2018 has been both mediocre and magnificent. For all the black panthers, widows and crazy rich asians - there have been raptors, wizards and predators to counter that success. Whilst 2017 offered a host of truly dreadful blockbusters, this year has just been a tad lacklustre. However I'm not entirely bah humbug on 2018 - this year has offered a handful of instant classics - some exemplary cinema achievements, especially from the latter half of the year. First up are my honourable mentions - three excellent films that were just shy of making my top 15.
It's really the sucker punch dialog that drives BlacKkKlansman home. Director Spike Lee balances a dark, sinister tone with a wickedly comical script that sickens you to your core in some moments but busts your ribs in others. Lee crafts many powerful images that ring true, and regardless of its challenging pacing and that it somewhat missed a trick in terms of style, dis Spike Lee joint concludes with an extremely haunting and suitably uncomfortable ending.
Travis Knight ably pays homage to the formula of exec producer Spielberg's iconic 80's adventures - re-fuelling the series with heart, subtlety and self-awareness. Taking influence from E.T. and The Iron Giant, this robots in disguise reboot is, more than anything, a coming of age story. The 1987 setting really gets the creative juices following - Bumblebee perfectly captures the aesthetic of the 80's cartoon, effortlessly blending Transformers nostalgia with an old-school teen tale. There are Breakfast Club references and action sequences in spades, but at the centre of this adventure isn't Bee - it's Charlie Watson.
Though it’s been a long time coming Brad Bird delivers an excellent sequel that frame for frame is just unmissable. Considering the quality and detail of the animation, Incredibles 2 is entirely worth the fourteen year wait. Quite unconventionally Bird allows Incredibles 2 to be bigger in scale but maintains what makes the original so special - the family dynamic. Continuing to expand the story, Bird explores the romanticism of superheroes and the destructive path they leave behind, whilst he develops the personal issues each member must overcome and the heroism behind the masks.
15. Black Panther
No need to rub your eyes or refresh the page, you heard it right - Black Panther is one of the best films of 2018. As a life long Marvel fan, I find myself struggling with the current wave of MCU movies - whilst they're often fun at the time, they rarely go the distance. Black Panther on the other hand has ripened with age. Even though I still don't think it's a perfect picture, posing various narrative issues and sloppy CGI - the impact this film has had is utterly groundbreaking - celebrating the beauty of african culture in an easily accessible, main stream platform. Since its release I have watched Black Panther four times, and yet I still find myself itching to pop in the blu ray once more.
14. Bad Times at the El Royale
The El Royale is a quirky set piece that breathes something new into the age old themes of morality and redemption. The guests have a choice to stay in either sunny California or Nevada the state of hope and prosperity. The line running through the motel seems to symbolise the split between good and evil, the positioning of the guest's rooms hinting at their characters and outcomes. An inventive piece of pulp fiction film noir with engaging characters, various long takes and sharp edits - in contrast to the title there are plenty of great times at the El Royale.
Whitney is the poetic story of one of America's greatest modern icons. Kevin MacDonald creates an artistic documentary that appears far more than a history lesson, exploring how one individual's life can be affected by fame as well as the personal issues of surrounding family members. Obviously the film is agonising but with the help of many moments of footage from Houston's greatest performances as well as spine-tingling sections of "I wanna dance with somebody" - Whitney is heartening and uplifting as it needs to be.
12. I, Tonya
Tonya Harding makes a reappearance in an ice cold sports-thrill that throws all the glitzy figure skating sequins out the window. Retelling one of the most notorious and controversial stories of the era I, Tonya makes no judgements, instead providing the platform for both Harding, Gillooly and several others to tell their stories. Perhaps unexpectedly the film never becomes a grand pantomime of Harding vs Kerrigan, instead I, Tonya is entirely focused on Harding, her deprived upbringing and the frequent slaps, punches and humiliations she endures on the way to the top.
11. Sorry to Bother You
Brilliantly bonkers and ridiculously inventive, there's weird and then there's Sorry to Bother You. This electrifying flick zigs zags between a bucket load of different genres - it's a black-comedy, satire, sci-fi, fantasy and drama that filters its ambitious themes into a thought-provoking and highly original product. Boots Riley's quirky arthouse feature is loud and proud, but it's not just another preacher to the choir. For its sheer weirdness, Sorry to Bother You is a very unique piece of filmmaking, and Riley intertwines weighty ideas in a film that's style is beyond easy description.
10. Ready Player One
Bright and colourful cameos flash in front of us - countless references from Back to the Future, to Saturday Night Fever; Beetlejuice, King Kong and even Alien - and so many, many more. Crucially though, Ready Player One neither depends nor exploits these many references, but rather weaves them into the mesmerising experience developing in front of our eyes. Against some stiff competition Ready Player One is one of the most magnificently nerdy yet entrancing techno cinema experiences in recent years. There's no denying it's a shock to the senses with its explosion of pop culture references but most importantly Ready Player One wonderfully reinforces the magic and sugar rush excitement of fantasy within cinema.
9. Isle of Dogs
Strands of scruffy, ragged fur, cotton wool clouds and a delicate Japanese city structure - with great whit and whimsy Wes Anderson proves that every dog has its day. With his symmetrical visuals and intensely stylised structure, Isle of Dogs emerges as one of Anderson's most nuanced and polished creations to date. Isle of Dogs achieves a perfect contrast between a riveting narrative and trademark, refined cinematography. Where Fantastic Mr Fox was perhaps a little too smug for my liking, possibly lacking the emotional engagement needed for a child's book adaption, through Anderson's winsome artistic flair along with a lighting fast script; Isle of Dogs delivers the beautiful tale of man's best friend.
8. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Hearts will race and fingernails will be bitten down as Mission: Impossible - Fallout delivers a masterclass in how to make spy cinema history. With nuclear bombs, HALO jumping and mountain top helicopter chases all in the mix the only impossible aspect of this mission remaining is creating a sequel better than Fallout. Six films in - Mission Impossible remains the most consistent film series in Hollywood and the only one to get increasingly better by each instalment. Christopher McQuarrie as well as Tom Cruise have surpassed themselves, constructing an adrenaline rush adventure that stands among genre greats.
Widows reveals the cracks in American politics without being ham-fisted or preachy. With Steve McQueen's potent direction and Gone Girl's Gillian Flynn's momentous screenplay - Widows is packed with racial, social and political commentary. This crime drama, heist thriller may be thick skinned like its lead character but underneath there's all manner of pain and suffering. In point of fact, Widows is a defining feature for this year - and possibly for many years to come.
6. A Star is Born
All the stars align in this utterly heartbreaking and thought-provoking portrayal of the modern music industry. Once Bradley Cooper strums his strings and Lady Gaga's voice booms towards the back of your auditorium, you'll find yourself frantically scrambling on the floor trying to retrieve your jaw. Goosebumps aside A Star is Born shines brightly, with Cooper skilfully managing to weave in the contemporary challenges of substance abuse and image expectations, all wrapped up in a moody La La Land-esque reality. A Star is Born is beautiful because it doesn't seek to avoid the sad realities of modern life and the often brutal music industry. Unquestionably harsh but remarkably honest - Cooper’s directorial debut will leave you star-struck.
5. Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Andersons's delicate material wears well. Equally as graceful as the lavish dresses, Phantom Thread is from every angle a delicate, beautiful work. Embellished through intricate cinematography - not only is it a shock that Phantom Thread hasn't swept up any visual noms - but it's a tragedy. With such fastidious camera work it would be no surprise if genuine dress makers were at the helm of this exquisite picture. With a score cleverly used to slowly build alongside the story; lifted by razor sharp dialog - Phantom Thread is a haunting enigmatic ghost of a story.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Prepared to be razzle dazzled by the greatest Spider-Man movie yet. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 has held its title as the quintessential Spidey adventure up to now, but after fourteen years Into the Spider-Verse changes everything. This canvas splashed caper abandons the web head’s exhausted origin story and thwips the focus onto newbie Miles Morales. Swinging beyond the bounds of animation with a vibrant comic book aesthetic - Into the Spider-Verse is a crowning achievement for superhero movies and cartoons alike. The film recognises the true value of Spider-Man, as well as highlighting what he symbolises for so many people.
3. Lady Bird
Lady Bird is neither overly ambitious nor too light and superficial. As it stands, the film is a gorgeously relatable tale of the family dynamic and the complex, angsty stages of growing up. Richly yet softly shot, Gerwig paints many scenes using natural or subdued lighting, giving Lady Bird a warm and fuzzy home video feel. Ultimately it's a short, sweet and accomplished coming of age story that focuses on the importance of home and our mothers - learning to understand them rather than rebelling against them, appreciating our time together and grateful for the individuals they shape us to be.
Placing tragedy and mental illness under the microscope - first time director Ari Aster provokes thought as well as genuine fear from this gut wrenching family drama. Earning such titles as the scariest film since The Exorcist and The Shinning these comparisons are not only accurate but deserving. Essentially Aster doesn't create an awards friendly imitation but a Rosemary's Baby inspired picture that is executed with almost Kubrick-esque precision. Hereditary is the finest and most accomplished type of horror - one that grows with an impending sense of doom and dread, with shadowy figures lurking in the corner of your eyes rather than the completely distasteful gore-fests that most creatively devoid modern horror films have become. Aster along with the punch of Toni Collette's career defining performance delivers one of the scariest, most unsettling and significant horror movies of the modern generation.
1. The Shape of Water
Re-spinning the classical monster movie formula, Guillermo Del Toro creates what is unquestionably cinema's most diverse love story. Inspired by the classic 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon, Del Toro delivers a tale that breaks all genre conventions - creating a heartstring tugging fairytale where we root for the 'monster' rather than fearing it. The Shape of Water is easily one of the riskiest twists attempted by any mainstream director, and quite frankly Del Toro couldn't have pulled it off any more beautifully.
The film dives into delicate themes of difference, alienation, un-fulfillment and the challenge of finding your voice in complete, isolated silence. Set in an oppressive 60's Baltimore at the height of the Cold War, Del Toro assembles three of society's most outcast individuals: an african-american cleaner, a gay painter and a handicapped woman. Exploring a poignant message of how people fear what they do not understand, the creature symbolises all who have been shut out from the rest of the world. The Shape of Water is a raw, warts and all fairytale that highlights the possibility of against-the-odds love towards quite literally anyone, of any species.
The Shape of Water reinvents the stereotypical Hollywood love story, Guillermo del Toro flipping a classical monster movie on its head to create an adventurous, beautiful tale. Words don’t really describe the blissful magic behind The Shape of Water - a romance brought to life by the passionately driven del Toro and the sensational Sally Hawkins, who delivers one of the finest female performances in recent years. This fishy fairytale is weird, wonderful and mystical and quite possibly the most unique love story you'll ever see.