10. Beirut (Dir. Brad Anderson)
A low key indie with one of my favourite actors who’s also not exactly an Indie name. John Hamm’s performance lifts the film to such heights, and maybe it’s because there are many elements to the character that feel made of the same ilk as Don Draper, or maybe it’s because he’s just a charismatic actor who breathes authenticity into each role. The first thought I had was that it felt refreshing, while being a throwback to the intelligent spy-thrillers of the 70s. It had action, but was by no means an action film cloaked in the “spy” get up most films in that genre are today. There was a complex plot, based in actual history with real danger and at the core, were human characters whose connection drove the drama.
9. Sweet Country (Dir. Warwick Thornton)
An Australian western that uses the landscape and history to tell an honest, unabashed and bittersweet story. Stunning cinematography is easily achieved with well drawn characters and a mature approach to moral themes. It’s a beautiful thing to see a film like this come from home soil without caricatures or convoluted climaxes.
8. Leave No Trace (Dir. Debra Granik)
A beautifully shot, beautifully written/acted, and beautifully subtle film that deals tenderly with isolation, trauma and finding strength wherever you can. A widower with PTSD from military service and his daughter are the central characters, and it is their relationship which opens those themes, against the backdrop of a world that never appears malicious, leaving the struggles more ambiguous and interior. Yet another Directorial achievement that is lifted by careful cinematography and extraordinary performances. A superficial comparison could be made to the outsider/survivalist-centred ‘Captain Fantastic’ of 2017, though that deals with more characters and is far more humorous. This is a serious film, who’s comedy comes more fleetingly, though never forcibly, nor to the film’s detriment.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Dir. Martin McDonagh)
Leading off with the praise for performances, in a film with little plot resolution and ambiguous morality, that is truly the element which made it extraordinary. I love imperfect characters that own up to their flaws and never lose my interest. It has many flaws, of which the frequent and extreme profanity is not one, but the guts of the storyteller and the unexpected twists made it feel unique. Ultimately, the Direction was clear and unrepentant.
6. First Man (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
It should be no surprise that another Damien Chazelle film was amazing, especially when it again starred Ryan Gosling while taking on a subject matter with great style. However, I missed the memo and simply went to the cinema knowing it was a film about Neil Armstrong, and so I was surprised, in a very nice way. The true story felt natural and gripping without being showy or overly earnest. A lot of really touching moments and surprises. Everything feels grounded and raw, while something that is arguably a forgotten struggle towards an achievement without meaning came alive.
5. The Eviction (Dir. Blue Lucine)
This was an exceptional experience as the director of this Documentary is one of my closest friends. I watched the film’s journey from idea to premiere (at which there was a lengthy standing ovation) over four years and beyond feeling proud of her, I was impressed and moved by an extremely well made, insightful, tender and unflinchingly relevant story about the vicious NSW government and the communities that have been destroyed in the name of privatisation.
4. A Star is Born (Dir. Bradley Cooper)
Yes, I loved it for the same reasons everyone seems to have. The music, the engaging performances of Cooper and Gaga, and so on. The alcoholism and father issues touched me personally while the artistic struggle spoke even deeper to my soul. I was glad to see an actor of his status do so well with a debut and I loved the fairness with which they showed both characters and their respective arcs – one did not feel a mere foil for the other.
3. A Quiet Place (Dir. John Krasinski)
Of course it makes the list. Even if you didn’t hear about how it got made, it’s clearly an outstanding achievement for the Actor-Director, and his wife, Emily Blunt gives one of, if not her best performances ever. Full of heart and bold enough to be horrific at the same time, the originality and tightness of the story were truly inspiring.
2. The Favourite (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Another one of those directors whose relatively short filmography has delighted and inspired me. One of the things I’ve loved about it more and more since seeing it, is the divisive nature and how many people I’ve spoken to have not liked and not understood it. A unique directorial voice who creates a very particular universe that is accentuated by unique cinematography, writing and held aloft by amazing performances that perfectly fit in a world that’d be otherwise thought absurd.
Climax (Dir. Gasper Noe) – Stylistically in a class of its own. Utterly engaging cinematography that amplifies the tension of the film, creating a trapped and slightly unhinged, sexual, violent reality. Natural performances and great choreography with the dancing, it’s a satisfying film experience, rather than a riveting story. But the experience is visceral and extraordinary.
Avengers: Infinity War (Dir. The Russo Bros) – One of my favourite films this year without doubt, incredibly enjoyable for what it is, but it does not transcend that. Great villain, great heroes, well made, well shot, engaging and re-watchable, but at this point, MCU feels more like a great TV series, so I couldn’t put it on the list without also putting an episode of The Walking Dead on here (#RickGrimesLives)
Human Flow (Dir. Ai Weiwei) – Heartbreaking and eye-opening; vital film experience. Seeing the breadth of displacement, and the myriad reasons for the massive flow of humanity across the globe. Made with tenderness and urgency as well as a wonderfully cinematic scope. It is a little overlong and unfocused however.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Dir. Gus Van Sant) – Excellent actors in a heartwarmingly tragic story. Well constructed and acted perfectly across the board, I felt happiness and sadness and a sobering sense of facing responsibility for my own struggles. Joaquin Phoenix is on form, though distracting in the casting since he cannot pass as a man in his early twenties, which is what the character is for most of the movie. Based on a real story, I found myself confused as to the circumstances largely because of this age discrepancy. So much about the catalyst for the character’s arc came from knowing he was 21, and not addressing this sat uneasy with me.
The Death of Stalin (Dir. Armando Iannucci) – Clever and silly and finely made. Without knowing everything about the history, you don’t feel lost. The comedy is self evident and topical.
- The Square (Dir. Ruben Östlund)
Instantly one of my favourite films of all time. I would say that it’s not for everyone, though it works on so many levels, it should still have a good hit-rate. The comedy is pretty amazing and consistent throughout, though it is undeniably an art film, in the figurative and literal sense. Telling a story about the art world where the context and subtext overlap multiple times, it’s a satisfying intellectual experience with moral themes singing through strongly and amazing performances, with a balanced tone and supremely confident direction.