Redbrick Film Critics rank their five favourites from 2018, a fine year for film
1 Lady Bird
Coming of age films seem to be everywhere in 2018, and that can no doubt be attributed to the wealth of ground-breaking films that have come from this genre in the past few years. From Moonlight to Boyhood to 20th Century Women, character-driven stories still have a lot of presence in an otherwise franchise-driven cinematic landscape. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird is an excellent example of this.
Saoirse Ronan plays the self-named ‘Lady Bird’ (formerly Christine) in her last year at high school in Sacramento, California, her eyes set on a future in College. Although set in 2002, the film is radically different to the kinds of high school movies that emerged in the 90s and early 2000s. Lady Bird is written sharply yet delicately. Aside from a few shocking moments which bookend the film, it is mainly a depiction of life in motion.
The dialogue is smart and funny, feeling real without having the tedious rhythm of everyday conversation – the characters interrupt, ignore, and talk over each other. It may seem simple but this is done in a way which utterly convinces you that these are real people. The characters and relationships are beautifully constructed, particularly the tenuous understanding Lady Bird has with her mother Julie, played by Laurie Metcalf.
Lady Bird may not be one of the most remembered of this year, particularly since it accompanied a large list of Oscar contenders, and didn’t pick up any of the five it was nominated for. Perhaps the greatest accolade I could give Lady Bird is one for its understatement, even within a genre that’s very down-to-Earth anyway, it doesn’t flout the same kind of narrative experimentation that Moonlight or Boyhood exhibited. Instead, it shows a gradual journey from wanting to escape your home and its empty landscape, to seeing and understanding how rich and full of life it really is. It’s a simple idea, but one that is capitalised upon to great effect.
2 You Were Never Really Here
5 Phantom Thread
1 Utøya: July 22
My favourite film of the year, by far, has been Utøya: July 22. The film covers the 2011 Norway attacks by a right-wing extremist, Anders Breivik. On July 22nd 2011, a car bomb exploded in the government quarter of Oslo. On the same day, a second attack took place on the island of Utøya at a summer camp. On Utøya, Breivik opened fire on the children of government officials in an attack that lasted 72 minutes. Through these terror attacks, Anders Breivik murdered 77 people.
I was fortunate enough to watch Utøya: July 22 at the BFI London Film Festival and this unforgettable opportunity definitely increased my great love of the film. I had the privilege of seeing a live Q&A with director Erik Poppe and lead actress Andrea Berntzen, as well as three survivors of the Utøya attack. Poppe emphasised that the film was used to bring focus back to the victims of the acts of terrorism. In Utøya: July 22, Breivik is never shown; only the results of his actions are seen. Poppe decided to limit Breivik’s exposure in his film because he felt like there was no need to showcase the terrorist anymore than the media had already.
The film predominantly consists of one 72-minute take following one of the victims sustaining the attack on Utøya island. Through this continuous journey with Kaja (Andrea Berntzen), we get the closest we can ever get to understanding what it’s like to undergo a terrorist attack. The sheer intensity of the film almost makes you want to take a break halfway through, thus creating an incredibly unique cinematic experience.
I have never experienced a film like Utøya: July 22; it is stifling, intense, heartwarming and heartbreaking. It has been a brilliant year with many amazing films and Utøya: July 22 is the best for me.
2 A Star Is Born
3 A Quiet Place
5 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
1 Avengers: Infinity War
There has never, ever been anything like Infinity War. It is not hyperbole to say that, at this point, it is an unprecedented piece of episodic filmmaking. The 19th film in the MCU is undoubtedly its best: it brings together characters, locales and events from nearly all of the previous 18 entries, begins to tie up the Infinity Stones story thread that has been in place since the end of Phase One, has an internal story all of its own, introduces us to the best villain the MCU has ever seen, and is a coherent, engaging, and exciting film in its own right – much to the surprise of many.
On a more personal level, this film is perfect to me. I saw Iron Man in the cinema with my dad when I was nine, and since then I’ve been enthralled with these films – more than half of my life had been building towards this film, and it did not disappoint. On a critical level, it is packed to the brim with superb performances (most noteworthy are Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland), genuinely hilarious jokes (Thor’s ‘only if I die’ line and anything out of Drax’s mouth spring to mind here), edge-of-your-seat action (the three-way finale is one of the best sprawling action set pieces ever made), heartbreaking character moments (aside from the obvious ones from Gamora, Spider-Man, and Vision and Wanda, Thor’s ‘what more could I lose’ speech is among the highlights), and the best comic book movie villain since The Dark Knight.
Thanos is controlled, well-rounded, believable, intense, unstoppable – ‘you should have gone for the head’ is an unbelievably bold move by directors Antony and Joe Russo. No one expected this to actually happen, but it did. They actually did it. The event to which the MCU has been leading for years turned out not to be a victory, but the lowest point in this universe so far. A fantastic moment for tragic storytelling, it subverts our expectations in the best way possible – Infinity War takes the crown for film of the year.
4 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
1 Leave No Trace
Whilst many films impressed this year with dramatic depth and intriguing stories, Leave No Trace did this expertly with so little to do it with. It is a brilliant exercise in minimalism, treating its audience with respect and intelligence. The film follows a father and daughter who live in the woods and are brought into manmade civilization. It is hard to describe Leave No Trace, as it is best experienced with no foreknowledge. It received a limited UK release over the summer, so missing it was excusable. But film fanatics that have seen it will tell you that few films were as powerful this year.
Everything creeps up on the viewer. The spellbinding performances of Ben Foster and breakout star Thomasin McKenzie as Will and Tom share an incredibly natural chemistry as father and daughter and the emotional core is provided here, as this relationship is used to dance between themes of alienation from society, coming of age and acceptance so effortlessly. Accompanied by a well put together script and some brilliant direction from Debra Granik of Winter’s Bone fame, Leave No Trace is a film with so much nuance delivered in its 1 hour and 49 minutes runtime, which flies by with some strong pacing.
Oregon is also beautifully depicted, its lush tones and calming outdoors portrayed with fantastic cinematography and camerawork. The score suits all these understated elements to a tee along with its completely satisfying ending. Whilst films like Lady Bird, Cold War and The Breadwinner all reach these dramatic emotional payoffs, few have done it with the grace, nuance and welcoming atmosphere that Leave No Trace has. It’s less a film, more a realistic portrayal of the tragic coming of age that every parent must face and learning to accept the inevitable that as the world moves on, so must the children move on from the safety of the parents. That is utterly powerful and heart-wrenching, and the excellent craftsmanship, cohesiveness and brilliance make Leave No Trace the best film of the year.
2 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
3 Cold War
Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy are a formidable leading duo in Thoroughbreds, a teen thriller which makes Heathers look like child’s play. It shares Heathers‘ snark and homicidal plotline but courageously plunges to even darker depths. It helps that one of its main characters, Cooke’s Amanda, has a mental disorder which has left her emotionless. Cooke is a skilled performer and avoids playing outright psychotic; Amanda is more nuanced than that. She understands society’s quirks and injustices but lacks the capacity to care; acting blank may sound simple but it goes against every dramatic instinct possessed by actors as good as Cooke. She may be jarringly neutral to the events around her, as evidenced by the opening scene where she euthanises her crippled horse, but she is not a soulless husk. The quasi-Machiavellian world of Thoroughbreds makes these traits all too desirable.
Taylor-Joy’s Lily is a comparatively emotional young woman, who begins to use her relationship with the apathetic Amanda to help address her stormy relationship with her stepfather. Inter-generational conflict is a given (it is a teen movie after all), but Thoroughbreds turn such up to eleven. The plot the pair concoct leads them to Tim, played with sweet charm by the late Anton Yelchin, who exposes fascinating quirks in their bizarre relationship.
First-time director Cory Finley just about manages to maintain his world’s credibility even as the plot begins to strain belief. The converted will find themselves increasingly willing to jump in the deep end of this pool of noirish exchanges, visual flair and unhinged femininity. Just don’t be surprised if Amanda and Lily try to drag you down to the bottom with them.
2 First Man
3 A Star is Born
4 A Quiet Place
1 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In order to comfort myself against the oncoming onslaught of Christmas hordes, tacky adverts and overall yuletide joy, I saw fit to reminisce over the standout films of the year. One, in particular, that certainly left a deep impression upon me was none other than Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Without giving too much away, we follow Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) and her search to find the answers to her daughter’s brutal murder. With the help of her titular three billboards she questions the fabric of her Corn Belt town, demanding harsh truths from local police (Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson) which results in an equally heart-wrenching and heart-warming finale. With such sharp dialogue and comedic wit, this black comedy seeks to uncover our basic humanity: who we are and what we are to become. McDormand’s performance is unquestionably the standout of the year: she seems to capture the integral human spirit, our resilience against adversity, and, somehow through it all, she leaves you both laughing and crying as you leave for the car park. This dramedy offers so much more than simple performance, it provides emotional truth that is seldom seen on the big screen these days, sardonically taking on intrinsic values and beliefs.
Much like the billboards, this film holds firm for what it stands for, capturing yet questioning human nature and ultimately shedding much-needed light upon the darkness that comes with such tragedy. Incredible performances, outstanding dialogue and a story that fundamentally connects with audiences on a deeper, emotional level create, what is for me, a modern masterpiece of raw sentimental cinema. That said, I do love a good dirty joke (spoiler: this film has a lot.)
2 A Quiet Place
4 Isle of Dogs
5 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
1 Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War was a shot of adrenaline to the Marvel formula. It did the unthinkable, bringing together ten years worth of larger-than-life characters who, individually, have fought back the end of the world time and time again. The Russo brothers unite these heroes under a streamlined narrative, that merges their personalities seamlessly and presents them with stakes that are both grand and also personal. The film is a triumph in every sense. The action showcases such a unique blend of so many different heroes, powers and tricks in some of Marvel’s best sequences. Watching Doctor Strange magically propel Spider-Man into a flying kick, followed by a missile from Iron-Man, is not something I ever thought I would see in a superhero movie; but this film gives it to us. The humour perfectly counterweights the film’s somber tone, giving us both laugh out loud dialogue and also moments of tragedy that pull perfectly on the heartstrings.
The Russo brothers are the masters at the helm of this grand epic that rewards Marvel fans for attending each of the eighteen previous films. The challenge of balancing this number of characters seemed insurmountable, yet each hero is given their own time to shine in the sun; even if it is just for ten seconds of action. The pace of this film does not falter: it moves swiftly, leaping from planet to planet in an intoxicating whirlwind of excitement. Infinity War feels like more than a film. It is more akin to a cinematic event, and one that delivers on ten years of hype and build-up.
The highlights of the ensemble include Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Robert Downey Jr. as the role he could play in his sleep by now, and Josh Brolin as Thanos, a villain as complex and grounded as the heroes Marvel has now perfected, giving us the single best villain in the MCU. Infinity War deserves the number one spot simply for succeeding with such a task. It just helps that it more than succeeds, it shines.
2 Bad Times at the El Royale
3 Isle of Dogs
4 Incredibles 2
5 A Star is Born
1 A Quiet Place
John Krasinski’s masterpiece has become known as a horror film capable of making you cry, and the reputation is well-deserved. Atmospheric, suspenseful and stunning, I cannot identify a single flaw with A Quiet Place.
The film centres on a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been nearly wiped out by creatures who can only find and kill humans by hearing them. As the tagline goes, if they hear you they hunt you. At an advantage because of their deaf daughter and consequential knowledge of sign language, a family have managed to build a life for themselves in spite of the omnipresent threat.
The main cast, consisting of just four actors (Krasinski alongside Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds), carry the film with their exceptional talent and emotion. Simmonds’ real-life deafness makes the casting even better, breaking the unfortunate pattern of the able-bodied being cast in roles that should be reserved for the disabled. Oh, and also, if Blunt doesn’t win the Best Actress Oscar, I will personally lead the uproar.
Themes of love, sacrifice and survival permeate the otherwise dark story to create a movie with magnificent depth. The threat of the monsters are catalysts for character development and the fundamental themes of family and love to come to light. Alongside the likes of Get Out, I hope A Quiet Place marks the beginning of horror and thrillers that have more depth than just ‘how long can we keep the viewers up at night?’
I never thought I would refer to a horror film as beautiful, yet here we are.