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?

Femphile’s Alternative Academy Awards 2018

Hello!

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus (you may or may not have noticed) but I’m pleased to say I’m back baby! It’s been a weird month, finishing up at my last job and starting my new job this week but I am getting settled and really, it’s all quite exciting!

What is also exciting (depending on your definition of the word of course), is that tonight brings us the 90th Academy Awards. That’s 89 years of men winning Best Director, 90 years of male directors films winning Best Picture and 90 years of female artists, crew and actors being asked more about who they are wearing than about their craft, vision or talent.

Look, you probably know by now I am not the biggest fan of the Academy. The #metoo movement has blasted the doors wide open on the rampant sexism, abuse and horryfing attitudes of those whom the Academy pour endless praise on year after year (yes, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski I am looking at you). So I am not going to pretend that, to me, the Oscars are that big of a deal. The films nominated films for Best Picture barely measure up to what I would actually consider the best films of 2017/2018. Some are good, some are terrible and some are just existing somewhere in between.

What I’m aiming to do here, is to give you recommendations for other (sometimes better) films that you should watch if you’ve seen the Best Picture noms. They are films I have picked for various reasons – subject matter, narrative, visual style – but, for me, they are films which deserve to be seen just as much as the nominated films, if not more. So without further ado… Femphile’s Alternative Academy Awards begins below…!

 

If you liked LADYBIRD, watch PRINCESS CYD

Ladybird is one of my top contenders for Best Picture this year. Relatable, funny, sweet and sad – it’s Ladybird’s mother-daughter relationship that sealed the deal for me. As a first time director, Gerwig succeeds in certain places (authenticity, humour and her direction of both Soise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf), but I think Ladybird suffered from an odd pacing, and short sequences that never gave us a chance to properly get to know it’s characters. Still, it’s a film which we need right now, and one which seems to give an accurate voice to teenage girl experience.

Princess Cyd also came out in 2017, after boucning around the festival circuit, it has landed on Netflix. Directed and written by Stephen Cone, it’s the story of Cyd – a teenage girl who goes to spend the summer at her aunt’s house in Chicago. The film explores the generational gaps between Cyd and her aunt Miranda, the unresolved grief of losing Cyd’s mother, sexuality, gender and the trials of being a teenager. Though heavy in ‘issues’, Princess Cyd is a quiet and subtle film. Shot on film, and looking like a heady instagram filter throughout, Cone allows us to find our way through it – just as Cyd is finding herself. You’ll laugh and cry, and it will be no bad thing either way.

Princess Cyd

If you liked DUNKIRK or DARKEST HOUR, watch THEIR FINEST

I won’t lie to you, I have zero interest in either Dunkirk or Darkest Hour. Maybe that means I will have to revoke my cinephile license, or maybe it just means I have little time to waste on subjects that I have seen so many times before – either way, they are not my cup of tea.

What IS my cup of tea though, is Lone Scherfig’s WW2 drama Their Finest. Based on the novel, the film follows the misadventures of the UK’s Ministry of Information – Film Division team as they try to put together a morale raising epic about the Dunkirk evacuation. Protagonist Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is summoned to London to assist on writing scripts with the ministry as there are very few men left in the industry – most having been shipped off to war. Catrin, who is employed to write the women’s lines only to begin with, is headstrong, creative and becomes an absolute assett to the team. Amongst bombings, re-writes, heartbreak and a terrible American actor – Catrin perseveres It may not be the all-singing-all-dancing Dunkirk or star a heavily made-up Gary Oldman, but Their Finest draws from real events and gives a different perspective on WW2.

If you liked CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, watch LOVESONG

My personal favourite of the year, Call Me By Your Name doesn’t really need any recommendations to come afterwards. Just watch it on repeat and sob continuously to Surfjan Stevens. However, as the intention of this article is to give recommendations, I will give one anyway.

Lovesong is a 2016 indie, directed by So Yung Kim.  Starring Riley Keough and Jena Malone as two friends who go on an impromptu roadtrip, Lovesong is a sweet little film that gives more than I initially expected it to. Sarah (Keough) has a young daughter with her frequently absent, but successful husband. Annoyed and fustrated, she embarks on a roadtrip with her young daughter and her old college friend Mindy (Malone). Whilst at first they appear to just be friends, it soon becomes evident that the two of them have a complicated history. There are many stand-out moments in Lovesong, but it’s watching Mindy and Sarah ride the fairground ferris wheel in knowing silence which stands out the most. Beautifully shot, and with a soundtrack to match, it’s the perfect accompaniment to Call Me By Your Name.

If you liked GET OUT, watch RAW

It’s hard to pitch another film against Get Out. I’ve yet to see I can compare to it’s honest and brutal style, nor it’s phenomenal take-down of white supremacy and institutional racism. If there’s a film which deserves to win this year – it’s certainly got to be Get Out.

In the purest sense, Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2017) is right up there next to Get Out, for me. Tonally, and with the abject body horror concepts, Get Out and Raw share the same unique sense of storytelling, woven in with much bigger ideas about the society that we live in. In Raw, Ducournau explores the societal pressures on young women through the character of Justine, a former vegetarian who (upon tasting meat for the first time) gains a horrifying penchant for human flesh. Justine, and her older sister Alexia, both struggle to deal with their ‘illness’, and as much as they become a support for each other, they also become each other’s worst nightmare. Visually, Raw leaves a lasting impression (there’s plenty of gore to go around) but Ducournau’s message will stay with you for a while after switching it off.

If you liked PHANTOM THREAD

I watched Phantom Thread about three weeks ago and I am still not sure if a) I’ve fully recovered and b) whether I’ll ever truly understand it. It’s a unique film, which fits so well into Paul Thomas Anderson’s body of work, but it’s one which perhaps needs three or four viewings to get a complete handle on. If nothing else, it should certainly win best costume.

A hard film to pin down, it’s almost genreless, but if you are interesgted in the power dynamics between a sociopathic designer and his muse, then watch Dior and I. Inviting the audience behind the doors of the prestigious house of Christian Dior – director Federic  Tcheng centers the film on designer Raf Simons. Not only does Dior and I explore just what it takes to make a gown float aesthetically, or the tireless hours which the veteran seamstresses work, but also the power dynamics at play in an industry where hierarchy is of the upmost importance. If the fashion of Phantom Thread does it for you, then Dior and I will be the perfect accompaniment. Indeed if watching Reynolds obsess over his ideas on femininity, fashion and his craft – well Dior and I will certainly fill that void also.

 

If you liked SHAPE OF WATER, watch FAR FROM HEAVEN

Guillermo Del Toro has frequently stated that All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955) was a direct influence on The Shape of Water, and it isn’t hard to see that within the film. If the idea of forbidden love and a harkening back to the 1950’s does it for you, then you should definitely watch Far From Heaven – Todd Haynes’ homage to Sirk’s classic.

Starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert, Far From Heaven adapts Sirk’s original text exploring class divides into a film which features lovers hindered by sexuality, race, class and societal conformity. Cathy (Moore) is married to Frank (Quaid) and the two live a seemingly idyllic life, complete with a two kids and a white picket fence. Slowly though, their lives begin to fall apart as Cathy discovers that her husband is gay. Whilst attempting to keep the family together (and keep up appearances), Cathy ends up falling in love with their gardener, Raymond (Haysbert), which causes controversy within the neighbourhood due to Raymond being black. Haynes captures the melodramatic essence of Sirk’s film (both visually and narratively) whilst also using Cathy, Raymond and Frank’s struggles to appeal to a contemporary audience.

If you liked THREE BILLBOARDS, watch anything by the Coen brothers.

This isn’t meant to be a dig, but I have written previously about my beef with Three Billboards, so it’s probably not worth anyone’s time for me to repeat it all again here. What I will say is that Martin McDonagh’s film was so very much in the vein of the Coen brothers back catalog, that you may as well treat yourself to any Coen brothers film if you enjoyed it. You’ll probably (read: definitely) prefer them. My personal choice would be Fargo – also starring the impeccable Frances McDormand.

If you liked THE POST

Just watch All the President’s Men. Seriously.