It’s been an exhausting year, guys, but we made it! Since I appear to have missed out on an offensive number of movies, I’ll spare you the “still need to see” spiel and jump right into the ten that either provided me with some much-needed comfort this year, or that I haven’t been able to stop thinking/talking about.
10. Summer 1993
I’ve heard a little chatter about this movie throughout the year, but not nearly enough! Director Carla Simón’s stirring debut follows six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) as she adjusts to life with her uncle’s family after the sudden and mysterious death of her mother. Frida’s emotional difficulty adapting to her new environment causes her to act out in disturbing ways, upsetting the family, but especially their young daughter, Anna (Paula Robles). A beautiful and layered performance from Bruna Cusí as Frida’s aunt Marga carries the film, as she and little Anna do everything they can to help Frida feel welcome, loved, and protected in her new home.
Based on a true story, Summer 1993 is a heartrending portrayal of a child’s loneliness and her inherent need for familial connection.
It’s available now on Amazon Prime.
A moving tribute to the art of filmmaking, Sandi Tan’s amazing documentary covers a lot of ground in regard to friendship, loss, betrayal, nostalgia, and, above all, an unabiding love for cinema. Watching Tan’s emotional journey to uncover why her mentor Georges vanished twenty years prior with the indie road film she and her friends put their heart and soul into creating is sure to resonate deeply with film lovers and filmmakers alike.
It's available now on Netflix.
8. Ben Is Back
There’s something about the family dynamics in Peter Hedges’ films that really speaks to me. Hedges has written some of cinema's more memorable matriarchs from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Pieces of April, and his latest adds another one to the list. After being disappointed by Beautiful Boy, I was happy to see another movie dealing with the theme of addiction and its effects on the entire family that actually focused on the family. Everyone down to the family dog plays a valuable role in Ben is Back, but it’s the relationship between Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges that really brings this one home.
(I reviewed it here.)
7. Won't You Be My Neighbor
The most important thing I learned from this heartwarming doc about everybody’s favorite neighbor was that even Mr. Rogers struggled with self-esteem and confidence when it came to putting his ideas out there. Thankfully for all of us, he did it anyway. So many lives are forever changed for the better because this generous man continuously had the courage to seek answers to some of life's most difficult questions. If that’s not inspiration enough to keep creating and trying for something better, then I don’t know what is. 143!
6. Cold War
Pawel Pawlikowski makes movies I can’t seem to shake. In 2004, it was My Summer of Love followed by Ida in 2013. Now, I’m destined to be haunted forever by Joanna Kulig’s striking beauty and the devastating romance of Cold War. I caught echoes of Sid and Nancy in Wiktor and Zula's (Tomasz Kot and Kulig) relationship that made me think I knew how their story would end, but by the time it was over I realized that nothing I thought I knew could have prepared me. This movie is an absolute stunner!
5. You Were Never Really Here
You Were Never Really Here may be the movie I’ve thought about the most this year. Even with so many phenomenal movie moments crowding my head, I keep returning to that final scene in the diner. Joaquin Phoenix is in top form, as usual, but it's director Lynne Ramsay who continues to astound me with her talent. The themes she chooses to explore in her projects never fail to surprise and challenge me, and I'd love to continue seeing a lot more of this from her, as well as from other filmmakers in the future.
4. The Favourite
Historical period pieces not your thing? Well, Yorgos Lanthimos has solved that problem! The Favourite heightens the absurdity of your typical 18th century historical drama with that singular Lanthimos flair. Featuring top notch performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Wiesz, and Emma Stone - unlike you’ve ever seen her before - this simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking look at the bitter rivalry between two cousins competing for the Queen’s affection is easily one of the best times I had at the theater this year.
3. Paddington 2
We all need those feel-good movies that help us escape from reality once in a while, and that one for me this year was Paddington 2. Inviting us, once again, into the warm embrace of Paddington’s home with the Browns, this delightfully wholesome vision of Michael Bond’s beloved classic made it easy to believe that, "If we are kind and polite the world will be right."
2. Pin Cushion
In this riveting story exploring the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the generational effects of bullying, Deborah Haywood has tapped into a style so unabashedly feminine and other that it’s difficult to do her debut justice without giving anything away. Diving headfirst into the theme of what it’s like to go through life feeling like an outsider, the movie comes across in many ways like a fairy tale, with its exquisite colors and eccentric characters played with impeccable charm by Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark. Yet, at the same time, it’s strikingly realistic in its achingly sad portrayal of two remarkable yet unusual women trying desperately to find where they fit in the world.
Pin Cushion is a powerful debut that may be a difficult watch for some but I promise it's worth it, and that it will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
It's now available to rent on Amazon Prime.
1. Eighth Grade
It’s been many years since I was an eighth grader, yet I legit felt every awkward, agonizing moment Kayla (Elsie Fisher) experiences in this movie. Together, Bo Burnham and Fisher have given us a coming-of-age story starring a teenager worth looking up to. While I would have loved to have seen this movie back in my middle-school days, I’m grateful that today’s eighth graders have a positive and authentic role model to show them that embracing who you are is always the best course of action, despite the pressures they face to be just like everyone else. Gucci!
Honorable mentions: Hearts Beat Loud, Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Love, Simon, A Quiet Place, Between Worlds.
Happy Holidays to all! Here's to lots more movie talk in 2019!