Over the last few weeks, The Crack Magazine Annual Report has been counting down our favourite albums, tracks, mixes and other music-focused ephemera from the year gone by. Now, we turn to film.
Except we wanted to do it a little differently this year. Instead of counting down our best films we wanted to spotlight the movies that helped push the narrative forwards, that switched up the game or maybe just stood out to us as bellwethers of change. After all, 2018 was the year year which saw Black Panther – the first Marvel Studios movie with a black lead – become the second highest grossing film of the year, trans actress Daniela Vega nominated for an Oscar and Mirai become the first anime to premiere at Cannes. This time last year, as the film industry took a long, hard look at itself in the light of #MeToo, the need for more diverse representation, voices and stories wasn’t just wanted – it was critical. Thankfully, there was many reasons to be excited for film in 2018, here’s our 10, in no particular order.
RomaDirected by Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical homage to the women who shaped his childhood is rooted in political turmoil but never loses its sweetness. It’s a career best from the director, not only visually but through his storytelling, which pushes the narratives of two long-suffering women past the usual self-serving stories that come with retelling your own experiences.
Netflix’s funding has caused inevitable backlash, yet without the support of the service, this Spanish and Mixtec language, monochrome film wouldn’t have got far, even with the awards-sweeping success of Gravity.
Hotly tipped to repeat the same success at 2019’s Oscars having already scooped the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, Netflix are now firmly in the awards-winning business. Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay.
RevengeDirected by Coralie Fargeat
French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat isn’t afraid to take risks. For her debut feature, Revenge, she upended the tropes of the rape revenge picture, focusing squarely on the revenge. Fargeat clearly revels in the sensory, basking in the saturated blues and scorched reds of the desert setting, or the splash of warm blood on cold tile. OK, so this isn’t a particularly deep film – with barely 20 minutes of dialogue throughout, it isn’t meant to be – but its heightened, violent power is rooted in something more primal. In one climactic scene, the camera circles around a semi-naked Matilda Lutz. It’s a direct riposte to the male gaze: rather than ogling her body, the character is presented as strong, all-powerful and anything but a victim. 2018 was a year that saw righteous, feminist rage take the wheel of culture – Revenge was just one of the rawest examples, and a taste of things to come.
Lady BirdDirected by Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird crystallises a new, more forgiving strand of teen movies that have surfaced over the last year. Starring Saoirse Ronan as the embodiment of writer-director Greta Gerwig’s youth, Lady Bird is painfully sweet and sincere, but never sacrifices its self-deprecating sense of humour.
First loves inevitably work their way into Lady Bird’s story, played here by 2018 poster boys Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges, but it’s in the relationships between her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and best friend (Beanie Feldstein) that Gerwig’s writing really finds its home. The film’s critical and financial success has launched the director into the stratosphere, securing a welcome, fresh voice in an industry still in desperate need of better representation.
Sorry to Bother YouDirected by Boots Riley
After a long fight to get it distributed in the UK, Boots Riley’s directorial debut Sorry to Bother You is worth the wait. Through its plot following the down-on-his-luck Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield, as assured and likeable as ever) as he rises through the ranks from telemarketer to ‘power caller’ for the shady company Regal View, Riley puts various capitalist mentalities on blast. While it’s a little rough around the edge, it’s weird, funny, fiery and idiosyncratic filmmaking, the kind that isn’t often afforded to black filmmakers – hopefully, this is just the first of many.
A Fantastic WomanDirected by Sebastián Lelio
Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman is a powerful character study centring on Marina as she grieves beloved boyfriend Orlando. However, when transphobia leads to her being interrogated by police and ejected from Orlando’s wake, the drama becomes a wider exploration of discrimination. Executed with the utmost care, the cinematic style blends realism with a heady dose of surrealism, as exemplified by a sublime club scene which reimagines Marina as a Madonna-esque pop diva shadowed by a crew of backup dancers. Lelio’s decision to cast trans actress Daniela Vega in the starring role comes as a much-need redress to the fact that trans roles are all too often played by cis actors. With Vega giving a voice to one of the country’s most marginalised communities and Lelio securing Chile’s first Oscar-win, the film has had a definitive social impact by helping to fast-track the approval of landmark trans legislation in Chile.
The Miseducation of Cameron PostDirected by Desiree Akhavan
Desiree Akhavan’s coming-of-age tale unfolds in a facility for gay conversion therapy: a misguided practice aimed at changing sexual orientation. Capturing the frustrations of adolescence and perilously cranking up the tension, teenage milestones are unflinchingly depicted in all their raw emotion: from the crushing pain of first heartbreak to the elation of true friendship. Yet there is light, too: an off-beat humour runs throughout the film, destabilising the authority of evangelical adults shown to be incompetent in the extreme. Directed from a queer perspective, the moving drama is also a necessary condemnation of the ordeal of conversion therapy, said to have touched the lives of 698,000 adults living in the US. With its UK release coming mere months after Theresa May vowed to eradicate the practice, the drama attracted considerable media attention to an under-looked and vitally important issue.
Black PantherDirected by Ryan Coogler
Though it took two decades and nearly 20 films to get there, this year Marvel Studios released its first film with a black lead (Blade isn’t a Marvel Studios film). Ryan Coogler’s smash hit put Afrofuturism on the kind of stage its never seen before. While its more radical ideas are watered down to suit the Marvel template, it still has a unique standing as a blockbuster, Wakanda showing off an idealised vision of African tribalism mixed with wondrous technology. With a well realised, emotive villain in Killmonger and a gorgeous, talented cast, this is one of Marvel’s best.
MiraiDirected by Mamoru Hosoda
As well as being a film that mixes surreal time-travelling hijinks with a humble story about family, Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai also has the unique honour of being the first anime to ever premiere at Cannes Film Festival (before this, Ghost in the Shell 2 played in competition). Anime is often viewed as the red-headed stepchild of animation by general audiences, so its presentation in this arena is a sign of the ongoing acceptance of anime as a form of film as legitimate as any other. Outside of this, its heartwarming story and imaginative animation puts it among the best of the year.
HereditaryDirected by Ari Aster
Released in a year when horror movies ranged from the ridiculous (The Meg, Winchester) to the riveting (Annihilation, Halloween), Hereditary blasted in on a mushroom cloud of festival praise. Creeping, internal and beautifully twisted, it not only gave us a fantastic performance by Toni Colette as woman whose haunted family history could be her undoing, but also introduced debut director Ari Aster as a talent to keep an eye on. In fact, Hereditary was so good that it birthed the term ‘elevated horror’, which stuffy broadsheet critics used to describe horror films we’re ‘allowed’ to like, including other 2018 horror heavyweights such as A Quiet Place and Suspiria. ‘Elevated’ or not, there’s no denying these were horror films that got us thinking while we cowered behind our cushions.
AnnihilationDirected by Alex Garland
Alex Garland’s ideas-driven, female-led genre film, the follow-up to his directorial debut Deus Ex Machina, received a mixed response at the US box office when it was released in February. The cerebral nature of the film, and – presumably – lack of bankable male star, was deemed too much of a risk for Paramount, who promptly sent it straight to Netflix outside the US. A shame. Annihilation is sensitive, intellectually challenging and uncannily creepy and we’d have relished seeing the sumptuous visuals, pitched somewhere between beautiful and stomach churning on the big screen. Furthermore, the female ensemble of gun wielding scientists felt like a landmark for gender representation, giving Natalie Portman her Ripley moment (even if it’s Gina Rodriguez who steals the show as the soft butch scientist). As for that ending, credit to Garland for refusing to tweak it, even if it cost the film its cinematic release. We may have more questions than we have think-pieces bookmarked, but perhaps the greatest of all is where, in the age of risk-averse studios and Netflix’s deep pockets, does that leave original, challenging filmmaking?