Artful horror, surreal anti-capitalist critique, teen anxieties, and a truly fresh rom-com: this is what we were watching this year
In 2018, the cinema feels like a more precious space than ever. How many other places do we have in the world where we go to sit, in the dark, with our attention entirely transfixed on one thing for at least an hour? In fact, how many spaces do we have where there’s a social contract that we all put our phones away? As a sanctuary of escapism from endless newsfeeds, the cinema is where we took refuge this year. And thank God we did, because it was a great year for film.
After some careful consideration and heated debate, here’s Dazed’s 20 favourite movies of 2018: from the artistic, nuanced documentaries that broadened our horizons, to the blockbuster movies with fresh agendas, to the Netflix rom-com we watched a million times. (Bear in mind, these are all movies that premiered in 2018 – some may not have had their UK release yet, while others that did have their theatrical release this year featured on our 2017 list.)
20. KUSAMA – INFINITY (HEATHER LENZ)
Mental health has never been as widely discussed in culture as it is now. Reinforcing this is Kusama – Infinity, the documentary looking at the life of Yayoi Kusama. The brave film lay bare her lifelong struggle with mental health, and how she has always used art as a way to alleviate her pain.
I love this film because it dispels the romanticism of the tortured artist. In Infinity, we take a journey with Kusama over the 89 years she has grappled with hallucinations. The film shows the role art plays in the human psyche, and the fact that there is always a way to seek help. It’s electrifying, not only for the way in which it so intricately spotlights Kusama’s widely unknown hardships, but also how deep it takes you into her world as an outsider woman of colour artist in a white male-dominated field. Director Heather Lenz depicts Kusama’s widely unknown ‘lost years’ with tenderness, gently allowing Kusama to acknowledge and reflect on her attempted suicides, and her successive rise from the ashes. If destroying the stigma around mental health is our generation’s battle, then Infinity is one of our greatest cultural warriors. (Lexi Manatakis)
19. BLACK PANTHER (RYAN COOGLER)
Every once in a while, a piece of work comes along that taps into a social mood and becomes a movement. Depicting a futuristic view of a fictional Africa that was never colonised, Black Panther did just that in January, as Wakanda and its salute became a symbol of solidarity for the diaspora worldwide.
No one could have predicted that Disney could summon London’s pan-African cool kids and unite them over a fictional representation of the motherland, but it did. At its London premiere, Black Panther moved black people to dress in cultural garments; there were Nigerian gele (head wraps), Ghanaian kente cloth, and some who made themselves up to look like African royalty a la Coming to America. At a time when it felt like the only images of black people were ones of pain, protest, poverty, as villains or victims, Black Panther was soothingly escapist. A strong highlight was the raucous laughter that erupted from black people after Letitia Wright’s line, “Don’t scare me like that, coloniser”. Because, you know, imperialism fucked Africa up. Yes, Black Panther was a Marvel superhero film. But the importance of it lies in who gets to see themselves as heroic, rather than being the underdog. (Kemi Alemoru)
18. WIDOWS (STEVE MCQUEEN)
A sleek and sophisticated heist thriller for the ages, Steve McQueen's Widows exalts the genre into inspired new territory. Based upon the early-90s miniseries of the same name, the movie trains its unwavering eye upon four women who've lost their husbands to the same crime bust, and who must pay their outstanding debts to a fearsome creditor. Veronica (Viola Davis) assembles this rag-tag crew of women to rally together to complete one last heist, discovered plotted to perfection in the journals left behind by her dead husband, Harry (Liam Neeson).
What follows is a galvanising adventure into the belly of white collar crime with four amateurs each fuelled by their individual circumstances, and each with nothing to lose. Gillian Flynn's script – her best since Gone Girl – sharply weaves socioeconomic themes into the narrative, giving a heft to the story that provides added relevance, along with the revised setting of Chicago's south side. It’s a true heart-racer, with plot twists that actually manage to shock, as well as a seductively artful piece of cinema. McQueen continues his run as one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers working in cinema today. (Patrik Sandberg)
17. MCQUEEN (IAN BONHÔTE, PETER ETTEDGUI)
If, like me, you didn’t have a front (or second, or third) row seat to any of Alexander McQueen’s often visceral, sometimes uncomfortable, but never, ever boring runway shows, the most you’ll have seen of them is likely through YouTube as watched on small screen – not the way they should ever be seen, of course, but needs obviously must. This year, though, McQueen changed all that. Not only did Peter Ettedgui and Ian Bonhôte’s sensitive and beautifully realised film allow us a glimpse into the life of one of fashion’s greatest (and most ‘real’) designers, it also took some of his most vivid, innovative collections – including Highland Rape, Plato’s Atlantis, and Voss – and blew them up to never-been-seen-before proportions, which, when combined with archival, candid footage and personal accounts from those who knew and loved him, results in a truly emotional, sometimes overwhelming visual experience that highlights exactly why he is so missed. Have the tissues ready. (Emma Davidson)
16. COLD WAR (PAWEŁ PAWLIKOWSKI)
Paweł Pawlikowski's Cold War is at once a stark aesthetic statement, a loving familial tribute, and a heartbreaking romance that strikes with rare impact. Inspired by the experience of the director's parents, the film chases two star-crossed lovers across postwar Europe – rural Poland, East Berlin, bohemian Paris, Yugoslavia – as they fall apart and back together, struggling to create lives for themselves as working musicians.
Cinematographer Lukas Zal creates breathtaking composition from the Polish architectural ruins to the jazz clubs of Paris. The black-and-white, 4x3 frame lends a stylised sense of confinement to the evolving fluidity of a romance that threatens to fly off the rails at any moment. Tomasz Kot brings a sense of strong, silent gravity to the role of Wiktor, and Joanna Kulig gives a star-making performance as Zula, who lifts Polish folk songs into the realm of pop music as she begins her recording career and finds liberation in the smoky clubs of Paris – a scene of her dancing to Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" is destined for celluloid immortality. In a year bursting with exciting cinema, nothing touches the glamour and the romance of this one. (Patrik Sandberg)
15. SHAKEDOWN (LEILAH WEINRAUB)
Welcome to Shakedown. A black lesbian strip club in early 2000s LA, the club night is the subject of Leilah Weinraub’s hazy, VHS-thetic paean to a never-discussed subculture that was a vital, after-hours lifeline to queer women of colour in the city. Weinraub worked there as a ‘video lady’, years before her later career as CEO and co-founder of Hood by Air. In the documentary, she collates the lo-fi footage she shot at the time, and tells the stories of the women who performed there, forces of life like Egypt and Jazmine, and the night’s founder, Ronnie-Ron. All the while, police and other, less specific forces of gentrification hover: while watching, the ominous soundtrack and chapter-like progression let you know that this isn’t a moment that’s going to last forever.
Shakedown blew my mind at February’s Berlinale festival, especially in the context of some other films shown there. In contrast, it hit you even harder how movie screens so often play host to the same subjects over and over. Weinraub’s biggest triumph? Making space for her queer, black superstars in contemporary art galleries and theatres the world over. (Claire Marie Healy)
14. SUSPIRIA (LUCA GUADAGNINO)
Suspiria is the new blue/gold dress – no one online can agree about it. Which is no surprise, really. Ostensibly a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is, ironically, one of the year’s most original horror movies. It’s a chilling combo-platter of witchy dancing, Cold War politics, and psychosexual intrigue. There’s no attempt to be a mainstream crowd-pleaser: the mute colour palette is deliberately draining, Thom Yorke’s soundtrack is on the opposite end of “Creep”, and where you expect an action set-piece, it sneaks in a history lesson.
Nevertheless, you still watch the new Suspiria through the prism of Argento’s movie, and end up leaving the cinema struck by how it deviates from the source material. In that sense, Suspiria is like jazz for two reasons: it’s about the notes Guadagnino doesn’t play, and anyone quick to dismiss it is plain wrong. It’s a labour of love, where every production detail is worthy of over-analysis (even the title font was designed by the guy responsible for the Star Wars opening scroll), and it deserves a similar cult status to the one afforded to Argento's original – and, for that matter, to Call Me By Your Name. (Nick Chen)
13. MADELINE’S MADELINE (JOSEPHINE DECKER)
Helena Howard as a cat, purring and licking and hissing, has to be the most memorable expression of adolescent angst – never mind opening scene – of 2018 cinema. Just 18 at the time of filming, newcomer (and Dazed cover star) Howard is the irresistible centre of director Josephine Decker’s tale of the troubled teen acting prodigy, Madeline. There’s also Madeline’s long-suffering mother, played by Miranda July, and the experimental theatre director whose intentions for Madeline seem, at best, to help her cathartically work through her issues on stage, and at worst, to exploit the teen’s poor mental health for her own benefit (Molly Parker).
Madeline’s Madeline had a very strange birth – a film about experimental theatre that itself arose from a series of exploratory theatre workshops – and for a long time it lacked plot or a script. Howard herself was the project’s driving force – as she revealed in her Autumn 2018 cover story, “it was initially going to be a story of my life”. If this all sounds overly complex, it’s not: Decker has managed to make an absurdist film about pretentious people, through possibly pretentious means, and the result is the most respectful, galvanising, searingly honest expression of the anxieties of the young generation on-screen that I’ve seen in a very long time. (Claire Marie Healy)
12. MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. (STEPHEN LOVERIDGE)
Steven Loveridge’s long-delayed documentary about the British-Tamil star divides neatly into two halves. In the first, a pre-fame M.I.A. tries to make sense of her hybrid cultural identity on a trip to her homeland of Sri Lanka, caught on camera by the musician in her days as an aspiring filmmaker. In the second, we revisit the furiously debated flashpoints – Truffle-gate! Madonna-gate! “Born Free”! – that saw her career become mired in controversy.
Both of these halves ask searching and timely questions about about race, class and privilege in an industry currently doing a lot of soul-searching on all of the above, and if MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. occasionally misses the visceral punch of M.I.A.’s early music as a result, it’s worth it for a film that deals honestly with a singer whose talents have often been wilfully misconstrued. In showing the messy human realities at the heart of her work, MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. is an important, timely record of one of the greatest pop stars this country has produced. (Alex Denney)
11. THE SQUARE (RUBEN ӦSTLUND)
Ruben Östlund deals exclusively in the excruciating. 2014’s Force Majeure is a harrowing, hilarious drama about a nuclear family falling apart in the wake of a father’s cowardly response to an avalanche, and his latest film The Square plays around in equally mundane yet fertile ground: the art world.
Starring Claes Bang as the self-obsessed, absolutely full-of-shit curator, The Square is a nail-biting assassination of the exclusivity, pretension and cliché that infects art galleries. It features – without doubt – the scene of the year, when Terry Notary (movement instructor on Planet Of The Apes) terrifies a well-to-do crowd at an exhibition opening with a performance art piece that veers too far into reality for the guests to take.
There is a delicious irony in Östlund's masterpiece winning the Palme D'Or, and it’s an outcome he hoped for. “The sequence with Terry Notary was made with the goal of having our premiere at Cannes,” he told Dazed. “Everyone at Cannes was dressed like the people on screen,” Bang recalls. “You could really feel the unease in the room.” (Thomas Gorton)
10. THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (DESIREE AKHAVAN)
Based on Emily Danforth’s novel of the same name, Desiree Akhavan’s Sundance-winning The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is an expertly produced coming-of-age portrait that’s meaningful, moving, funny and tragic all at once. Coerced by her guardian into signing herself into conversion camp God’s Promise – a place she now cannot leave without the approval of the centre’s spiritual leaders – Cameron (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) is enrolled in a relentless programme of menial tasks, prayers, ‘blessercize’ aerobics classes and karaoke nights. It’s not too dissimilar from a typical US summer camp – only this camp has mandatory group therapy sessions, one-on-one spiritual counselling, and subconscious ‘icebergs’ on which residents must note down all the traumas that have led to their ‘same-sex perversion’.
It’s an undeniably queer film, but Miseducation also has a broad appeal – in the setting of gay conversion therapy, it’s really about something felt universally by teenagers who are on the cusp of adulthood. Something about themselves isn’t quite right, something’s broken, something needs correcting or improving in some way. That mission, to tell an authentic story about adolescence, thoughtfully and with heart, is what makes The Miseducation Of Cameron Post one of the most compelling queer films of the year. (Thomas Adam Curry)
9. BURNING (LEE CHANG-DONG)
An existential drama, a black comedy, a murder-mystery, a doomed love triangle, an arthouse Gone Girl. These are just a handful of ways to describe Lee Chang-dong’s masterful, absorbing thriller, Burning. The film is hard to pin down, as is its minimal plot – for lengthy sections, you’re gripped, even though it’s hard to tell if anything is happening at all. Adding fuel to the fire is the universality of the story: young people furious at an unfair world, rising unemployment, low wages, and the absence of an obvious, tangible solution.
At the centre is Yong-su, a frustrated, unemployed novelist who complains, “There are too many Gatsbys in Korea.” So even though Burning is officially a Haruki Murakami adaptation, it’s as much a riff on F. Scott Fitzgerald. If Yong-su is Nick, then his Gatsby is Ben (Steven Yeun), a yawning millionaire and possible arsonist; and Haemi is Daisy, a near-friendless engima whose voice is full of depression. But the centrepiece dance sequence is a pure invention on Lee Chang-dong’s part: Haemi smokes weed, loses all social inhibitions, and strips off outdoors, her silhouette swaying during magic hour. You envy her freedom – until she stops and breaks down in tears. (Nick Chen)
8. TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE (SUSAN JOHNSON)
This year, I’ve made it pretty clear I’m in love with this film. Along with Crazy Rich Asians – the first all-Asian cast Hollywood film in 25 years – Netflix’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s best-selling young adult novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was 2018’s soothing balm to the headache of 2017’s whitewashing controversies. And, while I really enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians in all its blockbuster billionaire-boyfriend-fantasy-fashion glory, the power of seeing Asian-American actress Lana Condor as Lara Jean Song Covey, navigating the highs and lows of high school romance, resonated on another (more relatable) level.
Hitting all the familiar beats of a teen rom-com, To All the Boys… finally gave me – and all the other hyphenate Asian girls out there – the satisfaction of seeing ourselves no longer as the racist stereotype side character, but as the Molly Ringwald of a John Hughes-esque film. Finally, we’re worthy of the same kind of swooning, teen love that plays out in football pitch kisses with popular boys, unchaperoned school trip antics, secret notes passed in class, and hands in back pockets that all-American white girls have enjoyed in films for decades. To All the Boys… is the teen rom-com I spent my teenagehood wishing for, and it’s better than never.
At least in 2018, the film has the added benefits of a great, Blood Orange-inclusive soundtrack, and social media reactions that prove every Hollywood exec (including those author Jenny Han had to fight to keep Lara Jean’s canon Asian-American heritage) should set aside any qualms they ever had about casting an Asian as a romantic lead. From Twitter memes to Halloween costumes, the love for To All the Boys… (and more representational rom-coms in general) is clear. For their part, the powers-that-be seem to be listening for once, with a sequel confirmed to be in the works. Until then, you best believe I’ll be replaying this movie every time I’m in need of a wholesome “moon day” pick-me-up. (Vanessa Hsieh)
7. BLACKKKLANSMAN (SPIKE LEE)
Without knowing anything else of the plot, when the trailer for BlacKkKlansman dropped and showed that a black man infiltrates the KKK with the help of a Jewish ally, I was sold. Especially once it was revealed that it was (loosely) based on a real police operation that happened in Colorado Springs in the 70s.
With a script from Get Out’s Jordan Peele and Spike Lee at the helm as director, BlacKkKlansman is a film as political as it is hysterical. There were some understandable reservations about its plot – in this current political climate, could the film afford to award the hero narrative to a couple of cops and a mostly white police department? Should it not have dug deeper into the uncomfortably close relationship police departments had with white nationalists? Still, it fits in neatly with the class of 2018 films that are an irreverent take on today’s social problems. By its harrowing end, though, there’s little room for doubt that this is a film that aims to seriously tackle the threat of white supremacy. (Kemi Alemoru)
6. EIGHTH GRADE (BO BURNHAM)
Even someone whose attention span has been rotted by social media will find Eighth Grade engrossing from start to finish. The empathetic coming-of-age movie begins with Kayla, a 13-year-old vlogger, dishing out life advice to her YouTube subscribers. She suggests that “everything will work out if you’re just being yourself”, and then signs off with her catchphrase: “Gucci!” But IRL, Kayla has no friends, no viewers, and – most upsettingly of all – no self-confidence. In a genre populated with sitcom-y, wise-cracking teens, here’s a movie that actually gets, among many things, the everyday anxieties of adolescence.
That’s not to say Eighth Grade isn’t funny. It is, and often. It’s written and directed by Bo Burnham, a comedian who, unlike Kayla, became a viral sensation at 16. His future, though, is clearly in filmmaking. There’s no plot, per se, yet every social interaction feels like a life-or-death scenario. I’m not kidding: the scene where Kayla attends a popular kid’s pool party is more nail-biting than the climax of Hereditary. You will cringe extremely hard at the relatable moments, and then find catharsis from witnessing it happen to someone else. Gucci! (Nick Chen)
5. THE HATE U GIVE (GEORGE TILLMAN JR.)
There’s been a recurring theme in cinema this year of the power contained in voices. Sorry to Bother You and BlackKklansman both explored the phenomenon of the white voice. But what makes The Hate U Give stand out from the rest is that it’s not about assimilating, mimicking or interpolating a voice in order to get to where you need – it’s about learning how to find your own. It follows a girl called Starr, who watches her friend get brutally murdered by police. She’s portrayed by Amandla Stenberg, who does an excellent job of communicating the tension between her two disparate existences as she tries to make herself palatable to both her very white school and her majority black neighbourhood. THUG unpacks racial justice against the backdrop of one teen’s difficult choice: either trying to fit in or to rise up. At a time when viewers need to learn how to navigate the very real threat of white supremacy, seeing this type of narrative on the big screen is vital. (Kemi Alemoru)
4. ISLE OF DOGS (WES ANDERSON)
If you’ve ever owned a flea-ridden pet, a Blu-Ray DVD of Rushmore, or a desire to see Jeff Goldblum voice a gossiping husky, then Isle of Dogs was always going to be for you. But the Japan-set animated adventure is especially intricate and esoteric – even for Wes Anderson’s high standards. A (doggy) treat for the eyes and ears, Anderson’s deadpan comedy is, if anything, overwhelming: each elegant frame is littered with in-jokes, the furry puppets are lovingly constructed, and the stop-motion visuals are seamlessly integrated with hand-drawn illustrations. Fantastic Mr Fox looks lazy in comparison.
What’s more, the film boasts one of the most eclectic, star-studded casts of recent memory. Along with Goldblum, there’s Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, ScarJo, Yoko Ono, and Tilda Swinton. (And Anjelica Huston as a mute poodle, not that she barks much.) All in all, you could write an essay about any moment of this film picked at random. But let’s highlight the food scene of the year: a chef preparing sushi with poisonous wasabi in order to assassinate a professor. The sequence is salivating, hypnotic, and leaves you willing to die for a fictional fish dish that’s probably made out of plastic. (Nick Chen)
3. HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (RAMELL ROSS)
“What is the orbit of our dreaming?” That's a question that floats itself on the screen during the first few minutes of Hale County This Morning, This Evening, director RaMell Ross’s tender portrait of a county in Alabama. It’s a question that continues to rattle around your mind as the scenes unfold – long, gentle vignettes that depict the potential that can be found within limitations. A toddler runs back and forth in his living room with the focus and determination of someone sprinting a marathon. A basketball player relentlessly shoots hoops alone. A man burns tyres in the woods, and Ross turns his camera to the billowing smoke, which is cut through with slices of sunshine.
Ross moved to Hale County in 2009 to teach basketball and photography, and began filming the black community there – in particular, two young men named Daniel and Quincy – shortly afterward. His treatment of everyone in the film is naturalistic and warm, his close-ups pulling the viewer’s eyes to magnetic details (a dribble of saliva rolls down a baby’s belly; a mother slowly, carefully styles her daughter’s hair). “We’re conditioned away from instinctual existence,” Ross said in a recent interview. “There’s very much a lack of inside-looking beauty in black culture or black cinema because most people have been looking from the outside. People tell me, ‘Oh, the film is so beautiful! Could you give me advice on, like, how do I talk to people to shoot with this eye?’ And I’ve been like, to be honest with you, that’s just the way I see Hale County and my friends. If I had some advice for you, it would just be to give people in those communities cameras, and then tell them the trappings of traditional ways of looking, and they would do the same thing. It’s not rocket science at all.”
In an age of reductive, urgent clickbait narratives, we talk a lot about our culture's relationship with nuance. How do we tell stories in a way that really shows, and values, the fullness of a person? Hale County is an answer, and an antidote; in its slow, delicate movement, its natural way of seeing, and the way it colours its subjects outside the lines, it’s the most human film of 2018. (Aimee Cliff)
2. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (BOOTS RILEY)
In 2012, The Coup released their fifth album, Sorry to Bother You. The hip-hop group’s frontman, Boots Riley, intended for the record to drum up interest in his then-unproduced screenplay. So never mind the delayed UK release – here’s a film Riley’s been tinkering with for quite a while. On reflection, it’s time well spent. Not only does Riley delve into weighty themes like code-switching, the responsibility of artists, and the pitfalls of capitalism, but he packages these conversation-starters into a wildly imaginative popcorn movie. The playful visuals are redolent of Michel Gondry, the universe is realised enough to include its own fictional TV channels, and it’s all surprisingly informative about the ins and outs of unionisation.
Moreover, Sorry to Bother You eschews easy categorisation. The publicised hook – Lakeith Stanfield implements a “white voice” to advance his career – barely scratches the surface. Genre-wise, it’s a subversive amalgam of sci-fi comedy, workplace politics, body horror and social satire. Above all, though, it’s just flat-out entertaining, and I can see myself rewatching it for years to come. Plus, Armie Hammer, as the villainous CEO of Worry Free, deserves an Oscar for his cocaine snorting alone. (Nick Chen)
1. HEREDITARY (ARI ASTER)
“(Ari Aster) once told me, ‘I have all this sickness inside of me, and I want to put it into everyone else’,” says Hereditary star Alex Wolff in a YouTube clip, pointing to his stomach. Despite this, Aster’s directorial debut was never intended to be seen as a horror — at least in the classic sense. He grew up on films like Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, stories of family betrayal and power struggles amid a hurricane of trauma.
The sickness at the pit of the director’s stomach had been festering for a while. The New York auteur’s 2011 short The Strange Thing About The Johnsons follows an incestuous father-son relationship into murder. In Munchausen, two years later, Aster zoomed in on the namesake disorder, where parents fake illnesses in their children for attention.
Magical realism for the Lars von Trier generation, Hereditary is a cavernous anti-fairy tale about an American family who were doomed centuries before they were born. It turns a domestic play into a meditation on cause and effect; a meditation on cause and effect into a drama about grief; and a drama about grief into a bloodbath orchestrated by the devil.
Its axis of evil is Wolff, a haunted teenager who mistakenly triggers a crescendo of creative horrors that Hieronymus Bosch would be proud of. With Colin Stetson’s purgatorial jazz score, Toni Collette’s tour-de-gore as his unmoored mother, and razor sharp editing, Hereditary is evil to the bone. It’s that rare masterpiece of a horror movie that leaves you far more terrified of your own demons than ones that can be imagined. (Jack Mills)