The year is all but over for cinema, barring a late Oscar run for Mary Poppins Returns when it is released on the final weekend of the year.
So how was it? If I'm honest, I don't think it was a vintage year. There were, unusually, some real high points in the superhero genre, with Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Deadpool 2 all setting the bar high within the genre. Compared to last year, though, when films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Ladybird and Get Out all failed to land the Best Picture Oscar, and Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer wasn't even nominated, this year's contenders do seem a little slight (though the latter director's much-praised The Favourite hasn't made it to the UAE yet, so perhaps that could tip the balance).
One thing that has been notable this year is the strides that streaming services, and Netflix in particular, have made. Three of our end-of-year picks come courtesy of the streamer, and wherever you stand on the streaming vs. cinema debate, there’s no denying that we’re getting some really great films we probably wouldn’t have seen without it.
With 2018 drawing to a close, we look back at some of our favourite films of the year.
This little-publicised horror feature was strangely under-promoted by Netflix when it launched the slew of publicity for its Halloween-themed shows in October. Thomas (Dan Stevens) heads off to rescue his sister from an isolated, island-dwelling cult of blood- sacrificing pagans, led by Michael Sheen's Father Malcolm. The Raid director Gareth Edwards takes a break from the pugilism to deliver a weird psychological horror that comes across as a psychedelic, steampunk-inspired homage to 1973's The Wicker Man.
Spike Lee’s incredible biographical comedy/drama tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who successfully infiltrated the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, using a white, Jewish co-worker to stand in for him when he was required to meet Klan members in person. The few minutes of the movie are the most affecting in film this past year. It has already picked up a Golden Globe nomination, and should be a safe bet for an Oscar nod.
Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece is hotly tipped to deliver Netflix its first Best Picture Oscar, much to the annoyance of cinema purists. His black-and-white memory piece of growing up in the middle-class suburbs of 1970s Mexico City is shot entirely in the Spanish and native Mexican Mixtec languages. While it’s not an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride narratively, there’s enough emotion packed in to make watching it a truly mind-blowing experience.
A Quiet Place
John Krasinski directs, co-writes and stars alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt in this post-apocalyptic horror about a future Earth that has been ravaged by blind monsters with a highly developed sense of hearing. The Abbott family have an advantage over other survivors – their daughter Regan is deaf, meaning the family are able to communicate in sign language, making it an intriguing film where much of the dialogue is signed. Krasinski has delivered a horror film that is being discussed as a possible Oscar contender.
The late Iranian legend Abbas Kiarostami joins a list of artists who created their final work knowing it would be their last. The film consists of 24 four-and-a-half minute shorts, each based on a single still photo, which is digitally adapted into a moving “frame”. The end result is like watching Kiarostami’s meditations on life shriek from beyond the grave. There are moments of humour, but mostly it’s bleak, powerful stuff.
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, a traumatised Gulf War veteran, who now works as a particularly brutal hitman, specialising in rescuing kidnapped children from the clutches of child traffickers. Although the film deals with the ramifications and reality of gruesome actions, director Lynne Ramsay makes a statement by showing very little actual violence on the screen. She instead cuts away just before the moment of terror, and focuses in on meticulously constructed post-violence tableaux. She mixes these in with the dream-like depiction of Joe’s teetering relationship with sanity, to great effect
Nadine Labaki's latest film could be the one that finally gets the director's name known outside of her native Lebanon. This moving story of Beirut's street children received a 15-minute standing ovation at its Cannes debut, picking up the Jury Prize in the process. It also recently received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language film, Lebanon's first ever, paving the way for a possible final Oscar nod in January. Labaki may have to fight to pick up the prize with Roma, Shoplifters and Cold War also in the mix, but Capernaum is emotional filmmaking, with immense performances from its cast of genuine Lebanese street kids.
We're going a bit low-brow for this entry. This film could never be accused of being high art, but it is gloriously irreverent, graphically violent, often crass and juvenile, and above all, bellyachingly funny. Ryan Reynolds returns as the wise-cracking, invincible anti-hero, and this time, he assembles his own X-Men-like team of heroes, although most of them probably wouldn't pass the entrance exam for X-Men's Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. This time around, Deadpool has to protect a young mutant orphan from a super-soldier sent from the future to kill him, with action and gags aplenty from the beloved "merc with a mouth".
The Death of Stalin
Stalin's Great Purges, one of the darkest periods in modern history, are not something you would expect to find humour in, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Armando Iannucci, the creator of political satires such as The Thick of It and Veep. The film was shot in 2016, before the world had been introduced to the notion of a Trump presidency, yet it could easily be a comment on the American political landscape today. The cult of personality, the ever- changing "alternative facts," the paranoid, grovelling, court who are allies one day and persona non grata the next. The humour is as black as it comes, and if Stalin was living proof of Marx's observation that history takes place first as tragedy, recent events suggest we're now well into the farce phase.
A B Shawky follows the on-trend route of eschewing professional actors, and casting real-life leper Rady Gamal as a leper who, following the death of his wife, flees the colony he was abandoned in as a child, and goes in search of his family. Although Shawky didn’t manage to pick up Cannes’s Palme d’Or, he did land the smaller Francois Chalais Prize for life-affirming cinema.
A deeply strange sci-fi from Alex Garland, in which an all-female team of scientists head into a quarantined zone in the forest known as “The Shimmer”. This is a hugely ambitious, properly grown-up horror film, which also boasts a first-rate performance from Natalie Portman.
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody has made me fall in love with Queen all over again. Admittedly, it received mixed reactions, and while I agree that the film can be a little slow, the last half hour more than makes up for it. American- Egyptian actor Rami Malek absolutely shines in his portrayal of the eccentric Freddie Mercury, though I do wish they had delved into the frontman's personal life a tad more. The Live Aid concert scenes, as well as those where the group are writing and recording the Bohemian Rhapsody track, are absolutely stellar.
What to look out for in 2019:
There's plenty to look forward to on screens big and small in the new year. Here's some of our top picks.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26)
Quentin Tarantino returns to the director’s chair for his ninth feature. Details are scant at present, but we know it will be set at the time of the Manson Family’s reign of terror in Hollywood, and feature an impressive cast headed up by Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie as Manson victim Sharon Tate.
Marvel is nothing if not prolific, and we've got at least four more movies featuring its characters to come in 2019. From the official Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we have Avengers: Endgame bringing the current cycle of MCU movies to a close and Captain Marvel debuting in her standalone film. Over at Fox, there's not one, but two X-Men movies to come. Dark Phoenix will see Jean Grey lose control of her powers and go rogue, while The New Mutants will introduce, as the title implies, a new group of mutants, including Maisie Williams as Wolfsbane.
Glass (January 18)
M Night Shyamalan returns with the sequel to his 2000 hit, Unbreakable, and fans were ecstatic when it was revealed that he'd be merging that universe with his 2017 hit Split, meaning James McAvoy would be reprising his role, alongside Unbreakable's lead pairing of Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, the latter being the titular Mr Glass.
It: Chapter 2 (September 6)
Stephen King's original novel version of It is a book of two halves, so a sequel to Andy Muschietti's 2017 adaptation was always on the cards. Part two takes place 25 years after the events of the first film, with the spooked teens all grown up, and if the book is any indication, things will get even weirder.