Believe it or not (I sure don’t), but the calendar turn of July means that 2018 is half over and it’s time for a checkpoint list of reflection. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve formally reviewed 63 films, just one behind my best-ever pace from 2017. Add 18 more films to that tally with as-yet unreleased festival films and a backlog of future “vintage reviews” for classics I’ve hosted between the “Kids Klassics” series with the Wilmette Theatre and my monthly spot co-hosting “Connecting With Classics” for the Feelin’ Film Podcast. Even with all that, I still have a lengthy homework checklist of 2018 blind spots, but I’ve seen plenty to make a solid “Best of 2018 (so far)” list.
Usually for this website, half of a year equals half of a future “10 Best” in December, meaning normally only five films make this “best of” list. However, I have seen six 5-star feature films as well as one 5-star documentary and one 5-star short film. I’m giving all of them the spotlight. As always for this “so-far” list and the year-end final and true to my website’s hook, I present each film with its best life lesson from my review. Enjoy!
THE BEST FILMS OF 2018 (SO FAR)
This is a bit of an exclusivity cheat because this movie from the first-time feature team of Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian doesn’t come out to the public until August. I was lucky enough to see it at the 6th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival in May and I’ve been buzzing about it ever since. With a daring creative concept to tell 100% of its missing person narrative through various screens in our device-centered connected world, Searching has struck ingenious gold as a parental thriller and a cautionary tale. Over-marketed as if it was a horror film, this indie gem carries a roller coaster of feels that impressed me to no end. Call it a gimmick all you want, but the dramatic effect of this style of perspective is scintillating, harrowing, revolutionary, and smart. It’s the best and most unique “whodunit” I’ve seen in a long time. (capsule review)
BEST LESSON: MAKE SURE YOU REALLY KNOW YOUR KIDS — A tremendous takeaway for Searching is the possible disconnect for parents who, through whatever fault or reason, do not keep up with their children’s interests, friends, and activities. Parents don’t have to track every phone call, text, keystroke, or GPS location, but situations like Searching implore that parents do enough of their own homework, so to speak, to be aware of both the good and the bad elements that encircle their child. It’s all about making a better effort to show genuine interest, share trust, and communicate.
2. Paddington 2
Before Searching came out of nowhere and blew me away, there is no doubt in my mind sinc January what the best film I had seen so far this year was going to be come this list. Dismiss a family film dalliance all you want, but Paddington 2 doesn’t miss a delightful beat. You can look at all of the blockbuster might and muscle farther down spot on the list and you can keep it compared to the wholesome perfection of this much improved impossibly adorable sequel. (full review)
BEST LESSON: BE KIND AND POLITE — Take Paddington’s mantra and make it a life lesson. It’s that simple. Kindness opens more doors and opportunities than its antonym. You get more bees, and more bears for that matter, with honey. When you do your sunny optimism right, step back and observe the joy politeness brings. The smiles, hugs, and belonging are all worth it.
3. Hearts Beat Loud
If Paddington 2 didn’t already beam a smile across my face from ear-to-ear, the highly engaging father/daughter relationship at the core of Brett Haley’s film would be your proverbial “feel good film of the year.” I don’t bite at cliches like that, so a better way for me to compliment Hearts Beat Loud is call it inescapable with wonderfully woven dramatic themes with guts that stick coupled with the sensory sparks created by its toe-tapping musical pulse. If you want a pick for the best movie of the summer, look lower than the blockbusters to right here. (full review)
BEST LESSON: SHARE A CREATIVE ENDEAVOR — This ain’t The Partridge Family. Frank and Sam share serious chops of raw talent. Their jam sessions are quintessential quality time between father and daughter, something every parent should find, foster, and participate in with their kids, no matter the age or roots of activity. These two open up to talk themes, compare and expound ideas of flow between music and life, and express themselves creatively. Music is their means of collaboration and it is a rousing and beautiful thing in Hearts Beat Loud.
4. Black Panther
The impact of Ryan Coogler’s MCU entry are undeniable. The box office success, societal appreciation, and future awards chatter all wouldn’t be possible without a stellar film that inspires. Black Panther answered every surprising hype with confidence and delivered a cultural phenomenon that exceeded the usual comic book genre. Wholly rich in every production value to create this unique world of warriors, royalty, and spirits, this crowd-pleaser deserves to be called one of the year’s best. (full review)
BEST LESSON: CHOOSING LOYALTIES — In a substantial demonstration of individuality competing with unity, nearly every character in Black Panther is faced with a defining choice of loyalty. All of the motivations and instigating emotions are in play, from love and family to national pride and royal devotion. Awaiting each person is an intense decision that will define them and their fate.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
Speaking of delivering the goods, the culmination of a decade of connective world-building and character development that was Avengers: Infinity War lived up to its enormous height. Flexing massive ensemble muscle with “bad guy wins” cajones and stakes, this tentpole was the heavy hitter the landscape of supposed “comic book fatigue” needed as a reminder of why these movies, when done right, have so much appeal, success, and importance. For two of the top 5 all-time MCU films to date to come out in the same half-year and rake is nothing short of extraordinary. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE BREAKING POINTS OF POWERFUL PEOPLE — Life lessons for this movie could really dive into spoiler territory (hence the first two more farcical ones), so this final one will be the best possible allegory within appropriate boundaries. No matter the myriad of obstacles, the highest stake remains the same: the trillions of innocent lives across the far-reaching comic book cosmos. Seeking twisted balance, the coldly tyrannical villain targets the hardest choices to those with the strongest wills in standoffs of sacrifice. Every character with heart has a limit to what lives can be traded and which cannot.
6. I Kill Giants
My final five-star review of the first half of 2018 belongs to an entirely different kind of film based on a graphic novel. I Kill Giants in an adult fairy tale that surprises and pushes heavy themes and strong emotions through an enlightened level of high imagination that is equal parts fragile and brutal in beauty. Chronicling a insular teen (played by Madison Wolfe, an occupant of your new watch list for talent) who envisions protecting her community from unseen giants as a coping mechanism. Filled with heavy emotions, I Kill Giants is a film teens need to absorb for their own good of maturation to learn that others have it so much worse than them. (full review)
BEST LESSON: FACING REALITY — The actions and effects of outlets for grief and hate are only temporary releases. Healing must follow and reality must be accepted. As Kelly’s story laments all things die and people need to find joy in the living, come to not fear the end, and embrace life without denial. Those are huge steps for all of us young and old. For a film like I Kill Giants to put these emotional takeaways together with fantasy is nothing short of extraordinary.
THE NEXT FOUR TO MAKE A COMPLETE TOP 10
8. Beauty Mark
9. Eighth Grade
10. First Reformed
SPECIAL MENTION #1:
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I wrestle back and forth with including documentaries on the main list of features above. They’re a different animal, but still in the same rainforest medium of art and expression. At this time, I’m setting the glorious Fred Rogers backstory on its own 5-star pedestal. Few documentaries will move people like this one. Mixed in with the fictional fare, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is likely a top-5 overall selection. Endearing and empathetic to a superhuman degree and to borrow one of his own highlighted words, seek out what made this beloved and revered TV host special because the documentary is equally deserving of that adjective. (full review)
BEST LESSON: SHOW CARING — This imperative command is the real springboard granted by this film experience. Be the Fred Rogers for someone in your life. Live up to all five definitions of “special” as he did. Bring out the kindness. Give someone the attention they need. Connect and create a relationship of love. Be the person they remember as part of their character formation to be a better individual.
SPECIAL MENTION #2:
For me, the best short films are the equivalent to special treat bites or a stiff shot of a good drink, where its small taste is powerful enough to impress or resonate. Filmmaker Marc Sobol created a dynamic short on dangerous voyeurism with twists of perspective punctuating its full voiceover narrative. The imposing suspense is nine of the best minutes of film I’ve seen this year. Check out my full review with the link to view this short film. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE LIMITS OF VOYEURISM — With our ever-darting eyes, we men and women observe everything and it is impossible not to focus on something that grabs our attention or stirs our mind. When is it candid and harmless? When is it invasive of privacy? What if you see the wrong thing? How long is too long to watch or linger? One man’s innocent observer is another’s intrusive stalker. Which are we watching in The Photographer?
HONORABLE MENTIONS (other 4-star reviews):
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