In the age of binge-watching, it is important to sort out the films genuinely worth your time from the clutter. We have attempted to draw up a list of large and smaller films, from this year, that left us with the whole gamut of emotions. It’s a mix of delightful superhero flicks, earnest small-budget dramas, thrillers and other rousing genres as well as art-house pieces. This list will keep building as we lap up more films. So here are the best movies of 2018, in no particular order.
1. The Heiresses
Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi’s graceful slow cinema is a character study of a cloistered middle-aged woman. Ana Brun superbly plays the central character Chela, who overcomes her delusions regarding wealth and sexual desirability. Mellow and nuanced, this is an expertly crafted drama on self-determination, loss, independence, and sexual awakening.
2. Happy as Lazzaro
Alice Rohrwacher’s enigmatic magical-realist fable offers a unique take on social injustice and class division. Set in a pastoral haven of sharecropping Italian peasants, the titular character is a passive yet sanctified young man. He is witness to the timeless exploitation of landless poor by the powerful. Nevertheless, Rohrwacher comments on the ruthless practices of capitalism through an unconventional and a bit confounding temporal shift.
3. Everybody Knows
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s movies are all about presenting a devastatingly complex objective truth. The director in his latest film transplants his pet-themes of class divide, marital disharmony from native Iran to Spain. Although Everybody Knows lacks a profound structure, it is blessed with a great ensemble cast. Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, and Barbara Lennie lift the overwrought narrative with their outstanding performances.
4. The Guilty
Gustav Moller’s claustrophobic thriller showcases how much can be achieved despite cutting back on the logistics of a narrative. Even though the film unfurls inside a darkly-lit emergency dispatch station, it takes us on a thrill ride into a morally complex situation. Furthermore, The Guilty doubles up as a delicate character study of an impulsive individual. Adding more to the narrative’s intensity is Jakob Cedegren’s brilliantly nuanced performance.
5. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s charming coming-of-age tale unfurls from the perspective of a hyper-connected yet very lonely eighth grader. Elsie Fisher plays the central character Kayla Day with a bewitching naturalism and tenderness. Overall, it’s an astoundingly sensitive portrait of adolescence in the anxiety-ridden age of social media.
6. Leave No Trace
Debra Granik’s emotionally charged docu-drama chronicles a heartfelt relationship between a traumatized father and guileless daughter. Similar to Jennifer Lawrence starrer Winter’s Bone, the film offers an unsentimental look at life on the fringes. Thanks to tender performances of Thomasin MacKenzie and Ben Foster, the narrative leaves an everlasting emotional impact.
Lee Chang-dong slow-burn mystery is a brilliantly orchestrated study of contrasts at both micro (personal) and macro (social) levels. Based on Haruki Murakami’s short story (‘Barn Burning’), Burning opens as a meet-cute love story. The narrative turns into a love triangle of sorts and soon a chilling mystery ensues. Similar to Lee’s previous works, Burning is a realistic examination of ostracized individuals within which also lies a sharp yet subtle social critique.
8. The Rider
Chloe Zhao’s sublime drama revolves around a physically injured and angst-ridden professional rodeo Brady Blackburn. What’s interesting about the film is that it’s full of non-professional actors. The characters they play aren’t that different from their real personalities. Brady Jandreau, who plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, brings great sensitivity to the proceedings. Director Zhao deftly observes rodeo cowboy’s way of life. Moreover, she poetically zeroes-in on man’s deep connection with nature and animals. For equestrian fans, here are 12 horse movies you’ll absolutely love.
9. Thunder Road
Jim Cummings’ tragicomic indie tells the tale of a grief-ridden Texan police officer Jim Arnaud. His beloved mother has recently passed away and Jim also loses the custody of his daugther. Thunder Road is pretty much a one-man show, spearheaded by writer, director, and actor Jim Cummings. Gracefully balancing between cringe comedy and palpable emotional pain, Jim offers an intriguing psychological portrait of a broken man.
Spike Lee’s crime drama follows the smart infiltration of a 1970s African-American rookie detective into the local wing of Ku Klux Klan. Similar to the director’s incendiary previous works, KkKlansman simmers with rage over racial injustice. Lee does often succumb to melodrama and sentimentality. Yet the film gains its raw power by relating to hot-button issues of the Trump era.
11. Wild Pear Tree
Extraordinary Turkish dramatist Nure Bilge Ceylan with Wild Pear Tree once again conjures a hefty and sensual philosophical journey. Similar to Winter Sleep and Anatolia, Ceylan sets his tale amidst picturesque pastoral lands. In one of the finest Turkish films of all time, Ceylan examines his pet themes like guilt, loss, faith, and unbridgeable generational chasms through the eyes of an aspiring young artist. It’s plaintive and demands patience, yet it’s also richly rewarding.
12. An Elephant Sitting Still
One of the greatest Chinese movies of all time, Hu Bo’s sprawling and powerful drama follows the everyday horrors inflicted upon four inhabitants of a northern Chinese town. Twenty-nine year old Hu Bo, an esteemed novelist-turned-filmmaker who killed himself last October, offers an acute portrait of human suffering under economic pressures. Though the running time is close to 4 hours, Hu’s tightly synchronized direction keeps it gripping throughout.
13. Merku Thodarchi Malai (Western Ghats)
Lenin Bharathi’s stirring docu-drama is an important work among the new wave of Tamil films that focus on the state’s cultural, economic, and political reality. Unlike many didactic Tamil social dramas, Merku Thodarchi Malai is less concerned about (contrived) plot mechanics. In fact, it serves as an anthropological record, subtly documenting the rituals, livelihood and dreams of the landless laborers.
The film’s highlight is its first 40 minutes which unfold from a hamlet near the beautiful Western Ghats. We witness the villagers’ daily chores, which involve carrying heavy sacks of cardamom through rough, craggy terrain. Accordingly, the thin plot revolves around how one of these worker’s personal dream is uprooted by the invisible and inhumane capitalist forces. Easwar and Bharathi’s ethereal shots hold a sense of poignancy that convey something lot powerful than words. Overall, it’s one of the best Tamil films of the decade, not just this year.
Manto. What a writer and what a class act by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A searing portrayal of an intense writer caught in the madness of India’s partition and the havoc it wreaks on its divided people. This is no time for romantic poetry, for the truth must be told to cleanse the soiled soul. In a prose that’s as stark and unsentimental as cold meat. Manto’s short stories still work to shake our stricken conscience. Such is the power and endurance of his hauntingly real creations. Nandita Das does well to direct this difficult subject and beautifully weaves Manto’s stories in the narrative. Pity we don’t make men like him any more.
15. Lean on Pete
Director Andrew Haigh is best known for his existential dramas involving lonely individuals. Lean on Pete tells a similar low-key tale of a bereft soul, cast adrift in the wastelands and impoverished quarters of America. The protagonist is a gangly 15-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer), who lives with his single father. He finds work in a racetrack and cares for an ageing racehorse. When Charley learns the horse is headed for slaughter, the two embark upon a tough journey. Haigh’s nuanced storytelling technique and Plummer’s measured acting style makes Lean on Pete an unforgettable experience.
16. Journey’s End
Saul Dibb’s war drama is based on R.C. Sheriff’s 1928 play. It heartbreakingly depicts the daily routines of a platoon of British soldiers stationed on the horrendous Western Front. Journey’s End is mostly about soldiers preparing for impending battle and very low on bloodletting. It captures the pervasive sense of dread plaguing the claustrophobic, rat-infested trenches. The material is also elevated by tremendous performances from Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, and Paul Bettany. Altogether, it’s a topnotch war drama sans grandiose spectacle.
17. The Young Karl Marx
Raoul Peck’s intellectually engaging drama focuses on the friendship between Marx and Engels which gave us seminal and extremely influential political theories. The narrative charts the period up until the writing of ‘The Communist Manifesto’. August Diehl brilliantly plays Marx with certain weariness. Vicky Krieps plays Jenny, the endlessly supportive wife of Marx. The film succeeds in depicting how the two political visionaries’ will and ideas changed the world forever.
18. Summer 1993
Carla Simon’s artful depiction of a child’s traumatic emotions is partly autobiographical. The film unfolds like a series of recollected memories where the filmmaker channels her own childhood experiences of trying to fit in with the new adopted family after her parents’ death. The motherless six-year-old girl was played by Laia Artigas, who subtly portrays the inner state of a troubled child. The film never exploits the child’s emotional stakes for melodramatic entertainment.
Cory Finley’s well-crafted debut feature tells a twisted tale of murder and apathy. The central characters are two emotionally devoid upper class prep school teenage girls. Thoroughbreds is a psychological thriller and black-comedy, which uses the chilly atmosphere of upper class disaffection to great effect. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke’s rich, self-effacing performance makes the most out of every little gesture and pause. Overall, it’s a thoughtful genre exercise about the horrors lurking beneath the atmosphere of affluence.
20. The Tale
The Tale marks documentarian Jennifer Fox’s first feature film. It is the true story of Jennifer Fox coming to terms with her ‘first relationship’. A short story the director wrote in middle school days forces her to re-examine the first sexual relationship. She was 13 and the track-coach who took her virginity was 40. Laura Dern earnestly plays Fox, who, for years has suppressed those confounding evenings her pre-pubescent-self spent with the sleazy coach. Naturally, the film is shocking, although it doesn’t treat its subject matter in an exploitative or sensational manner.
Steven Soderbergh ultra low-budget film, shot using an iPhone 7, contains an entertaining B-movie thriller premise. Sawyer Valentini, a brash and quick-witted girl, mistakenly commits herself to a mental hospital. Sawyer approaches the asylum in the first place to escape from the thoughts of her stalker. Soon, Sawyer believes that one of the orderlies is her stalker. Claire Foy’s bristling and unsentimental performance as Sawyer escalates the film’s suspense quotient. Soderbergh’s crisply shot film lays a fine foundation to this claustrophobic genre piece.
22. Vada Chennai (North Chennai)
Vetri Maran’s sprawling gangster drama deftly lays out the director’s pet themes: greed, betrayal and subjugation of the poor. Vada Chennai follows nearly two decades of gang and politics-related conflicts which control protagonist Anbu’s (Dhanush) fate. The script unfolds in a non-linear fashion meticulously tracks Anbu’s transformation from a foolhardy carom player to a man fighting for a cause.
The writing also fascinatingly observes the devastation caused by sudden political and social changes on the voiceless communities. Vetri Maran’s wonderful staging techniques maintain an intense tone throughout. Despite few pacing problems, the film succeeds due to assured direction and phenomenal ensemble performance. Altogether, it’s an intriguing opening chapter in the trilogy of films set in North Chennai.
23. Tehran Taboo
Iranian born German filmmaker Ali Soozandeh’s Tehran Taboo offers a searing, eye-opening portrait of Iran’s police state. This animated, rotoscoped tale unveils the hypocrisy and debauchery thriving under the mask of religious strictness and sexual morality in Iran’s capital city. It’s a triptych of interconnected stories about three individuals, hailing from different social set-up. Subsequently, the film’s technical accomplishment with its poetic interludes is nothing short of astounding. In fact, the movie is at its best when it goes for visual poetics not particularly concerned with the plot trajectory.
Coralie Fargeat’s rape-revenge horror tries a feminist take on the testosterone-fueled sub-genre of exploitation flicks. The story follows Richard an arrogant rich guy, who has brought an extramarital girlfriend to his luxury chalet in the desert for a weekend’s hunting. Jen (Matilda Lutz) knows Richard is married but enjoys being with him. Then come Richard’s two sleazy buddies and things take a brutal turn. Fargeat’s visuals are incredibly stylish and the violence is stomach-churningly shocking. Altogether, it’s an interesting piece of extreme horror which every viewer can’t handle.
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is a refreshing addition to the ever-changing, glorious Western genre. It mostly avoids the age-old tropes of barbaric Natives and noble white savior. Instead, the focus lies upon endless brutalities carried out to forge the American frontier. Hostiles is set in the year 1892 in American Southwest Christian Bale plays sullen-faced Captain Joe Blocker. He is tasked to lead a convoy to safely escort cancer-ridden Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family to their sacred lands. Interestingly, Joe and Yellow Hawk were once sworn enemies on the battlefield.
26. Faces Places
Legendary French film-maker Agnes Varda’s documentary profoundly focuses on the themes of community, life, grief, and the meaning of memory. For this unique project, Varda collaborates with young street artist/photographer JR. Varda’s documentaries are compulsively watchable because of her adoration for cinema and positively infectious playful mood. In fact, Faces Places stands as a testament to the 89-year-old director’s artistic grit. Furthermore, it is a soulful observation on the pivotal synergy between the works of art and everyday life.
27. The Breadwinner
The Breadwinner is an animated adaptation of Canadian author Deborah Ellis’ bestselling children’s novel. It was directed by Nora Twomey who co-directed spectacular Irish animated fables ‘Secret of the Kells’ and ‘Song of the Sea’. The film centered on 11-year-old Kabul resident Parvana, whose life is a struggle under the Taliban regime. After her father’s unforeseen arrest, Parvana is forced to disguise herself as a boy to support her family. Eventually, Breadwinner is about the healing power of stories and myriad struggles faced by women in an unequal society.
Rainer Sarnet’s metaphysical drama film tells a bizarre and tender love story. It is set in the feudal era that’s cloaked under otherworldly strangeness. The film is based on Estonian writer Andrus Kivirahk’s cult novel ‘Rehepapp’. In this eerie atmosphere, ghosts roam through the snowy woods as peasants do their best to survive the harsh winter. The foremost brilliance of this adaptation lies in Sarnet’s creation of a sensational aesthetic realization of an imaginary world.
29. My Friend Dahmer
Marc Meyers’ bleak coming-of-age story delves into the early life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer went on to rape and kill 17 men between 1978 and 1991. In the narrative, however, no one is seen murdered. Even though, a strangely discomfiting mood is maintained throughout. Ross Lynch effectively plays the titular character with a frozen, deadpan posture. The actor maintains a fine balance in exploring his disturbed characters’ trace of humanity and monstrosity.
There isn’t a dull or wasted moment in this cleverly crafted, briskly-paced thriller. Veteran Sriram Raghavan knows how to keep his viewers engaged. And he does it without resorting to cheap contrivances and manipulation. A solid script brought alive brilliantly on screen, Andhadhun seals the deal with spectacular performances. Delivering two major hits in a single year in two extremely contrasting genres (thriller and comedy), the everyman and very versatile Ayushmann Khurana turns in one of the strongest performances of 2018.
31. God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s raw and heartfelt gay romantic drama is set on a ranch in northern England. Johnny, the sheep farmer, lives with his ailing father and reticent grandmother. His future in the farm looks bleak. Later, Johnny’s father hires Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker as the caretaker. Johnny initially resents Gheorghe. Gradually though, both find mutual love and happiness. The film is shot in the windy, picturesque landscape of the Moors, which adds to the characters’ emotional dynamics. The film also pays due homage to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.
32. A Fantastic Woman
Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar-winning Chilean drama is a rare film that tackles the trans experience, starring a transgender woman actor. The newcomer Daniela Vega offers tour de force performance as Marina, a nightclub singer and waitress in Santiago. Marina’s transgender identity leaves her ostracized by the family of her older lover after his unexpected death. Vega’s performance is both restrained and luminous. Lelio’s gloriously rendered visuals shine with gusto and earnest emotions.
33. Isle of Dogs
One of the most visually sumptuous animated dog movies in recent years, Isle of Dogs is a sheer joy to look at. Wes Anderson’s magnificent stop-motion animation is set in the futuristic fantasy-land of Japan. In Megasaki City, an authoritative mayor Kobayashi uses an outbreak to exile the canines. When 12-year-old Atari, the mayor’s ward, crash-lands on the banished dog’s new home ‘Trash Island’, it sets in motion an epic quest. Wes Anderson, as always, is superb at concocting a wonderfully whimsical narrative. Aesthetically, Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s most ambitious feature to date. It’s also enlivened by the most impressive voice cast including Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, etc.
Anderson was hugely influenced by the films of Hayao Miyazaki, as well as the stop motion animations from Rankin/Bass Productions. To create an authentic representation of Japanese culture and architecture, he looked towards the architecture of Japanese buildings by Frank Llyod Wright. His signature style of staged, off-beat backgrounds also came in handy to design a futuristic, vaguely dystopian vision of Japan. Set designs from Japanese cinema, such as Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring or Tokyo Story were also a prominent influence.
34. The Death of Stalin
Scottish satirist Armando Iannucci is best known for his political farce series — The Thick of It and Veep. The Death of Stalin, his second feature-film chronicles the rat-race set off immediately after the Russian dictator’s death in 1953. Naturally, viewers could find an unmissable link between the old political narrative and the political idiocy prevalent in contemporary USA and Russia. Iannucci fascinatingly depicts how power vacuum amps up the ridiculous and vicious nature of politicians. While the film is mostly hilarious, it doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of Stalinism.
35. A Quiet Place
Amidst a flock of unoriginal films and TV shows came John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and it swooned critics way more than expectations. Marketed as one of the best horror films of all time, it was not even close to being a good suspense thriller. It worked best an indie movie centered on a family of four, living in a dystopian world that is wiped out by an intelligent breed of alien creatures. Marco Beltrami’s ominous soundtrack, Krasinski’s sophisticated filmmaking, and Emily Blunt’s performance made it a good, early summer watch.
36. Black Panther
Black Panther is the first blockbuster to be written, acted, and directed by black artists. It marks the beginning of Black artists taking center stage in mainstream entertainers. Standing next to Richard Donner’s Superman, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2, and Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins, it not only subverts the genre but also shatters numerous Marvel stereotypes – including fixing the villain problem.
37. Love, Simon
Everyone deserves a great love story and we got a really good one this year from American Writer Greg Berlanti. Love, Simon is one of the best coming-of-age films that is full of charm and heavy emotional depth. Nick Robinson as Simon is easily the best gay protagonist we’ve had in cinematic history. He and other young performers easily slip into their characters and give applaud-worthy performances. The light tone of the film ensures its content never feels ponderous.
38. Deadpool 2
An antidote to Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 is as ludicrous as the first one, if not decisively better. It entertains through its breakneck pacing and truckload of laugh-out-loud references. However, it never feels like a finished product. The first film was in the making for 10 years, as a result of which, it was more polished. This is quite rushed. It’s still consistently watchable for the gags and the insanely impressive post-credit scene as its leading man strikes superhero fatigue out of the park.
An incredible audio-visual experience, Alex Garland’s adaption of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel is a stunning sci-fi that questions the self-destructive nature of humanity. Remarkable storytelling, incredible use of visual effects, and uniformly excellent performances aid the thought-provoking concept. Often very disturbing yet immensely beautiful to look at. It is an original, highbrow sci-fi with ambitious ideas powerful to shimmer for a long, long time.
40. Game Night
Game Night is a funny, fast-paced adult comedy that delivers on all levels. It’s nowhere a game changing comedy but with a solid cast and some inspired scenes, it elevates standard material into a riot full of genuine laughs. The excellent chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman help maintain the energy while the enjoyable twists and turns keep you engrossed. It’s the perfect weekend watch for those who yearn to spend some quality time with their friends.
41. Solo: A Star Wars Story
The least grossing Star Wars film, Solo is the finest Star Wars prequel that boasted an arresting screenplay with well-etched characters brought to life by its elaborate cast. Alden Ehrenreich did full justice to Harrison Ford as he refrained from imitating the actor, rather smartly adapted his mannerisms and tempo. Ron Howard’s direction was commendable as he succeeded in salvaging a good film out of a possible mess. In contrast to Justice League, the narrative was seamless and it was hard to pinpoint which scenes were filmed again. The neat, detailed action scenes and John Powell’s magnificent soundtrack propelled the film from start to last.
42. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Given how the first Jurassic World was, or any of the previous Jurassic Park films have been, fated to repeat the same idea, that is, – JA Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly entertaining film with enough pathos to keep the heart of the franchise beating. No improvements are made in developing the characters but the set-pieces are genuinely thrilling. It was refreshing to see a tense finale with loud Dino action.
43. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider is the best gaming adaptation, one of the best reboots, and a fine adventure film. Vikander carries the whole film on her shoulders like any popular male lead. She rolls through a variety of emotions with absolute ease and authenticity. She doesn’t have Jolie’s oomph but her chiseled physique and visceral performance makes her portrayal the finest as she astutely demonstrates the pain her character goes through in the film. Compared to other pointless gaming adaptations that are made for the fans, this one works for everyone — regardless of whether you’ve played the game or not.
44. The Insult
The Insult is a political thriller, blatantly political, if I may add because it explores more shades of politically manipulated characters than what you’d expect from the little seed of argument it begins with and the way it does it is tragically impressive. The courtroom scenes are just extensions of the war that is being fought for decades, for real and in their minds. We are talking about the warring Middle East where an unsaid but obvious hostility spews between the Palestinian refugees and the Lebanese Christians. And an insulting remark over a drainage pipe is all it takes to trigger the anger that is always there, subtly hiding under plain sight. (By High on Films)
45. Red Sparrow
A cold-blooded spy thriller full of graphic sex and violence, Red Sparrow features Jennifer Lawrence’s career-best performance. The cinematography (Jo Willems) and lush production ensure you don’t take your eyes off the screen. The cross-cutting opening shot in sync with the James Newton Howard’s score perfectly sets the tone of the film. Underlining themes of sex and power, it echoes the real life of its leading lady. The film falters in the third act where it tries to escalate its epic-ness but messes up the narrative.
46. Avengers Infinity War
Besides the star-studded cast and the marvellous special effects, Avengers Infinity War’s biggest selling point is its storytelling. The extraordinary storytellers Russo Brothers are the true chevaliers of this film. Smartly intertwining several different storylines into one single narrative — and particularly in a compact length (149 minutes) — their achievement here is beyond comprehension. This is a god-size blockbuster with the the biggest cliffhanger since our very own Bahubali – The Beginning. Having seen it thrice, there are plenty of minute details to be picked on every watch and more to appreciate. The wait for Avengers 4 is excruciating.
47. You Were Never Really Here
Reminiscent of numerous crime thrillers and the brooding themes they embody, You Were Never Really Here is quite an artful version of Liam Nesson’s Taken. This is one of the year’s most uncompromising films. As stunning as it is sadistic, it features a bombastic performance from Joaquin Phoenix as the sociopathic veteran. Joaquin keeps the film engrossing even when the gloominess is hard to resist. Amidst the cruelty, there are some poignant moments, including an underwater burial scene, which gives meaning to its traumatic nature.
48. Sicario 2
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a rare film that satisfyingly serves its own, complete story in just two hours of runtime, and sets up a sequel. Directed by Stefano Sollima, it’s a worthy follow-up to the terrific Denis Villenueve original that tells a relevant story. Less striking in terms of story and visuals, Soldado succeeds in being memorable through the incredible performances of Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Isabela Moner. Del Toro and Moner don’t have enough dialogues but their eyes do all the talking. They render the film with gravitas that is further escalated by the throbbing soundtrack and terrific action. The final 15 minutes are immensely absorbing and arguably the best ending to any film released this year.
49. Ready Player One
For a film that runs slightly under two and a half hours, it goes by so fast that you don’t realise it. Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is a technical marvel that delivers on all aspects of filmmaking. The year’s most immersive experience, it encapsulates a wonderful dystopian story laced with mind-blowing visuals, action, dozens of pop-culture references, and drama. The transition of 35mm to digital shots is phenomenal. The long tracking shots render great depth to the scenes as they have intricate detailing. Following the old-school three-act story structure, it’s one of the many classics of its auteur. It reminds you of why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.
50. Ghost Stories
Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s debut feature Ghost Stories (2018) doesn’t raise the benchmarks of modern anthology horror. Still, it pays a fairly entertaining spooky tribute to old-school portmanteau predecessors of the 60s and 70s. Performances are the high point of the film with Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther perfectly balancing dark humor and fearsome emotions. If jump-scares and a climactic curtain-raiser are all necessary for you to enjoy a horror film, Ghost Stories would be fulfilling.
51. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs delivers on all fronts. A lush charming film, it reinstates my faith in art and an industry that’s precariously teetering between the allure of a movie hall and the comfort of the drawing room. A timely triumph; wondrously shot Western which is not confined by the screen size of your Netflix device, one that captivates your imagination and extends like the horizons of the pristine west. Performances by Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Harry Melling, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck and Jonjo O’Neill remain seared in one’s memory. The film is a gift that keeps giving; be it the literary lines or the Texan drawl, the quaint ways of the Old West or the Coens’ attention to detail and experimentation with the structure and the medium.
52. Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody, the film, has invited much critique and censure, not unlike its eponymous song, which was largely disliked by critics when it was first released. The movie admittedly deals with Freddie Mercury’s and Queen’s journey at a surface level. But it does this with a certain passion and affection that shines through. The acting of the cast is stupendous. Rami Malek, in particular, effaces himself to morph into a queer musical genius, and is unrecognisable as himself.
“The human condition requires a bit of anaesthesia,” says Freddie at one point of time, and the same could be argued for the film’s plot, which is disjointed, morally problematic, and takes quite some creative liberties. But, does it make you love Freddie and Queen? Does it move you to tears? Does it make you — the eternal misfit — feel like you belong? Yes. Yes, it does.
This is the story of Mexico City in the 1970s, of Cuaron’s childhood and the maid that brought him up, and the sisterhood of two women, even with the attendant hierarchy of class, who realise that they are ultimately alone in this world. Roma is an absolute classic that will grow on you. Like vine and slow time. Initially I was unnerved by its tepid pace and ultra-realistic unfolding but once you get the design, you begin to appreciate the subtle and sublime touches that draw you in. At once mellow, at once intense, it feels like real life and is languorously and aesthetically shot.
Aneesh Chaganty’s mystery thriller works largely due to its economical yet touching set-up. The central conceit is that a determined dad is searching for his missing daughter using the tools of internet. We observe the dad looking out at the world from behind his MacBook monitor. Throughout the narrative, Chaganty precisely balances the emotional and thrilling quotient. Overall, it’s an intriguing exercise in showcasing the miracles and horrors of the ever-expanding digital universe.
55. One Cut of the Dead
Shinichirou Ueda’s clever meta-comedy opens with a stale horror plot, but soon switches to something profoundly emotional. It’s a celebration of the challenges in low-budget film-making. Ueda’s structural trick also makes fun of the silliness and imbalances surrounding the film-shoot. Those who patiently watch the contrived first-act would be completely caught off-guard by exciting developments in the later acts.
56. We the Animals
Jeremiah Zager’s feature-film debut boasts a plot-less yet hauntingly poetic coming-of-age narrative. Punctuated with bittersweet vignettes, the film intimately registers the interior life of a sensitive 10-year boy. Though it lacks an expansive story-line, Zager strikingly explores the themes of boyhood, masculinity, and sexual awakening. Although, the languorous and nuanced aesthetics demand great patience.
57. Little Forest
Yim Soon-rye’s poignant drama is an adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi’s popular manga series of the same name. Kim Tae-ri of The Handmaiden fame plays the central character Song Hae-won, a deeply vulnerable as well as a vivacious and extremely resilient girl. Disappointments and failures push her to leave the big city and return to her hometown. Hae-won relies on culinary art and tranquil atmosphere of the country-side to heal. Overall, Little Forest is a simple, life-affirming drama that’s wholly free from the generic, melodramatic trappings.
58. The Hate U Give
George Tillman Jr.’s impassioned portrait of racial conflict is based on Angie Thomas’ sensational YA novel of the same name. Amandla Stenberg skillfully plays the central character Starr Carter, a 16-year-old African-American from a working-class neighborhood. Although it’s a teen drama, the narrative blisteringly rallies against the rampant institutional racism and police brutality.
59. Private Life
Tamara Jenkins’ dramedy follows a couple in their 40s who are looking into the possibilities of assisted reproduction. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are believable and perfectly matched as the central married couple. Jenkins offers an empathetic viewpoint to a very real, painful battle which is rarely discussed in the society.
60. A Family Tour
Ying Liang’s probing drama is autobiographical. It focuses on a dissident Chinese filmmaker who is exiled to Hong Kong. A Family Tour is a sharp portrait of displacement and exile, while also casting a unflattering light on the modern Chinese society. Ying’s aesthetics bring lyricism even to the humdrum details. He skillfully juggles between political and personal themes.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is yet another sharply focused family drama imbued with gentle observations. This time he focuses on a family of small-time thieves who take in a child they come across on the street. Similar to the director’s 2004 devastating drama Nobody Knows, Shoplifters is inspired by a news story. Once again, the captivating artistry and deep-seated compassion of the filmmaker brings out the cold realities of Japanese society.
62. Cold War
Pawel Pawlikowski follows up his Oscar-winning Ida with a mesmerizing romantic drama, set in post-war Poland. It presents the story of an intense affair between a composer named Wiktor and his free-spirited, talented student Zula. Joanna Kulig is a revelation as the clever and conflicted Zula. Pawlikowski’s use of crisp black and white cinematography offers a visual feast for the eyes and senses. With every frame artfully composed, this tragic tale of repression and love casts a spell over the viewers.
Matteo Garrone’s unflinching morality play revolves around Marcello, a simple man who works as a dog groomer. He finds himself at odds with the town’s bully and former boxer Simone so as to commit an act of vengeance. Similar to Gomorrah, director Garrone delineates the extent to which crime seeps into the lives of ordinary people. Fonte’s nuanced performance in the titular role adds enormous strength to this simple tale of crime and punishment.
64. Woman At War
Benedikt Erlingsson’s ambitious eco-warrior drama revolves around Halla Haldora, a choir leader and physical therapist. She also leads another life, sabotaging power pylons of an aluminum industry in order to save Iceland’s highland ecosystem. Erlingsson’s excellent pacing and idiosyncratic humor helps deliver topical messages on environment and inhumane neoliberal policies.
Nadine Labaki’s deeply empathetic Lebanese drama follows a 12-year-old undocumented boy named Zain wanting to sue his parents. The reason is for giving him life. The storyline may seem farcical but Labaki employs heart-rending realism to gaze into the slums of Beirut. Non-professional actor Al Rafeea’s (as Zain) magnetic performance imparts an undeniably emotional pull.
66. A Twelve-Year Night
Alvaro Brechner’s Uruguayan political drama is based on the unpleasant true story of three prisoners forced into solitary confinement for 12 years. The narrative is set during the country’s freshly military dictatorship in 1973. The imprisoned are members of the trade union-affiliated Tupamaros movement. This is a harrowing account of dehumanization and devastating effects of a reactionary dictatorship. Therefore, some of the episodes are very tough to watch although this solidly constructed and acted film pays tribute to the undying human spirit.
By Arun Kumar, Mayank Nailwal, Soven Trehan, Rajesh Ram, Sanjay Trehan, Mansi Dutta