My Top Ten Films of 2018: #5-#1

Following on from the first part of this list, now I am going to list my top 5 films of 2018. As mentioned in the post with my picks for 10-6, this is by the UK release date – for example, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri counts for 2018.

#5 – First Man

First Man 2

Several Hollywood stars have launched themselves into cinematic space in previous years, but First Man may be the film that most emphatically portrays the harshness of the endeavor Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) undertook – both on the journey and on Earth. The process of making it possible is there, and viscerally told – the accidents and training being brutal to view – but perhaps the focus of the film is the personal life of Neil Armstrong, and how the venture impacts him and those closest. The loss of their child Karen to a brain tumor is shown early on in the film, and the feeling of loss is devastating – Ryan Gosling puts this on film in a delicately engrossing way, without ever overdoing an aspect of his performance. Claire Foy is phenomenal as Janet Shearon (previously Janet Armstrong, his wife), portraying the struggle of keeping their family a priority as Neil isolates himself in his mission. At first, this film may seem quite a course change for director Damien Chazelle after the musical Whiplash and La La Land, but in this film he has a very different type of audio experience to work with. The sequences within craft are often claustrophobic with plenty of sounds to make you anxious as you ride with Neil. It results in a sequence on the Moon (spoilers!) that uses audio in a very different, and beautiful, way – and a scene on Earth that shows the costs of making it there.

#4 – Lady Bird

Lady Bird

An utter delight from director Greta Gerwig, this. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) lives in Sacramento, on the “wrong side of the tracks” as she says, with few friends, a family relatively low on money, and dreams of escaping and making a life outside of the town she lives in. The film is endearingly authentic in showing the many trials that stage of life can bring, with relationships, friendships, and reputation all in flux; though, the overriding dynamic is between Lady Bird and her mother, Marian (Laurie Metcalf), who is strict but clearly loving as she works to create a life for her daughter. There is a distinct difference between each of them, as Lady Bird dreams of escape and Marian works to create the realistic life she can envisage, even if that isn’t one her daughter is drawn to. Side characters are well-developed and draw empathy, with a diverse range of the problems different people face on their individual, yet intersecting, paths. The Sacramento setting has a certain uniqueness to it, with a cool summer tone to the direction of the film that matches and elevates the genuineness of the story being told. In addition, an undertone of quiet humour adds a certain energy to the film, and is part of making the film very rewatchable. Endearing, emotional, and rewarding, Lady Bird is joyous filmmaking.

#3 – A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

Wife and husband duo (in real life and the film!) Emily Blunt and John Krasinski both star in the Krasinski-directed A Quiet Place, a horror/thriller with an absorbing main premise and, better yet, plenty of intelligence to back it up. A post-apocalyptic world with invaders that can track sound means silence from characters for much of the film; we follow the Abbott family, who use tactics such as walking on sand to prevent themselves being hunted down. However, when Evelyn (Blunt) is pregnant, a lot of preparation is needed to try and keep themselves safe, and there are moments when it doesn’t go to plan. Keeping this an isolated story focused on the family is smart, with A Quiet Place never drifting into excessive action even as events escalate. The younger members of the cast are fantastic, and the inclusion of the deaf Regan (Millicent Simmonds, who herself is deaf) is well done; the use of sign language makes a lot of sense. With a lack of dialogue, the soundtrack is crucial, and the subtle ambience it creates keeps you on edge throughout. A Quiet Place has an air of precision to it – every scene has distinct purpose in establishing and developing both the world and the characters. Just, y’know, be quiet when watching this film, yeah?

#2 – Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

A gem that is perhaps less-known than other films, Leave No Trace is a breakout film for Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in the role of Tom; it tells the story of her and her father, Will (Ben Foster), living amongst the trees in Portland, Oregon. Their lives are not completely cut off, as we see them go shopping early in the film before returning to their rural home. They have impressive survival skills, and seem content in their lives. When they are discovered, though, they are pushed into integrating into modern society; this proves more difficult for Will – who is affected by PTSD – than for Tom. This is a complex, emotional situation, with both trying to help the other into a life they are happy with. The two leads are absolutely phenomenal, the characters on screen having a connection where they don’t even need to speak for the care for each other to be evident. Part of this is the patient direction from writer/director Debra Granik, letting you be in the situation with them as the delicate soundtrack encourages your empathy. There are lush, green environments and authentic urban settings as the two succeed and fail in different ways to tackle the changes in their lives. In the end, compromise and love aren’t exclusive ideas.

#1 – I, Tonya

I, Tonya

Stylish, impactful, and hilarious, I, Tonya uses the medium of film to brilliant effect in telling the story of Tonya Harding, a figure skater who had a career of astonishing talent and infamous controversy. Recreated versions of real tape recordings are interspersed throughout the film for context and as questioning of us, the audience. The cast are astounding, with Margot Robbie utterly magnetic in the lead role as Tonya. The range Robbie shows here is emphatic, with one scene towards the end of the film especially standing out as the mix of emotions public attention can bring are let out on screen. Jeff (Sebastian Stan), her on-and-off partner, is at times caring yet often abusive and damaging to her; Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) is both scary and hilarious in his contribution to events that severely impact Tonya’s life; and Allison Janney won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the role of LaVona, Tonya’s mother, who is both shockingly abusive and also emotionally unavailable to Tonya.

The nature of the relationships Tonya has are unfairly used against her in her sport, and this idea of how we make opinions on the public images of people we don’t really know is one we each need to really consider about ourselves. In addition, I, Tonya uses music and the camera to great effect. Soundtrack choices establish the setting and also connect to the scenes in which they are incorporated in smart ways, and a variety of shot styles create an absorbing energy that pulls you into scenes. In the film, there is perhaps no better example than in one of the skating performances, when she performs that triple axel; there is so much happening around Tonya, yet when she leaves the ice, the ground, for that shining moment? It falls away, and the magical potential of life, of talent, of achievement, is there, even if all the messier parts of her life are awaiting her. I, Tonya manages to represent all of that in a magnificent, artistic way and even manages to question both itself and the audience on the way. Stunning.

There it is; my top ten for 2018! If you have thoughts to share about my list, let me know in the comments! Also, to keep track of my latest posts, you can follow this site!

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