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The story so far: a few years ago I decided to stop watching TV and watch only movies. Pretty much any movies. Tiny indies and Hollywood blockbusters. Recent popcorn flicks and classic arthouse fare. Critically lauded masterpieces and trashy schlock. More or less anything. It’s been great.
Every time I watch a movie, I log it in my Letterboxd film diary. Then, at the beginning of each month (ostensibly), I post a recap of what I watched the previous month. I’m going into my fourth year of doing this now. In my first year, 2016, I watched a total of 189 movies. In 2017, I watched 191 movies. And last year I watched 201. (You can see Letterboxd’s automatically generated overview of my year here.)
I’ve been trying to write this post since January 1st but here, finally, are some thoughts on what I saw. First off, my favorite new films from 2018.
Top Ten for 2018
See my full ranking here.
- “Roma” Cuaron’s elaborate staging has never seemed so intimate. During the climactic scene, he demonstrates with powerful lucidity how private desperations can feel truly monumental. Amazing.
- “The Favourite” Seldom has the phrase “An embarrassment of riches” seemed so apt in so many ways in front of and behind the camera.
- “If Beale Street Could Talk” Teeming with beauty and suffused with dread in equal measure.
- “First Reformed” A spiritual sequel to “Taxi Driver” that’s as startlingly raw as its predecessor in totally new ways.
- “Mission: Impossible—Fallout” Belies the maxim that summer blockbusters can’t be smart.
- “Widows” A genre film that somehow manages to be both completely faithful to genre conventions while also subverting them boldly.
- “The Oath” Not completely successful, but goes for broke in a thoroughly refreshing, hilarious way.
- “The Rider” Riveting, verité-style deep dive into another culture.
- “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Uncommonly successful translation of the short story format into cinema.
- “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” The antithesis of nearly every other super-hero movie made in the past decade or so—in that it’s really good.
Indie Movies That Could
A few smaller films that could become classics over time: “Thoroughbreds,” the debut film from playwright John Doe, heralds what could be a major new talent. “Revenge,” a French-made vengeance fantasy that’s really a super-hero movie without the costumes; simple, brutal and incredibly memorable. “Bad Times at the El Royale” shouldn’t be seen if you have a low tolerance for Tarantino derivatives, but it’s thrilling nevertheless, and gives its actors plenty to chew on. And finally, I am usually fairly contemptuous when highly successful comedic actors undertake “serious” roles in naked attempts to score themselves Oscar recognition, but I have to say Melissa McCarthy’s unabashed turn as a down on her luck writer-turned-forger in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” was excellent.
Asian Americans in Film
While there were great strides last year in Asian American representation both in front of and behind the camera, the movies themselves left much to be desired. As I wrote in September, I found both of the highest profile triumphs—“Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”—to be thoroughly dishonest. On the other hand, I thought “Searching,” a strange little indie thriller that happens to take place entirely on computer screens and starring John Cho, was a real triumph not just of form (its unconventional, screen life narrative actually worked) but also in representation.
People like all kinds of films. Some of them, I don’t know why. “Black Panther,” for instance, was, again, a victory for representation, but I thought it was pretty flimsy and a major letdown after director Ryan Coogler’s previous works. “You Were Never Really Here” was another critical darling, and while I was impressed by how methodically made it was, in the end its story of a merciless killer finding redemption in a young girl struck me as fatally clichéd.
Blasts from the Past
Some movies from previous years that I’d never seen before: “A Prophet” (2009) A prison movie unlike any other. “Breaker Morant” (1980) Historically unflinching version of “A Few Good Men” without the whole justice part. “Rififi” (1955) Nearly every detail has been copied countless times, but somehow it still feels entirely new. “Dragon Inn” (1967) and “A Touch of Zen” (1971), both by legendary Hong Kong director King Hu, both fantastic. “The Villainess” (2017) Completely nuts, hyper-violent romantic melodrama. “The Insult” (2015) No offense to Jordan Peele, but this is a social thriller. “Lady Bird” (2017) Very cute but very good too. “Random Harvest” (1940) An old time weepie that I’m way too savvy and smart to fall for, except I totally did.
And here is the complete list of everything I watched last year.
- “The Post” It’s okay. But man, regular Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski might want to take it down a notch.
- “Molly’s Game” So very Sorkin, which is okay with me.
- “The Money Pit” I always heard that this was terrible. It was not.
- “The Founder” Dodgy but it nagged at me for days; I wrote about it in this blog post.
- “The Big Steal” Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in a film noir/road movie/romantic comedy.
- “Illegal” Edward G. Robinson in a weird and forgettable legal drama.
- “Paddington 2” This is a very, very good movie if you’re a kid and you need to keep your grownup busy for an afternoon.
- “Apollo 13” Has lost zero of its power; if anything it’s gotten better with time. Also, I guess I was kind of on a Tom Hanks marathon last month.
- “What We Do in the Shadows” Rewatched this and liked it even more.
- “Megan Leavey” Sweet story, boring movie.
- “Suicide Squad” Not horrific; just horrible.
- “Home Alone” My kids lost their minds with this!
- “Atomic Blonde” Severely underappreciated when it was released in 2017. Charlize Theron is reinventing action movies.
- “Frankenstein” First time I’ve ever seen this classic.
- “The Bad Sleep Well” Sometimes Kurosawa meandered.
- “The Fallen Idol” Delightfully proper and then unexpectedly terrifying.
- “Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner” Only for die-hards.
- “Boogie Nights” I didn’t like it when it debuted and I still don’t.
- “It Might Get Loud” Kinda fun.
- “U2: From the Sky Down”
- “Heaven Can Wait” This is the 1943 original. A little tedious.
- “Too Late” A bit misshapen but really interesting.
- “Battle of the Sexes” Run-of-the-mill biopic.
- “A Prophet” Amazingly good.
- “The Beguiled” Not too bad at all.
- “Nine to Five” Hilarious.
- “Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle” Also hilarious.
- “Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation” Rewatched this for like the fifth time. Easily the best of the franchise (until the latest).
- “Wind River” Left little impression.
- “The Maltese Falcon” Delightful.
- “Good Time” Really well done but I’m not sure I’ll ever want to watch it again.
- “The Raid” If you’re into this kind of thing.
- “Breaker Morant” Excellent.
- “Black Panther”
- “Brighton Rock” Excellent also.
- “American Made” Yeeeha! Forgettable.
- “Allied” Not as bad as expected.
- “Bringing Up Baby” So terrific.
- “The Brother from Another Planet” Glad I watched it but nothing special.
- “Seven Days in May” From a time when movies weren’t embarrassed to read like airport paperback novels.
- “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” No better or worse than any other biopic.
- “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales” Demonstrates that not every kids’ movie has to be birthed from the loins of a 3D rendering application.
- “Get Carter” Unremittingly brutal in a refreshing way.
- “Game Night” No one told the filmmakers this movie wasn’t supposed to be good.
- “Rififi” Copied endlessly but still totally novel.
- “The Florida Project” Very, very good.
- “Young Adult” At first it seems just poorly written. By the end you realize it’s poorly directed, too.
- “I, Tonya” Pretty much as good as a biopic can be.
- “72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?” “American Graffiti” for the new century.
- “The Sting” Still pretty much perfect.
- “Ride the Pink Horse” Serviceable noir.
- “The Lego Movie” Doesn’t seem like that big a deal now.
- “The Death of Stalin” Terrific.
- “Edge of Tomorrow” Pretty sure this is Doug Liman’s masterpiece.
- “Graphic Means: A History of Graphic Design Production” I learned a lot!
- “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” Horrifying reminder that parents are helpless and have only bad choices to make in life.
- “Miss Sloane” Even knock-off Sorkin-ese can be surprisingly entertaining.
- “Smokey and the Bandit” Ridiculously dumb fun.
- “The Raid 2” Technically impressive, narratively tedious.
- “Mudbound” A public service announcement that voiceovers are a very bad idea.
- “Bye Bye Birdie” I saw it out of historical curiosity. It basically killed my historical cat.
- “Justice League” An incoherent vision from minds who could care less. Read my review.
- “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” Meh.
- “My Secret World” The best—and only—documentary of the indie record label Sarah Records that will ever be made.
- “Ball of Fire” A masterpiece.
- “Vengeance” Awkward and silly.
- “A Quiet Place” As good as people say.
- “Alien: Covenant” Not a minute of this dumb movie feels at all surprising. Read my review.
- “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” A wonderful gift.
- “The Color Wheel” Something special—and weird.
- “The Petrified Forest” Sort of like the secret origin of Humphrey Bogart.
- “MacGruber” A modern classic.
- “Avengers: Infinity War” Infuriatingly tiresome.
- “Tully” A pretty big improvement over this creative team’s previous outings, even if you can see the central plot twist coming a mile away.
- “Molly’s Game” On re-watch, still flawed, but still very good.
- “The Incredibles” By a mile, the best super-hero film of this century. So far!
- “Maggie’s Plan” More or less a Woody Allen film not made by Woody Allen.
- “Sex and the Single Girl” Insipid historical artifact.
- “Steve Jobs” Most of us knew too much about the subject matter to recognize that this is a great movie.
- “Den of Thieves” The film equivalent of a trashy but really fun paperback thriller.
- “Thor: Ragnarok” Definitely fun, not so definitely good.
- “Journey to Italy” Doesn’t live up to expectations.
- “Castle in the Sky” Sometimes I feel utterly alone in my inability to get past Ghibli’s paper-thin characters.
- “Dragon Inn” Tarantino owes so much to this.
- “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” Nice enough.
- “A Touch of Zen” Over-the-top wuxia majesty. Recommended!
- “Revenge” Sketchy feminism wrapped in a gripping thriller.
- “Deadpool 2” Breaking news: scientists have isolated the “meh” gene.
- “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” As an exercise in storytelling, almost nothing in this movie works.
- “Obsession” Tasty bit of English malice.
- “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” Pretty messy but I liked it.
- “Badlands” Stunning and undimmed by time.
- “Lost in Paris” Quirky ode to Jacques Tati
- “Logan Lucky” I’m a sucker for Soderbergh, but this didn’t hold up on second viewing.
- “Incredibles 2” Brad Bird understands more about superheroes than everyone working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe combined.
- “The Front Page” Looks quaint and uninspired next to Howard Hawks’s remake just a few years later.
- “The Commuter” Every late-period Neeson thriller can be watched once and no more than once.
- “Night at the Museum” Dumb.
- “Pacific Rim” I haven’t seen all of Guillermo Del Toro’s movies, but I have yet to see one that’s genuinely good.
- “Lassie Come Home” I honestly liked it a lot.
- “The Villainess” Come for the fight choreography, stay for the genuinely bonkers and somewhat ill-advised romantic drama.
- “His Girl Friday” Perfect in every way.
- “2001: A Space Odyssey” I was moved.
- “First Reformed”
- “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” Surprisingly not as enjoyable as when I watched it at age sixteen.
- “Ninotchka” Not as enjoyable as when I watched it at age twenty-six.
- “Lego: A Brickumentary” No one needs to watch this but I didn’t mind it.
- “Mission: Impossible”
- “Magic Mike XXL” Tries so hard for likability that it forgets drama altogether.
- “Mission: Impossible III” Probably J.J. Abrams’s best film.
- “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
- “Mission: Impossible II” Misunderstood.
- “Sorry to Bother You” Incredibly strong first half. Then comes the second half.
- “Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation” I fully support this.
- “On the Beach at Night Alone” Rather stunning.
- “Lolita” A desperately perverted movie held captive by a chaste one.
- “Mission: Impossible–Fallout” Unreasonably good.
- “Jack Reacher” Every time I watch this, it gets better.
- “Rebecca” Delightfully creepy.
- “The Shape of Water” Better than I expected, but still no masterpiece.
- “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” Terrific on rewatch.
- “Performance” One of those cult films that I could care less for.
- “From the Land of the Moon” Pretty ridiculous but for the most part well made.
- “Suspicion” Hitchcock on auto-pilot.
- “Jack Reacher” My wife wanted to watch it again, and I didn’t say no.
- “Night Train to Munich” Kindergarten-level action and suspense.
- “BlacKkKlansman” Shockingly conventional.
- “Mission: Impossible” Rewtached again, this time with family.
- “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” See above.
- “Casque d’Or” Unexpectedly seamy—and gripping—belle époque tragedy.
- “The Ipcress File” Stylish but boring.
- “North by Northwest” Rewatched for the first time since I was fifteen; I was shocked how goofy it is.
- “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” Total garbage.
- “Red Sparrow” The kind of movie they don’t make anymore, just not made that well.
- “You Were Never Really Here” Beautifully crafted but less substantial than it should be.
- “Crazy Rich Asians”
- “The Murderer Lives at Number 21” Kindergarten-level suspense.
- “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”
- “Lady Bird” Just lovely.
- “The Grandmaster” The aesthetic beauty of repression.
- “Three Identical Strangers” As a father of twins, I was deeply fascinated and then unexpectedly horrified.
- “Atomic Blonde” Rewatched. Still impressive.
- “The Insult” Ambitiously ambiguous morality tale about the Palestinian diaspora in Lebanon.
- “The Way of the Gun” Flawed but promising.
- “The Fighting Sullivans” Human beings don’t behave like this.
- “Chungking Express” The voiceovers don’t hold up well, but the charm persists.
- “The Tale of Zatôichi” Irresistibly corny.
- “Tab Hunter Confidential” Lost to history.
- “Clouds of Sils Maria” Odiously pretentious.
- “Prizzi’s Honor” Rudderless.
- “The Tale of Zatôichi Continues” It does!
- “The Parent Trap” Cloying and syrupy.
- “New Tale of Zatôichi” All the sequels blur together at this point.
- “Anatomy of a Murder” Perfectly titled.
- “Manchester by the Sea” Impressively nuanced but unbecomingly gradiose.
- “Disobedience” Mundane.
- “First Man” Accomplished but emotionless.
- “Zatôichi the Fugitive” Not bad, if I recall correctly?
- “In the Fade” Average.
- “The Place Beyond the Pines” Ambitious but creaky.
- “Ghostbusters” The original. Still glorious.
- “A Serious Man” Terrific.
- “Ocean’s Eight” If People Magazine made a movie.
- “Bad Times at the El Royale” Derivative but expert.
- “Red Beard” Magnificent.
- “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” Best cinematic universe yet.
- “The Right Stuff” Riddled with exposition but so much else is done right.
- “Random Harvest” Pure pablum, but irresistible.
- “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” As far as Oscar bait goes, very nicely done all around.
- “Lion” Starts strong, but coasts on its “based on a true story” credentials.
- “Widows” The universe corrects for “Ocean’s 8” and 2016’s “Ghostbusters”—magnificently.
- “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” One gift box packed jam tight with six brilliant gifts.
- “Brief Encounter” Rewatched and fell for it all over again.
- “The Princess Bride” Rewatched and confirmed: this is justifiably beloved.
- “The Grinch” Very thinly spread from the source material.
- “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Rewatched.
- “The Christmas Chronicles” Garbage.
- “Samurai Spy” I have no idea what happened in this film but it’s amazing.
- “Ant-Man and the Wasp” This movie has no idea how building foundations work.
- “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” For die-hards only.
- “Clue” Less fun than the board game.
- “The Net” A perfect document of extreme ignorance.
- “The Polar Express” Horrifying.
- “Hackers” The information superhighway has changed so much.
- “The Getaway” Steve McQueen, the actor, was overrated.
- “The Favourite” Very, very close to a masterpiece.
- “Searching” I never thought a movie like this could be so good.
- “Mary Poppins Returns” Casting Emily Blunt was a stroke of genius. Then they stopped there.
- “Isle of Dogs” Deeply flawed but still a wonder.
- “Bel Canto” Shallow.
- “Holiday” My favorite Christmas movie.
- “The Other Side of the Wind” I really wanted to like this. I didn’t.
- “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” This documentary about “The Other Side of the Wind” is more entertaining than the real thing.
- “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” A major step down from the original, but not that bad.
- “Aquaman” No more or less dumb than the Marvel cinematic universe.
- “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” The best “Spider-Man” movie and one of the best CG-animated movies ever.
- “The Rider” Excellent.
If you want to keep up with what I watch this year, just follow me on letterboxd.com. Finally, below are all the posters from everything I watched last year.
Now go watch something you’ve never seen before.+