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A Year On Film: Quietus Critics Pick Their Top Films Of 2018
Robert Barry , December 22nd, 2018 10:28

No numbers, no ranking, just nine recommendations for the best films of 2018 – and not a superhero in sight

I’m not doing a ranked top ten or rundown or round up of 2018 this year. I can’t quite bring myself to order and number things. I should say, I have no problem with other people doing that – hell, I’m impressed. But isn’t the value of these end of year things essentially just to remind you of a few things you may have forgotten you enjoyed this year and maybe point you in the direction of a few things you might have missed? I feel that noble goal can be served equally well without recourse to ranking and quantification.

So this year, I asked a whole bunch of tQ contributors to email me their picks of the year. From that bounty, I have mercilessly and quite capriciously cherry-picked the following results puffed up with a few of my own.

So, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all from the Quietus film desk. And here you are, in no particular order, the Quietus’s official Top Films of 2018. Let’s hope 2019 is a little better…

Faces Places

Ninety years old this year, Agnès Varda became the oldest living Oscar nominee – a fact she celebrated by sending in a cardboard cut-out of herself to the nom’s photoshoot. Faces Places – or Visages Villages – was officially released last year but didn’t make it through Britain’s sluggish film distribution system for a “limited” release until this September. At the time Elsa Court wrote of the relationship between Varda and her contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, as seen through Varda’s lens. But the film was also, as Hannah Smith says, “a really quirky documentary with a non-linear, almost abstract way of story telling that gently lured you into its world. I left both feeling comforted, entertained and really inspired.” While for David Hering, it’s “a wonderful road movie and an extremely affecting meditation on cinema and the ageing process.”

Zama

The latest feature from the director of The Headless Woman and The Holy Girl is based on the 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto about a 17th century Spanish officer in Asunción. Lucrecia Martel’s Zama was a popular choice amongst several of our critics this year. Unsurprising, perhaps – when Brian Raven Ehrenpreis reviewed it for tQ back in May, he called it early, finding “a film of entropic disorder and decline, a cinematic slide into the total dissolution of the self. It is also undoubtedly one of the best films that will be released this year.” David Hering agrees, calling it, “an absolutely stunning new film from Lucretia Martel about an arrogant Portuguese commander stuck in a colonial outpost in Paraguay in the 1700s. The first half is a grimly funny Beckettian comedy of manners but the second half gets seriously weird, at times appearing to depart from reality altogether.” Looking back from the perspective of the end of the year, Ehrenpreis confirms his own earlier hypothesis: “A deeply haunted film about moral rot and the dissolution of the colonial mindset in an 18th Century Spanish colony,” he says. “Zama is unquestionably the best film released this year.”

Cocote

We missed covering Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias’s debut feature when it came out this year – unsurprising, perhaps, when it was only screened at one cinema for barely a week. Evidently this is not the fault of the film itself but the hopeless cinematic infrastructure we have in this country, for David Hering found it to be“a stomach-knottingly tense documentary-style thriller about a Dominican man recalled to his home village to avenge his father's death. Will he do it? Extraordinary scenes of mourning rituals and a slow-burning tension throughout – a riveting film.”

The Wild Boys

Jeremy Allen praised The Wild Boys in his brilliant Black Sky Thinking piece back in September, taking time out from an essay on the persistence of the DVD format to acclaim a trip to the cinema to see “first time director Bertrand Mandico's gender bending dystopian fantasy Les Garçons Sauvages.” Brian Raven Ehrenpreis concurs, finding in Mandico’s psychedelic take on a Lord of the Flies type story, “more of visual interest in any given shot than other movies have in the entirety of their runtimes. A hallucinatory admixture of Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, Fassbinder’s Querelle, and Oshima’s Sing a Song of Sex, it is the most indulgent, decadent, and elementally libidinal film to splash across any screen anywhere this year. Essential viewing.”

A Gentle Creature

In his review of this year’s London Film Festival, Chris Taylor found time to admire Sergei Loznitsa’s latest film, Donbass for its “scathing portrait of one of the most perplexing modern conflicts.” But it’s 2017’s A Gentle Creature – which, naturally, only found its way to UK screens this April, the best part of a year after the rest of the world – that made Nina Allan’s picks of the year. “This is a contemporary re-imagining of a short story by Dostoevsky,” she writes, “and it is thrillingly, disturbingly bizarre. This is a film about ordinary people being eaten by the system, a film that feels hugely relevant right now. Brutal, brilliant and beautiful.”

Shoplifters

Back in March, Yasmeen Kahn took a deep dive into the work of Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu, where she spotted “a discernible pattern running through his work, a particular slant on what family relationships are … characterised by space and absence, tragedy and loss.” Much the same could be said of his Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters, which for Kahn was “as quietly brilliant and warm and affecting as always.” Shoplifters was also my own personal favourite film of the year, a film with more heart and warmth and life than everything else I saw this year combined. A well deserved triumph for the renowned Japanese director.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A

When Steve Loveridge’s documentary Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. came out back in October, Kevin Arulrajah praised it as “an explosive film about the conflict an immigrant child faced in the early 90s, as she battled her way through the glitz and glamour celebrity era to become the political activist she is.” Along with Jake Meginsky’s brilliant Milford Graves Full Mantis, Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. was one of the films breathing new life into the often tired genre of the music documentary. As Hoçâ Cové-Mbede put it, “ usually don't like music-docs (except maybe Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents), but this one is simply stunning, who would have known that Maya Arulpragasam could embody and embrace the polar opposites of the XXI-century-world-town culture?”

First Reformed

The latest directorial effort from Taxi Driver writer, Paul Schrader, is a series, slow-burning study in transcendental cinema. “Schrader’s work has always been particularly sensitive to key developments in the political and social climate,” wrote Brian Raven Ehrenpreis in tQ when the film came out, “and his films often stumble directly into the heart of the zeitgeist, especially when dealing with issues surrounding ideology and violence. In this way, First Reformed is the ultimate culmination of the themes he has been exploring throughout his long career.” For John Quin, the film “confirmed Paul Schrader as America’s premier chronicler of its fidgeting toxic masculinity.”

An Elephant Sitting Still

A late entrant for possible best film of the year this. Four hours of grey skies and urban malaise. After his suicide at the end of 2017, An Elephant Sitting Still is doomed to be director Hu Bo’s only feature film – but what a film. Don’t be put off by the runtime. This film is worth every minute. Read Brian Raven Ehrenpreis’s review where he calls the film “a despairing snapshot of the mind of an incredible artist whose life was cut too short but who could never have created such art were things to have been any different. How does one critically engage with such material?”

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