Film Lists

Set the Tape’s Mid-Year Report 2018: Top 15 Films So Far

Conventional wisdom dictates that the truly great films of any given year don’t appear until the Winter rolls in, or (because most of us are based in the UK and are at the mercy of Release Window Disparity Nonsense) the January of the following year when Awards Season movies finally trek across the pond.  That, or those which do appear in the year’s first half are purely uppity arthouse Indie projects which play on a total of three screens solely in the poshest parts of London, leaving everybody else to paw at their computer screens like Dickensian orphans and this metaphor has fallen apart.

In recent years, though, various sledgehammers have been viciously taken to that idea, with many of each respective year’s best and brightest opening in the traditionally dry first six months and successfully hanging around until everybody sets their proper lists in stone come mid-December.  No longer is February merely a dump month for bewildering garbage like Status Update; now it’s where Black Panther proudly sets the bar.  No longer are studio comedies solely cringeworthy tests of endurance like Walk Like a Panther; now smart, cleverly-written and sharply-directed comedies like Game Night become early highlights.  And horror!  Oh, what a year horror has been having so far, building upon a creative renaissance that’s been bubbling up these past few years, and pushing out instant classics to such a degree that a full third of this list is made up of various kinds of horror movies with six more months still to come!  It may not have reached the level of 2017’s, but the first half of 2018 has been quite the treat for movie fans.

The list you are about to read was the result of a site-wide poll.  Writers were invited to submit ranked ballots of between 1 and 10 films, each film being assigned points based on its position on their list – with the #1 film receiving 10 points, the #2 film receiving 9 points, the #3 film receiving 8 points, etc. etc.  These were then collected together into a consensus poll with ties being decided by which film appeared on the more lists (and further decided by which film topped more lists).  Any film that received an initial UK cinema or Netflix Original release between 1st January and 30th June was eligible (a complete list of those can be found on the Film Distributors Association website).  If we’ve missed any of your favourite films, then drop down into the comments, because some of our staff members are already arguing amongst themselves about the results so you won’t be alone!

How many of these will still be on this list come year’s end?  Who can say.  But even if they aren’t, they’re still films that made slogging through the crushing misery of life in 2018 that much more tolerable, and that deserves acknowledgment.

15] Revenge

This electrifying film from director Coralie Fargeat is as powerful a statement of intent as any debut film before it.  A powerful rape-revenge thriller that brilliantly leaves you sick to your stomach for our heroine without forcing you to sit through a graphic 20 minute sexual assault for it.  But that doesn’t stop you from cheering on Matilda Lutz as she gets her vengeance on the three men who left her for dead.  Unflinching in its violence, Revenge revels in the monster these men create from the unassuming Lolita-esque Jen we meet in the opening minutes.  Glorious. – Andrew Brooker  (Available on Digital release August 31st.)

14] Phantom Thread

An immaculately designed film about a man who can only immaculately design. The Phantom Thread is also about this creator’s muse and how she thrives on his flaws. This is perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson’s most mature and complex film since There Will Be Blood. Far from the sun-kissed, shaggy dog bliss of Inherent Vice, it is Anderson’s most complete ode to the fractured, toxic men he finds himself drawn to and the determined women who fill in their cracks. Beautifully lensed by Anderson himself and delicately scored by Jonny Greenwood. Sublime work. – Leslie Byron Pitt (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

13] Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The darkly comic Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri quite rightly garnered a load of Oscars for its unflinching look into a mother’s unrelenting pursuit of justice for her murdered daughter.  Frances McDormand gives the most astounding performance as Mildred Hayes, the mother who doesn’t give two damns who she offends as long as the police are motivated to keep on investigating.  With a fantastic supporting cast of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and John Hawkes together just about balancing out McDormand, and allied with Martin McDonagh’s acerbic writing and accomplished direction, it really is a film that must be watched. – Gavin McHugh  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

12] Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I see Jurassic World as a true and natural progression of the story that Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg created with Jurassic ParkJurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is an exciting continuation of that Jurassic story, complete with fantastic dinosaur effects and action, a marvelous musical score, and a bold and terrifying new direction for the franchise.  Fallen Kingdom inserts gothic horror and dark science fiction elements into its second half, making for a refreshing entry that gets away from the familiar islands in this dino franchise.  Director J.A. Bayona knocked this one out of the dinosaur park. – Caleb Burnett  (Currently playing in cinemas nationwide.)

11] Coco

Because when Pixar decide they want to pull on the heart-strings, they play using power chords.  With the staple ingredients of family, memory and the power of music, Coco fashions the perfect storm of lovable characters, stunning visuals and engaging storytelling.  Taking place during Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and using an all-Latino cast, there’s a sincerity to the project which is unusual for animation, even for a powerhouse like Pixar.  And if the person next to you doesn’t have Something In Their Eye by the end of the film, they’re probably some kind of replicant… – Ian Paterson  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

10] Isle of Dogs

In early April, mainstream cinemas across the UK carried an old-fashioned samurai movie because it was disguised in the form of a cute stop-motion-animation featuring talking dogs.  Wes Anderson’s latest continues the upward trajectory of his post-Darjeeling works with this hilarious, touching, and surprisingly-timely examination of totalitarianism, the rule of fear, and speaking truth to power.  All viewed through the specific prisms of Japanese history and aesthetics – which I feel were handled respectfully, but is a contentious subject better left to more qualified folks – and a heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog.  Also, there’s a magnificently lame “son of a bitch” pun. – Callum Petch  (Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from August 6th.)

09] Lady Bird

A beautifully crafted coming of age tale from Greta Gerwig, featuring award-nominated performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.  Instead of coming across like most modern day teen dramas, or some sort of tribute to John Hughes, Gerwig’s personal tale of a difficult mother/daughter relationship felt like something that had walked out of the 1970’s, albeit with an early 00’s setting.  Emotional, subtly dramatic, but also very funny, Gerwig’s solo directorial debut very much should be the calling card for a major talent. – Eamon Hennedy  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

08] Avengers: Infinity War

It is easy to feel as though fingers have been burned before with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The long-heralded first-part-in-the-final-part of the decade-long franchise was met with trepidation, worry and the potential for calamity. A big CGI villain? Check. A group of heroes who have to come together to save the city/planet/galaxy/universe/[delete as applicable]? Check. A run time that would make DW Griffiths blush? Check. This is the standard that Marvel has set for itself. But unlike Age of Ultron, unlike Thor: The Dark World, and unlike Iron Man 2, Infinity War did not flatter to deceive and brushed aside the weight of expectation to deliver a freeze-dried coffee of an epic – it was the gold blend. Humour, action, self-awareness, revelry, a sprinkling of emotional depth; we can forgive it the failures of its final 20 minutes because all that came before it was so damn entertaining. – Owen Hughes  (Currently still playing in select cinemas.)

07] Deadpool 2

Great writing and bold, carefree performances are the core of Deadpool 2 and the merc with the mouth is more gloriously violent, reflective and – most importantly – silly than ever.  Ryan Reynolds leads a cast who know exactly how outrageous their task is, but commit to taking it seriously anyway.  It was never going to be easy for 20th Century Fox to follow up the surprise hit of 2016’s first standalone entry, but with the writing team ported over to help incoming director David Leitch, the team have pulled it off. A third instalment awaits. No pressure, folks… – Ian Paterson  (Currently playing in cinemas nationwide.)

06] Annihilation

Following British novelist-turned-screenwriter-turned-director Alex Garland’s 2015 debut feature – the eerie sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina – a widely released, wildly successful follow up seemed inevitable.  And for those of us lucky enough to witness Annihilation in cinemas, that’s certainly what it felt like, as stunning direction, cinematography, and score combined with a multi-layered sci-fi mindfuck to give us the first true contender for film of the year.  While Natalie Portman fought the reflective, metaphorical madness of The Shimmer, however, Garland and his producers’ refusal to alter their vision for the sake of mainstream audience accessibility led Paramount to cancel worldwide distribution of Annihilation, robbing many of the chance to experience it on the big screen where, with its alternately breathtaking and horrifying imagery, it belonged. – Nicholas Lay  (Streaming exclusively on Netflix.)

05] The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro once again grounds a dark fairy tale story in a darker real-world context to stunning effect.  This variant of Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful showcase for Sally Hawkins as a deaf mute who falls for a fish man captured by the American government during the most paranoid years of the Cold War.  Lush, gorgeous, grotesque and violent, The Shape of Water is surely one of the most decidedly odd films ever to win the best picture Oscar.  It may also be (very) arguably one of the most deserving.  A wonderful grown-up fantasy. – Kevin Ibbotson-Wight  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

04] Black Panther

THE cultural event of 2018 so far, Black Panther cannot be done adequate justice within 100 words. Cementing director Ryan Coogler as an inarguable once-in-a-generation talent, gloriously revelling in bringing Afrofuturism to life on a major Hollywood blockbuster budget, functioning as a coming out party for instant-star Letitia Wright, directly wrestling with the concept of an isolated Black utopia and modern Blackness with a care and complexity that calls to mind nothing less than Do the Right Thing, Michael B. Jordan’s tragic Killmonger, interrogating Black male misogyny via its show-stealing supporting cast…  Like I said, 100 words cannot do this masterpiece justice. – Callum Petch  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

03] You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a stripped back, cut-to-the-chase thriller.  Nothing is spared as Joaquin Phoenix goes about his “business” in an understated, uncompromising way until he takes on a high profile client.  Echoing the sparse, minimalist style of Jonathan Ames’ novel, it is an uncompromising take on the anti-hero: doing those things that must be done and crossing lines if needs be.  Brutal, violent and tense but still with a depth that is left for the viewer to interpret, this is a masterclass in film-making and was an easy choice for my personal Number One. – Gavin McHugh  (Available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital now.)

02] A Quiet Place

A terrifying story of a family forced to live out in the woods in complete silence, all to keep themselves safe from the creatures that all but wiped out the human race.  It’s a nail bitingly tense as well as a good old-fashioned scary tale.  When a film premieres at SXSW to the kind of buzz A Quiet Place had, and actually lives up to it, you know you’re in for something special.  Beautifully crafted, brilliantly acted and psychologically torturing, it’s a standout film in a year of spectacular horror.  But woe betide anyone daring to eat popcorn behind you. – Andrew Brooker  (Currently playing in select cinemas nationwide.)

01] Hereditary

There is really no need to say anything, I can feel the gaze from your beady eye with its jaunty eyebrow raised above it as it burns through the internet and scorches my brain. But the arthouse horror scene really deserves some love of late and there are few better examples than this soon-to-be cult favourite. The first is certainly the stronger of the two as the deliberately slower pace establishes the occulty-folk-thrillery-thing’s motifs and instills a sense of dread through eerie foreshadowing and atmospheric tension. The culmination of all that incredibly intricate hard work and set-up pays off with a spectacular final act that binds together all the threads into a dense, tough and layered conclusion. Picking up its feet as it races towards that imposing finale mirrored the descent of Annie’s (Toni Collette) madness as she tightly clung to what she believed was happened despite the chaotic mess unfolding around her creating a satisfying if somewhat challenging cessation of the film’s hostilities. I am sure there is a review out there somewhere that has compared the finale to a headless corpse, fnar fnar. Nevertheless, Hereditary is a truly masterful piece of filmmaking and a treasure in the trove that is genre filmmaking right now. – Owen Hughes  (Currently playing in select cinemas nationwide.)

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