With Awards Season in full swing and many “Best Films” of the year being shared, here at The Girly Nerd, it is high time to share what were my favorite films in 2018. And there were an abundance of amazing ones. Common denominators certainly were abound: Netflix, post apocalyptic drama, super heroes, the return of the rom-com, welcome and meaningful diversity, and the beauty of stories and recapturing our childhoods and what truly matters. Without further ado here are my favorites for 2018, with some special acknowledge of standout performers and outstanding directors.
Dolly Parton once said “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose” and that is definitely the mantra that Dumplin’ employs so beautifully as Willowdean, the daughter of a former beauty queen, along with some fellow “revolutionaries” join their local pageant to prove a point about what pageants are, only for everyone involved to discover something profound about themselves and life. Dumplin’ is about embracing who you truly are, learning to forgive and not to judge others, and living and loving your best life, brought to life with great humor and heart.
9. What Still Remains
An evocative, thought provoking post apocalyptic drama, What Still Remains examines an extreme but profound “what if” scenario. What if you were living in a desolate world where so much of the population was gone and some that remained were lost in the most inhuman way imaginable. Would you in turn lose your humanity, in order to “survive” or would you maintain it because losing that would be equally devastating- because essentially you would be losing yourself. In this story that is what Anna encounters, when fellow survivor Peter brings her to his village which seems welcoming but underneath it all, does what cults do- twist religion and abandon the concept of free will and choice. Led by a nuanced and often chilling performance by Colin O’Donoghue, we see with Peter how the charismatic can be hiding something truly sinister within themselves (and casting someone as striking and charming as he is talented as O’Donoghue is brilliant), as well as the devastation of dark choices that cause us to lose our own humanity and try to take away those of others. Perhaps their world is bleak, but we must never lose ourselves or hope that something brighter is within reach.
8. Black Panther
The world of Wakanda is an extraordinary one and I have no doubt that most who were captivated by this world, found themselves chanting “Wakanda Forever” as the credits to Black Panther rolled and beyond. We first met the new king of Wakanda T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War and right away were drawn into his story and fine character. But Black Panther not only expands his story but the entirely of this world with even more remarkable characters, my personal favorite being T’Challa’s sister, and true genius Shuri. The accomplishments and exemplary thing about this film are two-fold. Not only is the story engrossing, acting wonderful, aesthetics gorgeous, and themes resonant, but we see representation with real, full and non stereotypical characters. This should be and hopefully will begin to be commonplace. But above all Black Panther is simply a wonderful and captivating film. A comic book film it may be with extraordinary circumstances, and heroes and villains alike. But at its heart, it’s resonant story about integrity and honor and learning how the world and the motivations of others are more complicated than we perhaps thought.
7. A Quiet Place
Can you imagine a world where sound was your damnation? Where if you make any kind of loud noise, your life will most likely be lost, hunted down by a monster? That is the haunting concept of A Quiet Place, which is an extraordinarily artistic and evocative take on the classic thriller, post apocalyptic world. In truth, this film is about the power of love between family, most especially that between parent and child. Anyone who is a parent is no doubt deeply moved by this tale of a family in a desolate world where sound, and the monstrous creatures that attack when they hear it, is their daily enemy. One of their children is deaf, and that combined with their necessary situation, provided such an effective usage of sound and sign language. When we are in young Regan’s perspective the film is almost completely silent to represent her point of view and it is truly affecting. The anxieties of the family are high when the birth of another child is imminent and they are separated. Not only on the edge of your seat in the traditional thriller way, A Quiet Place accomplishes what many films of the same nature do not. It deeply moves us. Director John Kraskinski said this was a love letter to his daughters, and with his on and off screen wife Emily Blunt, they created a story of true love, sacrifice and hope abound with the significance of always striving to learn and invent, and most especially to not just listen with our ears, but with our hearts and minds. A Quiet Place is a quietly profound film.
6. Crazy Rich Asians
Funny, sweet, hilarious and another welcome and profoundly diverse film, I could not say it better than the wonderful Michelle Yeoh about what this films accomplishes so wonderfully, “To be represented- we’re not just a token for diversity. Real representation means you have a meaningful character with hopes and dreams and in Crazy Rich Asians that’s what we all have.” Diversity is not a trend, and something that should be done haphazardly or without much thought. It should be done, (and is in this film it is) in a beautiful and meaningful way. The world is a large place and everyone should be able to see themselves at some point on screen in a significant way that has us crying or laughing and having that moment of true recognition. What is also special about Crazy Rich Asians is that it’s about both diversity and universality, and it’s a celebration of that. We have seen this kind of romance story before with love having to overcome class differences, and pressures from family. What’s different is who is portraying these characters. It’s both specific in culture but also universal thematically. It’s about family, love and traditions that are specific to the Asian culture but can be relatable to all. But even if it weren’t it still would remain praiseworthy. Crazy Rich Asians is the type of film that I truly love and hope to see more and more in years to come.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
A film that is the culmination of over 10 years and 18 films is bound to have a great deal riding on its shoulders. And the first part of this climatic cinematic event, in one of the most spectacular cinematic universes of story and character was just that- absolutely spectacular! Marvel is most certainly a master of creating dynamic films filled with real emotion and amazing action, and with so many characters filling the screen, the task of balancing all of them, giving them sufficient screen time, all while managing to create a coherent and compelling story that was 10 years in the making, is indeed a tall order. And boy did they deliver. The first two Avengers films were amazing films, as are so many of the other individual films for every character, but there was something special about this one. What was most compelling was the way this truly centered on the villain- Thanos- as he is hell bent on erasing half of the universe, and like most villains feels he is totally justified. You feel every moment and are on the edge of your seat, and the film flies by until it reaches the climatic battle which was one of the most, again, compelling spectacles to ever grace the screen- and for one very significant reason. It wasn’t just about the amazing effects and cool imagery. It was because it felt human. And when Thanos wins with a snap of his fingers of that coveted Infinity Gauntlet, we felt the depth of this “victory” down to own very souls.
4. Mary Poppins Returns
Magical, colorful, a feast for the eyes and ears, and a wonder for the heart and soul, Mary Poppins Returns accomplishes something that seemed impossible. It created a new and wondrous version of the practically perfect nanny and her adventurous and wise ways, infused with heart, poignancy and above all, magic. And I will be perfectly honest- when I first heard about the film I was adamantly against attempting to recreate the perfection that is the 1964 classic. But as time moved on and I saw who was involved, from the top notch casting of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, to director Rob Marshall who has proven to immensely talented at bringing musicals to life with vitality with Chicago and Into the Woods, and lastly to composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman whose songs for the TV series Smash play on repeat in my home on a regular basis, I went from opposition to cautious optimism, to out right hope and excitement. And that shift in feelings was more than warranted. It may not reach the levels as the original in story and song, but more than succeeds in bringing warmth and heart into characters new and old as well as simply being stunning in its visuals and orchestration.
Emily Blunt more than makes the character her own with wit and cheekiness and the oh so important subtle emotion when dealing with Michael Banks and his children who have lost their mother and may lose their home. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the perfect blend of charming and sweet, much like Bert was with an added depth and connection to Jane Banks that was both unexpected and lovely. Ben Whishaw feels so much like his late father (portrayed originally by David Tomlinson) that it’s uncanny, while Emily Mortimer was a lovely blend of tried and true giggly effervescent Jane and social activist that would make her Suffragette mother proud. The greatest songs are without a doubt, the lovely and soft “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the rousing “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and above all “Nowhere to Go But Up” which literally soars and is the film’s, most timeless tune. The cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Landsbury will make your heart happy, the music smile and the story cry. Mary Poppins Returns is magical in every way and shows us that things are never truly lost because they will always remain in our hearts.
3. Sun Dogs
Some of the finest films are simple stories, well told. Sun Dogs is a beautifully crafted film with moving performances, immaculate direction, and affecting themes in a story that is poignant, humorous and touching all at once. A lovely marriage of story and artistry, this film that takes place in a post 9-11 world, where the earnest Ned Chipley, who has dealt with a mental deficiency since birth, wants more than anything to join the Marines, help keep the country safe, and above all save lives. And when he thinks he stumbles onto a possible terrorist threat, he and a young girl named Tally go on a journey of self discovery, that is often mirrored in that of his parents and indeed the audience. Fine performances by Michael Angarano, Melissa Benoist, Ed O’Neil and Allison Janney, you feel deeply for all of these characters, and will simultaneously laugh and cry. Sensitive issues it may be, but they are handled with tender care and respect. You feel and sympathize with Ned, but you don’t pity him. His earnestness is so heartfelt even when everything is not what it seems. And above all the themes combined with these characters draw you into the story in a way that is truly gripping.
The full length feature directorial debut of Jennifer Morrison (whose talent is superb and surely has a fine directing career ahead of her), the direction of the film is sublime in its subtlety and specificity, visually interesting and reflective of the film’s main themes. (In fact, look out for a more in depth film study on this one soon.) As Morrison said, “Sun Dogs shines a light on the idea that every person has a purpose in life. I believe that we are all misfits in one way or another. We feel misunderstood. We fail. We struggle. We hope. It’s what makes us unique in our search for meaning.” And therein lies the true heart of the film. Through Ned, and indeed all of the characters, we see and can relate to feeling lost or needing someone to believe in us, hold our hand and be there in sincere understanding or compassion. Moreover, the phrase, “Hello, how are you today?” takes on new meaning as we learn that even the simplest of gesture can save someone’s life in more ways than one. We all are searching for that meaning in life and our purpose and in Sun Dogs that is expressed in a truly beautiful and meaningful way.
2. Christopher Robin
Can a film have heartbeat? Does a film have the ability to simply and effortlessly tap into childhood nostalgia and the remembrance of life’s true wonders and beauties in a way that reaches your very soul? In the case of Christopher Robin, the answer is unequivocally a resounding YES!! The Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne, 1977 Disney film, and other incarnations of the classic characters have always held a special place in my heart, but this latest film perhaps made me feel more than all the others combined, as we once again ask, is it possible to say an audible “Awww” throughout an entire movie? The heart of Christopher Robin lies within its ability to tap into feelings beyond comparison, with visuals that are so realistic you actually believe that Pooh and his friends truly are real and have returned to Christopher’s life when he needed them the most, with fine performances by Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell as well as the immaculate voice work and artistry of every single person who brought Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and the rest of the 100 Acre Wood to life.
Visually and thematically, Christopher Robin is brilliant and beautiful in its simplicity, subtlety and unabashed sweetness. With muted colors that reflect the time period, and a subtle use of vibrancy seen in Pooh and his friends and single red balloon, as well as a gentle direction and similar themes to director Marc Forster’s equally stunning Finding Neverland, this film can makes us smile and cry and touch our hearts with its poignant wisdom about life, friendship and family. We all must grow up and mature, but we need not lose that ability to find joy in life’s simplest treasures and never lose our child like wonder. We may be lost but we can always be found when we open our hearts to tthat wonder and joy, found as easily as a bright red balloon in a vast sea of gray. And that is something truly special.
1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Acclaimed author Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic,” and is that ever the case. And although King’s works and Guernsey couldn’t be more different, his assessment is attune to what the book and this subsequent original Netflix film expresses. But Guernsey indeed takes this even steps further in an exquisitely delicate and moving depiction of a group of people who come together under the darkest of circumstances in the shadow of the Nazi occupation of World War II, showcasing the ways they manage to find joy and comfort despite everything. Make no mistake, the fear and loss this society formed out of self preservation experiences is profound, but when a young author connects with this group of individuals young and old, they all find something they truly needed: a collective family who understand the importance and resplendent joy of the written word, and truly human connections.
Guernsey is the type of period movie, so exquisitely filmed that your eyes are in a constant state of awe from the London golden parties to its cobblestone streets. And most especially, you will wish you could transport to every single beautiful local in this seaside British town. Indeed, from the cinematography, to the costumes, to the score, Guernsey is a wondrous delight, while the performances and story, much like Christopher Robin, have the ability to awaken and move the soul in a profound way. For we see how books can bring people together- reach across time and space and not only make us feel, but help us feel connected to others. Isn’t that what the finest books, or films, or music, or art can accomplish- create an unique kind of radiant magic that can help create unbreakable bonds of love, family and friendship. In a world filed with darkness, this is a glowing beacon of light and hope. The Guernsey Society may have created a group to save their lives in the literal sense, but the way it truly saved them can never truly be measured. And that is why this film sits at the top of this year’s finest.
Honorable Mentions: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, When We First Met
Yet to See: Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Incredibles 2
Stand Out Performers:
Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place & Mary Poppins Returns)
Michael Angarano (Sun Dogs)
Awkafina (Crazy Rich Asians)
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War)
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)
Lily James (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
Colin O’Donoghue (What Still Remains)
Ben Whishaw (Mary Poppins Returns)
Jennifer Morrison (Sun Dogs)
John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)
Marc Forster (Christopher Robin)
Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns)
Mike Newell (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)