DECEMBER 29 ― I'm pretty sure I say this almost every year, but 2018 really did feel extra special to me in terms of encountering pure cinematic pleasure.
“Pleasure” of course comes in many different forms, and will mean different things to different people, and you will of course see what I mean as you go down this list and read about how these sometimes very different films evoke different sorts of pleasure for yours truly.
As usual, this list is in no way a “Best Films of 2018” list, and is more a reflection of films I saw in 2018 that I've loved so much that they've etched themselves in my memory.
And of course there are plenty of films, especially ones playing the festival circuit this year, that I haven't managed to see (despite really wanting to).
But of the hundreds that I did see this year, these are the ones I love the most.
Long Day's Journey Into Night
The most ravishing, rapturous and intoxicating experience I've had in the cinema this year undoubtedly belongs to this impossibly lovely second film from writer-director Bi Gan.
It tells the most basic of stories (about a guy returning to his hometown for his dad's funeral, which then gets him thinking about a girl he once loved) with an oneiric, dream-like logic that will bewitch you, and it closes with a jaw dropping 55-minute sequence shot/long take (in glorious 3D!!) that's so beautiful that you simply won't want it to end.
Not since Apichatpong Weerasethakul's wonderful Syndromes And A Century have I encountered a film this unforgettable.
One Cut Of The Dead
The most heartwarming success story from Japan this year, One Cut Of The Dead began life unlike the many other micro-budget indie horror films that crowd the market there.
Made with a budget of only US$27,000 (RM112,142) it initially opened in just three Tokyo cinemas, but has now sold more than two million tickets, thanks to its irresistible story (about a production team making a one-take zombie movie that will also be broadcast “live” on TV) and ingenious execution.
It's a hilarious behind-the-scenes comedy, and if you've ever been on a film/TV drama set, this will tickle you silly.
In an already great year for films regarding #BlackLivesMatter, trust in Joseph Kahn (of Torque and Detention fame) to deliver the best, most provocative and entertaining take on it so far.
Part satire and part provocation, Bodied is about a white university student diving into the world of battle rap, which also means that it is part musical and part Rocky (or 8 Mile).
Where it deviates wildly from the given templates is in its hilarious disregard for political correctness in the battle content, because in battle rap, everything is fair game.
Kahn makes it complicated for us by making sure that we see that words do have consequences, and by asking way more questions than it provides answers, this is one movie that will have you thinking about it long after it ends.
By now “fresh” is definitely not something you'd expect in the oversaturated world of American teen movies. And you'd probably expect even less when it's a teen movie made by a 27-year-old YouTube comedy star.
And therein lies the miracle of Eighth Grade, an American teen movie so true, so painful, so awkward yet so funny and sweet that most of it feels like watching embarrassing home videos of yourself when you were 13.
This is cringe-comedy of the highest order that does not, even for one second, forget the joy that lies behind all that pain, especially when we look at all those memories in hindsight.
Happy As Lazzaro
Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher has graced my favourite films list once before, in 2015 with her second film The Wonders.
She books another place this year with her latest film Happy As Lazzaro, a magic realist fable about one of Italian arthouse cinema's archetypal characters ― the holy fool ― to comment on the effects of capitalism on Italy's lower classes, and their shocking exploitation by the ruling classes.
Rohrwacher feels extra special to me for her ability to conjure magic realist moments using simple, old school film techniques and after this, I'll always look forward to any new film she brings out to the world.
The Night Comes For Us
It was only last year that I waxed lyrical about the out-of-this-world action scenes and crazy majesty of South Korea's The Villainess, so clearly I didn't expect another film to top that achievement arriving so soon.
But arrive it did in the form of Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto's jaw-dropping and ultra-violent The Night Comes For Us.
It makes up for its very typical story of assassin/hitman experiencing a crisis of conscience with one crazy action set-piece after another, each with increasing awesomeness and relentless gore and violence.
In short, some of the most glorious bloodletting and beautifully choreographed fight scenes of 2018 can be found here. Pure, visceral pleasure.
Jeannette: The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc
French auteur Bruno Dumont has always loved a bit of provocation and even heresy, as evidenced by his early films.
He may have been exploring slapstick comedy with his more recent films like P'tit Quinquin and Slack Bay, but with Jeannette: The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc it really does look like he's trying to find a way to merge the two sensibilities, and the result is a transcendent metal/techno musical (with music by Igorrr) about the childhood of Joan Of Arc, complete with headbanging nuns!
It's a jarring contrast sometimes, trying to marry the divine with the profane, but I loved every second of it. In fact, it's quite a transporting experience, headbanging nuns and all.
Let The Corpses Tan
When it comes to expertly shot and edited sequences in a film this year, the only real rivals to Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani's virtuoso display here is Bodied and The Commuter.
This is a film so gorgeously framed and composed that you can grab almost any single frame, and you'd get a beautiful still photo.
Unlike their two previous films where they paid tribute to the giallo genre, this time they're tipping their hat to spaghetti westerns and 70s Italian cop movies.
Forget the story, just accept that there are cops and robbers involved here, and enjoy the abstract montage on endless offer, and you'll find yourself in the company of some of the most pleasurable audio-visual experiences you'll have this, or any other year.
This technically came out in the US last year, but only came out in the UK this year, which was how I finally got to see it, so I'm just going to treat this as a 2018 release.
Whatever year it may be though, this simple film, about two people meeting in the town of Columbus, and the many walks and talks they have while experiencing the town's unique architecture, will etch itself in your mind thanks to the beauty of its dialogue, the magnetism of the performances (I fell hard for the charms of lead actress Haley Lu Richardson because of this film) and writer-director Kogonada's incredible eye for geometric framing.
Wide static shots are rarely this enchanting, yet Kogonada makes it look so easy.
As a fanboy of Jaume Collet-Serra, by now I've come to expect at the very least some form of genre excellence from Hollywood's current master of the mid-budget B movie.
On the surface, this really does look like more of the same, a Non-Stop on a train instead of a plane, if you will, since they both star Liam Neeson.
But just the credit sequence alone, in which Collet-Serra eloquently lays out the hero's everyday morning commute that spans years in just five brilliantly shot and edited minutes, displays more invention, technical ingenuity and artistic imagination than most films manage in their entire running time.
And that unassuming brilliance doesn't stop there, as it elegantly flows through every single minute of the film, in which shot for shot, cut for cut, if we care to notice the craftsmanship on offer, we're clearly in the presence of an artist, no matter how silly or trashy the material is. And I simply can't get enough of this good stuff!
Honourable mentions: Burning, Support The Girls, Manta Ray, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Sollers Point, Zama.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.