My Favorite Films of 2018

I haven’t been an avid movie person in the past, but this recent year, specifically these past two months, I relished in two movies that have quickly risen to the top of my favorites list. And the best part is that they were both a complete and utter surprise to me.

After the disaster movie ending I experienced with Tully, where I was overly immersed in the main character’s life only to receive your typical Hollywood twist that pulled me completely out of the storyline, I became overly cautious when it came to sinking fully into the carefully curated world of films.

But these two were simply too good from start to finish; the kind of films I want to watch again and again, or at the very least, revisit them in my mind over and over.

I like my movies like I like my books: introspective and entirely character-driven. (Check out my My Favorite Books of 2018 for similar book recommendations.)

Stella’s Last Weekend:


Stella’s Last Weekend is the story of two brothers whose relationship is challenged when they find they are in love with the same girl, but it is also about the unshakable bond between them.

I went into Stella’s Last Weekend giving it less than one minute to impress me because I wasn’t up for another movie disappointment, as you can imagine with my previous fails. And I have to give credit where credit is due because this film had me within the opening shot because I’m a sucker for a beautiful beach with a moody boy looking like he’s in an indie music video.

This film is about a family coming together to “celebrate” their dog of 17 years coming to the end of her life, and it’s written by a mother who clearly knows how her boys work best together. Through this family project blossoms a wholesome story that made completely sunk into the film, so much so that I got to let go for all my troubles, which was saying a lot that particular day.

“It’s Ok, Mom. Stella can’t read.”

And then, of course, I was flooded back with a wave of nostalgia when it came to the unbreakable dynamic established between Nat and Alex Wolff, which I haven’t experienced since my days of watching The Naked Brothers Band on Nickelodeon. What with Nat’s songs causing 8-year-old me to stare moodily into the night through my window and Alex being the wild child (he finally got a real tattoo, which he shows off in Stella’s Last Weekend, after many years of drawing them on his young self on the show), it was like going back to 2007. There is literally not even one scene where those two managed to let me down; I felt like I got to join in on a secret type of magical link only a few get to experience in their lifetime. And you can just tell THEY’RE HAVING SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER IN EACH SCENE, and it’s hard to not catch up on their fun.

Alex’s character, Ollie in particular always had me holding out to see what next surprising line he would utter, especially with phrases like “I’m a millennial, Jack, Mom works for me.”

A movie that can make me feel included on all the inside jokes with a simple look that says it all is my kind of movie. Like, the Mom (Polly Draper) interacting with her boys through glances is the perfect way of showing instead of telling. And I can’t get enough of it because this is something rarely established, and we get to experience this effect thanks to these three being so comfortable around each other; this is a whole deeper level of family.

There’s so much I want to say (and that I’ve been bursting to write down ever since I first saw the film) and no way to capsulize it, so I think a bullet-point list will come in handy:

  • This film holds another point for realism in the simplicity of having dialogue that returns back to the point where it last left off. Realistically, if you were abruptly cut off before a major revelation from someone, you would return as soon as possible to that topic of conversation with said person. So little things like this had me star-struck.
  • Said person who holds the major revelation is, of course, the main clashing point for these two brothers: Violet. Though it’s a sign of how comfortable Ollie is around her that he can act exactly the same with his brother when they’re all together, and it took only one scene to showcase this.
  • The main bonding point for these two brothers then surprisingly is Ron aka the father nobody asked for. Nothing was as reassuring for these two as making fun of Ron with the constant reminder that nobody understands his place in their close-knit family.
  • Speaking of, the humor in this is something else I cannot even begin to capture. Which we especially see in scenes with Ron and the three of them with how he does not get their humor in the slightest. It’s the kind of humor that most would call quiet with how it builds up over years of being around each other; the humor sneaks up on you out of nowhere, but the underlining tone for this movie lies in its intimate playfulness. I remember laughing to myself for a solid week after watching the film because certain scenes would replay in my mind at different times of the day. Like, the “your mother” joke, which is arguably the most overdone comedy, was renewed in the scene where their least favorite employee at their favorite claw machine warns Nat’s character, Jack, “I know about you and the claw,” and Alex’s Ollie brings a brilliant comeback: “He doesn’t cheat, Marty. He’s very loyal to your mother.” All it takes is a simple moment for it to register, and I was laughing uncontrollably.
  • Nothing is shown without it having some significance sooner or later, and I appreciate a film dedicated to having a rounded ending.

Stella’s Last Weekend takes on all the tropes associated with the topic of two brothers and one girl and showcases that this really isn’t the case of “Oh, whoever shall I choose?” This is challenged on screen with Jack’s simple “Confused about what? Who’s the right brother? I mean, we’re not the same person.” But I liked that this aspect wasn’t dramatized because it’s simply that Violet met a random dude at a party about a year ago that she really liked, then ended up not calling him because of a misunderstanding and high school drama, and now here she is with this boy named Ollie who turns out to be the brother of… And all this confusion it creates is conveyed so piercingly in the movie when Violet opens up to the mother with a heartbreaking “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

This is the first Hollywood film I’ve seen that actually handles this topic so clearly with a “you can’t get between my two sons,” instead of an “oh, you know, what can you do in the face of Love?” Like, it clearly lays down the situation that we live in a world with so many other people, and you don’t get between two brothers just because your emotions are overbearing at that moment.

Ultimately, this movie succeeds in showcasing the simplest truths about family and the intensity of love and the confusion that accompanies it. And the extra effort put in that differentiates a good movie from a bad one comes to shine in the everyday interactions that replicate real-life moments we don’t even notice until we see them broadcasted on the big screen and receive this peg of recognition, of feeling seen. As you can see I genuinely care for this movie, so if you’re intrigued check out the trailer here:

On the flip side of that, here is another movie that I recently watched that had the same where-has-this-been-all-along effect:

The Boy Downstairs:

A young woman is forced to reflect on her first relationship when she inadvertently moves into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment building.

This, like all the best films, was found through a random scroll on the way to find a genuinely good Rom-Com. After a tiny moment of confusion at the World-War-II sounding title, The Boy Downstairs, but I was touched within the opening scene of this film that raises many questions:the boy downstairs-bookspoils

This is THE movie for someone who, like me, wants a romance film that isn’t about the grand gestures that give me low-key second-hand embarrassment, instead the storyline chronicles the development of a relationship through minimal gestures (insignificant in their small inhabitance but grandiose in their meaning), like simply being on each other’s wavelength and genuinely caring and paying attention and openly liking each other just as much as the other does; none of that will-they-won’t-they. And it was, quite frankly, refreshing.

The love interest in this, Ben, still has me in heart-eyes. Like, anytime I recall his heartfelt “I just want to be with you,” it gets me all over again. Not only that but his initial unsureness around her I found beyond endearing.

Speaking of scenes in The Boy Downstairs, there’s one, in particular, I still haven’t gotten over because it’s expresses such a tender and pure form of love that I’ve yet to see on the big screen where two characters bond not through excessive PDA that I cannot help but skip over, but rather through sharing childhood school traumas and just looking in each other’s eyes and seeing that twinkle slowly appear as the story progresses and your heart opens up.

You can really feel his love for her through the hurt he feels on her behalf even though it happened years and years ago. I mean, his eyes say it all:the boy downstairs-bookspoils This scene was so inviting and open and just so damn raw that I took it as my own. Truly, Ben’s character just sparks one question: Where can I get one? I cherish this sweatered boy so much.

Speaking of their close nature, I cherished how it was expressed through little gesture that I hold so close to heart, like Ben stroking her cheek simply to feel close to her while she’s telling her story, or Diana stroking Ben’s hair while he’s driving, or stealing little forehead kisses… IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GET ME. the boy downstairs-bookspoils

Another thing: the storytelling used with the constant moving back-and-forth created within the timeline makes for an interesting effect similar to how memories resurface upon seeing a person again. So that Diana would go back to their best moments when they’re not on the best of terms in the present day. And it’s brilliant because after such an intimate scene where she shares so much of herself and he accepts her so openly, then seeing him in this completely unfamiliar terrain in the present day recreates the same betrayal she must feel. Like, we had this heartfelt moment and now you’re somewhere that we have no clue how you even got there.

That’s where the underlying dry-humor comes in to lighten up the mood, and just like the aforementioned film on this list, it’s ground-breaking in how it sneaks up on you. It’s the simplicity of Ben getting her humor that creates this easygoing nature with them, especially when it’s shown throughout the film just how few people get Sophie’s joking. (That restaurant scene with the “I wanted to ask if he had lemons,” still makes me crack up.)

Then on the flip side of that, in the present day, the unbearing nature of living close to someone you’re not with anymore, which can quickly create this dangerous slope where you’re walking home every day with him on your mind, wondering if you’ll see him, just to be prepared ahead of time. And, in this case, there’s no way to avoid it because Ben’s window is right there, and Diana‘s seemingly innocent “I’ll just check if he’s near his window not because I care, obviously, just out of habit” says it all. And then when he’s not around anymore like he used to, it creates this heartfelt moment of loss when she can’t seek out that piece of comfort in her day. “How’s Ben?” “I don’t know. He doesn’t live here anymore.” (I can literally recite lines from this film even though it’s been weeks and weeks since I first watched it; that’s how good the script is.)

I’ll be on the look-out for any following works by the writer and director of this film, Sophie Brooks. This movie was a work of art.

Check out the trailer here:

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If you’re interested in similar ramblings, I have a full page dedicated to all my TV & Movie-spoils which you can check out here. For similar book recommendations, be sure to also scroll over my My Favorite Books of 2018.

I look forward to reading about your favorite movies in the comments!

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Rambling Thoughts after Watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

*rubs palms together * Where shall I start…

This adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been a long time in the making for 14-year-old me who was obsessed with the series. And I already have to note that the film was such a satisfying remake for me to experience on the big screen; I was grinning from ear to ear for the entirety of it. (My 14-year-old self would’ve definitely created a fan account for the film. That’s how good it was.)

When Lara Jean Song Covey’s love letters for every boy she’s ever loved are sent out, her life is soon thrown into chaos when her foregoing loves confront her one by one.
There’s so much I want to cover in my review, so I’ll settle for making a list à la Lara Jean:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • The icebreaker delivered in the opening scene of this movie settled my worries regarding the cliche rate it was going to settle for; there are zero to none.
  • Lana Condor, who stars as Lara Jean, channels in her character perfectly with the awkward fumbling, sweet and quiet nature. There’s one scene, in particular, where I could practically hear her thinking aloud simply by looking at her facial expressions that are so entirely Lara Jean. From stolen glances to her perfect comedic timing with delivering one-liners, she feels what Lara Jean feels.
  • The attention paid to details in this movie is beyond wholesome. From the aesthetic shots to the set design (there’s a red painting in LJ’s room to the far left that I was ogling the whole movie), and even the background matching Lara Jean’s outfits. It’s the tiny details that had me marveling me at how well they captured the tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
  • There hasn’t been a movie in a while that has enraptured me as strongly as this one. I zoomed through it, though, I had two excruciating (but necessary) breaks where I was practically on edge to return and complete my watching experience. This quote from my favorite book says it best: ‘Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.’ As I watched, I was reminded of all the films that evoked similar strong emotions out of me: Freaky Friday (2003), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), and The Last Song (2010). To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been added to my list of favorites, for sure.
  • This might also be a fitting time to share my favorite quote from Jenny Han’s novel that I was hoping to be featured in the adaptation:

You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.

The quote specifically wasn’t featured in the film, but the concept behind it sure was. LJ living this double life, where she walks around in a half-dream haze waiting to return to her ‘real life’ fantasy, is explored throughout her coming-of-age journey.

  • Which is where Peter Kavinsky comes in to save the day. His easy nature and confident ways always had me smiling like a fool in the first book. And it did the same old trick in this film, as well. Like I mentioned back in March when comparing him to Chris for my original Skam Book Tag: The Boy Squad.
    Though, now that I know of John Ambrose showing up, who stole my heart back in 2015 with P.S. I Still Love You, the jury is still out on my commitment to Covinsky. I willing to wait for more to be revealed in the sequel (she said, hoping the film received green light on continuing).
  • Back to the movie, though, I have to share some specifics that had me cackling, giggling, and squealing and everything in between:

#1 The horror music playing when the love letters were first revealed to be in the hand of the recipient. There’s no scary movie that will get your heart beating like that.

Those close-ups get me every time. It’s like there’s an ax in their hand for how dramatic the music made it.

#2 Jenny Han’s cameo, smiling so proudly at her own creations coming to life.

#3 Beautiful, cinematic movie shots. echo Shot Shot Shots vine

#4  The realness that is talking to yourself in your crush’s voice.

#5 Lara Jean’s shoes shown throughout the movie are show-stopping. They’re also the first thing Peter noticed about her, hence my choice of using the song ♪Fancy Shoes♪ by The Walters in my edit at the start of the review.

  • This movie also brilliantly covers specifics I didn’t even think about to make everyday interactions even more realistic. Like the scene where Peter and Lara Jean photograph each other to set as their phone background. This is like some modern HSM with Troy and Gabriella at the New Years party.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before excels at actually delving into Peter and Lara Jean’s interactions, wherein they actually get to know each other and listen intently to the stories they share. It’s quietly intimate moments like these that get me. Like Peter spending time with LJ and her little sister by staying in and watching movies:

I do have to say, though, that I’m low-key sad the movie didn’t feature the precious Halloween scene with Peter and Kitty bonding because my heart still gets weak whenever I think back to it.

Also: the couple completing domestic tasks together (like putting away the dishes) is my jam.Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

In short: I positively adored To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a faithful adaption to Jenny Han’s novel, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe having the sequel confirmed…

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Motherhood and Emotional Intimacy in Tully 2018 | Film Review (Spoilers)

I’m not too big on watching movies these days, but Tully jumped out at me with its premise of realness, when a mother of three hires a night nanny to help with her newborn. Showcasing daily specifics of early motherhood, like the feeling of a newborn curling up in your hands, or trying to cut their tiny nails while keeping them from fidgeting. Any of these scenes below, really, caught my eye:

There are so many key memories we lose with time, which, incidentally, is my theory for why people keep adding more children to their growing family: the pain disappears and all that’s left is remembering how worth it was to get to where you are now. The good overshadows the not-so-pleasant moments, in most cases.

(Spoilers from here.)

I cherish dialogue-driven stories, so Tully’s introduction as the night nanny made for a turning point for me in the film. What ensues is the epitome of acceptance between two people.

“You two were so separate, but then so connected. How did you develop that? Because that magic just wasn’t in the script.” x

Marlo and Tully listen to each other with open hearts and warm eyes. They never dismiss what the other one wants to spill out (quite literally in one scene). It’s a tender acceptance that doesn’t rely on any outside factor. A scene that remain most stark in my mind is when Tully, instead of mocking or judging Marlo’s peculiar TV show preferences, takes this opportunity to learn her on a deeper level by asking sincere questions. Their deep discussions – nothing off limits – is all that Marlo and her husband should’ve been practicing to repair the gaping wound in their relationship.

That is until the reveal comes that, all along, Marlo was talking to her younger self… And something inside of me can’t easily let all that character-build go within the last 1/3 of the film.

For a movie that succeeds at openly diving into the vast hidden world of parenthood, it veered a sharp left at the end by delivering your typical Hollywood catch; a movie can never just be a movie without some shock deliverance. It’s even funnier that Tully has a scene making fun of this exact phenomena in movies, yet settles for a similar blow…

MARLO
Why have a baby if you’re not willing to put in the time? Sleep deprivation is part of the deal. Besides, I don’t want some stranger in my house bonding with my newborn at night. That’s like a Lifetime movie where the nanny tries to kill the mom and the mom wins but still walks with a cane for the rest of her life.

Again, the twist is a wonderful concept to explore, regarding self-care, but this is not what Tully build from the start. We were invested in the growing and accepting companionship between Marlo and Tully that entails staying up late talking about anything and everything into the night, like the “Ship of Theseus” paradox or daily anxieties, while caring for the newborn .

I had to mull over the plot twist multiple days (and vent to my mom) to come to the final conclusion that it didn’t work in my favor. The message it reverberates of “I was just here to bridge a gap” is a fascinating one to develop, but I feel like the execution of it failed in this film, when taking into consideration the major working point it has of featuring such an impacting and disarming bond between Marlo and Tully that’s so rare to experience these days… There’s just too much there to dismiss it with one scene.

This engulfs so much of them. Which springs to mind another quietly stirring scenario, right before the hit:

MARLO
I’m so tired.
TULLY
I know. But I need you to stay with me. Let’s have a conversation.
MARLO
All we do is converse. We’re like the people in a Spanish textbook. Maria and Julio, they never shut up.
(then)
What am I going to do without you?

♫When you’re screaming, but they only hear you whisper
I’ll be loud for you
I’ll be loud for you♫

Tully hears Marlo loud and clear when no one else does, which makes sense for the plot twist: you know yourself better than anyone else. So I get the direction this movie was striving towards, but I still feel like some preparation and clues sprinkled throughout would’ve gone a long way.

In the end, the film succeeds at sharing many insights with the viewers, so I can’t let one bad part shatter all the good it build prior. In a way, the twist opened an exciting gateway of conversations to circle around the idea of self-acceptance. The good overshadows the not-so-pleasant moments, as my aforementioned theory states.

I’ll end my review favorably with picturesque scenes:

Be sure to check out the trailer, which perfectly captures the themes established in the movie, here:

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