By Ryan Keating-Lambert
I’m well aware that this list is coming a little late, but better late than never. As usual, this one covers my top picks for titles released in the Czech Republic during 2018, which also includes festival screenings and those released on streaming services like Netflix. So unfortunately, The Favourite is not here (it was just released and you should definitely go and see it) and Suspiria is not here either (if it was, then it would probably be close to the top). Nevertheless, there were some impressive films that popped up in our little country last year, and some of them we even saw before the rest of the world.
First of all, without local distributors like Film Europe and Aerofilms, we would have almost nothing in the way of independent foreign films with English subtitles. I can’t imagine the year without films like Climax and Shoplifters, two of the many films screened at the English friendly Catch-Up Tuesday film night in Kino Světozor.
Let’s not forget Netflix releases which made a hefty impact on the industry this year. From Alfonso Cuaron’s passionate and record breaking epic Roma to the sci-fi head-f**k sensation that was Alex Garland’s Annihilation – whether you love or absolutely despise it, you can’t deny that it made you ‘shimmer’ in some way or another.
In the Hollywood franchise universe, Marvel gave us the groundbreaking Black Panther, and an epic Infinity War, Star Wars gave us a rather poorly received Solo, which I actually thought wasn’t bad, and Mission Impossible: Fallout gave us a Tom Cruise that we didn’t hate for a change.
Then there was Bohemian Rhapsody, definitely an entertaining film (that Live Aid scene in IMAX) with a near perfect Rami Malek, even if it spoon fed a copious amount of bullsh*t rather than laying out the tale that Queen and Freddy deserved. Fingers crossed the film doesn’t take away Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars.
Check out the full list below and let me know your thoughts.
Special mentions: The Death of Stalin, Call Me By Your Name, CAM, Hereditary, Phantom Thread, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, First Man, I Don’t Care if we go Down in History as Barbarians, Game Night, Mandy, Three Days in Quiberon.
10. Ghost Stories
This one definitely slipped under the radar for most people, and what a shame! Ghost Stories deserves attention. It’s a clever little horror film that pays tribute to the classics, but still manages to shock and confuse with its own originality. The scares are also very well paced. It’s like a dodgy old ghost train, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Based on the critically acclaimed play by British masters of horror Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories sees skeptical Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) investigate three very ‘unexplainable’ cases of the supernatural that put the man’s faith and sanity to the test.
In between today’s more visceral and political horror films like Get Out, and regurgitated trash like miserable remake Flatliners, there are few films that can keep things relatively entertaining and camp, but still give you a good fright. Ghost Stories ticks all the boxes there. It’s full of tropes, but it knows how to play with them… plus this is by far the most interesting Martin Freeman you’ll ever see. Watch it.
9. The Shape of Water
Yes, this film was actually released in the Czech Republic in 2018. The Shape of Water is an Oscar winning Cold War era fairy tale full of originality, heart and humor. It’s charming from start to finish, not to mention timely.
Director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) has certainly outdone himself here. After the misunderstood gothic romance Crimson Peak, the director has returned to the fairy tale with this film. It’s also doused in fantastic visual splendor, no surprises there, but the best part about The Shape of Water is its characters who are some of the most memorable of the year.
Sally Hawkins is phenomenal in the role of mute cleaner Elisa. She exudes a childlike innocence and curiosity that is an absolute pleasure to watch, then there’s Doug Jones, the go-to creature actor inside the suit, who deserves way more praise than what he receives. The two have an undeniable chemistry that evolves nicely, despite the constant disruptions from Michael Shannon’s brilliant and diabolical Strickland… and who could forget Octavia Spencer’s mouthy and hilarious Zelda.
8. The Guilty
Danish thriller The Guilty was a last-minute add to this list as it took me some time to actually see it, and honestly, this film completely blew me away, not to mention totally destroy my nerves for a solid day or two.
Directed by Gustav Möller and starring the incredible Jakob Cedergren as alarm dispatcher and former police officer Asger Holm, the film is one of the most emotionally engaging and tense one-room thrillers I have ever seen. Based around a rather grisly emergency call, this is one film that you’ll remember for a long time.
It’s no surprise that it received a lot of attention on the international festival circuit this year either. The film won 13 awards, including the Audience Award at Sundance. It’s also no surprise that an American remake is in the works with Jake Gyllenhaal. I doubt it will live up to this claustrophobic little number though. Brilliant film.
7. Cold War
Pawel Pawlikowski’s now Oscar nominated romance epic is a visually captivating black and white work of mastery, and a remarkable tribute to the real-life love story of his own parents.
It’s a love story that feels genuine and relatable. Rather than putting focus on relationship melodrama between singer Zula, played brilliantly by Joanna Kulig, and musician Wiktor, played by Tomasz Kot, Cold War is more about what you don’t see. These large gaps in time, due mostly to Europe’s immigration difficulties during that turbulent war, make their relationship engaging and believable.
The way the film uses music to propel its story forward is also ingenious. It feels like a refreshing antithesis of the traditional musical, and Kulig’s vocal talents are impressive to say the least.
Coming in at number 6, not only is Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman unbelievably stylish and packed with comedic ingenuity, but it’s also a detailed and unabashedly brutal study of American history.
Ron Stallward (John David Washington) is the first black cop on the Colorado Springs police force and goes from rookie to undercover detective when he spontaneously calls and signs up to the Ku Klux Klan otherwise known as ‘the organisation’. When it comes to meeting in person however, Stallward sends fellow Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). The two infiltrate the Klan and attempt to uncover their operational plans.
Based on the novel by the real Ron Stallward, and produced by Blumhouse and Jordan Peele (Get Out), BlacKkKlansman is a triumph of style and storytelling. Spike Lee has created one of the best films of his career and the film was just nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture.
Climax is hands down one of the most disturbing films I saw last year, and is definitely one of the most memorable drug movies I’ve seen in some time. It’s a horrific but uniquely compelling vision of madness, complete with dizzying long takes, astounding dance sequences, and a sh*t load of sangria.
Starring the talented dancer-turned-actor Sofia Boutella, and filmed over just 15 days last February, Climax is, believe it or not, actually based on a true story. The film sees a group of dancers descend into an LSD induced hell after somebody spikes the sangria.
Unsurprisingly, cinema bad-boy Gaspar Noe is behind this project. The France based Argentine director has always been known for pushing the boundaries of sex, drugs and cinema, even if it isn’t always successful. In many ways, Climax feels like the deranged love-child of the director’s previous two films, the pornographic (and 3D) Love and the psychedelic (and also drug fueled) Enter the Void.
You’ll remember this film for years to come. It’s an experience, enhanced only by its ’90s-inspired dance soundtrack featuring music by Aphex Twin, Daft Punk and more.
Directed by renowned Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters is one of the best films by the Japanese auteur to date, and also the 2018 Cannes Palme d’Or winner.
Set on the outskirts of Tokyo and inspired by the Japanese recession, Shoplifters tells the tale of petty thief Osamu (Lily Franky) and his unconventional family of criminals who are shaken up after he adopts a homeless girl.
Like many Kore-eda films, Shoplifters is an exploration of societal relationships, in particular, what constitutes a ‘family’, and it’s beautiful. The characters are so well-written and lovable that it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite. Even the children are complex, so complex that it makes you wonder how this director manages to get such vivid and fascinating characters across the screen in a mere two hours.
3. Under the Silver Lake
This is going to be a controversial choice for some readers. Under the Silver Lake is a wonderful and whimsical journey through the darker side of LA and the Hollywood dream, in the vein of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but with a wicked sense of humor and a lovable young scruff at its core.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell, Under the Silver Lake sees Sam (Andrew Garfield) embark on a hallucinogenic journey around Eastside LA in search of his neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough) who mysteriously disappears.
This is a hell of an ambitious project for Mitchell and a fascinating follow-up to his 2015 breakout indie horror It Follows. Silver Lake is everything you know and love about the LA noir film, but also an homage to the cryptic work of Lynch, which not everyone is going to enjoy. It’s confusing as hell, but never feels mundane. Garfield’s layabout Sam is such a treat to watch too – easily the actor’s best role to date.
Alfonso Cuarón’s personal passion project, surprisingly, comes quite late in his career, and maybe that was a good thing. The Mexican director has always been one to jump in the deep end with new filmmaking technology, just look at the Oscar-winning Gravity and the timeless Children of Men. So it’s no surprise that Roma is a marvel of modern cinema in which every shot is meticulously crafted and packed to the brim with delicious sub-text.
Also shot by Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is a complex fly-on-the-wall observation of a year in the life of housemaid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and the middle class family she looks after in Mexico City during the 1970s.
Shot in gorgeous black and white where virtually every frame could be hung on your wall, Roma is a poetic tribute to domestic workers but also a thought-provoking portrayal of transition; transition in both people and country.
The film has since been nominated for 10 Oscars including a Best Actress nomination for Yalitza Aparicio, who was previously a primary school teacher. It’s an emotional epic that’s almost guaranteed to bring you to tears, maybe even more than once.
Also guaranteed to ruffle some feathers… Alex Garland’s new film is a provocative and fascinating piece of science fiction genius. A marvel of modern cinema that deservedly earns a place at the top of my list.
Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) and a team of scientists led by a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) investigate the mysterious Area X, a quarantined zone inhabited by an alien ‘shimmer’ stemming from a coastal lighthouse. No one has ever returned, that is until Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows up.
Where do I even start with Annihilation? It’s a highly ambitious science fiction thriller that is (very) loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Vandemeer. It touches on self-destruction, cancer, marriage and a myriad of other themes with its alien ‘shimmer’ before really throwing you in the deep end with its insanely cryptic final act.
Then there’s THAT scene. I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. The bear attack is without a doubt, one of the most disturbing and memorable scenes in cinema this year, right up there with Hereditary, of course.
Like Darren Aronofsky’s recent film Mother!, the film was polarising for both audience and critics alike. Labelled as both an instant sci-fi classic and also as pretentious rubbish. The film caused so much controversy in test screenings that Paramount decided to ditch the film’s worldwide cinema release and usher it straight into the Netflix cue – they didn’t want to risk another ‘weird’ movie release in cinemas after the epic box office failure of Mother!
Annihilation is currently available to stream on Netflix CZ.
Feature photo: Aerofilms