2018 has been a majorly important year in cinema, with spine-tingling horror, stunning Afrofuturism and sequels galore all gracing the big screen over the past 12 months. With such a bounty of potential candidates, therefore, our Quench contributors are faced with an incredibly tough job in deciding upon their ‘film of the year’.
Caleb Carter on First Reformed
Paul Schrader is obsessed with martyrs. Since the birth of his iconic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, to a kaleidoscopic portrayal of author Yukio Mishima in A Life in Four Chapters and through to this year’s best film, the writer/director has conceived of men that exist on two plains.
The first, our physical one from which they are usually estranged; and their own mental one, as their words, observations and philosophies hover above reality. Each character’s process of realization comes from their desire to bring these words crashing to earth in (often violent) action and death acts as an omnipresent choice, the possibility of a final transgressive act where body meets soul.
First Reformed presents this earthly need in the most pertinent and existentially terrifying mode of Schrader’s triplet; and it’s the best film of the year.
Pastor Toller (Ethan Hawke) is confronted by an environmentalist and his wife (Amanda Seyfried) in a series of events that lead him to question his strict faith, left burdened with the question “Can God forgive us?”.
Torment floats through the steady formalism that throws hope and despair into a tangled wrestle. Schrader’s world seems so Godless, yet has moments of such soul-reaching depth that it seems to transcend its 4:3 frame, lifted floating from flesh and blood to the beautiful clarity of truth.
Ethan Hawke serves a soft voiced, postured and wholly unsexy performance (his best since The Before Trilogy) that highlights that absurd irony between human awkwardness and faith. The bag of ashes to be scattered gets caught on the wind; a bedroom devoid of distraction and pleasure in an act of higher commitment is depressingly dull; and prayer seems a lot more like simply shutting his eyes to the objective observer.
Schrader pulls no punches: First Reformed is dark, prods the why behind modern human survival and swims in such apocalyptic waters that it seems too spiritually provoking to even be allowed. Its relevance and religious effect is why it is a film that needed to be made and why it will remain a talking point for years to come.
Josie von Jascheroff on BlacKkKlansman
There are movies you watch for comfort, for giggles, for tears or purely for entertainment. But every once in a blue moon, a film is made that shifts your view completely. BlacKkKlansman is one of those films you watch and can’t stop thinking about. It’s one of those films where you leave the cinema in silence, thinking, contemplating, and trying to rid yourself of the goosebumps. If you watch this film in company, expect to find yourself debating the movie’s implications on many occasions.
So why is this film such a big deal? Well, simply put, it’s hilarious, shocking, and extremely relevant today. Set in the 1970s, BlacKkKlansman is the story of the first African-American cop in the Colorado Springs police department who, for investigative purposes, joins the KKK. The only thing that may seem more shocking than this storyline is the fact that it is based on a true story. ‘Black Klansman’, a memoir written by the real-life Ron Stallworth, served as the base into which former NFL star, John David Washington, and director Spike Lee brought their magic.
BlacKkKlansman is as hilarious as it is touching. Although the ironic storyline of an African-American Klansman generates much humour, the film explores the racism between, as well as within, communities. The dry, absurd humour may be extremely refreshing but the true power of the film lays in the connectivity with the audience. You will find yourself laughing for a good third of the film, but, for another third, you will likely be shocked and angered by the racism that African-Americans had to endure during this time.
However, the final experience you will have with this film is what elevates it among all others – the realisation that this racist behaviour has stretched beyond the 1970s. The same behaviour you have been appalled by for the last 85 minutes is surrounding you now. Finishing with footage from present-day riots, you will find yourself leaving the cinema angry, shocked, and wanting to make a change.
Hannah Ryan on Suspiria
When Luca Guadagnino embarked on a new project to follow Call Me By Your Name, few could imagine that it would consist of broken limbs, dances of carnality, and a witches’ Sabbath in the heart of Berlin.
Having crafted a trilogy of sun-soaked contemplations on desire, with A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name, and I Am Love, Guadagnino turned his attention this year to topics previously unexplored in his work, by choosing to pay homage to his beloved Suspiria; Dario Argento’s masterclass in horror and the Italian giallo.
The original Suspiria rightfully holds a spot as one of the most creative, and most influential, horror films ever made and, so, when a director known primarily for weaving stories of erotic summers and the complexities of romance announced that he would be remaking it, wariness understandably rose. What Guadagnino has created, however, is far more than a simple rehashing of Argento’s tale of women and witchcraft – the former’s Suspiria is a hypnotic, bloody vision of feminine power that has only a little in common with its inspiration.
Guadagnino’s reimagining of Argento’s tale of a dance academy-cum-coven begins in seventies Berlin – in the exact same year in which the original Suspiria was released – and unfolds over six acts, as political unrest ripples throughout Germany. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the revered Markos centre for dance and quickly captures the attention of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton – at her most magnetic), all while bodies begin to shatter and dreams signal terror. What transpires across the next two and half hours – a runtime which, though seemingly daunting, passes by with ease – is a mystifying concoction of body horror, themes of female agency and fury, and absurdity.
Suspiria invites you in with the same kind of consuming choreography that first draws Blanc to Susie and, then clutches onto you and asks you to submerge yourself in the insanity of its vision. It is a bold ask, one which has not been received kindly by all, but which is full of rewards if you allow yourself to surrender your mind and body to the dance before you.
To truly immerse oneself in Suspiria’s transfixing hellscape, it is best to enter into it with as little knowledge as possible. This is a transformative piece, the likes of which are rarely made by filmmakers as popular as Guadagnino, and it is most effective when it can take you by the hand, blindfolded, and plunge you into a strange new world – free of preconceived notions about it. Of everything that cinema in 2018 had to offer, Suspiria is perhaps the most memorable in the sheer certainty it conveys in its ambition and bizarreness.
This is a film to which you must either give yourself up to entirely or detach from, for Suspiria forces you into a binary; submit to the indulgent nature of power and violence or remain still.
Janani Suri on Aquaman
After debuting (officially) in Justice League, our hero Aquaman (aka. Arthur Curry) takes the plunge in his own film, directed by James Wan, with roguish charm and plenty of action.
When I saw Aquaman in the cinema, I chose the 4D show, to get the maximum experience. It was absolutely worth it. The movie is entertaining, with amazing action sequences, thrilling effects – I could almost feel the ocean on my face throughout – and a brilliant performance from Jason Momoa as Aquaman. The supporting cast match up equally well, with Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna and Yahya Mateen as Black Manta being absolute scene-stealers.
However, the reason for Aquaman gaining my nomination for film of the year goes beyond its thrills and action. More than anything, at its heart, this movie is the story of a misfit who realizes that his unique background does not have to be a hindrance in achieving what he wants, but a benefit.
It does this by allowing half-human and half-Atlantean Arthur Curry to be recognized as the one destined to unite the worlds of the land and sea, despite being looked down upon by the citizens of Atlantis, and called a “half-breed”.
While many films have focused on letting people be themselves, this movie’s special quality is that it shows that Arthur Curry’s unconventional background is an asset to him in becoming king of Atlantis – a message which could easily be applied in today’s increasingly insecure world.
To me, this movie is more than a fun-filled, mythological clash of the titans adventure – it is a powerful tale of an underdog who goes on to prove and earn his place in the world. At this stage in my life – when I am trying to prove myself in a foreign country – it resonates powerfully with me and proves that whatever I am could be an asset to take me far, rather than a liability. For me, Aquaman means everything, and that is why it is my film of the year.
Elly Savva Coyle on Lady Bird
My choice for film of the year, Lady Bird, paints a hilarious yet magical picture of the hurricane of emotions experienced throughout adolescence.
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut only graced screens in the UK at the beginning of 2018, but it has already imprinted on the hearts of many as a seminal film.
Lady Bird is special; accurate and meaningful in its depiction of young adulthood. The film moves through all the typical coming-of-age tropes, with the protagonist falling in love for the first time, going to her school prom, and moving away from home, yet does not feel formulaic but, instead, so refreshing and representative.
The film’s honest portrayal of relationships also stands out, reflecting the way that, no matter what has been said in the past, at major points in your life, your best friend will always be the number one person that you want by your side. And how, even if you’ve been quite stupid, they will be right there beside you whenever you call. Similarly, Gerwig also perfectly displays the difficulties of a mother-daughter relationship, and specifically the struggle to connect with and understand those to whom you are biologically closest but characteristically most distinct.
The complicated love affair with hometowns is also represented honestly – the confusion felt as the place you feel so desperate to leave whilst growing up becomes so greatly appreciated as you leave it behind; the realisation that it is something you can’t live with nor without.
Finally, whilst Timothee Chalamet plays the classic ‘soft boi’ heartthrob, Saiorse Ronan going without make-up, and proudly showing her acne scars is also hugely significant. With skin issues being a struggle for so many young adults, yet rarely presented honestly across media, this film makes for a refreshing change. By normalising imperfections, Lady Bird fills young people with the confidence that they are certainly not alone.
Nicole Rees-Williams on A Star is Born
After three visits to the cinema to see the film since its release in early October, it’s safe to assume that my film of the year could be none other than A Star is Born.
The film portrays the story of Jackson Maine, an experienced country-rock singer whose career is in fast decline and Ally, who’s encountered her big break and is soaring to the top. The issues addressed in the film are a definitive commentary on what the music industry does to its artists, stripping them back into a product and withdrawing them of having something meaningful to say.
Considering the film was Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, I believe it’s a guaranteed Oscar contender. From the birth of a successful directorial career to a magnificent performance full of depth and range, Cooper is, in every sense of the word, ground-breaking. His casting of Lady Gaga is impeccable, with her first major role in cinema providing a show-stopping start to her acting career.
It seems that Gaga was born for this role, conducting the character of Ally with such intense intimacy, you’ll be mesmerized by her performance long after the end credits.
The focal point of praise, in my opinion, goes to the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. It was almost as if I was watching two people who were really in love, rather than a performance of the sort. For a fleeting moment, when Jackson brings Ally onstage for the first time, their relationship is perfect.
However, what makes this film so striking is the explicit highlighting of the couple’s imperfections. Creating an ‘ideal couple’ in film isn’t all that challenging anymore, the real challenge is to create a film that focuses on the flaws, the nitty-gritty arguments, the vices of a partnership, yet keep you rooting for them nonetheless.
A Star is Born is intense, raw, and heart-breaking, yet still a beautiful piece of cinema with a gorgeous soundtrack to accompany it, making it my film of the year.
Indigo Jones on Bohemian Rhapsody
As someone who was brought up in a house full of musicians, it was always impossible to escape music. I was surrounded by different genres, but in particular rock, which meant I had the likes of Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Queen being played on repeat in my house. When I heard a Queen biopic was in production, therefore, I was delighted, and couldn’t wait to sing along to every classic song!
Of course, I did have some unease as to how they would represent the band, the music and their famous Live Aid performance. But Bohemian Rhapsody exceeded my expectations by truly encapsulating Queen, with Rami Malek’s uncanny portrayal of Freddie Mercury standing out.
I was not born to witness Live Aid, and I’ve always felt rather heartbroken at the thought of missing such an influential performance. I was rather sceptical, therefore, of how the film would manage to capture the essence and the devotion of the concert, but the ability of its directors to make the concert scenes so immersive for the audience was impressive to say the least. A sense of pride washed over me as I watched the last scene and thought of the passion felt by Queen, the other bands and the audience that day in 1985!
Bohemian Rhapsody won over my heart and probably many more in the cinema that day. The emotion and pride it conveys is, for me, what makes the film so special and certainly one of the best in 2018. It sends you back in time and makes you think about what it would have been like to be alive during this era of amazing rock music!