Best Movies of 2018

As another year comes to a close, another assemblage of lists, summaries, and rundowns begin to emerge. It has been half a decade since I began chronicling my favourites on this blog. Like most years, I wasn’t sure what to make of 2018 at first, but come the end, there are a number of films which I am confident will stay with me hereafter.

As usual, I typically go by U.K. release date for my top ten, in order to ensure continuity and inclusivity. If I were to include films based only on their initial release date, that would outright exclude a portion of popular late year U.S. releases, such as The Favourite, Green Book, and Vice, which don’t reach Britain until next year, and thus I have no actual way of viewing. Comparably, I have seen The Death of Stalin on a number of other lists, which was released in many territories this year, but is rather a 2017 film in the U.K. I do make exceptions for films that are widely available online before their British release.

Furthermore, whilst I make every effort to see as many films as possible in a given year, there are inevitably some which I miss. Thus, this is by no means a completely exhaustive list. Like all personal top tens, it is largely subjective and individual.

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.


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Special Mention goes to They Shall Not Grow Old (dir. Peter Jackson)

My special mention this year goes to Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking World War I documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old. I know people who will simply not watch black and white films. I have always found this attitude frustrating, but Jackson’s astonishing documentary demonstrated to me not only the substance of colour in film, but also the prowess of modern frame rate and sound mixing techniques.

Many will have heard about the methods on display here, but words do little justice to the reality Peter Jackson and team have managed to uncover from the grainy archives. The film begins conventionally enough, with silent black and white footage, aided by a voice over. Part way through, however, the screen transforms. Colour, movement, and sound truly revitalises the aged footage, bestowing it an immediacy the dated annals seldom provide. It is utterly illuminating and unforgettable.


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#10. First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle)

Most will know of the first moon landing, but knowledge of the Apollo 11 astronauts doesn’t seem to spread much beyond their names and nationality. Even the preceding Apollo programs, which led to the required capabilities, is seldom related, at least not in Britain. Damien Chazelle recounts these events expertly, avoiding melodrama and obvious structure by instead narrating a staunchly personal account of Neil Armstrong.

The film charts Armstrong’s professional career, beginning with his time as a test pilot, where he would experience some high altitudes flights which enabled him to observe the atmosphere. We follow his later vocation with NASA, up until the moon landing itself. In just as much focus, however, is his home life and personal time with his wife Janet.

Some liberties seem to have been taken in telling Neil Armstrong’s story, but the film still appears a stunningly deep account. Ryan Gosling is wholly convincing, and captures the temperament of a man facing a perilous mission into the unknown down to minute detail. I am glad the film avoided a typical heroism angle, and is instead quite a slow and psychological tale about a seemingly traumatised man who quells his anguish by obsessively striving toward an unsullied expanse. Like Gattaca, much of the film is grounded and sober (yet still undeniably well shot), until the final sequence, which is all the more gorgeous and breathtaking.


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#9. Searching (dir. Aneesh Chaganty)

Technology (and particularly social media) has had a discordant representation on screen. Corners are often cut to allow for exposition or plot conveniences, and what is so familiar to most becomes glaringly counterfeit. Searching has been touted as a film that does it right and, for the most part, it really does.

In this mystery thriller told almost exclusively from a computer screen, David Kim’s daughter, Margot, goes missing. He quickly informs the police and is assigned a detective, but finds he can do just as much diagnosis himself, by tracing his daughters whereabouts via her social media, which leaves a very distinct digital footprint.

Tech savvy viewers will have a couple of complaints, but Searching does a commendable job in forming a social age mystery. The cinematography (if you can still call it that) is ingenious; a monitor has never felt so unconfined. For a film shot in just two weeks, but which spent a year and a half in post-production, the vigorous attention to detail shows, with numerous Easter eggs and important plot components hidden away in the background, ensuring audiences — should they desire — are able to engage with the film to a profound degree. Coupled with an arresting performance from John Cho (who also had a stand-out last year in Columbus), this is surely one of the year’s best thrillers.


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#8. Liz and the Blue Bird (dir. Naoko Yamada)

Naoko Yamada is emerging as one of the top animation directors in Japan. Her adaptation of A Silent Voice in 2016 was a gorgeous and deeply affecting piece, so tightly knit and competently plotted, that I enjoyed it even more so than the manga. Her follow-up, Liz and the Blue Bird, is another distinct and striking entry.

The film — a tale of two friends in a high school music club, who must come to terms with their encroaching graduation — is a sort of side-story to the popular Sound! Euphonium anime series, itself based on a procession of novels, though any prior knowledge of these media isn’t required before you see Liz and the Blue Bird.

The film is quite brilliant in its in-between moments. The first sequence is largely without dialogue, as we observe one of the characters, Mizore, simply waiting for her friend Nozomi at the school gates. There’s a large emphasis on emotion and body language, which aren’t typically given such intricate but subtle attention in anime.

The plot could be easily retold in typical anime episode length, but the feature runtime here affords it a meditative quality, allowing emotions to teeter, stir, and linger to a greater degree. It’s a conventional story explored through an atypical, largely observational method unusual for the medium; the director and crew allow the characters room to simply be, and the film benefits from it immeasurably.


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#7. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shinichiro Ueda)

Initially released in Japan late in 2017, One Cut of the Dead had a run of mere days in two small art theatres in Tokyo. After gaining popularity following positive word of mouth and triumphant appearances at film festivals, it was re-released in 2018 to over 200 screens, and has since travelled the world, becoming a runaway sensation. Filmed in just eight days, it has now remarkably grossed over one thousand times its budget.

The film follows an eccentric director and his crew who are recording a one-take zombie movie, but they find themselves embroiled in a seemingly real-life doomsday scenario, when members of the team become zombies for real. It sounds familiar, but to say any more would spoil the fun. There hasn’t been a zombie feature quite like this.

The first half of One Cut of the Dead is riotous fun, but it’s in the second half where it begins to display its true genius. There are so many layers, details, and nuances which may at first seem rather mundane or senseless, but these small features slowly reveal a wonderfully inventive plot which utilises the cinematic form and the very construction of film to such a masterful degree.

It’s difficult to elucidate the sheer brilliance of One Cut of the Dead whilst skirting around spoilers, but it is certainly one of the most fun and creatively self-reflexive films I have ever seen. It reminded me of my old college movies, and whilst I would recommend it to anybody, I feel those with a particular interest in film will love it all the more.


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#6. Journeyman (dir. Paddy Considine)

Paddy Considine is an inestimable talent. No matter the role, he can be counted on to deliver an esteemed performance. While his role in The Death of Stalin will deservedly find much attention this year, is was Journeyman — which he wrote, directed, and starred in — that left the most tremendous impression upon me.

The film is a character piece of sorts, which follows Considine’s part as Matty Burton, a middleweight boxing champion whose life is drastically changed after a devastating injury. It has less a plot than films of a similar ilk, such as Bleed for This, and rather focuses on snapshots of Burton’s trauma and newfound affliction, charting his changed reality.

I have seen Journeyman touted as a ‘boxing film,’ but it is much rather a studious drama. There is only one boxing sequence and it is far from ostentatious. Even Burton’s injury, the major event which dictates the matter of the film, occurs as a delayed incident outside the ring. The film is deeply affecting in this way — there’s nothing showy about Burton’s injury. Considine’s bedeviled character, and his friend’s and family’s reaction to his altered state, is devastating precisely because it feels so authentic and so close to home.

Almost the entire film is spent with Burton, who Considine captures with remarkable credibility. After his injury, which the audience can only tell is something to do with the head, there is barely a hospital scene, and certainly no doctor’s explanation or timely exposition. Burton returns home only a few cuts later, and it isn’t immediately obvious how changed he is. Though it treads familiar territory, Journeyman’s understated technique and exceptional performances solidify it as a haunting and indelible film that may demolish even the most stony of hearts.


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#5. Crazy Rich Asians (dir. Jon M. Chu)

The romantic comedy isn’t typically the most inventive of genres, and I have seen many audiences deride Crazy Rich Asians as too predictable, but it honestly surprised me. Not so much through its characters or plot (there are certainly tropes there), but through just how captivating and charming it is.

Rachel and Nick are a couple of Asian heritage who live in New York City. Rachel is elated to accompany Nick to his best friends wedding at his family home in Singapore, where she discovers his ménage are exceedingly wealthy. As extended family and friends gather for the wedding, Rachel feels very much a fish out of water, due in large part to the repellent attitude of Nick’s mother, who feels Rachel isn’t good enough for her son.

Like Liz and the Blue Bird, the content here isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is absorbing. Crazy Rich Asians is expert escapist filmmaking — a feature that plays with tropes, rather than into tropes. It possess a layered framework, blending both East and West, past and present, tradition and modernity, in a story that is as funny as it is moving. This quality is accentuated by ravishing cinematography befitting of the luxury setting, and a formidable cast who offer even the less developed characters a lasting presence.


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#4. A Star is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Whilst I haven’t seen any of the other versions to offer a comparison, this modern retelling of the classic story is an outstanding debut from Bradley Cooper. What abides most in A Star is Born, other than the music, are the characters. Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga feel not an ounce manufactured; their characters embody such visceral and unrefined emotion; at once soothing and plummeting audiences into their world.

Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a successful musician with a reliance on alcohol. He discovers and falls in love with Ally, a female singer played by Lady Gaga. Maine convinces her to sing at one of his shows and she becomes an overnight sensation. Thrust steadfast into the music industry and into a relationship with a destructive drinker, Ally finds herself both perturbed and delighted with her new life. Maine attempts to sedate his habits, but finds his demons difficult to quell.

Lady Gaga’s casting was a stroke of genius; she and Cooper play off one another masterfully, not only on screen, but also as vocalists and musicians. The title track, ‘Shallow,’ is every bit as lovely and heart-rending as the couple themselves. Sam Elliot, in what is only a small (but pivotal) role, all things considered, also left a substantial impression as Cooper’s on screen brother. He and Maine share what seems a very cumbersome relationship, the history of which we feel without really having to know. Later in the film, they share a scene that is so well composed it left me in such awe.


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#3. Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong)

Haruki Murakami is my favourite author. His prose is gorgeous and his themes alluring. His wordsmanship is such that even the mundane takes on an ethereal quality. Yet many, if not all, of his live-action interpretations thus far have proven divisive. Murakami works heavily in metaphor and his plots are seldom conspicuous — they don’t lend themselves well to a direct adaptation. Lee Chang-dong understands this well and has brought along much of his own flair for his first adapted screenplay.

Burning chronicles the simmering love triangle between Jong-su, Hae-mi, and the enigmatic Ben, a playboy of sorts whom Hae-mi meets whilst travelling. The three share a vague bond, made all the stranger when Ben reveals to Jong-su his compulsion to burn down green houses, which begins to take on another meaning to the sceptical Jong-su.

Ok Gwang-hee, producer for the film, claimed they had only purchased the motif of the original story, and yet it feels a bona fide adaptation nonetheless, with many of Murakami’s signifiers, such as elusive cats, dried up wells, mysterious phone calls, and even a little jazz. However, Lee Chang-dong is too much the auteur, with his own voice staunchly present. He takes the central themes and ideas, the bare bones of the original story, and kneads them together with greater detail, to form what is arguably a more enriching narrative than Murakami’s own work.

It is certainly the best cinematic interpretation of Murakami thus far; mesmeric in both content and form, with enchanting imagery abundant with terrific vistas. The plot balances a fine line between ambiguity and lucidity, which is one of the film’s most appealing aspects. It is an enrapturing slow-burn where nothing is absolute, and it is in this ambivalence that Burning is so fulfilling. It is the first film in a long time where I wanted to watch it again almost immediately after it ended.


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#2. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)

Those who read my top ten last year will know Annihilation has been on my radar for some time. I love Garland’s screenplays for both Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, and Ex Machina, his directorial debut in 2014, showed he possessed just as much talent behind the camera. Nonetheless, Annihilation had a perturbed released in Britain, where it was absent from cinemas, supposedly for being too radical for the typical audience. Garland refused to make changes and it eventually debuted on Netflix.

The film follows an all-female expedition into the shimmer — a glossy rainbow coated area that forms following an impact event on the southern coast of the U.S. Inside, the crew attempt to locate others who had ventured in before them, but find vegetation and animals, and even perceived reality itself, mutated and warped beyond comprehension.

Annihilation is utterly creative and remarkable in so many ways, from the narrative, to the set dressing, sound design, visual effects, and beyond. Barrow and Salisbury’s score is of particular note. It is ever present and atmospheric from the onset, but swells into an ethereal haze, dense with synthesised sounds, as the film progresses, fashioning an exceptional nebulous soundscape which is truly befitting of the otherworldly imagery.

Film critic Devindra Hardawar said you will “miss out on the film’s epic scope and rich sound design” if you watch it on a TV or laptop, though he seems to disregard advancements in hardware. Whilst Annihilation was clearly made for the big screen, I don’t believe it is such a lost cause when viewed at home.

On the contrary, the film is perhaps best watched in utter seclusion, absorbed with some exemplary headphones that will safeguard you from any disturbances. Though it would have been a treat on the cinema screen, a closed environment may rather work to its benefit. In the stillness of my apartment, I found Annihilation utterly enthralling and, even on my laptop, it was likely one of the most immersive film experiences of my life. I have returned to watch the final act more times than I care to count, which I believe is testament to its artistry.


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#1. Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)

I was initially ambivalent toward Koreeda. Nobody Knows didn’t intrigue me as much as his reputation had led me to expect. Yet I watched Air Doll thereafter and fell so in love with it. This year I had the pleasure of seeing Shoplifters and now feel the director has perhaps a most wondrous filmography, of which I have barely scratched the surface.

Shoplifters — known as ‘Shoplifting Family’ in Japan — follows a family on the margins. They’re a ragtag group whose relationships to one another are vague and indirect, but they nonetheless form a unit. They live in an unassuming household far too small for them all, and support themselves day-to-day through shoplifting and part time work.

I am beginning to see Koreeda as a master of observation. His camera seldom intervenes; it rather lingers on the edges, framing delicate portraits, both hyperaware and understated. Shoplifters isn’t a flashy film in the typical sense, but it is profoundly intricate in how it is woven together, and in how Koreeda enables audiences to both empathise with and criticise the ensemble cast, who are attentively developed.

Though the characters are essentially criminals, Koreeda unravels their flawed complexions to such a fine degree that the film is stunningly layered. There is no right or wrong, or good or evil, here there are only people. The film speaks volumes on topics such as poverty, parenthood, and family, but Koreeda does not strive to provide an ‘answer,’ so to speak. It’s a beautifully told feature, plotted and staged so competently that it appears utterly spontaneous and natural, and even poetic in some instances.

The cast proffer their roles an enduring reality, ensuring the characters linger far beyond the runtime. Cate Blanchett spoke of how “intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision” at the Cannes film festival, which I think is an eloquent way to put it. A stand-out for me was Sakura Ando, in a role as mesmeric as her performance in 2014’s tour de force 0.5mm. Her character’s first dialogue is spoken whilst she isn’t even in shot, but in one of her final appearances, she essentially addresses the camera. This is the most overt example of the sheer magnitude in which these characters flourish as the film progresses. The latter scene is my most favourite in the entire film, and the moment I knew Shoplifters was my favourite feature of 2018. Sakura Ando here, in what is largely one take, is brilliant beyond measure. I cannot wait to watch Shoplifters again.


As ever, thank you dearly for stopping by. Unfortunately, I missed WildlifeWidows, and Roma, but I hope you found my choices compelling. These past twelve months shaped up to form an engaging year for film. I feel as though I’ve been saying this for the past two years, but soon we’ll finally see the release of Alita: Battle Angel — my most anticipated film for some time. I’ll be posting an in depth review when the time comes, and will continue to share many more film-related matters, so please swing by again, some time.

Happy New Year!

Best Movies of 2017

It’s that time of the year again: the end. My arbitrary goal from last year was to watch over one hundred movies, and — somehow — I ended up watching two hundred. Of those some four hundred hours spent watching films, much time was dedicated to the motion pictures of this year. I feel it’s been quite an eclectic year for film, particularly the latter half. Thus, here is a list of my absolute favourites from the year gone by.

Before I begin, I must note…

Although it debuted in 2016, Silence is included on my list because it was released in the UK on the 1st of January. If I were to include films based only on their initial release date, that would exclude many of the late year U.S. releases, which don’t often make it to the UK before the year is over. An example this time around is The Shape of Water, which was released in the U.S. in December 2017, but isn’t out in the UK until February 2018.

Also, while I have seen a fair share of the most critically acclaimed movies this year, this is by no means an exhaustive list compiled after having scoured all contemporary cinema the Earth has to offer, thus it may be a recent film entirely deserving of merit is missing from my list. I ran into this problem last year with 20th Century Women, which I adore so much, but didn’t include in my top ten because I hadn’t seen it at the time. Nonetheless, I don’t want to get into the habit of retroactively altering my blog posts.

Now, onto the main event. As always, I’ll start off with a special mention, before working my way down from number ten to number one. Please enjoy!

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016.


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Special Mention goes to Bad Genius (Dir. Nattawut Poonpiriya)

Bad Genius just missed out on a spot in the top ten, but it left such an impression that I couldn’t let it go by unmentioned. In this film from Thailand, a group of students start gaming exams, which turns into a small enterprise with lucrative profits. However, as they gear up to cheat the international STIC exam in order to sell the answers, the risk becomes ever evident.

Bad Genius is a sort of caper movie — a heist thriller — only unlike any you have seen before. From beginning to end, it proceeds with tremendous panache. It’s slick and exciting, and doesn’t rely on any cheap flash-backs or sudden changes to the narrative arising from details previously hidden.

Come the end, it plays out as a sort of commentary on the education system in East Asia, and while the ending certainly seems divisive, it nonetheless feels part of the natural progression, and is skillfully built towards. I really loved the central character Lynn; she’s a young woman in conflict, who generally wants to do the right thing but is easily swayed. Certainly, this was one of the years most spine-tingling movies.


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#10. Good Time (Dir. Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie)

I find Robert Pattinson to be a very captivating actor. Like Shia LaBeouf and Daniel Radcliffe, he could have easily been pigeonholed and typecast early on after being attached to a popular franchise, but has since amassed an impressive and diverse body of work, and Good Time is perhaps one of his most absorbing performances yet.

The film takes place over one night, and begins with Pattinson’s character and his brother botching a heist. The latter is captured, with Pattinson then grasping at straws to try and get him freed, which leads him on a series of escapades with a mixture of characters, each scrambling through the night.

Good Time has a terrific sense of immediacy — it’s shot mostly through a mixture of close ups, which gives it a frantic and almost intoxicating quality. The audience are pulled post-haste into an ever turbulent narrative, which grabs a hold of you, shaking, right up until the end. It’s an enchanting and visually alluring thriller, with Pattinson giving an intense and commanding performance.


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#9. A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery)

Out of all the movies this year, this is the one that gave me the shivers the most. A Ghost Story follows a bed-sheet-draped Casey Affleck, who arises after dying to observe the world as a spectre. At first he silently watches Rooney Mara’s character — the wife he left behind — but finds that, as a wandering soul, his sense of space and time is vastly different to a mortal being.

Casey has no spoken dialogue as a ghost, and his face is entirely obscured, but his disposition and emotions are communicated expertly through the camera and his movements — audiences really get a sense and feeling for this otherworldly presence, which I think is quite remarkable.

You must engage with A Ghost Story to get any sort of fulfillment out of it — the narration is about as far from classical as it gets. There are some scenes and shots in the film which force or implore the audience to ponder their inclusion, and think about why it is they’re watching what they are. It’s not the most accessible picture, but I found it incredibly absorbing. I’m trying to think of movies to compare it to, but I can’t quite make a connection. I felt it had a very profound uniqueness and imagination, and the fact that I’m still thinking about it months later is very telling. It takes a special kind of film to linger and abide.


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#8. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

I feel Blade Runner 2049 was one of the most cinematic and atmospheric films this year — one of those pictures that goes beyond sole entertainment to become a sort of experience. I love that it’s a big budget, wide-release movie that takes its time to build and ponder its themes and ambiance. It respects the audiences’ intelligence, and is a very solemn and poignant piece of cinema that lingers long after viewing.

Set thirty years after the original film, audiences follow K, a Blade Runner played by Ryan Gosling who is tasked with eliminating rogue replicants. He himself is a replicant, and lives a structured life with a rather stern disposition, but his personality and a larger purpose begin to form when he stumbles upon a secret related to Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford’s character from the original film, whom he must locate.

Blade Runner 2049 has this miraculous and fascinating setting that feels almost contradictory — somehow very large and imposing, but at the same time small scale and intimate, where glimpses of the ‘off world’ remain glimpses. It’s very much a character piece, in which the focus remains almost entirely on Ryan Gosling’s character, with a tremendous sense of scope and wonder ever-present in the background. The sound is booming and dramatic, and the visuals are striking and at times lyrical. It’s a steady and unabating film, certainly one of the year’s most impressive, and a spectacular and awesome treat on the big screen.


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#7. Silence (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

I am a fan of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all, but found it nonetheless terrifically revealing and affecting. I actually picked up the book a couple of years ago after hearing that Andrew Garfield would be involved in a film version, so to see this now feels as though things have finally come full circle.

Endo’s novel is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Father Rodrigues, who is in tremendous conflict with himself throughout much of the novel. It is by no means an obvious or unambiguous tale, and Scorsese and Garfield have managed to portray the disharmony surrounding Rodrigues to a stunning degree. It is of my humble opinion that Father Rodrigues is one of Garfield’s best performances.

I don’t think Silence is a very accessible film, but for me it was everything I wanted. It’s an adaptation done right, that aptly captures all the conflict and profundity of the novel, whilst adding a little more detail here and there, confidently molding prose into a truly cinematic experience. It was a real treat to see Yosuke Kubozuka involved, too. He was one of the first Japanese actors I knew by name, after seeing him in Ping Pong almost a decade and a half ago.


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#6. Columbus (Dir. Kogonada)

I went into Columbus knowing very little about the plot or contents of the film, and it completely wiped me out. It’s a rather subdued picture — almost like a sleepier version of Lost in Translation. Haley Lu Richardson plays a young woman both astray and trapped, as she resigns herself to a life in Columbus to succour her mother.

She bonds with John Cho’s character, who is himself stuck in Columbus after his father falls ill. The two roam the city, observing architecture and making small talk, slowly developing a more sincere dialogue as they begin to fill a void in each others lives.

The film has some stunning aesthetics, with the beautiful and intriguing scenery of Columbus lending itself to several of the films most alluring shots, but it was Haley Lu Richardson who really stole the show. Her character has bottled up all her distress and worries for later attention, with the film gradually loosening the lid as it progresses. The ending scene in the car is seemingly burned into my mind — it left such an impression on me. It’s profoundly emotive and moving, but is composed in such a way that it’s subdued and almost pacifying. Columbus is such a beautiful and authentic tale, and I am very glad I went into it blind.


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#5. Logan (Dir. James Mangold)

The story of Wolverine and the X-Men has been told and developed on-screen to a point where it’s almost excessive, and yet here is a new entry that feels markedly bold and different. The X-Men have always overcome adversity, so to see the last remnants in such dire straits felt entirely refreshing. They are the underdogs in a whole new light.

After playing the character for almost two decades, Hugh Jackman gives it his all in this final outing as Wolverine, where an aging Logan is ready to hang up his claws for good until he finds kinship in a young mutant girl who is being hunted by a savage gang.

At a time where many of its counterparts are free of tension and stacked with quips, it’s nice to see a Hollywood comic book movie which dares to be bleak and somber and moody. The plot itself is relatively simple, but it carries so much weight through the characters. Logan benefits from eight movies of ‘backstory’ and emotional baggage, which steadily erupts throughout this entirely raw, tender, perturbing, rousing, mesmeric farewell of a film. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are heartbreaking.


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#4. Lady Bird (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

Saoirse Ronan is an absolute dream in this eloquently written coming of age drama, that is such a confident and striking debut from Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird is a film after my own heart, and one which seems to have touched the souls of many. My only remorse is that I can’t watch it again with a fresh mind.

Ronan plays the self-dubbed ‘Lady Bird,’ a somewhat oddball student in a Catholic high school who wants nothing more than to get out of Sacramento. She’s an outspoken and often rebellious youth who values her individuality, who is frequently at odds with her mother, whom she shares a precarious but doubtless relationship with.

Although Lady Bird is essentially the tale of Ronan’s character, there are many layers and nuances to it, and while the supporting cast do not take the spotlight, they are nonetheless attentively written, well expressed, and very wholesome personalities, each embodying their own issues and identity. It felt similar in ways to last years 20th Century Women in its exploration of the mother-child relationship, which seems both dubious yet unbreakable. Saoirse Ronan elevates it to another level — although I am aware that I am watching the actress, Saoirse Ronan, performing as a character in a film; I am completely enraptured and lost within her performances, without fail. She is an incredible talent.


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#3. A Taxi Driver (Dir. Jang Hoon)

In their fight for proper democracy and representation, the people of South Korea have gone through numerous periods of strife, some of which led to violence and deadly conflict. A demonstration against the government in the city of Gwangju in 1980 turned into a merciless struggle when government troops intervened — ultimately shutting off the city and brutally attacking civilians.

In this film based on a true story, Song Kang-ho plays a taxi driver from Seoul who unexpectedly stumbles upon the bloodshed in Gwangju after ferrying a German journalist to the city. He struggles to come to terms with what he witnesses, and grapples with his survival and morals as he fluctuates between helping and escaping.

The film opens with Song Kang-ho singing along to a song by Cho Yong-pil, amid the escalating student demonstrations. It’s an excellent piece of characterisation right from the beginning — Song is an everyday man, somebody who lives day to day, without the luxury to worry about the larger picture. So when he is confronted with such an extreme situation, there’s a tremendous weight placed on his character, and Song portrays all the nuances of a man in conflict with both his surroundings and himself. His performance was completely entrancing, and the film itself was both a horror and a delight.


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#2. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

I find Noah Baumbach to be a rather hit-or-miss director — a lot of people seem to like him, but I personally haven’t loved a film of his, that is until The Meyerowitz Stories. The film tells of a dysfunctional family led by Dustin Hoffman, whose three estranged children all received vastly different upbringings. As the family gathers to celebrate their fathers work, they begin to unravel and resolve past differences.

I knew I was going to love this film from very early on. There’s a scene about ten minutes in, where Adam Sandler’s character and his daughter duet on the piano. It is one of my favourite scenes in any movie this year. It’s so tender, portraying so much love and compassion between the two, but with Sandler revealing slight vulnerabilities and anguish just below the surface. It’s terrifically shot, and the embrace between them both just five minutes later pounded me right in the heart.

Adam Sandler is so wonderful in this film — the entire principal cast are, in fact. Hoffman is incredibly engaging, with such natural delivery and impeccable timing in his comedic scenes. Stiller is able to merge both charisma and anxiety, and Elizabeth Marvel masters a distressing temperament where, even in the more tranquil scenes, her character still looks vaguely dejected and burdened. It’s a very touching and bittersweet story about family dynamics, nurturing and legacy, and I loved it.


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#1. Okja (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Last year my top film was A Bride for Rip Van Winkle from Shunji Iwai, and this year it’s Okja from Bong Joon-ho. These are two filmmakers whom I adore very much. Like Iwai, Mr. Bong produces incredible work on such a consistent basis, but unlike Iwai, I find it extremely taxing to pick a stand-out favourite from Mr. Bong. His pictures do share similarities — mostly thematically — but they are, at the same time, so distinct and impressive for vastly different reasons.

With that in mind, I can’t say that Okja is my favourite film from Bong Joon-ho, but I can say with confidence that it is my favourite film of 2017. In it, a young Korean girl named Mija and her genetically engineered super pig Okja must evade the clutches of a pitiless corporation, who want to duplicate and harvest Okja’s meat for mass production. In ways, it’s an amalgamation of elements from Snowpiercer and The Host, chock-full with social themes and tonal shifts, disclosed through a eyes of a charismatic if quirky ensemble cast.

It tackles some heavy themes, but is balanced in its commentary. It’s anti-capitalist more so than anti-meat or anti-industry; the film opens with Mija capturing a medley of fish to eat, but she takes only the amount necessary and releases the others. Okja preaches moderation and ethics, but doesn’t overstep the mark to become heavy-handed or overbearing. It’s a critique disguised as an action-adventure tale, with a plot that is thrilling, layered and profoundly emotive.

The final act is so tremendously moving and well composed that I kept returning to it for weeks; it’s a very powerful film and hits all the appropriate beats, ensuring drama, action, pain and pleasure. Ahn Seo-hyun is entrancing in her first lead role, and holds her own against veterans Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. Swinton is especially hypnotic in a duel role as the villainous Mirando twins — her antagonists have such personality and presence, and are somehow persuasive personas who are yet both detached and peculiar. This on-going collaboration between Bong and Swinton is another compelling entry into Mr. Bong’s impressive catalogue of actor-director partnerships. If you ask me, the director has yet to put a foot wrong.


There we have it. Another years goes by; what will the next one hold? When it comes to what I’m looking forward to in 2018, mostly I want to see Alita: Battle Angel. I am an enormous fan of the manga, and have been waiting for this adaptation for so long. A couple of details leave me anxious, but there were some promising moments in the trailer and the cast look terrific. I hope so much that it is a success.

Otherwise I am eager to see Duncan Jones’ new film Mute, along with Alex Garland’s Annihilation, both of which look most intriguing. I can’t wait to see The Shape of Water, and Thoroughbreds has my attention. I always look forward to anything with Andrew Garfield, so Under the Silver Lake is on my radar, which also stars Riley Keough. I am very interested in Wildlife, in which Paul Dano directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, and I am curious to see Vox Lux with Rooney Mara, and How to Talk to Girls at Parties with Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. I am also aching to see Ready Player One, The Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, and Jang Joon-hwan’s film 1987: When the Day Comes, which is about the tragic true story of Park Jong-chul.

I am sure I’ll be writing about all those and more in the coming months. As always, thank you dearly for stopping by, and please check in again for more movie related musings.

Happy New Year!

Best Movies of 2016

Good day, everybody. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to a special New Year, but for now – it’s list time! This post will be all about my favourite movies of 2016, compiling my most loved this year using the convenient and well-tested top ten formula (though I couldn’t resist including a special mention, too).

Swing by my letterboxd or previous blog post to see a rundown of every film I watched this year, but let’s save the rest of my waffling for the end and get down to business.


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Special Mention goes to Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hun)

Tunnel is a multifaceted disaster movie in which a man becomes trapped after a road tunnel collapses around him. I wanted to give it a mention, because – while it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre – it’s but one of many worthwhile movies from South Korea this year and features some very powerful and evocative moments. It’s a well-paced and skillfully shot film that successfully maintains suspense despite some predictability, which also excels in its exploration of sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints — depicting what feel like very human and true-to-life scenarios.


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#10. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)

Kicking the list off at number ten is Kubo and the Two Strings, which follows the titular character on a journey across ancient Japan to locate a suit of magical armor in order to defeat the vengeful Moon King. It suffers from some contrived exposition, but ultimately comes together as a moving and exquisitely animated piece. It’s gorgeously visualised – with a number of attentively choreographed and well designed action scenes – and while the characters are rather conventional, they manage to be memorable and enjoyable iterations, humanly developed and brought to life with some engaging voice work.


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#9. Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Swiss Army Man really is as strange as it sounds, but it’s also wonderfully enjoyable, terrifically imaginative and at times even beautiful. It opens with a man about to hang himself beside a desolate beach, but when he’s interrupted by a farting corpse that washes up on the coast, he mounts the dead body and it begins propelling them across the shoreline. Thereafter, the two develop a peculiar bond. Alongside its alluring eccentricity, the film features an ending and reveal nothing less than magnificent, with a remarkable a cappella score and solid performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.


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#8. Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

Matt Ross’ touching drama follows an unorthodox family who live in a Washington state forest. The children learn about survival, philosophy and coexistence with nature from their father, who has become disillusioned with capitalism and society, but due to their mother being hospitalised, the children gradually begin to lose focus. Captain Fantastic is a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, that feels well balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity and allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.


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#7. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

Tom Ford’s second feature follows a disillusioned art gallery owner named Susan, whose life has become rather joyless and undesirable, but a glimmer of hope beckons when her ex-husband sends her a manuscript out of the blue, with which Susan becomes entranced. Nocturnal Animals is one of the years most compelling features, with a steady and meticulous divulgence of details that builds a layered, ever-suspenseful and stunningly haunting tale of redemption and revenge. The sinuous narrative is expertly employed, with Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson giving fiercely evocative performances.


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#6. The Little Prince (Dir. Mark Osborne)

The Little Prince was released in most parts of the world last year, but didn’t make its way to Britain and the United States until 2016. It follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of a small boy who lives on an asteroid. It’s beautifully illustrated, with wonderful contrast between the two narratives. I’m sad the film didn’t reach a wider audience, because it is incredibly profound and evocative in its exploration of innocence, inner peace and companionship, with some intensely poignant and memorable dialogue.


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#5. Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

John Carney’s musical drama Sing Street makes its way into my top five. The film follows a ragtag bunch of youths in 1980s Ireland who form a band with the goal of impressing a girl. It’s an utterly charming but brilliantly grounded feature, portraying not only gleeful musical numbers but also some rousing, hard-hitting family drama, with Jack Reynor giving an unexpectedly impassioned and memorable performance. It’s a completely absorbing film – from the music to the characters – with a tremendous ending that leaves a lasting impression, evoking brilliant uncertainty despite an overt sense of exuberance.


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#4. Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

Just missing out on my top three is one of Japan’s most successful films of all time. Your Name is a visually arresting and incredibly moving body-swap drama with a couple of very inventive and unconventional features. The director masterfully weaves between humour and sorrow as the plot proceeds in directions unforeseen, all the while employing his wonderful knack for imbuing typically ordinary settings with a delicate touch of fantasy and science fiction. Shinkai has been highly regarded within the anime community for some time; it’s nice to see someone other than Miyazaki garnering broader recognition.


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#3. The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s beguiling adaptation of the Fingersmith commences the top three. It’s a slinky, seductive and beautifully provocative period piece that tells of a plot to defraud a mysterious heiress by a conman who hires a thief to act as her maid, but complications abound when the two women begin to fall for one another. It’s a tantalising exploration of sexuality, with a mesmeric quality and stunning proficiency — attentively crafted and brilliantly layered in so many respects. Certainly, one of the years most alluring films, with gorgeous set design, bewitching performances and some masterful cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, who maneuvers the camera with extreme finesse.


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#2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

Taika Waititi’s extraordinary New Zealand based adventure was my firm favourite for many months, before being pipped to the post in December. Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a delinquent teenager and his new eccentric foster family who end up on the wrong side of a national manhunt. It’s enormous amounts of fun, with a near faultless script loaded with impeccable witticism. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill meld into their roles with seeming effortlessness; their bond developing organically on a journey through the bush as we venture between hilarity and despair. The gorgeous geography of New Zealand is of course on display, too. It’s a thoroughly enticing and joyous affair.


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#1. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

My favourite film of the year is Shunji Iwai’s three-hour masterpiece about an unassertive girl named Nanami, who struggles to find fulfillment and true companionship in an all too connected world that can – ironically – sometimes leave people feeling isolated.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has the ethereal and poignant quality of All About Lily Chou-Chou, with the director molding forlorn into fascinating through his stark imagery and exquisite characterisation. The handheld camera work creates an alluring sense of intimacy and delicate observation, quietly dissolving viewers into Nanami’s world, making the three-hour runtime seem like no time at all.

In many ways, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a character study, following the formation of Nanami’s very essence through a number of encounters and experiences; some distressing, some jubilant and some intensely passionate. Iwai develops the character very attentively, with actress Haru Kuroki giving a first-rate performance, communicating soft, unspoken emotions with absolute precision.

It’s a gorgeously bittersweet and entirely bewitching film, with Nanami a terrific representation of the younger generation, whose voices are aflutter online, all too often contradicted by their passive realities. It has an other-worldly, dreamy aesthetic, but is in many was, incredibly grounded, intimate and relatable.

Shunji Iwai isn’t as active as he once was in the 90s and early 21st century, but he hasn’t lost an ounce of the understated, extraordinary quality that makes his work so distinctive, evocative and beautifully haunting.


There we have it, folks. I think 2016 has been a terrific year for film (much better than last year), but I’m a little disappointed there’s such a disparity between the release dates of some of the latter films this year. I see Hacksaw Ridge popping up on many year-end lists, with its release come and gone in most territories, but the UK is one of the last places in the world to receive it (late January), so it’s a little annoying not being able to form a complete rundown of the years best. Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are another two features for which I am playing the waiting game. Such is life, though.

I have a couple of films on my radar for next year, with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja my most anticipated, which is released on Netflix in the Summer. Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe also has my attention, along with Logan – Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine – and of course Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which I will be going to see in just a few days. I’m also intrigued to see the outcome of the Ghost in the Shell and Death Note adaptations, but I’m not counting on anything particularly impressive.

Good or bad, I’m sure I’ll be writing about all them and more next year, so please swing by on occasion. I hope everybody has an enjoyable New Year celebration, or just a relaxed, peaceful time if preferred. And if you have the time, let me know your top ten! I’m always eager to share opinions and discover new movies. See you in 2017, my friends.

Best Movies of 2015

It’s that time of the year again — list season! This post is going to be all about my favourite movies of 2015 and my have there been some fascinating contenders. Last year I did my top five, but this time I’m going a slightly different route with my top ten, because this year there are more than five films I have fallen in love with.


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Special Mention: The Danish Girl (Dir. Tom Hooper)

First off, we have a special mention, which goes to The Danish Girl. Initially, I was interested in this film due to the involvement of Eddie Redmayne, but it was Alicia Vikander who stole the show. I didn’t enjoy The Danish Girl as much as I thought I would—though it’s still a wonderful film charting the lives of two very enchanting individuals, through pleasure and pain—but Alicia Vikander was the film’s pillar and offered up much of its emotional weight. Her performance was incredibly nuanced and though Redmayne’s character was the one undergoing a transformation, Vikander was able to display a tremendous amount of inner conflict; portraying suffering and love from multiple angles. Her performance was absolutely one of my favourites of the year.


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#10. Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)

At number ten is Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom are delightful and riveting. Blanchett plays a motherly figure in an indefinite slump, after she has fallen out of love with her husband and is forced to fight for the custody of their daughter. Meanwhile, Mara is a lovable but lost young woman, who has her passions but quietly floats through life without leaving a footstep. The two meet by chance and gradually find their voids filled as romance ensues. It’s beautifully shot, with some tremendous and very subtle acting, where Blanchett and Mara communicate wonderfully with just their facial expressions. Plus the score is terrific, with a dreamy principal theme.


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#9. The Martian (Dir. Ridley Scott)

At number nine is Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, which was only released four years prior to the movie. I’m not the biggest fan of Matt Damon, but I’m beginning to ask myself why, because he’s completely absorbing in The Martian, in which he plays a wonderfully witty character. Much of the film is Damon talking to himself, but the dialogue was compelling and often funny, with Damon’s performance very emotive and powerful at times. Both the cinematography and set design are stunning and though a Martian dust storm would actually be more like a slight breeze, the planet’s surface was wholly convincing and provided some wonderful scenery.


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#8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

At number eight is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars has a very firmly established universe, so it was easy to worry about a return to the franchise. The prequels disappointed many and fans didn’t want anything that would dislodge the continuity or take the original cast in unwanted directions. However, people seemed to warm to the idea once J.J. Abrams jumped aboard, with The Force Awakens ultimately becoming a welcome addition to many. The returning cast were honored well and the new characters filled the youthful void wonderfully so. The effects were impressive and the plot was engrossing, despite parallels with A New Hope. I was tempted to place The Force Awakens higher, but know that’s nostalgia talking and do recognise the film is not without its flaws, so it remains at number eight, but is nevertheless a strong and exciting return to the franchise.


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#7. The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I’m not the most significant of Tarantino fans, but at number seven is The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s writing is by far his biggest strength and his dialogue is completely on point here. The theatrical, stage play-like presentation took me pleasantly by surprise and the script is both funny and intelligent. Prior to The Hateful Eight, I can’t remember the last time I saw a decent ‘whodunnit’ on film. The characters were gripping and brilliantly brought to life by the actors and while I thought the music was lacking in areas, the movie ultimately came together as a tremendous piece of filmmaking.


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#6. Ex Machina (Dir. Alex Garland)

Just outside of the top five we have screenwriter-turned-director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. This is a film that had an interesting marketing campaign—including an AI controlled Tinder profile—but went largely under my radar until just a few days before its release. It’s a film with dazzling intrigue, with Garland effortlessly keeping audiences on edge throughout. The tiny cast excel massively and are all terrifically memorable and convincing. Oscar Isaac in particularly was eerily compelling as tech genius Nathan. I’ve always enjoyed Garland’s screenplays and very much look forward to more of his directorial work, which will be Annihilation in 2017.


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#5. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller)

At number five is Mad Max: Fury Road. I must confess, before George Miller’s latest, I had never seen a Mad Max movie. Unlike with Star Wars, I had no idea what Mad Max was all about and went in with a fresh mind. I’m glad to report that I loved it. It’s a no-holds-barred action romp, with a rather linear and uncomplicated plot that still manages to be tremendously engrossing, complimented by fascinating characters and superb cinematography and set pieces. Tom Hardy is captivating as he grunts his way through the film, but Charlize Theron is the driving force as Furiosa; a sublimely tough character tackled brilliantly. Fury Road is definitely the best action movie of the year.


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#4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

At number four we have Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which seemed to come completely out of nowhere to me. I hadn’t heard anything about it, never watched a trailer, but saw it on a whim one day and loved it. It felt largely unconventional and is—as the title would lead you to believe—less about a girl diagnosed with leukemia than it is about film fanatic Greg, who appears in every single scene. The first half was a little slow, but it really comes into its own during the second half and is the only film this year to have made me cry. I’m a sentimental little baby, but I’m sure the final act tugged at the heartstrings of many.


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#3. Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

Moving into the top three, we have Whiplash, which is one of those awkward films that half of the world saw in 2014 and the other half saw in 2015. Since it wasn’t released in my location until January and I reviewed it at the beginning of the year as my first movie of 2015, I feel it’s warranted on this list. It’s a staggeringly intense film, with both J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller providing marvelously physical performances. The editing is reminiscent of jazz and the sepia-toned cinematography is beautiful. It’s one of those rare films that comes together on every level; a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking.


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#2. The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

At number two is The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Following the release of the first trailer, The Revenant became one of my most anticipated films of the year. It looked tense, emotional and raw — and that’s exactly what it was. Shot on location and only in natural light, the film has a genuine physicality to it that has been unmatched this year. The score is unconventional; no melodies, no central theme, but rather layered pieces which evoke the harshness of the film and its locations. It’s advertised as an action revenge piece, but touches upon so much more and DiCaprio commits himself so entirely to the role—even eating raw meat as a vegetarian—that I’ll be shocked if another Oscar nomination isn’t heading his way.


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#1. Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley)

At number one is the delightful Brooklyn. It has an undemanding plot (in that audiences will be able to follow it with ease), but it’s so fluently constructed and beautifully written, with many universal themes and drama with real weight and authenticity to it that I feel so entirely in love. Saoirse Ronan is marvellous as Eilis, a young woman uprooted from her dreary Irish hometown to the dreamy streets of Brooklyn. Infatuating audiences worldwide, she delivers—without a doubt—my favourite performance of the year.

Complimenting Ronan’s performance is some incredible set design, with the film eloquently exhibiting 1950s Brooklyn despite being shot in Canada. It also features a gorgeous score and alluring cinematography which evolves with Eilis’ character. Brooklyn is a soul-stirring film that grabbed my emotions and gave them a darn good shake, much thanks to the wonderful work of Saoirse Ronan and the fluent directing of John Crowley.


There we have it. For the majority of the year, I didn’t rate 2015 anywhere near as highly as 2014, but things really began to pick up in the latter half and some tremendous films have now come and gone. Looking ahead, I’m eagerly anticipating Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Silence, as I’m a massive fan of both the novel and Andrew Garfield (who I enjoyed this year in 99 Homes). Kubo and the Two Strings and Hail, Caesar! both look brilliant, too. Then we’ve got a horde of comic book movies, new films in the Harry Potter and Star Wars universes, along with two huge video game adaptations in the form of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. If those are anything to go by, 2016 looks exciting!

What do you think of my picks? Do we share similar tastes? If not, what else should I be watching? Let me know and I’ll see you next year!