Before I start revealing my ten favorite movies of the year later this week, I want to take some time to talk briefly about five fantastic films that just missed out on making my year-end list – here are my Honorable Mentions:
No. 11 – Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You is Boots Riley’s directorial debut, a dystopian dark comedy that follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young African-American in Oakland working as a telemarketer at RegalView. After a veteran co-worker (Danny Glover) teaches Cash that the secret to success in this business is using your “white voice,” Cash quickly excels as he strives for the coveted promotion to “Power Caller.” All the while, Cash’s friends – and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) – plot to unionize the RegalView workplace in an effort to protest for better working conditions, which creates conflict with Cash as he continues to climb the ranks as a Power Caller. Life as a Power Caller begins to slowly unravel, and when a corporate conspiracy exposes itself, Cash is left to make a vital decision about his life.
In this film, Boots Riley takes a very simple concept (i.e., character comes from nothing, character gets success, character faces moral conundrum that pits that success against true happiness) and turns it into one of the most entertaining and unique movies I have ever seen. The dialogue pops, the characters are amusing, the acting is impeccable, and the satirical themes are absolutely spot-on. Riley’s story is one that brilliantly examines the concepts of “white privilege” and “capitalism” through its darkly comedic tone, and the satire reminded me a lot of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. However, Idiocracy made its comedy much more direct (and it really worked in that film), and after having seen both films, I much prefer Riley’s more natural comedic tendencies. This movie is a fantastic referendum on some very important social issues, and it just missed out on cracking my Top 10. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQKiRpiVRQM.
No. 12 – Roma
Roma is a Spanish-language film directed, co-produced, written, co-edited, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, the film (described as a semi-autobiographical story based on Cuarón’s childhood) follows Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker who lives with and works for the family of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira).
Roma is slow movie (like, really slow), although this sort of movie doesn’t always work, the cinematic style of Roma undeniably impresses – this is predominantly because Cuarón is its creator. In Roma, Cuarón’s dialogue is poetically deliberate, his camerawork is stunningly cautious, and his pace is delightfully unhurried. The Oscar-winning filmmaker – who has written and directed an amazing collection of films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity – has developed a film in Roma that tells a story that is deeply genuine and features plot points that are both heartwarming and heartrending. Aparicio is utterly outstanding in the lead role of Cleo – as various life events cause Cleo to endure a wide range of feelings, including happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness, you feel each and every one of them right along with her throughout the entire journey. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BS27ngZtxg.
No. 13 – Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion-animated film by writer/director Wes Anderson. The film is set in a dystopian-version of Japan in the not-so-distant future where all dogs – following a canine flu outbreak – have been exiled to an unenviable island. Against that backdrop, the story follows a young boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) as he joins forces with a few dogs on the island – including Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – to find his lost dog Spots.
At last, Wes Anderson is back – and by “back,” I mean “wow, Wes Anderson has finally returned to the wonderful storytelling and filmmaking that made me a fan of his in the first place.” I know Anderson’s last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was nominated for nine Oscars and won four of them, but I hated it – I found the story to be bland, the dialogue to be stilted, and the film as a whole to be too heavily reliant on Anderson’s signature style. But in Isle of Dogs, Anderson has won me back over – it is essentially a combination of the distinctive stop-motion-animated style that made Fantastic Mr. Fox so remarkable and the sweet, funny, and selfless depiction of childhood innocence that made Moonrise Kingdom one of my favorite movies of all time. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt__kig8PVU.
No. 14 – Minding the Gap
Minding the Gap is a documentary by filmmaker Bing Liu. Filmed over the course of more than a decade, Minding the Gap chronicles the lives of Liu and his two friends, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, with the common thread being their shared love of skateboarding. Although the movie starts out with this simple premise, it slowly evolves into a deep and emotional exploration of the lasting traumatic effects of issues relating to race, economic hardship, and domestic abuse.
For me, the best documentaries are those that make you think and make you feel in a unique way – Minding the Gap definitely checks those boxes with ease. One of the most intriguing parts of this film is the fact that the director is personal friends with his film’s subjects – but Liu pulls no punches. Instead, he examines the complicated lives of Keire and Zack with raw emotion and undeniable honesty, and it is this aspect of purity in Liu’s filmmaking that makes Minding the Gap so emotionally affecting. Despite the remarkable exploration of his friends’ lives, the highlight of the film was when Liu turned the camera (and the plot of the film) back onto himself and his own upbringing – what a moment! This film is currently streaming on Hulu, and I encourage everyone to go check it out – you will not be disappointed. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Vm_Awe3bw.
No. 15 – Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic dramedy (directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim) based on the bestselling novel of the same name, which follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese American economics professor at NYU who travels overseas with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick’s family turns out to be among the wealthiest in all of Singapore. Dating one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors, Rachel finds herself having to fend off envious women within Asian high society. But the more imposing task for Rachel is vying for the approval of Nick’s domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh).
I will be honest – generally speaking, romantic dramedies aren’t my cup of tea. Unless they are done exceptionally well, I just can’t get into them. With all of that said, Crazy Rich Asians is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in the genre (ranking up there near my favorites, such as Love Actually and Crazy, Stupid, Love). Although I have not read the film’s source material, director Jon Chu’s vision in bringing this unique story to the screen was magnificent – this beautiful movie was the first from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years to feature an Asian director and a mostly Asian cast, all helmed by an Asian director. The story was refreshing, the visuals were colorful and arresting, and the movie’s cast of characters was absolutely entertaining – aside from the superb performances by the film’s leads, Awkwafina nearly stole the show as the wacky sidekick Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s best friend from college. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ-YX-5bAs0.