Top Ten Films of the Year

by Dennis Campbell
Dennis Campbell, Willowick Circulation Clerk

Hello everyone, well, it is finally December and that means we have been treated to a whole year’s worth of movies. Unlike previous years I can honestly say that I enjoyed the majority of films I saw in theaters and was ecstatic when I found out others were being released. Much like the list I wrote in June, this list will only contain movies that have been released to the library system this year. As such, movies like A Star is Born or Can You Ever Forgive Me? are not eligible, though both are fantastic in their own right. So, without further delay, here are the Top Ten Films of the Year.

1. BlacKKKlansman:  Of all the movies on this list, I was the most excited for this one. BlacKKKlansman is the most recent entry to Director Spike Lee’s filmography, and personally I feel it is his best work in almost two decades. The film is based off the memoir of Ron Stallworth of the same name. In the movie Stallworth (John David Washington) plays a detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department. The majority of the early scenes show him going through the interview process and being asked if he is okay being the first African American officer for the department. Once hired in, he is quickly promoted to doing undercover work and teams up with Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as they try to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan. It is a terrific movie that manages to be true to life and incredibly tense in several spots. While Washington and Driver give two phenomenal performances, the whole cast does a great job as well and you are never left feeling more could be done. If there is one movie you should watch that was released this year to the library, it should be this one.

2. Molly’s Game: This is a holdover from my list that was published in June. At the time, I listed it as the best film released in 2018, and even six months later has continued to hold up against stiff competition. Much like BlacKKKlansman before it, Molly’s Game is based off of a memoir that provides powerful source material. Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a world class skier who unfortunately has her career cut short. In the fallout of the accident, she moves to California in an attempt to unwind and enjoy life. While there, she discovers the world of underground poker and begins working as a secretary for one of the ring leaders there. After a few months Molly is fired, but has gained enough information to start her own empire. Acting alongside Chastain is Idris Elba who stars as Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. In a film with brilliant performances, I feel Elba stands out as after one scene, I felt compelled to go back and watch his monologue again. Sitting behind the camera is first time director Aaron Sorkin, and while this is his first time calling the shots, he has had an illustrious career as a screenwriter. With that nugget of information I had high hopes that the source material would be well adapted and I was not disappointed. Molly’s Game is a must if you are searching for a good movie this holiday season.

3. Blade Runner 2049: Few movies have captured my imagination as Ridley Scott’s 1982 Cyber-Punk classic, Blade Runner. The world which was created and how real it felt has always held a special place in my heart. Not to mention that Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances ever in it. With that in mind, when I found out there was going to be a sequel to the film I was apprehensive at best. However, when I found out that the film was going to be written by Hampton Fancher, who penned the original Blade Runner, directed by Dennis Villeneuve who gave us Arrival (2016) and Sicario (2015), I began to feel more at east. At least the project was in good hands. Thankfully, the movie turned out to be a success and I am of the opinion that Blade Runner 2049 is superior to the original. Starting off the movie is the newest Replicant to the series Agent K, played by Ryan Gosling. He is originally tasked with tracking down older models and killing them. Shortly after his first mission though a much more serious threat surfaces. Unbelievably, it is discovered that Replicants can become pregnant. This knowledge threatens to destabilize the system at play, and K’s is then directed to hunt down and kill the child. Along the way we are treated to some of the most amazing visuals in recent memory, and a soundtrack that adds incredible tension to seemingly mundane scenes. Harrison Ford and Jared Leto star as well and make this movie worth watching all throughout the year.

4. Leave No Trace: If we are strictly talking about critical reception, this is the best film on the list. With an astounding 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Leave No Trace is one of the best films of the year. In one of the more heartfelt pictures to be released recently, we follow a father and daughter, Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) as they try to survive in an Oregon State park. Will is an Iraqi veteran who suffers from PTSD and suffers from setbacks whenever he is in society, hence why he chooses a life of seclusion. Through a series of difficult events however, he and his daughter are discovered and are put into Social Services. From there it becomes a struggle to adjust to everyday society as Tom discovers a whole new life she never knew could exist, while Will fights through his PTSD. Universal praise has been showered upon the two for their performances and I can see why. You can feel the genuine relationship the two characters have, and when one person is hurting you can see the pain in the other’s eyes. The father/daughter dynamic reminded me of what the Glass Castle tried to do well, but in my opinion failed. If you are looking for a compelling family drama that will motivate you as well, be sure to watch Leave No Trace.

5. Unsane: The first Horror movie on the list, Unsane is a movie that instantly intrigued me the moment I received trailers for it well over a year prior to its release. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Erin Brockovich, Oceans Franchise), his latest entry is a deep psychological thriller that focuses on Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) who moves away to escape a stalker. Unfortunately, even as she moves away memories of her interactions with the stalker still haunt her and Sawyer sees him wherever she goes. Looking for help, Sawyer schedules and appointment with a counselor at Highland Creek Behavioral Center. While there, she unknowingly signs a 24 hour release which commits her. While committed an insurance scheme is discovered, and Claire’s stalker has seemingly followed her to the hospital. It is an intense film that toes the line between reality and fiction.

6. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women:  I find it a little odd that of the two live action Wonder Woman movies to be released in the past two years, the best one has very little to do with the character. Plot wise, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women focuses on the people who invented the character, specifically their personal lives. Told primarily in flashback, as the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), defends his creation to the Child Study Association of America who are trying to censor his work on the grounds that it is obscene. As the story is told we are introduced to his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) who is a teacher at Harvard. The two are working on inventing the lie detector. Slowly, William and Elizabeth become acquainted with a student by the name of Olvie Byrne (Bella Heathcote) who aides them on their invention. Running alongside this plot is William’s desire to incorporate his DISC Assessment (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness) into his lessons. He finds that through erotic comic strips he is able to teach this, and uses that as the foundation for the Wonder Woman comic. This is far more of a character study than it is a super hero film, so keep that in mind as you check-it-out, but it will still be worth the viewing.

7. Eighth Grade: If you’re looking for a coming of age story, then there is no finer example this year than Eighth Grade. Written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, this is his first time behind the camera. It is a film that explores deep issues such as teenage anxiety and depression as we follow thirteen year old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she goes through the final week of eighth grade. From the very beginning we are shown how isolated she is, preferring to spend her time on social media rather than interacting with other people. Even when she attends a pool party early on in the film, it is evident she would rather be anywhere else. To make matters worse, her anxiety reaches an all-time high as she suffers an anxiety attack before she even makes it to the pool. We follow her life as Kayla plans to attend high school, she enrolls in a shadowing program and actually befriends her tutor. Over the course of the film we laugh, cry and grow along with Kayla. It is a touching film that teaches powerful lessons and is an entertaining watch as well.

8. I, Tonya: There is a very good ESPN documentary called The Price of Gold, which is an hour long story about the Nancy Kerrigan attack. When I first saw it I was so impressed that it inspired me to watch figure skating the next time it was on. A flaw in that documentary is that it does not focus much on the childhood and personal life of Tonya Harding. The vast majority of the movie is spent telling the story of how Tonya grew up, how she escaped her abusive mother only to fall into one abusive relationship after another, and how she persevered to become the best figure skater in the world for a period of time. Starring as Tonya is Margot Robbie and she does an absolutely brilliant job, even if you aren’t interested in the story being told, the movie is worth watching for Robbie’s performance. To compliment her is Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s mother. Her performance has received considerable acclaim, so much so that Golden took home the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. If you are looking for a movie that tells the complete story of Tonya Harding’s life, and not just the Kerrigan attack, then I, Tonya is the movie for you.

9. Novitiate: Very few movies have made feel as if I am physically going through a long journey while watching it, Novitiate is one of those movies. It is the story of young girl, Cathleen (Eliza Mason, Sasha Mason, and Margaret Qualley) who wants to become a nun. We follow her from the age of seven when she is living on a farm in Tennessee, to when she is under the supervision of the strict and old-fashioned Mother Superior (Melissa Leo). Taking place in the 1950s, the Catholic Church is undergoing radical changes and Mother Superior is finding it difficult to cope with the alterations. For six months, Cathleen and twenty other girls study under the tutelage of Mother Superior in the hopes that they can take their vows and become nuns. There are several challenges that all the girls face along the way, with some even losing their faith in God. In the end, only a few remain. While writer and director Maggie Betts has experience with short-films and documentaries, most notably, The Carrier, this is her first feature length film and her talent truly shines. Not only is Novitiate a film that cannot be missed, but future works by Betts are sure to be a must as well.

10. Lady Bird: Coming up with movies for spots one through nine was relatively easy, all I needed to do was figure out the order. But hammering out that final spot is always difficult. I went back and forth between several films, but ultimately I just could not leave off a film that I feel is as close to perfect as you can be. Lady Bird is a period piece about the early 2000s starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson. It is a coming-of-age story that follows Lady Bird and her friends in their final days of high school. The main tension of the movie comes from the relationship Lady Bird has with her mother, Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf) as they often clash over Lady Bird wanting more out of life, rather than appreciating what she already has. Much like Eighth Grade, we grow along with our main character and feel the same emotions she does in each scene. Whenever there is heartbreak I genuinely felt bad as I wanted Lady Bird to succeed. While Ronan and Metcalf deservedly get the majority of the praise for their performances, I feel the best one came from Tracy Letts who plays the father of the household, Larry. His character is several layers deep and suffers the most throughout the film, yet he does his best to keep the family afloat. In the end, he sacrifices not for his own personal gain, but purely for others. I will never forget the first time I saw this film, and if you take the time to watch it as well, I am sure you won’t forget it either.

Until next time.

Dennis Campbell is a Circulation Clerk at the Willowick Library.

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