While 2018 made it seem as though the world is spiraling out of our feeble control, fortunately we have had some solid entertainment to keep us afloat, casting some brightness against the shadows. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill top ten list—there are already too many of those. Instead, as this year comes to a close, I want to draw our attention to those bright spots that got us through the year.
First up, the rise (and inevitable fall) of Moviepass.
For all of its downs, 2018 will be remembered in the entertainment community as the year of Moviepass. In its glory days, for $9.95 a month, you could go see one movie every single day. It seemed like it was too good to be true… and it turns out it was. But for people who are casual moviegoers who wanted to go more often (like my roommate), and for people like me who adore the movie going experience but don’t have the means to go as much as they’d like (movie tickets are $15-18 in Los Angeles), this was an absolute dream. So while I have gone to see many movies this year, the ones I’d like to single out, are the ones that made me the happiest.
The return of the romcom was sponsored in part by Netflix. They started off strong with the sweet and fluffy Set It Up, which introduced us to a now iconic scene involving late night pizza. Then, they released To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a sweeping high school romance in dreamy hues with an adorably quirky, Asian female lead and a swoon-worthy boy named Peter Kovinsky. I have watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before four times. Those four times occurred roughly within the first six weeks of its release. You don’t realize how hungry you are for this kind of story until it’s put right in front of you. The good news is, it’s based on a book that is part of a trilogy, so we can expect sequels (at least one is official).
This takes us from one trilogy, to another—Crazy Rich Asians was a sprawling epic of a romcom set mostly in Singapore, with lush wedding festivities as a backdrop to the family drama. Singapore isn’t normally a place that viewers get to visit in movies, so it was fun to explore that world and experience the depth of wealth that I, for one, will never see in my life. With a primarily Asian and Asian-American cast, this movie was also refreshing in its cultural diversity. It did well enough at the box office that audiences will surely get a sequel. And hopefully, with the mainstream popularity of Crazy Rich Asians as well as the success of Black Panther, we can expect more diversity on screen in the years to come.
Two of my favorite movies of the year were continuations of stories that I already loved. The first was Paddington 2. There are not enough words for me to express my love for the sweetest bear on the planet. The first installment of Paddington was a revelation. The second was a masterpiece, thanks in part to Hugh Grant in a redeeming and charming comeback role. Our boy Paddington does it again, spreading love everywhere he goes and leaving us with the mantra taught to him by Aunt Lucy: “When you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
Another favorite was Mama Mia: Here We Go Again. This was a The Godfather: Part II-caliber sequel (by this I mean, better than the original). And coincidentally, Here We Go Again follows a similar formula to that of The Godfather: Part II, exploring the backstory of Donna and her journey to Greece, while her daughter takes over the family business in the present, overcoming her own obstacles. This movie is also so deliberately joyful, fun, and full of life! Though the lack of Meryl Streep was disappointing, the joy of young Donna’s storyline made up for it for me, especially with the positively efervescent Lily James leading the new cast.
Sometimes life imitates art. This year, the more dismal content on television—the Kavanaugh hearings, cable news headlines, and California wildfires—hit a little too close to home… For me, it was harder to enjoy some of the shows I had previously relished and devoured. It was much easier to enjoy a show about some distant dystopian world when I didn’t feel like that dystopia was closing in on me.
It’s not that the quality of shows has declined, it’s that I’m at capacity for such dark stories. This is definitely an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. Just a few years ago, I was more inclined to take risks in my entertainment consumption. Today, there is only so much that I can take. The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, a show that I enjoyed in its first season, was tougher to get through in the second season. I appreciate the story and the performances are phenomenal, but I really don’t know how much more trauma I can watch June suffer through… It’s horrifying! The same goes for Sharp Objects. It is so dark and twisted, and while I can appreciate the importance of telling a story about women overcoming violence, I don’t need that kind of bleak, graphic imagery in my life right now.
What I do need, is plucky teens like Sabrina (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) fighting the forces of evil while also embracing her heritage on her own terms, and women like Midge Maisel (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel): narcissistic, but full of moxie and sunshine, fighting to make her dreams a reality.
Speaking of women fighting the good fight, this year we saw women kicking ass and taking names in Ocean’s 8 and Widows. Honestly, when I first heard the rumblings of Ocean’s 8, I was dismayed. Why can’t women have their own movies that have nothing to do with the novelty of putting a woman in the place of a man? Though it was fun to see all of my favorite actresses together, the movie didn’t feel groundbreaking to me. And then, we were gifted Widows… It was exactly what I hoped for and more—heist meets political thriller meets character drama, driven almost entirely by women. The incomparable Viola Davis led a talented cast to tell a story about women banding together to push through a difficult time to take control of their lives and circumstances, proving yet again, that women don’t need men to survive.
This year, there seemed to be a nostalgic return to the people and things that once made us feel good, in a time when we desperately needed them. Christopher Robin was a heartfelt return to our fauna friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. This movie was so delightful that I cried happy tears at least three times. My heart overrunneth with joy.
Another film that made me cry was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the wonderful documentary about one of the kindest men who ever lived: Fred Rogers. It was inspiring to hear the story of Mr. Rogers’s perseverance and his passion for the children of America, once testifying before Congress and basically single-handedly persuading them to maintain funding for PBS.
There was a clip featured in the film of a commencement address Mr. Rogers had given that really struck me. He said, “You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” People will love you for you, not what you do. That’s the kind of message that needs promoting in a divisive, polemic time, when the president taunts anyone who stands out to him or stands in his way.
Which brings me back to Paddington 2. While our president is promoting a pattern of vocal violence and disrespect, we are truly blessed to be greeted by the gentle of words of this small bear and his mantra, “if you are kind and polite, the world will be right.”
And while a lot has happened in 2018 that we still have to grapple with, these are the things that I hold on to to get me through to this year. Bring on 2019!