By Bill Mefford
I love films both for the entertainment value as well as for the value of illumination, even transformation. This is what stories can do and this is what good films can do. So, below I am making two lists: the first, films that had high entertainment value along with some illumination, and the second list those films lacking much of either value.
Of course, what makes these kinds of lists fun is that you will have different films added to one or both lists. So, feel free to disagree and post below what were on your thumbs up or thumbs down list. This is one debate where there are no right or wrong answers and no one will get angry! My only regret is that I did not get to watch more films this year. But here they are!
Thumbs UP! (though in no particular order):
The Post - Hard to go wrong when you have Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks in the same story and this film does not go wrong. The film depicts the struggle that The Washington Post's Katharine Graham, who also was the first female publisher of a major newspaper, has with her sexist board of directors and then the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, which exposed massive lies and cover-ups by the US government regarding the Vietnam War running three decades back. The careers of Graham and Ben Bradlee, her editor, are put on the line. Thinly veiled in this story are the similarities to today with the choice media are facing between bowing to White House pressure and their visceral hatred towards the press, and the need to bring truth to the light. We can only hope that our press today will follow the lead Mrs. Graham and Bradlee showed then.
Love Simon - The film tells the story of seventeen year-old Simon Spier and his struggle to come out as gay while dealing with the pressures of friends and family, and even classmates who would use his secret against him. He is in love with another student he does not know who he is and his secret ultimately proves more unbearable to keep than to tell others, especially for those closest to him. This is a sweet movie that is made powerful in the fact that it is being lived out in communities all over the country.
Blindspotting - A low-budget film that was one of this year’s best by far. It tells the story of Collin who must make it through his final three days of probation while his rowdy best friend, Miles, makes life unusually challenging in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. To add even more to a story filled with issues of race and white privilege, Collin witnesses a police shooting and he must come to grips with who he is and who he wants to be in a world that is largely out of his control. An immensely powerful film I cannot recommend strongly enough.
Black Klansman - Spike Lee is back! One of my favorite directors gives us a powerful, smart, and very funny story, based on the true story of Detective Ron Stallworth in Colorado Springs (of all places!) when he infiltrates and exposes the highest leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth is, of course, black and this film is filled with statements on not only how violent racism was moving mainstream in the 1970s, but how it has become so common place that it occupies the White House today. A must-see film.
Fahrenheit 11/9 - Though this did not get as much of a look as Fahrenheit 9/11, this is so much better. In short, Michael Moore takes down donald trump, and he does it with his usual comedic flair. This really was well done and Moore does better with this film because he does not just take down trump, he shows the ridiculousness of our entire political construction.
The Hate U Give - One of the best films not only of this year, but of at least the last five. It’s the story of Starr Carter who grows up in a poor neighborhood, but yet attends the wealthy private school in town and so must do what so many people of color must do: straddle two worlds. It is in this straddling when she witnesses a police murder of her best friend from her neighborhood. This is when she finds out who her friends really are and especially who she is. This is an absolute must-see.
Bohemian Rhapsody - I am not much of a Queen fan (though I am more of a fan after the film than before), but I loved this story/tribute to Freddie Mercury and the band. Queen purists will note a few of the historical inaccuracies, but all in all, this movie shows the performance and musical genius of the band and the hidden demons Mercury had to fight to find solace. A great film to see still.
Widows - Artistically, a great film to see. Story-wise, not horrible. Intriguing, but not entirely compelling.
Vice - This is the movie I wish Michael Moore had made about the Bush/Cheney years. This is a total takedown of the man who is most responsible for a horribly baseless war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, codified the use of torture, and tore down the economy. This film did more than take Cheney and Bush down; it taught its audience how those in power came to be in those positions. I just hope we learn.
Molly’s Game - I will watch almost anything with Jessica Chastain as she is one of the best actresses I have seen, and she shone in this one. A good story of a former Olympic skier who ends up running a high stakes and illegal poker game. The film is a little contrived at times and the West Wing-like banter becomes a little old after a couple of hours, but Chastain, along with Idris Elba, make this potentially boring film more than watchable.
Thumbs DOWN! (though, still, in no particular order):
Red Sparrow - A troubling story line that somehow a special child comes out of a sadistic form of intelligence training, while still being very sexy. Yeah, I am already lost. This is a rather empty story that is supposed to be lost in the sexual appeal of Jennifer Lawrence. Not horrible, but definitely not good.
Deadpool 2 - OK, I might be the only person I know who really did not care for this film. But I am frankly tired of seeing super hero movies. I liked the original Deadpool because it was a very different kind of superhero movie, and there are glimpses of that in this one, but not enough. No more super hero movies for ten years. Give us a break.
Tag - This was the best of the worst films I saw. It was sweet, but, in the end, too dumb to be good. It did help immensely that it was based on a true story, but more truthful would have been better.
Ant-Man and the Wasp - Again, say it with me, can we wait for ten years before we have to see yet another super hero movie? The original was much better than this and I honestly never really understood why this movie was needed. I don’t think it was needed.
The Equalizer 2 - Denzel Washington is the best actor I have ever seen in films. It is too bad he is wasting himself on these angry-old-man-revenge flicks he keeps making. The movie Flight is easily his last best film and we need more like that one from him. This was beyond disappointing.
White Boy Rick - This had the germ of a good story - early 80s in Detroit a teenage boy becomes a mover as a drug dealer and then later an FBI informant. But the story breaks down in too many subplots that get confused and mangled together. By the end, I was left wanting to know more about the time and what happened to the community even more than Rick and his family. Like too many films, a lot of potential, but falling short.