The Listener's 20 Best Movies of 2018by The Listener
Film reviewers James Robins and Russell Baillie offer their verdict on the 20 best movies of the past year (in alphabetical order).
Blending documentary testimony and drama, Bart Layton’s audacious and knotty film blurred the line between truth and fiction in its real-life story of how four Kentucky college students plundered their campus library’s rare-book collection.
Set on the island of Jersey, Beast began as a contemporary murder mystery and slowly turned into a riveting psychodrama. It came with a touch of the Brontës and a spellbinding lead performance by Jessie Buckley.
Annette Bening was superb in her portrayal of faded Hollywood star Gloria Grahame during her final years and an enchanted romance with the much younger English actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell).
4. First Man
La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s film about Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong soared with its unconventional approach to a great-man biopic, merging an immersive space-flight epic with an intimate character study.
In the centenary year of the end of World War I, a new version of RC Sherriff’s stage play about Tommies awaiting their doom on the Western Front was a vital and urgent reminder of the futility of that conflict.
6. Lady Bird
School balls. Graduation. First loves won and lost. Greta Gerwig’s quirky directorial debut starring a brilliant Saoirse Ronan followed the pattern of coming-of-age stories but resounded with great frankness, authenticity, and poignancy.
Debra Granik’s first feature after Winter’s Bone, about a father and daughter trying to disappear into the wilderness, was a modest, hushed and unassuming film that introduced brilliant teenage Kiwi actor Thomasin McKenzie to a wider world.
The sixth in the Tom Cruise-captained series that started as a telly spy-show knock-off was the action movie of the year because Fallout’s crazy, ride-along thrill-factor easily trounced plot-preposterousness and any allergies to Cruise himself.
The story of how director, actor and activist Merata Mita became a lasting influence in this country’s film culture was told in this loving and often revealing portrait by her youngest son, Heperi.
10. Phantom Thread
Supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final screen appearance, Phantom Thread, from esoteric American director Paul Thomas Anderson, was an entrancing, dreamlike portrait of deceit and domination set in a 1950s London couture house.
Esteemed Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda returned to the theme – what makes a family? – that has come to define his work, in his gentle and tender film about a light-fingered Tokyo clan and their secrets.
12. A Star Is Born
Actor-turned-director Bradley Cooper delivered the most surprising mainstream hit of the year with a fourth Hollywood remake of the rags-to-riches showbiz story in which Lady Gaga triumphed in a role previously played by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand.
13. Sweet Country
It wasn’t the first outback western centred on the hunt for an Aboriginal murder suspect but indigenous director Warwick Thornton’s second feature felt like an original with a synthesis of the mythic and the down-to-earth in its story of racial injustice.
Armando Iannucci’s satire of the death of the Soviet tyrant was scorching and ruthlessly funny, pitting paranoid Politburo functionaries against each other in a squabble for power.
15. The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and Emma Stone were all extraordinary in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ scabrous and darkly funny romp in the court of Queen Anne.
Director Desiree Akhavan delivered a piercing story about gay “conversion therapy” in this coming-of-age drama with an affecting lead performance by Chloë Grace Moretz.
Robert Redford bowed out from screen acting in style, playing real-life crook Forrest Tucker, a serial conman and thief who robbed banks armed with nothing but a debonair smile. A gentle, minor-key masterwork written and directed by David Lowery
Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary was an entrancing portal into the past, constructed from magically enhanced and soundtracked old footage overlaid with British veterans reflecting about the everyday horrors of life and death on the Western Front.
British director Steve McQueen delivered a meditation on political corruption, female indignation and racial animosity, disguised as a thrilling heist movie, which was centred on Viola Davis leading a group of women forced to complete the robbery their husbands died attempting.
New Zealand director Pietra Brettkelly’s doco was a narrative and visual marvel in its study of celebrated Chinese designer Guo Pei as she attempted to win the approval of haute couture’s governing body in Paris.
This article was first published in the January 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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