Review of the year

The 15 best films of 2018, including Black Panther, A Star is Born and Lady Bird

From star-studded blockbusters to independent films featuring unknowns, these are The Independent’s 15 favourite movies of the year

Thursday 27 December 2018 18:36
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on’t let anyone tell you 2018 was a weak year for film. For those who went looking, there were distinctive films of all shapes and sizes, directed by people from all sorts of backgrounds. Various duds aside (mostly unnecessary sequels to average films), the quality was high. This was the year that saw comedy (Blockers) and horror (Hereditary) achieve acclaim from both critics and audiences, while Marvel actually delivered a film worthy of the feverish hype.

Female directors led the charge, with Debra Granik, Chloé Zhao and Lynne Ramsay fashioning films to be cherished – all three of which feature in our ranking.

From stop-motion animations to South Korean dramas, from war documentaries to Oscar winners, below are The Independent’s 15 favourite films of the year.

To qualify, films must have been released in the UK from 1 January to 31 December 2018

15) Shoplifters

Left to right: Kairi Jō, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Sakura Ando and Miyu Sasaki in ‘Shoplifters’

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters could be the year’s most disarming film. On first glance, the clan at its centre are just like any other, but their impulsive decision to take in a missing girl begins a series of rug-pulls you wouldn’t expect from a film such as this. A complex heartbreaker, albeit one that starts out looking like the more modest family dramas Kore-eda is known for. Jacob Stolworthy

14) Game Night

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in ‘Game Night’

“We knew there was a bad version of this movie that could exist,” said Game Night’s co-director John Francis Daley (the kid from Freaks and Geeks). This certainly isn’t it. Starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as a competitive married couple who mistake an actual kidnapping for a particularly immersive role play game, Game Night is snappy, witty and fully committed to its brilliant, tonally unsettling conceit. Alexandra Pollard

13) Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson film ‘Isle of Dogs’

Any Wes Anderson film is likely to be offbeat, fastidiously stylish and shot through with the auteur's understated drollery. Isle of Dogs is no different. A stop-motion story of abandoned canines taking on a corrupt human government, it's set in a futuristic Japan and deals with some pretty heavy themes (fascism, ethnic cleansing). Funny and full of heart. Patrick Smith

12) They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens’s WW1 documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’

Peter Jackson’s First World War documentary is a remarkable step-forward for historical filmmaking. The Lord of the Rings director breathes new life into black and white archive footage from the Imperial War Museum, digitally restoring and smoothing the grainy source material before adding colour and sound. The result is a stunning cinematic experience that vividly brings the past into the present. By using the voices of veteran British soldiers interviewed about their experiences in the trenches, Jackson also includes a fascinating narrative that’s both gripping and informative. A wonderfully apt way to mark the centenary of the Great War. Jack Shepherd

11) First Reformed

Ethan Hawke in ‘First Reformed’

Nobody knew if Paul Schrader still had it in him to make a film as angry or as barbed as First Reformed. There is the same raw power here as found in his earlier features about tormented loners. Cinephiles will delight in the (sometimes a little self-conscious) references to Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky, but you can’t help but relish the intensity and intelligence in Ethan Hawke’s performance as the tormented, guilt-ridden priest. Geoffrey Macnab

10) Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan in ‘Black Panther’

There were two Marvel films released this year, one of which – Avengers: Infinity War – is an over-crowded if entertaining sequel. The other is a landmark film – not just for Marvel, but for cinema. Black Panther is fit to burst with talent, coming together to deliver the studio’s best film: consider Michael B Jordan’s standout villain, the scene-stealing performances from Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright, and the direction of Ryan Coogler, who proved an inspired appointment. Wakanda forever, indeed. JS

9) Cold War

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig in ‘Cold War’

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, shot in the sleekest black and white, is an effortlessly stylish and romantic drama set in a period of political convulsion. Pawlikowski includes moments of reckless hedonism alongside scenes of exile and imprisonment, and the film has a truly wonderful performance from Joanna Kulig as Zula, the free-spirited young folk singer turned femme fatale. GM

8) The Rider

Brady Jandreau in ‘The Rider’

Director Chloé Zhao took a gamble casting a real-life family in this modern-day western about a cowboy named Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau). It pays off – this is a wonderfully authentic portrait of contemporary rodeo life in South Dakota. From her amateur cast, she somehow coaxes performances more memorable than most professional actors manage in their entire careers. As moving as it is bold, The Rider also offers an all-too-rare female perspective on masculinity. JS

7) A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in ‘A Star Is Born’ (Warner Bros Pictures)

There are no two ways about it: the moment Bradley Cooper's rock star Jackson Maine invites Ally – a small-town waitress played by Lady Gaga – on stage to sing her song in front of thousands of his fans is pure movie magic. Regardless of your stance on the film's back half and fairly maudlin ending, A Star is Born is an old-fashioned success story with an intensity that brings up the hairs on the back of your neck. JS

6) Leave No Trace

Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in ‘Leave No Trace’

Eight years after Winter’s Bone made a star of Jennifer Lawrence, Leave No Trace – director Debra Granik’s first feature film since – should rightly make a star of Thomasin McKenzie too. Based on the book My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace is virtually a two-hander between McKenzie and Ben Foster. He is a PTSD-suffering war veteran and she is his daughter; together, they live in the forests of Oregon, fending for themselves. Even when the two are arrested and placed in government housing, the film remains carefully understated and is all the more beguiling for it. AP

5) The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins in Oscar-winning film ‘The Shape of Water’

Loneliness can sometimes feel like your soul has been chained to the bottom of the ocean; at other times, it's as if you’re speaking a language no one else understands. Guillermo del Toro beautifully illustrates both these in his Oscar-winning fantasy romance, in which a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) falls for a strange aquatic creature (Doug Jones), the only one who sees her as she truly wishes to be seen. Clarisse Loughrey

4) Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan in ‘Lady Bird’

Lady Bird will always be close to our hearts. There are times when it feels less like a film, more like a hand tracing delicately through memories of what it felt like to grow up, and to find your own place in the universe. Greta Gerwig’s story of a teenager (Saoirse Ronan) desperate to escape her hometown and seek out the intellectual haven of an East Coast college (“where the culture is”, she argues) may be specific in its layout, but it is universal in its emotions. CL

3) You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix in ‘You Were Never Really Here’ (Amazon Studios)

Whenever Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) puts her name to a film you know you can expect something special. You Were Never Really Here marks a career-high for the British auteur, who manages to condense the violent story of a former military man searching for a stolen girl into a brilliantly edited 90-minute thriller. Joaquin Phoenix makes for the perfect enigmatic leading man, while Jonny Greenwood’s mechanical, piercing score adds to the decidedly eerie atmosphere. JS

2) Phantom Thread

Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Phantom Thread’

Should Phantom Thread really be Daniel Day-Lewis’s final film, then the actor can retire knowing that Reynolds Woodcock ranks among his greatest roles. Day-Lewis plays the egomaniacal fashion designer with a childish whimsy, but there's also a spectral quality to him that looms in every scene. Lesley Manville’s deliciously funny Cyril and Vicky Krieps’s sharp Alma offer two cunning counters to Reynolds’s growing appetite for self-destruction, making for some wonderfully heated confrontations. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction allows each character to blossom on screen, in a film that makes for a masterful study of poisonous relationships. JS

1) Roma

Yalitza Aparicio leads Alfonso Cuarón drama ‘Roma’

Loosely based on his own childhood, Alfonso Cuarón's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Gravity is a gorgeous piece of film-making, a quiet paean to the women who raised him. It's a neorealist masterpiece, shot in 65mm black and white, and built from detailed vignettes of domestic life in early 1970s Mexico City, a time of great social unrest in the Mexican capital. Savour every scene: the camera takes it all in, as we follow a young Mixtec woman named Cleo (wonderful newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) who looks after a well-to-do family she comes to think of as her own. It's about love, grief and resilience: it will slay you. PS

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