2018 is now over, and there was lots about politics and lots of bad stuff happening in the world, but I was mostly in a cinema it seems. Compared to my 2017 list, I saw 94 more films in a cinema (237 compared to 143), though by percentage that’s just 46% of all the films I saw (compared to 42% last year). Because, thanks to my resolution to ‘watch a film that’s new to me every day’ (even if sometimes that was a short film), I ended up seeing 519 films longer than half an hour in length (that’s my cut-off for a short film).
After last year’s high of achieving 50:50 parity on films directed by women and films directed by people of colour, I’ve slipped a little on that (although I always expected to do that). I did see more films directed by women and PoC than ever before, but given how many I saw in total, the percentages are a little less impressive. I saw 202 films directed (or co-directed) by women, which represents 39% of the films I saw in 2018, while I watched 230 films directed by people of colour (a rather more impressive 44% of all the films I saw). Therefore white male directors were at 33% of the total, worse than last year, but still favourable compared to all my previous years of film-watching.
Given all that, if I must have a resolution for 2019, it’s probably going to be “watch fewer films”, maybe one new film per day on average (so no more than 365!), and probably try and get more diverse in terms of countries — though that said, I managed 270 non-English language films vs 249 in the English language in 2018.
As with every year there are multiple ‘best of’ lists that I could do. I have one on Letterboxd which ranks my top 25 of films that were actually released in the UK in 2018, so it includes films that were on my 2017 list here. I’ve also got a list of all the 2018 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2018 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing.
Therefore, the list below is my favourite new films that I saw in 2017, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. There are some that show up on some critics’ lists that I haven’t seen yet, so I will continue to look forward to some interesting 2018 films like the Claire Denis’ sci-fi film High Life or the skateboarding documentary Minding the Gap, amongst many others. Indeed, I think 2018 has been so strong for cinema that I’m doing a top 35, and even that omits some films I really enjoyed like The Old Man and the Gun, Ash Is Purest White, Dumplin’, Lady Bird, A Star Is Born, Yours in Sisterhood and many, many others.
35 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
One of the sweetest of romance films, which went direct to Netflix, and made quite a splash. Part of a renaissance of Asian-American representation in US cinema, and one worth cherishing. [Released direct to VoD]
Fascinating documentary excavation into one woman’s teenage years making films, and how her dreams got swindled by a strange outsider, a man whose existence she digs into as the film progresses.
33 A Simple Favor (aka A Simple Favour)
It got a lot of negative critical write-ups, but this is simply one of the most fun films of the year, a genre-warping exercise in style and wonder, with a chameleonic central performance from Blake Lively.
32 Las herederas (The Heiresses)
Another beautiful Latin American film about class, a familiar topic now in some of my favourite films, this one dealing with two older women, one of whom is jailed leaving the other to fend for herself.
A trip through queer feminist strip club sub-culture in LA, a fantastic documentary about identities outside the mainstream, shot over many years, a sort of time capsule into a strange alternate past.
30 Netemo Sametemo (Asako I & II)
Two men look alike and that’s the premise for this Japanese drama about love and commitment. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
29 Beoning (Burning)
A solid Korean drama about, well, I guess it’s about wanting to fit in, and not really being part of an in-crowd, with Steven Yeun fantastic as the seemingly perfect nouveau riche playboy. [Festival screening; scheduled for February 2019 release in UK]
28 Miriam miente (Miriam Lies)
I enjoy festivals for the random films they throw up. This is a beautiful story about a young woman approaching her Quinceanera in the Dominican Republic, and specifically deals with race and class amongst the ruling elites there. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
27 Îmi este indiferent dacă în istorie vom intra ca barbari (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians)
A film that challenges and confronts its audience but not in a cheap Haneke way, but in a very carefully thought-through unpacking of troubling currents in Romanian World War II history. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
26 Zimna wojna (Cold War)
You can’t deny Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film is beautiful. It’s a little slender, and I didn’t buy into the love story at its heart, but it’s gorgeous.
25 Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, 2017)
A sort-of-western movie set in Indonesia about a woman taking her revenge. I love the style, slow takes, with a slow-burning intensity.
24 A Fábrica de Nada (The Nothing Factory, 2017)
It’s almost three hours, but it sustains so many ideas, about class and politics, about working under capitalism, about avoiding exploitation. And then there’s a little musical sequence.
Another festival surprise, this one a sort-of-documentary about young Egyptians working at a flashy resort complex, which both deals with their daily lives but also some of their hopes and expectations from life. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
22 Si Ling Hun (Dead Souls)
Every list has to have an eight hour Chinese film which bears comparisons with Shoah for its painstaking research into survivors of the re-education camps in late-1950s China, which also visits the sites and reveals a dark history that’s not often discussed.
21 Chemi Bednieri Ojakhi (My Happy Family, 2017)
This may have been put on Netflix technically in 2017, but things are all rather fluid in the VoD world, and I saw it in early 2018. A big family melodrama set in a Georgian home, this wouldn’t usually be my kind of thing, but it’s done very well. [Released direct to VoD]
20 Columbus (2017)
If you have to see one drama played out against a background of modernist architecture, then make it this one.
19 The Favourite
A typical Yorgos Lanthimos provocation, but this time it’s to the staid ideas of the period costume drama, a heritage drama about the royal family that neatly gender reverses the usual expectations, so the men are all foppish in wigs and makeup while the women strut around, shoot stuff and control the court.
18 Princess Cyd (2017)
A likeable suburban tale of a young woman in Chicago with the kind of fully-realised characters that made me happy to spend time with them. [Released direct to VoD]
17 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I could probably have ranked this higher, if it weren’t for its general feeling of constant movement and action. It actually had a lot to say about being a young Afro-Latino kid in NYC, quite aside from the radioactive spiders, and the multiverses looping in on themselves in increasingly complicated ways.
16 Skate Kitchen
The empathetic depiction of ordinary people in otherwise familiar locations is sort of a theme of my favourite films, and this one is about skateboarding teens in NYC. It clearly loves its subjects, and it skirts a line between documentary and fiction narrative very competently. I just loved being around the characters.
It took me two screenings to properly appreciate what Steve McQueen was doing here, a genre-bound story of a heist that focuses more on the ways in which its leading ladies have been broken and are trying to pull themselves together, both individually and together, all of which just happens to play out over a heist plot.
14 Support the Girls
The setting of a Hooters-like Texan restaurant may not be the most enticing, but this is a film about alternative versions of family in a way almost as palpable as Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters — about what feels like a real lived American experience of work that you don’t often see on screen. Also, it’s warm and lovely. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
13 La camarista (The Chambermaid)
It’s almost so minimal in its form that I didn’t initially pick up on this one, but over the course of the film it worked its charm on me, depicting the life of a young native-born woman working in a hotel in a way that worked a lot better for me than the current critical darling Roma (although that was of course about plenty of other stuff besides). [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
12 Private Life
A small-scale family drama about a couple trying to have a baby as they enter their 40s, and it went straight to Netflix, but it has some excellent acting all round. [Released directed to VoD]
11 Sorry to Bother You
The year’s big satire on corporate capitalist America, on racial double-consciousness, the memeification of culture, and a bunch of other stuff besides. It has a strong pro-union organising message, and even if Tessa Thompson’s artist character could be a little shallow, the film itself had plenty of ideas, maybe too many.
10 Hale County This Morning, This Evening
A gorgeous lyrical poetic film about Black life in the southern US, which avoids the usual topics in favour of a sort of heightened banality of everyday life. [Preview screening; scheduled for Jan 2019 release in UK]
9 The Miseducation of Cameron Post
I don’t think Desiree Akhavan’s second film after Appropriate Behavior was really given the same reception, but I thought it was a really lovely story. It didn’t do the big loud stuff, but instead was a small-scale drama which had empathy to spare for everyone.
8 Tehran: City of Love
This was a film I saw at the London Film Festival, and it was certainly a surprise. Formally reminiscent of those multiple-strand storylines of 90s cinema, but with a direct, slightly heightened visual style. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]
7 Manbiki Kazoku (Shoplifters)
At this point, nobody should be surprised at the humanity Hirokazu Koreeda finds in his unusual family groupings, and plenty of his recents films (Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son most recently) have been near the top of my end of year best of lists.
6 Western (2017)
It shares certain qualities with other films on my list, in being a story of people living out on the margins of society, refracted through one middle-aged man who feels set apart from his blokeish construction-worker colleagues.
5 Phantom Thread (2017)
It was on a lot of ‘best of’ lists last year, but got its UK release in 2018, and I was taken by its story of the fragile male artistic ego, though I never managed to motivate myself to go back and see it a second time. However, it’s fair to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is on a roll of good films since he achieved his best form (and yes I know he’s had plenty of critically-acclaimed films before that, but I didn’t like them) in Inherent Vice.
4 Leave No Trace
This is the kind of film I love, a story about ordinary people that takes familiar locations (Portland Oregon in this case) and just stretches them that little bit into the unusual. The same director did Winter’s Bone at the start of the decade, and there’s a familiar sense of lives lived outside the mainstream, but here the filmmaking is just that much more sustained.
3 Tarde para morir joven (Too Late to Die Young)
It’s a coming of age story — both of a group of people in early-90s Chile, but also of the country itself in a way — but it has a beautiful simplicity, a fluid and expressive camera, and a directness of vision that is matched by the excellent acting. [Festival screening; scheduled for May 2019 release in UK]
2 Black Panther
Sure, it’s a blockbuster, but I think it’s possibly the smartest one to come out this year, though the Into the Spider-Verse animation gives it some competition in the superhero stakes, another film about fantastic people which also intersects with real lived identities, and critiques a history of colonialist attitudes.
1 Madeline’s Madeline
I loved Josephine Decker’s previous films, so I was predisposed to liking this film, only helped by taking time off a holiday in LA to track it down in a cinema. Therefore, I wonder if rewatching it would give me the same thrill, because the filmmaking style is very different from the film it ranks above, being far more impressionistic and fluid, as it’s about the transference of power between members of an acting troupe in NYC, working as much on a psychological level as on a straightforward plot-driven one. [Festival screening; seen in US; no UK release date yet]