Best of year-end lists are made because they’re click bait and because they’re fun. Perhaps a little self-indulgent too. As if one critic’s favorite films are any more important than another. But with a vast swath of content these days, I find it helpful in guiding and prioritizing my viewing. So, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Since Wandering Reel focuses on the power of film to effect positive change in the world, instead of listing my favorite films of the year, I offer what I perceive to be the most important films of the year. For anyone who’s attended a Wandering Reel event, you’ll likely know that importance in our estimation is not limited to a factual documentary on climate change or political narrative about social injustice. Films can shed new light on important problems and events in the world, but they can also have lasting impact on how we perceive the world, our community and ourselves, how we view art and how we prioritize our cultural experiences.
The theatrical hopes and mainstream distribution of short films may depend on the success of anthology features like the latest from Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Scruggs is essentially six distinct short films woven together with little more than a Wes Anderson-esque book flipping motif, an old west setting and themes of the absurd mortality of man and the futility of human existence. Nothing new for the Coens, theme-wise, but the structure is something fresh.
The stories we tell, as well as the stories we are told, shape the way in which we experience the world. From the deeply unconscious way that our world view is built, in part, on the stories of our childhoods, to the stories that awaken in us a new perspective or a renewed passion for some area in our lives.
Full disclosure, I haven’t seen the first three iterations of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976), but I’m familiar with their basic plot lines, in part because this is a story that has been told time and time again in many different forms: the successful, genius, older man takes a young woman, green behind the ears but bursting with talent, under his wing and shepherds her into fame and success.
It’s with no irony that in the year of fake news so too comes the year of the documentary. 2018 has brought us some of the most poignant, touching and successful documentaries in recent years. RGB, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Minding the Gap are just a few of the most acclaimed. Farenheit 11/9 is perhaps the least of these films in terms of originality, but perhaps the most important and (intentionally) timely.