It’s been quite a year for films. Not least because of Netflix and Amazon, both of which I feel a pressing need to subscribe to. Not every film that lands on either is worth watching to the end (although I tend to see them through out of professional pride, unless they are Nappily Ever After, and I have been halfway through the doc Chasing Trane for what must be five months for no reason whatsoever but inertia). But Netflix in particular possesses a voracious appetite for funding or distributing feature-length documentaries and A-list Originals that seems at present unquenchable. Frankly, I’m in, at least while that means luminaries as luminous as the Coens, Ben Stiller, Nicole Holofcener, Alfonso Cuaron, David Mackenzie, Gareth Evans, Paul Greengrass, Tamara Jenkins, Jeremy Saulnier, Duncan Jones, Andrew Niccol, Susanne Bier and Alex Garland sign up to make hay with the streaming platform.
It’s a subscriber’s market, as well as an artist’s. I still relish the chance to see big films on big screens – ironically, one of the most jaw-dropping this year was They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s trenches documentary, which I saw in 3D in a screening theatre, while most saw it in 2D on telly – but no technology can substitute inspiration. Heavyweight documentary was ubiquitous in 2018 (which is why I’ve cordoned it off and given the doc its own rundown), while the series or serial is dominated now by true crime that unfolds in visual podcast form – and there’s plenty of this on Netflix, to an extent that each rolls into one another. At least fictional, dramatic films still occasionally seek new territory, while Making a Murderer and its less original ilk merely slice the cake more thinly. So, to feature-length films.
I keep a strict diary that indicates at a glance the films that stand out – which, believe me, is vital when cinema has almost literally run out of titles. I know I saw Only the Brave, The Bachelors, Let the Sunshine In, Kodachrome, Cargo, The Rachel Divide, Dark Crimes, Bad Samaritan, How it Ends, Madame, The Last Witness, Final Score, Operation Finale and Hearts Beat Loud but I have no idea what any of them were about from memory. Maybe that’s just as well.
So here are my Top 11 followed by the Next 25, in an order that makes sense as I sit here, but may change and who would notice? I note that two of my Top 10 films – in fact, Top 5 – are in a foreign language (Spanish and Mixtec; Polish) and shot in black-and-white. Four in the Top 10 are not in the English language, and eight nations are represented. Only one entry is British; another a British/American co-production. One is both a drama and a documentary. I don’t know what that says about 2018.
- Roma | Alfonso Cuarón | Mexico
- The Old Man and the Gun | David Lowery | US
- Leave No Trace | Debra Granik | US
- American Animals | Bart Layton | UK/US
- Cold War | Pawel Pawloski | Poland
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Martin McDonagh | US
- Happy New Year, Colin Burstead | Ben Wheatley | UK
- Lady Bird | Greta Gerwig | US
- Western | Valeska Grisebach | Germany/Austria/Bulgaria
- The Florida Project | Sean Baker | US
- Wajib | Annemarie Jacir | Palestine
The next 26 are in no qualitative order; they are all excellent.
Peterloo | Mike Leigh | UK
Journeyman | Paddy Considine | UK
Apostasy | Daniel Kokotajlo | UK
BlackKkKlansman | Spike Lee | US
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs | Ethan Coen, Joel Coen | US
Disobedience | Sebastián Lelio | UK
Incredibles 2 | Brad Bird | US
Lean on Pete | Andrew Haigh | US
Zama | Lucretia Martel | Argentina
Phantom Thread | Paul Thomas Anderson | US
Lucky | John Carroll Lynch | US
Ghost Stories | Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson | UK
Deadpool 2 | David Leitch | US
Call Me By Your Name | Luca Guadagnino | Italy/US/Brazil/France
Yardie | Idris Elba | UK
Dark River | Clio Barnard | UK
A Fantastic Woman | Sebastián Lelio | Chile
Shirley: Visions of Reality | Gustav Deutsch | Austria (pictured above)
The Senator | John Curran | US
A Prayer Before Dawn | Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire | UK/US/France/China
My Friend Dahmer | Marc Meyers | US
Beast | Michael Pearce | UK
Custody | Xavier Legrand | France
Dogman | Matteo Garrone | Italy
The Breadwinner | Nora Twomey | Canada/Ireland/Luxembourg
I’m taking documentaries out and giving them their own list, as it’s near-impossible to meaningfully compare the life story of a tragic superstar with a fiction about boy saving his horse from the knacker’s yard, and it’s been a strong year for non-fiction.
Springsteen on Broadway | Thom Zimny | US
The King | Eugene Jarecki | US
The Eyes of Orson Welles/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead | Mark Cousins/Morgan Neville | US/UK (when two fantastic documentaries on the same subject but from different angles come out in the same year, it’s OK to group them together)
Whitney | Kevin Macdonald | UK
McQueen | Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui | UK
They Shall Not Grow Old | Peter Jackson | UK/New Zealand
The Man From Mo’Wax | Matthew Jones | UK
Score | Matt Schrader | US
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story | Alexandra Dean | US
Filmworker | Tony Zierra | US
There are a few days to go, and with more leisure time in than usual, but I suspect I’ll be watching old black-and-white movies on Talking Pictures and TCM and DVD from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, as that’s what leisure time is for.
I’m so far behind with my films that your list always proves invaluable in years to come. Netflix in particular represents better and better with each passing month rather than them milking the cash cow as some companies would.
Is mainstream Western cinema dead? Not saying decent films aren’t produced, but it seems so long since anything came out of Hollywood or the UK film industry that was genuinely exciting and which genuinely knocked me back in the way movies in the 70s and 80s did. A long slow decline (like rock and roll music) or judt function of age (like rock and roll music). Best things I saw this year were both on the telly, though neither were ‘box sets’ – ‘Patrick Melrose’ and a ‘A Very British Scandal’… maybe you need a TV section too…
If I get the time between now and Dec 31, I will …
Hi Andrew. Watched ‘The Florida Project’ this week. Leaving aside any other opinions about it, I’m mystified as to why you found the ending “thrillingly glorious” (I think that’s what you wrote in Radio Times). Please explain! Genuine question, will be interested to hear. Cheers.
The sheer, in-the-moment joy of escape for the two kids, one of whom is staring down the barrel of being taken into care. For them, the Disney Kingdom is heaven. Even though we know that it’s fake, it’s a place of wonder for them – and off-limits – and here they are, running into it, maybe never to return.
Ah, OK. Maybe it says something about my nihilism that I didn’t see it as anything other than a temporary and futile respite from the grimness that had preceded it! Thanks.