Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Best Films of 2018

2018 was an extremely strong year for world cinema due to many established auteurs releasing their films coupled with stellar works from emerging directors. Quite a few of these films made their debut at Cannes, which was the strongest in a decade. This year at Cannes there were films by Wang Bing, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Lee Chang-dong, Nandita Das, Asghar Farhadi, Bi Gan, Matteo Garrone, Jean-Luc Godard, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nadine Labaki, Spike Lee, Sergey Loznitsa, Jafar Panahi, Pawel Pawlikowski, Alice Rohrwacher, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders and Jia Zhang-ke. As a result, there is a big influence of the Cannes film festival on this list. 12 of the 20 films in this list premiered at Cannes including 7 out of the top 10 films. However, this end of the year list includes just a fraction of the worthy films that showed at Cannes and other film festivals in 2018. There are still more than a dozen essential 2018 films that I missed seeing and will likely spend the better part of 2019 catching up with.

Note: the Top 10 and Honourable mentions is restricted to only 2018 titles.

Top 10 films of 2018

1. Transit (Germany/France, Christian Petzold)

Christian Petzold’s masterful adaption of Anna Seghers’ 1942 book is a cinematic treat! With just a few tweaks, Petzold has ensured that there is a constant tension between the past and present in the film. This balance between past-present highlights how history repeats in cycles and shows that a book written almost 80 years ago speaks to today’s world situation. This is because throughout history there are always people or communities that are persecuted and forced to leave their homes. The film is further elevated by a haunting love story, one which references Casablanca with hints of Kafka and Beckett.

2. Burning (South Korea, Lee Chang-dong)

Burning, Lee Chang-dong’s cinematic return after a gap of 8 years, smartly transforms a Haruki Murakami short story into a seductive thriller that lingers in the memory long after the credits.

3. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (China, Bi Gan)

Bi Gan’s sumptuous film provides an emotional ride across space and time by mixing past, present and dreams.

4. The Wild Pear Tree (Turkey co-production, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Ceylan has combined the visual strength of his previous films with a meaty narration resulting in a tour de force which covers topics ranging from literature, religion, romance, philosophy to politics.

5. An Elephant Sitting Still (China, Hu Bo)

Hu Bo’s first and only feature was one of the most emotionally devastating films of the year. Shortly before the film was completed, 29 year old Hu Bo committed suicide. He didn’t live to see the film’s World Premiere at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival where it was extremely hard to secure a ticket to see this almost 4 hour film. Such is the strength of Hu Bo’s artistry that the film’s length is never felt. Instead, one is drawn into the lives of the four characters in Northern China and invested in their fate.

6. Sir (India/France, Rohena Gera)

Rohena Gera’s astute film gets at the core of what we seek in relationships and what causes two people from radically different backgrounds to form a connection. The end result is one of the most charming films of the year lit by a vibrant performance by Tillotama Shome.

7. Fausto (Canada/Mexico, Andrea Bussmann)

Canadian director Andrea Bussmann creatively uses the text of Goethe’s Faust as a jumping point to explore myths, local legends and tales in Mexico’s Oaxaca coast. The decision to use low light for shooting many of the scenes results in a shape-shifting film that strips away the concept of time; the film could be set decades in the past or could be contemporary. The end result is exhilarating as the film shows a unique way to perceive history and cultures.

8. Donbass (Ukraine co-production, Sergey Loznitsa)

Sergey Loznitsa cleverly depicts how events in Ukraine are influenced by the overarching influence of Russia. An urgent film that also depicts how the media is being manipulated by politicians resulting in further blurring between real and fake news.

9. Ash is Purest White (China, Jia Zhang-ke)

 Jia Zhang-ke’s newest film is a perceptive depiction of the Chinese landscape, both social and economical, over the course of two decades.

10. Another Day of Life (Poland/Spain/Belgium/Germany/Hungary, Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow)

Based on late journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book of the same name, Another Day of Life is a fascinating mix of documentary and animation that captures the energy of Kapuscinski’s book about the Angolan civil war.

Honourable Mentions (alphabetical order):

3 Faces (Iran, Jafar Panahi)
BlacKkKlansman (USA, Spike Lee)
Closing Time (Germany/Switzerland, Nicole Vögele)
Cold War (Poland/UK/France, Pawel Pawlikowski)
Dear Son (Tunisia/Belgium/France/Qatar, Mohamed Ben Attia)
Djon Africa (Portuga/Brazil/Cape Verde, João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis)
The Image Book (Swtizerland/France, Jean-Luc Godard)
Grass (South Korea, Hong Sang-soo)
Roma (Mexico/USA, Alfonso Cuarón)
Season of the Devil (Philippines, Lav Diaz)

Notable 2016 and 2017 films seen in 2018 (alphabetical order):

Gabriel and the Mountain (2017, Brazil/France, Fellipe Barbosa)
The Great Buddha+ (2017, Taiwan, Huang Hsin-yao)
Hotel Salvation (2016, India, Shubhashish Bhutiani)
Machines (2016, India/Germany/Finland, Rahul Jain)
Phantom Thread (2017, USA/UK, Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Unknown Girl (2016, Belgium/France, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
The Woman who Left (2016, Philippines, Lav Diaz)

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