Patch’s Top 10 Films of 2018

2018 was a stellar year for movies. More often than not, I found myself asking the question “Can this year get any better?” after finishing one of the many great films ranging from big blockbusters to upstart independents to non-fiction narratives. Anytime I do a top 10, wrestling with the ones that “didn’t make the cut” makes me feel like a coach that has to cut those players that were great, but just not great enough. That doesn’t negate the films’ impact on me by any means. Sometimes, you just have to make sacrifices. However, I’m not going to completely disregard them, so here are my honorable Top 5 Best of the Rest of 2018.


THE BEST OF THE REST

5. Annihilation
4. Upgrade
3. Green Book
2. Crazy Rich Asians
1. Sierra Burgess is a Loser


 

THE FEATURE FILMS

Now, for the all-star team of films that I chose, I was surprised at how varied my list was. That says so much about how great this year was in film-making. If you are reading this, I hope that you’ve had a chance to see these films, and if not, that this will encourage you to do so.


10. RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET – Sequels can be a high risk/high reward avenue when it comes to franchises. Honestly, I was content with Wreck It Ralph as a stand-alone feature. That story was told. What more needed to be said? Well, apparently, a whole internet’s worth of stories. What the first film did for my love of all things gaming, the sequel successfully pulled off the personification of the world of cyberspace. Not only that, but the message at the heart of Ralph 2 is one that I wasn’t expecting, one that speaks to the importance of what real friendship is.

9. FIRST MAN –  Damien Chazelle + Ryan Gosling + Space = Yes Please. I thought I knew what I was getting when I walked into the theater. Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and From Earth to the Moon are staple space viewings for me. But I walked out of the theater saying, “Wow, that really was about Neil Armstrong.” I thought that I was going to get a movie about space and the guy who first set foot on the moon. Instead I got an intimate portrayal of a man who struggled with the weight of being a father, a husband, and an astronaut, all while dealing with grief over the loss of a child. Any nominations this film get are much deserved, and I hope to see that come awards season.

8. A STAR IS BORN – This was a movie that I had very little interest in. I hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations, and thinking about Lady Gaga in a theatrical performance where she may be out of her element (aka not dressed up as something obnoxious) didn’t give me a lot of hype value. But then I watched the opening performance by director/actor Bradley Cooper, a man who altered his whole persona (voice included) to own this role of Jackson Maine, and I was floored. Then Lady Gaga comes in and completely sells me on her character, Ally, not only with her singing chops (this I knew) but the way in which she and Cooper’s chemistry worked so well. This film did so much in helping me see that beauty and ugliness of a star’s life, how it can change you and turn you into something you aren’t proud of. It also showed me how the love two people have in the midst of that can not only survive, but succeed, and leave a lasting legacy.

7. THE ENDLESS – Imagine a movie that tells you one thing and then about half way through, shouts in your face “Gotcha.” Now imagine if that worked for you. I’ve had experiences like that, where I’m sold on a movies premise and then it completely goes sideways. More often than not, it spoils my movie experience. The Endless just ratcheted it up to another level of enjoyment. It’s drama and sci-fi, two things I love, but packaged together in a way that I have never seen before. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but of any movie on this list, I would say see this as soon as you can.

6. READY PLAYER ONE – Book to movie adaptations can be a slippery slope. I’ve learned to extend a lot more grace as I’ve watched more of these as long as the central plot doesn’t change and characters don’t become inconsistent with who their book counterparts are (I’m looking at you Percy Jackson). But something interesting happened with Ready Player One for me. While those two character traits stayed intact for the most part, the book and movie became two different experiences because of the amount of changes that Spielberg and company implemented. Some will complain that the deviations from the source material detracted from the quality, I would make the opposite observation. The spirit of what the book was trying to do played out on the big screen, and the changes done made so much more sense in that medium. I love being able to have two unique experiences when it comes one of my favorite stories in the last decade.

5. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – Stakes. That’s what seemed to be missing for me in the massive success that is the MCU. Infinity War changed that. Finally, we had real consequences to a universe that has been growing for 10 years. Finally, we had significant sacrifices with the real possibility that some of our favorite heroes have been lost for good. And finally, the MCU gave us a villain that wasn’t as flat as a pancake. Infinity War got my superhero excitement revived and my hope is that Avengers: Endgame finds its way to this list in 2019.

4. THE HATE U GIVE – If I had to give a One Word Takeaway for this film, it would be “honest.” I’ll admit this was a hard watch for me. It’s a movie that finds a way to portray the ugly reality of what our current racial landscape looks like, to walk in the shoes of a young black teenager. To say this film is important is an understatement. It’s a conversation starter and a perspective changer. But it’s also a movie that, in the most subtle way, leaves me with a sense of hope, and it’s an honest hope. It’s a reminder that even though things are ugly and may always be that way, I don’t have to be a part of that ugliness. I can help be a voice that changes the conversation, the perception, and the landscape.

3.  EIGHTH GRADE – This movie and The Hate U Give were neck and neck in my final rankings, and on any given day I could switch the two. Eighth Grade hits all the emotional notes for me, a guy who never cries, enough to start sobbing in the middle of the gym while on a treadmill. I confess that I don’t have a middle school daughter. Currently, I’m experiencing what it’s like to live with a 6 year old boy. But the truths presented in this film still resonate with me. I was that awkward kid trying to figure out who I was, caught in the middle of elementary school and high school. I am also a dad that knows those experiences are going to befall my child one day and as a dad, I can’t even begin to know how to handle it. But that’s okay. This film is a fantastic depiction of the beauty that can exist in the messiness of life. It’s also one that leaves me feeling hopeful as a dad. Gucci!

2. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – My most anticipated movie of 2018 did NOT disappoint. From the animation to the narrative to the adaption of the comic event that, in and of itself is fantastic, this film helmed by the guys behind THE LEGO MOVIE and LEGO BATMAN brought exactly what I expected and more. Spider-Verse gave me, not only a fresh take on Marvel’s flagship character, but also opened the door for more stories that could come from this “spider-verse” and what that could mean for introducing more different kinds of spider characters. I would not be disappointed if I got to experience a new Spider-Verse film every holiday season. Merry Christmas to me.

1. HEARTS BEAT LOUD – Where did THIS film come from? Had it not been for my best friend pointing me to this movie, I wouldn’t have even considered it as a contender. And why would I. Independent movies have a hard time finding their way to my neck of the woods. Fortunately, I was able to see it and my goodness, I hadn’t felt the way I did since Sing Street. It hits all the right notes for me. Drama, family relationships, and music. Lots of great music. Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman make a fantastic father/daughter combination. It’s tender, funny when it needs to be, and doesn’t try to be anything more than it sets out to be. Movies like this, because of their quiet demeanor are not going to get a lot of recognition, and that’s sad. Nonetheless, it topped my list and I will gladly champion it as much as I can.


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and three pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

 

 

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Roma, If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, Upgrade, Burning, A Quiet Place, First Reformed, Widows, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? These are just some of the wonderful movies released this year (out of 171 new films seen, up from 155 last year) which I couldn’t find room for in my Top 20, much less my Top 10, but still heartily recommend you seek out and see. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. Just know that I harbor deep affection for many of the films you see listed earlier in this introduction and also below in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see our awards here). But here at Feelin’ Film we focus on matters of the heart, so my chosen films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2018 – those movies that provided me an incredible emotional experience of some sort. Other things that factor strongly into my ranking are how likely I am to remember a film months down the road and rewatchability, so think of this list as leaning more favorite than best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. This was an incredible year for non-fiction filmmaking and more than one of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined.


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. SCIENCE FAIR – An entertaining, encouraging, and essential spotlight on some of the bright young minds that will be responsible for innovations and research that dictate the future of humanity. This inspirational, feel-good documentary follows a handful of brilliant multi-ethnic teenagers from around the world as they compete at the annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the “Olympics of science fair”, and is a heartfelt celebration of both their drive to learn and the parents and teachers who support their ambition.

4. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – I knew very little about Fred Rogers, the iconic and innovative television personality, before seeing this story about his life. His heart for children and unwavering hope to see every person loved and respected for who they are, as well as his sense of ministry and passion for child development, led to an incredible career of service that the world sorely needed. It was a joy to learn about his life through those who knew him and a reminder that the world could sure use a solid dose of Mister Rogers again today.

3. MINDING THE GAP – Incredibly personal story of three skateboarding friends, one of which is documenting their lives over the course of many years Boyhood-style. The film takes unexpected turns in dealing with the realities of absentee fathers, the challenges of parenting, and domestic abuse, but the honesty and courage of director Bing Liu and his friends throughout the process creates an experience that is extremely important and potentially life-changing for viewers.

2. THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD – An immersive documentary experience like nothing that has ever been made before. What Peter Jackson has done with previously unseen archival footage from the Imperial War Museum, restoring and colorizing it, then combining it with recorded interviews of the very soldiers who lived through World War I, is truly stunning and deeply intimate. The film is nothing less than a triumphant tribute to those who served and an impressive technical marvel that sets a new standard for the kind of storytelling that can be achieved in 2018 and beyond.

1. FREE SOLO – Real, raw, and intense as it gets. This story of Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to ever free solo climb (that means with no ropes, y’all) Yosemite National Park’s 3,200 foot high El Capitan wall is stripped of Hollywood special effects, stuntmen, and safety measures, creating a truly unique voyeuristic experience. World-class photographer Jimmy Chin’s camerawork is amazing but it’s the intimacy of getting to know Alex, his girlfriend, and fellow climbers that makes this documentary truly special. This deeper connection with Alex as a person also makes watching his final ascent one of the most truly nail-bitingly stressful things I have ever witnessed. This film additionally inspired me to get back outdoors and commune with nature, so it impacted me in a potentially long-lasting way. (Hear my interview with 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year & subject of Free Solo Alex Honnold in Minisode 53 here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. GREEN BOOK – (Hear our discussion about Green Book in Episode 138 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – (Hear our discussion about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in Episode 140 here.)

18. ISLE OF DOGS 

17. SEARCHING – (Hear our discussion about Searching in Minisode 51 here.)

16. INCREDIBLES 2 – (Hear our discussion about Incredibles 2 in Episode 114 here.)

15. SHOPLIFTERS

14. ANNIHILATION – (Hear our discussion about Annihilation in Episode 099 here.)

13. CREED II – (Hear our discussion about Creed II in Episode 137 here.)

12. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT – (Hear our discussion about Mission: Impossible – Fallout in Episode 120 here.)

11. EIGHTH GRADE – (Hear our discussion about Eighth Grade in Minisode 48 here.)


10. THE HATE U GIVE – I was a complete wreck watching this film from start to finish. It provides perspectives on police violence and race that you just can’t get without intimately knowing people who’ve lived through the kind of experiences these characters do, and does so through expert filmmaking, performances, score, and script. It’s eye-opening, heartbreaking, and evocative. It is also entertaining in stretches, but engaging with the complex thematic material is challenging. The emotional experience I had watching The Hate U Give was likely the most powerful one I had all year, and if there is one film that I find vitally important enough to suggest families see it with their teenagers, this is the one.

 

9. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – We waited 10 years for this and the historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing, lending itself to multiple viewings and deeper analysis. Despite being 2.5 hours long, I never once felt that length, as the film hurtled me along toward an inevitable tragedy. I was shocked that Infinity War managed to live up to its incredible hype. It was as entertaining and emotional as a superhero film has ever been and sucked me back into MCU fandom right as I was starting to fall away from it from fatigue. (Hear our discussion about Avengers: Infinity War in Episode 107 here.)

 

8. THE RIDER – This Western slice-of-life story about real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau wrestling with what he wants versus what is best for him plays out in ways that are both painful and touching. Director Chloé Zhao’s choice to have the film acted by the actual Jandreau family added a layer of realism and created a level of personal connection to the characters that may not have been reachable otherwise. The film features a beautiful score and my favorite cinematography of the year. It is both a moving piece of storytelling and cinematic achievement that I won’t soon forget. (Hear me discuss The Rider with J.D. on InSession Film Podcast here.)

 

7. FIRST MAN – From the pulse-pounding opening scene, seeing this film in IMAX was an extraordinary, unique, and stunningly immersive cinematic experience. Damien Chazelle’s manner of storytelling, keeping the focus centered on one man and letting us experience Neil’s journey through both the intimacy of his personal life and the exhilarating flight challenges that give him purpose, was incredibly impactful. The performances and production design are phenomenal, but the technical mastery of this picture’s flight sequences is unlike anything I’d ever seen. Likewise, the sound design was so intense and score so awe-inspiring that you could feel them in your bones and soul. Chazelle’s film is breathtaking, while also being a fantastic history lesson, and is definitely both the best biopic of 2018 and one of the best films ever made about the space program. (Hear our discussion about First Man in Episode 131 here.)

6. HEARTS BEAT LOUD – Hearts Beat Loud is not just the witty title of this third feature film from Brett Haley, but also a prophetic description of the physiological response it evokes when I watch it. Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons are stellar as a father and daughter bonding over a shared love of music, dealing with his mid-life crisis of sorts and her impending departure for college. The catchy tunes they create bring out the feels but it’s the thoughtful, realistic story about coping with the challenges that life brings us that keeps me emotionally invested throughout this charming, heartwarming exploration of parenthood, love, and facing the future. (Hear our discussion about Hearts Beat Loud in Episode 129 here.)

 

5. A STAR IS BORN – The first act of this film is a mesmerizing display of immersive, emotional storytelling and song, and one of the top five or so sections of any film in 2018. What Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have created here in this 4th retelling of the classic Hollywood tale is not only the best version but also one of the most entertaining, memorable films of the year. Its songs and performances, its triumphs and tragedy, have grown on me with every viewing thus far, and the deeper my emotional connection gets the more closely I hold this film in my heart. (Hear our episode about A Star is Born in Episode 130 here.)

 

4. READY PLAYER ONE – My expectations for this film adaptation of a favorite book were sky high, and somehow the master of the adventure movie himself, Steven Spielberg, delivered. Seeing the OASIS come to life before my eyes had me in awe. I love the visual effects, the constant references that gamers and pop culture addicts like myself eat up, and the new version of a beloved story that stands on its own as equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. This film, like the book it is based on, was created with a very specific geeky target audience in mind. I am that audience and this film is a new favorite, bound to be joyfully revisited year after year. (Hear our discussion about Ready Player One in Episode 103 here.)

 

3. AQUAMAN – Do you remember the moment when you became a fan of something? My favorite superhero of all-time is Batman, and seeing Michael Keaton on the big screen is what kicked off a nearly 30-year love affair with the caped crusader. I also cannot forget the feeling inside me when I first witnessed Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I enjoyed the books before that, but seeing them realized in a cinematic way is what cemented my extreme fandom. Well, this year that happened again, and came from a completely unexpected place. Aquaman is a combination of things that I love. It is an underwater Star Wars, with the visual world-building of Tron: Legacy and Avatar, plus an adventurous quest for a relic a la an Uncharted video game, and topped off with epic Lord of the Rings-like battles. I had little to no knowledge of the character prior to this film, but I fell hard for the origin story of this king torn between two natures, wrestling with guilt, familial conflict, and mercy. The visuals, the score, the performances, the costumes, the amazing action, and the campy way in which this epic tale is constructed fit together perfectly for me. Thanks to this film, I am now an Aquaman fan and riding this rare wave of pure bliss as far as it will take me.

 

2. BLINDSPOTTING –  Rarely have I ever been been so floored by a film. This movie gave me one of the most emotionally visceral cinematic experiences that I’ve had this year, leaving me thoroughly exhausted and in need of both a hug and a nap. The performances by Diggs and Casal are phenomenal. The script, which the two friends/stars spent years developing, is the best of the year and brings absolute fire in every scene. There is so much heart in this funny, thought-provoking, entertaining picture that perfectly expresses a relevant rage about such topics as police violence, gentrification, post-traumatic stress, and more. The battle between #1 and #2 was very, very close, and I suspect that Blindspotting is the type of film whose genius ability to address these topics in an honest but healthy way will only be appreciated more as time passes.

 

1. PADDINGTON 2 – “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” Little did I know walking into a theater in early January that I would be seeing my #1 film of the year. The aforementioned quote is the most memorable line of dialogue from any movie in 2018. It, and many other wonderful pieces of Aunt Lucy’s advice, have stuck with me all year long. Technically the film is marvelous. Its flawless blending of live-action and CGI is special. The colorful, symmetrical cinematography is so vibrant and alive that it bursts off of the screen. No other film was quite as perfect a blend of artistic excellence in filmmaking, lovely performances, and emotional significance for me. In a world that often gives us plenty of reason to frown, Paddington brings kindness, hopefulness and pure delight. (Hear our discussion about Paddington 2 in Episode 112 here.)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 131: First Man

This week we are talking about one of our most anticipated films of the year and we are so thrilled that it did not disappoint. We both resonated with Damien Chazelle’s telling of Neil Armstrong’s story and discuss why the blending of drama and technically brilliant action sequences worked perfectly for us.

What We’ve Been Up To  0:01:17

(Patrick – Sierra Burgess if a Loser)
(Aaron  Guest Appearance  on Reel World Theology talking A Star is Born, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Basketball: A Love Story)

First Man Review – 0:15:18

The Connecting Point – 1:08:39

 

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What We Learned This Week: October 7-13

LESSON #1: DAMIEN CHAZELLE IS A PRODIGY— We have seen young and fresh directors start out white hot and flame out.  For example, Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 25 and never matched high creative mark with the rest of his career.  With First Man asserting itself as an entirely different scale, scope, and class of film compared to Whiplash and La La Land, no one can call Chazelle a one-hit wonder or a flash in the pan.  He is a mere 33 years old and is primed to possibly have his third consecutive film be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Wes Anderson can’t say that and neither can Christopher Nolan.  What Chazelle is doing with his craft and talent is quickly sprinting ahead of his peers and contemporaries.  It’s boggling to imagine what he can accomplish before he’s 43 or 53.  Projecting this guy’s career requires something stronger than the Hubble Telescope.

LESSON #2: IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, JOIN THEM— Following the lead of Disney, AT&T and Warner Bros. have announced their intention to launch WarnerMedia streaming service to compete with Disney’s new platform and the existing giants of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.  The strong business reason is there: skip paying a competitor licensing fees to host your content when you can do it yourself.  WB has the library depth to fill a service between their own brand and their HBO and Turner holdings.  As always, the success will depend on price point.  Make it competitive and attractive and people will come.  People like paying for one-stop-shop convenience and, by the time they pay up for access to Disney, will people want to add one more service and one more hassle?  I predict in a few years this column will have a future lesson that reads “The old adage of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ doesn’t always work” because either Disney or Warner Bros. (or both) will pull back because they are not making their desired subscription numbers.  Time will tell.

LESSON #3: MARVEL STILL KNOWS WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM— Word just came through that Ryan Coogler officially put ink to paper to return to the director’s chair and writer’s desk for Black Panther 2.  It’s only fitting because anyone less than Coogler returning to what he championed and built would be a backwards step for the billion-dollar smash.  So far, as long as Marvel continues to allow Coogler to work with reasonable freedom, he will not be the next Joss Whedon to start strong and be burnt out by the micro-managing Marvel machine.

LESSON #4: JAMES GUNN WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE FINE— Speaking of micro-managing, it didn’t matter to Disney, but James Gunn showed enough professionalism, contrition, and support from his peers to not have his career ruined for his old Twitter behavior that was revealed in bombshell headlines this past July.  Warner Bros. has tabbed him to write a Suicide Squad sequel with the possible opportunity to direct.  This counts as a positive rebound for Gunn and a coup of a hire for the DCEU.  If you remember last year, Gunn was a elevated to become an inner circle member of the MCU creative core under Kevin Feige.  He now brings that acumen and prowess to a place that could sure use more of both.

LESSON #5: TOM CRUISE DESERVES AN OSCAR SOMEDAY— IndieWire’s David Ehrlich put out quite a pitch this week say Tom Cruise deserves an Oscar nomination for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.  I enjoyed the grounds of Ehrlich’s argument and I do think there’s something special about the level of star power and superhuman accomplishment Tom Cruise has done.  Recognizing him for something that subverts his huge persona counts as honoring a departure from the norm, but when his “norm” is untouchably greater than anyone else’s, that greatness is the special achievement.  I’m with the others on the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group who chimed in on this story.  Maybe Tom doesn’t deserve an Oscar for this specific film or role, but, someday, his body of work and impact screams lifetime achievement.

LESSON #6: MOST CLASSICS DON’T NEED MODERN IMPROVEMENT— This week, Richard Dreyfus went on the record with Deadline’s Geoff Boucher to say that re-releasing a CGI-enhanced Jaws would rake in a ton of money and bring the classic to new audiences.  The production troubles of Steven Spielberg’s mechanical shark are well-documented.  I’m sure if he had the means then he has today, we would certainly see a different summer blockbuster.  Call me old-fashioned, but Jaws like all other films are products of their eras and should stay themselves.  It stands as a treasured time capsule for when practical effects, POV camerawork, and the stellar use of John Williams’s score could replace what couldn’t be done explicitly and still create a chilling effect.  Jaws still works, even if some parts could be pretty cool with a little more teeth, texture, and speed.  All I hear when Dreyfus talks though is a “cash grab.”  The royalty checks must be coming in a little slow this year.

LESSON #7: KEEP AN EYE ON THE BOYS FROM SEARCHING— You hear Aaron White and me raving every chance we get about the August family thriller Searching.  Both of us declared writer/Director Aneesh Chaganty and his writing partner Sev Ohanian as names to watch after their stunning debut.  We now know what’s next for them, namely the Sarah Paulson vehicle Run from Lionsgate that starts production this month.  Put me in the “can’t wait” line already.  I know I’ll have some friends join me soon.

LESSON #8: IT’S OCTOBER, SO TREAT YOURSELF TO A HORROR MOVIE— In a quick finish, take a gander at this list of the best horror films on Netflix right now.  The second one listed is an absolute must.  


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

MOVIE REVIEW: First Man


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: September 30-October 6

LESSON #1: NOT WATCHING TRAILERS HAS BEEN WORTH IT— When I presented my no-more-trailers challenge to the Feelin’ Film group after the Super Bowl in February, I took it upon myself to lead that charge.  Even as a busy critic consuming an insane volume of films, I have my personal anticipation list too just like any fan.  Damien Chazelle’s First Man topped that list for 2018, and I avoided every piece of footage before seeing it early this past week.  I have to say seeing it fresh as possible made for an incredibly rich experience, a fulfilling sensation I’ve grown to enjoy with all films since quitting the trailer habit.  I’ll echo the challenge again to say pick one film and try it. You won’t be sorry.

LESSON #2: YOU CAN’T HAVE VENOM WITHOUT SPIDER-MAN— I’m going to sound like the Comic Guy on The Simpsons wearing his flag of toxic fandom, but if you’re going to make a Venom movie to introduce the Eddie Brock villain starring a beefy Tom Hardy that looks and moves like the monstrous Spider-Man opposition he should be, you have to start with Spider-Man as well, period. Thanks to blind studio and creative hubris, an incredible character is being pushed down audience throats too soon and with zero connection.  The new film fails is a disservice to a minor icon, a missed corrective opportunity, and a damn shame for the present and future of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise potential.

LESSON #3: BRADLEY COOPER CAN DO ANYTHING— The stories behind the many talents and performances of Bradley Cooper are going to fill books one day.  The four-time Oscar nominee and Master of Arts graduate from the Actors Studio Drama School has abstained from alcohol for 14 years and counting speaks fluent French.  Those are mere footnote nuggets compared to role preparation stories of workouts and training for The A-Team and American Sniper, dance lessons for Silver Linings Playbook, and character embodiment for The Elephant Man on stage.  His latest career chapter of A Star is Born might be his most impressive effort yet, directing for the first time and diving into 18 months of vocal training and guitar lessons.  The guy’s commitment and craft are becoming off the charts.  Someday soon with some successful arm-twisting and endearment, I have a feeling we’re going to call him the best active American actor working.

LESSON #4: FAKE REVIEWS DO NOT WORK TO DETER AUDIENCES— Two oddball stories about fake film reviews floated across the wire this week.  The first goes with A Star is Born where there are reports of Lady Gaga fans pushing fake negative reviews of Venom to chop down its box office competition.  The second is even stranger with the findings of an academic study suggesting that 50% of the online hate traffic for Star Wars: The Last Jedi originated from Russian trolls and non-human bots.  I know I probably shouldn’t, but I find both of these stories to be absolutely hilarious for two reasons.  First, the lengths people will go for their fandom is staggeringly silly.  Second, it’s funny that those participants actually think these schemes will work.  If anything, the opposing diehard fans against them will only work harder to clear their good names and prove the hate wrong.  In the end, all you get is a whole bunch of digital squawking and dumb hashtags.  


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: August 26-September 1

LESSON #1: SEARCHING SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR TEENS AND THEIR PARENTS EQUAL TO EIGHTH GRADE EARLIER THIS SUMMER— Standing as another dramatic dose of the perils of being a teenager and raising a teenager in this current times, Aneesh Chaganty’s electric Searching would make a heck of a twin-bill with Bo Burnham’s startling slice of truths from July.  If you have a son or daughter with a connected device and a digital footprint of apps and engagement, you need to be floored by this film’s stance as one-part cautionary tale and one-part family feels.  You’ll be diving to Protect Young Eyes and similar sites in a hurry afterwards.  Hear Aaron and I gush over this film in a recent Feelin’ Film minisode.  It’s my #1 film so far this year.  You NEED to see this one!

LESSON #2: WAIT AND SEE A FILM BEFORE PASSING JUDGMENT— Advance reviews, hot takes, and click bait web articles that stir up angles, tangents, and nonsensical conversations before a movie makes it to the general public are the wrong place to form an opinion on a film.  This lesson rears its ugly head today on the heels of the world premiere reviews for Damien Chazelle’s First Man and a Business Insider piece about whether or not the planting of the American flag during the Apollo 11 mission is shown or not.  People are already circling their wagons to either defend the assumed choice as an artistic or narrative decision or start lighting up the puff-chested patriotism-fueled “how dare you” revisionist opposition pitchforks.  First Man is not the first film to be bitten by this stuff and it won’t be the last.  Simply put, wait and see the film for yourself before falling for rumors and rants. 

LESSON #3: AWARDS SEASON STARTS RIGHT NOW— Speaking of all that early buzz, First Man is sounding pretty darn legit.  I’m remain on my “No Trailers Diet” to remain unspoiled and untarnished which includes reading advance reviews, especially for First Man which has been my #1 anticipated film all year.  It sounds like I’m going to like what I see in October.

LESSON #4: PUSHING BACK A RELEASE DATE TO MAKE A FILM BETTER SHOULD ALWAYS BE A WELCOME DECISION— Much like Lesson #2, other decisions shouldn’t always be met with gasps, groans, and uninformed opinions.  Release dates are one of them.  Too often, when a film has to blink from a planned release date to a later one, the first flags flying are the “lemon on their hands,” “it’s going to be a bomb,” and “obvious production troubles” ones from all the haters and doubters.  You know what, if a studio is actually stable enough and smart enough to not rush brilliance, they might just get rewarded with brilliance.  It was announced this week that the hotly-anticipated Top Gun sequel, which is still in pre-production before shooting, is going to delay a year from July 2019 to July 2020 to improve planned action sequences.  Like our own founder Aaron White said on this news in the Facebook group, it’s better to get it right than anything else.  I remember the boo-birds making all kinds of noise 20+ years ago when Titanic moved from a July 4th release to a holiday one.  I’d say that turned out pretty well.  I’ll take patience over hubris every time.

LESSON #5: LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY SHOULD BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT WHEN RANKING AND VOTING ON THE BEST FILMS OF ANY GIVEN YEAR— I’ve ranted on the “popular film” Oscar at length once already, but the reactions from within the industry are starting to develop in really strong and rightfully righteous directions.  This new category feels like a shorter hurdler being put on the race course for fluff films to clear.  Because of the comic film landscape and the Disney puppet strings behind-the-scenes, Black Panther is being labeled as a beneficiary of such a new award.  Don’t tell that to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.  Relayed by friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of The Movie Blog through LA Times and Hollywood Reporter sources, Marvel czar Kevin Feige and Boseman support the studio’s efforts to aim for the top prize and not the popular one.  Bozeman outlines a challenge for voters expressing: 

What is the difficulty of the thing that you did? And do people appreciate what you did; the quality of it, the difficulty of it. What we did was very difficult. Because we created a world. We created a culture. It doesn’t exist in a world that you already know. It’s a world that we had to completely…we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics.  We had to create an accent. We had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece[…] So you can’t honor any period piece that you ever did, technically, more than you can this one. So as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one.

I absolutely love that statement. You’ll hear Emmanuel and I talk about this within the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook, but, more and more, we see room for the objective to be valued equal, if not higher, to the subjective when it comes to rating, ranking, and scoring films for review or awards contention.  I support that notion 100%.

LESSON #6: SPEAKING OF RECOGNIZING DIFFICULTY, MAYBE IT’S TIME WE CALL GENRES “DISCIPLINES” INSTEAD OF THE ORIGINAL TERM THAT HAS BECOME ATTACHED TO STIGMAS— Despite matching the definition of being of a different story type, the adjective of “genre” and term “genre film” have acquired negative connotations over these decades of blockbuster filmmaking.  It’s become a scarlet letter of supposedly fantasy and childish things that get looked down upon as lesser than some gilded ideal of theatrical drama and thespian brilliance.  This is where a guy like Ethan Hawke can be seen as the opposite of Chadwick Boseman from Lesson #5.  Instead of seeing what most of the masses see as the genre label pigeonholing superhero films, the First Reformed actor came out to call them “overpraised.”  I’m a firm believer that there is indeed true art to be found in ANY film genre, even the comfort food and dream fulfillment of comic book films.  Like Boseman alluded to, genre films like superhero films have their own unique degree of difficulty, one worthy of respect and admiration.  For me, I beginning to think of different “genres” of films to be more like martial arts disciplines.  Think of defensive karate versus the whirl of kung-fu or submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  Each are unique for their movement, execution, and overall purpose.  Each take a different degree of difficulty, skill sets, and work effort.  I think it’s time to put different film genres on that kind of plane.  I’m going to add “genre” to my personal list of “banned” words in film reviews, joining words like “great” and “masterpiece.”  I want to value what I’m talking about higher.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: July 15-21

LESSON #1: EVERY AMERICAN TEENAGER AND THEIR PARENTS NEED TO SEE BO BURNHAM’S EIGHTH GRADE— Dropped jaws, bashfulness, winces, worries, and all, this dynamite film needs to be required viewing for the teens out there, especially girls, of these complicated and confusing present times. And the people that should be joining them in the next closest seats are their parents who need their eyes and hearts opened as well. Adults, you can engage and empathize easily with its challenges. It goes both ways to mend a “we don’t know them/they don’t get us” valley of separated understanding between parent and child.  A wise and willing audience for Eighth Grade knows and accepts two truths. First, that social challenges in real life could be, and often are, worse than a movie shows, and, second, those same apprehensions absolutely have the ability to get better for all involved with maturity and, again, efforts towards engagement and empathy. That’s where the conversations about this movie need to go.  There are life lessons for days out of this movie.  

LESSON #2: DENZEL WASHINGTON IS THE BEST TEACHER OF MANNERS – When Denzel Washington is involved, you know one powerhouse speech is coming every movie. Unlearned critics of the actor say he plays the same altruistic anti-hero in every film lately. If they say that, those amateur tone police officers only hear Washington’s volume and aren’t listening to his words or read his actions in between the speeches across the many different shades of characters he plays, from football coaches and disgraced cops to failed fathers and this vicious vigilante. In The Equalizer 2, Washington reels off a topical and poignantly corrective rant for the ages about manhood, gangs, and guns. If the aggressive theatrical combat didn’t already amp you up, soul-rattling and truth-telling moments like that one will rouse you in the best possible way.

LESSON #3: ALL EYES THIS WEEKEND ARE ON SAN DIEGO— Newswires buzz with headlines as long as the lines to get into Hall H on a Saturday at the annual Comic-Con in San Diego.  Disney/Marvel might be playing it low-key this year with its post-Infinity War radio silence and deep-down desire to do their own convention for their own earnings, but that doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of breaking news, new trailer drops, and the building of buzz.  As the resident “No Trailer Guy” of the site, this is a blessing and a curse of great news and tantalizing temptation. We should have a great deal more to talk about this time next week.

LESSON #4: THE COMPETITION HAS BLINKED AND VICTORY IS A MATTER OF TIMEWord came through Thursday that Comcast retracted its counteroffer to buy 21st Century Fox, leaving Disney’s bid competition-free for approval.  Comcast’s exit puts all those fanboy dreams (combined Marvel properties), tears (the death of a major brand and its history), and fears (streaming takeovers and squashes) one step closer to reality.  This has been quite the story to watch and it’s going to get bigger as things progress.

LESSON #5: REPRESENTATION IS GOING TO KEEP MATTERING— Last week, it was the Scarlett Johannson vs. the Transgender Community throwdown s–tstorm.  On a smaller and less noisy level, IndieWire had an interesting counterpoint piece written by Jenna Marotta recently about actors with disabilities being able to play their own parts instead of putting the likes of Joaquin Phoenix in a wheelchair for Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot or removing one of Dwayne Johnson’s legs with CGI for Skyscraper.  The slippery slope gets more slippery.  On one hand, the article presents its point solidly in that greater and truer representation through casting is absolutely beneficial.  In the other, artistic vision, freedom, and integrity for filmmakers to make the movies they want with the people they want, especially for the business and marketing ends, will be challenged.  Compromise must be sought because this push for representation isn’t going away.

LESSON #6: YOU KNOW, MY BIRTHDAY IS RIGHT AROUND THE DATE OF THE 75TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL— If anyone wanted to know a little something to get their favorite Feelin’ Film columnist (and like fourth favorite film critic) for his upcoming 39th birthday, I know just the thing.  That would be a plane ticket to Venice and pass to see the newly announced world premiere of Damien Chazelle’s First Man.  The director’s La La Land follow-up should fire up the Oscar season and, by going to the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, it will get the jump on the vaunted Toronto International Film Festival by a few months.  Smooth move, Damien, and a please, please, pretty please to those with deep pockets and a giving heart to hook your guy up.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13

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