In 2018 the US Movie Box Office grossed $11.87 billion. 2018 was the highest grossing year at the movies, ever. Writer and Director Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” was the highest grossing movie of 2018 in the US and Canada, generating over $700 million. “Black Panther” also grossed $1.35 billion worldwide. Not only was “Black Panther” the critical and financial success, it altered the Hollywood paradigm of what constitutes a blockbuster movie.
With its almost entirely African American cast including the amazing Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, “Black Panther” transcended the African American Community. It became the worldwide cultural phenomena.
Perhaps, Hollywood studios got the message that people want to see stories of diverse people and diverse cultures. That our Heroes can be people of Color. And that can be so very cool.
Warner Brothers released Director Jon Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling book. “Crazy Rich Asians” had a completely Chinese and Asian cast including Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh. “Crazy Rich Asians” was the crossover cultural hit grossing $174 million in the US. It grossed $238 million worldwide.
Initially, I was reluctant in seeing “Crazy Rich Asians”, because the story occurred as all too familiar. Economics professor Rachel, played by whimsical pretty Constance Wu, discovers that her boyfriend and fellow professor Nick, charming handsome Henry Goulding, comes from a very rich family in Singapore.
Rachel and Nick fly home to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, so Nick can introduce Rachel to his Mother Eleanor, played with subtle gravitas by Michelle Yeoh. Of course reserved Eleanor disapproves of Rachel, who comes from a “poor” family. It’s a story that’s been done many times over, and then some. I thought this would be the same tired story, only this time with Chinese people. Not so.
While making dumplings at Grandma’s mansion, Eleanor talks with Rachel on the staircase. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Eleanor was actually like her: She didn’t come from a rich family. She was the third choice of her eventual husband’s family.
Michelle’s Eleanor tells Rachel, “You learn that you are not enough.” Was Eleanor speaking of Rachel or really herself? That resonated so poignantly for me, so did “Crazy Rich Asian”. Culture makes all the difference here. The narrative theme in “Crazy Rich Asians”: Family comes before your dreams. Being Japanese American I can appreciate and have experienced that view of the world that might seem foreign and unenlightened to the Western World.
That is the profound humanity of “Crazy Rich Asians”. Yes, we all should follow our dreams and have the freedom to do so. Yet, perhaps from a cultural perspective we also want to pursue our dreams responsibly, because others we love are involved. That too is very culturally Asian.
I teared up watching that scene with Eleanor and Rachel. It was a reminder of my past fear of never being enough. I believe that’s the gifted insight from movies daring to show the common humanity in diverse cultures.
2018 marked the first time a major studio release told the story of teen gay romance in Fox 2000 Picture’s “Love, Simon”. Amazing Nick Robinson plays 17 year-old Simon, who comes “out” to his family and to the world. Director Greg Berlanti’s “Love, Simon” isn’t parochially about being gay or straight. Rather, “Love, Simon” is about daring to be who you are. Simon says, “Announcing yourself to the world can be pretty terrifying, because what if the world doesn’t like you.”
In the wonderful living room scene after Simon tells his family that he’s gay, his Mom, played by gentle and wise Jennifer Garner, says “You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in… in a very long time. You deserve everything you want.”
I smiled through my tears. And I’m not gay. I believe we all want to be free to just be.
One of my favorite movies of 2018 was Actor, Writer and Director Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga. Bradley plays fading rock star addict Jack. At this dive bar Jack asks Gaga’s Ally if she writes her own songs. She says that she does, but doesn’t sing them. She tells Jack that people tell her they like her music. However, they don’t like the way she looks.
Jack says, “Look, talent comes everywhere… But having something to say, well that’s a whole ‘nother bag.” “If there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people wanna hear it.” Amen, Jack.
Now having something to say is what we’re really all about. Having something to say are what movies are all about, too. Movies at their pinnacle do this with soul and a sense of humor.
My very favorite movie of 2018 is Writer and Director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” based on the true story of the unlikely friendship of African American Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, and Italian American Tony Vellelongo, played by Viggo Mortensen. In 1962 Jazz pianist Don hires Tony, the unemployed club bouncer, to be his driver and bodyguard for a concert tour in the Deep South.
“Green Book” refers to the Green Book used back in the 1960’s that listed all the approved lodgings for African Americans. “Green Book” is about racism, prejudice and acceptance. Yet, it’s hysterical in the journey. While driving Don eats pieces of Tony’s Kentucky Fried Chicken riding in the backseat of his car. Don had never eaten fried chicken before in his entire life. Comically fingering his drumstick and tasting it Don says, “That’s quite good!” I was rolling with laughter in the theater.
In the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, both men standing outside of the car. Don in tears tells Tony, “So if I’m not Black enough! If I’m not White enough! If I’m not Man enough! So tell me what am I?” Tony listens in resound silence. That resonates even in 2018. Granted the society has evolved a lot since 1962. “Green Book” reminds us that we can still become greater.
Looking at the 2018 Academy Awards, my hope is that they recognize the diversity in culture and storytelling that arose in the great movies of 2018. I hope that the Academy’s nominations acknowledge movies that have something to say that people want to hear.
A few years ago, #Oscarsowhite branded the Academy Awards, both rightfully and wrongfully so. The Academy can only nominate the films released in the year, only the films that were made. The Academy can’t really generate movies starring and produced by people of Color. That’s not their f*cking job. Yet, it is their job to create the space where Studios might want to risk making those kinds of movies, for diverse audiences.
Given all that, I believe “Black Panther”, “Crazy Rich Asians”, and absolutely “Green Book” will be nominated for Best Picture. They are deserving movies that tell stories of humanity, courage, and forgiveness.
Yeah, it’s scary announcing yourself to the world, because the world might not like you back. The Academy needs to acknowledge the outstanding movies that are about discovering one’s voice and that you have something to say.
Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Sam Elliot are so sublime in “A Star Is Born”. They all deserve nominations for their authentic performances for Lead and Supporting categories. “A Star Is Born” reminds us that we become greater than we know, because of those who believe and love us.
A lot of the muted suffering in society sources from hiding one’s true self. In Director Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” powerfully vulnerable Rami Malek plays the late Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of iconic rock group Queen. Rami as Freddie quietly tells his wife Mary that he is never more alive, more free to be himself than when he performs on stage. At that time in the 1970’s revealing his true sexuality would have been the demise of Queen.
In the heartbreaking scene Freddie confesses to his beloved soulmate Mary, “You’re almost everything to me.” That is profoundly sad. They both deserve ‘everything’. Rami deserves the Best Actor nomination. Perhaps, he’ll win as well.
I hope the Academy recognizes Lucas Hedges for Best Actor in Director and Actor Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased”. Lucas plays Jared, who is gay, and to satisfy his parents he enrolls in ‘conversion therapy’. This too is a sad reflection of society.
A panicked fearful Lucas as Jared makes a desperate cell phone call crouched in the Men’s Restroom, “Mom, I’m in trouble!” Jarred is captive in a conversion program “The Source” which is supposed to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Nicole Kidman as Mom Nancy rescues her son, confronting program leader Victor Sykes, played by Joel, as fraud. “Shame on you!”
Later at dinner holding Jared’s hand Nancy says, “A Mother knows… I’m sorry I let you down.” A mother does know. Nicole is so understated and powerful. She deserves an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress. Often times the Supporting Actors or Actresses make a movie greater.
The Academy will deservedly so recognize Best Actors in Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Christian Bale (“Vice”), and Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”). Mahershala Ali will get the Best Supporting Actor nomination instead of Lead, and likely win. Also I hope that Michael B. Jordan gets a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for “Black Panther” for his role as Erik Killmonger. Michael’s Erik is the noble villain, who justifies the endgame with violence. “Black Panther” would not have worked without his flawed tragic humanity. Michael is the brilliant star of his acting generation.
Olivia Coleman is absolutely stellar as Queen Anne in Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite”. She will likely win for Best Actress. Academy, please recognize Lady Gaga for her role as Ali in “A Star Is Born”. Her performance was so brave, vulnerable, and authentic. Perhaps, Gaga pulls an upset? She will likely win for Best Song with “Shallow”.
Academy, please acknowledge too, the remarkable Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins in Director Rob Marshall’s musical “Mary Poppins Returns”. Emily accomplishes the nearly impossible: She creates the original Julie Andrews role as distinctly her very own. Emily’s haute proper visage disguises her beautiful heart when she sings to little Georgie, who misses his late Mother, “Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place.” That tearfully reminded me of my late Sensei, and my 89 year-old Mom, whom I will miss when she’s gone. Both Gaga and Emily touched my heart in their brilliant performances, and their soulful humanity.
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz were totally mesmerizing in “The Favourite” in Supporting Roles. This very dark comedy proclaims in its narrative: “It’s all about me.” For all its artistic merit, the movie was not my favorite. Not at all my cup of tea. Yet, Emma and Rachel are so deserving of Best Supporting Actress nominations.
Also worthy of Best Supporting Actress nominations are Nicole Kidman for “Boy Erased” and Michelle Yeoh for “Crazy Rich Asian”. Nicole grounds “Boy Erased” as the Mother, who unconditionally loves her son Jared, played by Lucas Hedges. Their screen partnership is simply beautiful, believable. Michelle is seemingly dispassionate gravitas as Eleanor in “Crazy Rich Asian”. Her Eleanor could have easily been embodied as villain, yet Michelle eloquently shades Eleanor as the Mother who only wishes the best for her son, that he is happy. Michelle is the beating heart of “Crazy Rich Asians”.
Typically, I don’t see many documentaries. Yet, this year I saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about the life of Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”. In one of Fred’s university commencement speeches before he passed away he said, “You don’t have to do anything extraordinary to be deserve to be loved.” Amen. Great man. Great movie. That will be Best Documentary (Long Subject).
There were amazing animated films in 2018. Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” was indeed incredible. However, I believe that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will win for Best Animated Feature. “Bao” that was featured at the beginning of “Incredibles 2” will win for Best Animated Short Film. All were touchingly about love and family.
Well, this would be my Letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 2019. I’m no movie critic. I’m just a guy, who loves movies. 2018 gave us many movies that I loved. Those movies celebrated the best in humanity, diversity of culture and people, and many had a sense of humor in telling their meaningful stories. Those movies came from their filmmaker’s hearts.
I just love watching wonderful movies. I hope to see more wonderful movies in 2019.
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