The response to calls for more diversity and racial balance in casts dominates this year’s best film lists.

The comic-based blockbusters have started running out of steam and are also trying to change their gender stereotypes.

November provides a convenient gap to sum up the year as the pre-Oscar season release of prestige titles has yet to make an impact.

Only a couple, A Star is Born and First Man, are among such prestige titles so far. Instead, my focus is on the best new releases since the awards season finished in February.

The blockbusters kicked off with Black Panther, the first Marvel production to feature an all-African story and characters. It proved a box office hit, with takings of $7.5 million in New Zealand and breaking the ceiling that assumed audiences weren’t yet ready for non-white superheroes.

That was confirmed a few months later when a police thriller, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, performed just as well.

Nevertheless, traditional comic-book source material still appealed, with Avengers: Infinity War outshining its previous iterations. However, Jurassic World and Deadpool 2 showed the genre was lacking originality.

The gender debate moved to the fore in 2018, with more than half of the top 10 featuring strong female roles and dealing with issues such as mental health.

Greta Gerwig’s largely autobiographic Lady Bird, Toni Colette in Tully, followed by Hereditary, Glenn Close making a big comeback in The Wife and Claire Foy in Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot Unsane were just the start.

Emily Blunt co-starred with real-life husband and writer-director John Krasinski in A Quiet Place, a thriller in which invading aliens react only to sound.

The unlikely duo of Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick succeeded in making A Simple Favour the most enjoyable of the year’s thrillers, as well as lifting their star ratings.

Festival-goers were rewarded with the best showing from France in years, from the Jean-Luc Godard take down Redoubtable, to other highlights such as Number One, BPM, Montparnasse Bienvenue, Ada, Gaugin and Au revoir la-haut (See You Up There). Godard was also the villain in Agnes Varda’s road-trip documentary Visages, Villages (Faces, Places).

The mid-year NZ International Film Festival was the launch pad for Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie’s impressive starring debut in Leave No Trace. Several other female-centric dramas were among the best, including Disobedience and Cold War, a hot favourite for this year’s Academy Award for best foreign film.

Regrettably, only a handful from this festival received wider release. They included two South American period epics, Birds of Passage and Zama, both by female directors. Historical political themes surfaced in Darkest Hour, about Churchill’s role in the Dunkirk evacuation, Chappaquiddick (Robert Kennedy) and LBJ (President Lyndon Johnson).

These were topped by a Kremlin satire, The Death of Stalin, with a cast of deep British talent.

The ever-inventive Wes Anderson returned with Isle of Dogs, a Japanese-set and animé-inspired morality tale, while American Animals, revived from the festival, mixed real-life interviews with a crime reconstruction.

TOP 10 2018

American Animals
The Death of Stalin
Hereditary
Lady Bird
Leave Without Trace
A Quiet Place
Redoubtable
A Simple Favour
Tully
Zama

(Photo: Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds star in a scene from A Quiet Place)

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