Best of Year (2018 – Film)

The final list of the year – the top 10 films, and, to my mind, it’s something of a stunner, with non-English language films dominant. And just failing to make the top 10 were a number of much praised indie films – including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, The Florida Project and Lean on Pete. Last year’s Oscar winner for best film, The Shape of Water, just missed out on the top 10, as did my only animation for the year, Isle of Dogs.

My top 10 films of the year:
10: The Rider
9: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
8: Loveless
7: 1945
6: The Favourite
5: Roma
4: Custody
3: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2: Shoplifters
1: Foxtrot

The final film I saw at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival slipped into 10th spot – an intense indie film of bravura performances beautifully controlled by director Chloe Zhao.

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (essentially the runner up for the Palme d’Or), BPM is a powerful, lyrical, emotional narrative that resonates on a much wider political level than its ACT UP AIDS awareness setting.

In Loveless, director Andrey Zvyagintsev continues to comment on contemporary Russian society as a Leningrad couple look to divorce. Their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears in the stark yet rivetingly sincere feature from the director who is responsible for the equally devastating Leviathan.

In seventh spot, a film that was completely under the radar and barely received commercial distribution. But this black and white story of two Jews returning to a small Hungarian village days after the end of World War II is a picaresque narrative of startling beauty and powerful commentary.

One of the favourites in the current Oscar race, The Favourite is a ribald delight as the English court of Queen Anne is the setting for the locking of horns by three women in an attempt to win the royal favour.

Another Oscar favourite (and odds-on to win the foreign language film nod) is another black and white beauty. Roma by Alfonso Cuaron is the gorgeously shot year in the life of Cleo, a maid to a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s.

Devastating and disturbing, debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

The runner-up for best film of the year is Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a deft, emotionally delicate feature from socially conscious filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda.

But my favourite film of 2018 is the Israeli film, Foxtrot, a sublime mix of intense drama interspersed with flashes of surreal brilliance. It’s bold, it’s imaginative, it’s powerful – an appropriate follow-up from director Samuel Maoz and his visceral debut feature film, Lebanon.


‘Isle of Dogs’

IsleOfDogsFirstLookA visual treat from auteur Wes Anderson (Grand Hotel Budapest, Fantastic Mr Fox) in his latest stop-motion animation.

It’s quirky, humorous and wholly imaginative as young Akiri goes on an odyssey in search of his dog. Akiri’s guardian is the corrupt mayor of the Japanese city of Nagasaki – and it is he who has banished all dogs.

Beautifully crafted – and in spite of its seeming whimsy there’s a message lurking just beneath the surface.

Rating: 81%

‘Loving Vincent’

a8513dbe6f8b58fc9e4bf0b3aa3fc134_300x442A world first – a fully painted animation where Vincent Van Gogh’s emotive impasto and bold brushstrokes effectively transfer to the screen.

A year after the artist’s death, Armond Roulin is sent by his father, Postmaster Joseph Roulin, to personally deliver a letter to Theo Van Gogh. Initially reluctant, Armond travels to Auvers-sure-Oise via Paris where he slowly becomes embroiled in the mystery that was Vincent Van Gogh.

The narrative itself may be stilted and slight but technique (more than 100 artists, 853 paintings and 65,000 frames in the 94 minute film) never fails to impress. Painted in the style of Van Gogh, actors (including Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan and Helen McCrory) are placed in the artist’s rendered landscapes, creating a living tableaux to tell the story of those tragic last days.

A UK/Polish co-production commissioned by Wroclaw: European City of Culture 2016.

Rating: 72%


‘Sausage Party’

sausage-party-poster1It’s rude, crude but at times very funny (and at times potentially offensive)!

An animated rebellion by supermarket food against their fate is led by Frank the Sausage. Frank (voiced by Seth Rogan) discovers almost too late that he will not be spending all eternity deep inside Brenda the Bun (Kristen Wiig) in the ‘great beyond.’ Now he needs to cross the supermarket aisles to convince the other foodstuffs of their fate.

It’s irreverent, crass and fluidly crosses animation boundaries as religion, sexuality and politics come under the spotlight, accompanied by expletives galore. And Sausage Party certainly adds new meaning to the idea of a food orgy!

Rating: 64%

‘The Jungle Book’

JB_Triptych_1-Sht_Center_Online_v4_lgUtterly charming!

Firmly targeted at families (and young kids in particular), inevitably the latest version of Kipling’s classic errs on the side of saccharine sweet (how else can you make a film about a boy being hunted by a tiger aimed at six year-olds?). But the mix of live action and animation is seamless and visually quite magical.

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2) has reigned himself in to focus on a story that is essentially an old-fashioned adventure story – but he’s also recognised that there are some things in The Jungle Book you cannot change from the earlier Disney animation. Voiced by Bill Murray, Baloo steals the show: Idris Elba instils majesty and sympathy into Shere Khan – and Bear Necessities remains eminently singable.

Rating: 62%


anomalisa-posterIn turns despairingly dull and wistfully wacky, the stop-motion Anomalisa is one of those films that has the critics reaching for the superlatives whilst leaving audiences generally baffled.

Nominated for best animation Oscar, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, penned by Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche New York, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the story of Tom Stone, the depressed customer relations expert, wears its credentials on its sleeve. (Tom is splendidly voiced in a flat Lancashire accent by David Thewliss, Harry Potter, The Theory of Everything).

But sporadically funny, inventively clever with its animation, usually very odd (Stone is suffering from the rare Fregoli syndrome – the delusional belief that different people are in fact the same person) fail to disguise [sic] that Anomalisa eventually runs out of emotional steam.

Rating: 47%

Best of Year – Film

Inside-Out-Movie-PosterAnd so to the final list relating to films released in Australia in 2015. And, to make life more interesting (and a little easier), my list is ten rather than five for the performances.

10: The Theory of Everything (dir: James Marsh w/Eddie Redmayne)
9: Still Alice (dir: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland w/Julianne Moore)
8: The Martian (dir: Ridley Scott w/Matt Damon)
7: The Imitation Game (dir: Morten Tyldum w/Benedict Cumberbatch)
6: Far From Men (dir: David Oelhoffen w/Viggo Mortensen)
5: Selma (dir: Ava DuVernay w/David Oyelowo)
4: Birdman (dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu w/Michael Keaton)
3: Sicario (dir: Denis Villeneuve w/Emily Blunt)
2: Leviathan (dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev w/Aleksey Serebryakov)
1: Inside Out (dir: Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)

Powerhouse performances were the order of the day for most of the films on the list, with no less than four biopics (The Theory of Everything, Still Alice, The Imitation Game and Selma) featuring

Films 6-10 are possibly interchangeable, with a couple of others on the periphery (most notably Southpaw, Black Mass and the German film Phoenix).

But for all my love of serious drama and powerful performances, I’ve surprised even myself in selecting the Pixar animation Inside Out as the best film of the year (sorry, Leviathan!). But with arguably the best script of the year and a fabulous concept that is extraordinarily entertaining, Inside Out is intelligent, imaginative, adventurous and very funny.

‘Inside Out’

NEMye3g3VuXNQM_1_1Stunningly original.

Inside Out is intelligent, important, on the mark – and incredibly funny (the abstract thought corridor is extraordinary). I’ve not laughed at a film screening like this for a very long time – but also walked away impressed by the relevance, cleverness, creativity and emotional intelligence.

It has the pizzazz and colour to appeal to kids, but it’s adults who get the full benefit  – Inside Out works on so many levels. Pixar must have had a team of psychologists working with them on this.

Oscar winner for best animation, surely – but at least a nomination for best original screenplay?

Rating: 90%