Superhero epics, action blockbusters, biographical dramas, period pieces, dark comedies, quirky indie films, whimsical fantasies — 2018 offered plenty of variety at the movies. Here’s TechCentral’s annual look back at the best of films of the year, in alphabetical order, based on South African theatrical release dates.
Avengers: Infinity War
The culmination of a decade of world-building in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War was by the far the biggest motion picture event of 2018 with a box office take of more than US$2-billion. Following on from the sensational success of Black Panther earlier in the year, Infinity War threw together just about every superhero in the Marvel portfolio for a cosmic confrontation with Guardians of the Galaxy baddie Thanos. Weighing in at two-and-a-half hours, it offers a barrage of special effects sequences as well as some cool character moments, a sprinkling of humour and a much talked-about cliffhanging ending. Part two of the saga — Endgame — will resolve the story when it is released later in 2019.
For a young director, Damien Chazelle has already shown tremendous range, from the brutal verbal sparring of Whiplash to the artful musical La La Land to this historical drama about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing. The space sequences are some of the most exciting ever captured on film — claustrophobic, bone-rattling, infused with danger. On the ground, Ryan Gosling’s buttoned-down performance as a stoic, modest man making history is offset by a passionate Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife, Janet. First Man does an impressive job of contrasting the grandeur of the space race with the minutiae of life on Earth.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s charmingly lo-fi canine adventure is every bit as good as his last foray into stop-motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox. Featuring an endearing cast of human and dog characters — including the gruff, Bryan Cranston-voiced Chief — it’s as precise, droll and clever as anything else Anderson has ever made. Taking its inspiration from anime, manga, and Japanese pop and traditional art, it’s also one of the best-looking films of the year.
A fierce Margot Robbie shines in a black comedy about figure skater Tonya Harding and the fallout from her alleged role in the attack on her Olympic rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Director Craig Gillespie transforms material that could be dull made-for-television fodder into a sly and satirical take on class, self-advancement and the pursuit of fame in America.
Mission Impossible — Fallout
There is no Hollywood action franchise more reliable than Mission Impossible, with each new entry in the series scoring better reviews than the one that proceeded it. Tom Cruise and MI Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie reunite for a film that ups the ante in every way. Sleek, stylish, densely plotted and packed with outlandish stunts (Cruise broke an ankle for one shot, proving his commitment to his craft) and wild set piece sequences, Fallout is one of the most entertaining films of the year.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson departs from his usual American milieu for an evocative period melodrama set in post-World War 2 London. Centring on the kinky power-play between a controlling, irascible fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a steel-willed young waitress who becomes his muse (Vicky Krieps), it’s a disquieting, elusive and drily humorous exploration of obsessions artistic and romantic. In what he claims will be his last feature film before retirement, Day-Lewis delivers a textured performance that is the equal of his mercurial work in Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece, There Will Be Blood.
Following on his science-fiction classics Children of Men and Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón comes back to Earth and returns to his homeland for an intimate portrait of domestic life in the Mexico City of 1970. Slow, meticulously shot in black and white, and rich in poignant and humorous detail, Roma brings together the epic and the personal in the way of a classic novel. It’s atmospheric and technically accomplished, featuring several of the stunning tracking shots that have become Cuarón’s trademark. Distributed by Netflix with a limited theatrical run, this film could be the one that finally snags the video-streaming service a string of awards at the Golden Globes and Oscars this year.
A Star is Born
It’s been remade for each generation, but director Bradley Cooper offers some new twists to the familiar story of showbiz excess in this calculated but nonetheless compelling version. Cooper is in fine form as a tortured, ageing rock star who mentors an up-and-comer played by Lady Gaga, bringing both delicacy and spikiness to her part. Handsomely shot, featuring great supporting performances, and ignited by the chemistry of its leads, the film births two stars: Cooper as a formidable director and Lady Gaga as an acting talent.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s most critically acclaimed film since Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006 won four Oscars in 2018, including Best Picture and Best Director. It’s a vintage piece of dark fantasy from one of the masters of the genre, channelling monster movies such as Swamp Thing and The Creature from the Black Lagoon as well as the surrealism of Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It’s neither subtle nor original, but there is a lot to like in the film: the warm performances from Sally Hawkins as the film’s mute heroine, and Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer as her allies; a sinister, scenery-chewing turn from Michael Shannon as a ruthless commie-hunter; and the gorgeous, art-deco inspired visuals.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Playwright and film director Martin McDonagh walks a tightrope between hilarity and tragedy in the bleakly funny Three Billboards, an absurdist drama about a grieving mother’s search for justice for her murdered daughter. Frances McDormand imbues her cantankerous, complicated character with depth, clearly enjoying the hooks and barbs of McDonagh’s frequently witty and poetic dialogue; the supporting performances from Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are also excellent.
Also worth a mention
BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee’s historical drama about undercover cops infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan during the 1970s is timely, energetic and perceptive.
Darkest Hour: As a Winston Churchill biopic, Darkest Hour is only so-so, but Gary Oldman’s performance is electrifying.
The Disaster Artist: Director James Franco stars alongside his brother Dave in a sharp but sweet film about how Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau made his notoriously bad cult classic The Room.
Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut film starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular Lady Bird in a bittersweet coming-of-age tale.
A Quiet Place: Hereditary won the critical acclaim on the back of Toni Collette’s intense performance, but the scuzzy and suspenseful A Quiet Place was actually the best horror film of the year.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: The exuberant, self-aware and action-packed Into the Spider-Verse breathes new life into one of Marvel’s most beloved characters. — (c) 2018 NewsCentral Media