It's been a great year for cinema, and while the Disney machine continues to pump out hit after hit, there is a thriving film economy outside of the House of Mouse.
It feels like 2018 has also been a good year for better representation of BAME actors and stories, as highlighted in this countdown.
As with all lists, they can never be definitive, and we may have missed off something you absolutely loved! If so, do let us know in the comments! And now, without further ado, let's look back at the best live-action films of 2018!
10 - Creed II
Creed 2 gives you the rematch of the century, Adonis Creed (Michael B.Jordan) against Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu), both trying to continue the legacies of their respective fathers, with Creed seeking revenge for his father’s death and Drago seeking glory. Where this film is at its best is in the boxing matches, where the combination of inventive shots and tight editing make you feel like you’re actually at a boxing match. This feeling definitely makes Creed 2 something to be watched in a group or at a packed cinema, because there’s nothing like the collective cheering, whooping and gasps at the dramatic moments of the film. Alongside this, the training montages are amazing, with smart editing and cool music taking you through. Where the film is a little less consistent is in its quieter moments, whilst it does do some good work to combat some of the more toxic macho elements endemic to its genre, it does still fall into some of them. In addition to that, Stallone completely phones in his performance here. While every other performer is having deep emotional (if a little awkwardly written) scenes, Stallone just feels as stiff as a board. Conversely, Dolph Lundgren gives a genuinely brilliant performance and is given a level of humanity which was incredibly surprising and very welcome. While the quieter scenes sometimes falter, Creed 2 still gets on this list as an experience worth watching.
9 - Mission Impossible: Fallout
The pitch of Mission Impossible: Fallout is simple. After a botched mission, the team have to work to prevent some terrorists from setting off nuclear bombs in the world’s most populated areas. But as would be expected, the premise means very little, instead, it simply serves as a backdrop for a series of badass setpieces that run through the film. In those setpieces lie the movie’s strengths, with Rob Hardy’s cinematography making every sequence feel incredibly intense and fun to watch. The tension is heightened by the knowledge that Tom Cruise somehow does all his own stunts, and there is a real danger. Alongside this, there are the extremely kinetic fight sequences, with varying different styles (especially given the introduction of the colossal Henry Cavill), adding to the visually gripping nature of the movie. The movie only falters when it tries to reach for some emotional highs, which come off as forced and rather dull. Mission Impossible: Fallout sticks to its guns and epitomises a solid blockbuster action movie, earning its place here.
8 - Yardie
The essence of Yardie isn’t really a plot or even some characters - it’s more of a feeling. Idris Elba’s directorial debut centres around a Jamaican man called Dennis and his involvement in the culture and gangs of Kingston and Hackney in 70s and 80s. Whether it’s through the music, the interpersonal interactions, or the never-quite-stable camera, the chaotic energy runs throughout. This is most evidently seen in the performance of Stephen Graham as gang leader and club owner Rico, where he takes chewing scenery to a whole new level, with never-ending little movements and constantly varying vocal delivery. There also seems to be a level of authenticity throughout the entirety of the film which feels good. One of the downsides of the film is that it falls into the trap of limiting female characters to side-roles and emotional sponges for the men, although this is, of course, limited by the Victor Headley novel it’s based on. All in all, despite its rough edges, Yardie conveys a feeling which gives you a truly entertaining experience.
7 - Been So Long
Been So Long is a musical romantic film set in Camden Town, and the location is very much at the heart of the story. In terms of setting there is a level of authenticity throughout, with the film being inextricably linked to location and feeling like something which could only happen in Camden Town in 2018 - especially with the way in which it interweaves technology. This feeling is carried through by the actors’ performances, which all manage to balance the grounded elements which make them feel like real people - especially with the deeply emotional exchanges between Michaela Coel and Joe Dempsie. Despite this grounded feeling, there’s also an incredibly wacky side to this film, with several songs leaning heavily into this direction with some very cool routines. Sometimes this wackiness leads to scenes/plot threads which ultimately go nowhere - but at other points culminates in some really cool and weird scenes, backed up by very unique cinematographic choices by Catherine Derry. There’s just a fun, warmth and humanity that runs through this relatively small-scale indie musical that feels like it has London running through its veins.
6 - Annihilation
Out of all the films on this list, Annihilation is probably the most difficult to explain. Put simply, a squad of 5 women (played by Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tuva Novotny) go to investigate an anomaly called ‘The Shimmer’ which was supposedly caused by a meteorite. If there was one word to describe this film it would be ‘weird’. At every moment, there’s something mysterious, odd or inexplicable happening on screen – or just off of it! This mystery translates into the set, with everything having a transfixing but unsettling beauty to it, even in the absolutely terrifying monstrosities. Annihilation is a mind-bogglingly weird film that dips into some very high-level philosophical ideas and leaves a puzzle box for you, the viewer, to unlock.
5 - Widows
Steve McQueen (with co-writer Gillian Flynn) takes a detour from the Oscar-winning and extremely downbeat film that was 12 Years A Slave. Instead, he’s directing a gripping film about four women who were left widowed in a bank heist gone wrong and need to pull off one last heist to give themselves a new life. Viola Davis continues to be one of the best actors out there. She commands the screen whenever she’s present, taking absolutely no nonsense from anybody but still has incredibly touching and deeply emotional moments. The same is true for Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo and Elizabeth Debicki. Throughout the film, there’s also some brilliant action, with experimental shots, and Daniel Kaluuya makes an absolutely terrifying villain. Widows also has an extraordinary amount of depth to it, with an interesting subplot about a local election and an enormous amount of subtext underpinning each character and making them all the more human - something especially true for Viola Davis. Widows manages to excel as both a heist film, a political drama, and a tale about women taking power into their own hands and deciding their own destiny.
4 - Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), and starring Oscar-winning actors Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker amongst a host of other high-profile names, there was an enormous amount of hype surrounding Marvel’s first film of the year, but nobody quite expected the quality of the film that we got. From Ruth E Carter’s incredible costume design to Ludwig Goransson’s score, to the stunning set design, the Pan-African element that runs through the entirety of this film is unprecedented for a film of this scale. Alongside this, the movie manages to engage with a lot of different ideas surrounding protectionism, Pan-Africanism, diasporic identities and other issues in a really exciting way. Deeply intellectual topics aside, Black Panther also has some badass action, outstanding performances by the likes of Danai Gurira (she literally throws her wig at someone), Andy Serkis, and an incredibly compelling villain. My only real gripes with the movie are that the finale culminates in boring and ugly CGI and lacks the kinetic feeling of the earlier fights. Despite this though, Black Panther is more than a movie, it’s a moment, a piece of history which brought people across the globe together in celebrating African culture and what people of the African diaspora could be and that earns it this spot on the list.
3 - Bad Times At The El Royale
Drew Goddard’s newest film is about the goings-on in a motel perched on the border between California and Nevada in 1969. An ensemble of characters with dark and mysterious pasts come together and over the course of the film a series of wild events unfold. One of the best parts of this film is how distinctly aware of context it is. Bad Times At The El Royale feels like a film which could only happen in that time and place, with the connotations of that running through every performance (especially Cynthia Erivo’s) and Goddard’s script. Alongside this, the film is a visual marvel, with fantastic and unique set design, bringing the peculiar motel to life in a beautiful way.
There’s one element of the film’s plot that serves as both its biggest boon and biggest problem - the sense of mystery. A large part of Goddard’s storytelling is through implication, subtext and moments and dialogue that is open to interpretation. Whilst this allows the audience members to form their own unique stories (in line with the theme of subjectivity that is crucial to the film), it also means that the viewer could easily become confused. This messiness comes to a head in the third act, where the film goes for tension and drama – which admittedly lands – over clarity, creating a messy but still cool and visually stunning ending. From start to finish, Bad Times At The El Royale take the unconventional route, creating a truly unique and masterful cinematic experience.
2 - Blackkklansman
Coming from the great Spike Lee, Blackkklansman presents the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) - an African-American police officer in Connecticut, who infiltrates his local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by using a Jewish colleague as a surrogate. This film manages to find a super interesting tone, highlighting the ridiculousness of the Ku Klux Klan and the story on which the film is based, whilst also managing to highlight the real damage and trauma caused by white supremacy. Whilst the film rightfully puts a lot of focus on the Klan, its black characters aren’t presented as passive victims, instead portraying them as activists and fighters – and humans. All of these ideas and feelings are skillfully conveyed through the expressionistic style of Chayse Irvin’s cinematography and Barry Brown’s editing.
There are also several instances where the film juxtaposes the history and pain of the African-Americans with the KKK’s supposed grievances, really highlighting the stupidity of equivocating white supremacists with activists simply trying to get equal treatment - something especially prescient in recent times. In fact, whilst the film is set decades ago, it feels like it’s specifically written to be relevant today, especially with the power ending which brings everything together. From a classic director, we expect a classic film, and Spike Lee provides that with Blackkklansman.
1 - Sorry To Bother You
Sorry To Bother you is a film about a lot of things, but at its core, it centres around Cassius Clay (played by Lakeith Stanfield) trying to make his way in the world of telemarketing in an alternate version of present-day Oakland. From top-to-bottom, this film is absolutely wild. The cinematography has a manic element to it, the alternate reality in which the film exists is wacky, and each and every character is incredibly weird - especially the nameless Mr [REDACTED] played by Omari Hardwick, the iconic artist and activist Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson) and Armie Hammer as the constantly cocaine-snorting ‘fun’ CEO of WorryFree (a megacorp in this world).
Whilst this wackiness makes the film incredibly humorous, it doesn't feel asinine or aimless - it serves to make a particular point about the system and society in which we live. The world is an alternate reality, but it’s hardly much different to ours. The surrealness of Sorry To Bother You means that when the film comes back down to reality, the blows hit so much harder. There are some truly uncomfortable moments that are genuinely hard to watch, but they all serve a purpose and a message, like everything else in the film. What's also great about this message is it's quietly optimistic. The film doesn't just present pain and problems, it offers a potential solution.
Sorry to Bother You is punk, political and a hell of a directorial debut for Boots Riley making it my top film of 2018.