Due to the perceived short attention span of industry voters, in late November and into December theaters are bombarded with all the films that their makers consider worthy of awards. Unless I want to camp out in a theater or on my couch, I cannot see them all, but I promise in the coming couple of months I’ll be reviewing many of them. So a year end wrap-up column will be, by definition, pretty much a January-November wrap up, which is fine because there isa whole slew of worthy works from earlier in the year. In fact, there was something for pretty much everyone.
Political films began in December of 2018 with “Vice,” the outrageous take on Dick Cheney with amazing performances by Christian Bale as Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. “The Report” took on misdeeds and cover-ups by American intelligence agencies. A remarkable documentary, “Knock Down the House,” followed four Democratic women with no previous government experience as they worked to unseat incumbents in the 2018 race.
Films that featured stories about racial injustice and/or starring black actors were represented well: “Dolemite is My Name” was a welcome return by Eddie Murphy; “Harriet” honored 19th century heroine Harriet Tubman; “Queen and Slim” took on the aftermath of a racially based traffic stop gone wrong; “Just Mercy” told the tale of wrongly imprisoned teenagers in the South and the effort to save them from death row. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and Jordan Peele’s latest “Us” (Lupita Nyong’o is amazing!) were also noteworthy.
The effect of the #MeToo movement showed up in several movies headlined and made by females, especially Oscar-winning Brie Larson as the kick-ass superhero “Captain Marvel.” Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling made the sharply observant “Late Night,” a comedy with serious underpinnings, taking on ageism, racism and the glass ceiling for women. “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a story of emerging female self-esteem, was a hit. Look for my future review of writer-director Greta Gerwig’s glorious take on “Little Women”: I loved it! And how about “Booksmart” and Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers?” Women definitely made a difference this year.
My inner 15-year-old was very happy with some comic-based films such as “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which featured many different Spidermans, a multiracial, multicreature bunch of them, all being put to work to battle evil. And I thoroughly enjoyed “Avengers: Endgame” (despite its length and unhappy ending), “Shazam!” and the above-mentioned “Captain Marvel.”
As for child-friendly films, the grandkids and I enjoyed “Toy Story 4” and “Spiderman: Far From Home.” As for “Frozen 2,” they pronounced it, “Better than the original!” but grandma—who has a bit more perspective, it is hoped—thoroughly disagreed.
Two foreign films, “Parasite” and “Pain and Glory,” were stunning works by truly creative filmmakers, and I wish I had been able to see several other highly recommended movies from other countries that came and went way too quickly. I will do my best to hunt them down and let you know about them.
The continued rise in popularity of the streaming channels brought us several excellent works from other countries: “The Cakemaker,” a German/Israeli film, “Gentleman Jack” from England; “Shistal” and “Fauda” from Israel; and the best of them all, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” Season Two. America produced a bunch of good ones also: a gripping third season of “True Detective” with Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff; season 5 for “Bosch” continued the sterling adaptations of Michael Connelly’s mysteries; the final season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” was bittersweet; the hugely unsettling “Mindhunter” was, well, unsettling; the quirky “Watchmen” starred the marvelous Regina King. Special mention must be made of “Unbelievable”—not recommended for bingeing. Based on a true story of rape and its aftermath, it was simply shattering in its superb storytelling, writing, acting and directing. Comedy gems such as “Wanda Sykes, Not Normal” and “Mike Birbiglia: The New One” were not your basic stand-up routines, but each was both serious and riotously funny.
Happy New Year! See you in 2020!