We’ve had a busy year at Critical Popcorn and while some outlets have already give you their ‘Best’ films of 2018, we waited a few more weeks to try and bring you both the very latest and best films we’ve seen this year. We’ve also had a great year in terms of you wonderful lot getting involved and sharing your opinions and, for us, that’s the most important thing about the site.
Personally, this is Dan writing this, I’m proud of everyone who has contributed to the site and we’re hoping even more get involved in 2019. In the meantime though, check out my Top 5 films of the year below alongside two fantastic writers who’ve contributed so much this year, that’s Matt Dennis and Jazmine Sky Bradley, who continue to offer interesting insight and thoughtful reviews. And now, our countdown…
Jazmine’s Top 5 Films of 2018
#5 Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan can do no wrong. I was already sold on Lady Bird when I heard the premise – a coming-of-age story set in the mid-2000s, featuring flip phones, lip gloss, teenage crushes, and a soundtrack including early Justin Timberlake – but with Ronan as the star, I knew I had to be there.
While mooning over how brilliant Ronan is in everything, Lady Bird was the film that changed my opinion of Greta Gerwig. While, admittedly, I hadn’t seen her in much, I’m not a huge fan her ‘quirky, indie woman’ thing (think Frances Ha). However, this film proved to me that I was very wrong; Gerwig is a hard worker, a skilled director, and deserves all the credit bestowed on her.
Alongside the coming-of-age narrative, the sweet/sour relationship between Ronan’s Ladybird and Laurie Metcalf’s Marion hit home for myself and my mum, who I took with me to see it. Both characters are described as ‘loving, strong-willed and deeply opinionated’, and we left the cinema laughing and crying (or maybe that was just me) because their relationship was our relationship. There were even moments during when we both turned to each other and whispered, ‘That’s us!‘
#4 A Quiet Place
I’m not a horror fan. I will go out of my way to avoid horror/thriller releases – they make me uncomfortable, and I spend most of the screening looking at my hands, avoiding the screen itself. The week before seeing A Quiet Place, I went to see Ghost Stories. While a great film (apparently), I spent most of it staring at my fingernails and counting down the minutes until I could leave.
I thought A Quiet Place would be the same, but desperately wanted to make it through for Emily Blunt alone. I’m a huge fan of herself, husband John Krasinski, and their relationship, and A Quiet Place gave me all three in equal measure. While, at times, it was pretty uncomfortable for this scaredy cat, I loved every second. It left me on the edge of my seat, gave me a good dose of romance amongst the psychological thrill (that Harvest Moon scene), and I left the cinema wanting to be as badass as Blunt. A stunning directorial debut from Krasinski that I’d watch again and again.
#3 First Man
I’ll openly admit that I will watch ANYTHING with Ryan Gosling‘s name attached. Gosling in a semi-science fiction space drama, all based on a true story that I’ve been fascinated by since childhood? And directed by Damien Chazelle, the man who gave us dancing Gosling and Emma Stone in one of my all-time favourites La La Land? I AM THERE.
First Man has a tightly wound, intense narrative, which some have said they found boring. Fair, I can understand that. For me, it’s a tightly wound, intense story of one man’s grief, a grief so huge he has to leave earth to get some perspective. Beautifully shot, with a stunning score to match, Chazelle made space’s blank slate darkness and silence so emotionally charged that I cried hard at the end, once we’re finally given a release after the past 2.5 hours. Gosling and Claire Foy are perfectly matched, with a believable chemistry and fondness for each other you can see in their eyes. That final scene of the two of them on either side of the glass separation broke my heart and put it back together again, all in the space of two minutes.
Oh, and it made me feel incredibly travel sick. The emotional payoff was worth it, though.
#2 A Star is Born
When I first heard Bradley Cooper‘s name was attached to direct yet another remake of A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga/Stefani Germanotta to star, I made that ‘Pfffft’ noise you make when pooh-poohing something you really have no right to pooh-pooh. Pre-ASiB, aside from Silver Lining’s Playbook, I don’t think I’ve seen anything featuring Cooper I’d enjoyed, and when I heard his name I automatically thought of The Hangover (not a good thing).
As with my opinion of Gerwig, my thoughts on ASiB were drastically flipped once I watched the trailer, with smash hit Sorrow giving me goosebumps from start to finish. I knew this was a film for me. Tickets purchased, I settled in, believing I’d cry from start to finish (I’m a crier, can you tell?). While moved, I made it to the final act pretty put-together, surprised I wasn’t a blubbering wreck. That is, until the last seconds of screen time. Much like First Man, this is a film that wound my emotions into a tight spiral, not letting me go until the final credits rolled and I had to discreetly wipe my smudged mascara on the back of my hand.
The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga sizzles off the screen, it’s hard to imagine them not together in real life. The tumultuous story-line, with themes of addiction, mental health and the price of fame, all tied together with catchy musical numbers (that I quickly downloaded and have carpool karaoked to since), ASiB stunned me. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved, yet here I am, placing it at #2. Give Cooper and Gaga all the awards!
As I left the screening for Beast, I knew it would make it onto my Top 5 list for 2018. This was back in April, but as the say – when you know, you know.
Jessie Buckley plays Moll, a shy, quiet woman living at home, stifled by her overbearing mother and dull life living on the island of Jersey. Things for Moll are turned upside down when she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), with his local accent, dirty fingernails, and scruffy hair bleached from working hard in the sunshine. While his general appearance and attitude to life might put off Moll’s straight-laced family, it’s the rumours swirling around him that really turn their nose. With Pascal seen as an island loner, not known by many, he’s the prime suspect for a series of murders of young girls, the most recent uncovered earlier in the summer.
The fourth and final directorial debut on my top 5 list, if Beast is anything to go by, director Michael Pearce is set for great things. I left the screening with my heart beating out of my chest, astounded by what I’d seen. Buckley is equally beautiful and terrifying, quickly transforming from sweet innocence to cold unpredictability in seconds. Flynn is just as powerful on screen, unleashing a scary, unexpected anger at a moment’s notice. Both leads are so impressive, so believable, so ‘unhinged’ in a way, that it leaves us doubting what we believe to be the truth, leaving us to make up our own answers once the credits roll.
Beast is my most-recommended title, the one I’ve pushed on friends and family, the one I’ve been desperate to talk to others about. If there’s one thing you do before the year’s out, get a copy and enjoy. I hope you love it as much as I do.
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Matt’s best films of 2018
The fact that Paddy Considine directs with confident elan whilst delivering such a powerful, realistic and emotionally spot-on performance at the same time speaks volumes of how perfect a film Journeyman is. A hard-nosed and emotionally devastating film about a boxing champion struck by crippling brain damage, Journeyman doesn’t pull any punches, it’s tale of resilience in the face of adversity equal parts heartbreaking and shocking throughout, but ultimately liberating and inspiring.
For want of a better title, Journeyman is an undisputed champion through and through!
#4. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson‘s latest eccentric and ingenious tale was one tinged with sentimentality and style. Combining sublime stop-motion animation with unorthodox, theatrical storytelling and whimsical performances, Isle of Dogs serves as a strange but accessible celebration of man’s best friend, told in that weird yet wonderful way that only Anderson can pull off.
A film guaranteed to warm the heart and bring a smile to anyone’s face.
#3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh‘s best film yet by leaps and bounds, Three Billboards proved itself to be a perfectly grizzled, pitch-black drama, levied by amazing performances from Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Stocked to the brim with McDonagh’s trademark dark humour and captivating yet flawed characters that repeatedly tested the audience’s sympathies.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri provided some of this year’s biggest emotional kickers and repeatedly asked complex questions of it’s audience.
#2. Avengers: Infinity War
A culmination of ten years worth of unprecedented world-building, set-ups and running gags, all leading up to a bold, ballsy ending that still shocks on repeated viewing, Avengers: Infinity War may have first appeared to be just another almighty superhero slug-fest, but from its comic book roots grew a powerful, emotional, and sophisticated action blockbuster with genuine high stakes and breathless well-earned confidence to boot.
The only true disappointment is that we’ve had to wait a whole year for the momentous and emotional conclusion but, you can watch the trailer at least..!
#1 A Quiet Place
Mining every tiny moment to create as much nerve-shredding tension as possible, director John Krasinski delivered one of the most involving, effective and entertaining horror films of recent times this year with the utterly superb A Quiet Place. Wholly driven by absorbing character drama and punctuated with breathtaking set pieces, the film finds terror in the most mundane of situations, utilising sound to elevate the fear to whole new levels.
Definitely a film worth shouting about (but only if you dare)!
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Dan’s Top 5 Movies of 2018
#5 A Star Is Born
I hoped I’d like A Star Is Born and I was, at least, intrigued by the premise but I never felt it’d blow me away as much as it did. Both Cooper and Gaga are exceptional and although I’d never seen the previous films, in this refreshed remake, I was shocked, surprised and in awe of Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut.
This is a film about hope, love, loss and ultimately desire that flows through every vein of the story. They all have a sense of wanting to succeed in something they love, or in the passion they have for each other, or even in the deep-rooted belief of their own talents, A Star is Born is all about Ally and Jackson, just two people, and that understandable element means you connect but it’s done so honourably that it’s somehow still unique and utterly remarkable, with a killer soundtrack and an Oscar-ready song.
#4 They Shall Not Grow Old
While I’ll assume that not everyone would put a documentary into their films of the year, I felt that Peter Jackson’s astonishing They Shall Not Grow Old more than deserved a place due to both the work involved, and the team assembled, but more importantly the story that needed to be told.
Freshly scanned and meticulously restored, this archive footage from the Imperial War Museum found itself telling a new story due something very understated: Colourisation. As old black and white film was converted into colour, we saw real people from the Great War of all ages, we witnessed stories, changes in the realisation and reality of the moment and listened to stories of how people were affected, what they expected and how death all around never really left their minds.
While the saddening thing was that no-one really spoke about it after it ended, because we guess they didn’t want to at the time, and it seems we didn’t learn until WW2 how horrific War is, the positive outcome from They Shall Not Grow Old is the life it brought back to people who’d been forgotten by some, and the remembrance that was shared 100 years later across the country. It’s astonishing work, remembering some genuine heroes.
Before it was released, Paddy Considine gave the impression he didn’t feel fully ‘backed’ by some studios and marketing and, yet, upon the release of Journeyman, his second feature film, his doubt was seemingly lifted and pushed aside due to the outpouring of positive feedback from audiences everywhere. This very different Boxing story deserves every plaudit because it’s true to life and focuses on something that’s often glossed over in the movies: Brain damage.
The film resonates long after the screening, not just due to the performances from Considine and Jodie Whittaker, but because it was something I hadn’t seen explored before and it’s achieved with huge heart and honesty. It also doesn’t bring a negative vibe to Boxing and, if anything, his role in the sport he loves aids his recovery. Journeyman is an outstanding story about strength, the very real struggle of re-building your life after a brain injury and it’s hugely, intelligently affecting. There were tears, laughs and, most importantly, real hope as the credits rolled.
#2 Lady Bird
While there were a few films vying for a place in my Top 5, Lady Bird jumps in effortlessly because of Saoirse Ronan but also Greta Gerwig’s exceptional character study and enveloping story of youth and getting older. Sure, it might focus on a young teenage girl but I felt my personal youth reflected in moments and situations, and this comes down to an excellent script and real performance from Ronan.
The film is beautifully shot and edited, I felt every moment of its sharp script and the supporting top class cast as Lady Bird offers up comments on friendship (a wonderful circle of a story with her best friend Julie stands out), choices made in young love, drinking alcohol, family grievances and all those relationships entwined as director Gerwig, with her feature debut, gives us one of the best, most original teen comedy-dramas in years, I recommended it to anyone.
#1 Leave No Trace
This film came a little later than the theatrical release to me but also became the most unforgettable and original I’ve seen this year. While the basic centre of the story is a father and his daughter, Debra Granik’s film covers a huge range of topics including society, relationships, growing up, investing and still believing in each other and more. I read a comment from somone who said they felt like director Granik ‘stumbled’ upon the pair in the forest and I think that’s a wonderful insight.
While both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie give compelling performances, it’s the latter who stands out as an exceptional talent. She’s beyond believable; she’s a real character taking us on her journey between hopefulness and sadness. Leave No Trace is deeply uplifting and strangely, quite unexpectedly, original because the people they meet along the way are always helpful. This might seem like a small thing but in an era of fear, and of the unknown, this approach must be strongly applauded.
While Leave No Trace is undoubtedly bittersweet, and you’d be a tough nut not to crack at the quivering lip of sadness, it’s also packed full of so much strength and a vital message to everyone: Be Kind.
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That concludes our countdown for 2018, share yours via our Social Media sites below, and we look forward to welcoming everyone next year. There must also be a thanks to Amelia, John and Bradley for contributing this year!