This year, I found myself being drawn to films that presented an empathetic worldview. What I mean by this is that in many movies how the filmmakers treat the characters through the plot, dialogue, cinematography, or framing, can be quite cruel. Many filmmakers seem to hate their own characters or prioritize utilitarian filmmaking techniques over presenting human dignity. These can result in aesthetically beautiful movies that may be philosophical but have cold centers. I looked for movies this year that were both intellectually fulfilling and empathetically warm and hopeful. Not a Pollyanna type of optimism, but grounded, true hope. So here are some of the best films of 2018 that I felt did this.
10. Black Panther
One of Marvel’s most sophisticated offerings to date and a wakeup call for Hollywood, Black Panther ushers in a more socially-aware blockbuster era while still being loads of fun.
9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This documentary about Fred Rogers dives deep into his philosophy of teaching and using media wisely. It refuses to look too closely at Mister Roger’s flaws, but ultimately, it isn’t about one man. It’s about you, and what you will do to honor his legacy and vision.
- Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace uses the story of a girl and her father living on the outskirts of society to ask questions about the necessity of organized society for human fulfillment and development. But Leave No Trace is so unassuming you may not even realize it’s prompted you to think about its ideas for months after you see the film.
- The Hate U Give
The young-adult version of Blindspotting, The Hate U Give balances heavy material with the personal life of protagonist Starr, giving the movie a powerful ability to feel both timely and archetypal. Amandla Stenberg carries the entire movie with ease and confidence that makes her an actress to watch.
- First Reformed
While billed as a drama, this story about a pastor’s crisis of faith is really a kind of horror story. A deeply uncomfortable but moving film, I am thankful director Paul Schrader is willing to tackle an area the rest of Hollywood refuses to touch, and does so in an unabashed and courageous manner.
- Eighth Grade
Elsie Fisher is a revelation in this humane and insightful look at tweenhood. A must-see for parents, middle-schoolers, or anyone who just wants to understand the new world young people are navigating today.
Shoplifters is a Japanese film about a poor “family” that must navigate the line where personal morality is more just than the law. It’s an engaging and constantly surprising drama that I would recommend watching as a double feature with Leave No Trace.
Blindspotting portrays a black and white friendship that, like Green Book, is easy to root for. But where Green Book fails Blindspotting succeed by not shying away from the complexities of how race affects interpersonal relationships. By holding both its white and black characters accountable, it gives a nuanced view of how racism works in the modern world. Its ending scene is also one of the best of the year, holding the audience hostage for a breathtaking scene of catharsis that films like BlackKklansman failed to deliver.
- Sorry to Bother You
Surreal, inventive, and wholly unique. Like I said in my review of the film, Sorry to Bother You captures the feeling of 2018.
Eleven months later and I still vividly remember how I felt watching Annihilation for the first time, and it gets better with every rewatch. It is one of the best science fiction movies of the last few years, and a poignant exploration of pain and self-destruction.
Honorable Mentions: A Quiet Place, RBG, Venom, Roma, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, Tomb Raider, The Kindergarten Teacher, Christopher Robin, and not a movie but some of the year’s most affecting storytelling, Serial Podcast season 3.
Dishonorable Mentions: How it Ends, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Ready Player One, Mary Queen of Scots.
This is the 100th post of madeleinelovesmovies! Thank you for your readership and support. I hope you had a wonderful 2018, and I look forward to seeing what 2019 has in store!