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The Best Movies of 2018 | Movies | Empire – Empire

Superhero apocalypses. Monochrome masterpieces. Psychedelic gore-opuses. You couldn’t accuse 2018 of being a boring year for the big screen – from blockbusters to indie gems, it’s been a brilliant 12 months for film-lovers the world over. For Empire’s upcoming Review of the Year issue, the team submitted their own personal Top 10 lists, which were compiled, quantified, and mulched into one master list: Empire’s official Best Films Of 2018. Read the full list below – and yes, we know what you’re thinking, it does feel a little early. But worry not: at the end of December, we’ll be updating the list to see if any latecomers squeeze on.
Note: UK release dates apply.
Tonya Harding has gone down in the history books as, primarily, a villain – ‘the incident’ at the 1994 Winter Olympics (an attack on Harding’s rival ice skater Nancy Kerrigan, which was linked to Harding, her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and deluded ‘bodyguard’ Shawn Eckardt) dwarfed her considerable achievements in figure skating. Craig Gillespie’s propulsive and slickly-edited biopic seeks to re-dress that balance. I, Tonya shifts between conflicting viewpoints, but largely presents Harding as a flawed but wronged figure who fought her way through abuse, neglect, and prejudice to become one of the greats – complicit or not. Margot Robbie is utterly compelling, but it’s Allison Janney who steals the show as Tonya’s thrillingly hateful mum.
Read the Empire review.
Lynne Ramsay’s follow-up to We Need To Talk About Kevin took six years to arrive – but this brutal, bleary-eyed revenge thriller was worth the wait. Joaquin Phoenix is in ‘intense male sadness’ mode as Joe, a beardy, mentally-fragile hitman who goes off the deep end on a rescue mission to find kidnapped 13-year-old girl Nina. Ramsay serves up a magnificently moody visual palette, and Phoenix marks a haunting, brooding physical presence at the film’s dark heart. An uneasy but essential watch, made all the more oppressive by Jonny Greenwood’s abrasive score, all discordant strings and unsettling electronica.
Read the Empire review.
With her last film, filmmaker Debra Granik changed the Hollywood landscape by discovering Jennifer Lawrence. This year she followed up Winter’s Bone with Leave No Trace, another gripping drama about people living on the fringes of society. Ben Foster is Will, a PTSD-stricken war vet who’s carved out a simple life for himself and daughter Tom in a public park in Oregon. But when they’re discovered, the prospect of being forced to return to society looms. Tender and thought-provoking, with utterly human peformances from Foster and rising star Thomasin Mackenzie – soon to be seen in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit and Top Gun: Maverick.
Read the Empire review.
First came Jessie’s ‘When She Loved Me’ song in Toy Story 2. Then the ‘Kitty!’ closer to Monsters, Inc. And don’t even get us started on the fiery furnace in Toy Story 3. Lee Unkrich continues his relentless war on your tear-ducts with the glorious Coco, a sumptuous adventure to reduce even the most stony-faced viewers to floods. Young Miguel’s quest through the Land of the Dead to reverse his family’s long-held hatred of music is fast and funny, with stunningly detailed and vibrant animation even by Pixar standards. And then that perfectly-pitched final wallop of an emotional crescendo kicks in, and it’s all over – a new Pixar classic is born.
Read the Empire review.
The title Cold War conjures up images of chest-puffing world leaders standing off in tense geopolitical showdowns, or David Hasselhoff singing ‘Looking For Freedom’ while wearing a piano-keyboard scarf. Cold War has none of that. It is, in fact, an intimate, deeply personal, black-and-white Polish film about love and folk music. Paweł Pawlikowski follows his Oscar-winning Ida with something somewhat less challenging but no less unconventional, depicting an impossible relationship in elliptical, generational scenes — like jazz (as heard in the film’s smoky latter half), it’s the scenes we don’t see that almost have the most impact. Come for the gorgeous cinematography, stay for the stunningly poignant ending.
Read the Empire review.
Alex Garland follows up Ex Machina with another carefully-calibrated slice of cerebral sci-fi, wrapping horror-infused meditations on loss and memory into a quest through a rainbow-shimmered overgrown wilderness. Natalie Portman is on fine form as Lena, a scientist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) is the only man to head into ‘Area X’ – a slowly-spreading phenomenon on the American coast – and make his way back. When she heads in herself, she finds freaky flora and fauna galore, as her grip on concepts such as time and space slips. A confounding final act delivers near-2001 levels of mesmerising metaphysical weirdness, set to be dissected for decades to come. A triumph for Netflix, even if it deserves to be seen on a giant screen.
Read the Empire review.
The second stop-motion animated film from Wes Anderson ploughs further into his own unique aesthetic via a sweet but dark-edged paean to man’s best friend. Bryan Cranston joins Anderson’s list of cast regulars as alpha dog Chief, banished to Trash Island by an anti-dog government in an alt-universe Japan. Then 12-year-old Atari pitches up, looking for his beloved Spots, sparking a quest across the island with canine kick-offs, a visit to an abandoned theme park, and robot dogs – yes, this is perhaps Anderson’s first science-fiction film. Come for the good boys and girls, stay for this year’s most hypnotic sushi-preparation scene.
Read the Empire review.
There’s all kinds of horror – bumps in the night, monsters under the bed, psycho killers at large. But Hereditary mostly eschews those tropes, instead conjuring the deepest, darkest, most awful emotional devastation you could comprehend, and bringing it to nightmarish fruition. Ari Aster’s astoundingly confident directorial debut commands incredible performances from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff, giving stomach-churningly authentic reactions to this year’s most shocking movie scene. Its down-the-rabbit-hole ending proved controversial, but love it or loathe it, Hereditary is a film no-one is forgetting anytime soon.
Read the Empire review.
How do you follow up an Oscar-winning, groundbreaking, out-of-this-world, three-quarters-of-a-billion hit like Gravity? If you’re Alfonso Cuarón, you follow it up with a black-and-white Spanish-language arthouse drama. A film about nothing and everything, Cuarón’s autobiographical journey into his youth has a maturity, sensitivity and soulfulness we’ve never seen before, all wrapped up in the simple story of a housemaid navigating family life in 1970s Mexico City. This being Cuarón, it’s also a visual marvel, marrying cutting-edge technology with a painter’s eye for photography, resulting in a jaw-droppingly beautiful hymn to the women who raised him. Could this be Netflix’s first Best Picture Oscar?
Empire review coming soon.
Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave us chainsaw duels, mythical battle-axes, ocarina-summoned demon bikers, a mac-and-cheese-spewing Cheddar Goblin, and Nicolas Cage at maximum capacity. He plays Red Miller in writer-director Panos Cosmatos’ glacial, hypnotic free-fall into drug-infused madness. For much of its two-hour running time, Cosmatos keeps you waiting, building the unease and delivering retina-frazzling acid-hued imagery. But when a demon biker gang kidnaps Mandy Bloom on behalf of cult leader Jeremiah Sand, Red kicks into overdrive on a gore-soaked vengeance quest. To whoever created the YouTube video ‘Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit’ – you’re going to need to update your montage.
Read the Empire review.
Spike Lee’s best work in years is the perfect film for 2018 – one that interrogates and explores institutionalised racism, tells a potent and surprising true story, and portrays neo-Nazis as a bunch of hate-filled backwards doofuses. There are plenty of laughs in BlacKkKlansman’s genre mix of comedy, crime, thriller, and drama – largely thanks to a charming breakout lead performance from John David Washington, and Topher Grace goofing it up as KKK leader David Duke – but the lasting impression it leaves is one of horror, connecting the lines between history and the present day with blunt, brutal efficiency.
Read the Empire review.
Breaking news: Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty good at acting. His (reportedly) final performance is an absolute barn­stormer, imbuing the ludicrously-named fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock with grace, petulance, and dashes of ridiculousness. As fantastic as Day-Lewis is (and he really is remarkable, even by his own standards), Paul Thomas Anderson works additional magic around him – Phantom Thread is swooningly romantic, framed with as much precision as Woodcock devotes to his garments, and with a left­field tangent in its intoxicating f­nal act that begs for repeat viewings. Oh, and it sets a new standard for epic breakfast orders.
Read the Empire review.
For a story that’s already been told three times before, it’s a near-miracle that Bradley Cooper’s fourth take feels genuinely fresh and vital. He’s working at full capacity here – directing, singing, songwriting, and all while giving a properly heart-breaking performance as past-his-prime alcoholic musician Jackson Maine. His chemistry with Lady Gaga’s rising star Ally is off-the-charts, with dazzling, propulsive opening hour that gives way to a character drama with considerable depth. Gaga surpasses all expectations in her first major screen role, and Cooper has announced himself as a director to watch. A filmmaker is born.
Read the Empire review.
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a perfectly-formed love letter to teenage girls and their long-suffering mothers everywhere. The indie favourite writer-actor channels her own upbringing in Sacramento into the coming-of-age story of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, a smart and artistic but precocious young woman who dreams of heading to a prestigious East Coast college despite her family’s financial worries. Saoirse Ronan is dependably excellent as Lady Bird herself – likeable, charming and infuriating, often all at the same time – while Laurie Metcalf teases out subtle, tear-jerking emotion as her fraught but deeply-caring mother.
Read the Empire review.
After presumably listening to ‘Another Day Of Sun’ for months on end with La La Land, director Damien Chazelle turns his attention to that other massive sky-orb: the moon. This Neil Armstrong biopic is a remarkably different kind of film from him – emotions tightly buttoned down, steely aesthetics and mere occasional wafts of jazz – while still resonating within his favourite topic of people pushing themselves towards greatness. Ryan Gosling is stoic and unshowy as the grief-battered Armstrong, while Claire Foy steals scenes with a totally sympathetic turn as his wife Janet. When the moon landing sequence finally comes – oh come on, that’s not a spoiler – it’s truly majestic.
Read the Empire review.
Marvel Studios’ first film headlined by a POC superhero is a bold blockbuster threaded with a powerful sense of identity – director Ryan Coogler’s filmmaking DNA can be found in every strand of Black Panther, from its bookending Oakland scenes to the presence of his constant collaborator Michael B. Jordan. Coogler channels themes around pride, heritage, colonisation, and the black experience in American inner-city communities, all while delivering thrilling fight scenes, breakneck car chases, and gadgets that Bond could only dream of. It’s the women around T’Challa that steal the show – Letitia Wright as his tech-savvy Q-like younger sister Shuri and Danai Gurira’s fierce warrior Okoye especially. Wakanda forever.
Read the Empire review.
There’s a fire at the raging heart of Martin McDonagh’s incendiary third feature, and its name is Frances McDormand. Her turn as Mildred – a mother experiencing intense grief in the wake of her daughter’s brutal death – is one of deep-welled sadness and poker-hot ire in a perfect match of performer and material. The film’s morally-complex characters, from Woody Harrelson’s sympathetic but defeated Police Chief, to Sam Rockwell’s racist doofus cop continue to linger in the memory nearly a year after release. Three Billboards is searing, soul-searching, and – as ever with McDonagh – extremely funny when it wants to be.
Read the Empire review.
It’s fitting that A Quiet Place seemed to sneak up on the box office very, very quietly, before scaring a shedload of cash out of the droves of cinemagoers who turned up for John Krasinski’s high-concept apocalypse-horror. That simple premise – make noise, you die – proves fertile ground for all kinds of nerve-shreddingly tense set-pieces, with a single rusty nail working overtime in the ‘oh-for-the-love-of-god-please-don’t’ department. But it’s the raw emotion of Krasinski and real-life-wife Emily Blunt’s performances that lingers – the pair are wholly believable as parents desperately trying to give their kids some kind of worthwhile existence in a world of constant hostility. Horror Oscars for everyone please – especially the nail.
Read the Empire review.
If you hadn’t already clocked by now, whenever a new Mission: Impossible movie arrives you absolutely should choose to accept it. Over 20 years into the franchise, the dream-team pairing of Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie have kicked things up into an even higher gear, delivering a new action masterpiece packed with mind-blowing chases, burly brawls, and jaw-dropping stunts. McQuarrie’s camera makes it perfectly clear that it really is Cruise flinging himself – often literally – into near-certain danger, making Ethan Hunt feel truly vulnerable. And then there’s Henry Cavill, gloriously ‘tached, reloading his arms (and, let’s face it, his entire career) with a brilliantly physical performance as August Walker. Let the overly-convoluted plot wash over you, and bask in the glory of an astonishing action movie.
Read the Empire review.
It had to be, didn’t it? No, not just because it’s a Marvel movie – but because it’s the Marvel-est Marvel movie Marvel could have Marvelled. And it’s marvellous. For all the MCU’s previous successes, Infinity War was a huge risk – how do you combine that many characters, that many plot threads, plus an untested CGI mega-villain into one film that, to an extent, stands alone, while also paying off on ten years of previous movies? Frankly, it’s a miracle that it’s not a complete mess – that it’s as incredible as it is is god-level stuff. Infinity War is a blockbuster working at maximum capacity for 150 minutes – constantly delivering on character, on spectacle, on drama, on emotion, even on laughs for its entire runtime. The action sequences are fluid, propulsive and edge-of-your-seat exciting, it’s packed with instantly-iconic images, and everything about Thanos – Josh Brolin’s performance, the incredibly nuanced rendering, the empathetic storytelling – is a triumph. No matter what Avengers 4 brings, Infinity War is a success beyond even our own mountainous expectations. Oh snap, indeed.
Read the Empire review.
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