The Skinny's Top 25 Films of 2018

Films about an obsessive dressmaker, a traumatised hitman, a rebellious high school girl, a wayward priest and a group of criminal widows are just some of the works of cinema that have dazzled, thrilled and moved us in 2018

Article by Film Team | 07 Dec 2018
  • Films of the Year 2018

25. 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]

24. 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. [Jamie Dunn]

23. BlackKklansman

Dir. Spike Lee

Brutal, timely and occasionally hilarious, BlacKkKlansman takes a sledgehammer to white American assumptions of normalcy. Arguably an essential film in 2018, the narrative’s footage combines with archival images to show that the issues dealt with by Ron Stallworth and company are far from ‘history’. Subtlety is neither a claim nor necessity of this picture, and it is all the stronger for it. Spike Lee directs with his trademark assurance and outrage, and John David Washington and Adam Driver deliver human, nuanced performances, dancing between public and private personas while keeping motives coherent, fears voiced, and viewers firmly on their side. [Carmen Paddock]

22. 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. [Jamie Dunn]

Read our interview with the cast of Isle of Dogs

21. The Wild Boys

Dir. Bertrand Mandico

This gender-swapping fantasia might occasionally bring names like Haynes, Fassbinder, Maddin and Borowczyk to mind, but Bertrand Mandico’s vision is ultimately a unique one. The wild boys of the title are five teenage tearaways guilty of a violent crime, who are sent as punishment to a strange, exotic island under the command of an intimidating sea captain (Sam Louwyck). Things then turn very queer – in all senses of the word – as these adolescents fall under the spell of the island and the imperious Dr. Séverin (Elina Löwensohn), with both the characters and the film evolving in surprising ways. The less you know about this vivid and beguiling picture going in, the more revelatory it will feel. The Wild Boys is a surreal, intoxicating experience. [Philip Concannon]

20. 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]

19. Lucky

John Carroll Lynch

When a person dies, we see their life from a different vantage point - their retrospect. Their narrative is complete, no longer subject to change. All that’s left is to understand it as best we can. With Lucky, Harry Dean Stanton was able to place the full stop at the end of his own tale. An elderly man facing down death, his character bristles with a cantankerous wit while the film around him rolls easily between Coen Brothers-esque whimsy and earnest existential fear. It’s a film with a sly grin, but deep, soulful eyes. Hard to think of a more perfect farewell. [Ross McIndoe]

Read our interview with John Carroll Lynch

18. 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

17. The Other Side of the Wind

Dir. Orson Welles

Finally edited from a hundred hours of footage, decades after his death, Orson Welles’ extraordinary, whirling, semi-autobiographical mockumentary stars John Huston as Jake Hannaford, a legendary movie director and grizzled, liquor-prone raconteur caught between Hollywoods, Old and New. He’s having a screening party for his troubled new picture – a Zabriskie Point-esque work also titled The Other Side of the Wind. In a dizzying, disorientating move, footage is split between that captured on handheld cameras by party guests and scenes from Hannaford’s latest opus. This is Welles, innovative as ever, traversing the massive mirrorball of his mythos all the while poking and parodying the various factions of the contemporary film industry as he saw them. [Tom Grieve]

16. Hereditary

Dir. Ari Aster

Something is off with the family at the heart of Hereditary, even before multiple heads are decapitated and satanic figures appear smiling at the edges of the frame. The film begins with Toni Collette’s Anne giving a less-than-loving eulogy at her mother's funeral, but she has even harsher words for her high school stoner son (Alex Wolff), both in real life and during her somnambulistic fever dreams. Anne’s younger daughter, meanwhile, is into creating creepy dolls out of flotsam and jetsam. Her handicraft clearly comes from her mother’s side: Anne makes a living by creating scale models of traumatic events in her life. Like the best Polanski movies, this is a queasy chamber piece first, horror film second, although when the gore does come, it’s by the bucketful. [Jamie Dunn]

15. Shoplifters

Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Japanese master Hirokazu Koreeda has been described as one of cinema's greatest living directors, and with good reason. After the relatively subdued reception to his 2017 film, The Third Murder, Shopflifters represents a blinding to return to form. Centred around a dysfunctional family headed by Lily Franky and Sakura Ando's kleptomaniac parents, Shoplifters is a profoundly moving story of life lived at the fringes of society. Elevating the material to the transcendent, Koreeda finds the humanity in nearly every frame, from the erotic charge of the light changing during a thunderstorm, to the connection between a sex worker and her client. [Christopher Machell]

14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Tom Cruise is back as elite operative Ethan Hunt, throwing himself off buildings and running like no man has run before in another breathless installment of this enduring and endearing franchise. Like all MI films, the story (a search for stolen plutonium) is pure hokum. Instead we come for the lucid action filmmaking and fearless stunt work, with Cruise definitely proving he’s not too old for this shit (he’s 56) with a succession of eye-watering missions that take him from a HALO jump into a Parisian nightclub to a helicopter dogfight over Kashmir. If Cruise has a fault, it’s that he’s a tad dull. Luckily he’s surrounded himself with a knockout cast of women who are far more interesting, including Rebecca Ferguson’s conflicted MI6 operative, Vanessa Kirby’s butterfly knife-wielding arms dealer and Angela Bassett as the steely head of the CIA. [Jamie Dunn]

13. Make Me Up

Dir. Rachel Maclean

Rachel Maclean’s narrative feature debut, Make Me Up, takes the Suffragette movement – specifically Mary Richardson’s infamous slashing of the Rokeby Venus – and transposes it into a garish, kitschy, maximalist dystopia.

In a world filled with Barbie-doll young women who are seen and not heard, and an authoritarian teacher (Maclean herself) whose dialogue is entirely dubbed with clippings from Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, the female form and visage are intended for agreeable consumption. Maclean throws a lot at the screen – the silencing of female voices, patriarchal establishments, selfie obsession, and cosmetic surgery – in the midst of a sci-fi body-horror revenge fantasy. It’s an acquired taste but if you can get on board it’s a delirious sugary treat. [Ben Nicholson]

Read our interview with Rachel Maclean

12. Faces Places

Dir. Agnès Varda, JR

We would follow Agnès Varda anywhere, but tagging along with the octogenarian filmmaker on a breezy journey across rural France for this whimsical documentary proves particularly rewarding. Travelling in the truck-cum-giant camera belonging to her co-director JR, Varda skips from town-to-town taking huge-scale photographs of ordinary people, from a trio of dockers’ wives to the last resident of a row of miners’ cottages due for demolition. These huge images are then fly-posted on to local buildings, turning their subjects into icons. Like many of Varda’s docs, Faces Places is also about another icon: Varda herself. She may be barely five feet in her cotton socks, but this moving study of community and memory reminds us she’s a colossus too. [Jamie Dunn]

11. Shirkers

Dir. Sandi Tan

Shirkers is about a kidnapping. In 1990s Singapore, a teenage Sandi Tan made a film, the original Shirkers, with her friends. Tan conceived the film while an older American man, Georges Cardona, directed. When the film wrapped, it disappeared alongside Cardona.

While Shirkers the documentary is a compelling mystery about a film gone AWOL, it’s about more than a single film’s kidnapping. It’s asking what the history of cinema might look like if the film rolls, talent, and dreams of female artists were recovered and rightfully restored. Tan might have gotten Shirkers’ film canisters back, but the sound was never recovered, her voice still held hostage. [Katie Goh]

10. Cold War

Dir. Paweł Pawlikowski

Paweł Pawlikowski’s stunning Cold War is an epic romance that never fails to feel personal and intimate. Inspired by Pawlikowski’s own parents, the relationship between musicians Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) traverses 15 years and four countries but is told in the seclusion of bedrooms, desolate streets and the stage where the heart is free to pour out. Despite its title, Cold War strays from the average war-time romance – the real tragedy is how time pulls apart a pair of lovers who are perfect yet imperfect for each other. You’d be hard-pressed to find a film this year that’s as swoon-worthy as this. [Iana Murray]

Read our interview with Paweł Pawlikowski

9. 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]

8. Widows

Dir. Steve McQueen

Under lesser direction, Widows – a film about four widowed gangsters' wives pulling off their own heist – might have come of as a fairly standard genre flick with a feminist twist. But Ocean's 8 this is not. Under the steady hand of one of Britain's best directors – the formidable Steve McQueen – not to mention scribe Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Widows is something truly special; a bonnet-mounted shot of a car driving through poor and rich neighbourhoods is worth the price of admission alone. The film may be based on an old ITV series, but the television it most reminds us of is David Simon's The Wire; as a contemporary American fable, Widows is a complex, riveting meditation on the country's myriad ills and inequities. [Christopher Machell]

7. Columbus

Dir. Kogonada

“It’s asymmetrical, but it’s also still balanced,” explains Casey (Haley Lu Richardson). She may be describing Eliel Saarinen’s modernist architectural first – the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana – but she is also describing Kogonada’s remarkably assured directorial debut, Columbus.

It’s a film about the architectural forms of the town (a veritable oasis of modernism) and the ways in which a burgeoning relationship between Casey and Jin (John Cho) echoes the elegance of those forms. They occupy opposite spaces both physical and emotional but provide balance for one another. Elegant form and visuals eventually beget subtle, profound tenderness. [Ben Nicholson]

6. Leave No Trace

Dir. Debra Granik

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a deeply affecting treatise on father-daughter relationships, alternative lifestyles, adolescence and post-traumatic stress disorder. Granik keeps all four plates spinning as we follow the lives of psychologically scarred combat veteran Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), who live reclusively in a self-built camp in a vast public park. When their cover is blown and social services called, the conventional domestic arrangements they’re forced to adopt puts strain on their previously ironclad bond. That Granik weaves Leave No Trace with such a delicate touch – light on dialogue, the film relies on the tremendous non-verbal chemistry between its two leads – only amplifies its emotional profundity. [Joe Goggins]

5. 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, which dismantles the unreliability of history to expose the lasting traumas of imperialism. [Patrick Gamble]

Read our interview with Lucrecia Martel

4. First Reformed

Dir. Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader's First Reformed follows Ethan Hawke as a self-destructive priest of a small Dutch Reformed Church in Upstate New York who’s consumed with doubt and guilt, and falling even deeper into despair. Channeling classic Bergman, Dreyer and Bresson, it's the movie of 2018 that speaks most shatteringly to today's condition of feeling dwarfed by a world rife with corruption and environmental decay.

Hypnotically shot in a square frame, with Hawke brilliantly playing a man teetering between transcendence and despair, Schrader's latest 'God's Lonely Man' vision has both the wit and emotional turmoil to match his previous greats like Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and Light Sleeper. [Ian Mantgani]

Read our interview with Ethan Hawke

3. 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 cringeworthy – 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]

2. 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 unto 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

1. 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]

Read out Film writers' individual top ten lists here