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.
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.