2018 In Review: Film & TV
By McKenna B.
December 17, 2018
With the holiday season approaching quickly, we have a chance to catch up on the beautiful and poignant cinema 2018 brought us. For me, the content of the films and television shows of this year confirmed that there was an increase in awareness around the messages we share and support as a society. This year demonstrated the power of diversity, in all senses of the word. A number of creators took risks by spotlighting controversial topics on the big screen and challenging our conventions – 2018 forced audiences to have conversations that would not have been possible five years ago. Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Ocean’s 8, and Grown•ish are some of many films and television shows that I found signified the start of this new cinematic era.
Spring and Summer brought us Black Panther and Ocean’s 8; both widely loved and thriving in what I find to be a typically overrated genre – a genre notorious for narratives that only follow “one type” of character.
Black Panther made a global impact as the first Marvel film with a predominantly Black cast. According to Time, “Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day Black life.” For me, the depth of Black Panther cannot be accredited to only a diverse cast – Marvel used the film as a platform to explore themes such as culture or family in a way I have not seen from them before. I found the film’s beauty absolutely transcendent – extending to not only the overall aesthetics but to the character dynamics and development of the story.
Ocean’s 8, the latest in the Ocean’s film series, marked a milestone in female representation as it followed an all-woman heist team – each of the 8 women bringing something unique to the table. According to Variety, the film rendered “the whole ‘novelty’ of the concept a borderline irreverence.” Ocean’s 8 transformed an overused storyline and used it as an opportunity to make big statements about the everyday experiences of women. I enjoyed watching the film and respected the film’s overall efforts, but it ultimately failed as a self-titled “feminist film” – the film focused on the contemporary oppression of women without presenting any sort of alternative. Ocean’s 8 empowered women, but if the film wanted to earn the all too trendy title of a feminist film, it had to do the work.
The Hate U Give and Lady Bird forced audiences together. They focused on obstacles everyone faces, the struggles that come with figuring out who you are and what it means to grow up. These two films compelled us to reevaluate our understanding of ourselves and each other.
The Hate U Give, based on a novel by Angie Thomas, was named after Tupac Shakur’s song “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E” which, at its basis, tells listeners that if they continue to hurt those without power, they hurt themselves too – the principal message of the film as well. The plot focuses on Starr Carter, an African-American teenager, who witnesses her friend, Khalil, shot by a white police officer. While the movie’s attempts were commendable, The Hate U Give cannot, in fact, be called a “Black Lives Matter movie”, according to the LA Sentinel. This article, written by the two women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement, explained the two big issues with the film: (1) The portrayal of Starr Carter; (2) The film’s focus on Black-on-Black crime (statistically far less common than unjustified police shootings). To me, the movie shifted the blame from an anti-Black police system to Black individuals themselves. While I don’t think the film was everything it promised to be, it was the first step, of many, in creating an honest depiction of the experiences of minority and disenfranchised groups in the United States on a large-scale.
Lady Bird, set in early 2000s Sacramento, follows Christine “Lady-Bird” Mcpherson as she navigates her relationship with her mother. The film emphasized what it’s like for her to go through her last months of high school and her attempts at accepting what she has and who she is. Lady Bird also examined the experiences of a lower-middle-class family through an honest and narrow lens – second-hand clothes, college tuition, and what part of town you live on. I commend the rawness, the flaws, the beautiful cinematography, and the deeply complex characters the film features – an African-American theatre teacher coping with the death of his son and a boy learning to accept his sexuality. Everyone who watched the film can find themselves in Lady Bird or in any one of the characters in the film, and, to me, that is perhaps what made the film worth savoring.
This year, the romance genre focused less on the idea of falling in love and more on finding ourselves by loving others. The best romance films of 2018 were widely appreciated – the films that mixed together satisfaction and raw emotion. These included Call Me By Your Name, Love, Simon, and Crazy Rich Asians.
I found Call Me By Your Name to be not only one of the best-made films of 2018, but it, just like Moonlight in 2017, marked a change in the way LGBTQ+ relationships are represented on the big screen. The film is set in 1980s Italy and follows the development of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, and through it, Elio’s understanding of his own sexuality. The film was nominated for three Oscars – Timothée Chalamet for Best Leading Actor, “Mystery of Love” for Best Original Song, and the film itself for Best Adaptation Based on a Book – and only won Best Adaptation Based on a Book. I think Call Me By Your Name was too easily disregarded as “another gay indie film” when the film was, in many ways, complex and honest. The intricacies of the plot development – from the pockets of Italy we got to explore to the way Elio and Oliver interact with each other – earned the film a lot more credit than it got.
Love, Simon is one of few LGBTQ+ films directed at a younger audience and their families. The film, based on the novel Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, follows Simon as he struggles with the usual turmoils of high school as he defines his sexuality. It defines Simon as a teenage boy before it defines him as gay, and I found that revolutionary in coming to terms with my own identity. Love, Simon was an emotional rollercoaster and the characters were raw, well-done, and all too relatable, so the film earned a place in my heart. This film needs to be commended for how it has opened up the conversation regarding LGBTQ+ identity and politics. For me, Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon followed two different sides to coming out and figuring out your sexuality – Call Me By Your Name focuses on the excitement of your first love, while Love, Simon focuses on what it means to be young and queer in 2018.
Crazy Rich Asians, based off of a book by Kevin Kwan that was intended to "introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience", follows the relationship of Rachel Chu and Nick Young as they travel to Singapore so Rachel can meet Nick’s traditional, and very rich, family. It was so much more than a cheesy romance film; it was the first of this sort of American film to feature an all Asian cast – the film provided a rare opportunity for Asians to be seen as more than their race. According to certain Asian-American writers at Time, “For us, it felt almost groundbreaking to recognize scenes of our lives so rarely seen in popular culture.” While I cannot directly speak to that sentiment, I can promise you the film was a masterpiece. Because the filmmakers thoroughly developed all aspects of the movie, specifically the portrayal of East Asian culture, I can say Crazy Rich Asians was one of the best romance films I’ve seen in a long time. I wasn’t the minority represented onscreen, and I didn’t need to be – it felt good to see other minorities shine and thrive.
This year brought a transformation within the Children’s genre. Fortunately, the films of this year included complex plots and diverse characters – anyone who enjoyed the original A Wrinkle in Time and Incredibles 2 had high expectations for the remake and the sequel.
A Wrinkle in Time attempted to transform a timeless story with the latest in technology and big-name actors. The filmmakers also decided to cast Storm Reid, a half-Black actress, as Meg Murry – the film’s protagonist – which I admit was game-changing for any kid who, like me, was accustomed to only seeing white kids in these sort of stories. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a film is diverse if it isn’t good. A Wrinkle In Time is about Meg Murry, her younger brother, Charles Wallace, and classmate, Calvin O’Keefe, while they travel across the universe to find Meg and Charles’ father, who has been missing for 10 years. I admit I had high expectations for the film, but I still can’t commend it for much – the storyline dragged on and the film lacked any sort of significant emotion.
For a lot of us, Incredibles 2 was extremely nostalgic – the current generation of high school and college students were children when the original was released, 15 years prior. According to Common Sense Media, “This is the rare sequel that lives up to everyone's massive expectations and delivers as much of the joy ... as the original.” Incredibles 2 continues to follow the Parr family, Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack, while they attempt to lead normal lives in spite of their individual powers. The film was exactly what I needed, amongst the chaos of the year it offered me a moment to breath with its classic, well-worked simplicity.
There was a number shows that premiered and made a name for themselves in 2018 – grown•ish and One Day at a Time tackled the turmoil that 2018 was with a striking poignancy.
Grown•ish, a spin-off of the hit TV show Black•ish, follows Zoey Johnson as she navigates college experiences and carries with it the best parts of the 80s classic The Breakfast Club. Grown•ish is a perfect representation of what I want from shows about “growing up” in this era and as a part of this topsy-turvy generation. The series features Zoey’s new friends – labeled by The New York Times as an activist (Aaron), an artist (Luka), and so on. However, the characters proved to be so much more than their initial labels. According to The New York Times, “The show combines universal relationship comedy with social commentary.” Grown•ish addresses topics including relationships, sexuality, politics, and social justice in a way that appeals to a largely millennial audience. You can label Black•ish as a family show, but Grown•ish is perfect for us, anyone who has grown up in the 2000s. I found that the show touches on the commonalities in the experiences of this generation in a comfortable and hilarious way. The second season is set to be released on January 2, 2019.
One Day at a Time (remake of the original of 1975 version) features a Cuban-American family in Los Angeles. According to The New Yorker, “If the show breathes new life into archetypes, it also succeeds in turning abstract political issues into deeply personal experiences. What more could a sitcom do?” The show, considering its roots, did more than it had to. I found that the original lacked intersectionality in its approach to family values. But the remake, with a continued focus on family dynamics, touched on Latinx-American identity, immigration, and LGBT rights. One Day at a Time is messy, honest, and unapologetic, and to me, those qualities made it stand out from the countless other family shows out there. The third season is set to be released sometime in 2019.
(Recommended if you like Lady Bird, To All The Boys I Loved Before, or Sierra Burgess is A Loser)
8th Grade depicts the everyday experiences of 13-year-old Kayla, in part through her Youtube series “Kayla’s Korner”. This movie was raw and light-hearted; 8th Grade says something all too real about what it’s like to be a teenage girl who is a part of a generation where self-love has become a trend. In the realm of teenage films, I have seen very few that are honest about what it’s like to be a teenager – especially in today’s society. When you’re a teenager, everything matters (or at least seems to) – what grades you get, who your friends are, where you buy your clothes, etc – and that is very overwhelming, especially when social media factors in. I think 8th Grade does a marvelous job of painting a picture of teenage life on an everyday basis, which is why it is a film everybody should watch.
(Recommended if you like The Hate U Give)
BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee, is based on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir. Stallworth was a Black Colorado Springs police officer who successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth’s undercover police work, aided by an immeasurable assist from his white partner, Flip Zimmerman, helped expose and quash a planned attack. I found the film’s focus on racism at its most extreme served as a well-timed reminder, directed to our society which often considers racism a “thing of the past.” Because of the performances of John David Washington and Adam Driver and the balance in attitude and content throughout the film, I found BlacKkKlansman bold and refreshing.
(Recommended if you like Call Me By Your Name, Beautiful Boy, or Moonlight)
Jared, the son of a Baptist pastor in a small, conservative town, is told by almost everyone around him that there is something wrong with him. When Jared is forced to come out to his parents, they register him to a conversion program. I appreciate the way Boy Erased centered on the so-called war between religion and sexuality and, with Jared’s narrative, made the concept personal. I found that, with the narratives of fictitious LGBT+ youth as its platform, the film well explains the inner workings of the anti-LGBT+ systems that are still present in our society.
(Recommended if you like Boy Erased or Lady Bird)
The central character, Stevie, in an attempt to escape the chaos of his home life, finds himself in the company of a group of older kids who spend all of their time skateboarding. I love mid90s because of the way it explores the cultural intricacies of the 90s. The growing obsession with the 90s (and other decades of the 20th century) defines our generation which makes sense because every generation is shaped by the ones before it. I find this movie’s focus on a group of “troubled” teenagers, who escape the turmoils of everyday life by skateboarding, edgy and fresh – perfect for the latest generation of “troubled” teenagers.
To All The Boys I Loved Before
(Recommended if you like The Edge of Seventeen, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, or Love, Simon)
To All The Boys I Loved Before, a Netflix original film, follows Lara Jean as she deals with the aftermath when the love letters she has written over the years are sent out. Whenever I want to watch something that’s calming, I put on To All The Boys I Loved Before; it’s simple and sweet. I find that the film is a well-done collection of the little moments – developing a crush, learning to drive, and a sibling leaving for college. When you need it, To All The Boys I Loved Before is a reminder that there is so much good to life, if you are open to it.
(Recommended if you like Big Mouth or grown•ish)
This heartfelt comedy follows Sam, a teenager on the autism spectrum. Sam’s newfound sense of independence challenges his father, mother, and sister to rethink what they want for him and what they want for themselves. ATypical is the kind of show I can watch on repeat; I find that with an awkward, fun, and honest approach makes ATypical lovable and relatable in unexpected ways. The way the characters mesh with each other remind me of my own everyday interactions, and that gets rid of any distance I thought I would feel.
(Recommended if you like Ozark, Twilight Zone, or Castle Rock)
Black Mirror adopts an anthology format to tell separate narratives with a different cast for each of its episodes. The narratives all come together as they attempt to answer the question: What dangerous, depraved, and immoral depths could humans sink to if technology takes over? I find that the lack of exaggeration and dramatization throughout the series makes Black Mirror all the more frightening. The show provides a break from reality in ways I didn’t expect.
Dear White People
(Recommended if you like grown•ish)
Based on the 2014 movie with the same name, Dear White People follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college. These students face a landscape of cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism, and the slippery slope of politics. I find that Dear White People eloquently speaks out on the systematic mistreatment of minorities, with a focus in private institutions. The way the series addresses, and finds humor in, everyday encounters with race is beyond satisfying. With its complex characters and a multi-dimensional plot, Dear White People is my favorite television show.
(Recommended if you like Freaks & Geeks or Mid90s)
It’s the 1990s in Boring, Oregon, and two groups of ambitious outcasts, the audio/visual club and the drama club, try to brave the ups and downs of teenage life in a world without 21st-century technology. Although the show was ridiculed for its similarities to Freaks & Geeks, it proved itself to me with how it upholds all the best qualities of the 90s – the music, the style, and the angst. These teenagers all embody of high school stereotypes, but they do it with earnestness. I think the show manages to provide commentary on what it means to be a teenager in a way that’s applicable to any decade.
The Get Down
(Recommended if you like Mid90s)
The Get Down documents the emergence of a new art form. The show is set in the late 70s. New York is at the brink of bankruptcy and disco is dying out. The rise of hip-hop is told through the lives, art, music, and dance of a group of youth in the South Bronx. I thoroughly commend how The Get Down pushes you to find art in everything and how the show labels arts as a necessary part of life. With a well-balanced focus, I think it has something for everyone – I never once got bored watching it. In every way, the show is beautiful; these characters are so passionate and intense that I can’t help but want the world for them.