Let's say farewell to 2018 with a summary of my personal favourite movies from the past year. As usual, before moving on to the top ten we'll start with a dozen honourable runners-up, including some really oddball choices...
The Happy Time Murders — which elsewhere has been declared one of the worst films of the year — is LA-noir X-rated Muppet fun and it really tickled me.
Searching was another of those found footage thrillers which supposedly consists solely of computer screens — they bust a gut trying to maintain the convention here, but the twists are well planted and very satisfying.
Unsane was entirely filmed by Steven Soderbergh on an iPhone (yes, really) and featured Claire Foy wrongly locked up in a mental hospital... or is she? Gaping plot holes reduce the impact of this thriller, but it remains impressively powerful.
In Alpha a Stone Age boy is separated from his tribe and survives by befriending a wounded wolf and thereby creating the first domesticated dog. It begins rather disagreeably — plenty of animal slaughter — but becomes quite wonderful.
12 Strong is a fact-based military thriller. Its Ted Tally script is an asset as is the Lorne Balfe score. And there’s something inherently thrilling about a cavalry charge. For me the best bit was when Chris Hemsworth’s horse, whom I thought was a goner, gets defiantly to his feet (hooves?) and shakes himself, ready to go on fighting.
Mile 22. Who would have thought this Mark Wahlberg shoot-’em-up would be of such high quality? Molly’s Game. As good as this was, I didn’t feel it lived up to Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue at his finest. Love, Simon was an extremely well crafted teen gay romance comedy.
All the Money in the World. Ridley Scott’s best movie in decades. Maybe his best ever. Hostiles is a powerful Western. After harrowing and terrible sequences, it has a marvellous ending.
Black Panther. A great movie, but Andy Serkis was such an outstanding villain, as Ulysses Klaue, that Michael Jordan as his replacement had a hard time matching up — although Jordan has the most extraordinary and telling dialogue… breathtaking, really.
Solo: A Star Wars Adventure. Excellent. A double-Kasdan ampersand of a script and a top notch cast. Thandie Newton gets to say lines like, “Viper droids headed your way.” And there’s convincing chemistry when she and Woody Harrelson kiss.
Okay, now for the top ten itself:
Thoroughbreds is a terrific little movie straight out of left field. Echoes of everything from Heathers to Equus to Stoker. Lily seems to be the perfect teen, Amanda her troubled friend. But is it really that way around? A diabolical and wild music score by Erik Friedlander is one of the finest I’ve heard in recent times.
You Were Never Here has echoes of Point Blank, but much more emphatically of Taxi Driver. It’s an art movie, but scarily bleak with profound violence. Also moments of great beauty and strangeness.
Red Sparrow is a really splendid spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence which just keeps getting better and better and finally concludes with a knockout ending.
The Shape of Water is a rare fantasy movie fit to sit beside the likes of The Wizard of Oz. And I think it will be an enduring classic.
I completely love The Girl in the Spider's Web, a surprising high-quality addition to the Lisbeth Salander saga, with director Fede Alvarez channelling David Fincher.
The Predator was another huge surprise with Shane Black not only reviving this franchise but surpassing the original.
Right... now we're down to the best four. And, as usual, it's very hard to chose between these absolute gems.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is utterly wonderful. A sharp, comic and tragic tale of teenager Cameron (Chlöe Grace Moritz) who likes girls — so she's sent for gay conversion therapy (read brainwashing). It also stars Sasha Lane from American Honey (one of my best films of 2016).
Every Day. Under this banal title lurks one of the truly notable films of the year. A body-hopping romance which, in its gender fluidity, makes an interesting companion piece to Love, Simon and provides an amusing corrective to Robert Silverberg’s short story ‘Passengers’.
I was just knocked out by Entebbe. I expected a gripping account of real life events. But this is a genuine work of art. The screenwriter Gregory Burke and director José Padilha bringing great creative energy to create something profound
But — and this will come as no surprise to regular readers — for the fourth year running, my pick for the best film of the year is one written by Taylor Sheridan: Sicario 2: Soldado, a sequel which does a superb job of enlisting the audience's sympathies and keeping us on the edge of our seat. Spellbinding. A masterpiece. I loved every moment of it.
(Sheridan's previous films — all winners of top honours in my annual lists — are Wind River, Hell or High Water, and the original Sicario.)
Happy viewing, thanks for reading, and happy New Year.
(Image credits; All the posters are from the admirable and invaluable Imp Awards.)