As Cineworld blog editor, it's never easy picking through the past 12 months of movies in pursuit of a top 10 list. What genres do I choose? How do I best evaluate a movie's impact on me? How can I ensure an even spread between English-language movies and foreign-language gems?
Ultimately, I have to go with my gut instinct, and plug back into my experience of watching a particular film as best I can. I try my best to recall whether a movie instinctively tapped into my tear ducts or adrenal glands, whether it made me laugh or feel scared and, crucially, where everything – acting, direction, scripting, design, music – came together harmoniously.
This year, especially, it's been very, very difficult. As proof of that, nail-biters such as Mission: Impossible – Fallout dropped out at the last minute, and recent gems like Sorry to Bother You were also on the cusp of making it through, only to give way in the end.
In the previous blog I listed films 10 to 6, and here are my top five films of the year. (The following refers to movies released in the UK between 1st January and 31st December 2018.)
5. A Quiet Place
My second Emily Blunt movie of the year is an altogether different beast from the effervescent Mary Poppins Returns. The contrast between the two projects confirms what a remarkably versatile screen presence she is: whereas Poppins tests her full range of linguistic, singing and dancing skills, the ruthlessly pared down A Quiet Place demonstrates Blunt's facility with facial gestures and economical body language.
Of course, there's a very good reason for this, given the terrifying premise. Directed with enormous confidence and verve by Blunt's husband John Krasinski (who also stars), A Quiet Place focuses on one family who are forced to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by monsters that hunt via sound. As a result, Blunt is able to craft an anxiety-inducing portrayal of wide-eyed terror, proof positive that an actor need not monologue in order to give a powerfully expressive performance.
Not just a hugely successful feature film debut from Krasinski, A Quiet Place also doffs its cap to a nostalgic tradition of silent cinema, in which the real mettle of a movie star came through body language, not reams of dialogue. By stripping away extraneous noise for the purposes of the storyline, Krasinski's movie exerts a uniquely eerie atmosphere unlike any other horror movie this year.
4. The Rider
Occupying an engrossing emotional landscape between fact and reality, mythology and documentary, The Rider is a moving testament to the heyday of the old American West, starring real-life South Dakota rodeo rider Brady Jandreau in a fictionalised take on his life-changing head injury.
Having fallen from his horse, the steadily recovering Brady Blackburn is forced to comprehend a new life outside of the saddle – a hard-scrabble existence amid the plains of the American interior where he lives with his father and disabled sister (who also play themselves). Director Chloe Zhao (now attached to Marvel's Eternals movie) frames the sweeping environments as a visually lush yet unforgiving environment full of crushed human dreams, and Jandreau's film debut is subtly moving, never resorting to melodrama but conveying the passion behind the character's eyes.
It's also a stirring tribute to what is a very dangerous profession, emphasised in a series of quietly devastating scenes where Brady meets a fellow rodeo rider who has been left permanently brain-damaged after an accident of his own. As with the rest of the movie, it's a haunting exploration of masculinity, as well as a dignified study of humanity under duress.
3. The Shape of Water
The greatest facets of Guillermo del Toro's English and Spanish language projects come together in this sumptuous romantic fantasy, one that crosses Creature from the Black Lagoon with Splash for a sublime cinematic experience.
Ever since the early days of Cronos and The Devil's Backbone, Del Toro has exhibited an affinity with outsiders and the intersection point between fantasy and reality. This came to an apex in triumphant 2006 fantasy Pan's Labyrinth but The Shape of Water is a more than worthy successor, hinging on an exquisite central performance from Sally Hawkins who, like Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place, is compelled to communicate through gesture and glance, rather than words.
The actress and director are in absolute harmony, conveying the radiant inner life of a woman named Elisa who transgresses by falling in love with an aquatic creature (Doug Jones). Truthfully, however, every one of Del Toro's character's shines, from Octavia Spencer's neglected housewife Zelda to Michael Shannon's brutish Colonel Strickland and Richard Jenkins' closeted artist.
Bathed in aquamarine hues and set to the gentle strains of Alexandre Desplat's score, it's a nostalgic experience yet one underscored with the director's characteristic affection for the weird and wonderful. Those Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director were well deserved.
It's an indescribable pleasure to come across a relatively unassuming yet utterly powerful movie that puts its more hyped brethren to shame. Apostasy is just such a project: a defiantly low key and quiet British drama that rings true with absolute authenticity, not to mention a heartbreaking awareness of the complexity of human relationships.
Director Daniel Kokotajlo draws on his background as a former Jehovah's Witness to spin an engrossing story of a young woman cast out by her family. When teenage Witness Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) finds herself pregnant, her unerringly devout mother Ivanna (a superbly moving Siobhan Finneran) puts commitment to faith first, throwing her daughter out of her house, and out of her life. This also causes a separation between Luisa and her sister Alex (Molly Wright, superb).
It's a drama whose shattering human implications are made all the more powerful by the contrast with the relatively ordinary British suburban settings: this is a landscape where, on the surface, everything seems of a piece, but beneath it, human neurosis threatens to tear everything apart.
Kokotajlo also cleverly keeps Ivanna's motivations ambiguous – is she committed to her faith, or has she been shaped by the unseen (and, it's implied, overbearing) presence of the girls' father? Is he alive or dead? The director never answers this critical question, leaving us suspended amid a moral dilemma while steadfastly refusing to judge or condemn those on display.
1. Black Panther
This year was a momentous one for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Incredibly, it's 10 years since the relatively unassuming Iron Man kick-started what is arguably the most successful superhero franchise in the world, and the cumulative weight of that preceding decade has a direct bearing on the tone of this year's Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
Whereas the bleak Infinity War is a vital transition point in the franchise, threatening the sanctity of many valued MCU characters while anticipating the events of the studio's phase four stage, it's Black Panther that stands out as Marvel's most important 2018 offering.
With so many Marvel characters jostling for our attention, now is the perfect time for the studio to start diversifying its slate. Black Panther, while adhering to the template of many a rousing Marvel blockbuster, also feels like a palate cleanser, emboldened by the pastoral/technological blend of its extraordinary African landscape Wakanda, and the people contained within.
Black Panther/T'Challa made history on the printed page back in the 1960s when he emerged as the first African superhero, and Creed director Ryan Coogler's movie honours this epochal pop culture moment by hitting a flawless home run of direction, script writing, casting and design.
It's a popcorn adventure adept at interweaving potent, political discussions on race and slavery with spectacular battle scenes. It's a crowd-pleasing epic that dares to muddy the normally clear divide between hero and villain (shades of The Dark Knight), establishing Michael B. Jordan's captivating Killmonger as an understandable, if not necessarily sympathetic, antagonist.
It's an ensemble character piece grounded by the sturdy central presence of Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, which also allows space for scene-stealing new faces like Letitia Wright's gadgets expert Shuri. And it's a fine showcase for a compelling score by Ludwig Goransson, which mixes traditional symphonic might with West African tribal instrumentation and trap hip-hop beats.
More than anything however, it feels like a movie that opens up bold new horizons within the MCU – not bad going for a franchise that is celebrating its first decade. One senses the greatest Marvel adventures still lie ahead.
That's my top 10 films of 2018, and now it's time to share yours. What movies blew you away this year? Tweet your suggestions @Cineworld.