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Looking back at 2018, it was another great year for cinema with innovations from masters old and new. Here are our picks, which are based on the UK calendar of film releases.

Phantom Thread

Much anticipation preceded Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread after it was announced that the film would be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last. Indeed, the film is a triumph with incredible performances from Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville and, most notably, newcomer Vicky Krieps, along with an inventive script and further musical innovations from PTA stalwart Jonny Greenwood. And if the ghost of Max Ophüls hangs over every PTA film on a technical level (the director has previously called him his ‘idol’), here the themes and aesthetic certainly draw from the likes of Letter from an Unknown Woman more directly, though the eccentricity and unusual pacing are entirely Anderson’s trademark. A stunning Gothic love-story with a twisty ending, and an aesthetic of multiple parts that is akin to a beautifully-prepared dish.  P.S. ‘Kiss me my girl, before I’m sick’ is one of the best lines in recent memory, and we’ll miss Daniel for it.
— Luka Vukos

Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta)

A Brazilian film directed by Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher, Hard Paint first screened at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival. An unapologetic, full-on film that works best when watched in a packed theatre full of heterosexual middle-aged men. It’s not for every exhibitor and it occasionally dips into a realm closer to porn, but the storytelling is masterful. The story is gentle but gripping, perfectly paced, and the visual side of the film is fresh, brutal and beautiful. Even when it veers into sentimentality and stereotypes towards the end, it redeems itself, and I find myself at a loss to say anything bad about it.
— Anni Asikainen

You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay films are few and far between, but when we do get one, they’re really something. I had some reticence before the film, largely due to the (scarce) word about its release – the “Taxi Driver for the Uber age” as one publication suggested. Though parallels abound with that film, Ramsay’s full-on foray into the crime-thriller genre is as innovative as any of her films can be, and her approach is much closer to Clean, Shaven in fully enveloping us into the life of a fractured psyche. Joaquin Phoenix plays a hitman suffering from PTSD, body all bloated and ravaged, and now tasked by a senator to find his missing daughter. Though plot is an initial concern, the director slows it down, and once again shows us that the key to exploring our darkest sides on a cinematic level is through emotion and visual texture (and getting Jonny Greenwood to do the score). When’s the next one, Lynne?
— Luka Vukos

Let the Sunshine In (Un Beau Soleil Interieur)

Let the Sunshine In shows off the beautiful and talented Juliette Binoche at her finest as a divorced artist looking for love again. Directed by the great Claire Denis, it was touted as a romantic comedy (in a very French manner), but plays more like a film intent on tracing the joys, pain, and hilarity of searching for love at all stages in life. That said, its joyous heart prevails, and the final scene with a cameo from Gérard Depardieu is an added comedic bonus. On a complete tonal shift from Let the Sunshine In, Denis is set to make a return to our screens in 2019 with acclaimed sci-fi horror High Life, again starring Juliette Binoche, and Robert Pattinson.
— Amanda Rogers

The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

Directed by Marcello Martinessi, this was another entry at Berlinale, winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Ana Brun. As a film that relies almost entirely on its actors to deliver detailed, sharp portrayals of character and emotion, it tells a story from a specific perspective that is rarely seen on screen – a peculiar but believable story of a 50+ lesbian couple from Paraguay who are facing financial struggles that tear them apart. It is a beautiful study on the nature of identity, the sexuality of elderly women, and the sense of freedom that can only be obtained by owning a car.
— Anni Asikainen

Cold War

As its recent wins at the European Film Awards may have suggested, Pawel Pawlikowski’s follow-up to Ida is arguably the jewel in the crown of this year’s batch of European art cinema biggies. An epic condensed to 85 minutes, the film opens on the relationship between a musical director (Tomasz Kot) and a young singer (Joanna Kulig) in post-war Poland, and follows their on-off travails across the decade, from Poland to France and back again. Through its poignant dialogue, the blend of Polish traditional songs and jazz, and Pawlikowski’s more balanced use of the negative space style developed in Ida, Cold War is another film which, by implication of its title, takes a deep look at the personal cost of European political strife after the war, and unabashedly demonstrates love as the most unwavering value of all.
— Luka Vukos

Faces Places

2018 also marked the return of the ‘mother of the Nouvelle Vague,’ and one of our favourite auteurs: Agnès Varda, still making cinematic gems at the age of 90. With Faces Places, we are treated to a road movie across France and in collaboration with street artist JR. It’s a terribly moving film about artist collaboration, growing older, and love of all kinds. It may perhaps cause you to rethink your undying love of Godard (if you so have it), but it is surely a film for French New Wave admirers and beyond. Vive la Varda!
— Amanda Rogers

Saving Brinton

Saving Brinton has been called a “cinephile’s delight,” but it’s the personality and charisma of its protagonist, Michael Zahs, that also makes this story so captivating. Zahs, an Iowa history teacher, has spent 30 years searching for help to share and preserve the Brinton archive, a collection that contained turn-of-the-century nitrate films, including some from the great George Melies. The film, artfully directed by Andrew Sherburne and Tommy Haines, is brilliant in its understated portrait of a small town in rural America which is home to a great cinematic past, and the man who never gave up on his dream to bring its story to a wider audience. The film had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and we had the great fortune of screening the film in September for our ‘Cinetopia: Pioneers & Preservers’ program, in association with Scalarama.
— Amanda Rogers

First Reformed

After a string of schlocky efforts, the mind that gave us Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and The Last Temptation of Christ, Paul Schrader, returns born-again. Playing out like a combination of Bergman’s Winter Light and Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, First Reformed follows Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, already garnering awards for his performance) who descends into self-destruction and begins questioning the parish organisation after a shocking incident with an environmental activist and his pregnant wife. Presented in the austere Academy ratio which now typifies a film produced by A24, Schrader updates his 1970s paranoia to a vision that is as fresh as that of a new voice  and, in one sequence, takes his idea of ‘transcendental style’ to a literal (and surreal) level. In years to come, it will be considered as his most important late-era film, if not one of the great American films to look at the existential effect of the Internet and environmental catastrophe.
— Luka Vukos

Mandy

From the laugh-out-loud moments of utter nonsense to the gory slasher scenes of revenge and redemption, Mandy is arguably THE genre film of the year. The film establishes Nicolas Cage’s role as the living meme, reinforcing old characteristics and creating brand new material in a highly stylised package that filled up my Cage meter for years to come. You don’t have to be a genre fan to enjoy this one, but it definitely needs to be seen in the right context; on the big screen with a bunch of laid-back Cage fans and drinks galore.
— Anni Asikainen

First Man

As his follow-up to La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s First Man explores Neil Armstrong’s life in the decade-long build-up to the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, with Ryan Gosling strapping on the space-boots. It occasionally tries to pack in too much by juggling all the important aspects of the Apollo missions – familial tribulations, the technicalities that go into engineering these missions, and the socio-political outlooks on space travel – but it achieves its goal in dramatising Armstrong’s frustrations and triumphs, and more importantly portraying his mission as one of both universal inspiration and individual catharsis over the loss of his infant daughter. Both sides of the political spectrum had their go at the film, and ultimately missed its point of bringing this monumental achievement down to earth – of humanising a hero.
— Luka Vukos

Suspiria

A remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic, Luca Guadagnino (the director behind Call Me By Your Name) brings his sensualist sensibilities to the horror genre with results that require multiple viewings. As much a homage to the work of Fassbinder as it is a throwback to the Italian horror films of the 70s, Guadagnino drives the original’s exploitation tendencies towards a more overt political underpinning, while extending its mythological properties. Additionally, it is elevated by an eerie score by Thom Yorke (the Radiohead boys at it again), and uses of fast cutting which make certain set-pieces a thing of delirious, hypnotic beauty. Since Guadagnino regards this as a ‘cover version,’ it’s much alike to Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’. Both are great, but the update brings something more elemental – more urgent – to its execution. Whether this Suspiria’s momentum will live on in the manner of Argento’s cult reign is simply a matter of time.
— Luka Vukos

Los Reyes

This film is a very recent one and it’s been making waves since its premiere at IDFA in November. A multi-layered story about kids hanging out at a skate-park, but also a story about two dogs who have made the skate-park their home. The camera offers an unflinching, honest and affectionate gaze into the lives of the dogs and their antics, while offering an auditory look into the lives of the youth who frequent the park. If you liked Kedi, this is your ticket. Expect to see this in a festival near you; no programmer will pass on it.
— Anni Asikainen

Roma

A complete surprise, a cinematic masterpiece and a Netflix film that is so good it doesn’t belong in Netflix. The sombre monotone visual and narrative style of the film, which may alienate some audiences, really brings out the best in its storytelling. At times, it grips and tugs at your heartstrings, and keeps you on your toes, which is made all the more powerful due to its simplicity. Well done to the streaming giants for having managed to hire someone who really knows how to win those awards.
— Anni Asikainen

The Favourite

In a late entry to the year’s proceedings, we have Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, only a year after his The Killing of a Sacred Deer. While Lanthimos still doesn’t know how to moderate his use of the 8mm ‘fish-eye’ lens (personally, he should give it up altogether), the newfound depth found in a screenplay not written by his hands keeps him busy enough to focus on extracting more engaging performances from his actors and doing the script justice. In effect, the dynamic in the trinity of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman is one of the most entertaining cinematic conflicts of the year, and the ambiguous ending hints at a heart not present before in the pathological relationships to which Lanthimos has made us privy.
— Luka Vukos

Honourable Mention: The House That Jack Built

‘It’s not for everyone’ is by now a standard clause for each of Lars’ films, but beyond the provocation (which concurrently marks this as his funniest film) is a vehicle for an artist’s self-reflection through the styles he knows best: violence, surrealism, philosophy, and madness.

Happy New Year!

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