My top ten films of 2018

Yes, I am late to the party with a ‘best of’ reviews of the films of 2018, but I like to let my thoughts settle a bit first. Reflecting on the past twelve months I think 2018 turned out to be a pretty amazing year at the cinema. Here are some of my favourites.

1. A Quiet Place

For a modern studio horror blockbuster to have the audience go silent from the off and pretty much stay that way throughout is, in this day and age, some kind of miracle. Although writer-director-actor John Krasinkski somehow managed it. He also persuaded his real life wife Emily Blunt to star alongside him, which was a canny bit of decision-making, as their chemistry elevated the film. We really felt their plight as parents desperately trying to protect their children in the face of these unrelenting monsters.

2. Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel’s cinematic universe (MCU) had been leading up to this point, this two-part finale, for over a decade now. The pressure on the Russo brothers as directors must have been immense. When it arrived though, this film, with its dozens of characters, came together effortlessly. Not only did the directors manage to juggle all these heroes, giving many some lovely little moments in which to sink their teeth, but also deliver a huge purple CGI bad guy in the form of Thanos (Josh Brolin), and have him be a credible, relatable antagonist. Bravely, even more so than The Empire Strikes Back, Thanos utterly won at the end, leaving our heroes depleted and broken.

3. Mission Impossible: Fallout

How is Tom Cruise still going? How is he still alive? Each mission he accepts as super spy Ethan Hunt just gets bigger and more impossible. And he’s in his 50s now. Honestly, he puts most of us to shame. Here Fallout brings together the last few films much like Bond’s SPECTRE tried to, although does it far better. It probably helped that Cruise brought back director Christopher McQuarrie, (the first to return for a second go at the franchise), as they seem to have a great working relationship. This is also backed up by the fact that, recently, McQuarrie has signed on to direct two more mission films, back to back.

4. I, Tonya

Telling the story of real life skater Tonya Harding, Margot Robbie puts in an outstanding performance in the lead role. The film plays out quite like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, in that it charts the rise and fall of Tonya (like it did with Henry Hill), has freeze frames where the characters break the fourth wall to speak to the audience, and comes complete with a great soundtrack. Robbie is also supported by Sebastian Stan (as Tonya’s husband), who put in a great performance. Although it’s Alison Janney as Tonya’s mother that almost steals the whole thing – or at least the scenes she’s in.

5. Black Panther

Culturally, this movie was hugely significant. It starred almost a complete pan-African cast and featured a superhero of colour as the lead. It had kick ass women (both as warriors and scientists), a cool soundtrack (by Kendrick Lamar), a layered antagonist, and helped expand the MCU beyond just stories set in America (this took place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda). Considering Ryan Coogler as director was in his early 30s and only had a few films under his belt, the end result was an astonishing achievement. Moreover, it was a blast to watch and audiences really cared about the characters.

6. Coco

Coming out almost a year ago (Jan 2018 in the UK) this film told the story of a boy who finds a guitar and gets transported to the land of the dead. He then has to seek out a dead musician in order to return to the land of the living. Now… this is another film by Pixar which will hit you hard in the emotional solar plexus. Much like the first few minutes of Up, or two or three times in Inside Out, every few years Pixar put out a film that becomes an instant classic. This one won two Academy awards – and deservedly so. A word of warning though, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, this will hit you especially hard. You should still watch it though, perhaps it’s even more reason to do so.

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Writer-director Martin McDonagh can boast dark comedies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths as part of his filmography. And whilst they’re both great (In Bruges in particular) they don’t tackle the most weighty of subjects. Then he goes and does Three Billboards (out Jan 2018 in the UK) and it blows us away. Yes it’s dark and yes it’s funny, but it’s so much more than that. It got nominated for seven Academy awards and won two of them, which is not surprising. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both put in some of the best performances of their careers.

8. Widows

Steve McQueen as a director is astounding. His directorial debut starts with Hunger (2008), then Shame (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and now Widows. Some output. Widows tells the story of a group of wives and girlfriends left to pick up the pieces after their partners all die in a heist gone wrong. It’s a tough, muscular piece that feels a lot like Michael Mann’s Heat. Although it’s not just a straight up crime movie, it juggles weighty themes throughout, mixing complex characters and commentary on societal issues with the action. Plus the cast are strong throughout: Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez – and all put in fantastic performances.

9. Deadpool 2

How does one top the first Deadpool movie? Add Cable, add X-Force, up the comedy, up the action, up the stakes. Introduce Peter. I appreciate a lot of this won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the movie, but if you have even a vague interest in superheroes and comedy, then it should be on your list. Morever, Deadpool as a character sits apart from the rest of the MCU heroes. He breaks the fourth wall, swears a lot, does filthy things. And forcing him to work with more overtly heroic characters like Collosus, or the more cynical ones like Cable just add to the comedy.

10. American Animals

This film is a true story, amazingly, somehow. It tells the tale of a bunch of college kids who decide to steal $12m worth of old books. They’re not criminals, so it all goes horribly wrong. Now this film feels slightly like I, Tonya in that it splices ‘to camera’ interviews of the real life guys into the narrative. This gets mixed together with interviews by two of the actors playing characters; the enthusiastic Warren (Evan Peters) and the reluctant Spencer (Barry Keoghan). Both actors put in convincing performances and the whole thing builds in a way that is hard to believe, were it not, in actual fact, a true story.

A Quiet Place: a horror masterclass

The ‘what if’ question is often a good way to start the process of creating a story for a writer. To come up with a meaty concept. In A Quiet Place it’s: what if alien type monsters arrived on earth and could hunt us based on the tiniest sounds we make?

So with the inevitable when (and it’s always a when) of when you break the silence, you’ll find it’s game over moments later, because these predators are insanely fast and nigh on indestructible.

The only way to survive is to be utterly silent.
At all times.
Or die.

Which is where we start.

Searching for supplies in an abandoned town we meet Lee Abbott (John Krasinkski) and his family. It’s clear the slightest noise they make is a BIG DEAL. So they use sign language and move around barefoot, walking from their farm to the town and back on trails of sand they’ve painstakingly put down everywhere.

Whilst Lee and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) are highly aware of what might happen should they make a noise, the kids are slightly less mindful of the danger (being kids), except maybe oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds).

The thing that struck me in these opening exchanges is how Krasinkski as director allows us into the characters’ world with such ease. He sets out the roles within the family dynamic and how they interact in such a simple, effective and visual way. All in the first few moments, and all in silence.

And this is made particularly impressive by the fact that the majority of modern mainsteam studio films start guns blazing… all dialogue, action, music, mayhem turned up to 11.

So it’s refreshing, palate cleansing almost, that Krasinski starts the way he does. Showing a confidence in his material and commitment to his vision as a filmmaker.

This in spite of the fact that it’s only his third outing as director and, being a contributing writer as well as one of the leads, it seems like it should be too much for him (or anyone) to handle, but he appears right at home.

It probably helps he brought part of his home with him – at least in terms of acting (for the first time) opposite his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. As this makes for an easy and believable chemistry (you’d worry if they didn’t get this bit right) and, to be honest, if you can get Emily Blunt in your movie, then get Emily Blunt in your movie. I’m a big fan and she brought a lot to the role.

The best parts of this film, unsurprisingly, come in the quietest moments.

By this I mean not necessarily the sound, but the little details, the grace notes, the thought and care the filmmakers put into creating this world. From the VFX people and how they created the monsters, to the design and layout of the farm and even down to the clothes the characters wear (all rugged, chunky knits in rich, earthy, natural colours).

There is also delicate detail in the way the tension builds slowly and feels real. Opposite to how – with most horror – you’re expecting a monster or killer to jump out and eviscerate one of the expendable characters, or even a lead character, often quite early in proceedings. Here you’re hoping and praying the family don’t suffer the same fate.

I found I cared a lot more about the Abbott family then I have ever done for a group of attractive teens trying to evade a slasher killer, for example.

And this probably comes down to the message the movie is trying to put across about how difficult it is being a parent in the modern world. After a traumatic incident early on that sets the stakes and illustrates the danger, the rest of the movie is basically Lee and Evelyn trying their hardest to protect their kids and just live their lives.

Evelyn even says to Lee at one point, ‘Who are we if we cannot protect our kids?’.

And talking of kids, special mention should go to the actors that play the two eldest children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). Both put in superb performances, particularly Millicent, who blames, and is angry, at herself, after the incident early on, and just wants her father’s love, but doesn’t feel she deserves it.

For me, Krasinski was also something of a surprise. I’ve not really seen him in anything before, just knew his name. He was almost Captain America at one point, and you can see why. He’s a commanding presence and holds the screen and has handsome, everyman hero written all over him. He’s also very expressive without having to say anything. One to watch as both a director and a leading man. I’m keen to see what he does next.

In terms of A Quiet Place though, it’s superb. Even if you aren’t really into horror, it’s so much more than that really. It’s emotionally very affecting, tense, tender and will leave you thinking about its themes for days after.