Hi everyone! So on Monday 31st I’ll be writing who has made it into my Top 10 books of 2018 but before that however, I wanted to share with you my favourite films I’ve watched this year. As well as reading, one of my favourite hobbies is going to the cinema (then subsequently researching interviews with the cast, crew and generally finding out titbits about the filmmaking process. Yes I’m that sad). For the purpose of this list I have decided to focus on films that had their wide UK release in 2018, though they may have played in other countries last year. I also decided not to include any re-watches or any re-released films – sorry Vertigo! So without further ado, here is my top 10 of 2018:
10. Isle of Dogs, dir. Wes Anderson
Set in the fictional Megasaki, Japan, an outbreak of dog flu leads to all pooches being shipped to a place called Trash Island. A young boy decides to go to said island and recover his beloved pet, Spots. I thought this was a really sweet, heart-warming film. I particularly liked the camaraderie between the dogs, and how their relationships develop over the course of the film; aided by the excellent voice work by actors like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and Scarlett Johansson. The stop-motion is amazing, with 670 people working on the film and the amount of care and precision going into photography really shows. If you liked Anderson’s previous stop-motion film, Fantastic Mr. Fox then you’ll enjoy Isle of Dogs.
9. Whitney, dir. Kevin Macdonald
The first of three documentaries to make this list, Whitney traces the life of pop sensation Whitney Houston, with interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, through her childhood to her untimely death in 2012. Macdonald intersperses clips of Houston’s music with footage of events occurring around the same time of the songs’ releases. I found this particularly effective as it places Houston and her music within context; showing what was going on when people first heard these songs. It gives you a greater sense of what is happening and also what could be influencing her music. Macdonald also thoroughly researches his subject; no stone is left unturned, and there are some truly heartbreaking revelations to be found here. Even if you were never a fan of Houston it’s still a wonderfully directed and edited documentary about a music icon.
8. Shoplifters, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
Winning this year’s Palme D’or at Cannes (and deservedly so) Shoplifters tells the story of a family of petty thieves who take in a small girl after hearing her abusive parents say they did not want her. We then follow the ups and downs of this family and its’ latest addition. Shoplifters won’t be for everyone; it is slow-paced and not a lot happens for a good chunk of the film. But I feel that’s where its’ power lies. Instead, Koreeda focuses on those small family moments that may seem insignificant at the time but as a whole show how much love a family has for one another. I found some scenes very moving and it took a lot of will power not to start crying. The cast is also incredible at portraying characters on the outskirts of society, who at first seem like selfish criminals but who gradually become endearing as their relationships are exposed to the audience. Like I said it won’t be for everyone, but if you like quiet family dramas then certainly check out Shoplifters.
7. Wildlife, dir. Paul Dano
Based on the Richard Ford novel of the same name, Wildlife centres around a young boy whose father (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes away to take on a poorly paid and potentially dangerous job. The boy’s mother (Carey Mulligan) is upset and angry, and her relationship with her son changes after the father has left. The film is beautifully lit and photographed, giving it a picturesque quality at odds with its’ sad storyline. Yet Wildlife’s main strength is the acting. Both Gyllenhaal and Mulligan are exceptional as parents whose marriage may be on the rocks; each being both sympathetic and repulsive at different moments. You really feel for their characters even if you don’t necessarily agree with their actions. And Ed Oxenbould who plays their son is equally talented, showing us how he feels rather than relying on dialogue or voiceover to tell us. I haven’t read Ford’s novel but after watching this, I’m certainly interested in picking it up.
6. Custody, dir. Xavier Legrand
Again another film centred around a broken marriage (I’m not always this depressing I swear!), this time it shows the bitter custody battle that follows after the parents have divorced. The daughter is a teenager and doesn’t wish to spend time with her father. However, as the son is still a minor a court orders that his father can see him, despite the boy’s reluctance. But why doesn’t he want to see his dad? This is a tense, slow-burning thriller which builds up to one of the most terrifying and gripping climaxes I’ve seen this year. I couldn’t look away I found the film so compelling despite being absolutely terrified. Without going into spoilers, Custody deals with quite a heavy subject matter but I think Legrand deals with it in a sensitive manner, avoiding sensationalism. Denis Ménochet, who plays the father, is brilliant; both frightening and pathetic. Custody is a film that lingers in the mind long after it has finished.
5. The Breadwinner, dir. Nora Twomey
Another book adaptation, this time based on Deborah Ellis’ novel for children, The Breadwinner looks at life under the Taliban through the eyes of young girl Parvana. When her father is arrested and imprisoned, Parvana must dress up as a boy to go outside and provide for her family. Having been a massive fan of Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea, I was very excited when they announced they had a new film coming out. The Breadwinner did not disappoint. Blending Cartoon Saloon’s trademark animation with traditional Afghan folktales and a (admittedly slightly sanitized) look at life under Taliban rule, the film is beautiful to look at while also providing a glimpse into a different culture than mine. Parvana is also an excellently written character; a girl who is still child-like in some regards but has to grow up quickly to save her family. If you liked the novel by Ellis, then you’ll enjoy the movie as it is a faithful adaptation, retaining both the novel’s charm and (at times) painful realism.
4. BlacKkKlansman, dir. Spike Lee
I feel like this one needs no introduction but I’ll do it anyway. Set in the 1970s, African-American police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) decides to infiltrate the KKK along with a Jewish co-worker (Adam Driver) who becomes a popular member of the local group. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, I still really enjoyed it. I liked that Lee added clips to bookend the film; the beginning showing snippets of movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind; whilst in the end the audience is confronted with by speeches by both Donald Trump and the real David Duke. This blunt, in-your-face way to address how racism has evolved over time is successful; people cannot misinterpret or ignore its’ message. It is there, plain as the eye can see. The main section of the film continues that message, highlighting the utter stupidity of discrimination. Washington and Driver are both excellent as cops trying to grapple with the racism/anti-Semitism shown in the film, and I’m not surprised they are being nominated for their work. A sadly necessary watch in 2018/19.
3. They Shall Not Grow Old, dir. Peter Jackson
Another film that is sadly still prevalent in this day and age, They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary about British soldiers in the First World War, told by the soldiers themselves. As well as using old interviews with various men who served during this time, Jackson has also colourised and slowed down wartime footage, giving it a more realistic appearance. The footage can sometimes be unbearable to watch; we see dead and wounded men (the colour photos of trench foot made me look away) along with dead animals. Yet the hardest part for me was listening to the veterans discuss what they did in combat, recalling how they had to watch men, or even young boys, die before their eyes. To hear one soldier start to tear up because of what he had to do made my eyes well up too. And when they got back to the UK, they were simply expected to ‘get on with it’. No one wanted to hear what they had to say about their experiences of wartime, and their anger is palpable. A grim watch but a necessary one, especially since it is now over 100 years since WW1 ended.
2. The Square, dir. Ruben Ostlund
Another Palme D’or winner, The Square came out in March and has been with me ever since. Our protagonist is Christian (Claes Bang), the respected curator of an art museum in Stockholm who faces both professional and personal problems while bringing a new exhibition to the museum called ‘The Square’. This film is downright bizarre yet strangely compelling. There were a number of laugh-out-loud moments (particularly the disastrous attempts to get the exhibition ready on time, and the wee boy who pesters Christian) and times when I laughed but I really shouldn’t have done (the ad for the new exhibition comes to mind). The cast, led by Bang, all do a great job in their roles and I’m surprised they managed to keep a straight face during some of those scenes. Overall The Square is an incredibly funny, imaginative, downright weird film that won’t be for everyone but which I found hilarious and poignant in equal measure.
1. Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story, dir. Alexandra Dean
As I’m sure a lot of you already know, I’m a sucker when it comes to anything involving the Golden Age of Hollywood. So of course this would be my number one. Director and writer Dean looks into the life and career of actress Lamarr, starting from her childhood in Austria to her death in 2000. Dean also discusses Lamarr as the ingenious inventor; whose intellectual prowess was unappreciated at the time but is now behind everyday things such as Wifi and Bluetooth. But it is not just its’ subject matter that makes Bombshell number one. Dean is a master storyteller taking us through Lamarr’s life, but she does not force her audience to feel a particular way about the actress. Viewers can come to their own conclusions about Hedy Lamarr; she is not portrayed as a tragic figure of circumstance nor does Dean create some perfect being who could do no wrong. It feels like a snippet into one woman’s life, with all the highs and lows. The cutting between footage of Lamarr, either in interviews or films, with Dean’s own interviews with people who knew her was well done and flowed together perfectly. A fascinating look at a woman who sadly seems to be largely forgotten now, Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story is a gripping, moving documentary that made me want to read more about this great actress and inventor.
And there you have it! My favourite films of 2018. What has been some of your favourite films from this year? (Or any year but you watched in 2018). Let me know in the comments below, and I shall see you on Monday for my final post of 2018 (eeeeek!)