2018 [in films]

Whenever people learn that I keep a spreadsheet to what films I see every year, the news is inevitably met with a bit of a giggle and a slight raise of the eye-brows. It’s geeky, I know. But I also don’t care, because movies—in case you didn’t know by now—are kind of my jam. Some people have sports, some people have cars…I have movies.

This year, I had 182 movies to be exact. That’s a new personal high since I’ve been tracking—which, at least with spreadsheets, is five years. I notched those films in any number of ways, from theatrical screenings (53 of those, including a few film festivals); to plenty of streaming links (87 of those, both via Netflix and secure screening links), to quite a handful of films on disc (39 of those). Thanks to my newly acquired status as a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (#humblebrag), I was on the receiving end of dozens of For Your Consideration screeners the last couple months of the year. And not gonna lie: it was glorious!

As always (thanks to that spreadsheet!), in addition to formats, I can break down the 182 films this way:

  •  Documentaries made up for 49 of the films, while films from other countries accounted for 26 (in fact, a couple of my favorites hail from the likes of Lebanon and Serbia)
  • Thanks to a bit of a staycation at the end of the year and a stretch of four-film days, I logged 27 films in December; while in May I only managed 8 films.
  • This was not a year for classic films; the oldest film I watched was 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (had never seen it!), and I’m a bit embarrassed to say so. Will have to go on some deeper dives in 2019
  • I screened films for no fewer than nine different film festivals, from spending six days in Toronto in September to sneaking peeks at several of Chicago’s offerings (Reeling, Chicago Latino, etc.)

As I looked back at what I’d seen this year, it occurred to me that, at least as far as I’m concerned, it’s been one hell of a good year for movies. From sharply crafted blockbusters to the latest from emerging master filmmakers to documentaries that’ll knock your socks off, it was actually kind of difficult to come up with a final list of favorites.

In fact, I don’t have just one favorite film this year. I have three. I tried and tried, but simply could not decide which film I found more impressive: Roma, If Beale Street Could Talk or Cold War. So, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want, I’m naming all three as tops for the year.

I wrote up Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk here; like Moonlight, it is lyrical in its scope and beautiful to behold. Jenkins channels James Baldwin’s voice in a way that is both triumphant and tragic, a thread of love woven through every scene. Bolstered by fierce performances from Regina King, Coleman Domingo and newcomer Kiki Layne, as I said in my original post…to see If Beale Street Could Talk is to be moved by it.

Cold War is the latest from Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, follow-up to his Oscar-winning drama Ida. Like that deeply intimate story of a young nun discovering the truth of her ancestry in post-war Poland, Cold War follows an ill-fated love affair that unfolds as that country attempts to rebuild both its cities and its international reputation after the war. Punctuated by some of the most breathtaking shots of the year (moments that legitimately had my jaw on the floor), and an astonishing performance by Joanna Kulig as a woman so in love in hurts. As the two cross paths over the years, their love is both undeniable and untenable, yet another casualty of war. After a few festival screenings around town, Cold War opens in Chicago on January 18 and it’s a must-see.

Cold War
Cold War, one of my favorite films of the year.

Third of my three favorite films of the year, Roma is as wonderful as you’ve heard, and then some. Alfonso Cuaron crafts a nostalgic homage to his childhood and the women who raised him that is so subtle in its emotional pull that you might not realize the weight of it all until the credits roll. Yalitza Aparicio is a revelation as Cleo, the live-in nanny and maid for a family in 1970s Mexico City who is so ingrained in their lives its impossible to imagine them without her, or vice versa. Cuaron makes the simple profound, as we observe the daily lives of a family—families, really—and the ups and downs that, collectively, become their legacy. 

As for what else I loved this year, a quick look at the list includes several documentaries (please, please go watch Minding the Gap now), and a few titles so personally endearing that they might not show up on anyone else’s recap. 

  •  Minding the Gap — Bing Liu’s debut film, about his and his friend’s growing up with skateboarding as their refuge in otherwise rocky circumstances, is easily the best documentary of the year. Read my full review here.
  • What They Had — As I wrote in this review, Elizabeth Chomko’s script for her debut film is so polished it shines, elevating what would, in less talented hands (and a less impressive cast), be a tired premise. 
  • RBG — There’s a reason Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a national icon; this documentary humanizes the woman in the black robe with affection and admiration.
  • The Favourite — Working from someone else’s script for the first time, Yorgos Lanthimos directs three scintillating female performances in the story of a Queen (Olivia Coleman) and the scheming women who loved her (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone). Read my full review here
  •  Capernaum — If you’re looking for a film that will completely wreck you, this one should do the trick. Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki follows the bleak circumstances of 12-year-old Zain as he runs away from home and tries to fend for himself on the harsh city streets. 
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? — Anyone who still sees Melissa McCarthy as nothing more than a comic actor hasn’t been paying attention. She and Richard E. Grant spark in this biopic of a washed-up author who finds success as a forger.
  • Shoplifters — Hirokazu Koreeda delivers a poignant story about the ways we get by and the families we choose, as a misfit group of thieves and con-artists bond even as their web grows ever more tangled.
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Easily one of the most feel-good films of the year, Fred Rogers gets his due as the creative, thoughtful, compassionate man he was on his beloved television show and beyond. Read my full review here
  • A Star is Born — One of the most anticipated films of the year, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut more than impresses with its heartfelt storyline and sincere performances. As musical epics go, it’s a stunner; my full review is here.  
star is born
  • Support the Girls — Andrew Buljaski has built himself a solid resume of indie darlings, and Support the Girls—thanks in large part to Regina Hall’s powerhouse performance—may just be the one to break into the mainstream, and deservedly so.
  • The Other Side of Everything — The daughter of a Serbian activist chronicles her mother’s impactful life in education and public service, from conversations around the dinner table to the historical impact of communist policies. It’s a stirring, timely family portrait that didn’t get nearly enough attention this year. 
  • First Reformed — Any film that has me exclaim in awe/disbelief when it ends is a winner in my book. Paul Schrader goes for it in the story of a pastor confronted with a troubled parishoner and his own dark past. Read my full review here
  • Eighth Grade — In a sea of movies about men and boys, films like Eighth Grade find new resonance as they flip the script and mine the female experience for its story. Elsie Fisher is all of us as a middle schooler just trying to navigate crushes and mean girls and parents and growing up. Read my full review here
  • Tully — Not every Jason Reitman / Diablo Cody / Charlize Theron collaboration has worked, but Tully, about a mother with a newborn who hires a night nanny just to get some sleep, really does. Chronicling a decidedly less-glamorous stage of life, Theron is all of us as she struggles to find a balance between those she loves and loving herself. 
  • Crazy Rich Asians — Who doesn’t love a good ol’ modern Cinderella story? Everything about this lush spectacle of a blockbuster is a joy, the reason we escape to the movies in the first place. That it’s a landmark produciton where representation is concerned is icing on the decadent cake.

What did you see this year? What did you love?