Paul Whitington’s 20 best films of 2018 (and five flops)
It's been an interesting year in cinema with independents triumphing over blockbusters and a strong showing from Irish films
While not exactly a classic year for cinema-going, 2018 was definitely an interesting one, and disappointments on the blockbuster front were offset by some very strong independent American films, as well as a few real gems from Europe and the Far East. It was an extremely good year for Irish cinema, and movies as fine as Black 47, Rosie and The Little Stranger didn't even make our cut. Here are my 20 best films of 2018.
Paul Thomas Anderson's austere and stylish drama featured a magnificently intense performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, who assures us it's his last. He is Reynolds Woodstock, a 1950s dress designer whose elaborate haute couture creations have made him the toast of London society. But he's a brittle man, and when a woman called Alma (Vicky Krieps) becomes his muse and lover, the centre cannot hold.
Modern Russia's tatty underbelly is memorably exposed in Andrey Zvyagintsev's harrowing thriller. While divorcing parents Boris and Zhenya argue bitterly over the terms of their separation, they initially fail to notice that their unhappy 12-year-old son, Alyosha, has disappeared. And even when they do, the hunt for him seems an annoying distraction from their new romances. A brilliant, scathing film.
This hugely impressive feature debut was largely based on writer/director Greta Gerwig's teenage years in Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan is frighteningly good as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, an intense and stubborn high-school senior whose plan to flee east to "a city with culture" causes a running row with her equally intransigent mother.
A very enjoyable black comedy based on the true story of Tonya Harding, a talented ice skater who in 1994 became embroiled in a plot to nobble her rival in the US Olympic rankings, Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie is brilliant as the rough and ready 'white trash' Harding, whose life is blighted by abusive relationships with her husband and her mother, played by a terrifying Allison Janney.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson is at his quirky best in this delightful animation set in a dystopian Japanese city-state ruled by a tubby autocrat. When a flu spreads through the dog population, he banishes all canines to a grim island that serves as the city's dump. And there they languish, ruminating lazily on life, until the ruler's son sets out to rescue the dog he loves.
A Quiet Place
John Krasinski's directorial debut is a note-perfect horror film that sticks to its own fantasy logic, never makes the mistake of over-explaining anything, and doesn't outstay its welcome. Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt play a couple who've survived an alien attack: these vicious extraterrestrials hunt by sound, and staying quiet is harder than you'd think.
Writer/director Frank Berry spent almost two years talking to former prisoners and workshopping their experiences into the final script of this realist drama set mainly in Dublin's Mountjoy prison. Dafhyd Flynn is Michael McCrea, a young man from a tough Dublin estate whose life is changed forever when he agrees to mind a bag of cocaine. A very fine Irish film.
The story of East End fashion wunderkind Alexander McQueen is brilliantly told in Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui's superb documentary. The footage of his shows is breathtaking, and one is struck again by his chutzpah, daring and sheer originality. But fashion is a greedy mistress, and McQueen was eaten alive by the demands of his various businesses: he committed suicide in 2012 on the eve of his beloved mother's funeral. He was 40.
Leave No Trace
Indie filmmaker Debra Granik's spare dramas explore the grubby fringes of the American dream and the quiet despair of the marginalised underclass, in this case a father (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who live 'off the grid' in a Portland forest park. He has strict rules to avoid detection, but when the girl is spotted, they must engage with the wider world.
Spike Lee was back to his best with this angry, funny film that's set in the 1970s but has a strong connection to present events. John David Washington is Ron Stallworth, an ambitious black detective in the all-white Colorado Springs Police Department who worms his way into the affections of the Ku Klux Klan's Grand Wizard by pretending to be a racist white man.
Pawel Pawlikowski's haunting drama brings to life the stern and stifling world of postwar Poland and is partly based on his parents' marriage. Composer Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) is auditioning musicians for a state-sponsored folk troupe when he spots a free-spirited girl called Zula (Joanna Kulig). Wiktor is smitten, and their love affair will lead them towards the holy grail of defection.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
The appalling perversity of gay conversion therapy was movingly explored in Desiree Akhavan's fine drama. It's 1993, and Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is enduring the stiff heterosexual rituals of high-school prom, but she just wants to dance with her friend Coley (Quinn Shephard). And when the two girls are caught making out, Cameron is despatched to a bizarre therapy centre.
Crazy Rich Asians
Old-fashioned in the best possible sense, Jon M Chu's film was the standout comedy of the year, and starred Henry Golding and Constance Wu as a young couple whose budding romance is almost scuppered by an interfering mother. Rachel and Henry have been happily dating in America, but when they return to his native Singapore and she discovers he's part of the city-state's richest families, the guano hits the fan.
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper's remake of a classic 1930s musical was one of the most irresistible mainstream films of the year, and featured a phenomenal and possibly Oscar-winning performance from Lady Gaga. She is Ally, a waitress and part-time singer who's plucked from obscurity by drunken rock star Jackson Maine. Great songs, and lots of melodrama.
A puzzling dud at the box office, Damien Chazelle's film brilliantly recreated the dizzy rush to reach the moon during the 1960s space race. Ryan Gosling is Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy his long-suffering wife, who must stand by and hope for the best as her husband boards quivering tin cans that might explode at any minute. An intense and innovative piece of cinema.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid
One of the two or three best Irish films made this year, Feargal Ward's soulful documentary tells the story of Thomas Reid, above, a Kildare bachelor farmer whose quiet world collapses when the council inform him the little farm he inherited from his parents has been rezoned commercial, and that he'll have to sell. He doesn't play along, goes to court, and for once the little guy wins.
They Shall Not Grow Old
Peter Jackson put his love of technology to good use in this remarkable documentary. Given access to the Imperial War Museum's archive of Great War footage, he applied colour to make flickering images explode into life, while lip readers deciphered what troops filmed on the Western Front were saying. The effect was harrowing.
Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters is a film of rare depth and quality, which tells the story of a family that isn't really a family at all. When we first meet husband and wife Osamu and Noboyu (Lily Franky, Sakura Andô), their boy, a half-sister and the 'granny' they live with, we assume they're all related. But Osamu and Noboyu are career criminals who teach children how to steal. A quiet masterpiece.
The Wild Pear Tree
In Nuri Bilge Ceylan's wise and witty drama, a young man called Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) returns to the Turkish coastal town where he was raised after finishing college. He wants to become a writer, but worries he might be like his dissolute dad. Three hours long, but every second is justified.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
A superhero movie in your top 20, I hear you say? Has the poor man gone mad? If only they were all as clever and funny and human as this perfectly judged adventure, in which a teenage New Yorker must cope with the idea of becoming another Spider-Man after he's bitten by a genetically modified anthropoid. The animation is wonderful.
Top of the 2018 flops
1 Muppets who smoke, drink and ejaculate? The Happytime Murders must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the result was ghastly.
2 In John Cameron Mitchell's car crash of a movie, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a young man in 1970s Britain meets a dreamy young female alien who asks "how do I further access the punk?". What happens next is not edifying.
3 Stupid, daft, implausible, remedial - these are just some of the words one could use to describe the Fifty Shades movie franchise. In Fifty Shades Freed, Ana tells Christian she's pregnant, and his reaction is not as she might have wished. Very silly.
4 Though just 94 minutes long, Clint Eastwood's fact-based 'thriller' The 15:17 to Paris felt interminable, and managed to turn the rousing story of how three Americans prevented a terror attack on a French train into something uniquely tedious. Virtually unwatchable.
5 Short on wit but coming down with retrospective feminism, Haifaa-al-Mansour's daft biopic Mary Shelley told us how Mary Wollstonecraft and her half-sister Claire got mixed up with those bawdy poets Shelley and Keats, who behave here like members of The Who's road crew.The top 10 movies of 2018 - with reviews