15. FIRST MAN- Directed by Damien Chazelle
First Man is the highly anticipated Biopic/Drama from Writer/Director, Damien Chazelle (La La Land and Whiplash) from a screenplay by Josh Singer (Spotlight). It chronicles the journey of Astronaut, Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 space mission that would lead him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Chazelle burst on the scene in 2014 with “Whiplash”, an intense depiction of the life of a young drummer at a distinguished music conservatory – a brilliant film. However, it was his throwback to the golden age of cinema in the musical “La La Land” that truly established him as one of the hottest young up and coming filmmakers in Hollywood. I knew Chazelle possessed something special if he could make me love a musical (haha). First Man sees him move to three for three thus far in his short but rewarding career. Casting the dependable and often stoic Gosling was a stroke of genius. He gives a very even performance and the more you watch him the more you can see why he was cast in the role – certain features can even be likened to Neil. By all accounts, Armstrong was never one for the spotlight even prior to the death of his young daughter, Karen. Following the tragedy, he became disconnected from his wife Janet (played superbly by Claire Foy) and his two young sons and dove deeper into his work. First Man recounts aspects of Armstrong’s personal life, the friendships he forged at NASA with Ed White (Jason Clarke), Elliot See (Patrick Fugit) and Gus Grissom (played by Shea Whigham), and the painstakingly tedious process of testing and trialing each mission with the aim to make some sort of inroads before the Russians. The supporting players are all great, the camera work is impressive, and the sound design will be in the conversation come award season. The appropriate attention to detail is given to the films 60’s aesthetics and Chazelle establishes the harsh reality and all too real dangers involved with what these men did. The scenes from inside the hatch are as intense as anything else I’ve seen in a space setting. The film does have ten or fifteen minutes of fat on it that could’ve been cut but it’s not enough to stop First Man being the best space biopic to date.
14. THE SHAPE OF WATER- Directed by Guillermo del Toro
In spite of its official 2017 U.S December release, Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning Drama/Fantasy film The Shape Of Water actually hit theatres here in Australia at the start of January (making it part of my list for this year’s best films). It’s just my third time venturing into the world of del Toro’s adventurous mind (having only seen Mimic and Pacific Rim prior). With little to draw a comparison to, this unspoken love story between a lonely mute woman named Elisa (played wonderfully by Sally Hawkins) and a previously undiscovered amphibious fish creature (Doug Jones), simply blew me away. Set in circa 1960s America, to the backdrop of the cold war, Elisa, a cleaner, discovers the research facility she works in is housing a mysterious South American creature being used for a classified experiment. Right off the bat, this probably sounds like something that had no right to be as successful as it was. Guillermo was apparently inspired by “Beauty And The Beast”, only he said that instead of a princess he wanted to see what would happen if a mute woman fell in love with a beast that never actually turned into a man. Every facet of The Shape Of Water has such a level of attention to detail unrivaled by anything else the fantasy genre has seen in recent times. The larger than life approach to the set design helps build a completely different look and feel to the film. Rustic in certain qualities and the aesthetics overall are fittingly oceanic. There’s a stark contrast between the blues and greys of the governmental operations and those at the head of it like Richard Strickland (the dynamic Michael Shannon), and say the tinged greens of the quaint dwelling Elisa and her lifelong friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins) live in above an old theatre. Jones gives a great physical performance from inside the full practical suit (which looks simply amazing) and each of the secondary characters has their moment in the spotlight. The Shape Of Water has a few violent moments complemented by impressive practical blood and gore fx too. Shannon, much like in everything he does, chews scenery with the best of them. One such example comes with him interrogating Elisa and her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). The pacing isn’t necessarily always consistent and the eroticism portion could be deemed a little odd, but probably just because it isn’t something you’d usually see in a film like this. The Shape Of Water is certainly deserving of its Oscar for best film of the year.
13. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS- Directed by the Coen Brothers
Netflix’s The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is the latest works from the supremely talented duo of the Coen Bros (The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men). It’s a unique Western anthology that mixes both Drama and Comedy into six different tales all set in different parts of the old west. Boasting an eclectic cast that includes the likes of Tim Blake Nelson (Coen alumni), James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Bill Heck, and Brendan Gleeson. The stories include “Near Algodones”, where a bank robber (played by Franco), with the help of some unexpected natives, manages to evade certain death. “Meal Ticket” chronicles a man’s (Neeson) struggle on a cross-country journey, where every night his impaired performer runs the same tired act. In “All Gold Canyon”, an old-time prospector (Tom Waits) goes through the painstakingly slow process of testing the earth’s core for gold, only to find himself getting more than he bargained for. “The Gal Who Got Rattled” centers around a female protagonist named Alice (played by Zoe Kazan), whose arranged marriage doesn’t seem quite as appealing as it once did after she meets a man by the name of Billy Knapp (Heck) who’s escorting her cross-country. The final segment “The Mortal Remains”, follows five very different people from varying walks of life who are stuck in the same horse carriage for a lengthy stint. The title segment is also the opener, it sees the fastest gunslinger in the west (Nelson) challenged for the crown – highlighting the fact that every dog has his day. I know Netflix has made it a point to really branch out with their content in the here and now of 2018, but I still say it’s a sad state of affairs when a film this good doesn’t get a wider theatrical release. Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is so unique and immersive in each of its individual facets. Performances all around are of the highest standard but Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, and Chelcie Ross’s characters are certainly three of the most memorable. Bruno Delbonnel’s complete scope of cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking and Cartel Burwell shows once again why he’s one of the best dramatic composers in the business right now. If there’s a weakness, it’s the repetitive cycle and poor pacing of “Meal Ticket”. Liam Neeson and Harry Melling are good and the technical elements are very well conceived, it’s just that in comparison to every other story, it’s a little lacking. This is some of the finest filmmaking in the western genre, but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t expect anything less from the Coen Bros.
12. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US- Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
Timo Tjahjanto along with the producers of “The Raid”, return with the ultra-violent Indonesian Action/Thriller, The Night Comes For Us (yet another recent Netflix release). This is a film that demands some serious attention when talking about the best films of the year. Despite a somewhat murky opening that sees us introduced to a number of characters right off the bat, the story eventually levels out and reveals itself to be a fairly straightforward one. Ito (Joe Taslim), once considered a highly respected member of the seven seas (a highest of the high gangland enforcer), returns home after turning on his Triad crime family. What occurs from there can only be described as absolute pandemonium, as he fights off hoards of gang members from a number of different factions, a path that leads him to the bloodiest and most brutal of showdowns with his lifelong friend, Arian (Iko Uwais). One of the key pieces of the puzzle Timo really gets right with The Night Comes For Us is that DP, Gunnar Nimpuno stabilizes ninety percent of the quick cut action to effectively avoid lengthy bouts of shaky cam and rough editing. The performances are solid and therefore distract you nicely from the fact that a majority of the characters don’t have much of an arc. It becomes quite clear early on that Ito is going to do everything in his power to protect the little girl he feels responsible for, all that’s left is for you to sit back and enjoy the ride. There are countless outlandish fight sequences that take place in some of the most confined spaces – like a police truck. I thought I’d witnessed some of the most dynamic martial arts and hand to hand combat with John Wick, but the choreography here is near flawless and puts the aforementioned to shame. These guys are true professionals, it’s what they do for a living, and it shows in what is essentially 120 minutes of batshit crazy stunt work and violence. I can handle quite a fair bit of disturbing content but I can’t stress enough the level of brutality on display in The Night Comes For Us – so don’t say you weren’t warned. I cringed, I looked away, and I scratched my head at how these guys conceived all of these beatings, slicings, stabbings, and disembowelments with practical effects – it’s almost seamless. As far as pure fight movies go, this is the most extreme entry I’ve seen thus far. It leaves the competition for dead, much in the same way as Ito does with those that get in his way.
11. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY- Directed by Bryan Singer
A biopic on legendary rockers Queen had been in the pipeline for a while, and whilst I’m not thrilled about supporting the less than reputable Bryan Singer (who directs), I did so because I’m a musician. It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that if you’re a musician, you should have nothing but respect for Queen and the legacy that they and frontman Freddie Mercury left on the music world. Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles the band’s life from their early days playing in street corner pubs, the inclusion of Freddie Mercury, and the lead up to their infamous appearance at Live Aid in 1985. Casting director, Susie Figgis deserves plenty of recognition for identifying the right actors to play each of the respective roles. In costume and with his long sweeping locks, Gwilym Lee looks remarkably like lead guitarist Brian May – even possessing similar physical traits. Joseph Mazzello’s dedication and attention to detail shine through when he’s physically on stage moving and grooving as bass player John Deacon. EastEnders actor Ben Hardy rounds out the band as drummer Roger Taylor. Although he looks the least like his character, he still feels right for the role. The drawcard at the center of the juggernaut that was Queen was the larger than life personality of lead singer Freddie Mercury (played perfectly here by Rami Malek). Malek delivers his best performance to date. The levels of commitment shown by Malek towards learning Freddie’s walk, speech, mannerisms, and stage presence are second to none. It’s a dramatic and highly entertaining performance that should see the young actor garner some attention come the Oscars. As you’d expect, Bohemian Rhapsody embraces the notion of celebrating the band’s iconic sound and their hit songs, while also providing some insight as to how some of these all too familiar songs came to be. The change in the band’s style was clear the moment Mercury joined and they began branching out, creatively speaking. Sure, the film isn’t perfect. Mercury’s personal life is only thinly touched upon and there can be no denying that Singer takes a fair bit of creative license when it comes to certain facts and details from that time. For one, Freddie wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until almost two years after the Live Aid concert, nor had the band not played together for years prior (it was about two months). I think Freddie was also college roommates with the original singer and not strangers, as the film would have you believe. The specifics regarding how some of the songs came to be aren’t always accurate either. Minor gripes aside, the final twenty-five minutes of the film bring it full circle – depicting an authentic re-creation of Live Aid. Malek is truly captivating during those final moments and you can’t help but feel like you’ve been entertained in every sense of the word.
10. SEARCHING- Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature-length film Searching is the creme de la creme of the found footage style format for 2018. There were a handful of other good films this year of a similar ilk, Unfriended: Dark Web, Strawberry Flavored Plastic and Cam, but none as expertly crafted as this particular Mystery/Thriller. Searching follows David, a father (played by John Cho) who’s desperately searching for his missing 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La). Her laptop may contain clues to finding her, but while he investigates, he will have to deal with her school classmates, his own brother, and the rigid detective assigned to the case (Debra Messing). Searching utilizes the technological approach that is quickly becoming a familiar means for storytelling, doing so by presenting the entirety of the film through modern devices such as laptops, phones, and surveillance cameras. You know a script is damn good when you find yourself completely immersed in a story that never once steps out of those established parameters. Searching begins as a simple premise built around every parent’s worst nightmare – the loss of a child. It’s not long before Chaganty pulls the proverbial wool over your eyes, all the while adding seemingly innocuous layers to the fold. Every nuance in the story is carefully revealed, never once coming off as trite or predictable. The performances all around are quite good – Messing the standout. The Will and Grace actress gets to do something so far removed from what initially made her famous. Torin Borrowdale’s suspenseful score is engaging, the different uses of apps and programs keep things fresh, and the direction the story takes is an incredibly clever one. Something as basic and random as an emotionless display picture ends up stamping itself as a particularly eerie specific in the context of events. Searching is full of little moments like that, all culminating to form one of the finest thrillers in years. The film isn’t without its humor either. Those who grew up with the constant anti-virus update reminders that came with Windows 95/98 and 00 and other components relevant to older computer technology, will be sure to have a chuckle here and there. Other humorous scenes include David getting an interesting response from pressing one of Margot’s contacts for details regarding his whereabouts at the time of her disappearance. Issues are minimal and usually consist of things that Aneesh took some liberties with. The film certainly raises some points about the potential dangers of technology, but things like the general public being able to access crime scene photos from an ongoing investigation just isn’t a thing. The police would’ve also seized Margot’s laptop right from the outset and under no circumstances would David have actually been able to take part in the investigation. Minor gripes aside, Searching introduces too many resourceful twists and turns for it to be seen as anything other than a stroke of brilliance.
9. THE OUTSIDER- Directed by Martin Zandvliet
The Outsider comes in at number nine for the year. It’s yet another Netflix release and the second foreign film on this years list. Martin Zandvliet teams with Actor, Jared Leto to dive deep into the world of the Japanese yakuza post- WWII. Nick Lowell (played by Leto) is a former American G.I doing a stint in a harsh Japanese prison. There, he meets Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) whom he saves from certain death. A member of a well-respected yakuza family, Kiyoshi feels indebted to Nick and takes him under his wing. From there, he is bought into the family where he eventually takes an interest in a young woman named Miyu (played by Shioli Kutsuna) and finds himself caught in the middle of two families fighting for power. The Outsider is rich with period piece elegance. Everything from the old cars, the perfectly tailored suits, and Camilla Hjelm’s gorgeous sweeping cinematography. Leto’s scarce dialogue and distant gaze drive his anti-hero character in interesting ways – much in the same fashion Ryan Gosling’s protagonist in “Drive” did. Unfortunately, the films promotional lifespan was hurt when a handful of the PC (political correctness) police out there started throwing their arms up like 5-year-olds at the idea of a Caucasian actor being cast in the lead role of a film that otherwise consists of only Asian actors (with the exception of short appearances by Emile Hirsch and Rory Cochrane). The site of Leto sporting a black and white suit and a dark slicked back haircut (in the same style as the rest of his cast members) was enough to upset people and scare them away from supporting the film, despite the fact that he was only doing what was required of him for the role – absolutely ridiculous. The fact that a film this impressive has a Metascore of just 30 (out of 100) on the IMDB, it should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of cinema and the market. Year in year out we continue being subjected to nothing but the lowest forms of comedy, assaulted with an onslaught of CG heavy superhero films that fail to introduce anything new, meanwhile, pure cinema all over the world suffers because of it. The Outsider is an engaging slice of foreign Crime/Drama with more than its fair share of bloody yakuza violence. It’s subtle in its drama, swift in its action, and it’s a film more people should be seeing.
8. REVENGE- Directed by Coralie Fargeat
The third foreign film on my list comes in the form of the streaming platform “Shudder” and French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat, who leaves the most impressive of footprints in 2018 with her debut feature-length film, Revenge. Revenge is a high-octane Horror/Thriller film set in Morocco about exactly that – revenge. The story opens with wealthy CEO, Richard (Kevin Janssens) whose organized for his latest fling, Jen (the stunning Matilda Lutz) to accompany him to his remote getaway home in the desert for the weekend. The problem is that this particular weekend is supposed to be the annual hunting party for Richard and his buddies Stan and Dimitri (played by Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchede respectively). Some drinking, a few drugs, and a little innocent flirting later and Jen’s relaxing weekend turns into a fight for survival as things take a violent turn. Wow, what to say about this one. “They just don’t make em’ like they used to” is how the saying goes, right? And in terms of all-out blood-soaked revenge, I can safely say that they just don’t make em’ like the Europeans do. When you think of extreme filmmaking you think of the French – look no further than “Inside” and “Martyrs” which are just two examples of bold genre filmmaking. Fargeat doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the “I Spit On Your Grave” inspired rape/revenge tale, but what she does do is execute it better than most. The sun-soaked middle eastern setting proves to be the harshest of environments for Jen to battle for her life in – I dug that. With stylish editing and a mostly Steadicam approach to the cinematography, Revenge always feels like it’s on the move – and perfectly paced to boot. Robin Coudert (who scored the Maniac remake) brings about a pulsating synth soundtrack that helps generate plenty of tension throughout the film. The performances are appropriately gritty and the gorgeous Lutz turns into one hell of a strong and vengeful woman. Coralie has to be commended on her methodical and powerful approach toward what is an extremely uncomfortable interaction at the height of the first act between Jen and the seedy Stan. Shots in a slower frame rate and some brazen editing amidst said scene result in a less is more view when it comes to the sexual assault. Instead, you’re placed in the shoes of a third-party and it raises the question of what you’d do in the given situation – a pertinent one right now with the #Metoo movement. Revenge is unapologetic in its brutal violence and it boasts superb practical blood and gore fx. The final twenty minutes is outstanding, it reminds me of a far superior version of an Olaf Ittenbach film (Dard Divorce). Though there are a few continuity issues surrounding the sheer logistics behind the landscape and the convenient separation between characters. Not to mention, Jen endures a helluva lot that would have more than likely killed her – but hey, it’s a movie. The French deliver yet again with Revenge, and it’s great to see more smart and talented female directors like Fargeat making an impact.
7. LOWLIFE- Directed by Ryan Prows
Lowlife is yet another outstanding feature-length debut that turned out to be one of the year’s best films. Ryan Prows Co-Writes and Directs this wonderful slice of Tarantino inspired Crime/Drama/Comedy. Drawing comparisons to the much-lauded “Pulp Fiction” (and a worthy correlation at that), Lowlife is a thoroughly entertaining mishmash of genres that see its characters introduced in different chapters that eventually come together to form a complete narrative. An addict (Santana Dempsey) and her luchador husband (played by Ricardo Zarate), two ex-cons (Shaye Ogbonna and Jon Oswald), and a motel owner (played by Nicki Micheaux) all cross paths when an organ harvesting deal goes bad and business owner Teddy (Mark Burnham) loses his cool. Lowlife is structured around a non-linear timeline, one that often sees characters you might not have officially met yet, veering into someone else’s story arc. It’s a nicely shot and sharply edited film, with a touch of the grindhouse influence in its color grading. The characters all reside in a grey area, and whilst their motivations are certainly questionable they’re all thoroughly entertaining and likable in their own right. Five writers are credited on Lowlife, making its cohesiveness all the more impressive. These types of films usually have a handful of throwaway characters but such is not the case here. Everyone is given an ample amount of screen time and the ways in which the segments, labeled “Monsters”, “Fiends”, and “Thugs” overlap, is nothing short of brilliant. The exposition is strong and there’s a real juxtaposition between the humor and the violence – and it works. All of the performances are memorable but it’s really the duo of Ogbonna and Oswald that steal the show with their ongoing banter. Randy’s (Oswald) Nazi gags and white boy gangster facade are hilarious. More importantly, he figures into the film in a pivotal way – another example of the great writing. The violence is deliberately delved out in small portions, but when it does hit, it’s quite graphic. The final confrontation in the cold and dark basement of Teddy’s fast food shack is action-packed and showcases some superb practical blood and gore fx. Lowlife comes full circle and you’ll likely feel satisfied with the arc of the story. One can’t ignore the Pulp Fiction style narrative though, or the fact that the film’s antagonist lacks a hard edge that would make him a little more threatening. Minor complaints aside, Lowlife is an engaging mix of genres that outshines most of its counterparts with its layered and grounded characters. It’s well written, violent, and it’s got some heart.
6. Overlord- Directed by Julius Avery
Despite having not made much of note, Director Julius Avery should rightfully receive plenty of accolades for the sheer extravagance of his film Overlord, an Action/Horror set at the beginning of WWII. With a script Co-Written by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips and Flightplan) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), it should come as no surprise that this J.J Abrams produced film was conceived on such an immense scale. Originally set to be the third entry in the “Cloverfield” franchise, Ray and Co got a hold of Overlord and geared it in an alternate direction – and for the better. Set on the eve of D-Day, the film centers around a small group of American soldiers led by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt), who crash-land just outside a small French town. Their orders – bring down the enemy communication towers. What begins as a routine mission for Ford and his team which includes, Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and Dawson (Jacob Anderson) quickly becomes complicated when they meet a young French woman named Chloe (played by Mathilde Ollivier) and discover that the Germans are carrying out experiments on the local townspeople with the hopes of bringing about a new and improved Hitler Third Reich. The interesting thing about Overlord is that it was initially a video game from 2007 – with a completely different basis might I add. What Ray and Smith managed to shape cinematically is nothing short of astounding. A perfect mix of war and action conveyed through good drama, but with that added element of horror – resulting in something we really haven’t seen before. Sure, there’s a hint of “Resident Evil” about it, or even the popular video game “Wolfenstein”, but nothing that warrants it being taken as seriously as Avery and Co did – and I love it. The cinematography duo of Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner present us with a stunningly shot film that captures both the horrors of war and a fictional dark decay in humanity. The opening twenty minutes of Overlord is every bit as good as any war sequence that’s been filmed. The crash hits with everything it’s got, supplying us with some of the most heightened and engrossing minutes of the year in film. The sound design is harsh and piercing in the most expressive way, and Jed Kurzel’s nail-biting score achieved with the use of deep orchestral strokes and tones is one of the best this year. Each of the characters possess their own unique and amusing traits, Pilou Asbaek’s Wafner makes for the perfect face of evil, and the zombie content is really fresh – simply because it’s intermittently augmented instead of over saturated. The blend of practical fx work and CG looks fantastic, the latter only ever used to complement the real appliances. The pacing is consistent and the action takes you on a whirlwind of a ride. A bunch of the particulars aren’t perfect and we’re led to believe there’s a sizeable group of townspeople around despite never actually seeing them (until the end). Ford being as battle-hardened as he is, would never send one man to escort Wafner downstairs, let alone give the task to a thinly framed, Chase. All in all, Overlord’s got everything you could possibly want in an Action/Horror flick. There’s good banter, stellar war action, and impressive suspense during a number of the scenes, particularly those inside Chloe’s home. I think back to that opening and I’m simply gobsmacked. I’m yet to see a zombie film anywhere near as good as Overlord.
5. HALLOWEEN- Directed by David Gordon Green
It’s been 40 years since the knife-wielding maniac known as Michael Myers, terrified babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s infamous 1978 film, Halloween. Now here we are in 2018 with the first real direct sequel to that iconic slice of horror cinema. Halloween picks right back up with a much older, jaded, and battle-hardened Laurie (the returning Jamie Lee Curtis). She lives in isolation, disconnected from her Haddonfield based daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak) and still fearful of the day she comes face to face with Michael again. Myers is being kept in maximum security in Smith’s Grove psychiatric facility when true crime pod-casters (played by Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) inadvertently become the catalyst in his eventual escape. Setting his sights on Illinois, Michael will stop at nothing to find Laurie – killing everyone in his path. I couldn’t possibly talk about this years Halloween without making references to Carpenter’s classic, right? Anywho, we’ll get to that later. There are so many aspects that make Halloween 2018 a powerhouse of the slasher sub-genre. The stylish cinematography eclipses anything you’ve seen in the franchise thus far. DP, Michael Simmonds employs sharp profile shots of Myers, plenty of slick panning techniques, and things wouldn’t be complete without some of those memorable POV shots (point of view). Carpenter (along with his son), returns with a much more dynamic and understated score than that of his original film, and of course, utilizes that iconic synth motif that we all know and love. The material is actually given room to breathe this time around and the silent stretches do wonders for the film’s atmosphere. For the first time in the franchise all of the characters are seemingly likable, or at the very least interesting. The performances are generally solid – with Curtis delivering perhaps the best horror performance of her career. The biggest improvements lie in the aesthetics of both the kills and the practical fx, as well as Green’s attention to detail in setting the foundations of the holiday. The details are a crucial element required to truly immerse yourself in the experience – something completely passed over in Carpenters film (that fans just choose to ignore). Trick or treaters in costume, decorations, exploding pumpkins, and school dances are all things you want to see to help set the scene, and you do. I can’t stress enough the importance of doing what Green did with Myers here. Having him blend into his surroundings while walking the streets of Haddonfield is just a no-brainer – or so you’d have thought, and yet again a guy as astute as Carpenter couldn’t figure out that it creates far more tension by grounding the killer element of the film in reality). The film’s pacing is perfect, the moments of humor feel organic, and Laurie finally makes some good decisions (must have come with age). She’s prepared for what’s to come and that makes proceedings so much more realistic. Halloween doesn’t just display a great level of suspense it more than delivers on the killing front. There’s a fair share of on-screen kills with plenty of skillful practical blood and gore fx. It’s not all perfect though. If you’re going to pretend as though none of the other sequels in the franchise existed you might want to stop referencing them. Why you’d want to ignore the previously established brother/sister relationship I’ll never know? It makes the notion of it all scarier with that added personal touch. Some of the phrasing in the dialogue feels clunky, a few secondary actors were miscast (looking at the father and son in the truck), and there are more than a few flat reactions (or none at all) to serious family moments. All of that said, Halloween’s final act where Michael and Laurie hunt each other is one of the best of the year and the film delivers the goods all around. Fans of Carpenter’s 78′ film will dig the references but they’ll have a hard time accepting that Green and Co have simply done it better than Carpenter did. Halloween is the strongest film in the franchise and it just might be the best genuine slasher film since Wes Craven’s “Scream 2”.
4. A QUIET PLACE- Directed by John Krasinski
A Quiet Place was one of the year’s early front-runners for best film of 2018, a taut white knuckler of the Drama/Thriller/Horror persuasion. Reminiscent of the early works of M. Night Shyamalan (Signs and The Village) while also taking cues from the likes of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, it’s a film that sees John Krasinski (of the US’s The Office) working behind the camera as well as in front of it. The world as we know it is over. The Abbott family, consisting of Lee (Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their children Regan and Marcus (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe), are forced to live a life in silence while hiding from mysterious monsters that have the most sensitive of hearing. A Quiet Place wastes no time getting started, picking up with the Abbotts inside an abandoned market looking for supplies. The films foundation of no sound is highlighted early when one of the children knocks something off of a shelf and another dive to catch it before it hits the ground. There isn’t a down moment in A Quiet Place’s short 90-minute run-time and it’s perfect. DP, Charlotte Christensen (Fences and The Hunt) applies a variety of techniques to form some superbly framed shots. The New York state location lends itself to some lovely cinematography and the sound design is appropriately eerie. Marco Beltrami’s use of sharp tones and perfect placement results in a moody and alarming score that complements the ever-growing threat level and the distressing situation the Abbott’s ultimately find themselves in. Performances meet the required intensity levels and both Blunt and Simmonds are particularly good – the latter actually being a deaf girl (just like the character she plays). I love the attention to detail dedicated to the families daily routine. There can be no denying that it doesn’t always ring true but they’re vigilant with their tracks and the preparation of their home in regard to preventing any unwanted attention. Krasinski knows how to produce good drama and when to pull the curtain back and reveal what lies just beyond the frame. The creature fx are some of the best we’ve seen in a long time and the monsters themselves look a little like something out of “Cloverfield” by way of Xenomorph. There’s a lot of Shyamalan creeping into A Quiet Place and I mean that in the best possible way. The entire film is tense but focal points include Blunt’s character hiding in a bathroom, the kids hiding in a silo, and a monster stalking Evelyn in the cellar. Unfortunately, there are a few too many conveniences in the film that prevent it from being an absolute masterpiece. An adult would confiscate the batteries to a noisy toy due to the risk of their child accidentally setting it off. Along the same sound lines, generators tend to make a fair bit of noise yet it never ends up attracting the monsters. An argument can be made about the logic behind having another child in an environment where any sound pretty much equals death… I mean c’mon? With a sequel in the works, the end doesn’t seem so odd, but it does feel like it closes on a weirdly casual beat. Whilst A Quiet Place has its undeniable issues, it presents as the most terrifying and entertaining love child of Signs, The Village, Alien, and Cloverfield (four truly impressive films). Simply put there wasn’t a better Drama/Thriller this year and that’s why it clocks in at number four.
3. UPGRADE- Directed by Leigh Whannell
Number three on the list of best films for the year is Actor/Writer and Director Leigh Whannell’s homegrown Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Upgrade. Taking its cues from the likes of “RoboCop” and “Scanners”, with a touch of T2 to it, Upgrade places itself firmly in the upper echelon of low-budget science fiction films. When I say low, it still cost five million dollars to make but that pales in comparison to big-budget Hollywood productions of a similar nature. With a great protagonist, efficient construction of the futuristic set design, and some fantastic visuals, Whannell manages to pull together something very special indeed. I’m not sure who was behind this year’s cinematic take on “Venom”, but either way, each party best check their copyright terms because so many of the finer points of that Marvel entry are infused in Leigh’s script – only it’s a hundred times better here. Upgrade is set in a near future where technology controls all aspects of life. Grey Trace (played by Logan Marshall-Green who even closely resembles Venom’s, Tom Hardy) hasn’t warmed to the idea of not being in control yet, and when tragedy strikes, his whole world is turned upside down. Grey’s only chance for salvation comes in the form of a microchip implant designed by Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) called Stem. Grey finds it increasingly difficult to remain low-key and off the radar of a detective assigned to his case (played by Betty Gabriel). If you look at the particulars you’ll find that it’s just a computer chip plaguing Grey instead of a parasite. It’s a chip doing the exact same things that the parasite does to Venom’s Eddie Brock. Talking to him, controlling his movements – hell, even the style of comedic relief in both films is quite similar. Whannell sets the scene perfectly though, wasting no time in getting to the events that lead to Grey being inserted with the chip. From there, it takes him a little time to find his bearings before he starts to track down the employees of technology conglomerate Cobolt, with only one thing in mind, revenge. Green is great in the central role and the secondary players consist of a number of Australian actors, which is great. Benedict Hardie’s (Hacksaw Ridge) Fisk and the rest of his team make for worthy adversaries. Jed Palmer’s utopian synth score is pulsating and the hive of greens and pinks in neon lighting give the film a healthy dose of atmosphere. The gadgets and weaponry make for a lot of fun and the film isn’t without its graphic moments of violence, most of which rely on striking practical blood and gore fx. If I’m going to criticize Upgrade I’d say that it does borrow quite heavily from the aforementioned RoboCop. Even the weapons and A.I are reminiscent of other films and don’t necessarily add anything new to the mix. If all was right in the world, Upgrade would’ve been given the same amount of exposure as Venom. After all, it’s the far superior film in every way, shape, or form.
2. A STAR IS BORN- Directed by Bradley Cooper
With a screenplay Co-Written/Directed by Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born is my runner up for 2018. It tells the story of a fading musician (played by Cooper) who becomes romantically and professionally involved with a young cabaret singer (Lady Gaga), helping her find her voice, and in turn, fame. However, Jack’s personal problems and alcoholism threaten to derail the duo’s relationship. This is actually the fourth telling of this particular story, the most well-known of which came in the ’70s and starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It’s a story that initially dates all the way back to the late ’30s though. I’m not able to make any comparisons to previous versions of the film as this was a fresh experience for me. What I can say is that Cooper and Gaga’s characters come across as extremely real and flawed. Their bond, fragile, every step of the way. The pair delivers career-best performances and Cooper surprises with his most emotionally mature portrayal to date. As for Gaga, well she’s made a successful music career for herself, so it should come as no surprise that her vocal work and musicianship here is elite. The two combined to write a lot of the lyrics and songs that you hear throughout the film as well. Who knew Cooper was such a good musician – not me. It’s an intimately shot film, neatly edited, and well-balanced in terms of the ratio of drama to musical content. They struck me as a real couple dealing with real problems, and that breathes authenticity into something that could have quite easily fallen away and become all about the lifestyle and the surface value of it all. Sam Elliot’s role as Bobby, Jack’s brother is one of his best in years and should see him nominated for a best-supporting role come the Oscars. With that trademark gravelly voice and tears in his eyes, Elliot steals the show in each of his respective scenes. There’s a wide range of genres and styles of music on display in A Star Is Born. Cooper’s character kicks things off with some ringing electric guitar in “Black Eyes” and “Out Of Time” which are deep-rooted in both blues and rock. Later, he shows his softer side with the emotional piece “Maybe It’s Time” (which I myself went ahead and learned). As for Lady Gaga, her tone suits the piano perfectly and she sings some beautiful songs over the course of the 130 minutes. Highlights include part of a vocal run of “Shallow” (which Cooper joins in on later), “Always Remember Us This Way” and “I’ll Never Love Again”. Some of the profanity feels a little forced at times and certain scenes overstay their welcome. Gaga’s character doesn’t necessarily experience the entire arc on her rise to stardom and some would argue that we don’t get enough of Cooper’s suffering. Still, I think the takeaway from A Star Is Born is to never judge a book by its cover because you just don’t know what the pages contain (or in some cases don’t). The performances are faultless, the music elevates the material, and issues like depression and addiction are widespread right now so it’s important we raise awareness about them.
1. THE NIGHTINGALE- Directed by Jennifer Kent
So here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the number one film of 2018 and it’s Australian of all bloody things (haha). It wasn’t long after I saw the aforementioned A Star Is Born, that I got wind of a local screening of Jennifer Kent’s latest film, The Nightingale. Kent was the woman behind the criminally underrated Australian horror film “The Babadook”. This time she explodes onto the 2018 scene with a different brand of horror. The Nightingale is inspired by real events. Set in 1825 in the Tasmanian Wilderness, Claire (played by the brilliant Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict living in a British occupied town with her husband and newborn child, sets out on a trek seeking retribution for a terrible act of violence. Heading through harsh terrain with an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), Claire hunts an English officer (Sam Claflin) and his two young unit members. I was lucky enough to be in a screening with the director, producer and Baykali and they held a Q&A after, which was very informative. One of the most unusual things about this western style revenge story was Kent, and DP, Radek Ladczuk’s decision to shoot the film entirely in the old narrow aspect ratio of 4:3 (or 1:33:1). It’s an artistic choice that lends itself perfectly to the period of time and the material, I couldn’t imagine watching it any other way. The shot types are simple but effective and the location is stunning, a complete contrast to the abhorrent actions of the horrible antagonists at the core of the story. Jed Kurzel (composer on Overlord) pops up a second time on this list, this time for a change in tempo with his beautifully haunting and moving orchestral score – one of the best of the year. As for the performances, these are some of the best of the year. Complete professionalism all around. Not only is Aisling asked to endure a lot, she never once waivers in being present in her characters convictions. In addition, she showcases her singing ability via some very nice vocal work as Claire is requested to sing nightly for the soldiers. I had so much admiration for the character, her strength and determination were gallant. Ganambarr is equally as impressive and assured in what is his first experience in front of a camera – and given the subject matter, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy. Billy is an extremely likable and watchable fella’, Baykali brings plenty of dry Aussie humor to the mix but turns it on like no other debutant that I’ve seen when it comes to the emotional component. There’s no way audiences aren’t going to hate Claflin’s, Hawkins or Adelaide born actor Damien Herriman’s Ruse, and nor should you. They’re despicable characters that warrant no sympathy, and that’s a true testament to the talent of both actors. There’s about fifteen to twenty minutes worth of extremely uncomfortable material in The Nightingale that is unfortunately bound to turn some people away (at least a dozen people left the theatre). There’s no nudity or penetration but what’s implied is as clear as day, and there’s no other way to spin it, it’s a tough watch – but it supposed to be. My only issue with the film was perhaps Kent’s lack of awareness with all that’s going on in society and the #MeToo movement etc. Those dealing with personal issues and past traumas may have appreciated a heads up. An idea might have been to display a disclaimer warning audiences what they’re in for so as not to catch the unsuspecting off guard. The Nightingale is a real tour de force and I honestly can’t find fault in the film. The acting is of the highest order, there’s attention to detail in set design, and you’re with the characters every step of the way. Not only is The Nightingale probably the best Australian film ever made it’s the best film I saw this year.