Yes, there are Oscars and Golden Globes, SAG “Actor” and critics’ honors. But there’s only one “Schumie” and, as the awards roll in for the movies of 2018, the Reel Dad honors the achievements of the movie year.
Baked to Perfection: Roma
Some movies reach beyond imagery to inspire fresh looks at the worlds we experience and the mirrors we examine. This extraordinary film, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is so fresh in its approach, so expansive in its visuals, so authentic in its emotions, that it creates an essential experience for anyone who is curious, thoughtful and committed to the world and its goodness.
Brimming with Flavor: Black Panther
Some movies reach beyond what they project on screen to reflect many worlds. While Black Panther is a marvel of a movie, its power isn’t limited to its imagery, characters or narrative. Yes, this film would be special simply for its accomplishments as a piece of cinema. Still its impact as a cultural event extends beyond what works on a screen to capture what matters to people.
Pièce de Résistance: A Star is Born
Yes, this story was filmed in 1937, 1954 and 1976. But this version reaches chords the others only suggested. The crafty and creative Bradley Cooper — as director, co-writer and star — makes the familiar feel fresh by shifting its focus from the star-on-the-rise to the star-on-decline. And, with this subtle but significant change, he also manages to make Lady Gaga a movie star.
Hearty Helping: Vice
History, as we learned in school, can have a tendency to repeat. This biting comedy suggests that some of the political turmoil we now experience may have happened before or, at least, been suggested by the past. Christian Bale perfectly captures the nuance of how the former vice president thinks, schemes and negotiates in a film as thought provoking as any made this year.
Food for Thought: Green Book
As we walk this world, we savor the moments we connect with others. At a time when so many in our world focus on what can divide, this loving, funny, at times complex look at an unlikely friendship reminds us that we only build relationships if we dare to let others into our lives. The lessons we learn from Green Book can, if we live them, help us look inside others and ourselves.
Cooking with Gas: BlacKkKlansman
The courageous Spike Lee hits us between the eyes with this unforgettable yet horrifying take on racism. Instead of delivering a sermon, Lee gives us a fairy tale. Rather than offer a lecture, he lets us discover the moral. And, while Lee makes us think, he prompts us to chuckle, too, creating a most deceptive movie that frames its story of truth in a tale of the absurd.
Tasty, Bittersweet, Unforgettable: The Favourite
Director Yorgos Lanthimos dares to reinvent the stuffy costume drama with this outrageously entertaining comedy. Forget everything you expect from a movie about Royals. This fresh take is saucy, spicy and snarky, as Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone scheme for the affection and attention of a reluctant Queen Anne in an England we have never seen on screen before.
Disappointing Leftovers: Mary Poppins Returns
For anyone who loves the original Mary Poppins, this new rendition may bring both joy and frustration. Yes, the sequel is beautifully produced. But it’s so determined to honor its predecessor that it becomes lost in good intentions. It’s as if director Rob Marshall was so afraid to disappoint that he purposely kept himself from being too creative.
Fallen Souffle: The Front Runner
Movies love politics. And this movie tries to navigate through the landscape of classic dramas about elections. Yes, it has the makings of a compelling story, focusing on the fall from grace of Senator Gary Hart in the 1980s. But it can’t decide if it should defend the fallen hero as a victim of an over-aggressive press or simply tell an objective story. Either way, it doesn’t work.
Essential Side Dish: Wildlife
The freeze that can separate people who love comes to life in a rich tapestry of sadness, disappointment, anger and hope in Paul Dano’s moving look at the dark side of relationships. This striking film, special in the clarity of its story, the daring of its view and the depth of its performances, works as much for what it doesn’t do as for what it accomplishes.
Ideal Refreshment: Crazy Rich Asians
Perhaps it was the weather. Or the world’s mood. Or, maybe, a message filled with hope that people wanted to hear. Much to the surprise of many, this comedy became a phenomenon, prompting audiences to savor how its daffy collection of exaggerated characters navigate the beauty of Singapore and the complexities of relationships. What cinematic joy.
Three films to remember from 2018
As we honor the best of 2018, we stop to remember three films that deserve to be considered as awards are given, speeches presented and excellence captured.
Take a fresh look.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
For generations of children, the gentleness of Fred Rogers offered televised assurance that everything can be fine, everyone should be confident and ever after may always include happy endings.
Thanks to this marvelous documentary from Morgan Neville, Mr. Rogers returns to our lives as if he never left, helping us think, prompting us to believe, and asking us to hope. Without talking down to the audience – something Mr. Rogers never did, no matter the subject – Neville reminds us that helping people believe in their capacity to absorb can be the best way to encourage them to listen. Especially to things people may not want to hear.
With extensive use of clips from Mr. Rogers’ show – that ran on public television from 1968 to 2001 – and interviews with his wife, sons and people associated with the program – Neville captures a man driven by his belief in the potential of television and his conviction that children need the chance to focus on feelings instead of explosions, relationships rather than pratfalls, hope in place of anger. After experimenting with various approaches, he landed on an idea that cynics called simple and children considered essential. From the moment Mr. Rogers first entered his living room singing, then changed into his sweater and welcomed his audience, we felt as if we had been greeted by the kind man next door who would believe in us no matter what happened in our world.
No matter the topic, Mr. Rogers could relate to children because he never treated them as children. While he believed in hearing every voice, he preferred those free to express their beliefs with few filters. Of course, Mr. Rogers could stir his share of controversy and, to Neville’s credit, the film doesn’t skirt such moments even suggesting, at moments, that the man behind the screen may have been challenging and challenged in ways his on-screen persona never suggested.
Three Identical Strangers
As the father of twin sons, I have spent many of the past 31 years pondering the question, “nature or nurture” to consider what has most influenced their lives.
From its first moments, the compelling documentary Three Identical Strangers asks many of these questions. We quickly meet Bobby a man who, years before, walked onto the campus of Sullivan County College only to discover, with surprise, that people recognized him. It turned out that his look-a-like, Eddy, attended the year before. And that, in fact, they were identical siblings who were separated at birth. Once their discovery was publicized, a third carbon copy appeared, David, as the boys realized they were, in fact, identical triplets, a highly unusual fascination in the world of multiples, and raised by three different sets of parents in very different surroundings.
If Three Identical Strangers ended at this point, we would feel satisfied with the happiest of endings as the brothers become pop celebrities well before the intensity of social media, appearing on various talk shows and creating quite a following that led to their decision to open a restaurant in New York City. But filmmaker Tim Wardle quickly turns an abrupt corner to introduce a dark side to this story. Why were the siblings separated at birth? What is behind the unusual dealings of the adoption agency that processed their births and family assignments? And could this coincidence actually be the introduction to a conspiracy involving secretive studies of human behavior? Within seconds, a story into a marvelous coincidence becomes a journey into a web of secrets, lies and deception.
Still, the humanity of the brothers comes through, in actual, current interviews, historical footage, and comments of family and friends. What emerges is a marvelous tribute to the miracle of multiples with a caution of what may not need to be scientifically investigated. Perhaps some miracles simply need to be appreciated.
At first, it looks all so familiar.
But by the time Widows tells its story, Steve McQueen’s complex thriller makes sure we aren’t so certain who to applaud.
Its opening heist looks a lot like any opening heist from any crime thriller. But this one goes awry when, suddenly, the crime doesn’t follow the script, and four women are left waiting for their men to return home. When they suddenly find themselves on their own, with debts to pay from their husbands’ deeds, the “widows” begin to consider all the rational and irrational options they may have to settle the score. But life in crime thrillers is rarely as simple as plots initially suggest.
What makes the film so watchable is how McQueen carefully reveals its layers. We anticipate, with any thriller, a surprise here and there. But McQueen is too savvy to deliver surprises in obvious ways. Instead, he gives the characters time to develop their complexities, from the raw ambitions of a compromised politician, or the synthetic regrets of his successful father, or the sinister attacks initiated by the cynical hit man.
And that’s the men. McQueen saves the richest roles, and the best moments, for the women, as he makes a subtle but clear shift to focus on the ladies the bad guys leave behind. Viola Davis shines as a woman trying to deal with lasting disappointment. With minimal dialogue, and maximum expression, she makes us believe the back story that leads the character to choose. And while we may not immediately identify with the options this lady faces, we fully understand her pain because Davis enables us to connect with many emotional layers.
There are no easy answers in Widows, no simple resolutions, no reasons to celebrate. But that’s not what Steve McQueen wants. Yes, this master director wants to entertain. And, most of all, he wants to make us think. About what any of us may be capable of doing.