If we don't drown, I'm gonna strangle you myself. I don't care how many exploding teeth you try to spit out at me.
Top 10 Films
I don't usually do an annual Top Ten, mainly because I invariably catch up on many of the films that make my list in the subsequent six to twelve months. Nevertheless, here's the current incarnation, subject to considerable change. Included are movies that had their wide release in the UK during 2018, hence several of them may appear quite passé to US readers.
10. Journey’s End
Saul Dibbs brings a compelling and superbly performed – by Paul Bettany in particular – adaptation of RC Sherriff's World War I play to the screen in time for the hundredth anniversary of the armistice. I could quibble at a few of the choices made, but for the most part, what has long-since become a rather stuffy set text gets a welcome shot in the arm. (2.10.18)
9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Even non-vintage Coen Brothers fare is never less than essential viewing, and this scrappy anthology picture – what anthology isn't scrappy? – yields several pearls, not least Tim Blake Nelson's titular crooner in the opening segment and Zoe Kazan's rattle in the longest and most affecting, The Girl Who Got Rattled. (9.11.18)
8. The Shape of Water
Just like Superman, kind of, you'll believe a woman can have a consenting relationship with a fish. As with most cases of Oscar glory, the filmmaker's best work (Pan's Labyrinth) was previously passed over for the big prize, a lesser echo instead garlanded down the line, but Guillermo del Toro's period fantasy is still a rewarding patchwork of his great obsessions, and blessed by a fine (and Oscar-worthy) central performance from Sally Hawkins. (14.02.18)
7. Isle of Dogs
I was definitely a doubter regarding Wes Anderson's second animated feature, mostly because I previously resisted fully falling for his fast-and-loose adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox. But Isle of Dogs finds him putting his best foot forward to offbeat and highly engaging effect; random, blackly humorous and absurd, but anchored by a canine-centric storyline that draws you in and pays off in inimitably satisfying fashion. (30.03.18)
6. A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut isn't perfect – the third act in particular flounders through repositioning itself to focus on his alcoholic fading country singer at the expense of the star he has made – but what it gets right very nearly compensates. He and Lady Gaga have palpable chemistry, and the tried-and-tested rise/fall template proves itself ever serviceable. (03.10.18)
5. Phantom Thread
That Paul Thomas Anderson and his wilfully auteurish ways. So much so, he can entice Daniel Day-Lewis out of semi-retirement whenever he puts pen to paper. His tale of an indulged dressmaker (Day-Lewis' Mr Woodcock) whose latest conquest (Vicky Krieps) rather sets the cat among his pigeons is told at a leisurely but irresistible pace, such that the perverse relish it takes in its plot twists is all the more striking. Nevertheless, it's undoubtedly Krieps who takes the laurels. (10.02.18)
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Not the superhero movie I expected to finish up in my Top Ten of the year – actually, I didn't expect one to make it this time – this Lord and Miller crafted animation, following a host of Spider-Man alts as a means to an origin story for the latest, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), is endlessly inventive, funny, touching and visually stunning. (12.12.18)
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Perhaps John Woo can be persuaded to do a salvaging re-edit on Mission: Impossible 2? As it stands, it's the only entry in the two-decades-plus spanning franchise thus far that has been less than satisfying. Since the fallout from Oprah's couch jumping that rather dented the prospects of the (underrated) third instalment, Tom Cruise has returned to keeping his mouth shut about scientology and presenting that impossibly nice guy persona to the world. And it’s worked. If I couldn't say Fallout is the best in the series so far, that's only because the last three sequels have been embarrassment of action riches. (25.07.18)
2. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
My pick for the Best Picture Oscar of those nominated sees Martin McDonagh return to unbeatable In Bruges form after the very slight hiccup of Seven Psychopaths (most filmmakers can only dream of having a hiccup so enjoyable, though). Naturally, it stirred some controversy, since McDonagh's not the kind of writer to curtsy and make his excuses; it's his head-on approach to subject matter and character that make him one of the best filmmakers around right now (in which respect, he has the edge on his also very talented brother), and it's no coincidence that headlining with Frances McDormand puts one in mind of the skillset that is second nature to the Coen Brothers. (12.01.18)
1. Bad Times at the El Royale
There was a fair degree of anticipation for Drew Goddard's second feature (the first being genre-busting The Cabin in the Woods) that rather fizzled when it arrived to merely respectable notices and less than rapturous box office. On the plus side, that makes it instant cult movie material. On the minus, Goddard ought to have carte blanche to make whatever he so fancies in the future, which means he needs to be bankable.
Anything rigorously written and vaguely in the crime genre these days instantly attracts comparisons to Tarantino, which is fair enough, but Bad Times satisfies on a character level in a manner Tarantino hasn't in years, while offering plot twists that elicit applause for the sheer bravura with which they're executed. Marvellous performances from the ensemble cast too, led by Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm. I've said my list will likely look very different in six months’ time, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bad Times still tops it. (12.10.18)
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.