Films of 2018: Mid-year report

Time for the obligatory mid-year movie report. These are the ten films that have delighted us in 2018 so far, from Paul Thomas Anderson's blackly comic romance Phantom Thread to Wes Anderson stop-motion romp Isle of Dogs

Feature by Film Team | 02 Jul 2018
  • You Were Never Really Here

Phantom Thread

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

There are blatant shades of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, but the more one revisits this endlessly watchable movie, the more the spirits of Howard Hawks and Elaine May come through in its sly comic take on romantic power plays. The breakfast and dinner tables become a battleground as an arrogant, coddled artist is brought low and rebuilt by the woman he chose as his subservient muse, before they finally find a sense of equilibrium, as all relationships must. Anderson's artistry feels more effortless with every picture (his camerawork here is astonishing), and Phantom Thread's swooning elegance instantly seduces the viewer, before its perverse streak and morbid sense of humour is unveiled to startling effect. [Philip Concannon]












You Were Never Really Here

Dir. Lynne Ramsay

Not so much a breath of fresh air but a tornado, You Were Never Really Here is a character study in trauma. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, the PTSD-suffering hitman with a heart of gold, commissioned to recover a politician’s teenage daughter, played by Ekaterina Samsonov. Fragmented and visceral – and accompanied by a claustrophobia-inducing score from Jonny Greenwood – You Were Never Really Here is an electrifying statement on violence: about the violence done to us and the violence we do on to others. Lynne Ramsay’s fourth feature, You Were Never Really Here cements her as one of the greats. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. [Katie Goh]

Read our interview with Lynne Ramsay

Zama

Dir. Lucrecia Martel

Revelling in the open wounds of the past, Lucrecia Martel's latest takes the themes of Antonio di Benedetto's novel about an 18th-century conquistador stranded in Paraguay and refracts them into a hallucinatory tableaux of obsession, delusion and existential inertia.

Preoccupied with the tension between human freedom and constricting circumstances, Zama is a film about being awake to false memories, with Martel’s intelligent sound design blurring the boundaries between past and present. The result is a mesmerising – if at times maddeningly opaque – exploration of present-day glories and past plunders, that dismantles the unreliability of history to expose the lasting traumas of imperialism. [Patrick Gamble]

Read our interview with Lucrecia Martel

Annihilation

Dir. Alex Garland

Considered too brainy for audiences – an insult – Annihilation was initially met with outcry when news broke that it was being “dumped” on Netflix. Shut your blinds and adjust your TV settings: Alex Garland’s latest is a sci-fi mind-melter that elicits wonder and terror. The film lures the viewer in with its simplicity, as a scientist (Natalie Portman) is enlisted to investigate an alien-infected area of marshland, but soon it evolves into an existential monstrosity. Annihilation refuses to provide simple answers, and for good reason, as it posits that humanity’s meddling with the natural order is the root of self-destruction. [Iana Murray]

120 BPM

Dir. Robin Campillo

Robin Campillo’s novelistic 120 BPM (or 120 Beats per Minute) is a vibrant, sprawling portrait of life, death, love and politics that frequently bends narrative and form without compromising any of its emotional power.

Unafraid of eroticism, 120 BPM offers a potent counter to the relative politeness and restraint of tidier AIDS-focused dramas like Dallas Buyers Club. Written in collaboration with AIDS activist and educator Philippe Mangeot, Campillo’s film is also an enthralling engagement with the minutiae of the process when it comes to ACT UP, as well as with all the various complexities and complications with the treatment of the disease in its various forms. [Josh Slater-Williams]

Read our interview with Robin Campillo












Loveless

Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s haunting drama centres on a missing child, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), who vanishes during one of his neglectful parents’ many arguments. Written by Zvyagintsev and his writing partner Oleg Negin, Loveless picks up on the theme of the unwanted child first established in 2003's The Return, and again in 2007's The Banishment. Here though his approach is colder than ever.

Like in his most recent film, Leviathan, Zvyagintsev critiques the moral decay of Russian society. Alyosha’s parents are a symptom of the system: the father, a product of Putin's Russia, married because his company says so; the mother, meanwhile, worships at the altar of her iPhone, endlessly taking selfies and drinking with friends. Smartly rendered, and executed with a scalpel-sharp precision, Loveless haunts you long after you’ve watched it. [Joseph Walsh]

Western

Dir. Valeska Grisebach

An obnoxious German construction crew meets an unfriendly welcome when they roll up – German flag and all – for a job in rural Bulgaria in the delicately pitched Western. Settling her camera on the mesmerising frame of Meinhard Neumann’s wiry loner and his ostensibly well-intentioned interactions with the local townsfolk, Valeska Grisebach borrows subtly from the genre from which she names her film to sketch a tense picture of the economic inequalities and violent histories that make Europe such a fraught and fragile proposition. This is major-league moody, psychologically astute and politically incisive filmmaking. [Tom Grieve]

Lady Bird

Dir. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig masters the interpersonal in her directorial debut. The protagonist’s connections with family, friends, and teenage crushes feel genuine (if often cringe-worthy – after all, this is high school!). At the emotional centre is a prickly, combative, fiercely loving mother-daughter relationship, creating an achingly honest family portrait. Surrounding these figures is the mundane minutiae of private high school life as a working class, mediocre student; Saoirse Ronan’s assured performance balances an awareness of reality with more pressing senior year priorities – popularity, dating and moving out. The frank yet empathetic contrast between Lady Bird’s dreams and the unromantic inland California setting make this film a wry and poignant bildungsroman. [Carmen Paddock]

Black Panther

Dir. Ryan Coogler

Ah, that’s what Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been missing. Style. Swagger. Or to use current internet parlance: Big Dick Energy. This cool and seriously weird superhero movie (Black Panther gets his powers by eating a purple flower, being buried alive and then hanging out with some big cats on an astral plane) is full of psychedelic invention. The jaw-dropping Afrofuturistic design is matched by Ryan Coogler’s flair for fluid action and a cast overflowing with charisma. Chadwick Boseman is pleasingly stoic as the title hero, but his extended family are also a trip, particularly teen sis Shuri (Letitia Wright), who’s basically Q to Boseman’s Bond. In Michael B Jordan, meanwhile, you’ve a villain you can’t take your eyes off. Not since Hans Gruber's tumble from Nakatomi Tower have we been so devastated to see a bad guy fall to his (we assume) death. [Jamie Dunn]












Isle of Dogs

Dir. Wes Anderson

This gorgeous stop motion adventure set in a future Japan where dogs have been exiled sees Wes Anderson at his most imaginative and loose-limbed. Like his exquisite Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr. Fox, the cast of puppets – an assortment of mangy canines who live amid the squalor of the eponymous island – are lush, expressive, and undeniably adorable despite their matted fur, tick-ridden skin and bloodshot eyeballs.

Anderson is well known as a great stylist, but he’s also developing into a fine political filmmaker. It doesn't take much imagination to see a connection between the film’s brutish antagonist – a ruthless politician with a hatred for facts, science and the free press, as well as a fondness for deporting those he feels are inferior – and the commander-in-chief of Anderson's homeland. If you find this director's increasingly hermetically sealed worlds and fastidious dolls’ house aesthetic a tad stifling, this rambunctious tale made with literal dolls set in a world of trash should prove a breath of fresh air. [JD]

Read our interview with the cast of Isle of Dogs


Individual picks:

Philip Concannon @Phil_on_Film
1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico)
3. Western (Valeska Grisebach)
4. Let The Sunshine In (Claire Denis)
5. Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)
6. 120 BPM (Robin Campillo)
7. Game Night (John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)
8. A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
9. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
10. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

Patrick Gamble @PatrickJGamble
1. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
2. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
3. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
4. The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico)
5. Western (Valeska Grisebach)
6. 120 BPM (Robin Campillo)
7. A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio)
8. Glory (Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov)
9. A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
10. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Jamie Dunn @jamiedunnesq
1. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
2. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
3. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh) 
6.  Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis) 
7. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
8. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
9. Game Night (John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)
10. Jeune Femme (Léonor Serraille)

Katie Goh @johnnys_panic
1. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
3. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. 120 BPM (Robin Campillo)
6. Beast (Michael Pearce)
7. Revenge (Coralie Fargeat)
8. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
9. The Wound (John Trengove)
10. A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio)

Tom Grieve @thomasgrieve
1. Western (Valeska Grisebach)
2. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
3. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
4. 120 BPM (Robin Campillo)
5. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
6. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone)
7. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis)
8. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
9. The Post (Steven Spielberg)
10. Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)

Iana Murray @yorgosIanthimos
1. Lean on Pete (Andrew haigh)
2. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
3. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
4. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
5. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
6. Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)
7. Tully (Jason Reitman)
8. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
9. Revenge (Coralie Fargeat)
10. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Carmen Paddock @CarmenChloie
1. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
2. The Shape of Water
3. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Beast (Michael Pearce)
6. I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)
7. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
9. Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)
10. Ghost Stories (Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson)

Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams
1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
3. 120 BPM (Robin Campillo)
4. Jeune Femme (Léonor Serraille)
5. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
6. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
7. Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)
8. Beast (Michael Pearce)
9. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
10. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Adam Stafford @ad_stafford
1. Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton)
2. Faces/Places (Agnes Varda)
3. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
4. Western (Valeska Grisebach)
5. The Dreamed Path (Angela Schanelec)
6. A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
7. Lucky (John Carroll Lynch)
8. The Night I Swam (Damien Manivel, Igarashi Kohei)
9. Super Dark Times (Kevin Phillips)
10. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

Joseph Walsh @JosephDAWalsh
1. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
2. Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
3. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
4. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
6. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
7. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
8. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
9. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
10. The Square (Ruben Östlund)

Kelli Weston @kelli_weston
1. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
2. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
4. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski))
5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
6. Tully (Jason Reitman)
7. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina)
8. Game Night (John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein)
9. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
10. Whitney (Kevin Macdonald)