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The best films of 2018 (so far)

Our list of the very best movies released in 2018

Image: courtesy Skydance Media
The year is far from over and there are countless exciting movies (hopefully) headed to our cinema screens over the coming months. But this year has already brought with it some amazing films – not all of which have made it to Shanghai cinemas as of yet, but such is China life (and of course, we all have our ways of watching them). From groundbreaking superhero smash Black Panther to the singularly brilliant Phantom Thread, here’s our round-up of the best films of 2018 so far. Don’t miss any of them.

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

Deceptively hidden under layers of gorgeous surfaces, Paul Thomas Anderson’s borderline-sick romance waltzes toward a riveting tale of obsession. If this is Daniel Day-Lewis’s way of dropping the mic (purportedly, he’s retiring), then he’s picked a fine exit, bringing to life a fastidious fashion designer who, in 1950s London, falls for a lissome waitress (Vicky Krieps). Despite the latter’s humility, she’s the one who turns the tables, steering the film into deliciously dark irony.


Image: courtesy Annapurna Pictures

Sweet Country

Sweet Country

The Western comeback continues this year, with Christian Bale twirling irons in the very decent Hostiles and Mia Wasikowska headlining the so-far-unreleased Damsel. But this dusty Aussie effort from Samson and Delilah's Warwick Thornton is the best of the lot. Stunningly shot, it’s a violent frontier tale about an indigenous man (Hamilton Morris) forced to go on the run. As a study of racism and prejudice (both historic and current), it’s searing stuff.


Image: courtesy Bunya Productions

I, Tonya

I, Tonya

The revelation of the year came courtesy of actor Margot Robbie, plunging body and soul into the paranoid psyche of the snub-savouring figure skater Tonya Harding. This isn’t a person who was calling out for a biopic (much less a sympathetic one), but screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie teased out timely resonances, touching on class warfare, child abuse and the exploitation of women. The film’s moment is right now.


Image: courtesy LuckyChap Entertainment

Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds

If The Witch didn't convince you that young Anya Taylor-Joy was the real thing, she's now got her own American Psycho to prove it. The movie has a steely sheen and an evil sense of humour: it's about extremely wealthy Connecticut teens with bad impulses. Amid all the amazing meanness, Anton Yelchin gives his final (and best) performance.


Image: courtesy June Pictures

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

It’s never easy to pull off a good stage-to-screen translation but Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson do it with some panache in this triptych of meta-tales that brims with weirdness and scares. Nyman steps in front of the camera too, as an arrogant spectral debunker who discovers to his cost that he may have significantly underestimated the power of the paranormal. Who you gonna call? Not this guy.


Image: courtesy Altitude Film Entertainment

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

A few people grumbled that Lynne Ramsay’s kinda-thriller jettisoned the pulpier genre beats of Jonathan Ames’s source novel. True, it feels like a film recovering from a heavy night – the camerawork is blearily impressionistic and Greenwood’s electronica throbs like a headache – but it’s immaculately crafted, stunningly headlined by Joaquin Phoenix’s shaggy-but-lethal army vet and loaded with quiet power. It’s a film to bathe in as much as watch.


Image: courtesy Film4 Productions

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

The movie didn’t linger as long as the pink-hued perfection that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Wes Anderson’s most recent bit of confectionery cinema supplied considerable charm, especially for dog lovers. Issues of Japanese cultural appropriation complicated the critical reaction. Still, Isle of Dogs is celebratory – an oblique remake of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with mangy Bryan Cranston growling his way to his own take on Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken.


Image: courtesy Studio Babelsberg

120 Beats Per Minute

120 Beats Per Minute

The daily struggle of 1990s Aids activists living and dying in Paris was dramatised with personal passion in a film that echoed with today’s battles. Tense strategy sessions and attention-grabbing guerrilla stunts are a window onto organisational tactics, but the emotional highlight was the reverie of one Gay Pride marcher, his mind slipping into distraction as Bronski Beat’s 'Smalltown Boy' blasts out around him.


Image: courtesy Les Films de Pierre

Hereditary

Hereditary

Here’s the one to beat – at least so far, in an already scary year that doesn’t need more trauma. Family frictions unravel a clan grappling with unthinkable grief in writer-director Ari Aster’s domestic-horror stunner, led by the fearless Toni Collette. That plot description suggests something sombre and Bergmanesque – which this definitely is – but when the supernatural elements creep in, you’re in the presence of nothing short of a new Exorcist.


Image: courtesy PalmStar Media

Tully

Tully

The ‘Young Adult’ brains trust of screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron reunited for another sharp comedy for adults, this one (provocatively) about the little death that happens to every woman when she becomes a mother and must say goodbye to her carefree cool-girl self. Beyond Theron’s magnificent exhaustion and Cody’s deepening wisdom as a post-sarcastic voice, Tully also introduced viewers to the seriously gifted Mackenzie Davis.


Image: courtesy Bron Studios

Zama

Zama

Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel dives into churning internal fury with this demanding but rewarding watch. On the surface, it’s an 18th-century period piece about an insulted Spanish colonial officer (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who seethes at every snub, perceived or imaginary. The material derives from a celebrated 1956 novel, but Martel’s red-faced close-ups of her leading man – scored to a plummeting synthesiser score straight out of Scarface – edge the movie into comic territory. And we haven’t even mentioned the llama yet.


Image: courtesy Bananeira Filmes

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski, sweet dork of The Office, is now John Krasinski, horror auteur and expert Hitchcockian stylist. We’re still wrapping our heads around that. No matter: we loved how A Quiet Place reintroduced multiplex audiences to the concept of shutting up for a bit and leaning into a plot. This was basically a new silent classic in our midst – and enjoy the silence we did.


Image: courtesy Platinum Dunes

A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman

It feels like a year of change in Hollywood but it still took this Chilean drama to tackle the trans experience head on – with power, grace and most importantly, a transgender actress in the lead. Daniela Vega had only acted a couple of times prior to being cast in Sebastián Lelio’s immensely moving depiction of a grieving woman marginalised at every turn. A few months later she was one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.  


Image: courtesy Fabula

Black Panther

Black Panther

It really shouldn’t have taken this long for Marvel to steer itself toward racial and cultural inclusivity. Better late than never: director Ryan Coogler doubled down on his gloriously rich production design and made a blockbuster of rare dignity, thrumming with Wakandan pride. Not for nothing, Black Panther also had rampaging war rhinos in specially designed armour (spinoff, please?), as well as Walking Dead's fierce Danai Gurira stealing the movie as a warrior woman.


Image: courtesy Marvel Studios

Annihilation

Annihilation

Don’t be surprised that Alex Garland, the genius behind Ex Machina and some of your favourite scripts (28 Days Later, Sunshine), made our cut of the best films of the year so far. Here’s what you can be surprised by: Annihilation is an action movie led by an all-female cast, with hints of Tarkovsky-like metaphysics.


Image: courtesy Skydance Media

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Stepping out of the shadow of her own onscreen persona as a mumblecore It girl made good, Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical stunner about a chatty Sacramento teen who yearns to be anywhere but home. The movie was anchored by the arresting Saoirse Ronan, continuing her post-Brooklyn run as the most exquisitely transparent actor of her age. Prediction: just as there’s a Breakfast Club generation, there will be a Lady Bird one.


Image: courtesy Scott Rudin Productions

Coco

Coco

In Pixar we trust and all that, but a movie about a bunch of dead people and skeletons clattering around in the afterlife still seemed like a tough sell. We needn’t have worried: this kaleidoscopic adventure is a rich tapestry of Mexican folk stories, hummable songs, lovable sidekicks and richly drawn characters. Best of all, it tackles death and grief with sensitivity but no soppiness or sentiment. Never has a film about death burst with so much life.


Image: courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

The Square

The Square

A vicious art-world satire, Ruben Östlund’s Cannes-winning comedy scores points against the fictional staffers of a Swedish contemporary art museum – especially its chief curator, a stylish nincompoop who gracelessly opens several cans of worms. (Brace for Elisabeth Moss as a nightmarish sexual conquest.) The movie is a brutal takedown of moneyed self-entitlement, with humour that sneaks up on you, as it did with Östlund’s Force Majeure.


Image: courtesy Plattform Produktion

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Hitting Shanghai cinemas at the end of the month (Aug 31), the sixth and best Mission movie, Fallout proves that as long as Tom Cruise has legs, so does this franchise. It’s now a slicker, simpler proposition than the series it’s often compared with – James Bond – not least for blazing a trail with smart, complex female characters. Having a settled director in the skilful, cineaste Christopher McQuarrie doesn’t hurt either. Oh, and the set-pieces rock.


Image: courtesy Skydance Media

Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete

Rivalling Debra Granik’s equally terrific Leave No Trace in our hastily identified new genre of ‘social realist pastoral drama loosely involving animals’ is this showcase for the rich talents of Charlie Plummer as a kid travelling cross-country with a horse. Surprisingly, it’s directed by a Brit – Weekend's Andrew Haigh – though you’d never know it. This is a movie with an acute eye for the cadences of life on America’s margins.


Image: courtesy The Bureau

The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner

Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon is slowly building a rep for producing hand-drawn gems like this gem set in Taliban-controlled Kabul. It’s the story of a girl who must pass as a boy under an oppressive, misogynistic state in order to glean crucial supplies for her family. It’s heartbreaking stuff, too. In fact, only a fantastical story-in-the-story stitched into its fabric saves it from rinsing out your tear ducts altogether.


Image: courtesy Cartoon Saloon

Dead Pigs

Dead Pigs

Dead Pigs makes an ensemble movie out of today's Shanghai and the people we know in it: a young busboy, an ambitious American architect, an apathetic rich girl, a western face for nightclubs and a no-bullshit ayi who refuses to sell her property. Their disparate lives converge and come to a head when, mirroring real-life events, thousands of rotting pig carcasses are found floating in the Huangpu River, Shanghai's drinking water source. Director Cathy Yan's debut film won an award for ensemble acting at Sundance and has screened at film festivals internationally.


Image: courtesy Seesaw Entertainment

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