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The top five best and worst films of 2018

Yes, it’s that time again, folks! Before I list my top five best and worst of the year, I will make a few disclaimers:

  1. I have selected films which have gone on general release in the UK during 2018. At least one of my choices got its first worldwide public screening during 2017, whereas certain films which have featured heavily on other “Best of 2018” lists (such as The Favourite) are absent simply because they aren’t due for release here until 2019.
  2. I have only included films which I have actually seen. There may well be some truly great or terrible examples of cinema which I have omitted simply because I haven’t watched them.
  3. The choices here are purely my own (albeit solidly-informed) opinions. Yours may differ.
  4. There is no particular order to these listings.

The five best of 2018

The Breadwinner

Nora Twomey’s cel-shaded animated look at a young girl living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan is a beautiful hymn to a child’s ingenuity and imagination, even amongst the world’s most brutally adverse circumstances. Aside from its impressive visual aesthetic, the film’s main virtues are its poignant attention to detail and its carefully-handled balance of both bleakness and hope. There are also some enchanting fantasy story sequences which are reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s seminal animated adventure The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).

The Breadwinner poster

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Every time Tom Cruise’s career tanks (be it due to his couch-jumping incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show or the flop of 2017’s The Mummy) he invariably bounces back. This sixth entry in the Mission: Impossible movie franchise is the best in the series to date - a string of exhilarating, superbly-shot action setpieces featuring Cruise performing many of his own stunts. While the plot is fairly predictable and there are too many convenient contrivances, there’s more than enough sheer excitement to render these issues negligible. It nails the cinematic benchmark for both washroom fights and helicopter chases for now, and, quite likely, for many years to come.

Cold War

It’s the first of two foreign-language black-and-white period films to make my top five for this year. Pawel Pawlikowski’s tale of love between two Polish musical talents in Iron Curtain-era Europe is an emotive piece of pure cinema which positively revels in the transcendence of human love (as flawed as it might be) over political realities. It’s at once overwhelmingly sad and surprisingly uplifting.

Mandy

Panos Cosmatos’s unexpected cult gem brings together so many random cinematic influences - from Lucio Fulci gore movies to heavy metal album covers, from New Age religion to Nicolas Cage throwing an epic shit fit - and yet they gel so brilliantly that you’ll be slapping your forehead and wondering why you didn’t think of combining them before he did. While horror fans have had something of a bounty this year with the likes of A Quiet Place and Hereditary, Mandy has the sheer creative fever dream insanity to come out on top.

Mandy (2018) poster

Roma

Yes- it’s the second black-and-white foreign-language film to make my top five. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s latest is his first bona fide masterpiece since 2006’s Children of Men and, since he also wrote, lensed, co-produced and co-edited it, is clearly his most personal project yet. Set in early 1970s Mexico City, it depicts the ups and downs of an affluent family from the point of view of their indigenous maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), whose own experiences share a lot in common with them despite the vast gulf in terms of social status. It’s a truly rewarding piece of human and political artwork.

Roma (2018)

The five worst of 2018

Red Sparrow

There was a lot of pre-release hype surrounding this Jennifer Lawrence-starring adaptation of Jason Matthew’s novel of the same name. Unfortunately, what we were served up was a hoary, plodding Cold War thriller bedecked with moments of luridly amped-up sex and violence. There’s also something uniquely discomfiting about its sops towards feminine empowerment while, in the same breath, it wallows in women being variously sexually objectified or brutally tortured. Atomic Blonde (2017) has more fun. Much more fun.

Red Sparrow (2018) poster

Fifty Shades Freed

While we should be thankful that this is the final entry in the Fifty Shades trilogy, the damage has already been done. I’m still trying to get that ice cream scene out of my head… dammit!

Terminal

This futuristic neo-noir starring Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Dexter Fletcher and Mike Myers is nothing more than a terminal case of superficial style and wannabe-hip pretension. It even references Victory Gin from George Orwell’s 1984 because… er… hey! Spot the reference! Terminal also heavily hearkens back to that much-unloved cycle of British Mockney gangster flicks which came and went seemingly every other week around the turn of the millennium. Kindly pass me the Victory Gin; I’ll be needing it now.

The Predator

Shane Black played the hilariously profane Rick Hawkins in the original 1987 Predator, a character for whom he wrote much of his own dialogue. Since then, he has also scripted (and sometimes directed) some undeniably enjoyable films, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Thus, hopes were high that his latest, The Predator, would step up to the plate and provide the best entry in the series since the first one. Alas, despite a few entertaining character interactions, the end result is an annoyingly incomprehensible, ineptly-edited splatter-comedy mess. The fact that it underwent some much-publicised reshoots probably didn’t help matters.

The Predator (2018) poster

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

This sequel to 2016’s Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a confusing expository dump which throws in far too many elements with very little payoff because it has all been saved up for later entries. Tellingly, despite the title, Grindelwald doesn’t undertake much of the hoped-for grand criminality beyond recruiting a few followers and bumping off a handful of marginal characters. The original had some of the same weaknesses but at least possessed enough charm to be promising. This one, however, is just a murky and dull betrayal of these promises. Having garnered largely negative reviews and underperformed at the North American box office, it’s the first and only outright misfire in the J. K. Rowling Harry Potter franchise to date.

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