It’s the end of another fine year in cinema, with stalwart blockbusters continuing to dominate much of the popular discussion alongside the bold new voices in filmmaking. Our annual Best Movies of the Year results give us a good indication of what’s what in movieland. It’s no surprise that Mission: Impossible Fallout, the latest in a film series which has honed its execution while building on a two decade history, came up trumps. It’s hugely likeable cast, astonishing technical and stunt work, and a massive fan base made it a sure box office winner.
But this isn’t to discount the many original films we saw. Indeed, some of my personal favourites stood out because, unlike many of the sequels, reboots and franchise riders, I was able to go in and be surprised. And man, were there some surprises.
It was a year in which Hereditary sat alongside Halloween, Sorry To Bother You played the same screens as Solo: A Star Wars Story. It was the year of Black Panther, Annihilation, Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians and A Quiet Place. It was the year Netflix in particular ramped up their premium original slate. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma will be seen as one of the first Netflix films to necessitate a theatrical run. Others will certainly follow.
So now, on the shortest day of the year we look back on the last twelve months, and with our own spin award the films which excited, delighted, baffled and infuriated us. We throw a caustic spotlight on the trends in cinema we loved and loathed. There is much to celebrate, and great cause to be optimistic for the future of our beloved artform.
Thank you for sticking with us over the last year (and last ten…), have a very Happy Christmas and a spectacular New Year.
Ok – Truffle time! We start, as always, with….
Most futile attempt at “no come back, it’s cool really”
Much like the ill-conceived “re-imagining” of Alexandre Dumas’ The Musketeers in 2001, with fight choreography by Yuen Woo Ping, Robin Hood worked hard to sell itself as a rip-roaring action extravaganza, despite the fact that it takes a *really* long time to “reload” a bow and no matter how hard you try, you do run out eventually. Hawkeye gets away with it because he has compatriots with other skill sets and weapons. Loxley, not so much. You can edit it to within an inch of its life, but it still looks naff. Apparently, it’s not gone down well…….
Most surprising success
Man alive, this one looked like it was going to tank. The regrettable decision to release the first trailer far too early, the unsettling impression that Tom Hardy looked like he was rolling his eyes pretty much throughout, the seeming prevailing wisdom that Spider-man is now much better served within the MCU (though Spider-verse is one in the eye for that theory). None of it boded well. Venom currently sits at no. 5 for the year, with a haul of $843m. As they say, no-one knows anything. Which leads me on to……
Saddest loss to the world of screenwriting
William Goldman was one of the first screenwriters whose books I started consuming. Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? are both essential reading for anyone interested in film full stop, let alone screenwriting. Even though his output dropped off quite markedly in more recent years, we have lost the writer of Butch Cassidy, Marathon Man, Princess Bride, All The Presidents’ Men and Misery. He was/is a mesmerisingly gifted writer and leaves behind a matchless resume.
Mission: Impossible Fallout
When I suggested a few weeks ago that the shortlist should be True Lies, M:I-F and Casino Royale, my son immediately countered with The World’s End. Good point. Fallout definitely belongs on the list, however short or long it might be. Director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise channelled the realistic “people in prolonged fights get hurt and tired” thing from the Jack Reacher films to deliver another absolute (and literal) belter of a fight. All three participants showed real and plausible physicality, as well as actually staying in character as they fought (particular thumbs up for Henry Cavill’s Walker getting palpably fed up and deciding he really needs to take his coat off). With all of the CGI nonsense of your average DC/MCU fight scene, this was so compelling and effective. Fight and film of the year.
I don’t even care, I really enjoyed this one. A couple of standout scenes make me laugh just thinking about them and keep being funny even on repeated viewings and there’s not much more that you can ask of a comedy. Date Night may remain the best “….Night” film of recent years (don’t @ me) but this is an under-appreciated treat. The best sight gag is spoiled by the trailer, but there’s still plenty that’s fresh and inventive and (gosh) simple.
Someone, I forget who, tweeted earlier in the year that they could make a hundred films in this franchise each year and he’d go see them all. I’m inclined to agree. I genuinely cannot work out whether I was more excited for Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park in my teens and believe me, I was *really* excited about T2.
In my considered opinion, only JP3 has let down this franchise so far (inevitably it is my youngest child’s favourite) and Fallen Kingdom was great. Yes, the trailer spoiled too much (see the previous award) but there was plenty of action, some emotional impact, great use of models and animatronics and a haunted house finale that was properly gripping. Despite the obvious setting up of part 3, this was a really great summer blockbuster for someone who shamelessly approves of almost anything in this franchise.
Most Likely to get a Hard Pass from me
Mama Mia: Here We Go Again
I really don’t want to see this and I’m pretty sure it will be inflicted on me at some point. Not a fan of Abba, not a fan of people spending large amounts of screen time screaming excitedly at each other (see the opening scenes of the first film). Happy to put off seeing this for as long as possible.
Who’d a thought it? $2bn at the worldwide box office…….
Thankfully, it was well deserved. The brutal opening scene made it clear this was not going to be a tongue in cheek outing for anyone. Thanos was clearly a foe to be reckoned with and although the bloated cast made Spider-man 3 look like Bug, the Russos were focused and ruthless. Yes, subsequent announcements of upcoming MCU films have made it clear that what little sense there was of loss will be “fixed” in the next film, but still this was a gargantuan achievement.
The ‘Andy Garcia in Passengers’ Award For Most Misleading Overselling of a Cameo As a Major Role.
Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
“What are you doing here?” asks Peter Ustinov of Oscar The Grouch at the end of The Great Muppet Caper. “A very brief cameo,” comes the raspy, litter-breathed reply. At least he was being honest. From the off, Jeff Goldblum’s reappearance as Dr Ian Malcolm, chaotician, arch-quipper and source of a thousand memes, was front and centre in the marketing of Jurassic World’s follow-up He even appeared on talk shows to promote it.
‘There he is!’ we all hooted, just after it started. ‘Where the hell is he?’ we pondered, when we realised we were only five minutes from the end-credits. ‘Oh, there he is again, in the same room, on the same chair, only now he gets to say ‘Welcome to Jurassic World,’ because the script needs him to. Not since Smokey & The Bandit Part III, when thousands, nay hundreds of us were forced to sit through 90 minutes of laughter-free comedy just to get to 45 seconds of Burt Reynolds fulfilling a contractual obligation, have so many of us felt so hoodwinked.
The Bishop of Southwark Award For Most Blindly Hysterical Overreaction to Nothing Remotely Contentious or Offensive.
Twitter vs First Man
The late, much-missed chef Anthony Bourdain wrote in one of his excellent cook books, ‘There were surely few lowlier, more stupid moments in American history that when a few boobish media whores started talking about changing the name of French fries to “Freedom Fries.”’ Well, it turns out it doesn’t matter how low you drop the bar, you can always get lowlier.
In the weeks running up to First Man’s release, it leaked out that there was no Aaron Copland-scored scene where the Stars & Stripes is planted on the moon and Neil Armstrong salutes, a solitary patriotic tear running down his face. Republican senator Marco Rubio was outraged, as (predictably) was Donald Trump. Twitter caught fire with accusations of left-wing whitewashing of history flying like cannonballs around the First Man press conferences.
Not to give anything away but in the film, having successfully landed the module and stepped onto the moon’s surface, Neil Armstrong takes in the immense spectacle of it all and approaching a crater, makes a little personal gesture that will probably go down as the most moving screen moment of 2018. It’s a perfect scene that would have been ruined if altered in any way, which the flag-waving naysayers would have realised had they seen it. But of course, they hadn’t seen it. ’Twas ever thus.
The John Cazale Award for Nefarious Scene Stealing.
Tim Blake Nelson – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
The Coen Brothers latest, a Western Anthology that briefly did the rounds at the cinema before dropping onto Netflix, is a collection of six tales of the old west at its most dark and unforgiving. Sadly for tales 2 to 6, the opening chapter is a breathtakingly violent, hilarious and oddly enchanting combination of Sergio Leone and Rogers & Hammerstein that takes some getting over.
That the rest of the film plays catch-up from the off is down to Buster Scruggs himself: an upbeat, murderous, warbling balladeer with a pleasing baritone played by oft-used secret weapon Tim Blake Nelson, in the best role of his career. It is no exaggeration to say that every single line, lyric, gunshot and tic is an entertainment in itself so overpowering that it’s hard to process how utterly wonderful it is in just one sitting. It doesn’t hurt that the Coens gifted Nelson some of their most memorable frontier dialogue to play with. To wit, ‘It appears the vitals of this lucky son-of-a-gun remain unpunctured. Sloppy shootin’ on my part.’
A silver medal is awarded to Jesse Plemons for his sterling scene-thievery in the year’s best comedy Game Night, playing the least wanted team member on planet earth. Plemons gets extra points for the year’s most amusing use of the word ‘nomenclature.’
Golden Hammer Award
We’ve had our share of serial killers, psychopaths and killing machines over the years, but 2018 saw Joaquin Phoenix as Joe – a giant marble slab of a man – take out his hammer and wield it all over New York state. He receives the award not just for playing such a convincingly terrifying killer, but for showing us how Joe ended up in that job and for imbuing the man with more humanity than just about any other character in the film. A terrifying and haunting portrayal.
Golden Long Johns Award
Though overall disappointing, the Coen Brothers’ episodic western had one particular delight: Tom Waits as the gold prospector. Spending most of his time in a sort of Eden with just the birds and the bees for company, Waits is seen for much of his chapter in his flannel long johns. He also gives one of his best performances in an impressive decades-long career. He deserves many more gongs than the Golden Long Johns for his performance.
Pantene Golden Hair Award
Robert Redford is 82 and while he might not be the greatest actor of his generation, he’s one of the only ones left. With hair like burnished fields of corn, the man is as full of charm and charisma as he once was. In The Old Man and the Gun we see photos of a younger Redford and oh my, but he is one handsome film star. If this is his last film, then he is going out with panache. Thank you, Bob, for your years of celluloid service.
Golden Horseshoe Award
I am a sucker for the one-man-and-his-horse story: from International Velvet (one girl and her horse) right up to Seabiscuit, I have been eagerly led to these stories like, well, like a horse to water. In 2018, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider cantered up and stole my heart. It depicts the harsh romance of the rodeo rider’s life and contains a central performance by the non-professional actor Brady Jandreau that knocks your socks off.
The “How The Hell Did This Never End Up In Cinemas?” Award For Straight-To-DVD Majesty
Unless you were lucky enough to be among the FrightFest faithful this summer, your chances of seeing Pascal “Martyrs” Laugier’s genuinely rattling English-language horror on a big screen were sadly nil. Arrow Video were kind enough to whack out a blu-ray, so you can still catch it, legally, in all its troubling glory, but this could’ve well been one of 2018’s biggest horror films.
Contrary to the fact that it got a bit of an unfair critical kicking across the pond, Laugier’s latest is a seriously nasty home invasion thriller, turned psychological unsettler, and its biggest asset is its sense of atmosphere. Big screen and big sound add an awful lot, and without dancing into spoiler territory, Ghostland has a lot to offer in both.
The “I Totally Understand Streaming Is A Thing Now And I’m Not Going To Be One Of Those People That Says It’s Inferior to Cinemas But I Really Wish I Could’ve Seen This On A Big Screen” Award For Netflix/VOD Acquisitions
The fact that Alex Garland’s hugely ambitious female-fronted sci-fi Annihilation was sold off to Netflix by Paramount, after a struggling theatrical run in the States was a crying shame. Obviously not from a business point of view – Paramount no doubt made a wise decision offloading it; although Ex Machina did well overall, Garland’s name isn’t exactly synonymous with the sort of profit the studio needed to be making on it. But it’s a clever, terrifying and gorgeous film that could’ve (and should’ve) been a serious awards contender, had it gotten a bigger release.On the other side of the coin is Joseph Kahn’s ridiculously close-to-the-bone crowd movie Bodied, an Eminem-produced battle rap comedy that swept awards at TIFF, Fantastic Fest and more, but could only find ‘reasonable’ distribution with YouTube Premium. Seeing Bodied with a full audience is a totally different and even more incredible experience to seeing it alone (I’ve done both), and again, it deserves a louder conversation than the one it got.
The “Dying Breed” Award For Original Genre Movies That Would’ve Probably Been Commonplace 30 Years Ago But Now We Need More Than Ever
Not pegging Overlord as a Cloverfield movie as originally planned was a good move on Paramount’s part. Big-budget, original genre movies don’t come around as often as we’d probably like nowadays, and Julius Avery’s Wolfenstein-style horror proved to be one of the year’s best. Like a John Carpenter-directed Inglourious Basterds, it’s a proper hardcore, 18-rated blood-fest, with some of 2018’s gnarliest effects and deserved a much warmer box office reception than the one it ultimately got.
Gareth Evans’ first English-language movie this side of The Raid and The Raid 2 was an absolute belter of a slow-burn folk horror. With shades of everything from The Wicker Man to Silent Hill, its gradually escalating production design seemed like the film’s real star too, and what better way to celebrate that than by shining a light on its filthiest creation, a masked gimp-style creature and right-hand man of the big bad herself. Officially credited as The Grinder, he offers up the film’s grungiest moment and proves Evans as still very much a genre-powered voice to be reckoned with.
Best DVD/Blu-ray Special Feature That Can Technically Be Considered A Standalone Film Since It Had A Screening At SXSW And Has An IMDb Page
Ardent critics of The Last Jedi should probably move on – I’m not opening up that can of worms again. What I will say though, is that its feature length making-of doc from director Anthony Wonke is a superbly made look behind the lens, following Rian Johnson through every stage of production. Love it or hate it, Wonke offers an absolutely unparalleled (and surprisingly emotional) look at just how Star Wars’ most controversial sequel came to be, porgs, casino planets and superwoman Leia’s included, and Johnson’s input alone makes it worthy of this totally made-up award.
Best On-Screen Breakdown
Usually rightfully reserved for one Nicolas Cage, 2018 threw us a real curveball with Jim Cummings’ masterfully written, acted, shot, edited and yes, self-distributed indie darling Thunder Road. Cummings stars as the central single dad, who starts the film sobbing at his mother’s funeral and only gets more and more unstitched from there.
Contrary to something like Cage’s meltdown in the totally bananas Mandy, Cummings’ performance is much more like a gently swinging pendulum, played less and less for laughs as the film ekes on. He’s measured, soulful and one million percent heartbreaking at every turn – a true tour-de-force.
Most Nonsensical Movie Title of 2018
We’re all very happy to have Michael Myers back in action, and no longer having his strings pulled by some ancient pagan runes, or Rob Zombie. And I’m not saying that David Gordon Green’s long-awaited, Blumhouse-backed reboot is anything less than really great. But its title doesn’t make a lick of sense. Setting itself as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original Halloween, retconning every other sequel and remake in existence, makes this one technically Halloween 2. It’s understandable that they didn’t call it Halloween 2 (after all, there’s already been at least two other Halloween 2s), but using the same title as the film it’s acting as a sequel to doesn’t make any sense either. At least go with something halfway there, like Halloween: Reborn. And what does that make the inevitable sequel to this sequel? Another Halloween 2?
Best British Movie of 2018
Taking an award-winning bow at the Edinburgh Film Festival over the summer, Calibre snatched up a Netflix deal incredibly quickly and debuted worldwide pretty soon after, to fairly unanimous acclaim. Going on to trounce the Scottish BAFTAs and BIFA nominations, Matt Palmer’s straight-up thriller is a numbingly tense piece of work that sits up there with the likes of Kill List, The Descent and Eden Lake as the best British genre work of the 21st century.
Most Original And Impossible To Describe Movie of 2018
Deborah Haywood’s teen/fairy-taleish drama is a mad and uniquely British film. Like a Stephen King draft of Mean Girls with a wickeder sense of humour, it’s all-at-once a magical, hard-nosed and deeply real look at bullying across all age groups, with proper standout turns from Lily Newmark and Joanna Scanlan. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, Haywood takes an even wonkier turn; very easily one of the most singular films of 2018.
Best use of a Prince Song During the End Credits of a Movie
Spike Lee’s genius use of the previously unreleased 1980’s Prince take on the Spiritual Mary Don’t You Weep (from A Piano And A Microphone 1983) for the end credits of Blackkklansman provided the perfect opportunity for me to weep, yes maybe sob a little too I admit, following the unflinching, brilliantly edited juxtaposition of the brutal murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last year with Trump’s “some very fine people” speech.
Immediately preceding this sequence, the conclusion of the film has the tone of neatly wrapping up the story and the inclusion of the footage from such a harrowing and recent event in US history brings the viewer crashing into the real world before they exit the cinema doors on to the streets of 2018. The use of Prince’s song doesn’t make the sequence any easier to watch, but it does offer a degree of hope, as we hear the beauty that’s in human nature in his voice, while we witness the horror on screen.
The Watership Down Award for Best Rabbit Performances In A Period Drama
Not to take anything away from the wonderful human performances in The Favourite, but those rabbits were scene stealers! There’s something about watching animals just being themselves on screen alongside the human performers that’s captivating. Watching The Wizard of Oz, especially on a big screen, it tends to be Toto I’m focused on during Somewhere Over the Rainbow rather than Judy Garland.
The stars of The Favourite seem to be enamoured with their fluffy co-stars too, as we found out at the 2018 New York Film Festival press conference for the film. Olivia Colman: “CG rabbits wouldn’t have been the same! Emma and I are both mad animals lovers, so we had a lovely time. Could barely remember our lines when it was a rabbit day. Rabbits aren’t house trained, they pee a lot! So in that bed, I kept going ‘ohhh! I can feel a wet patch!'” There were clearly no divas on set among the rabbit cast according to director Yorgos Lanthimos at the NYFF: “I thought it was going to be a nightmare, like it usually is with animals, but it all fell into place. The duck was more difficult!”
Honourable mention to Ben Wishaw as “Bunnies” in Stephen Frears’ A Very English Scandal.
The Flawless Sabrina Memorial Award for Best Scene Set In A Drag Bar
I knew I was going to enjoy Bradley Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born the moment his character Jack sets foot in a drag bar and unfazed takes a seat. He’d only been in search of more alcohol, but ends up finding his future star, Ally (Lady Gaga). Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race get to enjoy seeing former contestants Willam and Shangela, who bring authenticity, while the setting helps give the film an inclusive, modern feel, while providing an an insight into who Ally is for performing there and who Jack is for being relaxed there.
Honourable mention goes to Dumplin’. The Dumplin’ drag bar scenes had more of a fantasy feel to them, but are some of the best scenes in the film and a lot of fun, especially if you’re a Dolly Parton fan and who isn’t?
The “What the hell is going on!?!? Is this really happening in a movie? Oh yes it is! Is this my favorite movie ever now!?” award
Horse people! Yes, horse people. Sorry to Bother You is the best written film of the year. It’s voice is so fresh and so new, and brought to life by an incredible cast that believes in every single word. The commitment to this world and the events that take place is why this film works. Armie Hammer deserves an Oscar nomination for his terrifying performance, Tessa Thompson has the greatest earrings in cinema history and Lakeith Stanfield is the main reason why this movie works.
This movies hits on every single level. It’s hilarious, shocking, intense, terrifying, and so incredibly smart and relevant in today’s society. There were about 5 moments in the film I was asking myself “What the hell is going on!?” But no film stuck with me this year more than Sorry to Bother You. It’s what movies should strive to be especially in times like this where the world can seem just as screwed up as what takes place in this film
The “Christmas Decapitation” Award for Best Christmas Zombie HighSchool Romantic Comedy Musical
No one would expect a combination of all of these genres to work, but surprisingly it does! Clearly influenced by heavy hitters such as Shaun of the Dead and La La Land, Anna and the Apocalypse superbly blends together stereotypical elements of a whole array of genres whilst also being equally funny, emotional and thrilling and will leave you singing any number of its original songs. The perfect film to end the year on.
The “Your Name of 2018” Award
It’s once again time for my yearly award for best anime film of the year and this year that award goes to Mamoru Hosoda’s emotional fantasy tale of Mirai. The story follows a young boy named Kun dealing with intense jealousy of the arrival and attention of his newborn sister, Mirai. Throughout the film, Kun learns valuable life lessons through these fantastical dream like sequences as he meets people he knows at various points in the past or future. The film is beautiful animated and another strong bow to Hosoda’s impressive career.
The “Kaiju of the Year” Award
Last year’s Shin Godzilla was the biggest Godzilla on screen to date but now, albeit in anime form, Godzilla Earth smashes that record with an incredible 300+ meters in height! Even though the anime has been divisive with fans, it’s an interesting take on the Godzilla story adding a lot of sci-fi elements into the mix and is still a fun ride. Not only that, but Godzilla Earth is a terrifying presence as the antagonist of this particular piece.
The “I already know what the Best Film of 2019 is going to be based on the trailer” Award for Best Trailer
With the release of the first trailer for Michael Doughety’s Godzilla sequel, fans were presented with one of the most beautiful trailers ever created. It featured a wonderful rendition of Clare De Lune and showed us to the world after the reveal of the titans in Godzilla (2014). With subtle glimpses of some of the Kaiju (or Titans) making an appearance in this film including classic Toho monsters Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, this trailer raised the hype levels immensely. Not only that, but with this week’s release of the action packed trailer showing off all of these monsters, this film critic is so incredibly excited for this film to hit cinemas in May 2019!
The “Butt Clencher” Award
Never before have I spent the entire runtime of a movie with my butt firmly clenched until John Krasinski’s epic horror thriller A Quiet Place came along earlier this year. This adrenaline fuelled silent masterpiece had audiences on the edge of their seats for the full film and also left them breathless. This is how you accomplish terror and fear – put the audience in the shoes of your character and create a unique monster that causes a dramatic change to everyday life meaning that a lot of the film is relatable. A true masterpiece.
The “Acid Trip of the Year” Award sponsored by the Anti-Drug Board
For years, Nicholas Cage has been a very unique actor. His quirky charismatic and crazy presence sometimes is overbearing on the film he’s in but that is not the case with Mandy. This acid trip of a movie perfectly complements the insanity that Cage brings to his performance and neither outplays the other. The film is split into two distinct different acts and Cage absolutely feels in his element here. A terrific performance by a once in a generation actor.
The “Mother of the Year” Award sponsored by Mothercare
Hands down, Toni Collette needs to be nominated for an Oscar for her intense and immensely powerful performance in Hereditary. Just for the dinner table scene alone, Collette captures the raw emotion of a distressed mother dealing with multiple levels of grief whilst slowly going insane with everything that going on around her.
The “Video Game Movie of the Year” Award
For countless years, movies based on video games have been a very mixed bag. But this year, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug brought us one of the best in recent memory with his take on Tomb Raider. The film took a lot of inspiration from the more recent games (which were rebooted in 2013) and gave us a realistic character in Lara who was brilliantly portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander. Although the film had a fairly weak villain, it was still a really fun experience and I hope that there are more adventures to come starring our favourite tomb raider.