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Tom Hemingway Counts Down the 10 Best Films of 2018

Written by Tom Hemingway.

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I have yet to see Roma so this is all potentially invalid. Nevertheless…

10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)

A film which celebrates the diverse history of Spider-Man and the hand-drawn aesthetics of the comic book source material. The extraordinary voice cast are as much fun as the film’s absorbing visuals, which deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Also, its idiosyncratic sense of humour proves that there are so many places superhero movies can go with regards to tone as well as style.

9. A Star is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Every generation has their version of A Star is Born, and this iteration - the fourth to date - is one of the most enjoyable and moving, replete with (dare I say it) the best soundtrack of the bunch. Sure, nothing here matches Judy Garland’s iconic performance from the 1954 version, but Cooper embodies the role of a faded rock star like he born to play it. We all know Lady Gaga can sing but the real revelatory quality of her performance can be drawn from the quieter moments in between the songs. The film’s early live performances, shot on location at Glastonbury festival, possess an electric and kinetic energy, which is contrasted by the sobering extended silences of the final act.

8. The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener)

The latest from Nicole Holofcener is an understated delight and a film which I suspect may be one of the lesser-known and least seen from this list. Holofcener is a director known for creating well-rounded female protagonists, evident in the ensemble of Friends with Money, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva in Enough Said, and Catherine Keener’s multiple roles throughout her filmography. However, here Holofcener chooses to focus on the occasionally charming and frequently misguided Anders, played by Ben Mendelsohn. Any study of middle-aged white male ennui should have surely reached saturation point by now. However, working for the first time from a source text rather than an original screenplay, Holofcener is able to conjure an originality and real sense of empathy for all the film’s characters through her patient direction and by now trademark use of recurring visual and thematic metaphors. The film reveals more richness and complexity upon repeated viewings - which its Netflix release make very easy.

7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dir. The Coen Brothers)

Not all vignettes are created equal. This becomes evident about halfway into the Coen Brothers latest, somewhere around actor Henry Melling’s (an amputee Dudley Dursley) fifth recitation of Ozymandias. But put together, this sextet of stories from the old West create a suite of reflections on the price of life and its eternal unpredictability. Typical Coen fare then. The Brothers’ third Western in a decade is their first feature shot on digital, and in this respect I would say the film suffers. But compensation is provided by the supreme ensemble and stunning vistas displayed throughout. Most impressive is the handling of tone. The film’s mood is one of constant devolution and denouement, as endings upon endings begin to pile up (mostly unresolved, of course) and the tone shifts from broadly comedic through feelings of melancholia, tragedy, and ultimately uncertainty.


6. Widows (dir. Steve McQueen)

Steve McQueen’s latest film transposes the UK-based 80s television adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s novel to contemporary North America, in a film which ruminates on gender, class, race, and politics, while maintaining the pace and thrills of a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster. A large part of the film’s success is its stellar cast (including Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Colin Farrell) who, regardless of screen time, each convey the sense of lived-in characters weighed down by their past experiences. The film also serves as an always welcome reminder of McQueen’s fine artistic eye. Its compositions and the interrelation of images through editing are striking on a surface level, as well as possessing multiple deeper implications. It’s a shame that the film didn’t find a mass audience during its theatrical run and has subsequently fared worse during this period of end-of-year lists and awards ceremonies than it should have.

5. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

Critics compared Lynne Ramsay’s latest to Taxi Driver, a film which I believe shares more in common with another title further on in this list. In terms of aesthetics and tone, You Were Never Really Here works better as a companion to Ramsey’s much-beloved adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Joaquin Phoenix, as ever, commands the screen, appearing completely unreachable yet infinitely sensitive, while Jonny Greenwood’s original score (when placed alongside his work for Phantom Thread - more on that soon) cements 2018 as his greatest year yet moonlighting as a world-class film composer. For a film with such a dark subject matter, one which keeps gleefully prodding the viewer’s nerves until its last minute, the possibility of happiness and redemption offered by its final moment makes the film all the more powerful.

4. Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)

Ari Aster’s big screen directorial debut disturbed me so greatly during my first viewing that I vowed to never watch it again. I’ve now seen it three times and still can’t look directly into the corners of dimly lit rooms. As well as being terribly distressing, it also boasts some of the year’s best production design in the horror genre (the family’s house was built from scratch on location to accommodate the film’s scares), and the intricate plotting of its first act makes way for one of the most gruesome narrative surprises of the year. The rest of the film is carried through by a pair of Oscar-worthy performances from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff, whose expressions can elicit more terror from the viewer than any jump scare.


3. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Emerging from the dizzying haze of Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson returned to a more structured, formal style of filmmaking this year with Phantom Thread. The film features what will supposedly be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final screen performance, but it’s Vicky Krieps, a newcomer to leading English-speaking roles, who outshines him as his muse. Taking the cue from its title, the film possesses a ghostly atmosphere and a profound sense of loss and absence, which Kreips’ character is able to momentarily fills - perhaps temporarily - for Day-Lewis’ troubled dressmaker. Despite this, there are frequent moments of comedy which imbue the film with a constantly shifting and fluid tone. The favourites at this year’s Oscars were the formulaic Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. However, it was Phantom Thread and my number two choice which I found able to provide amazement, investment, and intrigue.

2. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)

This film could have easily switched positions with Phantom Thread, but Gerwig’s control over emotion trumps Anderson’s control over craft. I didn’t grow up in Sacramento during the early 2000s (I was, however, raised Catholic and attended Catholic high schools until I was 16), but the sentiments which Gerwig evokes in her debut feature can be recognised by anybody who grew up and left their hometown behind for one reason or another. The writing is sharp without appearing laboured, the performances are subtle but pack huge emotional punches, and the soundtrack accurately transports the viewer back to the very-recent past without using any Britney. A successful debut on every conceivable level.

1. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)

Austere would be the go-to word when describing the latest from Paul Schrader. This is evident in the way the film uses its 1.33:1 frame, the film’s production design, its colour palette, the camera movement (or lack thereof), and the sparseness of its musical score (virtually non-existent). Ethan Hawke, who has by now surely earned the title as one of the most versatile and charismatic living actors, carries the unimaginably heavy burden of all the film’s themes: the absence of God, the pollution of the environment, the rise of terrorism, the nature of sacrifice, the business of religion, and the differences between belief, action, and radicalisation. A piece of ceaselessly thought-provoking art cinema with a haunting and perplexing ending that echoes long after the end credits.


This article was published on January 04, 2019.