The AU’s 21 Best Films of 2018

It’s been another incredible year of film, with powerful indie projects and incredible blockbusters that saw packed out cinemas align with strong reviews from critics. As voted by the AU review contributors, here are the 21 films we rated above the rest this year…

21. Ocean’s 8

The Met Gala sequence itself is, admittedly, quite joyous to watch play out as each character has their specific part to play, with Ross clearly placing much of his script focus on how intricately the heist can be executed. It’s well tailored, albeit ever-so-lightly, and with barely a moment to allow its audience to think, Ocean’s 8 proves acceptable escapism that’ll steal your attention during its running time.- Peter Gray

20. A Quiet Place

Just as much a tale of family resilience as it is a survivalist horror film, A Quiet Place is masterful genre filmmaking that soars leaps and bounds above expectation. Whilst it may be too early to consider a modern-day classic, Krasinski’s effort is nothing short of striking and you’d be doing yourself an immeasurable favour by visiting his created place. – Peter Gray

19. Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is a gritty and episodic coming-of-age story. It doesn’t try to sugar-coat things. Rather, it delivers an authentic-feeling tale where there are lots of tragedies and hard knocks to negotiate. This includes exploring the ugly side of the racing business and characters that have less than savoury traits. Lean on Pete is a good horse, and is a film about an aging animal and a self-sufficient youngster who grows up. It is a slow and sobering look at the harsh reality of some difficult situations. Some may find the proceedings a little too quiet and singular in focus, but for others this could be a black beauty. – Natalie Salvo

18. Cold War

The focus this awards season will be on another black and white foreign language masterpiece, but much adoration and attention should also go to Pawel Pawlikowski’s bittersweet and captivating romance Cold War. In a bumper year for foreign cinema (if all you saw this year was American cinema, you’re missing out), this visually striking and emotionally heavy film leaves a mighty impression. With a stellar performance from Joanna Kulig and some of the year’s most stunning cinematography from Lukasz Zal, Cold War is exquisite, heartbreaking, breathtaking, and utterly spectacular. – Doug Jamieson

17. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

In the hands of a lesser performer, watching the life and crimes of Lee Israel could have made for a rather flat experience. But McCarthy is such a captivating and compassionate actress, she makes Lee’s felonies strangely understandable and maybe even permissible. It’s a splash of irony pretending to be other writers elicited an author’s greatest work (and a subsequent best-selling biography, on which this film is based), but that’s the rousing joy of Can You Ever Forgive Me?. McCarthy turns an unlovable curmudgeon into someone you entirely adore, and, in the process, shows us the consummate performer she truly is. – Doug Jamieson

16. Roma

Cuaron adeptly brings out the reality and beauty of those situations and provides ample context for the audience to provide plenty of food-for-thought and. Scenes with such beauty could have easily made the film become a sort of quasi-fantasy or a piece of whimsy which could alienate the audience, but Cuaron never falls for that trap, aiming for a contemplative and realistic approach i.e. during a scene set in a hospital, an earthquake occurs, which foreshadows the impending darkness that is to come. But thankfully, what is impending is the resounding success that is Roma. With beautifully profound storytelling, strong characterizations, meticulous attention to period detail and heartfelt direction, Roma is one of the best films of 2018 and it deserves all the praise from critics. If you have the chance to see Roma on the big screen, please do so. – Harris Dang

15. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Though the film ultimately belongs to McDormand and her powerhouse portrayal of a mother on a war path against a seat of privilege and patriarchy, highlighting the actor’s immense talent as she propels Mildred through dichotic waves of emotions, expressing despair with resolve, self-doubt with unwavering self-belief, insolence with nervousness – it’s a benchmark performance that demands to be heard both on and off the screen. McDonagh tailor-made this character for McDormand, and it’s this beautiful intersection of two undeniable creative minds that ultimately takes this film from highly entertaining black comedy to pure masterpiece. – Chris Singh

14. Climax

The entire film is like that to the point that it’s almost as if Noe had a drink of the sangria himself, since his work hasn’t felt this exuberant and vibrant since 2009’s Enter the Void. Climax is an orgy of youthful enthusiasm, beautifully humanistic repugnance, compellingly animalistic repulsion, dazzlingly choreographed exhilaration and assuredly controlled grace; all soaked in hallucinogen-spiked sangria. Lovingly endowed by yours truly as You Got Served (LSD). – Harris Dang

13. Suspiria

With a deliberate pace that will bore many, leading through to a wild, bizarre (and gory) finale that will potentially confuse and astound, Suspiria is very much a film designed for a particular audience. It is not an easy watch, and as much as the film’s advertisements have hyped up the horror elements, this is very much a cinematic dreamscape experience, one that shouldn’t be entered lightly by those hoping for cheap thrills and jump scares. This is a beautiful, horrific film that I personally deem as a modern masterpiece, and I dare anyone to not at least acknowledge the film’s impact and scope, regardless of how you personally react to its content. – Peter Gray

12. The Favourite

If you like your period pieces with a splash of naughtiness and debauchery, The Favourite is the film for you. A sardonically dark and deliciously nasty piece of cinema, it’s hard not to have a giant smile plastered on your face the entire time while watching this glorious romp. With a trio of dynamic (and Oscar nom-worthy) performances from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and the indomitable Olivia Colman, this tale of power, envy, and revenge is further elevated by the impressive talents of its impeccable ensemble cast. Throw in sumptuous period costume and production design, the quirk that comes from a daring director like Yorgos Lanthimos, and a screenplay that’s an absolute riot of twists, turns, and wicked dialogue, and you have one of the year’s finest achievements in film. – Doug Jamieson

11. Sorry To Bother You

Boots Riley has over two decades of powerful, biting and important work behind him as emcee of The Coup, so Sorry for Bothering You, his directorial debut, isn’t as big of a leap as it appears to be for the artist. Well, it’s not big in the sense that smart political satire is anything new for Boots, and there’s no doubt that his work with the seminal rap band has given him a unique approach to the film world. That approach is translated into this multifaceted comedy-drama which aggressively tugs on the threads of institutionalised racism, power structures and forced-labour and watches them all fall into a surreal, mind-warping dystopia of anthropomorphism, cocaine and orgies. It’s as weird and lovingly unique as it sounds. – Chris Singh

10. Spiderman Into The Spiderverse

Spiderman Into The Spiderverse is not just an excellent superhero movie, but it’s quite probably a near perfect movie period. The animation is beautiful and colourful. The characters are relatable and inspiring. The story is exciting and engaging. The music and soundtrack feels synchronised with the tone of the film. The pop culture nods and references are fun. And at the core of it is a message that anybody can be a superhero in their own way. This film is sure to be remembered as a fan favourite for many years to come. – Carina Nilma

9. Widows

It’s an acting roster that’s an embarrassment of riches, and McQueen doesn’t waste one single member of his impeccable cast. Matched with a screenplay loaded with cracking dialogue and a narrative filled with plenty of shocks that elicited genuine gasps from my audience, Widows is one of the year’s greatest films. The action and thrills will keep you entertained, but it’s the film’s numerous messages that will stay with you. This is a pitch-perfect portrayal of 21st century America, warts and all. Part popcorn thriller, part feminist statement, part political declaration, there’s a lot going on in this film. Thankfully, every single aspect is crafted by a master filmmaker who has delivered a sublime masterwork, yet again. Do not miss this one. – Doug Jamieson

8. Mandy

I enjoyed Mandy for the extremity of the latter half in which you get to see a completely unraveled Nicolas Cage seeking revenge but also for the technical prowess Cosmatos brings to the entire film. The transfixing visuals and booming score make for some thrilling sequences across the entire runtime. Nicolas Cage puts in an amazing performance and one that he will no doubt be remembered by. – Stephen Parthimos

7. BlacKkKlansman

This isn’t the only film to use a “black man using a white voice” to speak volumes about the subtle racial divides, with Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You also relying heavily on the device. Pitting those two movies up against each other seems inevitable in any resulting media although it would be foolish to try and use ones message to somehow dull the others. They are both fantastic films with individual voices, and if a comparison must be made it’s that BlacKKKlansman is much more chiselled in it’s unrelenting takedown of both traditional and modern racist institutions and individuals, whereas Boots’ equally entertaining film is more like a nightmarish dreamscape that, while overindulging in its own weirdness, arrives at a similar point though without a focus for all that righteous fury. – Chris Singh

6. Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a load of fluffy, old-school rom-com fun, all thanks to likable leads, memorable characters, visual pizazz and some welcome thematic weight thanks to its respectful look at family traditions. Is it a major step in the fight for representation of the Asian community? No, but it is a loud step, one that will garner attention thanks to the film’s keen commercial sense. Hopefully, through its success there will be more films like this one on the horizon in the future. – Harris Dang

5. Annihilation

Whilst the ultimate climax of the film veers into some strange territory (and allegedly was the catalyst for Paramount being spooked into thinking it wouldn’t translate to mainstream audiences) there’s nothing overtly confusing enough for it to be deemed non-cinema worthy; as unintelligble as some movie goers are, there’s enough intelligent folk out there that would lap this up and ponder on it for days.

Though the monetary return from the U.S. Box Office hasn’t exactly set things ablaze, hopefully streaming figures prove viable enough so that the remaining chapters in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, for which Annihilation is the first title, earn enough interest to be adapted. This is smart, unique storytelling that deserves to be seen in any format available to you. – Peter Gray

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

So where do we sit with Fallout? The 6th entrant in this surprisingly robust series – one that has defied expectation at practically every turn – is very much a continuation of Rogue Nation, perhaps earning it the right to be considered the series’ first legitimate sequel. Christopher McQuarrie (the first director to pull returning duties behind the camera) clearly knows how to juggle the extremities of the genre, and whilst he is working with a story that is rife with obstacles, he never lets it get the best of him; and why should he when he wrote the damn thing! Instead he places trust in his ingredients, and what’s the one base flavour that is sure to never fail? One Mr. Tom Cruise. Now, is it too early to request M:I-7? – Peter Gray

3. Black Panther

Black Panther combines a geopolitical thriller with Afrofuturism and a family drama, all of which is a step away from the MCU’s more recent big beat-em-up blockbusters. Scattering moments of comedy in amongst its more serious theatrics helps to keep it balanced. The performances are all pitch perfect and in a world that looks beautiful and is a metaphor for potential. Wakanda Forever indeed. – Carina Nilma

2. Avengers: Infinity War

The last ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to this, Avengers Infinity War, and this film is nothing short of a non-stop juggernaut of a blockbuster that refuses to hold back its punches. Avengers Infinity War manages to not only raise the stakes but also sucker punch you with shock and surprise. This is no small feat considering that we are now 18 films deep into the MCU and feel like we could have seen it all. We now have to wait with eager anticipation until next year for the conclusion to this story (with Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel filling the gaps between now and then). – Carina Nilma

The Best Film of 2018: Hereditary

When light finally filled the theatre at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema I could see that the older man sitting next to me was visibly shaken. In fact, I could see many people who looked like they were in desperate need of a good, long hug and maybe a bathtub full of bright yellow rubber ducks with a Disney marathon playing in the background. I shared that feeling, whatever it was; the shared sinking sense of dread mixed with awe – powerful and strong responses to a powerful and tough-as-nails film. That’s the astounding debut from Ari Aster, Hereditary: a narrative feature he has both written and directed with such an ironically beautiful sense of pain, presenting one of the darkest horror-drama films I have ever seen.

Earlier reviews seemed to all agree on this being an exceptionally scary movie, to the point where some people should just stay away at all costs. It’s a big claim, and as a self-proclaimed horror buff, hard to believe. Aster proves any doubters wrong simply by tapping into the darkest recesses of pain, contextualising hurt and translating that through fully-realised characters, each whom add to the searing, oppressive air of evil that swirls around the film’s central family and tightens its squeeze so incredibly hard in the third act that you’d be forgiven for bursting into tears, for no reason other than that Aster has captured and delivered this darkness with such a unique, gut-wrenching and visceral tone. It’s effecting to say the very least, and the movie will linger long after the credits roll.

A big part of why Aster’s vision is so successful is the cast he has managed to pull together, squeezing them into one dysfunctional family who at the beginning of the film are immediately flung into unspoken grief with the death of the matriarch’s mother. Each individual has a different response to this death, but all immediately highlight the terrible lack of communication and emotional repressiveness that plagues this family. It’s what enhances the inevitable pain when the film gets even darker, descending into a nightmarish hellscape that remains anchored in this family’s very real, very palpable agony which is so strong that it’s far more terrifying than any jump scare could possibly be. Describing it as “scary” isn’t enough, this is a movie that will pull you under for a few hours and barrage you with horror.

The emotional connection established between the film and the audience is largely credited to Toni Collette and Alex Wolff, wearing their characters’ helplessness and grief in a way rarely seen in a genre film of this kind. Aster has made a family drama first, and a horror film second. It’s harsh and punishing, to both the audience and the characters, layering on the emotionally draining atmosphere – best represented by the unspoken tension between Collette and Wolff’s characters – until that thunderous, sinister third act takes all the fragility and hurt and intensifies it with a sense of pure unrelenting evil. – Chris Singh

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.