Every product on this page was chosen by a Harper’s BAZAAR editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
Films this year made us believe change is possible and the status quo is moving in the right direction.
To put it lightly, 2018 tried us. A bevy of apocalyptic headlines—from POTUS’ latest tweets to the #MeToo fallout to the exhaustive daily struggle for women’s equality—threatened to completely sink our spirits. But amid each day’s new disaster, a steady and powerful opposition to the film industry’s status quo took shape, a resistance against the normalization of racial homogeneity, misogyny, and the oppression of voices too-long silenced.
This year gave us a black superhero paradise and the first successful mainstream film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, an intersectional group of women challenging a criminal patriarchy, and a dance school coven resurrected from the bowels of hell to wage war against their oppressors. Meanwhile, quieter, more personal films urge us to reflect on our own childhood memories—the good and the bad. Cinema reminded us that love—both familial and romantic—is our most powerful weapon against hate and utter despair, and it gave us young underdogs—girls clawing their way out of the margins—who stood up and demanded to be counted.
Above all, films this year made us believe that change is possible and the status quo is moving in the right direction. Here’s to 2018 and a new beginning.
There’s a moment in writer/director Elizabeth Chomko’s touching family drama that I always come back to. After trying in vain to convince his father (Robert Forster) to put his Alzheimer’s-ridden mother (Blythe Danner) in a home, Nick (Michael Shannon) turns to his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank) for support. He reveals that their mom actually flirted with him, which makes Bridget burst into laughter. This scene, completely devoid of mockery, is a pure response to the absurdity of a tragic situation. That’s what What They Had does so well: It brings these raw moments to the surface of an unpredictable narrative that is at once heartbreaking and amusing. At its core, the film is about the moments—bizarre, loving, and everything in between—that occur while saying goodbye to a matriarch who’s fading into the past. Pre-Order
The extravagance, the romance, and the undeniable sass of Crazy Rich Asians is enough to send anyone back to the theater for seconds. But beyond its decadence, wild humor, and proof that of course Asian and Asian-American actors can command the box office, the movie exemplifies the power of women—specifically mothers and their daughters. Yes, yhere are men throughout this rom-com (star Henry Golding is obviously a delight), but the complexity of each female character—from the judgmental future mother-in-law (Michelle Yeoh) to the resilient American heroine (Constance Wu), to the mother and wife (Gemma Chan) who refuses to belittle herself to make her husband feel superior—makes the movie that much more significant. It’s such a triumph in every way, it’s impossible not to have a smile on your face by the end. Watch Now
I used to think there was a such thing as being too happy, like the impossibly friendly face who always had something positive to say and a lesson to teach (even in the most dire of circumstances) on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. But there was something different about star Fred Rogers. He put a smile on my face on my worst days and helped me understand—and rise above—my fears and anger. That’s exactly what director Morgan Neville gets to the heart of in his tremendous documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor: How the late Rogers pierced the world’s overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness with defiant optimism. The film, told through heartfelt interviews with Rogers’ family and cast mates, is especially resonant as today’s climate is laden with unchecked rage and negativity. The film is a reminder to uphold Rogers’ legacy of genuine goodness and hope—and that it’s possible to spread it to the next generation. Watch Now
Cinematic history boasts many good movies centered on interracial friendships (Clueless remains undefeated), but few honestly portray the maddening internal conflict of a black man watching his white best friend appropriate the very same actions for which the black man is criminalized. It’s a prickly line to walk, which is likely why few films bother to go there; true friendship is often portrayed as unconditional love and respect between two individuals, even when one is oppressed by the other. That’s what makes Blindspotting, the story of Collin and Miles (Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also co-wrote the screenplay) so interesting to watch. It brings that contention to the forefront with the confidence that this friendship can remain intact as it is simultaneously interrogated. Even in its moments of levity, the movie compels today’s audience—divided by their interpretations of good and bad—to consider what privilege and disenfranchisement look like when they’re no longer defined by our personal perceptions. Watch Now
For a long time it seemed like Black Panther was merely a pipe dream. Comic book geeks talked it up for so long, non-comic book readers like me got hyped to see a superhero film create a fantastical world filled with incredible black warriors. But this Ryan Coogler-directed hit doesn’t just deliver on its promise to elevate blackness in a realm that’s long disregarded it. It also confronts the real world in which we live, one fraught with the complexities of a government under siege and radical heroes-turned-villains ready to—quite literally in this case—fall on their swords for the sake of what they think is right. But the most profound thing about Black Panther isn’t merely that it exists in a society forced to cry #BlackLivesMatter. It’s that it doesn’t ask permission to be unapologetic, nerdy, and badass all at once. Watch Now
In 2018, the #MeToo movement forced us to reflect on the disturbing sexual experiences of our past, the encounters we brushed off simply because they were just so commonplace. The Tale, written and directed by Jennifer Fox, goes beyond that, exploring how our memory protects us from trauma by distorting images into something digestible. Through Laura Dern’s increasingly devastating portrayal of Jennifer, a documentarian inspired by Fox herself, we see a self-reliant woman confronting the issue of childhood sexual assault while suppressing her own experiences—until her harrowing memories come rushing back. It’s not only what she does next that makes The Tale such a compulsory drama. It’s that it understands everything that comes before that moment: The denial and shock, and the grief for a childhood you once cherished now corrupted. And finally, it asks: Where do you go from here? Watch on HBO
This was very much the Year of the Witch. They reigned supreme on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, Charmed, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. But on the big screen, Suspiria unleased the souls of a century of scorned witches—with all their fury and power—in one two-and-a-half-hour saga. Director Luca Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich present what is at once a story of revenge and also a brutal, artful, spellbinding horror tale in which frightening female characters take center stage. Though the characters of the 1977 Dario Argento original remain in the year 1977, when the impressionable Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) attends a famous German dance school run by a coven, this relevant reimagining gives agency to the witches (led by a metamorphic Tilda Swinton) in a story about their awakening, affirmation, and freedom from patriarchal oppression. It is gothic glory in its most formidable form. Get tickets
Let’s be clear: A heist movie starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall, directed by Steve McQueen, and co-written by Gillian Flynn would’ve already had most people’s attentions based on these facts alone. But because this film so exquisitely deconstructs the very motivations surrounding a heist—greed, power, and politics—through the eyes of women primarily on the margins, black male criminals clamoring for the same influence as their white counterparts, and politicians hell-bent on maintaining control at the expense of everyone else, it becomes a fascinating conversation about who gets to have a seat at which table and why. But even more pointedly, Widows gives its women the authority to effectively overturn those tables for their own monetary benefit and survival. It’s a story that doesn’t seek to redeem any of its characters, but rather present each as a necessary commodity for the other in a corrupt world. Get tickets
The fact that writer/director Barry Jenkins had the confidence and talent to adapt this seminal work of James Baldwin, the iconic gay, black author and activist, in a time when we remain as divided as ever on issues of humanity, is an accomplishment in and of itself. And it’s a beautifully written and gorgeous film? That’s just amazing. Baldwin, as Jenkins himself has proven to be with all his films, was as much a purveyor of truth as he was an advocate for love—particularly black love. That’s at the heart of If Beale Street Could Talk, a film that understands love as an act of resistance in a time of turmoil. The romance between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) is poignantly centralized in a story that could so easily be about the world they live in, one filled with racism, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression that chip away at their humanity. But instead, the movie is about the moments of bliss between black people in love, as well as their impenetrable joy in spite of it all. That, in fact, is the purest beauty, and what makes this film such a singular force. Get tickets
When a filmmaker unlocks an audience’s precious memories in a portrait of his own beloved childhood, he’s done something truly special. In a semi-autobiographical story that takes us back to early-1970s Mexico City and the site of his family’s splintering, writer/director Alfonso Cuaron shines a light on Cleo (a revelatory Yalitza Aparicio), the quiet domestic worker who was a second maternal figure to him. Through the film’s amazingly natural black-and-white lens, we follow her daily routines as well as the joys and tragedies that come to define her. Roma is as much an ode to ordinary women who make an extraordinary impact as it is about a man rediscovering a dear beacon of unconditional love and hope. There’s an indescribable magic about this deeply personal and intimate movie that makes you reconsider your own childhood, and gives you a deeper appreciation for the adults who defined your life. Watch on Netflix December 14
Shoplifters: Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s devastating drama is on the surface a movie about a Japanese family living on the fringes, amicably free from moral standards. But as it progresses, we learn that not only are things not as they seem—they’re downright astounding. Pre-Order
The Hate U Give: This fist-pumping drama is more proof that the revolution will be led by a black teenage girl (Amandla Stenberg) who refuses to stay quiet after the murder of her friend at the hands of police. Pre-Order
Eighth Grade: A middle school girl (Elsie Fisher) struggling to find her identity uses the Internet to fabricate an image of self-confidence—and tries hard to pretend it’s true—in this surprisingly resonant drama. Watch Now
Unsane: There is no more visceral movie about gaslighting and women’s agony this year than Unsane, about a woman (Claire Foy) thrown into a hospital where she has nightmarish visions of her former stalker. Watch free with Amazon Prime
Hereditary: Toni Collette is both terrifying and tragic as a grieving mother who succumbs to the darkness of her own mind in this arresting horror. Watch Now