2018 in Review : The Top 10

Six days and ten articles later, we finally arrive at my top ten for the year of 2018. Whilst I still think that 2016 has been by far the best year for movies since I started reviewing films in 2014, this is arguably the second strongest year and after a slow start, the quality of films towards the end of the year made this list a bit harder to compile.

Within this list is an example of “full on Nicolas Cage”, a bit of bestiality, and  a number one took me completely by surprise, with nothing after ever came closer to overtaking it.

So here we go…..

10) The Shape of Water

Cast : Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlberg, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins

Plot : Eliza (Hawkins) is a cleaner at a secret facility that is unable to speak due to an accident as a child. She has developed a friendship with fellow cleaner Zelda (Spencer) and the two are very intrigued when new boss Strickland (Shannon) brings in a new specimen. When curiousity gets too much for her on a clean, Eliza discovers that the new specimen is an amphibious humanoid (Jones). She befriends it by offering it food and eventually falls in love.

She starts to clash with Strickland on a regular basis and eventually plots to kidnap the creature and take him to the apartment she shares with Giles (Jenkins). They eventually succeed, but struggle to keep the creature alive from both the environment and Strickland.

Why in this position? : It would be easy to write this off as (as some referred to it as) “the fish-banging movie”, but it is far more than that and is one of the most unique ideas during the recent past. Early on in the year was a heavy amount of excellent story based films (as opposed to popcorn films, such as those who concentrate on explosions and action) and this was one of the better ones. It is engaging for the most part, although the reason this isn’t rated higher is simply that I was able to drift out occasionally. Although I was able to quickly catch up when I refocused, that is ultimately what stopped it being higher in the list.

The cast is fantastic, the visuals are exceptional (especially as the majority is practical effects) and it deserved all of the praise that it got. It is one of those films that people will still be talking about for years and for good reason. It is a very well made film and has pretty much everything that you could want from a film of this nature.

It is not predictable and has a sweet end, along with several subplots along the way that all get resolved, which makes a nice changed.

Also, just on a sidenote, Doug Jones joins the rare club on this site of featuring in the bottom ten one year (with “Bye Bye Man in 2017) and then the top ten in the year after.

9) Mandy

Cast : Nicolas Cage, Linus Roache, Andrea Riseborough, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Alexis Julemont, Line Pillett and Richard Brake

Plot :  Red (Cage) and Mandy (Riseborough) live peacefully in the woods when the latter is walking along a road one day and catches the attention of Jeremiah (Roache), a failed rock star now turned religious cult leader. He demands that she be brought to him and so Swan (Dennehy) calls upon the services of a drug-addled biker gang that does the bidding in exchange for some drugs.

They make their way to the house of Red and Mandy, kidnapping the latter. She is taken to Jeremiah’s church, but refuses his advances and it thus taken to be burnt alive in front of Red. Grief-stricken, Red does eventually escape the bindings and sets about a mission of revenge against the bikers and cult.

Why in this position? : “Mandy” is one of the most unique movies I’ve seen in a long time, mainly because it doesn’t really feel like a movie. It’s hard to really put into words but this is what I imagine it is like to be on an acid trip, and a lot of the visuals are stunning. The first thing I wanted to do afterwards was go out and find it on Blu-Ray or 4K (the movie was still showing at some cinemas well after the DVD release). This is a gorgeous movie, especially the aesthetics being very similar to a lot of heavy metal album covers. I’ve seen this described by some as a heavy-metal movie, and it is hard to disagree.

The characters fulfil their purpose excellently, there is a very clear divide between who you should route for, and who you should hate. For example, Brother Swan and Mother Marlene are disgusting human beings, so the movie makes you want them to have their comeuppance, and that is good storytelling. Even Red, who barely speaks during the entire movie, has decent development through actions alone. There is a scene in a bathroom where Nicolas Cage presents pretty much every conceivable emotion and makes you want that character to succeed. To give you an idea of Cage’s performance, it was “full on Cage”, showing both his brilliance and bizarreness at the same time.

The only reason that the film is this low down is because it is a bit slow at first. It goes take a while to get into, but once it does get going then you’re in for a hell of a ride.

8) Three Identical Strangers

Cast : Robert Shafran, David Kellman and Edward Galland (footage only), and their respective friends and families

Plot : Born in 1961, Robert Shafran goes through life knowing that he is adopted, but when he attends his first day at college he can’t understand why everyone is referring to him as Eddie, but it soon becomes clear when his new roommate drives him to a house hours away, there he meets his identical twin brother, Edward. The story breaks and it isn’t long before David realises that he is the third in what was a set of triplets.

The trio become famous across America, appearing on talk shows and in magazines, but then as they got older they start to question why they were separated in the first place and this leads them to a shocking discovery about not only their past, but also a conspiracy that impacts twins and triplets that were adopted out from a specific agency.

Why in this position? : I loved this. It was great. I don’t watch many documentaries at the cinema, infact, I think this was just the second and yet this motivated me to watch more. This is how documentaries should be made…..to an extent.

The reason I say that, and this will be a spoiler, so if you want to avoid it go to the next paragraph, is because you soon realise that they’re only interviewing Robert and David, with Edward nowhere to be seen. Because of this you realise that he is either in an unhealthy relationship with the other two, or he is dead, so whilst it adds a bit of mystery, ultimately you’re expecting something to happen. And what makes this worse is that in the final ten minutes, they make the distasteful decision to blame a specific person for the suicide.

Aside from that though this was one of the most gripping trips to the cinema during the year. I was engaged, switched on and engrossed with what I was watching for the most part. As the documentary rolls on it does start to struggle with pacing towards the end, but it is still fascinating.

7) Green Book

Cast : Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimeter Marinov and Mike Hatton

Plot : Frank (Mortensen) is a brash and unapologetically violent bouncer that gets a call offering him an interview to drive for a doctor. He is shocked when not only does it turn out “doctor” is the nickname of acclaimed musician Don Shirley (Ali), but also that he intends to drive in the south of America, a heavily racist part of the country.

Don convinces Frank to take the job and the pair set off on their journey, struggling to see eye to eye. The further into the journey they get, the more difficult Don finds the experience as he is treated in a racist manner by white people, but also how he has little in common with his own people.

Why in this position? : At first I thought that “Green Book” was going to be one of those stereotypical, Oscar-bait, overcoming racism cliche fests, but I was pleasantly surprised as whilst the latter two definitely apply, I loved that Don also has little in common with other black people. Now, I will qualify that statement in that it makes the character multi-dimensional and whilst obviously based on real life, it actually makes the character more engaging compared to others in similar films.

Mortensen and Ali are both great, which given that their characters are polar opposites, highlights just how good they both do in that it is hard to say who out of the who is the central character. It is very clever writing and acting from those concerned, plus there is something quite sad and upsetting about seeing Aragorn letting himself go.

The film does take a while to get going, but other than that it is pretty spot on and the final stop of the tour ended with one of the most remarkably satisfying pieces of film of the year.

6) Molly’s Game

Cast : Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong and Brian d’Arcy James

Plot : Molly (Chastain) is hoping to secure a place on the Olympic skiing team but fails thanks to a freak accident. She decides to take a year out before going to law school and gets a job working for the belittling Dean (Strong). Dean holds a weekly poker game and he tells Molly that she needs to do the admin work for him there, but as time goes on she makes some important contacts, such as Player X (Cera), and when Dean fires her she starts her own game thanks to X.

The game is exceptionally successful and attracts a host of interesting characters, including a hedge fund manager (James) and Douglas (O’Dowd), but when the latter suggests that some Russian’s get in on the game, but neither seems aware that they are in the mob and this leads to violence and eventually, court.

Why in this position? : It was such a relief to see such a good film so early this year. The second film that I saw during the year was a refreshing change to most that I saw in the latter half of 2017, and what made it even better is that I was expecting it to be bad. I’ve never really seen the fuss about either Jessica Chastain or Idris Elba, not once have I seen either of their names on a poster and was sold on the movie on that basis alone.

Maybe it is because I understand the game and play poker often, but I genuinely enjoyed this and it felt sleek and relatively original (please note that I’ve not seen any other poker related movies at the time of watching this on January 2nd).  The performances are pretty decent and it is the first time that I have been impressed by Jessica Chastain, who was just sort of there in most of her other performances before this.

The reason that this isn’t slightly higher on the list is because it does become slightly tedious for about twenty minutes at around the 2/3 mark. At that point there were a few parts that I found somewhat tedious.

Idris Elba also joins the club of having two films in the top ten, although in the second one (that features a few places higher) he is basically a glorified cameo.

5) First Reformed

Cast : Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill, Edward Balq and Philip Ettinger

Plot : Former military chaplain Ernst (Hawke) is now the Reverand at the quiet First Reformed church that is only kept open because of it being historically significant. It is approaching the 250th anniversary when Ernst is approached by Mary (Seyfried), who is worried about her husband Michael (Ettinger) as he wants to kill their unborn child. Ernst and Michael sit down and chat about various subjects before the latter brings the conversation onto the environment and how he doesn’t believe bringing a child into a world doomed by their generation.

During this time Ernst has started a journal that he intends on using as an experiment and he documents his increasing thoughts on a variety of subjects, but after Michael commits suicide, a diagnosis of potential stomach cancer may lead to tragedy when he learns that the CEO of one of the leading polluters in the world is funding the 250th anniversary celebrations.

Why in this position? : “First Reformed” is a film that I probably would have hated had I not grown accustomed to quieter, slow build films, but right now it was a refreshing take on most films that are released at the cinema these days. It has a variety of different aspects going for it, including a sense that you’re never sure where it is going, the attachment to characters that are surprisingly well built and a really tense final fifteen or so minutes when you realise what is going to happen.

“First Reformed” brings out the best in all of the cast, with Hawke especially owning the screen whenever he features, even though his manner never goes about mild-passive throughout. Hawke’s delivery of lines draws you in and keeps you interested.

It looks decent and most importantly has several storylines that may seem largely unconnected coming together well at the end.

4) Avengers : Infinity War

Cast : Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Evans, Elizabeth Olsen, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansoon, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper

Plot : Thanos (Brolin) is a Titan on a mission to balance the universe and needs all six infinity stones to be able to do this. He destroys the planet Xander to get his first and then easily acquires the second from Thor (Hemsworth), killing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the process. Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) is sent back to Earth during the scuffle and warns everyone about Thanos in advance. It doesn’t take long for his hencemen to arrive though and kidnap Dr Strange (Cumberbatch) as he has set up a spell that protects the time stone. Tony (Downey Jr) and Peter (Holland) find themselves onboard as well as they try to free Strange.

Meanwhile, Thor finds himself rescued from floating in space by the Guardians of the Galaxy and after a discussion, he, Rocket (Cooper) and Groot (Diesel) go to a mission to create a weapon capable of killing Thanos, but whilst that is going on stones continue to be collected and inevitably it will probably come down to making choices that will cause the deaths of friends and family.

Why in this position? : I’m not a massive Marvel fan, most that have read my previous end of year reviews will note that they rarely place highly (the only one I’ve included in the top ten before now is “Guardians of the Galaxy”), but this movie grabbed me from the first minute due to the deaths of Loki, and to a lesser extent Heimdall (who let’s face it, did very little during any of the films he was in). Right then I knew it was pretty much fair game and any character could die. Even when watching it a second time and knowing who died in advance, I was still engaged and was able to see just how much work had been put in to make things relatively coherent.

Thanos is a great antagonist for the simple reason that he isn’t being evil for the sake of being evil, he believes that he is doing is for the greater good and not for a selfish gain, which can’t be said for most previous Marvel villains. Whilst his hencemen (and woman) are a little underdeveloped and go down relatively easily, and the end battle is yet another “good guys vs generic army” scuffle, there were genuine times where I couldn’t see how the good guys would win, and it will be interesting to see how the sequel works given the events at the end of this.

To be fair there aren’t that many negatives I can come up with other than the lack of development with a lot of the characters, but this is largely understandable. With such a large cast of characters you can’t give time to them all, but hopefully those characters that ultimately didn’t do a lot will have a lot more presence in part two.

3) Searching

Cast : John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La and Joseph Lee

Plot : David (Cho) is a loving father to Margot (La), and the two have seemingly adapted to life well since the death of Pamela (Sara Sohn). One day they share a conversation about the bin not being taken out by Margot and she says she’ll do it when she gets home after a study group session. The bin remains full but Margot stops responding to calls and texts. David initially thinks it is due to Margot being at piano practice, but upon calling the teacher learns that she hasn’t attended a lesson in six months.

The more he discovers, David becomes increasingly concerned and eventually calls the cops, being assigned the highly praised Detective Vick (Messing). With David conducting his own searches, he becomes increasingly frustrated at no breakthroughs and clutches to any possible break through.

Why in this position? Told entirely from the perspective of a computer screen, this is a highly clever movie in which you are given no clues at all until they happen. You discover clues as John does, and what I like is that whilst they aren’t thrown in your face, even the smallest things are potentially brought back as big plot points later and you are drawn in to play detective yourself. Everything is seemingly meticulously put together and it is hard not to get drawn in.

Cho is especially warm and genuine in the role, playing a caring father with ease and you’re with him every step of the way. I found myself wanting him to succeed and it was really ease to relate to him as a character.

This film surprised me a lot, it is great and simplistic storytelling at its finest. It’s not overly complicated, but you’re never entirely sure what information is going to prove important. A great level of care and attention has been given and I was enthralled by it. I can’t wait to watch this again, something that I never thought I’d say.

2) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Cast : Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage

Plot : Several months ago the daughter of Mildred (McDormand) was raped and killed by an unknown assailant, but the police haven’t been able to get any leads due to a lack of evidence. Whilst driving through a back road she notices three unused billboards and approaches the company who owns them about renting them. She eventually puts up signs that call into question why nothing is happening, and highlighting Chief Willoughby’s (Harrelson) seeming lack of success.

The town is sympathetic to Willoughby as it turns out that he is suffering with cancer, but he assures Mildred that they are still investigating the issue. Mildred starts experiencing issues throughout the town and this causes further conversations between the two, but it is a decision by him that makes the situation in the town considerably worse, especially with racist cop Jason (Rockwell) being particularly unhinged.

Why in this position? : 2018 started strongly, with a few genuine top ten contenders throughout, but the first film that I loved was “Three Billboards” (for short). I went in with high expectations and for once they were actually met. Right from the off it is in-your-face gallows humour, met with genuine moments of harrowing drama. It constantly kept me guessing and those who have seen the scene in the barn came out of no-where, but the best part was that it fit with the character-arc for the person in question.

The cast is exceptional and makes you genuinely care about the characters. Mildred’s rightful anger, Bill’s personal issues (which aren’t revealed in any trailers beforehand) and Jason’s redemption by the end of the film after previously being a piece of crap are all examples of gripping characters that have been brought to life by subtlety brilliant characters.

I don’t want to go too much into it for various reasons, mainly because I want you to go and watch this movie, it is the type of movie that if you are reading this site for more than just my annual breakdowns, that you will probably enjoy.

Also, Peter Dinklage joins the group of “two in the top ten” thanks to his appearance in this and “Avengers : Infinity War”

So 110 films down and we finally get to my favourite film of the year. This movie becomes my fifth year-topper since I started reviewing in 2014, joining “Nightcrawler”, “No Escape”, “Captain Fantastic” and “Ghost Stories”.

This movie silenced audiences (literally), featured a birth in a bathtub and was one of the most well-executed horror films of recent years, although calling it a horror is a bit of a stretch.

Either way, it is of course…….

1) A Quiet Place

Cast : John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe

Plot : Three months after a mysterious species turned up and started killing everyone, Evelyn (Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) are guiding their three children across country to their safe house following a supply raid. Their youngest son attempts to take a toy plane but the pair refuse, but deaf daughter Regan (Simmonds) secretly gives it back to him. Whilst crossing a bridge he activates it to play with it and before Lee can reach him, a creature emerges from the woods and kills him.

Just over a year later Regan still feels guilty over his death and feels that Lee and Evelyn don’t love her because of what happened. Younger brother Marcus (Jupe) tries to convince her otherwise but when Lee picks him to go on a trip, she falls even further into doubt. Meanwhile, Evelyn became pregnant in that year and goes into labour just after a creature enters the house.

How many of the family can survive?

Why in this position? : Those of you that have read this site for a while will know that I am not overly keen on horror films, they are exceptionally predictable for the most part and I rarely feel tense. This was one of those occasions where that didn’t apply.

Whilst there are some predictable elements to the story, I was tense throughout due to the excellent atmosphere building and relationship establishing, the latter of which is effectively built despite the significant lack of dialogue throughout. The fact that they can’t make noise makes it even more remarkable that they have made you actually care about the family and want them to survive. Add onto this the introduction of the baby about 2/3 of the way through and you’ve got a situation where the characters can easily keep quiet when needed, but how do you keep a newborn quiet, at least to the point where the monsters won’t hear it?

I don’t often say this but I was riveted by “A Quiet Place”, it is horror done right. It’s not in your face, it’s not loud and it is not interested in a body count. This is about the family and their relationships with each other, and any horror film that can actually make me care about the characters is a special thing indeed.

On a side note, this film also introduced me to John Krasinski and because of that I started watching the US version of “The Office”, which I ended up loving, so whilst not relevant to films whatsoever, that’s a nice little bonus.

 

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