You’ve already heard my best film experiences of 2018, but I intentionally left new releases off that list in order to have some clear blue water, aware that I’d be presented a 2018 only list.
Now, in all honesty, I’ve seen just over 150 movies this year, and less than 30 of them are 2018 releases. There are many omissions from this ten. This list will, in the fullness of time, absolutely change as I see films many others already have on their lists. This is what I saw, however, so this is all I can, right now, go by.
#10 to #6 then. Let’s do this…
10. 22 July (Paul Greengrass)
Even if you’re not Norwegian, the events of 22 July, 2011, are seared into your memory, particularly as a European. The mass murder committed by lone gunman Anders Brevik, who killed 77 people at a peaceful island summer camp after bombing a government building in Oslo, was a shocking atrocity which woke Norway up to the frightening reality of right wing nationalism. Paul Greengrass’ movie goes one further: this was an omen for the Western world.
Greengrass has a distinctive style, evidenced by not just his contributions to the Jason Bourne franchise, but films before and since; the director is as close to a documentary filmmaker as a storyteller can be, often choosing subject matter that reflects currently political and social atrocities, realities or conspiracies in our climate. 22 July is not the first dramatic telling of Brevik’s crimes but it may be the most sobering, exploring not just the psychology of a dangerous, fanatical fantasist, but just how Norwegian government and society respond to the platform Brevik’s horrific actions demand.
Easy to find if you have Netflix, 22 July is long, distressing and not a film you can just throw on, but when it works, it’s Greengrass at his reflective, powerful best.
9. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey)
This was my first exposure to celebrated director Lynne Ramsey and on this evidence, it won’t be the last. You Were Never Really Here is a stripped back 90 minutes of material which combines a near monosyllabic performance from the unique Joaquin Phoenix with powerful, disturbing sound design, and direction which runs the gamut from unbearably tense to beguilingly eccentric.
Phoenix is Joe, a downbeat assassin for hire who lives with his ageing, ailing mother, and uses a hammer as his principal weapon of despatch. Joe is haunted by his past as a lawman, his childhood at the hand of an abusive father, and he soon channels those demons into a destructive, and self-destructive, crusade to destroy a powerful New York child sex ring. This sounds as bleak as bleak can be but Ramsey focuses less on awful, salacious details and rather Joe’s psychological breakdown as his vengeance becomes ever more brutal and violent.
Hard to adequately describe and uncompromising to watch, You Were Never Really Here is lithe, hard and strange, and unlike anything else out there this year.
8. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
A striking debut directorial project for actor John Krasinski, who this year took on the mantle of Jack Ryan but remains best known for playing Jim in the US version of The Office, A Quiet Place has a great premise which crosses the horror and science-fiction streams with aplomb: in a post-apocalyptic world controlled by monsters that are hyper-sensitive to sound, a family must fight to stay alive in absolute silence.
This is the kind of film which requires the attention span and patience lost on many a modern audience, as I can attest to in my main review where I outline the struggle I faced with people in my screening who failed to appreciate the need for quiet, but A Quiet Place relies on audiences responding to a film where characters rarely do anything more than whisper, as Krasinki’s father and Emily Blunt’s mother (both are married in real life, incidentally), try and prevent the monsters attacking them. It necessitates the same concentration and silence from the viewer.
Tightly directed, sparsely and inventively scripted, A Quiet Place is one of the most striking and clever genre fusions of recent years.
7. The Post (Steven Spielberg)
We got a bumper year for Steven Spielberg movies in 2018 and while Ready Player One is great fun and has been significantly under-appreciated by many audiences, The Post is easily the strongest movie from America’s most legendary living director this year. Directed in record time from a terrific script by Josh Singer & Liz Hannah which originated on the Black List, The Post is a well paced, superbly performed, unofficial prequel to All the President’s Men.
The focus is the preamble to the Watergate scandal which brought down the Nixon Administration in the early 1970’s, squaring the focus on the Washington Post which came into receipt of the Pentagon Papers, classified documents which exposed the corruption endemic in sustaining the Vietnam War across the 1960’s, and the moral and political battle of Tom Hanks’ editor and Meryl Streep’s pioneering newspaper owner to release them. Streep is brilliant as Katherine Graham, the heart and soul of the picture, and a fascinating figure in her own right.
The Post is crisp, dramatic, often tense and rich in character. It’s the kind of film Spielberg can almost now do in his sleep.
6. Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo)
And so it begins… or more appropriately ends. As I evidence in greater detail in my main review, Avengers: Infinity War kicks off a two-part conclusion to the biggest, long-form, cinematic storytelling project in motion picture history – the first arc of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Iron Man, Captain America and a cavalcade of other Avengers face the universe-threatening problem of Thanos, the Mad Titan.
In some respects, Infinity War might be the biggest movie ever made up to this point. Dozens of characters, most of whom have had their own trilogies of films and franchises in their own right; a narrative which spans numerous planets and cities on Earth; a villain with such power he can actually implode a moon and rain it down on a planet in seconds; and stakes which are about as big as a story can give you – the potential eradication of half the universe. What’s remarkable is how well Joe & Anthony Russo make it work. Yes, it’s episodic. Yes, it’s as much set up as payoff. But its slick, exciting, at times riotously funny, and put together with incredible charm.
Even if the upcoming Avengers: Endgame fails to live up to it, Infinity War is as bravura a final part of a story as you’ll ever see on film, with a genuinely surprising cliffhanger ending.
Check back in soon for the top 5 films from 2018, in my opinion, but next I’ll track back to TV for my small screen top 5…