Staff Picks 2018: Biggest Surprise
Sometimes you go into a movie with low expectations, or maybe even no expectations at all. But even those of us with the strongest intuition have the capacity to be surprised. These are the Besties Staff Picks for the Biggest Surprises of 2018.
If the age of rom-com guilt is over, then we all owe a huge ‘thank you’ to films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a Netflix produced YA adaptation that somehow managed to be good despite those descriptors. Yes, the rom-com drought is over— if it ever even existed— and the long-beloved genre has stepped back into the spotlight of acceptability. We’ve been missing the quality romances of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan for so long that many thought the genre extinct; though there have been entries into the category since the rom-com renaissance of the 80s and 90s, there has been little since of the same caliber, taste, and refinement. But extinct is a very permanent term--dormant, would perhaps, be better. In a year that also saw the release of Crazy Rich Asians and Love, Simon, it seems Hollywood has finally realized that we still crave rom-coms— as long as they actually reflect who we are today. The zeitgeist is queer, Asian, and interested in more than tall white men. We are desperate for a variety of content, as long as it’s quality. You may wonder, with the other rom-com successes of this year, why To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the biggest surprise. Well, in a year where Netflix released The Kissing Booth, a wildly problematic rom-com that deserves its own category: Movies We Wish Would Just Disappear Forever, it seemed like a long-shot that Netflix could actually tap into something relevant, heartfelt, and sweet. But perhaps in the hands of director Susan Johnson and writer Sofia Alvarez, rather than Kissing Booth’s Vince Marcello, the difference was inevitable. Long live diverse stories from women filmmakers! —Emily Figueroa
I went into American Animals without a clue as to what it was about or how it had been received; I hadn’t seen any trailers or marketing. Stylistically unique, American Animals finds Layton mining his creative depths and combining his fiction narrative with a documentary format to create a wholly original film. This film manages to stand out from everything else released in 2018 (or any other year, for that matter.) Its genre-blending, unreliable narration, and intensity elevate American Animals and cement it as one of the year’s absolute best and most unique films. —Michael Murphy
I didn’t want to like Beautiful Boy (director Felix Van Groeningen’s take on David Sheff’s memoir chronicling his futile attempts to save his son from addiction). In general, Hollywood tends to valorize movies about hard topics like substance abuse, but I didn’t want to participate in exploitation, nor did I want to leave the theater patting myself on the back. The conversation around such movies tends to slant more towards the actors than the characters, anyway: “Timmy was so convincing at playing a downward spiral! I wonder how he prepped?” But I didn’t. Maybe it was Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell’s careful (not indulgent) acting. Maybe it was the muddy timeline of the screenplay (written by Van Groeningen and former addict Luke Davies), which points to the nonlinear nature of healing itself. Either way, Beautiful Boy proved me wrong by embodying a respectful portrayal of an urgent issue. —Bessie Rubenstein
The movie that was the biggest surprise for me in 2018 was Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. I find that musical movies can sometimes be overdone and annoying (there is such a thing as too much singing). Furthermore, I was not the biggest fan of the first Mamma Mia, as I found the storyline to be depressing and, quite frankly, a bit strange (I don’t entirely understand the appeal of a bunch of people hanging around a Greek island and singing songs from the 70’s). But despite all this, I was thoroughly impressed by the second Mamma Mia. Lily James is adorable to watch as “young Donna,” as she succeeds at being extremely bubbly, carefree, and, surprisingly, quite a good singer. I found myself smiling throughout her entire performance. I think Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again solved the problem I had with the first one— I needed to know the backstory to Meryl Streep’s character. Now that I know it, I think I have a greater appreciation for the musical as a whole. —Emma Steiner
If you had told me earlier this year that a movie in the “Screenlife” genre (where the entire movie takes place on phone and computer screens) would make me cry, I would’ve told you to go back to bed. But Searching did make me cry... in the first five minutes. What followed that first five minutes was a unique and engaging thriller, bolstered by a stand-out performance from John Cho. The first mainstream Hollywood thriller to be headlined by an Asian actor, Searching fully utilizes its 21st-Century conceit, elevating it past your more mediocre Screenlife entries like the Skype-esc horror flick, Unfriended. Searching follows David (Cho), a widower whose teen daughter mysteriously disappears. Using all the technology at his disposal (it’s less corny than it sounds), David takes it upon himself to decipher his daughter’s digital footprint and solve her disappearance. In his directorial debut, 27-year-old Aneesh Chaganty proves that there can be a big market for diverse casts and original ideas. From a reported budget of only $1 million, Searching ended up grossing $73 million worldwide— a huge win for Sony/Screen Gems. My biggest hope is that Chaganty and Cho’s success will lead to more opportunities for fresh cinematic voices, both in Hollywood and independent film. —David Merkle
To check out our upcoming Staff Picks— including Biggest Disappointment, Worst Movie of the Year, and Best Movie Nobody Saw— check the Staff Picks 2018 page under the Opinion tab!