Favourite New Films of 2018

My annual list of 50 films looks different this year. I’ve just ranked my top 10 and the rest are added in alphabetical order. I didn’t feel like ranking the entire list because they are all favourites of the year.

The top 10 are films that have stayed with me longer than others, especially the top 3. My top 40 also includes films that I may not have felt strongly about at first, but I think about once in a while (more than some films that I loved instantly but have not thought about much since I watched them). I’ve also included films where I remember having a really good time watching them. We underestimate the value of just having fun with a film without any deep intellectual/emotion investments. 

The list includes films seen at film festivals (Berlin, London and for the first time Hong Kong and Singapore), plus theatrical releases in the UAE and abroad. A handful of films in the list were watched via VOD/streaming.

The cancellation of the Dubai International Film Festival this year meant less Arab cinema discoveries. I did see 35 from the Arab world this year, including Caphernaum, Yomeddine and The Day I Lost My Shadow, Weldi which received a lot of good press. They are all well made films, and I liked them and really glad they are receiving international exposure, but none of them stayed with me after watching them.  

I watched a few new Indian films released in Dubai, Bollywood and films from South India too which are new to me. The standouts are Padmaavat, Simmba, KGF: Chapter 1. They are all extremely entertaining on a grand scale that are hard to match and I look forward to seeing more.

In general, the film going experience in Dubai continues to a mixed bag, we’ve had a good number of film releases this year, and not just the super hero films, but we also suffer from inconsistent censorship rules and poor film marketing. The cinemas here constantly promote the big films we all know about and hardly any efforts goes into the smaller films that need the attention.  The media too continues to focus on big titles, and we lack outlets that write about cinema. The ones I’ve come across just focus on the superhero films. If there any that I missed, please let me know.

Additionally, we also lack dedicated press screenings. Instead there are press screenings that have less press and more ‘influencers’ taking place in dine-in cinemas, or film premieres inviting ‘movie buffs’ who are only interested in promoting superhero films.  

I am lucky I get to travel to attend film festivals and see my regular film festival friends and make new ones where I feel, albeit temporary, that I’m part of an actual cinephile community compared to Dubai. This year I also spent time visiting many of the independent cinemas in Paris, which I guess is my way of sightseeing. 

It’s been a good year of films and here’s to seeing more films in 2019.

Here’s my list.

1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)

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“I know that nothing can change and I know there is no hope.”

No film this year has made me think about the state of the world and making sense of it more than First Reformed.

A film about spiritual crisis, rage, depression, capitalism, environmental and political crisis. The film encapsulates the anxiety felt across the world.

First Reformed has constantly been on my mind ever since I saw it in New York when I was there in May. I watched it twice in the same week because I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.

This is a masterpiece that is tied in to everything Paul Schrader has made in the last four decades. This is a film that led Etahn Hawke’s career to it.

2. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

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“Whatever you do, do it carefully.”

Phantom Thread seduced me from the first few minutes. It is an exquisite looking film (with a sublime music score by Johnny Greenwood) and I wish I can just post all the film stills I can find instead of writing a few words about it. I watched it three times this year, on 70mm and 35mm (in London) and on DCP in Dubai. I kept falling in love with Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville and all the seamstresses with each viewing.

A film about the male ego, the female ego, fashion, love, bonds between siblings, the need for motherly love. It’s also about food (especially breakfast), and fashion and about the change in fashion. This is an elegant film, a winter film, a new year film. A film that can be watched over and over again, just like listening to your favourite song on repeat.

There is no wrong detail in this film. Even the very last few seconds of the end credits moved me, “For Jonathan Demme”.

3. High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

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“What do you know about cruelty?”

High Life had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and has yet to be released in many countries which explains why not many people are talking about it. It was, however, released in Paris when I was there in November and I thanked the film gods for it. I watched it twice , because this too was a film that stayed with me.

It’s hard to talk about this without spoiling it. All I will say is it’s a film about being lost in space (emotionally, mentally and physically), about questionable morals and solitude. It is a an exceptional film by an exceptional filmmaker.

My only recommendation is to see this without knowing anything in advance whenever it screens at a cinema near you. Also, Robert Pattison is getting better and better over the years.

4. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

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"The world is disgusting."

An Elephant Sitting Still is a bleak and angry film about the human condition.

A film about emotional isolation, economic and financial hardship set in one day. The characters in this film are broken. No matter what options are available, there is no ‘better’ wherever they go. But despite all of this, perhaps hope is the only thing one can hold on to.

The director Hu Bo took his life shortly after completing An Elephant Sitting Still and it was hard for me not to think about this whilst watching the film. A haunting and devastating film.

5. The Rider (Chloé Zhao, 2017)

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“You have to play with the card you’re dealt.”

The Rider is a film about Brady Jandreau, a horse trainer and rodeo rider recovering from an injury, acted by Jandreau himself alongside his real family members and friends.

It’s a very different and intelligent film about cowboys and masculinity that addresses loss, resilience and isolated communities.

6. Western (Valeska Grisebach, 2017)

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“We’re here to build things. Infrastructure. We’re helping them.”

Another film that subverts the western genre, and also by a woman. A film about communication, toxic masculinity and economic colonialism.

Set in the rural parts of Bulgaria where German contractors are setting up the foundation for a future hydroelectric power plant, their interactions with the locals in the village nearby causes tension.

Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann, a non-professional actor) is the most quiet of the construction workers with powerful facial expressions and presence in this film. I still keep thinking of his face in the very last scene.

7. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

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"We can still think our own thoughts." 

Leave No Trace is about a father-daughter relationship that is on equal footing living in isolation in the woods. The father, an army veteran suffering from PTSD who wants to live off the grid, in harmony with nature and to protect his daughter from the outside world. A daughter who eventually wants to find her path and way in the world.

It’s an incredibly moving about film about trauma, letting go and most importantly, about kindness.

8. Summer 1993 (Carla Simón, 2017)

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“Why aren’t you crying?”

Frida (Laia Artigas) six years old who has just lost her mother and prior to that, her father. Spending the summer with family in the countryside, we observe grief from her perspective.

A film about processing memories, death and trauma as a child that isn’t condescending. It’s really quite special.

9. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda,2018)


“I found her. It was someone else who threw her away.” 

Shoplifters is another film about family. I found the kindness in it uplifting. But there are also devastating scenes, especially when it makes you question the meaning of family.

10. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, 2018)

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”If the audience can't get it, then what's the point of even going to the movie?”

The Other Side of he Wind is a film we will be talking about for years, after waiting for many years to see it. Released on Netflix, it is unfortunate I didn’t get to see it film on the big screen. It received a limited theatrical release in London and a few cities in the US. There was even a private screening in Paris which I would’ve tried to gatecrash had I arrived a few days earlier in November.

Filmed in 16mm and 35mm black-and-white and colour, it is gorgeous to look at, especially the film within the film.

A film about old and new Hollywood, the studio system, film critics, art films, voyeurism, hanger ons, and legacy. It is fragmented, chaotic complex, sexual, funny and reflective.

The rest of the films, in alphabetical order based on English language titles, with a few thoughts along the way: