Kino Świat

The end of the year offers ample opportunity for reflection, and for cinephiles the past twelve months have been particularly fruitful. While none of the selections in this list are without controversy, those of you who have found it harder to visit the local multiplex during term might want to check them out. Conveniently, our two new editors have chosen different films from this year’s crop to praise. The only rules are that the features need to have been released in the UK between 1 January and 31 December, and that they must display top-notch filmmaking. Without further ado, we present our greatest films of 2018.

Lillian Crawford

My Top Five Films of 2018

Le Pacte

5. Faces Places

Dir. Agnès Varda and JR

There is a scene during this documentary in which photographer JR pushes director Agnès Varda through the Louvre on a wheelchair in pastiche (or perhaps parody?) of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film, Bande à part. It is the most joyous image I have seen at the cinema in 2018, stopping only to look at a couple of Arcimboldo portraits.

It brought back my favourite memory of the year, a trip to Vienna in May Week to see Tosca at the Staatsoper and indulge in the museum district. Varda’s gasp at the paintings recalled my own, inspiring a rare moment of connection between the self as viewer and the other as filmmaker. Moments like these are the ones we cherish, no matter the form.

Watch the trailer here.

A24

4. First Reformed 

Dir. Paul Schrader

Another film of moments, this one inspiring less joy and more existential angst. Perhaps because director Paul Schrader’s last few films have been so weak, this picture knocked me over sideways and then some, so devastating is its message. The year’s strongest performance has to go to Ethan Hawke, who plays the pastor of the First Reformed church with awe-inspiring care.

My thoughts ran every which way throughout, not to the usual mundanities inspired by the average picture like ‘what’s for tea?’, but rather to the deeper, life-questioning variety. The most powerful image hits toward the end, as Amanda Seyfried takes Hawke on a journey through the floorboards into the infinite, submitting themselves to the totality of blind faith. It is a realm into which we should all delve, but so seldom find the time.

Read our full review here.

Memento Films Production

3. The Wild Pear Tree 

Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Spiralling further down the rabbit hole is this three-hour Turkish masterpiece from Nuri Bilge Ceylan. As with all of my selections, it is impossible to pin down the cause of my affection for this one, with its lengthy runtime filled with too many complex ideas to summarise.

It could  be broken down into four key philosophical dialogues, connected only by the searing landscape and drive from warmth to cold in the all-consuming cinematography. Spread evenly, these discussions prevent the picture from dragging for even a moment as Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor weaves in and out. There are themes from Chekhov at work, but this is undoubtedly Ceylan’s own project, and is all the better for it.

Read our full review here.

Netflix

2. The Other Side of the Wind 

Dir. Orson Welles

While all of these films lack conventional narrative frameworks, none burns the rulebook quite like this maniacal frenzy of a picture from Orson Welles. Its troubled journey to fruition, restored and compiled out of a 1970s brainstorm put to celluloid, has automatically given it historic significance. This alone does not a masterpiece make, but in the hands of Peter Bogdanovich (who himself stars alongside Hollywood legend, John Huston) and other experts, it has transcended expectation as well as the year’s cinematic output.

Replete with a magnificent Michel Legrand jazz score, the most astonishing thing is that it feels like sitting down to any other classic of cinema, a picture that has embedded itself in 20th-century culture despite having never been capable of doing so.

Watch the trailer here.

Netflix

1. Roma 

Dir. Alfonso Cuarón

I debated which of the top two to put in front, concluding that Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexican odyssey combines the assets of the Welles film with a devastating array of human emotions. It has all of the dolly-shot wonder of a segment from Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba, one of my all-time favourites, stretched out into a full narrative which takes us through the heart of a city, a family, and a housemaid called Cleo.

When the monochrome Netflix logo appeared at the start, I scoffed, as I had done with The Other Side of the Wind – more fool me I suppose, for apparently streaming is the way of future. Fine by me, but do see it in cinemas if you can, for those aching long shots and that claustrophobic sound design can only be appreciated in the comfort of a picturehouse. Then again, we’ve known that all along.

Read our full review here.

Madeleine Pulman-Jones

My Top Five Films of 2018

A24

5. Lady Bird 

Dir. Greta Gerwig

In a meeting about her college applications, Greta Gerwig’s eponymous Lady Bird – played with tender virtuosity by Saoirse Ronan – is told that she writes about her hometown, Sacramento, with “such affection.” Baffled by her apparent love for a town she finds stifling, she stammers, “I guess I pay attention,” to which her headmistress replies, “don’t you think that they are the same thing – love and attention?”

Set and filmed in Gerwig’s own hometown, Lady Bird brims with this reluctant adoration possible only in retrospect. You would be hard pressed to find a debut feature as beguiling or moving, not to mention an example of female coming of age as empowering. Lady Bird, written and directed by Gerwig, made over $70m at the box office and was nominated for five academy awards, proving the economic and artistic power of woman-led moviemaking in 2018.

Read our full review here.

Universal Pictures

4. Phantom Thread 

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

A friend of mine described the aftermath of seeing Phantom Thread, perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson’s 21st-century answer to Brief Encounter or Gaslight, as a week-long recovery process. She described her frustration at the disparity between her own life and that of Reynolds Woodcock, the couturier around whom the film centres, floating for days on a cloud of tulle, rolling countryside, and lapsang souchong steam. With Phantom Thread, Anderson has distanced himself from his mannered tendencies and crafted a world as complete and sensuous as any of Woodcock’s opulent gowns.

The crowning jewel is Luxembourgish actor Vicky Krieps’s Ingrid Bergman-esque performance as Alma, who with just the tilt of her swan-like neck can reveal multitudes. Accompanied by a wonderful score by Jonny Greenwood, it would be criminal to miss Daniel Day Lewis’s cinematic farewell, featuring one of the most delicious twists in recent movie-going memory.

Read our full review here.

GAGA Pictures

3. Shoplifters 

Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Shoplifters stole my heart (pun intended). I first became familiar with Hirozaku Kore-eda’s work when I saw Our Little Sister with my own sister. Shoplifters is the tidal wave to Our Little Sister’s ripples in the water. Eternally preoccupied with the construction of unconventional families, Kore-eda has found a still more profound story of family – a story which blows apart preconceptions of fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, sisterhood, and just about everything in between.

We are all shoplifters, gleaning what we can from the world and building our lives with the bric-a-brac. Featuring stunning cinematography, an outstanding ensemble cast, and a career-best vision from Japan’s premier auteur, it is impossible for Shoplifters to disappoint.

Read our full review here.

The Match Factory

2. Zama 

Dir. Lucrecia Martel

I was lucky to see Lucrecia Martel speak in person after a screening of her film La niña santa when she visited Cambridge for a residency at the Centre for Film and Screen. Although I didn’t catch a glimpse of her famous cigar smoking or make eye contact with her behind the ubiquitous cat-eye sunglasses, I got my dose of Martelian mysticism from magical anecdotes about her childhood in Argentina.

Zama, her magnum opus over a decade in the making, is impossible to summarise. At once an historical epic and a lyrical piece of poetic cinema, Zama defies categorisation. Loosely narrating the career of corregidor Don Diego de Zama, the film consists primarily of carefully curated shots reminiscent of renaissance painting. Watch Zama to see the leading figure of the New Argentine Cinema at the height of her powers.

Read our full review here.

Kino Świat

1. Cold War 

Dir. Paweł Pawlikowski

Cold War is fatally glamorous. Few films of our, or perhaps any, era so rightfully demand such reckless, passionate abandon of both cast and audience. Loosely based on the turbulent love story of his own parents, Paweł Pawlikowski’s romantic epic revolves around doomed lovers Zuzanna and Wiktor, who meet when she auditions for a Stalinist folk-troupe. The two form an immediate and electric connection through song which, like a plaintive refrain, haunts them for years to come.

From rural Poland, to the jazz clubs of Paris and back again, what is so remarkable about Pawlikowski’s film is not its scale or the delicacy of its cinematography, but rather its raw, human tragedy – despite Pawlikowski’s considerable coolness, he never concedes substance to style. With its Nouvelle Vague-worthy jazz soundtrack and explosive lead performances, Cold War is anything but cold,

Read our full review here

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