In terms of quality of films, 2018 was a bit of a downer as there was a bit of struggle picking out the films that comprise this list. We sift through the Nollywood films that had major cinema releases or were premiered during the calendar year and bring you the definitive most ambitious 10 list. Ranked in ascending order.
From romantic comedies to twisty thrillers, we summarize the year in film.
- Lara and the Beat
In just under a year since 2017’s Banana Island Ghost, Biola Alabi Media reenters the fray with Lara and the Beat, a musical slice of what life must feel like for the young and ambitious in today’s Nigeria. Directed by Tosin Coker (Finding Neptune,) Lara and the Beat is set in the same upscale, opulent world as Banana Island Ghost. Coker’s film works as pop culture bait, cutting straight to the heart of Nigeria’s vibrant pop culture space, and zeroing on the music, the stars and the fashion. The characters are in turns fabulously wealthy, desperately broke and on the search for fulfilment.
- Nigerian Prince
The result of Faraday Okoro’s $1 million grant via the AT&T Presents: Untold Stories programme boasts an executive producer assist from Spike Lee. Made for an international audience, Nigerian Prince which closed the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in November, is a breezy, sometimes tough to take romp through crime ridden Lagos. The film suffers from a thoroughly cynical gaze and goes on to tell a single story of corruption, crime and hopelessness. Okoro is faithful to his vision however and enlists winning performances from his mostly Nigerian cast. Everyone gives a good account of themselves. If only the material was more layered.
- Up North
Anakle’s first foray into feature length filmmaking arrives in the form of Up North, a visually splendid celebration of the natural beauty of Bauchi state. Heading to the great outdoors, director Tope Oshin shines a light on a part of the country that has been underserved in mainstream Nollywood films. Built around a solid, optimistic turn from Banky W, Up North’s central romance does not quite hold up, neither do the dramatic stakes but it is hard to look away from Up North’s glowing beauty.
- The Royal Hibiscus Hotel
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, the latest project from EbonyLife films is a romantic comedy. It isn’t deep, does not grapple with major life issues and has no pretensions to paying service to anything serious beyond securing a happily-ever-after ending for its lead character, Ope Adeniyi. Better if she is played by the eternally appealing Zainab Balogun. The Royal Hibiscus Hotel appeals to the hopeless romantics in all of us and continues in the EbonyLife Films tradition of packaging for entertainment, the aspirational lives of the Lagos jet set.
Director Daniel Oriahi (almost) goes for broke in this supernatural thriller that explores the age old concept of the spirit spouse. The title character, Sylvia, played not-so-convincingly by Zainab Balogun is the avenging demon from the subconscious world who sets out to make life as unbearable as possible for Richard Okezie (Chris Attoh), the advertising executive who has shunned her affections in favour of a love that is more tangible. Sylvia ultimately climaxes in a blood bath that is both thrilling and satisfying and would have served Oriahi’s film best if he had only ended it there.
- Moms at War
Moms at War is a refreshing upgrade from everything Omoni Oboli has done since she embarked on the hugely successful second (or third?) act of her career with 2014’s Being Mrs Elliot. Written by the prolific Naz Onuzo, Moms at War is a zippy buddy comedy masquerading as a diva off starring Oboli and Funke Akindele, two of Nollywood’s biggest box office attractions. Come for the wish fulfilment display of watching two titans go head to head but stay for the crackling chemistry that sustains the narration from start to finish, even when it delves into silly, over the top territory.
- King of Boys
Reminiscent of ‘’old Nollywood,’’ King of Boys is manna for those who think Nollywood hasn’t been about a thing since the likes of Teco Benson and Chico Ejiro stopped racking them up by the numbers. Hugely plot driven, the story is thrilling and moves with a bang as the twists and turns come tumbling in. But a strong story and not enough spectacle do not quite add up to a competent whole. The film details via the arc of the protagonist, the ways that innocence is lost and observes how evil begins to seep into peoples’ lives, acting in a positive feedback mechanism to foul up everything it comes in contact with.
In an interesting twist, one of the most refreshing films to come out of Nollywood in a long time has no big name leading lady attached, isn’t fronted by a comedian turned actor, wasn’t made by committee and appears to have little marketing spend. Set over the course of a single day in a Lagos suburb, Kasala is a relatable comedy of errors centering on four young men, their wits and a borrowed car. Written, shot and directed by Ema Edosio, Kasala has an endearing originality and a welcome grittiness that makes it largely authentic even with its flaws.
- 2. Knock Out Blessing
Dare Olaitan is on a roll. For Knock Out Blessing, his sophomore effort and first since 2016’s Ojukokoro (Greed), he unspools a complex, thrilling and ultimately satisfying web of crime and consequences that is naturally, inspired by the work of top notch auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. The production design, sound and editing are all top notch and the acting from the ensemble that Olaitan gathers is top notch. But look out especially for the duo of Buchi Franklin and Ade Laoye.
The theatrical release of Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut may have been botched but Lionheart deserves to be appraised on its own merits. A genuine contender for feel good movie of the year, Lionheart is both a handsome family drama and a homage to the Nollywood films of old that gave Nnaji her start as an actor. Elegantly shot by Yinka Edwards and featuring an all-star cast that includes treasures such as Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie and Onyeka Onwenu, Lionheart provides a fresh template for telling uniquely Nigerian stories, especially for a foreign audience.
The writer tweets from @drwill20