I never watch enough movies. Try as I may to cram in as many as I can before thinking about my favorite films of the year, there are always more to be seen. At the time of writing this I have still not seen: We the Animals, Skate Kitchen, Mirai, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Bohemian Rhapsody, Shoplifters, Free Solo, Burning, Shirkers, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Destroyer, A Private War, The Wife, Capernaum, Cold War and Love, Gilda. I know, right? I KNOW. I feel that some of these films may have factored into the mix if I had only seen them in time. Ah well my friends, better luck next year. Needless to say, I still have some favorites of 2018.
When considering why my favorites are such, I look for the common threads and what left them lingering in my mind long after the credits finished rolling. Some were my favorites sheerly because they gave me hope and a bit of much needed encouragement to “keep on, keeping on,” during a year that was exceptionally traumatic at times. Many of the films I watched in 2018 took place in the past, (a few in other dimensions) but despite their time period, several alluded to events and issues we are still dealing with today, making them seem more relevant than ever. I have tried to consider these films while reflecting back on 2018 as a whole, for better or for worse. And since I continually struggle with whittling down my list of favorites to a “top ten,” I decided to include some very honorable mentions that also merit your attention (should you find the time to watch).
There were so many films in 2018 where the greatest pleasure was to sit back and enjoy the dialogue and camaraderie between their characters. Some of my favorites include: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Black Panther (“What are those???”) and Avengers: Infinity War (“Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards”) but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the casts of both Annihilation and Support the Girls (thanks for the recommendation, Obama). The surreal visuals of Alex Garland’s Annihilation would have made less of an impact on me had it not been for his use of a stellar female cast, exploring themes of guilt, self-destruction and metamorphosis. Regina Hall is excellent in Support the Girls, but she is at her best when playing off of her costars, Shayna McHayle and Haley Lu Richardson. If you get a chance, check out: Support the Girls, Annihilation, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Avengers: Infinity War, and Black Panther.
15. Isle of Dogs
I place Wes Anderson’s latest in my own personal category of “great ensemble casts” because it honors his tradition of using a large group of amazing actors (even in cameos and bit parts). I love Fantastic Mr. Fox, and was pumped for Isle of Dogs. It was pretty much bonkers and delightful start to finish. Anderson’s usual attention to detail and set design is magnified in creating stop motion animation. If you find time to watch any of the behind the scenes footage of Dogs being made, I urge you to do so. It’s awesome. I loved that it did not matter that I do not speak Japanese; it was not a hindrance to understanding the movie. In fact, it made it more believable, more immersive in Anderson’s world to constantly switch between languages. The varied cast of characters voiced by a huge roster of big players is led by Bryan Cranston as Chief. I could rattle off the names of others in the film to entice you to watch but I don’t think I need to. It’s worth a viewing. Check it out.
Keeping It Real
2018 had some hard hitters in the documentary category. Many of them featured personal heroes of mine, including André the Giant and Robin Williams. This past year often featured news events fueled by prejudice and misogyny; I found solace, strength and inspiration from real life heroes like Fred Rogers and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. That leads me to the next entry on my list:
14. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This was a tough one because I saw both RGB and Neighbor? the same week; both were excellent. Morgan Neville’s documentary is as sad as it is moving. It shows the viewer how much (and how little) has changed over the years. Fred Rogers’ message to children was that it was okay to be sad or angry at times; he liked them just as they were. While Rogers was incredibly progressive in showing himself and François Clemmons together on his show with their bare feet in a kid pool during times of segregation, Neville’s documentary doesn’t sugarcoat it. He makes a point to address that at the time Rogers was not accepting of Clemmons’ sexuality, but he learned to change with time. This is what really gave me hope. That even Mister Rogers had some room to grow and change, and he did. With the current political climate, Neighbor? shows that there is still power in kindness and tolerance. Other films worth your time: RGB, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, and André the Giant.
2018 was a pretty decent year for love in the movies. Not just love, but love in all colors of the rainbow. We received some game-changing casts and main characters of all sexes, colors, races, and gender identities. I think how exciting and how important this past year has been in showing audiences so many types of people portraying the hero. I think about how important it is for audiences young and old alike to see a mainstream teen romantic comedy like Love, Simon. Or how electric it was to be in a packed theatre watching Black Panther. Here’s a look at a few movies that represented love to me in 2018, (even the most untraditional).
Mandy is terrifying and gory and psychedelic but it is also a heartbreaking love story. While this sort of movie is not usually what I would call my “cup of tea,” I feel it definitely merits mention. Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough play Red Miller and the titular Mandy, two lovers who are torn apart by a cult and demon-like biker gang. The film is like a Tangerine Dream music video for the movie Legend ON ACID, and it is beautiful. But the scene that stayed with me long afterwards was when Nic Cage’s Red first lays eyes on his future love, Mandy, and feelings that spark between them.
12. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
This movie fell under the radar for me initially because I had not read the popular book it is based on. The thing that did draw me in was that its trailer was reminiscent of a John Hughes romantic comedy, only modern day, starring Lana Condor, a Vietnamese-born American actress. The film’s plot of a boy and girl “pretending to date” to make others jealous, has definitely been done before many times (like here). But the film’s leads (Lana as Lara Jean) and Noah Centineo (as Peter), have awesome chemistry. It is hard not to root for them to have the happy ending. While the success of All the Boys is definitely due in part to great source material, it is the film’s leads that make it memorable. I look forward to seeing what both actors do next.
11. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins delivers another beautiful film, that despite taking place in the 1970’s, still has relevance today. Regina King kills it as mother Sharon Rivers, and she deserves all of the praise and Oscar buzz she is receiving. I hope she wins. That being said, the film does not have a happy ending. It has a real life one concerning main character, Fonny, (played by Stephan James) and the love of his life Tish, (played by the amazing KiKi Layne). This movie hurts because it is true. Other tales of love and representation worth checking out from 2018 include: Boy Erased, Love, Simon, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Black Panther, BlackKklannsman, Sorry to Bother You, The Hate U Give, and Crazy Rich Asians.
Alright so let’s get down to the top ten:
10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Miles Morales IS Spider-Man. But he isn’t. First he has to learn for himself that he can be. This movie floored me with its animation and its smart, funny dialogue, awesome soundtrack and ability to cause a knot to form in my throat as much as any Pixar film ever has. The plot device of a multiverse converging to show us multiple “Spider-People” with similar yet different backstories was always self-aware and always entertaining. There are touching and poignant moments and the humor and pathos of Jake Johnson’s aging Peter Parker killed me. Spider-Verse draws from a story that many know, but offers a new spin that many will enjoy. Seeing teenage Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) find the confidence within himself to become the new Spider-Man is truly something to see.
I was really surprised by how blown away I was by Blindspotting, the passion project of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Casal plays Miles, the kind of friend that you love, but you constantly find yourself shaking your head at. As you continue to grow up, you realize that maybe you and your friend are growing apart as he falls more and more into trouble. The film simmers uncomfortably long before it rolls into the full boil of Collin (Diggs) delivering a soliloquy in battle-rap style during the film’s climax. The movie deals with the issues of race, gentrification, cultural appropriation and even just how personal growth can change your relationships with friends and family. I hope Diggs and Casal continue to make more films together. They’ve just gotten started and it’s already awesome.
8. A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper, man. Bradley Cooper!! This is a killer performance. He sings! He learns to play guitar! He transforms into an aging alcoholic. AND he directed the movie. For me, Lady Gaga was always going to deliver in the music department, but in Star she also shows how well she can act. The chemistry between our two leads (and between Cooper and Sam Elliott as his older brother) is intense and all consuming and entirely believable. While Gaga’s Ally is the star on the rise, it is Cooper’s Jack that really steals the show and breaks your heart. It doesn’t hurt that the film has a great soundtrack as well, that will get stuck in your brain for days. Keep on, keeping on, Mr. Cooper. I hope you have many more movies up your sleeve.
Dads: the Good, the Bad and the F*cked Up
2018 was a mixed bag in the dad department. Many of the movie dads were just trying their best to connect with their sons or daughters, to teach them something meaningful; many of them seriously screwed up along the way. Here are a few of my favorite films featuring dads in 2018.
7. Eighth Grade
Sheeeeeeeeeeet Eighth Grade hurts. It was painful and scary and stressful to watch at various times, but it was excellent. I can’t imagine having gone through the hell of middle school with a cell phone and constant access to social media. Elsie Fisher shines as the main character, Kayla, but so does her dad Mark, (played by Josh Hamilton). While watching the film, I identified with both Kayla (feeling terrible) and her dad (wanting to tell her that she is awesome and that things will be okay eventually). Scenes of Kayla interacting with her peers were realistic and anxiety-inducing, but my favorite scenes always featured Kayla interacting with her dad. This movie really hit me where it hurts. Bravo.
Other excellent films in the key of dad include: Thunder Road, Hearts Beat Loud, Leave No Trace, Beautiful Boy, The Hate You Give, and Love, Simon. (Bonus entry: Hereditary for a couple of seriously messed up mamas and grand-mamas. I’m looking at you Toni Collette and Ann Dowd).
6. First Man
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong kind of falls into both categories of good and bad dads. Gosling’s performance as Armstrong is so understated that I worry he will get overlooked during awards season. That’s a shame because his performance is excellent. Damien Chazelle’s latest film is less La La Land and more Whiplash. It has an amazing cast, but it really is Gosling as Armstrong, and Claire Foy as his wife, Janet, that hold it down. Getting to the Moon becomes more and more dangerous and terrifying as the film goes on, with Neil dealing with immense grief after the death of his young daughter. He throws himself into his work and thus, puts up a wall between himself and his family. When he finally returns to Earth, there is a literal glass wall separating him and Janet, who will have to deal with the consequences.
Strong AF Women
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Tessa Thompson aside, 2018 was an awesome year for watching badass women in film. Widows, directed by Steve McQueen has an amazing cast, with Viola Davis as both a pillar of strength and a grieving woman just trying to hold it together. Here are my other favorites in the strong lady department for 2018:
5. The Favourite
The Favourite has an exceptional cast that includes Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, but I love love love Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. Yorgos Lanthimos is able to combine weird fisheye lens shots and modern dance moves with elaborate set design in this absurd historical fiction film about the life and reign of Queen Anne (Colman) and her confidant Lady Sarah (Weisz). When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Stone) comes calling hoping to better her status, the aftermath is hilarious but also heartbreaking. Colman’s performance alone makes this a worthwhile watch.
Paul Dano’s directorial debut is an adaptation of a Richard Ford novel, that he co-wrote with his partner, Zoe Kazan. I feel the importance of mentioning this because it is evident in the feel of the movie and in the dialogue between its characters. This is a look at a marriage - the disintegration of it - and the effect that it has on Joe, an only child, played by newcomer Ed Oxenbould. Ed’s dad, Jerry, (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is lost. He has recently been fired and feels adrift, without purpose and unable to provide for his family. He escapes by volunteering to work helping put out forest fires outside the small Montana town where he has recently moved his family. The real star of this movie is Carrie Mulligan. Her character, Jeanette, holds the film in place much like she does as the matriarch of the family. As Jeanette starts to question her life and her choices, we watch her unravel. She is grasping at straws for new possibilities, all the while taking Joe along for the ride. This movie is thoughtful and slow paced initially as Joe starts to learn that both of his parents are flawed real people. As Joe experiences more and more chaos within his own life, it stands to reason that he becomes more and more sure of himself. By the film’s end we have an entirely different Joe than at the start. And that journey is worth watching.
Alfonso Cuaron’s film is an extremely intimate look at the life of a middle class family in Mexico during the 1970’s, but it is told from the point of view of the family’s nanny, Cleo, played by the amazing Yalitza Aparicio. This film is gorgeous aesthetically, but the way it captures the feeling of real people, while also showing us terrible historic events through their eyes is incredible. Cuaron has said that this film speaks to his own nanny, and his own family and childhood in Mexico. It addresses how lives can be sheltered by wealth and comfort, or the naivete childhood, helping some of the film’s main characters avoid witnessing the terrible things happening around them until it is too late. When Yalitza’s Cleo finally braves the ocean (despite not knowing how to swim) to save the children in her care, they are all finally privy to seeing behind the curtain, as the entire family collapses in tears and comforts each other.
My sincerest honorable mention goes to A Fantastic Woman. Technically A Fantastic Woman was released in 2017, but it wasn’t widely released until 2018. Daniela Vega stars as Marina Vidal, a transgender woman in Chile who is devastated when her older lover, Orlando, passes away. This movie is just as much about love and grief, as it is about prejudice and transphobia. Director Sebastían Lelio uses so much color and emotion throughout the film, and Daniela Vega is truly una mujer fantástica. Please take the time to watch this one when you can.
We Don’t Care About the Young Folks
In 2018, many of the films that struck me most featured protagonists that were on the brink of adulthood and just a little bit lost, trying to find their place in the world. Some of them were craving love and acceptance, others, just some semblance of order in the midst of chaos. Films that did not make this list but still really left their mark, included: Leave No Trace and Mid90s.
2. Lean On Pete
I didn’t expect this movie to affect me as much as it did. But the reason it did (I am confident) is because of the performance by the film’s lead, Charlie Plummer. Plummer plays Charley, a teenager who has again and again been left or disappointed, who struggles with poverty and to take care of a father who may as well be his peer. When he connects with an aging racehorse, Lean On Pete, I wanted so badly for this to be his salvation. I think of The Black Stallion as an example of when boy and horse triumphed against the world. But this isn’t that film. This film is bleak AF. And heartbreaking. And Plummer’s performance as Charley is incredible. His resilience until the very end of the movie is like holding one long painful breath. And it is worth it just to exhale in relief.
1. The Rider
Director Chloé Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards show us the beauty of the Dakota prairies in this story that features nonprofessional actors playing versions of themselves. Our main character Brady, (played by Brady Jandreau) has sustained a major skull fracture from riding a bronco. The injury leaves him with neurological damage that despite ignoring, continue to cause seizures along the right side of his body. Brady was on the up and up in the rodeo community, and being told that he can no longer go to rodeos or ride horses totally destroys his sense of self. It is like part of Brady has died, and he goes through the many stages of grief while he learns how to live his life now. As he tries and tries again to find his footing and regain his strength, we too, struggle with him. But we don’t feel sorry for him. He makes sure of that. Some of the best sequences in this film are between Brady and his friend Lane, who also due to rodeo riding, is now paralyzed and has lost the ability to speak. They still communicate however, and seeing them interact and look back at old footage of Lane in his prime is what helps ground Brady enough not to give up. Part of why I enjoyed this film so much is because it doesn’t have all of the answers. It doesn’t tell you exactly what happens to Brady next. It is open to possibility.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro