I’m not one to compile “Best of…” or “Worst of…” lists for a few reasons. First, I don’t see every film that comes out. Sure, I watch about 150 films a year, which is more than most, but there are plenty of films that either skip my notice, don’t come to Hong Kong (so there’s less “need” to watch them) or, in the case of many films that I know I’m going to hate, I just can’t be bothered spending my time watching them. The second problem I have with these lists is that many people who compile them often put films on their lists because other, more influential, people have done the same. Here, I’m thinking of films like SORRY TO BOTHER YOU and LEAVE NO TRACE. I’ll readily admit that I enjoyed both of these films but do they really merit being among the best films of the year? In the case of SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, it was a very uneven film, though for a first feature, director Boots Riley did a great job. As for LEAVE NO TRACE, I think many critics are including it in their Best list because of director Debra Granik, who basically discovered Jennifer Lawrence and Vera Farmiga. Many of these people have said that she discovered New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie with this film and maybe she has. Time will tell. The third problem I have is that I’m not sure of what to do about films that were released at the end of one year but I didn’t get to see until the next. Do I include them or not? The 2017 films that I saw in 2018 seem so irrelevant now. And what should I do about films that aren’t going to be coming to Hong Kong until the new year? Here, I’m thinking of SUSPIRIA, which is on many critics’ lists this year. I’m not going to be seeing it until mid-January. I obviously can’t include it in my list though I may wish I could have later on. Also, what do I do about films that never came to Hong Kong? There are plenty of those. (Spoiler: There are three of these films on my list this year.) Finally, what is “best” and “worst”? Both these words are being used incorrectly. I prefer using “favourite” and “least favourite” because then I own them. I’m not saying a film is good or bad. (I save those words for my reviews.) I’m saying that I either liked them a lot or I didn’t like them at all.
So, without further ado, because so many people asked for it, here is my list of my favourite films of 2018:
10. Lean On Pete
Here is one of those films that never came to Hong Kong and it’s a shame that it didn’t because it’s well worth seeing. More than just a coming-of-age tale about a boy and his horse, LEAN ON PETE tells the unsentimental and often heartbreaking story of 15-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD), who embarks on a journey across America’s northwest in search of someone who can give him a home. When the film premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, it received a 7-minute standing ovation and rightly so.
This film would have ranked higher up on the list if only the second half was as electric as the first. Even so, star and first-time director Bradley Cooper did an awesome job bringing this well-worn story up to date and huge kudos to him for casting Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, the film falters when her character basically becomes Lady Gaga. But the music is great and her singing is beyond comparison.
I didn’t think I would like this film but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s not a wasted scene here and every shot is meticulously framed. The sound editing is also fabulous. It’s a tremendous achievement for first-time director Ari Aster.
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay doesn’t make many films but when she does, you’ve got to sit up and take notice. Here, she created a well-crafted, psychological thriller with powerful performances led by Joaquin Phoenix. Even better is the ethereal and oft-times discordant score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood that fits perfectly with the film’s haunting atmosphere.
6. First Man
Derided by MAGA hat-wearers as being anti-American (did they even watch the film?), FIRST MAN tells the story of astronaut Neil A. Armstrong and his years working for NASA leading up to his famous walk on the moon. As understated as the man himself, the story shies away from flag-waving, preferring instead to focus on this introspective and humble hero. The cinematography (by Oscar winner Linus Sandgren) and score (by Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz) are both fabulous and we should expect to see their names among the nominees at this year’s Oscar awards.
Another film that never came to Hong Kong but should have, RBG is a documentary about the “Notorious” US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After watching this film, you will pray that she lives long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again. She’s certainly trying!
4. Green Book
GREEN BOOK tells the little known story of concert pianist and composer Dr. Donald Shirley and his relationship with his driver and bodyguard, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. I get why many African-Americans aren’t happy with this film but it’s still hugely entertaining with an Oscar-worthy performance by Viggo Mortensen. It’s scheduled to open in Hong Kong on January 10th.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alphonso Cuarón’s love letter to the woman who raised him is a masterpiece. You’ve probably already heard this before but it bears repeating: If you can see ROMA in the cinema, then do so because it was filmed in 65 mm. If not, you can watch it on Netflix. Just be sure you either have an amazing sound system or an excellent pair of headphones because you don’t want to miss one moment of the film’s exceptional soundscape.
Yet another film that never made it to Hong Kong, FIRST REFORMED, by director Paul Schrader, is a tour-de-force for its star, Ethan Hawke. (If anyone will be able to steal the Best Actor Oscar out of Viggo Mortensen’s hands, it will be Hawke.) Although the film’s ending is ambiguous, perhaps frustratingly so, it will leave you thinking and wondering what you just saw when the lights come up in the cinema.
1. The Favourite
It’s not due to come to Hong Kong until February 21st but if I waited until next year to tell you how great this film is, what would be the point? Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible film to date, THE FAVOURITE tells the incredible story of England’s Queen Anne and her confidante and close friend Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough. Their relationship is put through the ringer when Lady Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill, arrives at court determined to regain her status no matter what the cost. Featuring three fabulous performances (Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), witty dialogue and delightful camerawork, THE FAVOURITE is easily my favourite film of the year.
Now I’ve also got to throw in some honourable mentions:
First, a few films from last year that I didn’t see until this year. Hopefully, by including them here, you’ll understand why I’ve included films that haven’t yet come to Hong Kong in my list:
Next, a few films that I really enjoyed but didn’t make the cut:
What are some of your favourite films from 2018? Let me know!
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, December 28th at 8:30 am HK time!
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