aid of his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), they manage to cultivate a relationship with some of the KKK members, including some of the more reckless ones.
Of course, the theme of working undercover lends itself to some truly nail-biting scenes during the film, as the KKK begin to poke holes in Flip’s identity. The film is often frightening at times with its harrowing imagery, but it also manages to infuse some comedy in the mix. Alec Baldwin helps set the tone of the film at first, as he plays a race theorist waffling on about how the Jews and black people are ruining the dearly beloved United States of America.
Topher Grace also appears in BlackKKlansman as KKK leader David Duke, and the resemblance is uncanny. He’s come some way from Eric Forman, and it’s a pleasure to see him in such a role. Hopefully, Grace ends up landing similar roles in the future. It is also worth noting how Adam Driver masterfully becomes Flip Zimmerman; a Jewish cop who goes undercover as a racist redneck. There’s no doubt about it, but Driver does certainly feel like the highlight of any film he stars in.
The cinematography is magnificent in BlackKKlansman, and it’s yet another film set in the 70s that will make you want to live during that era. The script is chock full of sharp and witty dialogue, and obviously, it’s just so damn provocative. Heck, it wouldn’t even be a Spike Lee film otherwise.
There’s no doubt about it, but Spike Lee drives home the message of racism with a sledgehammer. Perhaps that’s what we need right now, and to elicit an emotion as such is a testament to the power of cinema. Spike Lee follows up the end of the movie with a reflection of recent events, and it has been said that audiences are left in stunned silence. Rightly so. Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman is an entertaining, thought-provoking piece of work that couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
If you haven’t had the chance yet, do check out BlackKKlansman.
Honourable mentions include of 2018 include Isle of Dogs, Love Simon, First Man and Annihilation.