Narrowing the year’s best offerings in movies is never an easy task. Even though 2018 will be remembered for a slew of adaptations, remakes and franchises, there were thankfully a number of standouts that filled theatres. These tended to be the quieter titles, and in case you missed them, here are our recommendations before the year closes.
Musical: A Star is Born
This sleeper hit won Lady Gaga new fans. The quirky pop star has been venturing steadily into acting, with appearances on television shows like the notorious American Horror Story, but her mark has been negligible until A Star is Born literally became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stripped of her make-up and glamour, the songstress becomes a bonafide starlet in this rock musical remake. Together with Bradley Cooper, who does double-duty as director and lead actor, the couple lands all the right notes in this tragic love story. It not only eerily parallels Lady Gaga’s life story as a struggling artist, but also displays her breadth as a songwriter, dishing out another album of memorable hits that anything but shallow.
Awkward teenagers trying to lose their virginity on prom night gets disrupted by even more awkward parents, in this raucous comedy of good intentions with bad results. Blockers does serve up plenty of cheese and body jokes, but surprises with another layer of self-awareness that gives some truly funny moments.
Picking a relatively fresh face for the ensemble also helps (well done Kay Cannon!) takes us away from the expected Sandlers, Stillers and Rogens, and gives the story an enjoyable believability, even though some of the most incredulous sequences happen. It’s hard to see a beer chug the same way after this but I’ll try.
Action: Black Panther
Black Panther did for African Americans, what Crazy Rich Asians did for Asian Americans - it upturned long-held beliefs in the film industry about audience interests (or bias), and kicked butt at the box office while doing it. Injecting undercurrents of social themes in an accessible manner, the superhero theme suddenly becomes relevant again. Despite some casting misses like Forest Whitaker, who makes his role almost-cheesy with his overly heavy melodrama, the ensemble still gives enjoyable performances from Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and the very likeable Chadwick Boseman.
The contrast of the animistic culture of Africa and the cosmic tech creates a visual spectacle, and makes this moral play of power and protectionism, roaring entertainment success.
Horror: A Quiet Place
Like an unrelenting pest, the noisy cinema-goer still plagues our theatres, so when A Quiet Place was shown, I was worried. But lo and behold, John Krasinski steers this refreshing horror piece with skilled precision, reducing all the usual cacophony of popcorn, nachos, and chatty patron into a hushed collective with his spellbinding storytelling. A family has survived noise-sensitive monsters but faces their biggest challenge yet, when a new member’s arrival is imminent.
Mood and setting have never been brought more to the fore and supported with great acting from Krasinski himself, Emily Blunt, and child actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. Nothing beats a soundtrack that is just the audience holding their breath.
Romance: Crazy Rich Asians
Whether you belonged to the group that wanted proper representation (sigh), or the ones quibbling about how the best satay isn’t at Newton Circus, Crazy Rich Asians tore through expectations and grossed over $170 million at the box office (to date).
It rejuvenated the rom-com genre despite the cliche plot, because it made clear we all sacrifice for love, no matter our ethnic upbringing. Constance Wu might struggle as Rachel Chu to win the approval of her potential mother-in-law (Michelle Yeoh), but she leads the snappy, colourful film from start to finish, graced by delightful performances from local actresses Tan Kheng Hua, as well as an outstanding Awkwafina. Someone give that girl a spin-off!
Sci-fi/fantasy: Ready Player One
When it comes to adaptations, film directors have a tough call to make. Essentially books and films are a different medium, but viewers love to compare them to death. Stick to the original too much and they’ll pick out the missing scenes. Deviate, and incur their purist wrath. But if anyone can do it well, it’s Steven Spielberg. The master of emotional yet commercial successes truly brought out the nostalgia with his “did you spot that reference” winner Ready Player One.
Pulling in original author Ernest Kline as a co-writer, the futuristic world comes alive with the 70s and 80s pop culture appearances, in this story about a boy who tries to win the ultimate prize in the global gaming world of OASIS. As he unravels the riddles and brings us through anything from The Shining and Gremlins, to Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog, the trippy worlds explode like fireworks around us, and produce the best kind of awe.
This is a brilliant oeuvre to the study of the human condition. Hirokazu Kore-eda wraps us up in a gentle embrace and unfolds the story of a poor family, each with a seemingly unpalatable trait. Osamu (Lily Franky) is the father figure who teaches his young ones to shoplift for a living. Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) pilfers items left in her laundry load at work. Even the doting grandmother, Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) knows how to bend people to her wiles. The family dynamics shift quickly when they bring home an abandoned girl, but before you can tsk-tsk at their teachings, you find out soon enough that everyone is just trying to make their family a little more comfortable in their own way. It’s a quietly moving piece, filled with poetic moments of understanding, and it’s a non-judgemental story of enduring human love and unexpected places to find them. Also watch with poignancy a particular scene that lands double the impact, as Kiki passed away earlier this year after screening this film.
What Black Panther does with special effects and superheroes, BlacKkKlansman does with cheek and sass. This groovy production by Jordan Peele is another slam dunk after his debut Get Out - also a great social piece - and is directed by heavyweight Spike Lee, in his finest form yet. Based on a true story of a black man infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, the absurdity lends itself to a gripping story, presented like a classic exploitation film thick with flavour.
There’s enough levity to keep things from being too chilling, as real as the problem was - and still is. But there’s also enough witticism and awareness to keep reality in check. “With the right white man, you can do anything.” Boom!
Documentary: Won’t You Be My Neighbour
Sometimes, nothing beats real-life. Fred Rogers was a TV personality, but also a gentle activist who sought to change the world around him with kindness. Republican. Radical. Minister. Puppeteer. These words would have no place together if not for him. He aimed to change the way television presented itself to children, but his popularity made him an early influencer, as he took apart hate, leading by example. This documentary film is made for the cynics who guessed at a darker persona behind the simple man, because his messages can be taken as an expert satirical stab. But all it shows is a compassionate soul - almost painfully naive - but through his doing, brought positive change from his world of imagination, to reality.
Animation: The Incredibles 2
While we all knew it was only a matter of time Jack-Jack Parr, the family’s infant superhero, came to his powers, it’s still a riot to watch it unfold in the sequel. In an effort to repeal the legislation that makes the use of superpowers illegal, Elastigirl becomes a new mascot, relaying parenting duties to Mr Incredible. He supports her on the outside, but is really jealous of the attention she’s getting. But babies will be babies. Jack fully unleashes his slew of powers to riotous effect, and throws family routine upside down during the transition process. It may lack the punch of the first, but it still easily tops this year’s animation offerings with ease, what with some inventive sequences and lovable characters. That poor badger though.
We’ve made a list and we’ve checked it twice. Do you agree with our selection? Let us know your favourite of 2018 and why it deserves to be on our list!