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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Concrete Playground's Top Ten Films of 2018

From beautiful black and white depictions of post-war Poland to heartbreaking tales from the Australian outback, here are the films you need to see before the year is out.
By Sarah Ward and Tom Clift
December 28, 2018
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Concrete Playground's Top Ten Films of 2018

From beautiful black and white depictions of post-war Poland to heartbreaking tales from the Australian outback, here are the films you need to see before the year is out.
By Sarah Ward and Tom Clift
December 28, 2018
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2018 was a great year for cinema. If you've been thinking otherwise, then maybe you just haven't had time to watch enough flicks or you haven't ventured out of your viewing comfort zone. Indeed, the past 12 months have served up a feast of films that show why we all love catching a movie, whether we're heading to our local picture palace or getting cosy on the couch. The very best films aren't just an artful, entertaining combination of sound and vision — they're a reminder that, even though this medium is more than a century old, it's still full of surprises.

Don't worry — we have examples. There's Black Panther with its engaging embrace of its vivid on-screen world, all while carving out a new space in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There's the combination of dance and horror that made both Suspiria and Climax two of this year's highlights, all while doing something completely different from each other. Widows boasted smart heist thrills, packaged with an all-star cast and a stunning statement, while A Simple Favour offered a delightfully twisty time at the cinema. There's also First Reformed's soulful and provocative contemplation of faith, The Favourite's wickedly funny royal hijinks and Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s involving account of literary forgery too. Each offered up something unexpected — and they're all unlucky to make our best-of list.

Throughout 2018, Concrete Playground's film critics watched all of the above and more, and reviewed over 120 films. Now, they've whittled down their favourites to the below ten movies. Maybe you saw them. Maybe you didn't. But that's another great thing about cinema — you can always rewatch the flicks that you loved and seek out the ones that you missed.

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YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

In Lynne Ramsay's long-waited fourth feature, an ex-soldier and former FBI agent grapples with his own trauma while trying to save others from theirs. Joe rescues children abducted and abused by pedophile rings — and if that sounds like an astonishing story, just wait, because You Were Never Really Here isn't done yet. Indeed, it's hard to pick what's more stunning here: Ramsay's empathetic and expressive direction, which keeps making unexpected choices to immerse viewers in Joe's headspace, or Joaquin Phoenix's internalised performance as the movie's protagonist, which won him the best actor prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Call it a tie, and call this film an exceptional achievement that isn't easily forgotten after watching. — Sarah Ward

Read our full review.

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COLD WAR

After the Oscar-winning Ida, Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski plunges into a sweeping love story that's also a portrait of his post-war homeland. In fact, it's a personal tale inspired by his parents (and dedicated to them as well), with Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) their on-screen surrogates. As Poland adjusts to the titular period, the ups and downs of the intertwined duo's lives spill across the screen. A film of deep yearning as well as a clear-eyed understanding of the way that the world works, especially in times of conflict, every aspect of Cold War borders on flawless, from its intimate performances to its moving soundtrack to its Academy ratio, black-and-white images. — SW

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HEREDITARY

In a banner year for the horror genre, no film provided a more anxious or uncomfortable viewing experience than Hereditary. Director Ari Aster takes his time, immersing viewers in the unsettled life of the Graham family, which teeters on the brink of collapse long before demonic forces take hold. It's a smart move, one that makes the film's eventual descent into madness that much more disturbing. Toni Collette gives a career best performance as a mother consumed by grief, while the recurring dollhouse motif further emphasises the feeling that the characters — and the audience as well — are merely the playthings of a far more powerful force. — Tom Clift

Read our full review.

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ROMA

In a stellar year for excellent directors doing what they do best, Alfonso Cuarón sits at the top of the heap. And yes, Roma does showcase the Gravity filmmaker doing what he often does — that is, peering at someone who doesn't usually take pride of place on the screen. Taking inspiration from his own upbringing, the Mexican helmer tells the tale of housemaid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), splicing together slices of her life working for a well-off family in the early 70s. Whether watching Cleo clean up after the family dog or delving into her problems beyond her job, every moment proves both emotionally intricate and visually sumptuous. Roma earned Cuarón the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, and he's only going to keep picking up more trophies. — SW

Read our full review.

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SWEET COUNTRY

When Sweet Country emerged victorious at this year's AACTA awards, it was truly a case of the best film winning. Warwick Thornton's Australian western is a sight to behold, with the Samson and Delilah filmmaker seeing every inch of the Northern Territory's outback landscape. The film also makes a firm statement, as becomes clear when an Indigenous stockman (Hamilton Morris) kills a white station owner in self-defence. He's forced to flee with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), but a local posse is soon on their trail. As Sweet Country decisively confronts this all-too-real situation, it also confronts the country's history of racial prejudice. The movie might be set in the 1920s, but Thornton purposefully, convincingly and heartbreakingly holds a mirror up to Aussie attitudes today. — SW

Read our full review.

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A QUIET PLACE

The dreadful quiet before the scare has always been a crucial of horror moviemaking. But with A Quiet Place, actor-turned-director John Krasinski weaves the idea into the very DNA of his story. Silence is the key to survival in this gripping creature feature, which makes the most of its brilliant premise and benefits from standout (and largely dialogue-free) performances from Krasinski, Emily Blunt and young newcomer Millicent Simmonds. And while the film suffers somewhat from the Jaws effect in that the monsters are scarier before you see them, A Quiet Place is nevertheless a masterclass of tension. — TC

Read our full review.

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CUSTODY

A marriage crumbles. A woman leaves and takes her children with her. After a difficult ordeal in court, life should go on, except that Miriam's (Léa Drucker) husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet) won't accept the new status quo. In weekend visits, he resorts to bullying his pre-teen son Julien (Thomas Gioria), who is now forced to flit between his parents. Forget action blockbusters and spooky thrillers — the seemingly routine events of Custody provide this year's most suspenseful viewing experience. The extraordinary debut of French writer/director Xavier Legrand, this is a bleak, tough, raw, involving and unforgettable film from start to finish. — SW

Read our full review.

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BLACKKKLANSMAN

Director Spike Lee fires on cylinders with this funny, compelling and uncomfortably timely story about a black cop's mission to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Lee has never been an especially subtle filmmaker, and his allusions to contemporary American politics — and one politician in particular — are impossible to miss. But the approach works perfectly in this stranger-than-fiction true story, which delights in hammering home the overwhelming stupidity that drives so much prejudice and hate. With a perfect mix of outrageous comedy and sobering drama, BlacKkKlansman truly is the perfect film for these troubled times. — TC

Read our full review.

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LEAVE NO TRACE

In another world, it wouldn't have taken Debra Granik eight years to direct another feature after Winter's Bone. That's not the world that we're living in — but, thankfully, we do now have this affecting and sensitive portrait of a father and daughter trying to live their own way. Making an Oregon forest their home, military veteran Will (Ben Foster) and teenager Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) try to avoid attention so that they can continue to do as they please — but life has other plans. Watching them adjust, and watching the wise-beyond-her-years Tom realise that her own path might be different from her dad's, Leave No Trace steeps viewers in an empathetic exploration of America's increasingly fractured society. — SW

Read our full review.

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SHOPLIFTERS

Few filmmakers are as adept at crafting intimate family dramas than Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda. His latest effort, Shoplifters, won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and its hard to imagine a worthier recipient. Charting the highs and lows of an unconventional family unit living on the margins in Tokyo, the film shines a light on a side of Japanese society that's rarely seen, while tugging deftly at the heartstrings. There's no sense of emotional manipulation in Kore-eda's work, but audiences will invariably be in tears by the time all is said and done. — TC

Read our full review.

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These are our favourite films of 2018, but we've also put together a list of the best films hardly anyone saw this year — y'know, the ones that sort of went in and out of cinemas without much fanfare but definitely deserve a watch.

Published on December 28, 2018 by Sarah Ward

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