Top 6 Films of 2018

So here it is, another end of year list. 2018 has, by all accounts, been a wonderful year for film. For me, there’s been a fantastic spread of indie films – Shirkers, Apostasy, The Tale to name but a couple of my personal favourites. I’m not a fan of ranking films – it’s difficult to compare films which are remarkably different in subject matter, genre, style and substance and there is little point in comparing something like Shape of Water to the Avengers franchise. The films below are the ones which touched me the most in 2018, and are in no specific order.

So without further delay – here are my top six films of 2018 (yes I know it’s usually either 5 or 10 but I’m rebelling. Six is a nice number).

You Were Never Really Here – Lynne Ramsay

I’ve been in love with Lynne Ramsay’s film-making since I watched Morvern Callar about five years ago. I found it to be one of the greatest depictions of loneliness, isolation and then resounding hope that I had ever seen. Watching You Were Never Really Here is, in a way, an accompaniment to Morvern Callar – both Morvern and Joe are fundamentally alone in the world and in their own heads.

You Were Never Really Here is an unwavering and confident 90 minute rollercoaster guided by Joaquin Phoenix’s traumatised hit-man Joe – a man whose journey takes turns that neither he nor the audience is expecting. Ramsay’s film is violent and gory, but it never does show for the shock-factor. The violence portrayed is a reflection of Joe’s own mind as he tries to do the right thing.

Favourite Scene: The Lake

Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)

I went to see Leave No Trace almost by accident. The screening of the film I’d wanted to see was full (Apostasy – also a fantastic film), so instead of going home, I bought a ticket to see Leave No Trace instead. It was the best choice I made all year.

The story of Will (Thomasin McKenzie) and her father Tom (Ben Foster) is one wrapped up in the kindness of humans, the lasting effects of PTSD and the way our lives are so intrinsically entwined with nature even if we are not aware of it. Everything about Leave No Trace is perfect – the acting, dialogue, script, cinematography is all on point. Granik’s depiction of this small dysfunctional family trying to hold it together is sensitive and heartbreaking, but it also leaves the audience with something we all desperately need right now – hope.

Read my full review of Leave No Trace here.

The Rider (Chloe Zhao)

Striking a poignant chord between fact and fiction, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider tells the story of real-life cowboy Brady who is struggling to come to terms with his life after a devastating brain injury.

The Rider speaks at length about modern masculinity, friendship and what it means to have a dream. It is a very niche narrative – there’s probably few audiences who have been rising stars in the rodeo circuit – but the emotional gravitas here is something that feels universal.

For me, The Rider’s blend of fiction and fact made it such an interesting watch. It felt unpredictable within it’s own narrative, constantly keeping me guessing about Brady’s mental state and what exactly he would decide to do. It’s an utterly fulfilling ride.

Read my full review of The Rider here

Waru (Ainsley Gardner, Casey Kaa, Ranae Maihi, Awanui Smich-Pene, Briar Grace Smith, Paula Whetu Jones, Chelsea Winstanley, Katie Wolfe)

The premise of Waru, and the production behind it, is almost as intriguing as the film itself. Eight Maori women directors individually direct eight separate segments – all in real time – which depict the aftermath of a young child’s death due to neglect and abuse. From the schoolteacher who feels guilt for not noticing the abuse earlier, to funeral mourners – Waru is a deep dive into the effect that death has on a community, and those who are left to pick up the pieces.

Each segment is shot in real time, and in one shot, which makes the technical feat of Waru something that deserves to be watched on that basis alone. However, it’s not just the impressive cinematography that makes Waru feel accomplished – the characters are all incredibly well developed. We are introduced to new characters in each segment, and within a few minutes are already engaged their narrative and emotions.

With it’s realistic depiction of Maori culture to a vibrant conversation on abuse, there’s far more to say about Waru, but perhaps the only thing that needs to be said is: watch it.

Annihilation (Alex Garland)

Annihilation is the only film on this list that I’ve watched twice this year, and I am very close to watching it for a third time. With each re-watch, I notice more and more details that Garland has woven into the backgrounds of scenes, into the dialogue between characters. Annihilation is something to be re-discovered over and over again.

There are a seemingly insurmountable number of ways to read Annihilation. Is it a metaphor for cancer? Is it a take on climate change? Is it a commentary on our deepest desires, identity and the relationships in our lives? It is all of these, and more. Annihilation can read a simple sci-fi film – five brave adventurers exploring the source of a seemingly alien species – or it can be so much more.

Alex Garland has proved himself before with Ex Machina (also one of my favourite films), and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Read my full review here.

*and a bonus number 6 film*

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Phantom Thread is like a fairy-tale. Girl meets (much older) man, they fall in love, man gets annoyed at how loudly girl eats breakfast, man loses his touch for creating beautiful dresses, girl poises man, man likes it, the end.

Much like the fabrics that Daniel Day Lewis’ Woodcock works with, Phantom Thread is exquisite. I was fortunate enough to see it on 60mm projection and every single frame felt alive. Between the gorgeous cinematography and Day Lewis’ and Vicky Krieps’ chemistry – Paul Thomas Anderson has made an instant classic. Phantom Thread is textured, layered and doused in a remarkable black humour that only Anderson can create onscreen.

It’s a film which captures something about the human psyche that so few other films ever manage to. We’ve all got our kinks, and we just need to find someone who can get down with them. Now, where are my mushrooms?

A Year With Women – Identity in 4 Films

Over the past year watching one film a week by women (52 films by women), I watched a bigger range of diverse, progressive and interesting films than I have done previously in my life. So much so, I am doing the 52 Films challenge for a second year in a row.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 – I’ve pulled together four of my favourite films that celebrate female identity, and explore what that means in a wider context.

Enjoy!

Movern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)

Movern Callar is Lynne Ramsay’s second feature, after Ratcatcher. Based on the Alan Warner novel of the same name – the film opens on a tragic scene, a dead body. The body in question belongs to Morvern’s boyfriend, an aspiring novelist, who has killed himself on Christmas eve. It emerges that he has left Morvern his completed manuscript to send to publishers.

I remember that opening scene more vividly than any other film I’ve ever watched. The persistent changing of the coloured lights, constantly flashing is perfectly juxtapositioned with the pool of blood around the body in the foreground. Morvern, silent in her grief and anger, holds his hand. Morvern Callar is never loud, rather it’s strength comes from it’s moments of quiet. Morvern grieves inwardly, never expressing what has happened – even to her best friend. Her actions after the death prompt questioning, yet at the same time they make perfect sense. The anger, frustration and deep pain at her boyfriend’s death (and consequential abandonment) are all bought into play.

There is a really interesting discussion of class throughout Morvern Callar. Morvern is working class and she works at a supermarket. There is an implication that her boyfriend was not working in order to write his novel and his comfortable Glaswegian flat suggests that he was far better off than Morvern. Her decision to sell the manuscript with her name on it seems like a callous one, but is also contextualised by this exploration of class. He has no use for the money, but it would fundamentally change Morvern’s life.

Ramsay’s control of the design, camera and sound make for a truly unique film. Understated but with so much to pick apart, Morvern Callar is a film that changes and evolves with each viewing.

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, 2000)

A masterpiece in animation, Marjane Satrapi’s auto-biographical film Persepolis is both funny, entertaining, political and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Closely following Satrapi’s own story, Persepolis focuses on events which happened in Iran during the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The films protagonist, Marjane, is reflecting on her life as a child and teenager, and the devastating effects that the Iranian government, the uprising and destabilisation had on her and her family.

Persepolis is a bold film and, by its very nature, a political one. From a relatively peaceful childhood, to becoming separated from her family, to homelessness and clinical depression – Marji’s story is riddled with sadness and horror. Through the eyes of a child and then a teenager, the injustice and inhumanity of the Iranian government can be witnessed. Satrapi’s voice is strong and clear throughout, guiding us to identify with Marji on her journey. As Marji’s identity becomes fraught and confused, Satrapi’s directorial voice shines through. Persepolis combines the political with the personal, essentially threading together complex social issues with a coming of age story. Marji also explores how she feels that has lost parts of who she is – she is trans-national as opposed to her parents who have never left Iran.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the darkness of Persepolis, it is also a charmingly funny film. Young Marji ‘s love of communism is adorable, and her interactions with adults provide wonderful opportunities for humour – which Satrapi makes the most of.

Persepolis is engaging, thought provoking and stunning. With the refugee crisis, and the recent rejection of the Dubs amendment in UK parliament, it is also perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

 

Paraíso (Mariana Chellino, 2016)

Representing fatness in cinema has traditionally, always been an issue. Representations of fat women in cinema specifically has always been downright awful. The only fat female characters in cinema that I remember growing up were Ursula from The Little Mermaid (who was kick-ass but also incredibly evil), and Rosemary from Shallow Hal (who was imagined to be skinny because Jack Black’s character wouldn’t date fat women). Not ideal.

Mariana Chellino’s Paraíso is one of the first films I have seen which doesn’t depict fatness as a sin. Carmen, our protagonist, is a fat woman. Her partner, Alfredo, is also fat. The opening sequence depicts the two engaging in sex. It’s sensual, soft, loving and sexual  – what we see is a loving environment between two people. Their size is irrelevant.

The film focuses on the couple starting on a ‘weightwatchers’ style diet, complete with group weigh ins and diet plans. It is Carmen who initially wants to lose weight, after hearing two women talking about her in a bathroom at Alfredo’s company party. Before this, Carmen seems happy with herself, or at least does not seem insecure about her size. And why should she? This is the tipping point – and important to realise that it is not Carmen’s own insecurity that is the catalyst to lose weight, but judgement from others who don’t even know her.

Naturally, the dieting sparks confusion and misery in Carmen and Alfredo’s relationship – but Carmen remains a strong and convicted character. Though the diet is the catalyst for the conflict in the film, Carmen’s journey of rediscovering herself, food and cooking is the main event. Paraíso raises a lot of questions about food, size and  identity, especially in relationships.

 

Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)

A runaway success of 2014, Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood was released cinemas globally after a phenomenal run in France. It has often been praised as the ‘female equivalent’ to La Haine, but this is a complete oversimplification. Though it’s true that both films explore the ideas of poverty, racism and growing up – Girlhood explores uniquely female experiences and handles its characters completely differently to La Haine, which results in two almost oppositional films.

Marieme wants to be someone other than a punching bag for her brother or a carer for her sister. She sees the gang as the only real opportunity to escape her own life, the life which is full of disappointment and lacking in any kind of support. Marieme sees the girls as a symbol of hope, of happiness. The ‘diamonds’ bedroom scene is beautifully staged to explore this idea. The authenticity of the scene is breathtaking. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary.

Rather than portraying the girl gang (incidentally, ‘Girl Gang’ is what ‘Bande des Filles’ directly translates to) as a bad decision on Marieme’s part, the embrace of friendship is shown as something to celebrate. Marieme feels happy, secure and wanted when she is with her friends – which is hugely important in the transition from child to adult.

Marieme’s gender is also huge part of her identity, and is also something which is constantly being reaffirmed throughout the film. We open on a shot of a group playing  American football, and at the end of the scene,it is revealed they are a women’s team. Likewise, the last few scenes of the film see Marieme sporting male clothing and a typically male hairstyle – leading to confusion about her gender. Pitched somewhere between childhood and adulthood, Marieme flows between ideas of femininity and masculinity throughout  and her visual style is a huge part of her identity.