My 2018 Movie Diary

Still from “Roma”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. The Favourite” Seldom has the phrase “An embarrassment of riches” seemed so apt in so many ways in front of and behind the camera.
  3. If Beale Street Could Talk” Teeming with beauty and suffused with dread in equal measure.
  4. First Reformed” A spiritual sequel to “Taxi Driver” that’s as startlingly raw as its predecessor in totally new ways.
  5. Mission: Impossible—Fallout” Belies the maxim that summer blockbusters can’t be smart.
  6. Widows” A genre film that somehow manages to be both completely faithful to genre conventions while also subverting them boldly.
  7. The Oath” Not completely successful, but goes for broke in a thoroughly refreshing, hilarious way.
  8. The Rider” Riveting, verité-style deep dive into another culture.
  9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Uncommonly successful translation of the short story format into cinema.
  10. 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.

Beats Me

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.

January 2018

  • 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.

February 2018

March 2018

April 2018

May 2018

  • 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.

June 2018

July 2018

August 2018

September 2018

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018

If you want to keep up with what I watch this year, just follow me on Finally, below are all the posters from everything I watched last year.

Now go watch something you’ve never seen before.

Posters from Movies Watched in 2019