Little White Lies

The 30 best films of 2018

Our annual countdown of the movies that made the biggest impression on us this year, from Hereditary to The House That Jack Built.

We don’t know about you, but we’ve had a cracking time at the movies this year. From eye-catching first features to timely documentaries to staggering lost masterworks, there’s been no shortage of cinematic treats to savour over the past 12 months. As per last year’s list, we’ve carefully selected and ranked our 30 favourite films that were released either in the UK or US in 2018, excluding a handful of titles which were lumped in with the 2017 awards season. Check out the full list below, and share your personal top 10 with us @LWLies. We’ll see you in 2019 for more great movies.

30. Shirkers

What we said: “Given the contribution the original film should have had to Singapore’s independent film movement, it feels trite to compare the look of the Shirkers footage with American productions that emerged since its early ’90s shoot. But Sandi Tan openly brings up such comparisons herself, describing how Shirkers, as this spiritual force, sent her distress signals during the years where she’d wanted to forget the whole thing.”

Read the full review

29. Mandy

What we said: “With a hefty dose of ultraviolence in the form of mind-boggling set-pieces involving battleaxes and chainsaws, Mandy has the same stylistic look and feel as Craig S Zahler’s recent gore-fests Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, but thematically it’s closer to a moodier, LSD-tripping cousin of David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch.”

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28. Have a Nice Day

What we said: “This deadpan noir roundelay does away with the detail that doesn’t matter – the skin, the texture, the goddamned hair follicles – and is militantly selective about, per Martin Scorsese’s dictum, what is in and what is out of the frame. It’s an impressionistic idea of what a place should look like, and the smoothed-over, guerilla-style animation technique offers a perfect mirror of the story’s down-and-out milieu.”

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27. Widows

What we said: “Steve McQueen does what he does best, creating a fully-realised world containing complex and compelling characters while once again demonstrating his stylistic flair. Intricate mirror shots and one particularly canny conversation in a car are standout set-pieces, as McQueen presents modern-day Chicago as a city built on corruption and exploitation.”

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26. Mission: Impossible Fallout

What we said: “This is a rare bird in contemporary blockbuster cinema, a star vehicle that adds up to more than the sum of its high-gloss, precision-tooled parts. Where the franchise has tended to lean too heavily on Cruise in the past, the sixth instalment feels like a genuine team effort.”

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25. Annihilation

What we said: “Annihilation wears its feminist credentials lightly, but it does call attention to the intrinsic link between womanhood and nature through some striking symbolic imagery, a dark tunnel leading to a womb-like chamber being the most explicit example. Fertility, death and rebirth are recurring motifs in this coolly affecting existential parable, and shots of cells dividing and mutating in microscopic detail allude to the way that bodily and mental trauma can deepen and spread if left untreated.”

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24. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse

What we said: “The film takes great pleasure in adapting the comic book aesthetic to the screen in a way that hasn’t really been attempted since Ang Lee’s Hulk 15 years ago. It’s full of artistic flourishes that pay homage to the form, with transitions that look like pages flipping, liberal use of panels, written sound effects and onomatopoeia (look out for the “bagel!” sound effect), yellow caption boxes, and freeze frames that echo splash pages – all of which burst into the film following Mile’s spider-bite.”

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23. The Old Man & the Gun

What we said: “Having previously brought us films about lonely ghosts and a young boy’s relationship with a gentle dragon, David Lowery’s latest feature proves his wide-ranging talent as a filmmaker, but also underlines an important common theme connecting his work: the unique power and poignancy of storytelling. Like a bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re ill, or a loved one waiting with a smile at the airport arrivals hall, The Old Man & the Gun is a balm for the soul.”

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22. Black Panther

What we said: “Although Black Panther is an origin story, it neatly avoids getting bogged down in establishing backstory, using an inventive opening credits sequence and just a few flashbacks to set the scene. Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole manage to establish a whole new cast in record time while making you care about them too. It functions perfectly as a standalone movie, one that feels thrillingly unshackled from the constraints of the MCU.”

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21. Hale County This Morning, This Evening

What we said: “A bright, bold assemblage of threads, thoughts, images and ideas are proposed, and a multiplicity of perspectives are presented. Hale County This Morning, This Evening is an act of amplification and beautification. It defines the precepts and platitudes of southern black life. Through framing and editing, small moments are imbued with a sense of spiritual grace, and the entirely mundane is recalibrated as the sublime.”

20. Shoplifters

What we said: “Hirokazu Koreeda has found a stellar cast for his motley crew, with unquestionably strong performances throughout, but Ando is particularly striking as Nobuyo. A complex young woman old before her time, she wears a near-constant expression of amusement, always trying to do the best for people even if it means telling them things they don’t want to hear.”

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19. Ex Libris

What we said: “Frederick Wiseman’s biting humour shines through without uttering a direct word, burying politics beneath the surface. However, the latter scene is more determined to derive respect for people whose jobs require astounding patience – the calmness of a man informing someone that unicorns don’t exist is almost as inspiring as his ability to prove this by translating its earliest recorded use from Middle English.”

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18. BlacKkKlansman

What we said: “Spike Lee’s astuteness both as a social commentator and a filmmaker lies in his ability to entertain while making you think. In BlacKkKlansman, he pays homage to various blaxploitation-era touchstones as a means of celebrating black art and culture, specifically in the context of its emergence and evolution as a form of resistance. He also states in no uncertain terms that America has always been in the business of selling hate.”

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17. Western

What we said: “The pristine Bulgarian countryside is tinged with melancholy as the workers start altering the course of the river, just as the virgin soil of classic westerns appears full of broken promises today since modernisation eventually killed off the cowboy way and the American Dream seems like nothing more than that – a dream.”

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16. Isle of Dogs

What we said: “In its design, Megasaki itself inhabits both past and future – it is an audacious study in Japanese futurism, and it’s easy to spot the influence of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa in the elaborate graphic animation sequences and the use of a soulful guitar melody borrowed from the latter’s 1948 noir Drunken Angel. Rather than feeling derivative, Isle of Dogs feels like an impassioned and sincere response to the work of these master filmmakers”

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15. Let the Sunshine In

What we said: “Claire Denis isn’t simply making a movie about the difficulties – both externally imposed and dredged up from within in response – for women on or past the threshold of middle age to find, reclaim, or fully disavow “true love”, which is itself a rich and original theme. She subjects her heroine (and, some might suggest, projected alter ego) to an analysis of how and why she makes her choices.”

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14. Hereditary

What we said: “Part relationship psychodrama, part ghost story, part exploration of inherited madness, Hereditary is a film which refuses to parlay into a set definition of horror, which is its twisting, slippery strength. It begs to be rewatched, reconsumed and resurrected so that some part of its spiralling weirdness might become more familiar.”

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13. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

What we said: “What the Coens have captured here is not just a series of colourful snapshots of their country’s past, but a perfect evocation of its people’s dreams and identity, of the shared mindset that was instilled during those challenging yet ultimately prosperous post-Civil War years. This is a film about America.”

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12. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

What we said: “A story about desperation, humiliation and the strange world of celebrity correspondence fraud, Marielle Heller’s film feels like a departure from her debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but is further evidence that she is the real deal. With a not-quite sepia tone to her vision of early ’90s New York, Heller creates a lonely world for her characters to inhabit.”

Read our first-look review

11. The Other Side of the Wind

What we said: “To say this was worth the wait is the understatement of the century. Orson Welles made this sinewy, pulverising provocation with the intention of renewing and reinvigorating the medium of cinema. To think what would’ve happened had this been completed in its day, we might not even be standing here. It feels like a gilded gateway to new creative pastures, existing only due to financial underwriting from Netflix and a magical salvage job.”

10. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

What we said: “Touches of ’90s nostalgia raise a smile but never feel campy or over-the-top. Flannel shirts, a Clinton/Gore bumper sticker, Cameron attempting to swipe a Breeders cassette – these details place the film in a specific period, but they don’t date it. Desiree Akhavan paints a vivid portrait of life as a gay person in a post-Stonewall world, before LGBT rights came into their own and the internet provided found families for queer people everywhere.”

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9. Burning

What we said: “Burning is the full package, tangling with old school genre while also rippling with literary portent and offering a stark picture of economic inequality in South Korea. When boiled down, the film feels like an indictment of class stricture, and even Haemi’s choice of lover seems to double as a binary decision for cosy squalor or fast-tracked upward mobility.”

Read our first-look review

8. You Were Never Really Here

What we said: “With a lean runtime of 85 minutes, Lynne Ramsay has shaved all possible fat from the bone, leaving behind only the raw, sinewy morsels. A lingering moment of softness amid the chaos shows Joe fussing over his friend’s cat, providing a glimpse of something gentle peeking out from behind the brute force, but the moment is fleeting.”

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7. The Wild Pear Tree

What we said: “‘There is more than one reality,’ exclaims a successful local writer in the film’s key exchange, one of the many circuitous conversations that serve as The Wild Pear Tree’s structural backbone. Nuri Bilge Ceylan approaches these ideological confrontations with an elegant pragmatism, before fracturing them with poetic grace notes.”

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6. If Beale Street Could Talk

What we said: “Beale Street looks beautiful too, from strong profile shots which frame conversations, to the costume design (Tish sports a beautiful pale yellow cape for much of the film). Barry Jenkins demonstrates his understanding of time and place, but also the romantic nature of memory – the sun always seems to shine a little brighter when Tish recalls her time with Fonny.”

Read our first-look review

5. Leave No Trace

What we said: “The title of Debra Granik’s stunning new film resonates in a number distinct ways. Initially it seems as if it’s quietly concerned with the idea of existing off the grid, cultivating a life untouched by commercialism, technology and the capitalist scourge which promotes wastefulness through in-built obsolescence. As its desperately sad story develops, that title takes on a more mysterious hue.”

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4. First Reformed

What we said: “There’s something extremely personal about Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. So much so, the experience of watching it feels like spying on a confessional booth as Schrader – who was so nearly a man of the cloth himself – talks to God. The veteran filmmaker has been a bit off his game in recent years, but in returning to the spiritual territory which has fascinated him as a writer and film scholar for decades, he’s created something truly special.”

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3. The House That Jack Built

What we said: “The latest and possibly greatest film from Denmark’s merry prankster is a horror confessional riddled with saucy deceptions and grandiose myth-making. This absurdly macabre tale is delivered from the vantage of the analyst’s couch, where actions are loaded with symbols, symbols are loaded with meaning, and meaning is then wiped out with a few carefully delivered bon mots. It is a compendium of grim atrocities which puts faith in the viewer to appreciate both irony and allegory.”

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2. Roma

What we said: “To watch Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is to see a man scouring the archives of his mind. This is film as a voyage of discovery. Each image feels like the result of synapses firing, of deep research, of conversations and connections and naked self-expression. In past triumphs like Gravity, Children of Men or even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuarón has been happy to leave the gorgeous smudges of his fingerprints on the work. Here, he does everything in his power to retain a pristine purity.”

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1. Zama

What we said: “Even though the film is set centuries ago, there’s something futuristic, maybe even post-apocalyptic, about the frazzled, comically unfair world that Lucrecia Martel manufactures. Zama is an unexceptional man, a drone in many respects. Yet Martel is supremely empathetic in her depiction of this person who is tempted by selfish impulse but rejected by the world around him.”

Read the full review

Now share your personal Top 10 with us @LWLies

Published 20 Dec 2018

Tags: Alex Garland Alfonso Cuarón Alicia Vikander Ari Aster Barry Jenkins Christopher McQuarrie Claire Denis Coen brothers Debra Granik Desiree Akhavan Ethan Coen Frederick Wiseman Hirokazu Koreeda Joel Coen Lars von Trier Lee Chang-dong Lucrecia Martel Lynne Ramsay Marielle Heller Nuri Bilge Ceylan Orson Welles Panos Cosmatos Paul Schrader Ryan Coogler Sandi Tan Spike Lee Steve MCQueen Tom Cruise Wes Anderson

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Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

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