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ACMI staff picks: best films of 2018

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If all you want for Christmas is a break from Christmas content, we've got you covered. Queue some of these up and take a look back on some of the best cinema that 2018 had to offer.

Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)

Head of film programs Kristy Matheson says

2018 has been another year of remarkable cinematic experiences, if Roma, Burning, Shoplifters and Cold War weren’t enough, some of my absolute favourite filmmakers, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (The Wild Pear Tree), Claire Denis (High Life), Carlos Reygadas (Our Time), Guy Maddin (The Green Fog), James Benning (L.Cohen), Lucrecia Martel (Zama) all had new and remarkable films for me to marvel at. 

However when I was told I could only pick one film (!!) I decided to go with the sensitive and complex debut feature, Minding the Gap. Director Bing Liu spent his teen years filming himself and his friends skating the streets of Rockford, IL. Years later he returns to the town and his archive of adolescent memory to explore the contemporary lives of his old skating pals. What starts out as a seemingly simple exploration of friendship and skate culture evolves into a deeper exploration of the effects of the past on these individuals and how it might shape their futures. A deeply personal documentary that’s won a slew of international awards, Minding the Gap is an astonishing debut feature and one of the best films of 2018.

'Minding the Gap' official trailer

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (Stephen Loveridge)

Festivals coordinator Tiana Stefanic says

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. was the first film I watched at MIFF this year and it is one of the most exciting and thought-provoking music docos of the past decade. I’ve been a fan of M.I.A. since she emerged with her DIY/day glo/world village ethos into the ‘nu-rave’ scene of the late-2000s along with Diplo. He appears here as an emerging DJ, and has built a massively successful career as a producer off the back of his work with MIA on her first two albums with their distinctive, influential global mash-up beats. The film seamlessly cuts together intimate home video and live footage to allow M.I.A. to reconstruct her own narrative, and provides a crucial insight into how female artists in the spotlight can be built up and just as easily torn down when they don’t follow the narrow roles they’ve been assigned. And the soundtrack is killer.

'Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.' official trailer

Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)

Film curator Roberta Ciabarra says

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron has made his 1/2 with a little Magnificent Ambersons in the mix for good measure. Written, co-edited - with Adam Gough, a trainee editor on 2006's Children of Men - rapturously photographed and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is a towering achievement: epic, intimate, emotionally direct and almost palpably resonant. Marina de Tavira (who playsSeñora Sofia), says that Cuaron "[made] life happen" on set. Serving as his own cinematographer, Cuaron transmits that 'life' through indelible images that poetically evoke his own upbringing - and the two defining maternal figures that shaped it - in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City in the early 1970s. I literally felt a gasp-inducing pang of loss at being cast out of the film's reality when it ended - too soon, for my liking - after 135 glorious minutes. (And seriously, don't cheat yourself out of the immersive experience of seeing Roma in the cinema).

'Roma' official trailer

Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhang-ke)

Film curator Reece Goodwin says

It’s always so satisfying when films as hyped as Roma deliver on their promise, but there’s also a huge amount of joy to be gained from those films that jump out and surprise you. For me, Ash is Purest White was the big surprise of 2018. 

Five years earlier, the ice-cold A Touch of Sin had fearlessly packed a punch by critiquing contemporary Chinese culture from within. That social criticism is still here in Ash is Purest White and it’s still strong, but the film breaks up this coldness with moments of pure joy, humour and the occasional, nay, frequent dance routine. This bit of extra sugar, it really does help the medicine go down.

'Ash Is Purest White' official trailer

Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle)

Film coordinator Treise Armstrong says

2018 proved to be a bumper year for documentaries. Nonfiction films like Three Identical Strangers and RBG proved that audiences were willing to show up to the cinema in droves for non-Marvel movies - *gasp!* - while gems like Bing Liu's Minding the Gap provided emotional heft and were rightly rewarded with critical acclaim and awards aplenty. 

My favourites of the year are two wildly different Australian docos - Island of the Hungry Ghosts and I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story - but my top pick is quasi-documentary Skate Kitchen from director Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack). Moselle's loose-narrative feature about an all-girl NYC skate collective manages to capture the frustration of breaking into male-dominated spaces and the joy of finding your people. Plus, the soundtrack is superb and the girls are so cool you'll wish you could skate too.

'Skate Kitchen' official trailer

Dogman (Matteo Garrone)

Film curator James Nolen says

Could such a simple title be so delightfully deceptive?! A relatively simple man (Marcello) lives a relatively simple life, well off the well-beaten tourist track on the outskirts of Rome. He ekes out an honest living, caring for the extraordinary breeds of dogs and their owners who call the neighbourhood of Magliana their home. He has a loving daughter who he sees on a regular basis, and together they explore various underwater worlds off the nearby coast. So far, so good. But there are darker forces that lurk just below the surface, and this simple man (without trying to give too much away) must take matters into his own, unsuspecting hands. Marcello Fonte (as Marcello) delivers one of the most extraordinarily understated performances of the year and perhaps disproves the old adage once and for all that you should never work with children or animals.

'Dogman' official trailer

Widows (Steve McQueen)

Marketing and comms coordinator Anaya Latter says

I read somewhere that Steve McQueen was a visual artist before becoming a director and it shows. Widows is visually arresting and taut with tension. When four bank robbers are suddenly killed in a failed job, their wives are forced to come together and finish one last heist in order to survive. Viola Davis delivers an incredible, restrained performance as Veronica Rawlings, on the edge of desperation as she tries her hand at masterminding a crime gang. Elizabeth Debicki is wonderful also as Alice Gunner who flourishes under the new demands of a life of crime. The exhilaration is palpable - and most refreshingly of all, these are strong women characters and it is a delight to see them dominate the male-centric trope of crime.