10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
When Disney acquired the rights to produce new Star Wars films, my dream ideas for movies were more in line with what was delivered in Rogue One. That isn’t to say that I wanted films that would fill the gaps in the Skywalker Saga. What I mean is I was eager to see new films that would introduce characters and stories separate from the main conflict between the Sith and the Jedi. The characters are complicated and I enjoyed getting to learn about their backstories affected by the Empire and what brought them to the events of the story. I also think it’s a fantastic production, providing an updated but faithful recreation of the Star Wars galaxy during the rule of the Empire.
9. Begin Again
I love stories about the creative process, which is a theme I think you’ll recognize in at least a few more films on this list. Begin Again is a story about stepping outside of your comfort zone to open up and express yourself in a new unfamiliar ways. This film is a fun ride that champions creative collaboration and resourcefulness. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley as Dan and Gretta find one another at the lowest points in their life, and together create an album that will their first step in a new direction.
8. La La Land
As I’ve gotten older, my view of Hollywood has become jaded and cynical after years of struggling to make my way in the film industry myself. I definitely recognize the frustrations shared by Seb and Mia to find their place among in the city of stars that is L.A. But through it’s catchy songs and imaginative sequences, La La Land rekindled the once romantic lens that I used to look at the industry through. For a moment I allowed myself to dream again of finding my place. I think that’s why I connected so much to Seb and Mia’s journey. I’m a sucker for romance too, which I completely enjoyed watching develop through its ups and downs.
7. Anthem of the Heart
I’ve always been on the quiet side, and to this day I still struggle to find my voice. Even in these write ups, I’m in very unfamiliar territory developing my voice as I try my best to share my thoughts and opinions in writing. What I do enjoy is writing fiction, and the characters of Anthem of the Heart are challenged with producing a work of fiction by performing a music for their school festival. It’s an endeavor that brings our cast together and pushes them to find the strength to share their truth with one another.
6. Wolf Children
I see a lot of my mother in this film and because of that, the story affects me on a really personal level. In Wolf Children, we watch the lives of the single parent family that is under a unique and magical circumstance. Hana, who is a human woman, must raise two children who have the ability to transform into wolves. This was passed onto them from their father, who was also a wolf man. Hana’s story is that of a mother trying to raise children of two different worlds, who are starting to come to terms with which world they want to choose. This feels a lot like the struggle my own mother went through raising my brother and me. She still has so many expectations based on the world she came from. But the truth is that besides the obvious generational gap between us, I was raised in a very different culture as an American and often struggle to find common ground with my mother. I love and treasure my culture, but it has also caused rifts in my family as well. As an American, there’s so much misunderstanding between the children of my family and our parents. A lot like the conflict between these wolf children and their human mother.
5. Your Name
I am so happy to see how far Makoto Shinkai has come. To many, this film was their first introduction to this director. However, I was fortunate enough to have discovered him much earlier in his career. His first feature film, The Place Promised In Our Early Days was a bit of a cult classic in the American anime scene. His aesthetic embraced the magic in the details through a gorgeous art style. It’s a huge departure from the norm we’d get from more familiar anime films like releases from Studio Ghibli. The art of a Ghibli Film is usually rooted in fantasy and uses realism to ground the world to the audience. What Shinkai does is exaggerate the real world that we’re already familiar with until it transforms into something that feels a more like fantasy. I’ve continued to enjoy Shinkai’s directing and I feel Your Name is the culmination of everything he’s learned in his previous films. The supernatural romance is equal parts funny and engaging, the characters are endearing, and the theme of bonds is something I really enjoyed watching.
Jon Favreau wears his heart on his sleeve in this charming indie road trip film that he directed, produced, wrote, and starred in. From what I’ve understand, this was a personal project for Favreau that was a bit of a vision quest to rediscover his roots much like the character he portrays in the film. When I’m rooting for the character of Carl Casper to chase his creative ambitions, I’m also rooting for myself to revisit my old scripts and story outlines after the credits finish rolling. I think that’s why I find this film so inspiring, and why I feel such a kindred spirit in Casper, and by proxy Favreau, as a disillusioned storyteller looking to reignite his creative spark.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
What I enjoy so much about this film is how much it embraces magic. The dangers and desperation that Hushpuppy and her father face as they try to survive the aftermath of the flood that’s uprooted their home and community are real and depicted vividly. This film makes you feel the heat of the Sun beating down on you, the humidity in the air, and layer of dirt coating your skin. Hushpuppy’s world is transformed and she needs to discover new strength. We hear through her narration how she perceives the places we go and people we meet. Her epic view of the world around her provides much needed hope, as we are witnesses to her journey to find the strength to stand on her own.
2. A Silent Voice
Kyoto Animation studio is a gold standard production house in the anime industry. Their visuals are of the highest caliber, their stories are touching and relatable, and in an industry that turns a blind eye to poor wages and working conditions for its employees they stand apart as champions for better work conditions and higher wages for their staff. I’ve enjoyed so many anime from this studio, so I was excited to see what this feature film project would be. I was so happy to be able to watch their gorgeous art style on the big screen; just as I thought, every audio and visual element exceeded my expectations. What I did not expect, was how much I would be affected by the story. I’ve watched and related to all types of heroes in anime; I would admire their conviction to face conflicts with friends, foes, lovers, enemies, monsters both real and metaphorical. In A Silent Voice, I found myself connecting to a character who like me – wasn’t facing something that threatened to harm them, but rather was afraid to face the love others offer. Ishida, the protagonist struggles to find the courage to accept happiness. His unwillingness to love himself is at odds with the new love that presents itself in the form of new friendships and chances for reconciliation the friends from our past.
It is an absolute miracle that this movie exists. I first heard about this film in an interview between director Sebastion Schipper and lead actress Laia Costa with The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters. To give the quick pitch, this is a heist film done in one take in Berlin. The titular Victoria is enlisted as a get-away driver to a bank robbery. In one take we watch a stunning cast perform through an action movie with fully realized characters who’s dialogue is mostly improvised. The budget allowed for three single takes. According to Schipper, the first two takes were not satisfactory. It was not until the last take, that the actors finally realized the correct performance for their characters. I have limited narrative production experience, but I understand how many moving parts are in motion in any given scene. It takes an extremely talented filmmaker to coordinate performances, blocking, cinematography, sound, lighting, stunts, location changes in a truly single take. No hidden edits here, what you see is what you get. To juggle so many moving parts while also keeping me thoroughly entertained and engaged is beyond impressive, it’s downright masterful. My appreciation for most films is from how I connect to the characters and story. To make a comparison, it’s like looking at my favorite heroes in film as rock climbers scaling a mountain. Through their stories, I admire their personal journeys that pushed them to reach the top of a mountain. Victoria isn’t a climber – Victoria is the mountain; a mountain so colossal that I’m more in awe that it even exists.