Film | Top Ten of 2018 - from record breakers to festival breakthroughs
It's been another eye-popping, action-packed, emotional rollercoaster year at the cinema, the world having been saved many times over, but just as impressive as the blockbusters are those that have shattered cinematic norms and conventions. Of the hundreds of films released theatrically in the UK this year, here are ten of our favourites.
10. Love, Simon
As always, there were a number of clear cinematic takeaways this year, but perhaps the most pleasantly surprising was the overdue resurgence of the romantic comedy -- not just that, but also the clear appetite among audiences for variety and representation within the genre. Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I Ever Loved gave voice to Asian protagonists, the former featuring an exclusively pan-Asian cast while the later never felt the need to address its characters’ ethnicities, but it was Love, Simon that really rewrote the history books — not just by making a gay romance the centre of a studio rom-com but by daring to give its pair a happy ever after.
This year's Arrival, Annihilation is an ambitious and ambiguous stanza of science fiction that is less interested in unlocking the secrets of language than it is in asking questions about identity. It ponders how bereavement, disease or psychosis might erode one’s sense of self, while simultaneously subjecting its characters to an extraterrestrial phenomenon that threatens to mutate them beyond recognition. Deemed too intellectual by a panicked Paramount's execs, Annihilation was instead distributed by Netflix, redeeming the site after a string of lacklustre genre entries like Bright and Mute.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
There is no doubting Avengers: Infinity War’s claim to being the biggest, most ambitious superhero movie ever made — both logistically and creatively. That it's the eighteenth film in an ongoing series, unites characters from across not just the cosmos but ten separate franchises, and allows its villain to win the day would each be remarkable enough, but it’s the fact that directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to do so in a manner that is coherent, compelling and ultimately heartbreaking is undoubtedly the greatest feat of them all.
7. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Whether serialised or subtitled the Mission: Impossible franchise has largely comprised stand-alone adventures, only occasionally alluding to (more often homaging) previous installments. That all changed when Christopher McQuarrie became the first director to return for a second impossible mission, and Fallout is exactly what the franchise needed to lend it a sense of continuity and progression. As thrilling and visceral as ever, the series also manages to up the stakes emotionally by pitting Ethan Hunt against a returning villain and honouring his romantic relationships across the series.
6. Becoming Animal
A nature documentary unlike any other, Becoming Animal eschews high definition close-ups and anthropomorphic narration in favour of something much more poetic and profound. Rather than speak for the natural world, by describing traits or explaining behaviours, animist David Abram instead attempts to converse with it. He asks questions, ponders the answers and attempts to give the natural world a voice of its own. "You can't touch a tree", he muses, on the subject of our relationship with nature, "without it touching you back". It's one thing to ascribe something feelings; it's something else to question what it actually perceives.
5. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse
Proof that Sony can still make a good Spider-man movie without the supervision of Marvel Studios, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse returns the character to his animated roots while telling a story that plays fast and loose with established canon and iconography. Set in an alternative universe and focusing on Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker, the film is at once reassuringly familiar and surprisingly fresh, thanks to some bold story choices, subversive character redesigns and stylish animation.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The film that should have taken Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards this year, shortly after its January 12th UK release, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film that raises hell while also being devilishly funny while doing so. The latest black comedy from Martin McDonagh, it’s an unrelentingly human film, daring to portray its protagonist as fallible and its antagonist as sympathetic. It's one thing to do this in relation to assassins or psychopaths, as in his previous films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but quite another to blur the boundaries when dealing with mourning mothers and corrupt cops -- especially when it's inspired by real events.
3. Black Panther
Superheroes have dominated the cinematic landscape for well over a decade now, even spilling out of their own genre thanks to appearances in The LEGO Movie and Ralph Breaks the Internet, but so far they’ve failed to make a similar impression on the critical consensus. Sam Raimi’s Spider-man and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Night aside, it’s taken until 2018 for a superhero film to generate real awards chatter. But then Black Panther isn’t just a superhero movie — it’s a genuine game-changer, one that hasn’t just sent shock-waves through popular culture but changed the landscape of it completely.
Proof that you don't necessarily have to break records or new ground to produce a great movie, Shoplifters is simply a wonderful story, exquisitely told. A story of adoption (or is it abduction?), Hirokazu Kore-eda latest asks what comprises a family and what constitutes a crime in modern-day Japan. The characters are curious, the performances cathartic and the twists as intriguing as those of any political thriller, in a film that is likely to steal your heart and play on your conscience.
1. Assassination Nation
While many of the movies mentioned received the attention and recognition they deserved, setting the box office alight or dominating the cultural conversation, arguably the year's most urgent has been all but ignored by audiences and critics alike. Imagine a film as timely and controversial as The Purge only with style and conviction? More than a simple riposte to Trump's America, however, Assassination Nation is a preemptive strike against everything from toxic masculinity to transphobia and nationalism. It's one of the most prescient, political and provocative films in years, and a welcome reminder of the true power of film.