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.
What follows is part one of my top 10 movies of 2018: these are films 10 to 6 in what has been an astonishing year of cinema. (The following refers to movies released in the UK between 1st January and 31st December 2018.)
Horror films can frighten us in many ways – they can repel us through gore, make us leap from our seat in shock or, as in the case of the deliciously creepy Hereditary, worm under our skin to remain and fester.
The latter is my favourite type of horror, one exerting a psychological pull as opposed to a shrieky/jumpy aesthetic, so it's no surprise Ari Aster's directorial debut is on this list. He pitched the movie to studio A24 (indie horror vets who put out The Witch and others) as a family melodrama that descends into hell, and it's not hard to see the foreboding influence of genre classics such as The Shining and Rosemary's Baby looming over his accomplished chiller.
Yet Hereditary never feels like a pastiche. Instead, Aster synthesises his passion for the old masters into a formidably creepy story of inherited evil, in which the very aesthetic – imagery of doll's houses, disquietingly placid wide shots of interiors – makes it feel as if the characters are at the mercy of a malevolent higher power.
The merciless slow build to Colin Stetson's eerie score is, in the early stages, ruptured by one of the most horrifying plot developments in recent memory. But the real impact of said sequence – and indeed the intentionally loopy final act – resides in the escalating mania of star Toni Collette, one of the industry's most chameleonic performers who here magnificently plays a woman confronting terror embedded within her very genetic code.
If this relentless French domestic thriller slipped your attention, it's highly recommended that you go and track it down. The feature-length directorial debut of filmmaker Xavier Legrand, it is in many ways as scary as Hereditary – except this time, the terror resides not in the supernatural but in the far more relatable world of human neuroses.
It begins as the somewhat unassuming custody drama implied by the title – a man and woman with two children are separating following alleged violent behaviour from the former towards his family. Owing to her age, their teenage daughter has a right to determine how she spends her future but, tragically, their younger son is compelled to fall under the custodial guardianship of his father.
Having initially, and cleverly, muddied the water as to whether the dad (chillingly played by Denis Menochet) is actually guilty of his alleged crimes, Legrand slowly turns the screw during the custodial scenes, subtly emphasising Menochet's hulking frame against the slight build of young Thomas Gioria as the son. Gradually we realise this is indeed a domestic horror film of the first order, and the final 10 minutes are hide-behind-your-hands scary – in fact, they're probably the scariest 10 minutes of the year.
8. They Shall Not Grow Old
For all the recent CGI bloat of The Lovely Bones and the Hobbit trilogy, it's easy to forget that director Peter Jackson, when on form, is a formidable innovator. From the blackly comic homemade splatter of Braindead, to the eerily inviting dreamscapes of Heavenly Creatures and the genre-redefining scale of Lord of the Rings, he is more than capable of fusing technical spectacle with a sense of heart, story and focus.
That said, it's refreshing to note his return to something genuinely intimate and personal with astonishing World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. It's clear this is a project that means something to Jackson, as he draws on memories of his veteran grandfather (and other sources) to delve into the BBC and Imperial War Museum archives to colourise their footage.
The end result is staggering and no gimmick. Jackson and his team's work makes the preceding 100 years float away, a direct result not just of colourising but also frame-rate reworking (eliminating the spasmodic movement of the soldiers) and immersive sound, including the use of lip readers who overdub key voices of those glimpsed on the battlefields.
Painstakingly chosen voiceover from the veterans is our final link to the past, eliciting a devastating sense of optimism and warmth from those involved in so devastating a conflict. Far from tarnishing their memory, Jackson's movie (whose title misquotes Laurence Binyon's poem 'For the Fallen') invests these ghostly figures with added urgency and humanity, from the twinkle in their eyes to their mud-splattered uniforms.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
16-and-a-half years after Tobey Maguire first swung onto screens in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, we've finally got a Spidey movie that approximates the look and feel of a visually exuberant comic book.
Under the brilliantly imaginative guidance of The LEGO Movie architects Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first animated movie in Sony's expanding web-slinger canon. That means it's far more creatively liberated than the previous live-action versions, popping and surging with so many visual in-jokes, both overt and covert, that multiple viewings are required to keep up.
But it's the heart of this particular Spider-Man movie that really makes it sing. It diversifies the slate of characters, introducing us to a host of new wall-crawlers in a storytelling move that strikes a pleasingly magnanimous chord in our current climate. No longer is this a landscape solely defined by Peter Parker (although two versions of him do play a significant role) – instead the movie generously suggests the suit is anyone's for the taking, regardless of their race, background or even species.
When he first emerged in 2011, mixed race Spider-Man character Miles Morales was praised for introducing grace notes of diversity, and the film's winning interpretation of the character (voiced by Shameik Moore) gives it a warm human focus. All this despite the fact it contains a walking, talking pig in a Spider-Man suit – such is the surreal breadth and quick-fire wit of this enormously exciting animated blockbuster.
6. Mary Poppins Returns
The 54-year gap between Disney masterpiece Mary Poppins and this year's sequel Mary Poppins Returns burdens the latter with an overwhelming sense of expectation. How can one possibly follow in the footsteps of Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and timeless tunes like 'Feed the Birds', all of which have cemented themselves in our consciousness?
In the hands of Chicago film-maker Rob Marshall, the solution is a simple but delightfully effective one: adhere closely to the original but make some essential nips and tucks around the edges, including a monumentally effective casting update (more on which momentarily), add some thunderously exciting new songs and apply progressive upgrades to the live action/2D animation crossover sequences.
Moreover, there's a concerted effort by all involved to bottle the elusive essence of the original Poppins, namely its central message (never more important than in these troubled times) of dedicated selflessness, of encouraging those you love to gain perspective without trumpeting your own self-worth.
Key to the latter point is the casting of the magnificent Emily Blunt, who glides over the impressive cast (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep) with formidable elan. Sharper of tongue and more acerbic of temper than Andrews, she makes Poppins her own, showcasing not only her gorgeous singing voice (heard in previous Marshall movie Into the Woods) but also her dazzling dance skills, single-handedly bringing Mary Poppins into a new age.
Amid a terrifically entertaining movie dotted with strengths (including the energy of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's ear-worming new numbers), Blunt's performance is the spoonful of sugar that makes Mary Poppins Returns a practically perfect end of year treat.
Stay tuned to the blog for my top five films of the year. In the meantime, what have been your top 10 movies of 2018? Rack those brains and tweet us your suggestions @Cineworld.