From the challenging arthouse films to action-packed blockbusters, 2018 has been a great year for movies in the multiplex and on streaming. As such, we just had to expand our list of faves from 10 picks last year, to a sturdy 30 in 2018!
(Note: The following picks were limited to films released in Singapore in theaters, online or on Blu-ray within this calendar year.)
Honourable mentions: Vox Lux, Happy As Lazzaro, Mandy, Shoplifters, The Kindergarten Teacher, City of Ghosts, 22 July, Love Simon, All The Money In The World, I Tonya
30) Pengabdi Setan (Satan’s Slaves)
Joko Anwar’s remake of Sisworo Gautamas Putra’s classic 1980 horror film Pengabdi Setan is downright excellent. His commitment to the lo-fi film language of old-school horror, expertly-staged scares, patient character building and wonderful narrative twists ensures that his take feels fresh yet familiar at the same time. It’s no wonder that this haunted house fright has already become such a mainstream sensation in Malaysia and Indonesia.
BlaKkKlansman is a righteous return to form for Spike Lee, offering blunt and biting condemnation of white supremacists, vibrantly wrapped-up in a pulpy fantasy based upon a real-life true story. Lee clearly pays homage to classic blaxploitation in terms of sound and style, whilst cleverly upending the genre’s tropes in sharply subversive ways. It’s a rare mix that can go from heroic and tragic to hilarious and absurd – resulting in blistering social commentary that’s exhilarating in its execution and distressing in its messaging. Read our full review here.
The entirety of Searching takes place on screens, following a father’s desperate search for his missing daughter through FaceTime, Skype, text chains, Instagram posts, YouTube, and a variety of other apps. Aneesh Chaganty’s feature debut isn’t just an innovative piece of storytelling made for this social media age, it evokes more effective emotional intimacy and suspenseful momentum than any thriller this year. This is an impressive technical marvel that layers its mystery with commentary about the prevalence of computers and phones in our lives.
In terms of 2018’s feminist heist films, if Ocean’s 8 was empty bubblegum, Widows is a prime slab of wagyu steak. Written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and starring a powerhouse ensemble led by Viola Davis – this is a riveting, somber and brutal crime thriller made with artful intelligence and social conscience. With more on it’s mind than a big score, Widows combines muscular action, complicated female characters and pulp escapism, with anger at powerful men, corrupt institutions and America’s systemic inequities.
26) The Shape of Water
A wondrous story of transformative love, overflowing with understanding and compassion. Part creature feature, part silent movie, part spy noir, part musical and part sensual fable – The Shape of Water might be genre-fluid, but it’s homages all coalesce into a vivid patchwork that is breathtakingly beautiful and exuberantly romantic. This love aquatic is probably Guillermo Del Toro’s finest work since Pan’s Labyrinth.
25) Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s filmmaking debut is a transcendent ode to one of life’s most awkward phases. Eighth Grade may be a simple story of an unremarkable girl growing up – but it’s so emotionally precise, beautifully observed, and tenderly told, that the film radiates through honesty and specificity. Anchored by Elsie Fisher’s wonderful performance, this film captures the essence of adolescent anxiety and vulnerability with uncommon sensitivity. Eighth Grade universally resonates, even if you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl growing up in the Snapchat era.
This South Korean adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning is a beautifully minimalist character drama that simmers with languid tension, inscrutable motivations and subtle observations about class divisions and youth alienation. Lee Chang-dong’s masterful film slowly builds to a scorching crescendo that rewards patience with entirely unexpected turns. Built upon exquisite performances from Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo – this hauntingly meditative mystery is a disquieting psychological masterpiece about human nature.
23) The Tale
Documentarian Jennifer Fox digs into her own sexual assault to tell this wrenchingly cathartic autobiographical story about the malleability of memory and repressed trauma. Fox (played powerfully by Laura Dern) encounters a story she wrote as a child that forces her re-contextualize her first “relationship”. What she remembers as a tender love affair she had as a 13-year-old with 40-year-old man, is reshaped into something far uglier with adult perspective, framed by duelling flashbacks where one represents memory while other represents reality.
22) American Animals
By combining documentary techniques into his stylish true-crime caper, Bart Layton has crafted one of the most unique heist films in history. American Animals creatively shapeshifts fictionalized re-enactments of the real-life “Transy Book Heist” according to conflicting accounts by the actual criminals. But beyond that clever storytelling device, the film’s greatest triumph is that it romanticizes the subjects’ Oceans fantasy only to a point. What starts out as the playful pipedream of bored boys, ends up being a sobering critique of young male entitlement.
21) Black Panther
Black Panther is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. Ryan Coogler doesn’t just delve into the cultural and scientific richness of Wakanda, a nation of black excellence uninterrupted by colonialism. His film’s greatest achievement is it’s exploration of what a country like this might mean sociopolitically. Black Panther is about identity, strength and heritage. It has the deepest bench of female badasses we’ve ever seen, and a truly tragic villain (Michael B Jordan steals the show) whose motivation and heartbreaking story almost makes you root for him. From narrative to acting to costuming to visuals to action to music, this film is a stunning triumph on all levels.
20) The Guilty
The Guilty is pure white-knuckle tension through and through. Set entirely within a police call center, this sublimely crafted Danish film follows an emergency dispatcher as he frantically tries to help an abducted woman. Gustav Möller’s chamber piece about a series of phone calls has no business being this riveting, or nerve-wracking, and yet it is. It’s unrelenting pace (unfolding in real time), outstanding performance (the entire film hinges on Jakob Cedergren’s voice and face), and immersive sound design, makes this claustrophobic thriller one of the best of 2018.
19) Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Mission: Impossible – Fallout isn’t just a franchise best, it’s one of the greatest action movies ever made. The team-up of Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise continues to be a winning formula, and this blockbuster is just chock full of heart-stopping, jaw-dropping sequences that will leave you with sweaty palms and white knuckles. But besides the death-defying practical stunt work and sophisticated set-pieces, this fleet footed and quick witted sixth installment still the retains the heart and tension that makes Ethan Hunt’s kinetic feats so compelling.
Centering around a bitter family separation, Custody offers an intimate portrayal of domestic horror and all-too realistic insight into the pathology of abuse. Xavier Legrand’s potent debut feature is unbearably tense and yet understated in it’s naturalism, immersing us in it’s uneasy atmosphere. This wrenching and psychologically searing French film is a gripping portrait of a mother and son’s ever escalating fear, and the shocking volatility of jilted masculinity.
Written and directed by Sandi Tan, Shirkers’ stranger than fiction documentary is a love letter to the lost history of Singapore’s young renegade filmmakers and the country’s bygone charm, as well as an exorcism of the ghost of a narcissistic, cinephile grifter who sabotaged Tan’s film. The creative DIY highs of her avant-garde passion project’s production, is contrasted with the heartbreaking frustration and strained friendships of it’s unfinished aftermath. Funny and poignant, this inventive investigation is both a celebration of outsider art and a cautionary tale.
16) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers’ latest is a brilliant anthology film that weaves together six vastly different short Western stories about the fabled American frontier. Sometimes blackly comedic, sometimes profoundly tragic, and sometimes hauntingly somber – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an Old West storybook that crackles with the Coens’ sardonic vernacular, quirky characters, gorgeous cinematography, and astonishing narrative turns. This six-shooter fires no blanks.
15) A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place is an expertly constructed exercise in tension building. Sound design always plays a crucial role in horror, but this movie’s use of utter silence to evoke discomfort and accentuate nervous alertness is exceptional. Continuous, ominous dread is maintained with such minimalism. So much of the acting here relies on facial expression or body language, and Emily Blunt’s physicality is particularly terrific. The set-pieces are masterful, the creature design is awesome, it’s internal logic makes sense, and even the family drama is painfully affecting. A Quiet Place succeeds on every level.
Gaspar Noé returns with a musical-horror freak out that’s sure to be seared into its audience’s collective psyche. Aptly entitled Climax, his latest effort finds the director at an artistic peak with a literal and metaphorical pain orgy that’s alternately orgasmic and sadistic. We follow a French dance troupe as their jubilant rehearsal after party descends into a hellishly hedonistic acid trip nightmare due to interpersonal conflict and LSD-spiked sangria. Read our full review here.
13) A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga astonish in their feature film directorial and acting debuts respectively. Soaring, tragic and filled with goosebump-inducing moments, A Star Is Born wows and wallops you with grandiose emotions, evoking the magic of old-fashioned cinema. This modern update of a seminal musical fable is an absolute triumph that will make you sing, swoon and sob. Cooper’s terrific take manages to make an old showbiz melodrama feel electrifyingly fresh through grounded performances and a fantastic soundtrack. Read our full review here.
12) Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical Lady Bird is absolutely wonderful. It’s a story of adolescence that’s so genuinely truthful, funny and moving that it makes other coming-of-age films feel like exercises in cliche. Saoirse Ronan is irresistible, testy and spirited, imbuing even her foibles with warmth and charm. Laurie Metcalf is similarly exceptional, portraying Christine’s frustrated mother with a subtle mix of hostility and generosity that elevates her beyond a parental obstacle into a complex secondary protagonist in her own right.
11) Avengers: Infinity War
After 18 movies of build-up, the Marvel Cinematic Universe crescendos with their most ambitious undertaking yet. Combining together 50 plus characters from nearly a dozen franchises is a gargantuan feat, and Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers should be applauded for accomplishing the impossible with such dazzling flourish. Sometimes more really is more, because Avengers: Infinity Waris everything a 10 year pay-off should be – overwhelmingly emotional, incredibly entertaining, and filled with dreadful stakes. Big bad Thanos is everything he’s cracked up to be, and then some. In a movie billed as the biggest superhero crossover of all-time, it’s the film’s terrifying and tragic villain that holds it all together.
10) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an absolute masterpiece of oblique morality. Martin McDonagh’s powder-keg narrative is blistering, heartbreaking, and surprisingly profound. More than a typical tale of a grieving mother seeking justice from incompetent police, this is a thoughtful character study of many sides, finding comedy in anger and forgiveness in violence. Stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell already have that Oscar in the bag for their incredible performances here, and they’re entirely deserved.
9) A Fantastic Woman
Artful, immersive and absolutely wrenching, Chile’s first Oscar-winning film is a stirring tale of grief, bigotry and the trans experience. Anchored by a powerhouse performance from Daniela Vega (drawing upon her real-life experiences to express subtle layers of vulnerability, boldness, warmth and concealed fury), A Fantastic Woman eschews caricatures of grief or heavy-handed depictions of prejudice, in favour of a more nuanced character study of loss and defiance in the face of indignity. Read our full review of Sebastián Lelio’s sublime magic-realist film here.
8) Sorry To Bother You
Boots Riley’s directorial debut is one of the wildest hate letters to capitalism you’ll ever see. This is a wonderfully bizarre film that dizzies with sheer originality, crafting a surrealist morality tale about race, class, identity politics and corporate greed – wrapped up in a balls-out dystopian sci-fi satire. Hilarious, confrontational and outrageous, Sorry To Bother You is a fearless film that juggles many tones, leaving your jaw on the floor with it’s many absurdist turns. Pure genius.
7) The Florida Project
By following the mischief of children, The Florida Project‘s sobering slice-of-life depiction of America’s impoverished fringes is given surprising joy and optimism. Set in a shabby, motel tucked just a few miles away from Disney World, Sean Baker’s warm and compassionate film offers a vivid child’s-eye-view of a marginalized community trying to get by in the garish shadow of the American Dream. Read our full review here.
6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Into The Spider-Verse isn’t just the best superhero movie of the year, it’s the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made. It’s dazzlingly unique art style is a comic-book come to vibrant life, it gives Miles Morales an emotional introductory arc, it joyfully services the lore of many multiversal Spider-People – and most of all, it’s a thrilling adventure with plenty of heart, humour and colour. Phil Lord and Chris Miller encapsulate the infinite possibilities of this arachnid archetype, showcasing why Spidey’s relatability and resilience continues to mean so much to so many different people from all walks of life, through countless iterations and generations.
Annihilation is a gorgeous, frightening, hypnotic, cosmic mind-trip. Part eco-horror and part philosophical sci-fi, Alex Garland crafts visceral yet ambiguous existential dread amidst dream-like kaleidoscopic wonder. Besides it’s breathtakingly surreal visuals and clever cinematic language, the film’s eerie tone is greatly by aided by an unsettling score from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Too bad we couldn’t experience this in a theater.
Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film feels like a gorgeous black and white scrapbook, filled with lyrical remembrances and poetic naturalism. Roma follows a young domestic worker for a family in a middle-class neighborhood of Mexico City, serving as a personal and artful love letter to the women who raised Cuarón. This portrait of domestic strife and social division in the tumultuous 1970s is affectingly authentic, lingering on the profundities of the everyday. Vividly realized and richly textured, this masterpiece fully immerses you into a panoramic slice of life.
Hereditary is an exquisitely crafted, deeply unsettling, painfully devastating and upsettingly grotesque story of the demons you inherit, both literal and figurative. Tonally reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby, Ari Aster’s film is a classically constructed, slow-burning fright fest that ranks up there among the best horror films of the 21st century. Cerebral yet visceral, you’ll find yourself returning to the film’s disturbing imagery to unpack it’s rich metaphors of mental illness and free will. Toni Collette’s tour de force performance here deserves an Oscar nomination.
2) Madeline’s Madeline
Josephine Decker’s latest film is a funhouse mirror distortion of the lines between performance art and reality – as told through the roiling psyche of a teenage actress whose mental illness is exacerbated by an emotionally exploitative theatre director. And the film does an exceptional job of plunging it’s audience into the girl’s struggle for clarity by totally upending traditional narrative cadence. Madeline’s Madeline is 2018’s most invigoratingly unique cinematic experience, anchored by the awe-inspiring feature debut of Helena Howard. Read our full review here.
1) Paddington 2
It may surprise you to learn that Paddington 2 recently claimed the title of best reviewed movie of all-time – and with good reason. Paul King’s sequel isn’t just exceptionally witty, heartwarming and visually inventive – it’s emphasis on the value of immigrant communities and multiculturalism is an important message for kids and adults alike (especially today). Kindness, open- mindedness and sympathy – as learnt from the perspective of a gorgeously-animated and extremely polite bear – what’s not to love?