We look back at a number of our favorite films from 2018. This is by no means a ‘best of’ or ordered list that encompasses all of the films we fell in love with this past year- this list merely serves as a reflection on some of the films we thoroughly enjoyed in 2018.
By George Morris
Possibly the most exciting duo working in film today. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead returned to the world of their debut Resolution for a strange detour into the world of a ‘UFO death cult’ in The Endless and subsequently created one of the best double-bills in recent memory. The two not only write, direct, shoot and edit but also star as two ex-members of the cult drawn back into the mysterious world that raised them. Many filmmakers would avoid such high-concept storytelling with such a minimal budget, but the two wisely choose to put characters and script first.
Another installment in their increasingly-Lovecraftian filmography, The Endless is one of the most starkly original films I’ve seen in quite some time. Hiding a simple tale of brotherhood inside of a series of nightmarish scenarios across a desert landscape is a stroke of genius, and lends the film’s atmosphere and tone the isolation that it needs to thrive. Try to go in cold if possible, because on paper the convoluted concept may seem bogged down, yet in the hands of the central duo very quickly becomes gold.
By George Morris
Cruelly brushed aside to Netflix across most of the world (including here in the UK), Alex Garland’s follow-up to the brilliant Ex-Machina posed just as many questions and left me with an overwhelming sense of unhappiness… but that’s why it works so well. Natalie Portman’s Lena is an ice-cold protagonist reacting to the strangeness of her surroundings, leading a crew of women all looking for some form of reason for existence in the world whilst simultaneously trying to stop a cataclysmic event originating from space.
Not content with simply asking existential questions either, the film also boasts a host of monster encounters, including one with a mutated bear that bares striking similarities to John Carpenter’s The Thing. So many films and shows have tried different ways in presenting the concept of alien life, yet all succumb to the need of a physical form. Annihilation is instantly memorable for its refusal to give into such a luxury, and instead poses difficult and unfilmable questions about potential extraterrestrial intelligence that risk alienating (hehe) many of its viewers. “Too intellectual” for wide release? In theory, but it’s hard not to be enthralled by something this different.
By George Morris
There’s an undisputed link between comedy and horror it seems. Whether that be due to their subjective nature or something else, those who are talented within one genre tend to stick the landing into the other with relative ease. It didn’t hurt that Matthew Holness’ comedic creation Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace thrives off of his knowledge and abuse of the horror genre. Part of the reason the show worked so well and garnered a cult following is due to Holness’ dedication to all things monstrous, so it’s unsurprising how well Possum succeeds at being unnerving for its entire runtime.
Sean Harris is essentially a one-man show as a disgraced children’s puppeteer with a mysterious past. Though it’s the excellently-designed spider-esque marionette puppet Possum that steals the show. Much like Spielberg’s Jaws, Possum knows to keep the titular terror at bay, letting it loom in the corner of the screen and haunt your subconscious whilst using your imagination against you. Based on his own short story from years ago, if Holness is able to prove his current ideas are just as good then we may be witnessing the birth of a new horror maestro.
By Kevin Jones
My favorite horror films are the ones that make me want to shut them off, just to give myself time to breathe and re-group. Hereditary is one such film. With thick tension throughout and a foreboding atmosphere that seems to linger in the air, Hereditary is an absolutely terrifying experience. Toni Collette is chilling in this film that focuses on a doomed family that has some very real demons lurking in wait to take control. Director Ari Aster finds a way to make the everyday quite sinister and ominous, building up to its terrific pay-off in the end as every little thing put into place leads into something absolutely horrifying. The score from Colin Stetson is sinister. The cinematography from DP Pawel Pogorzelski emphasizes close-ups in a very expressive, Ingmar Bergman-like fashion that helps to bring that horror and emptiness home to the audience. Never giving into cheap thrills or jump scares, Hereditary builds both a heartbreaking dramatic narrative blended with supernatural chills that helps it to become of the finest bits of horror filmmaking in recent memory.
Bad Times at the El Royale
By Alex Sitaras
I’ll admit I didn’t have an overall positive impression of Bad Times at the El Royale when I first walked out of the theater. But now, a few months later, the film might be the film from this year that I think about most often, whether it’s the color scheme, the period clothing, the sense of paranoia that pervades the film, or simply Chris Hemsworth being a goof (albeit a dangerous one). The film is one that aids itself to picking apart, scene by scene, to uncover just how intricate and thoughtful Drew Goddard’s film really is.
Bad Times at the El Royale uses a series of flashbacks to introduce- and to mask the identities of- the seven characters that meet at the El Royale hotel. The hotel has the rare distinction of being located on the California-Nevada border and visitors can choose to have a room in either California or Nevada. The hotel shows evidence of once being a bustling travel stop but exists mainly as a monument by the time our characters arrive. Such is the mystique that is crafted early on (nonwithstanding a cryptic opening scene featuring Nick Offerman doing woodwork) and doesn’t let up as we come to terms that the traveling salesman, Catholic priest, and sole hotel staff member may or may not be who they present themselves to be.
By Ben McDonald
Lee Chang-dong’s Burning was the first truly great film of 2018 that I saw, and incidentally one of the very first films I saw at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. A masterclass in filmmaking, Burning accelerates at the patient pace of a tortoise, crescendoing in equal measures of dread and rage along its steady path towards an inevitable implosion of toxicity. Featuring a trio of superb performances from three excellent Korean actors (including Korean-American Steven Yeun, best known for his run on The Walking Dead), Burning is a psychological thriller swimming with deep sociopolitical undercurrents, articulating the generational malaise and confusion of coming into adulthood in 2018 with remarkable clarity and ambiguity alike. Lee brilliantly captures the distinctly male, detached gaze of Haruki Murakami’s literary voice, painting his protagonist’s world with ever the slightest degree of objectification and emotional divorce. While I have seen so many wonderful films this year, none have entranced and haunted me nearly as elegantly as Burning, a modern masterpiece that I subconsciously revisit at least once a day and eagerly await the opportunity to watch on repeat.
By Matt Schlee
In the current era of American politics it can be difficult to craft a political message that truly stands out from the crowd. Everyone has a contribution to make to the conversation, and while the flurry of voices may be right, they can lose the impact of individuality when drowned out by the crowd. That is not so with Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Lee has never been one to chase subtlety in his message, but that’s okay when the overt statement he’s making lands effectively. BlacKkKlansman is as direct a takedown of the culture surrounding the rise of Donald Trump as could possibly be created without invoking the man’s name. In telling the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who goes undercover in an attempt to take down the KKK, BlacKkKlansman addresses modern race politics in America in many not-so-subtle ways.
If the contemporary references throughout the film’s run time do not land, the final minutes showing harrowing footage of the riots in Charlottesville in 2017 are certain to drive home Lee’s point. After two hours of surprisingly upbeat anti-racist messaging, the gut wrenching footage is difficult to bear and serves as a powerful reminder of the perpetual nature of the fight for equality. BlacKkKlansman is somehow both surprisingly easy and surprisingly difficult to watch, but it is an essential film of our modern times.
By Ian Floodgate
The only thing that disappoints me about Wildlife is that it didn’t get a wider release. Paul Dano‘s directorial debut is beautifully and sensitively crafted. The way the film’s story is told through fourteen-year-old Joe’s (Ed Oxenbould) reactions to his parents’ actions is absorbing. It’s not often I have seen such an accomplished performance from an actor this young. Some of the dramatic techniques Dano experiments with, such as the use of symbolism, really pay off. If you missed the chance to see it in theatres in 2018, then I urge you to watch Wildlife when it’s released on home media.