The Top 12 Movies From 2018 That Every Filmmaker Can Learn From
by Mandi Harrison
2017 was the year I studied story- what made a good story, what made people want to watch, how to put it together. We both, Chris and I, studied films like Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), The Shape of Water, etc. The main thing we discovered was character made the story. It sounds simple, but what makes a character enjoyable or at least captivating enough to watch? (Not likable- empathetic). 2018 was our year for character development. We decided instead of a “best of” list, we’d do a list of some of the movies that were released in 2018 that we have learned the most from. These are the films that we have watched and studied and admired and torn apart and put back together and studied some more. These are movies that any filmmaker can learn from, no matter what your story is about.
dir. Ryan Coogler (Marvel Studios)
Part super hero, part Shakespeare. I’m pretty sure 99% of the world’s population has never slept in a coronation gown on a Tuesday night within the protection of women mascarading in head tats and spears; well, maybe a Brooklyn Jewish boy at a Shabbat feast with mom holding the challah, but that’s beside the point.
The relationships T’Challa has with everyone in his life, whether they are family, friend or foe makes the stakes of who will reign over Wakanda more impactful. It doesn’t matter if one has royal tea with the Dutchess of Cambridge at 3pm, mom made a sick ass greenbean casserole at 3:30pm we need to RSVP to.
dir. Greg Berlanti (20th Century Fox)
Love, Simon is a high school version of A Shop Around The Corner, with a secret love shared through pen pals. The only difference is Simon is struggling to come out to his friends and family in his own way. When the opportunity to tell his story was taken away from him, he had to deal with the consequences of his actions, not with who he actually was. Love, Simon is a great example of cause-and-effect, and having your character be true to who they are, even if they are still figuring that out themselves. Their self-discovery is important to them and it needs to be important to the audience as well.
A Quiet Place
dir. John Krasinski (Paramount Pictures)
A Quiet Place is the perfect example of marrying the right script to the right director to the right cast to the right crew. If any one of them had failed, the entire project would’ve been a disaster. Every little piece of the puzzle needs to fit.
*Note to self: Emily Blunt is a treasure and badass and that has to be recognized.
dir. Ari Aster (A24)
Most protagonists start off in their story not understanding how important their family is, and that is one of the lessons that they learn along the way. The protagonist in Hereditary, Annie, understands and values her family. Annie’s relationships are the driving force for the decisions she makes and the way that she grieves. This is an interesting and empathetic quality for a character to possess; having a character’s love of their family be the driving force of the story opens up more possibilities for storytelling and discovering new themes and avenues.
Sorry To Bother You
dir. Boots Riley (Annapurna Films)
As a social satire, Sorry To Bother You uses its premise to establish a strong enough world for the characters to strongly believe in their reality, otherwise the audience won’t believe it. The protagonist, Cassius, lives in a world where he is not respected because of his skin color, and the things that happen along the course of the story shock him because he is so grounded in his reality. When creating a social satire, you need to have a premise that makes the character say “yes- this seems like it’s the answer to all my problems.” The character needs to believe the world they live in is shitty enough for the premise to seem like the right choice.
dir. Carlos López Estrada (Lionsgate)
Apart from it’s use of poetry, Blindspotting is a great example of supporting characters truly supporting the protagonist’s story. Collin’s goal is to just make it through the last 2 days of his probation without trouble. The supporting characters help him realize why he wants to get through it, other than avoiding prison. His best friend, Miles, tests him at every turn, and his friend’s family supports his theory that there is a different standard for people of color. Every character, every incident, every choice in the movie helps him on HIS journey.
Crazy Rich Asians
dir. Jon M. Chu (Warner Bros Pictures)
How to make a movie with diversity: JUST WRITE IT. Like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Get Out, Crazy Rich Asians is about perspective. The story is so authentic, so obviously made for the Asian community that the niche in which it was placed created a larger audience. This is all due to universal themes hidden in the least likely places… like Eleanor’s terribly folded dumpling.
A Star Is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper (Warner Bros. Pictures)
This is a great example of give and take. The time spent on showing Jackson and Ally together makes the loss of their relationship more effective. The first 30 minutes is spent showing them giving each other what they want and that makes it more heart wrenching when they crush each other. It’s a perfectly orchestrated example of giving your protagonist his or her biggest and worst disaster disguised as their saving grace.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
dir. Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. & Rodney Rothman (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse may appear to be a high-concept super hero movie, but at its heart, it is about an Afro Latino kid who doesn’t want to leave Brooklyn. It feels authentic, lived-in; it’s a fully realized New York and Miles Morales is a fully fleshed-out character. The fact that he’s animated is inconsequential. And the definition of who Spider-Man is is even expanded upon- it’s more than “with great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man is the person who choses to protect his community and loved ones, not out of obligation, but out of love of community. Authenticity and somewhere to belong make your characters stronger.
dir. Tamara Jenkins (Netflix)
BEST FILM OF THE YEAR: There is so much that could be said about Private Life; it’s a great coming of age, a beautiful rite of passage film. But the most interesting thing about the movie is what a powerful protagonist can accomplish in his or her own way. In the entire movie, whatever Rachel says, goes. Her actions cause ripple effects, she plants seeds with her words and actions that effect everything that every character, especially her husband Richard, does. Fingers crossed Kathryn Hahn gets that fifth slot at the Oscars!
dir. Alfonso Cuarón (Netflix)
Simply put, Roma is stunning. It features our favorite performance of the year, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo. Cleo is so complex and nuanced and the changes that take place in her are so delicate. We compare her to the Greek God Hestia, a virgin Goddess of health, architecture, family, home; the order of domesticity.
This film really shows all the small things that women do throughout the day, all the ways that they matter and make a difference without really being noticed. The children that Cleo cares for are shaped by what Cleo and their mother and grandmother do day-to-day. It’s the little moments, small things that make the most impact in your life. Not every change needs to be a grand gesture; small decisions lead to character growth and Roma is exceptional at showing how that’s done.
dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
What originally started as a biopic twenty years ago ended up as a screenplay written to support the director’s vision. The original writer, Deborah Davis, discovered the story of Queen Anne and the two women in competition for her favor and knew it would make a wonderful movie. It took many years, many studio pitches and the movie The Hours being made before it was finally brought to the director, Yorgos. He too saw the potential and brought in another writer, Tony McNamara, to assist with creating a period piece with a modern feel, focusing on character instead of sticking to details. The end result is a story with three strong, incredibly complex and captivating women, who not only control their own destiny, but an entire kingdom. Many films that are based on true stories get bogged down in the little details and lose sight of what is actually the point of the story. The Favourite focuses on these powerhouse women and history is shown along the way.
The thing that all these movies have in common is strong characters and relationships. Having characters that are authentic, that believe in something and who have connections with others is the story. The situations that arise along the way help your character grow. These movies have helped us refine our own characters and we have better stories because of it.