1) Phantom Thread
Re-teaming with Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis’s acting swansong was a beautifully layered work of art that made a virtue of its inherent strangeness. It was also deliciously sinister and perverse, with Day-Lewis infusing even the ordering of breakfast with an undercurrent of sexual malevolence. How could it not be film of the year? Playing a celebrated couturier whose dominance of the post-war London fashion world is starting to wane in an age of made-to-order chicness, Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock was an astonishing creation: a sadistic artist whose infatuation with his tougher-than-she-looks muse (Vicky Krieps) leads him to the realisation that he’s really a masochist at heart. Complimented by Jonny Greenwood’s score (and a great supporting turn from Lesley Manville), it was a bizarre and meticulously acted portrait of the sort of destructive relationship that works on the principle that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs – something the film took to an amusingly literal extreme.
2) You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s fourth feature in 20 years saw the Glaswegian maverick experiment with genre in a way she hadn’t before, embracing the hardboiled tropes of Jonathan Ames’ source novella to provide this otherwise sensorial film with a propulsive narrative momentum. Foregrounding the chaos of New York to put us in the headspace of Joaquin Phoenix’s hammer-wielding vigilante-for-hire, it was a film like no other, with Phoenix – burly and bearded – floating through the city like a tortured spirit shocked into reconnecting with his own humanity.
Spike Lee’s audacious account of a black detective (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1973 was a stinging rebuke to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, one that used the full force of Lee’s cinematic prowess to call out the blatant, strange and downright dangerous ways racism manifests itself in order to shrink the distance between the story’s period setting and contemporary America a year on from Charlottesville. Lee’s rule-breaking willingness to smash disparate styles and ideas together to reveal uncomfortable truths was much in evidence in a film that fused history, politics, even film criticism (his repurposing of both Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation was inspired) with a gripping cop movie.
4) Mission: Impossible – Fallout
2018 may have been the year superheroes faced their own mortality (and deep-fried kebabs) in the partially-shot-in-Edinburgh mega-blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War, but it was Tom Cruise who gave the decade-long dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the biggest run for its money. And run was the operative word. As he sprinted down side streets, sprinted after moving vehicles and sprinted across rooftops, the Cruiser showed no signs of slowing down, even when hobbled mid-stunt by a broken ankle. Twenty-two years on from the first film, this sixth instalment saw the 56-year-old star deliver the purest, most ridiculously entertaining blockbuster of the year – ticking-clock finale and all.
5) Leave No Trace
Lynne Ramsay wasn’t the only frequently AWOL auteur to make a long-overdue return. Debra Granik delivered her first feature since 2010’s Winter’s Bone and the results were quietly astonishing. A rigorously unsentimental drama starring Ben Foster as a PTSD-afflicted veteran living in the woods with his daughter (newcomer of the year Thomasin Mackenzie), the film offered a nuanced and unexpectedly tender portrait of a broken family trying to survive on the fringes of a country that doesn’t seem to have space for people like them.
6) A Star is Born
The biggest surprise of the year was Bradley Cooper’s swoon-worthy remake of the old showbiz parable, a film so alive with raw heartache and intoxicating performances it felt like it had never been told before. That was partly down to the crazy chemistry generated between Cooper and Lady Gaga, whose sensational turn more than lived up to the film’s titular pronouncement.
7) Cold War
Or, A Star is Born: European Edition. Pawel Pawlikoski’s equally brilliant Cold War put an even more downbeat spin on similar themes, using his
own parents’ erratic relationship
as the inspiration for a fiery love
story between an authenticity seeking jazz musician (Tomasz Kot) and the singer he falls for at a talent contest (the phenomenal Joanna Kulig). Set over a 15-year period during which post-war Europe was undergoing massive political and cultural changes, it was another film that really understood the complexities of a true connection, beautifully capturing how that initial spark can reignite in ways both dreamy and devastating as the years progress.
8) Sorry to Bother You
Musician-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s wild and audacious debut drew plenty of comparisons to Get Out, but that didn’t do justice to its own narrative chutzpah. What started as a wry take-down of prejudice in the workplace – revolving around a young black telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) learning to use his “white voice” – gradually expanded its scope to become a darker, increasingly surreal exploration of the dehumanising cost of being enslaved by a tech-dominated, profit-driven society. Could well become the social horror film for millennials.
Starring Claire Foy as a young woman who finds herself unwittingly committed to an asylum after being terrorised by a stalker, Steven Sodebergh’s delirious exploitation thriller used its premise as a timely metaphor to examine the effects of toxic masculinity in a world gone mad. Amping up the paranoia by shooting on an iPhone 7, the very-much-out-of-retirement director made the most of the smartphone’s cinematic limitations to convey the distorted, nightmarish reality of living at a time when nothing makes sense and no one believes you.
Motherhood was a prominent
theme in many of this year’s most notable movies – Suspiria, Hereditary, Lady Bird – but it was Charlize Theron’s unvarnished turn in
this excellent Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman collaboration that resonated the most. Taking a flame thrower to idealised portrayals of pregnancy and parenting, Theron devoured Cody’s killer dialogue while expertly negotiating a tricky high-concept role that delicately teased out the rarely explored mental health issues associated with giving birth.