We saw over 120 films this year, which is easily our lowest year since 2010. I had about three weeks where I didn’t see any movies—the longest stretch for me since The Boy was born, probably—and on top of that there were just weeks and weeks where someone would say, “Hey, let’s go to the movies!” And someone else would say “What’s out?” And then the inevitable response was “Nothing. There is absolutely nothing out worth seeing.”
It’s not for nothing then over half of these movies were what we used to call “revivals”: movies that have achieved cult or classic status and are being re-shown in one or more theaters, often to more ticket sales than new movies. TCM’s showings of White Christmas and Die Hard for example, netted over $900K and $500K respectively. With over $3.5M, the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey out-performed such critically lauded fare as If Beale Street Could Talk, The Sisters Brothers and American Animals. (Admittedly, three of the films were being given the Rifftrax or MST3K treatment.)
But wait! Of the sixty or so non-revival films, about 30 were Korean or Chinese. Now, The Boy and I have long been fans of foreign and indie movies. We used to devote as many days to, for example, The Israel Film Festival, though in recent years that mofo has been packed and sold out making it nigh impossible for us to get in. But these Korean and Chinese movies were not in that category: These films were pure pop cinema: comic-book style fantasy, historical drama, romantic-comedies and straight-up romances, even a zombie movie (which was way more enjoyable than the American zombie movie we saw).
Of the remaining films, over half were in the indie/foreign category, documentaries or Oscar-catch-ups for 2017. There were some stand-out documentaries, like Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers and the (much less seen but highly worthy) Saving Brinton. In the Oscar-catch-up category (i.e., movies that we saw in 2018 but were released for 1 showing in 2017 to qualify for Oscars), I liked Wonder, but found The Darkest Hour somewhat marred by the increasingly weird revisionism (also seen in this year’s The Favourite) that has Churchill riding the subway where a mixed-race couple…I can’t even finish that sentence.
What this boils down to is that of the top 40 films of 2018, I’ve seen…four: Avengers: Infinity War, The Incredibles 2, A Quiet Place and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Three our of these were part of my paternal responsibility (which will probably expand to include Venom, as well as the not-yet-in-the-top 40 Aquaman and Bumblebee). Add in The Mule, then you’ve got a fanatic moviegoer hitting about 20%. And it’s not just me: If you adjust for inflation, Black Panther hits 30th on the all-time box office. With over twice the population in the country, the #1 movie of the year sells about a third of the tickets Gone With The Wind did, or half what Star Wars did.
Worse, The Boy and I can usually be expected to express a certain degree of regret regarding missing a few popular films. All we could muster this year was “Well, I wouldn’t have minded seeing the new Mission: Impossible, Deadpool or Ant-Man movie.” I heard good things about I Can Only Imagine, which made it in the top 40 somehow (#34), and we were bummed about missing 12 Strong, which finished out around #62. But mostly, it was more like “Thank God I didn’t waste my time on that!”
And 2019 doesn’t look like it’s going to be much better, with expensive franchises being run into the ground and the margins being filled up with “woke” indies. On the other hand, TCM will be showing The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady and Alien on their Big Screen Classics program, so there’s that.
Our favorite new English-language movie of the year was…Isle of Dogs. We just love Wes Anderson more and more, really, and it was the only new movie where we said we could turn right around and watch it again. It’s hard to use words like “favorite” or “watchable” with Gosnell: America’s Biggest Serial Killer, but it was as tastefully done as such a distasteful story could be. This criminally under-rated film will get zero awards or notice, TPTB have already thrown it in the memory hole.
Remember, nobody really likes “edgy art that challenges their preconceptions”. They like art that challenges others’ perceived preconceptions. The latter makes you feel good; the former makes you uneasy, and Gosnell is the only movie this year to do that. There is no bravery to be found on the Sunset strip.
Choosing the best Asian cinema, on the other hand, is harder. As The Boy pointed out, flashy CGI movies like Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings aren’t great, but they have something their domestic counterparts don’t: Namely, they don’t seem to hate the audience. You don’t ever feel condescended to or looked down upon. So, here are my awards for 2018:
Best Animated Feature
Isle of Dogs: I know a lot of people don’t like Wes, but we do. A lot.
Best Crime Drama
Anna and the Apocalypse: (OK, it was the only new musical we saw but still…)
Best Historical Drama
Best Romantic Comedy
Update: I’m posting this now because it’s been three months since I’ve seen a movie in the theater. I had lost interest in it at the time (December of 2018) because Hollywood films had become drastically less interesting, as had the “year end retrospective” thing which doesn’t really mean anything given that most of the award-bait movies for a year are released in the last two weeks, and you have to watch them over the next three months.
My predictions for 2019 turned out to be right, unsurprisingly: It was another drab, uninspired year of (if anything) greater condescension from the “art” films and even more formulaic action flicks. 2020 was looking worse, at least for American films, but it will forever be marked with an asterisk that will be used to explain away the awfulness.