In the age of binge-watching, it is important to sort out the films genuinely worth your time from the clutter. We have attempted to draw up a list of large and smaller films, from this year, that left us with the whole gamut of emotions. It’s a mix of delightful superhero flicks, earnest small-budget dramas, thrillers and other rousing genres as well as art-house pieces. This list will keep building as we lap up more films. So here are the best movies of 2018, in no particular order.
1. Lean on Pete
Director Andrew Haigh is best known for his existential dramas involving lonely individuals. Lean on Pete tells a similar low-key tale of a bereft soul, cast adrift in the wastelands and impoverished quarters of America. The protagonist is a gangly 15-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer), who lives with his single father. He finds work in a racetrack and cares for an ageing racehorse. When Charley learns the horse is headed for slaughter, the two embark upon a tough journey. Haigh’s nuanced storytelling technique and Plummer’s measured acting style makes Lean on Pete an unforgettable experience.
2. Journey’s End
Saul Dibb’s war drama is based on R.C. Sheriff’s 1928 play. It heartbreakingly depicts the daily routines of a platoon of British soldiers stationed on the horrendous Western Front. Journey’s End is mostly about soldiers preparing for impending battle and very low on bloodletting. It captures the pervasive sense of dread plaguing the claustrophobic, rat-infested trenches. The material is also elevated by tremendous performances from Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, and Paul Bettany. Altogether, it’s a topnotch war drama sans grandiose spectacle.
3. The Young Karl Marx
Raoul Peck’s intellectually engaging drama focuses on the friendship between Marx and Engels which gave us seminal and extremely influential political theories. The narrative charts the period up until the writing of ‘The Communist Manifesto’. August Diehl brilliantly plays Marx with certain weariness. Vicky Krieps plays Jenny, the endlessly supportive wife of Marx. The film succeeds in depicting how the two political visionaries’ will and ideas changed the world forever.
4. Summer 1993
Carla Simon’s artful depiction of a child’s traumatic emotions is partly autobiographical. The film unfolds like a series of recollected memories where the filmmaker channels her own childhood experiences of trying to fit in with the new adopted family after her parents’ death. The motherless six-year-old girl was played by Laia Artigas, who subtly portrays the inner state of a troubled child. The film never exploits the child’s emotional stakes for melodramatic entertainment.
Cory Finley’s well-crafted debut feature tells a twisted tale of murder and apathy. The central characters are two emotionally devoid upper class prep school teenage girls. Thoroughbreds is a psychological thriller and black-comedy, which uses the chilly atmosphere of upper class disaffection to great effect. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke’s rich, self-effacing performance makes the most out of every little gesture and pause. Overall, it’s a thoughtful genre exercise about the horrors lurking beneath the atmosphere of affluence.
6. The Tale
The Tale marks documentarian Jennifer Fox’s first feature film. It is the true story of Jennifer Fox coming to terms with her ‘first relationship’. A short story the director wrote in middle school days forces her to re-examine the first sexual relationship. She was 13 and the track-coach who took her virginity was 40. Laura Dern earnestly plays Fox, who, for years has suppressed those confounding evenings her pre-pubescent-self spent with the sleazy coach. Naturally, the film is shocking, although it doesn’t treat its subject matter in an exploitative or sensational manner.
Steven Soderbergh ultra low-budget film, shot using an iPhone 7, contains an entertaining B-movie thriller premise. Sawyer Valentini, a brash and quick-witted girl, mistakenly commits herself to a mental hospital. Sawyer approaches the asylum in the first place to escape from the thoughts of her stalker. Soon, Sawyer believes that one of the orderlies is her stalker. Claire Foy’s bristling and unsentimental performance as Sawyer escalates the film’s suspense quotient. Soderbergh’s crisply shot film lays a fine foundation to this claustrophobic genre piece.
8. Tehran Taboo
Iranian born German filmmaker Ali Soozandeh’s Tehran Taboo offers a searing, eye-opening portrait of Iran’s police state. This animated, rotoscoped tale unveils the hypocrisy and debauchery thriving under the mask of religious strictness and sexual morality in Iran’s capital city. It’s a triptych of interconnected stories about three individuals, hailing from different social set-up. Subsequently, the film’s technical accomplishment with its poetic interludes is nothing short of astounding. In fact, the movie is at its best when it goes for visual poetics not particularly concerned with the plot trajectory.
Coralie Fargeat’s rape-revenge horror tries a feminist take on the testosterone-fueled sub-genre of exploitation flicks. The story follows Richard an arrogant rich guy, who has brought an extramarital girlfriend to his luxury chalet in the desert for a weekend’s hunting. Jen (Matilda Lutz) knows Richard is married but enjoys being with him. Then comes Richard’s two sleazy buddies and things take a brutal turn. Fargeat’s visuals are incredibly stylish and the violence is stomach-churningly shocking. Altogether, it’s an interesting piece of extreme horror which every viewer can’t handle.
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is a refreshing addition to the ever-changing, glorious Western genre. It mostly avoids the age-old tropes of barbaric Natives and noble white savior. Instead, the focus lies upon endless brutalities carried out to forge the American frontier. Hostiles is set in the year 1892 in American Southwest Christian Bale plays sullen-faced Captain Joe Blocker. He is tasked to lead a convoy to safely escort cancer-ridden Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family to their sacred lands. Interestingly, Joe and Yellow Hawk were once sworn enemies on the battlefield.
11. Faces Places
Legendary French film-maker Agnes Varda’s documentary profoundly focuses on the themes of community, life, grief, and the meaning of memory. For this unique project, Varda collaborates with young street artist/photographer JR. Varda’s documentaries are compulsively watchable because of her adoration for cinema and positively infectious playful mood. In fact, Faces Places stands as a testament to the 89-year-old director’s artistic grit. Furthermore, it is a soulful observation on the pivotal synergy between the works of art and everyday life.
12. The Breadwinner
The Breadwinner is an animated adaptation of Canadian author Deborah Ellis’ bestselling children’s novel. It was directed by Nora Twomey who co-directed spectacular Irish animated fables ‘Secret of the Kells’ and ‘Song of the Sea’. The film centered on 11-year-old Kabul resident Parvana, whose life is a struggle under the Taliban regime. After her father’s unforeseen arrest, Parvana is forced to disguise herself as a boy to support her family. Eventually, ‘Breadwinner’ is about the healing power of stories and myriad struggles faced by women in an unequal society.
Rainer Sarnet’s metaphysical drama film tells a bizarre and tender love story. It is set in the feudal era that’s cloaked under otherworldly strangeness. The film is based on Estonian writer Andrus Kivirahk’s cult novel ‘Rehepapp’. In this eerie atmosphere, ghosts roam through the snowy woods as peasants do their best to survive the harsh winter. The foremost brilliance of this adaptation lies in Sarnet’s creation of a sensational aesthetic realization of an imaginary world.
14. My Friend Dahmer
Marc Meyers’ bleak coming-of-age story delves into the early life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer went on to rape and kill 17 men between 1978 and 1991. In the narrative, however, no one is seen murdered. Even though, a strangely discomfiting mood is maintained throughout. Ross Lynch effectively plays the titular character with a frozen, deadpan posture. The actor maintains a fine balance in exploring his disturbed characters’ trace of humanity and monstrosity.
A taut thriller helped by an edge-of-the-seat narrative and a fine ensemble of actors, Raazi is a wartime tale set in 1971. It chronicles the true story of a young Kashmiri girl trained as a spy and sent behind the enemy lines ahead of the Indo-Pak war. Alia Bhatt as Sehmat renders some fine, jaw-dropping moments and her character transition is smooth. She brings out the innocence and brazenness with equal conviction. (But this isn’t one of her best performances. I’d still rank Udta Punjab and Highway notches higher). Watch Raazi for Meghna Gulzar’s compelling storytelling, supported by brilliant performances (Jaideep Ahlawat, Vicky Kaushal, Shishir Sharma, Rajit Kapur, Amruta Khanvilkar). I wish Vicky Kaushal had more to do.
16. God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s raw and heartfelt gay romantic drama is set on a ranch in northern England. Johnny, the sheep farmer, lives with his ailing father and reticent grandmother. His future in the farm looks bleak. Later, Johnny’s father hires Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker as the caretaker. Johnny initially resents Gheorghe. Gradually though, both find mutual love and happiness. The film is shot in the windy, picturesque landscape of the Moors, which adds to the characters’ emotional dynamics. The film also pays due homage to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.
17. A Fantastic Woman
Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar-winning Chilean drama is a rare film that tackles the trans experience, starring a transgender woman actor. The newcomer Daniela Vega offers tour de force performance as Marina, a nightclub singer and waitress in Santiago. Marina’s transgender identity leaves her ostracized by the family of her older lover after his unexpected death. Vega’s performance is both restrained and luminous. Lelio’s gloriously rendered visuals shine with gusto and earnest emotions.
18. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s magnificent stop-motion animation is set in the futuristic fantasy-land of Japan. In Megasaki City, an authoritative mayor Kobayashi uses an outbreak to exile the canines. When 12-year-old Atari, the mayor’s ward, crash-lands on the banished dog’s new home ‘Trash Island’, it sets in motion an epic quest. Wes Anderson, as always, is superb at concocting a wonderfully whimsical narrative. Aesthetically, Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s most ambitious feature to date. It’s also enlivened by the most impressive voice cast including Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, etc.
19. The Death of Stalin
Scottish satirist Armando Iannucci is best known for his political farce series — The Thick of It and Veep. The Death of Stalin, his second feature-film chronicles the rat-race set off immediately after the Russian dictator’s death in 1953. Naturally, viewers could find an unmissable link between the old political narrative and the political idiocy prevalent in contemporary USA and Russia. Iannucci fascinatingly depicts how power vacuum amps up the ridiculous and vicious nature of politicians. While the film is mostly hilarious, it doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of Stalinism.
20. A Quiet Place
Amidst a flock of unoriginal films and TV shows came John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and it swooned critics way more than expectations. Marketed as one of the best horror films of all time, it was not even close to being a good suspense thriller. It worked best an indie movie centered on a family of four, living in a dystopian world that is wiped out by an intelligent breed of alien creatures. Marco Beltrami’s ominous soundtrack, Krasinski’s sophisticated filmmaking, and Emily Blunt’s performance made it a good, early summer watch.
21. Black Panther
Black Panther is the first blockbuster to be written, acted, and directed by black artists. It marks the beginning of Black artists taking center stage in mainstream entertainers. Standing next to Richard Donner’s Superman, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2, and Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins, it not only subverts the genre but also shatters numerous Marvel stereotypes – including fixing the villain problem.
Recommended: All Marvel Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
22. Love, Simon
Everyone deserves a great love story and we got a really good one this year from American Writer Greg Berlanti. Love, Simon is one of the best coming-of-age films that is full of charm and heavy emotional depth. Nick Robinson as Simon is easily the best gay protagonist we’ve had in cinematic history. He and other young performers easily slip into their characters and give applaud-worthy performances. The light tone of the film ensures its content never feels ponderous.
23. Deadpool 2
An antidote to Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 is as ludicrous as the first one, if not decisively better. It entertains through its breakneck pacing and truckload of laugh-out-loud references. However, it never feels like a finished product. The first film was in the making for 10 years, as a result of which, it was more polished. This is quite rushed. It’s still consistently watchable for the gags and the insanely impressive post-credit scene as its leading man strikes superhero fatigue out of the park.
An incredible audio-visual experience, Alex Garland’s adaption of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is a stunning sci-fi that questions the self-destructive nature of humanity. The thought-provoking concept is aided by remarkable storytelling, incredible use of visual effects, and uniformly excellent performances. Often very disturbing yet immensely beautiful to look at. It is an original, highbrow sci-fi with ambitious ideas powerful to shimmer for a long, long time.
25. Game Night
Game Night is a funny, fast-paced adult comedy that delivers on all levels. It’s nowhere a game changing comedy but with a solid cast and some inspired scenes, it elevates standard material into a riot full of genuine laughs. The excellent chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman help maintain the energy while the enjoyable twists and turns keep you engrossed. It’s the perfect weekend watch for those who yearn to spend some quality time with their friends.
26. Solo: A Star Wars Story
The least grossing Star Wars film, Solo is the finest Star Wars prequel that boasted an arresting screenplay with well-etched characters brought to life by its elaborate cast. Alden Ehrenreich did full justice to Harrison Ford as he refrained from imitating the actor, rather smartly adapted his mannerisms and tempo. Ron Howard’s direction was commendable as he succeeded in salvaging a good film out of a possible mess. In contrast to Justice League, the narrative was seamless and it was hard to pinpoint which scenes were filmed again. The neat, detailed action scenes and John Powell’s magnificent soundtrack propelled the film from start to last.
27. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Given how the first Jurassic World was, or any of the previous Jurassic Park films have been, fated to repeat the same idea, that is, – JA Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly entertaining film with enough pathos to keep the heart of the franchise beating. No improvements are made in developing the characters but the set-pieces are genuinely thrilling. It was refreshing to see a tense finale with loud Dino action.
28. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider is the best gaming adaptation, one of the best reboots, and a fine adventure film. Vikander carries the whole film on her shoulders like any popular male lead. She rolls through a variety of emotions with absolute ease and authenticity. She doesn’t have Jolie’s oomph but her chiseled physique and visceral performance makes her portrayal the finest as she astutely demonstrates the pain her character goes through in the film. Compared to other pointless gaming adaptations that are made for the fans, this one works for everyone — regardless of whether you’ve played the game or not.
29. The Insult
30. Red Sparrow
A cold-blooded spy thriller full of graphic sex and violence, Red Sparrow features Jennifer Lawrence’s career-best performance. The cinematography (Jo Willems) and lush production ensure you don’t take your eyes off the screen. The cross-cutting opening shot in sync with the James Newton Howard’s score perfectly sets the tone of the film. Underlining themes of sex and power, it echoes the real life of its leading lady. The film falters in the third act where it tries to escalate its epic-ness but messes up the narrative.
31. Avengers Infinity War
Besides the star-studded cast and the marvellous special effects, Avengers Infinity War’s biggest selling point is its storytelling. The extraordinary storytellers Russo Brothers are the true chevaliers of this film. Smartly intertwining several different storylines into one single narrative — and particularly in a compact length (149 minutes) — their achievement here is beyond comprehension. This is a god-size blockbuster with the the biggest cliffhanger since our very own Baahubali – The Beginning. Having seen it thrice, there are plenty of minute details to be picked on every watch and more to appreciate. The wait for Avengers 4 is excruciating.
32. You Were Never Really Here
Reminiscent of numerous crime thrillers and the brooding themes they embody, You Were Never Really Here is quite an artful version of Liam Nesson’s Taken. It earns top marks for being one of the year’s most uncompromising films. As stunning as it is sadistic, it features a bombastic performance from Joaquin Phoenix as the sociopathic veteran. Joaquin keeps the film engrossing even when the gloominess is hard to resist. Amidst the cruelty, there are some poignant moments, including an underwater burial scene, which gives meaning to its traumatic nature.
33. Sicario 2
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a rare film that satisfyingly serves its own, complete story in just two hours of runtime, and sets up a sequel. Directed by Stefano Sollima, it’s a worthy follow-up to the terrific Denis Villenueve original that tells a relevant story. Less striking in terms of story and visuals, Soldado succeeds in being memorable through the incredible performances of Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Isabela Moner. Del Toro and Moner don’t have enough dialogues but their eyes do all the talking. They render the film with gravitas that is further escalated by the throbbing soundtrack and terrific action. The final 15 minutes are immensely absorbing and arguably the best ending to any film released this year.
34. Ready Player One
For a film that runs slightly under two and a half hours, it goes by so fast that you don’t realise it. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is a technical marvel that delivers on all aspects of filmmaking. The year’s most immersive experience, it encapsulates a wonderful dystopian story laced with mind-blowing visuals, action, dozens of pop-culture references, and drama. The transition of 35mm to digital shots is phenomenal. The long tracking shots render great depth to the scenes as they have intricate detailing. Following the old-school three-act story structure, it’s one of the many classics of its auteur. It reminds you of why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.
35. Ghost Stories (2018)
Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s debut feature Ghost Stories (2018) doesn’t raise the benchmarks of modern anthology horror. Still, it pays a fairly entertaining spooky tribute to old-school portmanteau predecessors of the 60s and 70s. Performances are the high point of the film with Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther perfectly balancing dark humor and fearsome emotions. If jump-scares and a climactic curtain-raiser are all necessary for you to enjoy a horror film, Ghost Stories would be fulfilling.
By Arun Kumar, Mayank Nailwal, Mansi Dutta
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