For the first time in a few years my Top 10 Films list span a wide variety of genres, from blockbuster thrillers to historical comedies to art house dramas. But more profound than these differing genres has been 2018’s commitment to diversity in the presentation of human stories. There has been diversity in the way filmmakers are showing films, with one major picture receiving a wide release on Netflix, redefining how audiences experience and have access to excellent movies. But most importantly of all there is diversity in storytelling and diversity on screen for the first time that doesn’t seem tokenistic and actually packs a punch. It’s not the best year for films in recent history in my opinion, but it’s an excellent set up for years to come.
10.Crazy Rich Asians
Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestseller, this romantic comedy sees Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) goes to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), unbeknownst to that he is the heir to a million dollar business. One of the best things about this adaptation is how refreshing and original it feels in the landscape of Hollywood cinema. Yes, it uses flashing art direction and broad humour to appeal to general audiences, but its originality lies in the honest portrayal of the cultural and intergenerational differences between Rachel and Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michele Yeoh) in an appealing and easy to watch way.
This John Hughes-esque film is the romantic comedy that touches all the right nerves and gives gay teenagers the right sort of visibility that has been missing in mainstream filmmaking for the longest time. When Simon (Nick Robinson) learns that there is another closeted gay at his school, his search begins. His relationship with his friends bring a lot of laughs and give it the teen film angle that teenagers love to watch. But it’s the moving moments with Simon and his parents (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) that really make it feel like more than a cheesy film and draws a few tears. It’s funny, sentimental, smart and groundbreaking, but has a lot of heart.
8.Sorry To Bother You
Director and writer Boots Riley goes big in this provocative and outlandish film, tackling outrageous ideas about politics, labour and society. Centering on telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who uses his “white voice” to make sales and climb the corporate ladder, before learning the truth behind the company he works for, there are plenty of twists and turns drawing the viewer in. It’s surreal, original and wild in its approach to a story that holds an anti-capitalistic message very loud and clear. And certainly paves the way forward for this kind of atypical filmmaking in years to come. While its ending may be too far for the average viewer, it cements Stanfield as a leading actor with plenty of charisma and Riley as a director with plenty more to give.
When Joe (Jonathan Pryce) is announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) travel to Norway for the ceremony to celebrate his body of work. What plays out is an enthralling story of Joan, the wife, who’s elegance and composition is at odds with Joe’s vanity and arrogance, all driven from his acclaimed body of work. The Wife is a look at a woman’s role when she is dedicated to the role of a successful man’s sidekick and little more. What we learn is that there are secrets and betrayals that lurk beneath this couple’s perfect facade and ultimately a powerful figure comes to the fore to claim what has been theirs all along. Close deserves all the awards for this performance.
6.A Quiet Place
Before there was Bird Box, there was A Quiet Place. This near voiceless film is an enthralling roller coaster that shocks and scares all without making much of a human sound. With director John Krasinski in the lead role as Lee, surviving with his wife Evelyn and their children (real life wife Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, respectively), there is plenty of tension accompanying the eeriness throughout. All of the performances are strong and Krasinski’s ability to create anxiety with restriction of sound and verbal emotion is a cut above the rest last year. Whilst the ending is predictable and a sequel is to come which could unravel it all, Krasinski’s steely and effective direction is thrilling.
Ryan Coogler’s high budget and subversive political critique is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe full stop. The ideological conflict between the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the American rebel Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) really blurred the lines between the good guys and the bad guys for what felt like to me the first time in 21st century superhero stories. The attention to detail in the African influences in Wakanda’s architecture and technology is bold and iconic. Rather than succumb to the traditions and staples of superhero filmmaking, Coogler does his best to bring gravitas to the material, creating an intense and exhilarating experience incomparable to past Marvel films. Here’s hope that the vigour and attention to detail will continue into further sequels.
4.A Star Is Born
In a story told time and time again (and again), there is the tragic love story that births a legend. In this reincarnation director, producer and writer Bradley Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard rocking Southern singing star takes soulful Ally (Lady Gaga in her film debut) under his wing to make her a superstar. With Gaga taking centre stage (literally) in this tragedy, there is only one ending in very clear sight. Yet despite this, Cooper turns this tired story into a refreshing take on a classic, working with Gaga’s singing ability and vocal style in a collaboration that actually feels legitimate. The power ballad Shallow brings both voices together in a fantastic blend that will no doubt be the film Song of the Year. Whilst the third act loses steam as it dribbles towards the end, the last few minutes of Gaga’s beautiful vocal strength validates the love story and no doubt will launch her film career.
It was only a matter of time until visionary auteur Spike Lee made a comment on the state of US society and politics. That comment is Blackkklansman, telling the outrageous true story about Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he tries to infiltrate the KKK in Colorado Springs. Encouraging colleague Flip (Adam Driver) to be part of his investigation, they team up to take down the organisation from the inside. The film’s ability to balance both comedy and drama is to be commended as is Washington’s star turn as Ron. The commitment to drawing parallels between the 1970’s fight against prejudice and the current situation of racial tension in the US does come across as documentary like at times, but the impact is lasting. I felt angry by the end of it. Its gut wrenching but empowering, timely and brawny in its storytelling and lasting in its power.
Every director has their passion project. More often than not, these projects fail because director’s have this vision that has stewed inside them for years that when presented with the opportunity falls into a huge mess. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is not one of those films. Directed, written and co-edited by Cuaron, this Spanish language film takes us back to the Mexico of his past. Following the life of a housekeeper to a Middle Class family, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), Roma isn’t concerned with appealing to any particular group of viewers or following the beats of other dramatic films. Aparicio’s performance is so moving and particular, it is hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Roma is visually rich in detail, beautifully written and most of all you can feel Cuaron’s passion behind it, delicately unraveling his vision for this story. It’s deeply personal, as we follow Cleo’s days and life through the tumultuous 1970’s Mexico, engrossing throughout. It speaks for itself in its presentation, a moving portrait on the complexity of a simple life but one that is not worth any less than anyone else. It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple.
Historical dramas are dime a dozen this year (see Mary Queen of Scots, The Crown, etc.) but what about a historical comedy? It’s 18th century England, Olivia Colman is Queen Anne, at her side is Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, fundamentally ruling the kingdom while at war with France. That is until a new servant and Sarah’s relation Abigail (Emma Stone) turns up to stir the pot and strives become the court favourite herself. Yorgos Lanthimos makes all the right moves here. Camera angles are weird, with really unusual uses of fisheye lenses and slow panning scenes. We see slow motion scenes of duck racing and tomato throwing interspersed throughout, highlighting the ridiculousness of activities at this time. The three key actresses Colman, Weisz and Stone have such great timing and banter that you would be mistaken for thinking they haven’t done a comedy together before. But it’s the humour that takes the cake, the sharp dialogue and entertaining beats that actually makes this history…seem fun! Whilst its not 100% historically correct and never tries to make it seem so, Lanthimos puts a twist on this war of personalities to make it appealing and understandable for the average viewer. It doesn’t make a mockery of these women but embraces them, warts and all, with their vulnerabilities and their ferocity. The wit of the script balanced with the darkness of the period, the original and WTF direction that you would never see in any other royal re-telling, the stupendous acting from the cast who all leave a lasting impression, the art direction, the costuming and all of it is as weird and wonderful as one would expect, even more so as a history lesson. That’s why The Favourite happen to be my favourite of 2018.
Originally published on BackRow, 22 January, 2019.