In 2018, your friend and humble narrator Film Carew saw over 350 films. I saw The Predator and Aquaman and Venom. I saw Fifty Shades Freed and I Feel Pretty and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. I watched The motherfuckin’ Meg. I worked hard for the money. I suffered on your behalf.
But with the year done, the smoke cleared, and the wounds largely healed, now is not the time to remember all the horrors a hard-workin’ film-critic must be subjected to (my least-favourite film o’ the year is probz Searching, though; fuck that thing). Now is the time to remember the best of the best, those moments of cinematic joy that made it all worthwhile.
Whilst tending to fond cinematic memories, first of all let’s hand out elephant stamps to the following films which were amazing, but couldn’t quite crack the countdown: Looking For Oum Kulthum (dir. Shirin Neshat, Germany/Lebanon), Pig (Mani Haghighi, Iran), 3 Faces (Jafar Panahi, Iran), Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, USA), Minding The Gap (Bing Liu, USA), The Rider (Chloé Zhao, USA), The King (Eugene Jarecki, USA), This Is Congo (Daniel McCabe, USA/Congo), Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine), One Day (Zsófia Szilágyi, Hungary), Ága (Milko Lazarov, Bulgaria/Germany/France), Tower. A Bright Day. (Jagoda Szelc, Poland), Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker, USA), The Kindergarten Teacher (Sara Colangelo, USA), The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros, USA).
And, now, here it be: the glories of Film Carew’s Top 40 Films Of 2018.
40. Hagazussa (Lucas Feigelfeld, Germany/Austria)
The filmic equivalent of ambient black-metal, this great German cine-séance is horror as airy, atmospheric, abstract art-movie. For all its blood-vomit, maggots, pond scum, and baby stew, it plays far more like radically-minimalist Tarkovsky-homage than gory genre movie.
39. Hereditary (Ari Aster, USA)
38. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, USA)
One of the great sitting-in-the-cinema delights of 2018 was being amongst a packed house sitting down to A Quiet Place, whose silent opening act shames an audience into quietude; into not daring to munch their popcorn. That command holds through its stalked-by-monsters-in-a-shadowy-house set-pieces, which are works of brilliantly-sustained tension and terror.
37. Thelma (Joachim Trier, Norway/etc)
In Joachim Trier’s artful, eerie, ultimately feel good fable, is filled with eye-of-God overheads, throbbing strobes, Okay Kaya, and disorienting surrealism, which sees Trier matching art-movie visuals to blockbuster-adjacent supernaturalism, summoning something one of the most distinctive takes on that cinematic staple: the coming-of-age tale.
36. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Robert Persichetti Jr, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman, USA)
In an era of superhero saturation and contractually-obligated universe instalments, Into The Spider-Verse exploded a staid monoculture with its hyper-stylised, wildly-colourful animation and meta-movie irreverence. It revitalises the notion of the comic-book movie by playing up its comic-book-ness: all text boxes, speech bubbles, split panels, dot colour, mismatched overlays; every frame (and frame-within-frame) crammed with so much creativity it plays like a defiant revitalisation of a tired genre.
35. The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson & Galen Johnson, USA)
It’s a gimmick movie in the very best sense: Maddin and his merry men ‘remaking’ Vertigo as cine-quilt, stitching together shots culled from 200+ films/TV shows that were set in San Francisco. It’s a simple concept that begets endless labour, a wacky premise that turns profound; this grand gambit not mere Hitchcock homage, but a mischievous riff on a city’s screen identity.
34. Beautiful Things (Giorgio Ferrero & Federico Biasin, Italy/Switzerland)
Lyrical, ambitious, and a little bit ridiculous, this hybrid documentary starts out as study of consumer waste, before turning into some kind of experimental sound-art musical, a symphony built from buzzing toys, wrenches clanging metal, and spinning washing machines.
33. The Cleaners (Hans Block & Moritz Riesewieck, Germany)
Images that contravene Facebook/Google guidelines aren’t expunged by some omnipresent algorithm. Instead, that’s the purview of an army of outsourced Filipino workers, whose surreal McJobs are scanning through —and censoring— 25,000 images a day. The repercussions of their decisions can be massive, this way unsettling documentary duly pulling back the curtain, then pulling away to take in the bigger picture. It’s a timely portrait of how our internet overlords control not simply what we see, but the parameters of our democracies.
32. A Woman Captured (Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Hungary)
It’s a tale of modern-day slavery: in an unnamed Hungarian town, our titular 50-something subject toils as unpaid live-in servant, then works a factory job whose salary is taken from her by her effective ‘owner’. Tuza-Ritter gains access to this monstrous milieu by paying-off this standover matriarch, then becomes an active part of both the movie and the life passing in front of her lens. The title pulls loaded double-meaning: ‘captured’ referring to both imprisonment and the filmmaking process.
31. American Animals (Bart Layton, UK/USA)
Forcibly confronting an audience re: their acceptance of cinematic truths, Layton’s latest hybrid flick recounts a 2004 heist in dual ways: both as dramatisation starring hot young actors, and as documentary finding the real-life participants remembering their experiences. Everyone is an unreliable narrator, but, with his meta-movie monkeyshines, Layton acknowledges that a filmmaker is unreliable, too, using cinematic sleights-of-hand to shape narrative and manipulate viewers.
30. Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz, Israel/Germany/France)
Funny, savage, and deeply ironic, Maoz’s blistering portrait of an Israeli family lost in the nation’s greater cycles of war/trauma/repression/grief is certainly singular. Its title refers to both a military outpost and to the dance: a foxtrot’s three-steps equal the story’s three-distinct acts, and turning a circle that leaves you back in the same place you started.
29. Transit (Christian Petzold, France/Germany)
Setting a WWII tale of Occupied France in contemporary France, Christian Petzold’s latest slowburnin’ arthouse-thriller stages a sly cinematic sleight-of-hand, taking place in a time neither past nor present. This simple device foregrounds theme: Transit an unsettling portrait of European history —wartime migration, persecution of immigrants, unfeeling states — unnervingly repeating.
28. Domestique (Adam Sedlák, Czech Republic/Slovakia)
Taking contemporary society’s cult of the individual to grotesque, body-horror ends, Sedlák’s daring debut throws us into the dark domestic space in which one couple undertakes mirroring obsessions: he a cyclist undergoing a strict blood-doping regimen, she keeping to a fastidious fertility schedule in hopes of conception. When they end up sleeping, side by side, in an oxygen tent, their home wholly transforms into an absurd circus of goal-oriented monomania.
27. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, USA)
Joaquin Phoenix is a hammer-wielding hero on a vigilante revenge mission, but this isn’t some Oldboy redux. Instead, Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin follow-up employs glorious cinematic elements — her direction, Thomas Townend’s cinematography, Jonny Greenwood’s score, Paul Davies’ sound design— in service of sensorial disorientation; the dislocated narrative conveying the questionable mental state of its ultraviolent protagonist.
26. Climax (Gaspar Noé, France/Belgium)
For a movie set to a single DJ set, Noé’s latest over-the-top, turn-it-up-to-11, sex-and-drugs-and-violence provocation plays more like a record. On Side A: a troupe of multi-cultural, pan-sexual dancers dance their asses off at a lock-in wrap-party. On Side B: Sangria is dosed with bad acid, and the whole descends into a depraved, horrifying, Noé-esque nightmare.
25. Let The Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, France/Belgium)
A delight for those who fetishise gialli, Spaghetti Westerns, Tarantino, gunshots, throttle-zooms, extreme close-ups, and/or just straight-up bondage and watersports, the latest hyper-stylised romp for the visual geniuses behind Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears is most delightful for art-of-editing eggheads.
24. The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico, France)
A host of disobedient schoolboys is sent off on a reformatory journey to a mystical island, where gender-fluidity, hyper-erotic plantlife, and psychedelic visions await. Mandico’s lurid, luminescent, style-is-the-substance fever dream has some of 2018’s most thoughtful, memorable low-budget visuals, and feels like an instant cult-classic from about ten minutes in.
23. Anchor & Hope (Carlos Marques-Marcet, Spain/UK)
Game Of Thrones alumni Natalia Tena and Oona Chaplin play a same-sex couple living on a London canal-boat, who whimsically rope their hirsute, oddball, ne’er-do-well Spanish pal David Verdaguer into helping them conceive a kid. As in his brilliant long-distance-love study 10.000km, Marques-Marcet mounts another thoughtful exploration of the messiness and complexity of human behaviour and relationships, and gives his actors the space to shine.
22. Sorry To Bother You (Boots Riley, USA)
The longtime leader of radical hip hop subversives The Coup, Riley makes his directorial debut with a ridiculous, satirical depiction of late-capitalist America, where wage-slaves literally slave away in thrall to all-powerful corporate overlords. There’s shades of Charlie Kaufman, Downsizing, Idiocracy, and even Black Mirror at its wackiest; but Riley’s got enough style and panache to make this outrageous flick all his own.
21. Terror Nullius (Soda_Jerk, Australia)
It’s the satirical cinematic mash-up we had to have. A scathing, hilarious cut-up of cinematic/cultural Australiana, Soda_jerk’s conservative-bothering rumpus is obnoxious and audacious, feeling like memedom splattered upon the big screen. Lobbed like a live ordinance into the awful media/political climate of contemporary Ozzzz, it’s one of the best local entertainments in years.
20. Island Of The Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady, Australia/Germany/UK)
Brady’s striking hybrid-doc is a portrait of Christmas Island, a tiny, volcanic, recently-settled speck whose serene setting is incongruous host to a detention centre. The film’s great gambit is to contrast the passage — and the arrested passage — of different entities on the island: the migrating Giant Red Crabs, who’re free to move; the Hungry Ghosts, lost spirits of the Malay migrants first brought here a century ago; and those luckless souls caught in the permanent purgatory of indefinite detention.
19. Good Luck (Ben Russell, France)
A companion to his ethnographic classic Let Each One Go Where He May, Russell’s great latest is split in half like a split rock. In each divided section, we see — via long tracking-shots and to-camera portraits — miners at work, toiling thanklessly; first in a Serbian copper mine, then in an illegal Surinamese gold mine. It’s both incredibly beautiful and insufferably grim, an experimental film loaded with empathy.
18. The Deserted (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)
As the world’s first auteurist VR movie, strapping on the headset for The Deserted is like being inserted into a Tsai film. The Taiwanese master explores all his regular predilections — dilapidated buildings, dislocated people, simmering eroticism, domestic reincarnation, long-take minimalism, unvarnished tedium — in every direction; its 360º space never more vivid than when there’s a rainstorm, and the gathering water trickles towards your feet.
17. Burning (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)
It’s a thriller, kind of, but it’s probably better billed as a ‘mystery’. That’s because what’s mysterious — in Lee’s tone-poem-ish, slow-moving adaptation of a brief Haruki Murakami short-story— is, essentially, everything. A straight-forward reading is that it’s about an honest guy with a crush on a cute girl who falls in with a bad man. But Burning is about how we can never know anyone; and, in turn, Lee makes his characters as distant, difficult-to-read, and inscrutable as the people we puzzle over in real life.
16. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, USA)
Schrader’s priest-descends-into-darkness drama is that rarest of prestige pictures: one genuinely-deserving of all its acclaim (and even its comps to Bresson!). It’s a ‘loss-of-faith’ film, but it’s more a portrait of faith re-examined in the contemporary climate, where organised religion is in thrall to political conservatism, thus effectively embracing hyper-capitalism over environmentalism.
15. First Man (Damien Chazelle, USA)
The most incredible-sounding movie of the year, Chazelle’s takes an experiential approach to chronicling the ‘space race’, strapping modern viewers in the rickety technology we once used to shoot manly men of mettle into the atmosphere. It’s a grand sight-and-sound spectacle of immense technical craft and unalloyed sincerity; a deeply uncool movie still deserving of a place on any shrine to 2018’s best films.
14. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA)
Cuarón’s Gravity follow-up is, on the surface, something far more personal: a cine-memoir of family life in México in the 1970s, shot in black-and-white, and partly spoken in the Mixtec language. But, it’s hardly a small movie: full of all kinds of ambitious tracking shots and grand scale set-pieces, in which his camera floats throughout these vivid environments with almost show-offy choreography.
13. Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland/France/UK)
Blessed with a bittersweet, winsome air that’s pure catnip for cinephiles, romantics, and all intersections thereof, Pawlikowski’s Ida follow-up is a music-centric pirouette through the 20th-century. Following a pair of star-cross’d lovers who’re brought together, torn apart, then reunited by shifting currents of European history, it’s a grand epic which gets it all done in 84 minutes, its drama set at a tempo as brisk as its song-and-dance numbers.
12. The Double Lover (François Ozon, France/Belgium)
18 films into a hyper-prolific, pleasingly-perverse filmography, Ozon is in fine form in this wild, wicked, ridiculous romp. A psycho-sexual paranoia-thriller both Hitchcockian and Freudian, The Double Lover comes filled with doubles, twins, parasitic twins, mirrors, speculums, and all manner of unnerving cats. Walking the fine line between reality, fantasy, dream, nightmare, and delusion, it’s a riot of comic disorientation, with Ozon at his most provocative and playful.
11. Annihilation (Alex Garland, UK/USA)
This year’s most notable casualty of the Netflix chequebook, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina follow-up never got a chance to grace local (big) screens. Instead, its spellbinding sight-and-sound spectacle could only be shown at home, a sad fate for a film built to fill the cavernous space of the theatre. Its opening 90-minutes may be a generic actioner, but its final act is a psychedelic, mind-widening, Tarkovsky-and-Kubrick-indebted feat of pure audiovisual rapture.
10. Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA)
The realm of remakes is normally conservative, artless, scared. But Guadagnino’s Suspiria re-do is a genuine epic: a 152-minute marvel that starts as moody Eastern Bloc tone-poem, before descending — or ascending, really — into a final act freakout that’s at once funny and fucked up, all body-horror and modern-dance-as-occult-ritual, the colour palette drenched in bloody red.
9. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, Canada/USA)
It’s billed as a fanboi-friendly B-movie vehicle for Nicolas Cage memes, but Cosmatos’s loooong-awaited Beyond The Black Rainbow follow-up is one of the year’s most truly beautiful movies; from production design and cinematography through glorious Jóhann Jóhannsson score. It’s again set in a mythical 1983 (AD), in some soupy, grainy, nocturnal dreamscape informed by degraded VHS tapes and psychedelically-aided flights of fantasy, where Cage’s macho revenge-mission may just be a descent into his acid-dosed subconsciousness.
8. Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, USA)
Pesce’s outrageous, audacious level-up from The Eyes Of My Mother was one of 2018’s most unexpected, singular cinematic triumphs. It’s a lurid, nocturnal cocktail mixing psycho-sexual body-horror, ersatz kitsch, earnest exploitation, absurdist drollery, gialli OST cues, DePalma-styled hyper-stylisation, Audition, and even a poisonous/power-game-playing dash of, um, Phantom Thread.
7. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
PTA and DDL reunite for one last time, in a perverse parlour-drama in which a fastidious fashion designer and his latest muse square off in a battle of stubbornness, hemlines, and pots of poisonous tea. It’s an odd, complex, multifarious film; at once Great Male Artist satire, endlessly-quotable comedy (“I’m just admiring my own gallantry for eating it the way you prepared it”), and incisive, truthful portrait of a relationship’s power games.
6. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/USA)
Surely the first Oscar-endorsed pic to use the word ‘cuntstruck’, this wild, ridiculous, acidic comedy is the culmination of something no cinephile could’ve seen coming: Lanthimos, star of the Greek weird-wave, bringing his scathing absurdism to the heart of Hollywood. Lanthimos matches this flick’s lacerating wit to some of his most adventurous direction, delivering a cinematic world that plays like Barry Lyndon by way of A Clockwork Orange.
5. Isle Of Dogs (Wes Anderson, USA)
Anderson’s incomparable, singular cinematic style — fastidious fussiness, pernickety details, rampant perfectionism, so much symmetry — is perfectly suited to stop-motion animation; and Isle Of Dogs is a due delight for anyone who wants to witness a production obsessed with every element of design. But, beyond its gleeful details and deadpan drollery and bittersweet whimsy and talking dogs, the film also harbours timely, trenchant themes about ecological horrors, political opportunism, and systematised scapegoating.
4. Woman At War (Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland)
The old musicians-in-the-frame device is taken to artful, transcendent places in this sly, inspired cinematic marriage between the ridiculous and the sublime, which comes soundtracked by a brassy trio and costumed folksingers forever lingering on the drama’s fringes. As a 50-something choir teacher wages an eco-terrorist war on an Icelandic aluminium smelter, the tone is at once comic and tragic, Erlingsson’s film-of-these-times (perfectly) pitched somewhere between socio-realism and mystical fable.
3. Holiday (Isabella Eklöf, Sweden/Denmark)
In Eklöf’s unnerving debut, the nouveau-riche milieu is uniformly bright — lights, whites, colours; clubs, malls, villas — but the humanity is dark; the symmetrical compositions beautiful, but the behaviour ugly. When a trophy girlfriend joins in a crime clan’s ‘family’ holiday on the Turkish Riviera, she comes face-to-face with the true horrors of wealth, privilege, power, and patriarchy, and must learn to sink or swim in turn.
2. Sofia (Meryem Benm’Barek, Tunisia/France)
Benm’barek’s sterling debut dramatises patriarchal laws placed upon women’s bodies: its first act a dark-night-of-the-soul descent into trying to deliver an unwanted, out-of-wedlock —and, thus, illegal in Morocco— pregnancy. It’s like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days by way of Asghar Farhadi, Sofia not just about public laws vs private lives, but a study of class, privilege, and how the law bends towards those with money.
1. Custody (Xavier Legrand, France)
Legrand’s debut film is no work of mere promise, but a veritable masterclass in illustrative composition, sustained tension, and holding an audience hostage. Depicting a vicious custody-battle between two parents — and the two luckless children caught in the crossfire — it’s a film without an ounce of fat on it: 93 minutes of mounting terror depicted in sequences (a real-time court-hearing, a pregnancy-test unseen behind a toilet door, a party where a musical performance fails to camouflage torrents of anxiety and fear, a final claustrophobic home-invasion) of directorial brilliance.