My favorite film of the year is a necessary look at three millennials dealing with their past and their future in this terrifying moment called the present

Don’t let the skateboards fool you: this is not a skateboarding movies

2018 was a bad year for the world but a great year for movies. So I’m going to write about some of those great movies which I loved in 2018. To read my full introduction to this series, read this.

Early in the film Minding the Gap, there’s a a few key clues of what the movie will evolve into. More specifically, Zack says a few times in the opening 10 minutes about how he never felt at home with his family and that “skateboarding feels more like a family than my family”.

You don’t know it at the time, but these are words which will come back to haunt you when you watch it a second time.

This, my favorite film of the year, will be my last individual post in this series of the best of 2018. But given that this is the movie that both moved me the most and is (probably) the most underseen of the ones I’ve written about, I felt it was important that it gets a full write up.

I want to make this clear early on: Minding the Gap is NOT a skateboarding movie. It is not the documentary version of Mid 90s. It is instead a heartrending movie about generational violence, the cities that the tech revolution has left behind, and what it’s like growing up in this scary new world.

This last point is perhaps what’s most relevant to my purposes. As a 22-year old, 24-year old director Bing Liu is only two years older than me. His friends are the same as my friends, we’re of the same generation, and oftentimes we are all facing the same fears and dilemmas. What’s my purpose in life? What do I owe my parents, who may have raised me but who share very different values? And most importantly, at what point am I considered an adult? Is it when I turn 18? Is it when I get my first job and begin becoming financially independent? In Zack’s case, are you immediately an adult because you have a child?

I’m 22-years old, I live on my own and pay all my own bills, and I hold a full time job. I also am typing this minus my right index finger after having sliced my finger open trying to open a can of tomato sauce. I certainly feel immature and like I should not be trusted with my own life (let alone someone else’s, like a child’s).

And I live on my own because I knew I couldn’t stay home and have the same level of freedom that moving to a big city like New York would offer to me. Like Bing, I saw what was available to me in a formerly industrial city that now offers little else beyond mere survival. And I left. But I also have friends like Keire, who couldn’t leave out of family obligations, or at least the sense of it. I, too, have friends like Zack’s; those who left and ended up trudging back. Either out of unhappiness or a sense of home as a sort of base in a game of tag. A place where, even if it weren’t as exciting or big as Denver or New York, you know what you’re getting. You could go and be safe and no one would hurt you, and life would stop creeping up on you. I have been Zack. I spent two years in New York and ended up coming home for nearly two years. I tried living on my own, only to realize that I wasn’t as grown as I thought. I still had some demons to battle at home.

Seeing the love Zack shows for his son is constantly at odds with the image of Zack we see later.

But beyond these similarities, the burdens these boys carry is far beyond anything I’ve had to hold. All of these boys come from violent homes. Beaten by their fathers, stepfathers, and others around them, they’ve come into age with a clouded look on their place in the world. One character deals with this is a way that shocks and causes the movie to take a very different turn than the one it started with. Bing Liu deals with these lingering issues in his own past in a confrontation with his mother that is something as deeply personal as I’ve ever seen in any film before. And Keire’s reckoning with his relationship with his family is a a sharp portrait of what it looks like to rebuild after a family tragedy.

These are three boys and three stories. They’re all brought together by their shared childhood and love of skateboarding. But these are three different stories. And Liu handles them all so deftly. All three of them are given room to bloom and become their own characters with their own narratives. But he doesn’t squeeze so much info in that it can’t be a movie. Liu’s history as a camera operator for shows like Shameless pays off, with stunning footage of skateboarding. But he also shoots in intimate settings. At backyard parties, in living room hangouts, by town haunts. Because of the trust developed with his subjects, they’re never on their guard.

Liu’s able to capture some shockingly tender and real moments from young boys, a section of society not accustomed to doing so. The truths he gets out of the boys, and himself, are gotten so tenderly, it’s a soft blow when you get it. These confessions and offerings of the soul never come in an explosive way. They all arrive naturally, flowing out of people’s mouths as easily as one describes the weather. He gives even some of the people who have seemingly committed the most wrongs the benefit of the doubt. He sees angles that most filmmakers wouldn’t think to explore further. Keire, a black boy, was beaten by his father and watched helplessly while his mother dated someone and continued the cycle of violence. But Liu thinks to also delve into what it’s like being a black boy with nearly all white friends in a subgroup known for being predominantly white, skateboarders. This makes the movie look extra sensitive, and avoids the exploitation that most filmmakers would move towards.

It is curious that a movie such as this would be only available for distribution by Hulu, a streaming company known primarily for its TV offerings. As I mentioned in my Roma piece, it’s possible that we’ll look back on this time as a warning sign of the inevitable take over of the streaming companies. But again, a streaming company has given the world a thoughtful look at a subsection of humanity that mainstream Hollywood has ignored.

Bing Liu’s interview with his mother is some of the most brutally honest documentary filmmaking I’ve seen.

While we sit and fret about millennials and avocado toast, their urban living, and their love and hate for a host of industries, we ignore the reality that most millennials are not waiting in line for boozy brunch every weekend. Far more young folks are like these boys. They’re lost, they don’t have college educations, and they’re merely surviving. They go to more bonfires than bars. They wear more jeans than athleisure. And the perils of the urban apply to them as well, if not worse; a worsening economy, mounting personal debt, and an older generation that seems determined to leave them and their world much, much worse off.

I hope that before someone at Bloomberg writes another piece about what millennials are killing and how their “demands” are making work harder, they watch a movie like Minding the Gap and see a true, honest showing of what’s really going through most of our heads.


A movie that broke through superhero fatigue and lackluster box office to become a sensation

the “hey auntie” heard round the world

2018 was a bad year for the world but a great year for movies. So I’m going to write about some of those great movies which I loved in 2018. To read my full introduction to this series, read this.

Not much more can be said about Black Panther, but here I am, saying more about Black Panther.

People get really combative about this movie and I still don’t know exactly why. Is it the fact that so many people see any award for black or female led films as mere virtue signalling? Is it the fact that it’s a blockbuster, and blockbusters these days can be pretty bad?  Or is it the dreaded and long foretold of superhero fatigue?

No matter; this movie dispels all those notions handily. I wrote a bit before about Jurassic Park as a true blockbuster of the kind that doesn’t really exist anymore. Here’s an exception. The type of movie that builds a world without being too overstuffed with information or plot (something which I think tripped up Infinity War), Black Panther is a film that brings more to the superhero movie than just “good vs. evil”. It invited discussion about black wealth, female strength, and the African diaspora vs. African Americans who are the descendants of slaves brought here against their will. More than that, it made everyone aware just how rare it was to see, not only this many black people, but a huge range of black people who are darker than tan. The movie brought us Letitia Wright, Danai Guerrera, and made people start appreciating Chadwick Boseman as more than just a biopic star.

Pick your fighter: the Dora Milaje vs. Furiosa’s army

In fact, the opposition to this film is puzzling because it seems this, and Crazy Rich Asians, are the kind of movies we should WANT. In a time of folks asking “what will it take to get you to a theater?” the answer is clear. Bring back what made the blockbuster great to begin with. Give us good stories with diverse characters and a world we want a 30 ft tall screen to immerse us in and we’ll go. We will pay $15 a ticket and $6 a bucket of popcorn when you make it worth our while. It was a movie event on a scale rarely seen these days. The film was still showing in many theaters when Infinity War debuted ELEVEN WEEKS later. As it stands right now, it’s the third highest grossing film of all time, and far and away the highest grossing film of 2018, making more than $700 million domestically. Now with a Best Picture nomination and a SAG Ensemble win under its belt, it’s clear that popular film was never a category this movie required.

While I’ve obviously done a great job summarizing its importance, you might be wondering “well, just why is it YOUR favorite?” To me, movies are more than just its technical achievements (which I’ll talk about with a later pick.) Movies often shape our world in ways beyond the screen, and the world often shapes the screen. The Birth of a Nation led to a second revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The “cowboys and indians” genre of westerns is in part responsible for the complete lack of knowledge Americans have about Native Americans. And oftentimes, who we see on screen as the heroes and villains of stories is reflective of who we see as the heroes and villains of real life.

So how refreshing that black people are finally both in their own story. Few things caused more joy than seeing all of the children and adults alike dressing up as the characters for the movie. To hear the stories from people who have lived through so much in this country’s history and to be able to see themselves displayed so vibrantly on screen. For black folks to be able to grapple with the fantasy of “what would happen if we had a rich country for ourselves, as so many others do?”

Ciara and Russell Wilson dress up as characters from the movie

I cried watching the movie. Killmonger’s death scene is one of the best of the year (and indeed, Michael B. Jordan’s performance is one of the greatest villain portrayals out there). It’s perfectly cast and well acted and is given a surehanded direction by Ryan Coogler (who, may I remind everyone, is only 31 and has decades worth of masterpieces in front of him). But beyond that, it’s baffling to me that you could reduce a movie this political and monumental to just “the visual effects aren’t that good”. OF COURSE it’s political. Few films are not. That’s why I can pursue politics as a career and film as a hobby. Oftentimes, their overlap is undeniable. They speak to each other, real life mirroring film and film mimicking real life. Movies either reflect real life or are a fantasy of what real life should or could be like. That’s what makes this movie so great to me, and perhaps that avoidance of this universal truth is what makes it so unbearable to others.

I for one, cannot wait until, in 25 years, I’m sitting in my underwater house with my children, probably hiding from our robot overlords. And I will show them Black Panther and tell them of a time where it suddenly felt, for the first time in a long time, that everyone could see themselves on screen. I’ll tell them of the jokes and celebrations and the funding drives that were put on to make sure everyone could see what was being viewed as a revolutionary, once in a lifetime event. And hopefully they’ll tell me with wide eyed awe “THIS was revolutionary?!”