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:

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55Make your film purchases through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!

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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My Favorite Books of 2018

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus this past month after an unfortunate traveling oversight that came to overshadow all else, but I’m excited to return to my writing with one of my favorite posts to look back on as the months go by: My Favorite Books of 2018. It’s that time of the year!

I’ll start off by noting that I made it a goal of mine with this reading year to focus on reading as close to home as possible with highlighting more Jewish and Israeli books through my reviews, upon realizing with last year’s list, my Favorite Books of 2017, that even though I read close to 200 books, I could recall less than ten meaningful books, I made it a goal of mine to also focus on books that I can read for the enjoyment of reading, and not whether I can finish it quickly to add to my Goodreads goal.

And I’m so grateful that I came to find some of the best gems in Fiction and Nonfiction that have come to together to piece my life story book by book; the kind of books that have come to narrate my everyday thoughts through their quotes.

#1 The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone started off my year on a bang by focusing on a rural outlandish landscape of Alaska, which was a place I had yet to read and discover through reading. The extreme conditions paired with the utmost careful precious in character descriptions made me take notice of this book rather quickly. The budding romance with Leni and Matthew that develops over the pages then took front notice in my mind; it’s still what I hold most closely when I think back on this book. I tend to reread my review from time to time to revisit the quotes I shared for this emotional pair. I always think back on this particular passage, which captures perfectly that moment when you can’t see past someone anymore:

“It didn’t take Leni long to know that she was in trouble. She thought about Matthew constantly. At school she began to study his every move; she watched him as she would a prey animal, trying to glean intent from action. His hand sometimes brushed hers beneath the desk, or he touched her shoulder as he passed by her in the classroom. She didn’t know if those brief contacts were intentional or meaningful, but her body responded instinctively to each fleeting touch. Once she’d even risen from her chair, pushed her shoulder into his palm like a cat seeking attention. It wasn’t a thought, that lifting up, that unknown need; it just happened. And sometimes, when he talked to her, she thought he stared at her lips the way she stared at his. She found herself secretly mapping his face, memorizing every ridge and hollow and valley, as if she were an explorer and he her discovery.”

This captures so much.

Another powerful mark this book hit is when it comes to the mother-daughter relationship examined in a remarkably profound way.

“Mama was Leni’s one true thing.”

It still hits me, and it’s been nearly 10 months since I first read it.

#2 Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Save the Date-- bookspoils

Wedding shenanigans, family disasters, and childhood crushes are just the start of what Save the Date, Morgan Matson’s latest contemporary novel, covers in its summer whirlwind. I went into this expecting the usual summer fun, as I’m an avid reader of the author’s work, just like with Sarah Dessen’s summer contemporaries, that came to shape my own summers. Unknowingly, though, this book came at a time when I needed someone to lay it down, clear as day, the true reality of pining after someone. Matson covers the truth of getting together with someone you’ve put on a shining spotlight since day 1: the truth is all the tiny exchanges you recall moment by moment in their presence, they never even noticed you were there in the first place… and it’s just as crushing as it sounds. This says it all and more than I ever can:

“She didn’t know what it was like to look and wish and want, always two steps behind the person, always on the edges of their life. What it was like to stand next to someone and know you weren’t registering with them, not in any meaningful way. That you thought about someone a thousand times more than they’d ever thought about you. To know that you were just a face in the crowd scenes while they were center stage. And then, all at once, to have the spotlight finally swing over to you. To suddenly be visible, to be seen, no longer one of the people in the background who never get any lines. To suddenly be in the midst of something you’d only ever looked at from the sidelines. What that felt like when it finally happened, dropped in your lap when you were least expecting it, like a gift you were half-afraid to open.”

I can still hear the crushing note after he said: “Oh right,” Jesse said, even though I could tell he didn’t really remember.” She recalls something second by second just because he was in the frame, and he can’t even pull his memory to remember…

“He wasn’t who I thought he was all those years, because that person didn’t exist. That Jesse was just a compilation of everything I’d projected onto him, coupled with a handful of real-life interactions that I’d given far too much value to.”

I needed to hear this loud and clear back in May. Seeing yourself from the sidelines grants you clarity like nothing else.

But the truth I realized looking back now after so much has changed, I finally understand why YA is so fun to seek out, for me, because going back to that time in your life when your biggest issue was whether this boy would notice you back is something that is light years away from worrying about something like covering the bills, etc. No one warns you about what’s to come and how much you should be enjoying those simple worries because there’s so much ahead to fret about…

Oh, and there’s comics!

#3 Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon

Bad Jews -- bookspoilsThis play screamed my name, and I’m still recovering from its aftermath. I’ve never felt as exposed as reading the masterful dialogue within this family conflict. There’s some comfort to be taken in someone expressing what you failed to do in live arguments and could only think up hours after the heated verbal attack; Daphna Feygenbaum is the truth-saying queen of my heart.

Bad Jews follows a vicious and hilarious brawl over family, faith, and legacy, while opening many truths most of us like to keep hidden deep down. With the season of holidays being on the doorstep, I have a particular page on loop said by Daphna (most of my favorite lines were hers) to her brother Liam, who’s strayed a bit too far, that I feel compelled to share as a glimpse into this incredible play:

“As a Jew …” because then you’re a Jew, but only when you can use it to bash all things Jewish which somehow makes you stand a little taller, doesn’t it, puts a little pep in your step like you’re so fucking enlightened even though you reek of fucking cliché; you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman…”

I can’t think of any other writer who has said things so clearly with as much passion. I wish I could make everyone read this, and if not everyone, then at least to the one ‘Liam’ we all know, or have, in our lives.

#4 The Storyteller by Eshkol Nevo

Nevo’s The Storyteller remains to be one of the most honest Fiction books with the most interesting format I’ve read this year. The way the story is told is through this neverending interview of an author answering the rawest questions through life, i.e. constant dialogue that shows and doesn’t simply tell, which is all I want in my books (and why the other favorite on this list is a play).

It not only covers intimate truths and their quiet impact, but it explores such a grand scope of themes hidden in the blurred lines between truth and fiction that simply gathering them all together in one paragraph would make my head spin; it’s both grandiose and simplistic in the book. It all comes together like tiny glimpses and snapshots that make up a lifetime. Read, read, read it. Or check out my review here.

#5 Bound Up Soul by Lior Engelman

קשורה בנפשו

The previous book (#4) being my first Hebrew novel that I read from cover to cover, inspired me to check out more of the kind when this landed in my hands, courtesy of my local library. I haven’t stopped thinking about it for the past two Shabbats when I first read it.

Unfortunately, this book was read when on my writing hiatus, fortunately, it also arrived at the time closest to the end of the year to be featured on this list when it’s still fresh in mind. Though I do tend to update my Goodreads more frequently, which you can check out here:bookspoils

On some level, I’m glad I didn’t hurry into writing down my thoughts right after completing the book because after sitting with it on my mind for a few days I realized the reason I connected with it on such a deep level stemmed from the fact that this is the first book I’ve read that undertakes the process of tshuva by covering all the multi-faceted aspects that accompany it, like what do you do when you’ve seen the right way to live but the people you left behind before you made the discovery aren’t on the same page? And what do you do if those people are your family? I’m still struck by what was accomplished during the Pessach scenes, and the Seder Pessach, in particular, it was like watching a camera rotating the family closer and closer till they all exploded; masterful writing captured this scene to the point. I couldn’t even begin to capsulize it. Ultimately, it’s about a mother’s love for her son.

#5 Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Diary Edited by Ari Folman, Illustrated by David Polonsky

This graphic diary edition of Anne Frank’s Diary shares a visual account on Anne Frank’s story through her written words, and it makes for a powerful rendition. There’s so much to be said when words fail you with the tragedy surrounding her at the hands of the Germans… But my mind keeps rolling back to this particular introspective passage:

In everything I do, I can watch myself as if I were a stranger. I can stand across from the everyday Anne and, without being biased or making excuses, watch what she’s doing, both the good and the bad. This self-awareness never leaves me, and every time I open my mouth, I think, ‘You should have said that differently’ or ‘That’s fine the way it is.’ I condemn myself in so many ways that I’m beginning to realize the truth of my Father’s adage: ‘Every child has to raise itself.’ Parents can only advise their children or point them in the right direction. Ultimately, people shape their own characters.

This narrates my perspective.
Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55Ending this post made me realize just how dearly I’ve come to miss the feeling of expressing myself through writing. It grants me so much peace and clarity afterward that I feel like me again after such a long time.

I’d appreciate it immensely if you could help me by contributing to my Ko-fi page: Ko-fi.com/bookspoils,:

For similar movie recommendations, be sure to also scroll over to my My Favorite Films of 2018.

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

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Review: Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley

Long gone are the days of failing to remember the genius idea I came up with while washing the dishes, or when I’m just about to fall asleep.

Kevin Horsley’s Unlimited Memory offers up a multitude of methods to advance our memory, and I plan to return time and again back to the strategies I took down in my notes. The most helpful of which was visualizing what you’re trying to remember and make a movie in your mind with a creative spin so it sticks out more easily in the daily hubbub.

 

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