The 10 Best-Directed Films of 2018

7. Paddington 2 (Paul King)

Country: France, UK

Language: English

Effects.

Paragons of filmic decency, the Paddington movies (especially the latter) set a new bar for four-quandrant cinema. Entertaining, stunningly funny and often nakedly heartfelt, Paul King’s action-comedy sequel features a who’s who of British cinema in its supporting roles. From Brendan Gleeson’s Nuckles McGinty, a hardened inmate softened by the culinary arts, to Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up movie star and master of disguise (the role of a lifetime!) to… well, the list is endless. Paddington 2 hinges on a search for a pop-up book about London, which Buchanan hopes to selfishly use as a treasure map. The other side of this equation, however, is the delightful Paddington Brown, a polite bear cub voiced by Ben Whishaw, who hopes to gift the book to his aunt in lieu of her being able to visit.

Everything from the sweet, precisely melodramatic performances to the King’s mile-a-minute setups and payoffs works like a charm. However, it’s Paddington himself who happens to be the film’s warm, marmalade-y center. Light reflects off his eyes as he takes in the world around him, like a curious child, absorbing wonder and paying it back in equal measure.

The film’s computer-generated visual effects, led by the firm Framestone (you can find the individual team members here) are wonderful to the point of being cozy. Chief among them is Paddington, a largely CG character on par with any performed by Andy Serkis. Paddington’s broader movements are also brought to life using occasional animatronics, but where the film truly comes to life is in the character’s close ups — testament to the wonders of modern filmmaking— many of which hinge on him expressing his aunt Lucy’s philosophies on kindness. Whether wide-eyed innocence, intimidating “Hard Stares,” or occasionally struggling to stay the course of a fixed moral compass, Paddington feels like a living, breathing person, inhabiting the same spaces as the live-action characters, causing them to change in a multitude of ways, most often for the better. The little bear can’t help but feel like an embodiment of our best selves.

6. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

Country: USA

Language: English

Tone.

It’s been nearly three decades since Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing, but Spike Lee is just as focused and fiery as ever. BlacKkKlansman is a sort-of true story about a Black police officer (John David Washington) and his Jewish partner (Adam Driver) infiltrating the Klan, posing as two halves of the same white supremacist persona. Arguably Lee’s best film since 25th Hour, the virtuoso re-cements himself as one of America’s premiere cinematic voices. Not only does he  crafts yet another ode to the beauty of blackness, he also taps into a particular cognitive dissonance plaguing modern America, a nation at times in a confused, conflicted political state, unable to get a handle on how best to approach far-right resurgence.

Spike Lee dares us to take white supremacy seriously.

It’s all too easy to make light of; the film engages in the same antics one might find on Twitter, dismissing racism as a fringe ideology, indulged in exclusively by morons. Lee even casts That ’70s Show mainstay Topher Grace, a comedic presence, as KKK leader David Duke, one of the many Klansmen the film presents as a rube. However, as its two Ron Stallworths go deeper undercover, BlacKkKlansman begins to pull back the curtain behind the idiocy, contrasting the Klan’s mindless, mockable yeehaw-ing at D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation with real-world impact — of the film, of the organization that birthed it (and many ways, was birthed by it) and on both individual and institutional levels. He skillfully cross-cuts to a more somber civil rights meeting, where young Black organizers inherit knowledge from an older activist who’s seen the Klan’s ugliness first hand. The Klansmen continue to behave as goofily as ever, but they begin to seem all the more dangerous.

To top it all off, even the Stallworths’ minor victory is brushed aside — or rather, forced aside as official mandate — as the spectre of the Klan continues to loom. As a necessary post-script, Lee pulls us into the present with footage of the real David Duke speaking at a recent Neo Nazi march, the very same rally where Heather Hayer was killed, making real, painful and strikingly urgent all the failures of the past. It’s like writing history with lightning.

annihilation best horror 2018

5. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

Country: UK, USA

Language: English

Music.

Annihilation is science fiction at its most compelling, dropping its characters head-first into The Shimmer, an expanding alien prism that refracts their sense of self. DNA shifts and time loses all meaning, as a crew of women explorers (Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Nuvotny, Jennifer Jason Leigh) ventures deeper into the heart of darkness, which in turn reflects back to them the parts of themselves they most fear. Death. Depression. Helplessness. Change.

Natalie Portman’s Lena is driven by the return of a husband she no longer knows; Kane (Oscar Isaac) ventured into the same invading alien realm and came back a different person. Pain, regret, and all that catalyzes metamorphosis comes charging out at Lena. Upon reaching the source underneath a lighthouse, she’s confronted by a glowing, kaleidoscopic being — a mystery that has no answers, since even the questions are inarticulable — and by echoes that feel, at once, from a world beyond, and from within. The works of the extensive sound and music departments blend together as one. The being begins to takes the shape of Lena herself, an almost-doppelganger who almost-mirrors her movements. The sound design begin to resemble music, repeating in almost-identical fashion.

The sounds reverberate. The characters reverberate. The story reverberates too, echoing through the characters’ skin and voice and very sense of being, forcing Lena back out into the world as both herself, and as a mirror of who she once was. An echo that is, at once, something familiar, yet something alien.

4. Nude (Ravi Jadhav)

Country: India

Language: Marathi

Motion.

Yamuna turns. This is the first thing we see the character do. Even before we catch a glimpse of her face — as she stands on the river bank amongst a row of women washing clothes in unison — we’re shown a closeup of her feet, shot on a wide-angle lens, making her small movements feel enormous. She spins toward the river, and toward a freedom she desperately craves, diving into the water.

Nude is a film about art. It’s a film about women, too; Yamuna (Kalyanee Mulay), who turns to nude modelling at an art college to make ends meet, and her aunt (Chhaya Kadam) who passes down both the job, and the caring advice that pushes her to be comfortable in her own skin. Slowly, but with a gradual sense of self-assurance, Yamuna begins to shed the shame and self-loathing of being, instilled in her over generations.

Yamuna turns, to peek over her own shoulder, at the students who use her body to seek knowledge. As her anxieties fade she turns to new jobs, private modeling for respected professionals, who use women’s posture to find their souls. She’s never sexualized, but she’s still placed in a complicated predicament. Her stillness brings with it a conditional existence; the men who love and respect her decide how she’s frame as a person; the men who detest her and protest expression frame her as a cypher. No matter what, her freedom depends on the politics of men. The world they create— even with the best intentions — exacts a cost from women, a cost Ravi Jadhav confronts head on in his loving exploration. (Full Review)

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