Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Erika's Favorite Movies of 2018

by Erika Bromley
There are plenty of joyful films from 2018, right? I think I saw some of them, right?

Paddington 2 was adorable (especially that end credits prison scene -- can I watch that on a loop?), and the way my kids loved Mary Poppins Returns and a few other family films definitely filled my heart with happiness. But overall… 2018’s releases felt like the year felt: they were emotionally-charged stories about confusion, shock, damage, regret, grief, deliverance, depression, humanity, hope, redemption, and rebirth. Art is therapy, and movies are art. I am so thankful that my main hobby since childhood (the only other ones being journalism, dance, and trying every single food item ever presented to me) is one that consistently shakes me, calms me, teaches me, and comforts me. Catharsis at the movies is the best kind of catharsis (well, maybe second best, but this is a family website), and 2018 required A LOT of it.

"Top Ten" just doesn't seem like an appropriate title (and as all my previous lists have shown, I usually break from that anyway). Movies that Wrecked Me. Movies that Changed Me. Movies That Helped Me Empathize. Movies that Made Me Sob. (Ok, that only applies to a few.) Those titles are a bit wordy, though; I’ll stick to tradition for once… mostly.

Honorable Mentions: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Support the Girls, The Sisters Brothers, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Searching, Shirkers, Eighth Grade, Blindspotting, The Rider, Minding the Gap

10. You Were Never Really Here/Annihilation/Won’t You Be My Neighbor – I’m impossible. I can’t leave the moving, heartwarming, and heartbreaking Fred Rogers documentary off of my list because I just feel it’s so damn important (would he be upset at my use of ‘damn’ just now?) right now. His ideas for and about children apply to all of us, and his lessons about kindness, empathy, and working through difficult issues (I’m especially thinking about how he gently spoke to children about divorce) are instructions adults needs to be reminded of, too.
I finally saw Annihilation a week or so ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it (though I was already thinking about Shimmer Portman on the daily). What an imaginative, striking, and unnerving piece of science-fiction (and that score!). Let’s talk about “the bear scene,” as I’ve heard it called, for a minute. I don’t deal well with horror elements involving animals and humans. I can’t even give examples here, because I want to sleep tonight. That said… WHAT IS THAT SOUND OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING OH MY GOD and then part of my soul left my body, I giggled a lot (it is truly fun to be freaked out!), and I somehow managed to Cirque de Soleil myself in to a position that allowed me to used Patrick’s leg as noise-cancelling headphones.

You Were Never Really Here feels like 2018 in many ways: it deals with the past, it struggles through the present, and it looks to the future. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe and delivers a performance that breaks my heart; he feels unbelievably real. If you have never known someone who suffers through clinical depression, watch this movie simply to understand how it sometimes works – as a dark cloud that moves in and stays until it wants to break for sun. The story is about so much more than that, of course – and I hope that in real life, there are I-don’t-give-af, ass-kicking women and men really out there doing this selfless type of work.
9. BlackKklansman/Revenge – “Dis joint is based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real shit.” And it’s so, so good. Fun and intense. I loved John David Washington’s performance in BlackKklansman so much, and I loved his chemistry with Adam Driver. Spike Lee is one of my favorite directors, and this film came to me at a time that I needed it. I’m happily recommending it to anyone who will listen.

Revenge kicked bloody ass. Patrick already said it.

8. Mandy – Mandy gave me some Rob Zombie vibes right away, so I was instantly hooked. This movie wrecked me like many of the others on my list – my heart! Jeez! Nic Cage (we are cool like that; he lets me shorten it) delivers a wild, manic performance that is never over-the-top but rather expresses the emotions of the story perfectly. The movie goes places I never expected, and I loved it all (even when I had to close my eyes!). Ultimately, I think it is about grief... and how screaming in the bathroom wearing nothing but a shirt and underwear is sometimes all we can do to get from A to B.
7. First Reformed – I re-watched maybe twenty minutes of this film and immediately moved it up on my list; now I have to wait to watch it again or this list will keep changing. “Man in Crisis” is no new subject matter, but I rarely have seen it covered in such an empathetic way – and with other, world-related crises woven with it. Ethan Hawke’s performance as Reverend Toller makes so much of this movie; it’s quiet and focused, with every line delivery being, simply, perfect for what the story needs. I love Toller’s counseling scenes the most, but I was especially struck by a quick scene later in the film when Toller sort of snaps at church choir director Esther, revealing another ugly truth about his past. When he says, “You are a stumbling block to me,” the pain of his past – loss, grief, regret, shame – all boil at the surface for the first time in the movie. It’s haunting. Paul Schrader’s direction is not to be ignored, either. I love how still this movie is, allowing the audience to soak in the atmosphere and truly feel the emotions of the characters. Few modern directors would take the “Magical Mystery Tour” where Schrader takes it – from reality to the "Soarin’" ride at Disney to a David Lynch film. Then it simply cuts to the next day – Hawke letting children in to the church – without explanation or any sort of conclusion to the sweet fantasy we all just experienced with the characters. This is yet another 2018 film that confronts depression and loss, and while a film like Schrader’s 1997 Affliction may have initially affected me in a similar way, it’s First Reformed that I will readily return to as catharsis.

6. Tully – I was completely surprised by this movie in the best way. The trailer did little for me, but Jason Reitman’s direction and Diablo Cody’s screenplay (reunited!) make for a beautiful exploration of themes relating to depression, sense of self, parenting, adulthood, compromise, balance, and so much more. I feel very lucky to have never experienced post-partum depression (and very lucky that my husband didn’t play video games in bed instead of, you know, parenting), but I appreciate the things this movie shows about pregnancy that most movies never bother to tell us. Between this and Young Adult, Diablo Cody is willing to say things about being an adult that feel difficult but true. The last shot is one of my favorites all year.
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – PLEASE JUST GO SEE IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY! And if you have, see it again! Our kids loved it and are already planning their Halloween costumes (Spider Gwen for Rosie; Spider-Man, for the fourth time, for Charlie). It’s a blast, and it’s smart, creative, and timely. Go!

4. Roma – So much has been written on the interwebs about Roma; I implore you to seek some of it out. I especially loved reading an interview with Alfonso Cuaron in which he shared that the hospital scene (I’m staying very vague as to not create spoilers) was improvised, and that Yalitza Aparicio (who gives a beautiful, heart-wrenching performance) didn’t even know the outcome of the events until filming the scene (again, intentionally vague here). Reading that just broke my heart all over again. From the opening shot (water is a symbol woven through the film), I was hooked on the feeling (oh gosh – what did I just write) Cuaron created with his beautiful cinematography, vision, and patience. Another heartbreaker, but hey, it was 2018.
3. If Beale Street Could Talk – My God, I love this movie. Every inch of cinematography, setting, score, lighting, words, looks. It feels like a movie that was made for me in terms of subject matter, tone, and let’s be honest – LOVE! When Fonny answers Tish with “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my whole life” right after a gorgeous opening shot of the two of them walking in a perfectly sunlit path, or when Tish later remembers feelings awakening for Fonny and says, “It was no surprise to me when I finally understood that he was the most beautiful person I had seen in all my life,” my heart leaps out of my chest. Anyone lucky enough to have heard words like these in one’s lifetime knows exactly what I mean. This movie is sweet and genuine in its portrayal of young, us-against-the-world love, and it’s honest in how it tests that love. I love it as a love story in its own right, but it’s set against the backdrop of racial inequality and racial profiling (gosh I hope I’m not giving too much away – unless you read the book), and the injustices absolutely broke my heart and left me thinking about the film for weeks. Because of life (full-time career, family, etc.), I don’t often re-watch a film RIGHT after seeing it the first time. But I think I am going to watch this again the second I can.
2. A Star is Born – I almost didn’t write about this one, because… it’s difficult to write about devastating things sometimes. I know other writers know this (and I would never actually call myself a writer – I just do this for fun! – but you get it). No other film from this year is as clear in my mind -- like, every single detail -- as this one. From early subtle bits of foreshadowing (I didn’t know, but then I KNEW) to extremely relatable scenes about budding relationships or family dynamics or helplessness and suffering, A Star is Born filled my heart with emotion and then destroyed it. I truly see this movie as being about depression and suffering more than about “one star rises as another star falls.” As I mentioned in my intro, the right movie can be extremely cathartic or therapeutic and A Star is Born was a different sort of catharsis for me. It broke my heart to teach me things and strengthen my understanding. It broke my heart to remind me of how hearts can be filled and mended. It broke my heart to make way for forgiveness. I don’t think I have ever sobbed in a movie theater (and I have cried LOTS) the way I did during this film. Luckily I wasn’t alone, and my favorite movie lover was crying right there with me.
1. Sorry to Bother You – I love, love, love this movie. I had no idea what it was about when I saw it despite it having been on my radar for months, and I’m so glad I went in to it with excitement yet zero expectations or spoilers. I love the love story between Cassius and Detroit (Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson), and while the film is about SO MUCH MORE than their relationship, I appreciated how director Boots Riley (my new favorite person) gave importance to it and saw it through in such a realistic (not just a “the movie calls for it!”) way. But again, the movie is about SO MUCH MORE than love (really – it’s about capitalism and loyalty and self-worth and conscience and the world and stuff I can’t spoil)… but you all know I’m going to end this with love. #schmoopy

What’d I miss? Let me know in the comments! Especially if you know of a sci-fi bear-meets-demon bikers movie featuring characters who confront their own personal, dark issues with possibly a good love scene or two. And maybe some history or satire thrown in.


  1. This was such a fun read Erika! I've been looking forward to reading your list since Patrick mentioned how interesting it was a few episodes back. Quite a few of these made my list and now I want to see First Reformed and Roma even more than I did before!

    1. You’re so kind, Matthew! Thanks for reading! And please message me when you watch those two. 😍

  2. I love your top 10 that turns into a top 13!

    Sorry to Bother You is so good and I'm happy that I saw it, and it almost made my top 10.

    1. I thought about it daily for WEEKS. I love how you understand my indecisiveness! Also, I gotta go... 🤣

  3. At first glance I thought your number 10 was a proposed movie night (You Were Never Really Here/Annihilation/Won’t You Be My Neighbor). Wouldn't that be an triple bill.

    Great list! I'm glad Sorry to Bother You is getting such love. It is such an interesting film.

  4. Great article Erika! I love the score for Annihilation and have been listening to it more than any other album for the past several months. I would like for it to get some awards recognition, but I read somewhere that the fact there are a couple non-original songs in the movie is generally frowned upon, and so it has already lost that race.
    Oh well. It has already won the race into my mp3 player and ears.

  5. I just watched Sorry to Bother You, and I think it may have catapulted straight to the top of my list. It was nuts, and I loved it.

    Loved the article and reading through your list. By extension, I really enjoy reading through ALL the lists (posters and commenters), so thanks to everybody who's been sharing their 2018 movie love on the site!

  6. Other than "Sorry To Bother You" (just didn't do much for me, although I'm looking forward to Boots Reilly's future work) and "Mandy" (still haven't seen it) this is a great Top... 13 list. Lots of diversity in this one.