It’s time for Darrel’s Dozen (or so) favorite films from 2018. First let me say that this was a really good year to sit in the dark and let the light dance across the screen. The films I include in my year end list this time around are all astounding, but there were plenty of others that were well worth the time. My totals for the year are 232 films, including 38 shorts. And my top films (with links to my reviews if available) are:
- A trio of films dealing with racism in American society: The Hate U Give, Green Book, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Each of these films is worthy of being on any year end list, but the way they complement each other makes combining the three of them as my #1 film a powerful statement for us to consider. The Hate U Give deals with a young woman who witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend. There are competing forces working on her as she tries to deal with the event. Green Book is the story of a white man discovering what black have had to deal with and adapting his life. It is the most hopeful of the three films in that we see possibility of change. If Beale Street Could Talk is a love story that shows the cost of unjust incarceration to families and communities. Jim Wallis has called racism and white privilege “America’s Original Sin.” This trio can help us begin to confront that sinfulness.
- The Rider. An injured Lakota cowboy faces a future of not being able to ride, when that is all he has ever wanted. The film is beautiful, poetic, and spiritual as it looks at the healing that everyone needs and few can fully access.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Although many may have written off this biographical doc of Fred Rogers as nothing more than nostalgia, it serves as a powerful witness to the ability of kindness to touch lives, young and old. Reverend Rogers (yes, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister) was not flashy in his TV show, but he was truly a friend to all who watched.
- Roma. Alfonso Cuarón’s “love letter to the women who raised” him. It is a beautiful, moving, at times intense set of memories from Cuarón’s childhood centering on the family’s Mixtec maid.
- Shoplifters. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this film continues Hirokazu Kore-eda’s examination of family. Can one choose a family? Is that better than being born into a family? Just what makes people a family?
- Black Panther. A rare mixture of popcorn and power. It is the kind of film you enjoy for its entertainment value, but it also runs much deeper—challenging us to consider what it means to live as a society of different tribes and people. And finally what responsibilities do we have to each other?
- First Reformed. Paul Schrader brings his Christian background to this story of a pastor in a crisis of faith. It is not so much a story of a pastor losing his faith as discovering the limits of his faith. It also gives some insight into the ways the church coopts itself to accommodate culture and those who pay the bills—the church’s own crisis of faith.
- Isle of Dogs. A film that entertains and makes us think at the same time. Wes Anderson brings a stop-action animated tale of a boy looking for his dog in what is essentially a canine concentration camp. But in the process the boy, the dogs, and others take on the government that is trying to rule by fear. Humorous, touching, and challenging all mixed together.
- BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee has found interesting ways to talk about race throughout his career. In this comedy we see an African-American detective in the 1970s infiltrate the KKK. The satire looks at both Black Power and White Power and the ways they are the same, but different. In a time when White Supremacy seems to be in ascendancy, this is a powerful film.
- Eighth Grade. Adolescence is hard. Most of us have probably forgotten how hard it was to be at that awkward place between childhood and adulthood. But this film takes us there with such sympathy and authenticity that we begin to remember. This look at coming of age shows a bit of what it takes to struggle to become an adult in today’s world.
- Ready Player One. In a dystopic world, virtual reality has become the means of escape. (Is that the movie or reality?) This often feels way too close to home for a culture that spends so much time staring at screens, interacting more online than face to face. In the end we know that we must reintegrate with the people and the world around us.
- RBG. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon for those who hold to progressive ideas. This documentary may be a bit of hagiography, but it is also informative and challenging. It focuses on ideas and on the courage to stand, when necessary, against the powers that be.
Among the other films that could have been included in this list, I also recommend (in the order I saw them):