2018 Year in Review (The Documentaries)

The end of the year brings with it many traditions. It’s a time to reflect on the things we’ve went through, the state of the world (it ain’t great) and to arbitrarily rank our favorite movies for complete strangers to criticize and mock on the internet. It’s that time once again, for every Tom, Dick and Harry with an opinion to list their favorite movies of the year. This list, however, is a bit different in that I’ve ranked every film I’ve seen, not just my favorites. Oh and that my rankings are correct. 

The list will be broken down into:

  • The Bad— Films that received an F or lower D.
  • The Ok— Films that received a higher D or C.
  • The Good— Films that received a higher C or B.
  • The Great— Films that received a higher B or A
  • The Discoveries— Films I liked that weren’t released in 2018.
  • The Documentaries— A ranking of the documentaries I’ve seen this year from worst to best.

The world is on fire. Schools are getting shot up at an alarming rate, actresses are leaving Twitter over harassment, children are being locked in cages, the house of mouse is slowly becoming an all powerful conglomerate and a Star Wars film flopped. 2018 straight up sucked but these are the films that help distract me from everything wrong with the year. For better or worse.

This is 2018: Year in Review (The Docs)


 

10. To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

Directed by: Derek Dennis Herbert

Plot: The emotional story of Kane Hodder who survived a harrowing childhood and near-death accident to become one of films biggest and most beloved horror icons.

A mostly entertaining documentary about the most famous actor to don a hockey mask and kill people. It details his horrific burn accident and equally horrendous recovery, his traumatic childhood filled with bullying and his time as a stunt man turned actor. It loses stream towards the end but it’s still worth a watch.


 

09. King Cohen

Directed by: Steve Mitchell

Plot: A feature length documentary on the acclaimed work and eclectic career of maverick filmmaker Larry Cohen.

A stellar doc highlighting one of the greatest and most important independent directors of all time.

You can read my review here.


 

08. Filmworker

Directed by: Tony Zierra

Plot: Promising new actor Leon Vitali gives up his career in acting to become Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant. This is his story.

What would compel an up and coming actor to sacrifice their family and future in Hollywood, to become a glorified gofer of an egotistical perfectionist? Is it mental illness? Star obsession? The need to be validated by a God? Filmworker explores every possible explanation and paints a very fascinating portrait of a man who threw away his dreams, in order to help another man achieve theirs.


 

07. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Directed by: Morgan Neville

Plot: In the final fifteen years of the life of legendary director Orson Welles he pins his Hollywood comeback hopes on a film, The Other Side of the Wind, in itself a film about an aging film director trying to finish his last great movie.

Orson Welles was a director that had as many unfinished films as completed ones and one of them was so notorious, it was often ranked the greatest unreleased movie ever made*. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead chronicles the fifteen years it took Welles to finish his film The Other Side of the Wind and the subsequent 33 years it took to be released. It’s a bit formulaic but is still captivating enough to hold your attention.

*Take that Jerry Lewis and your crazy ass holocaust comedy.


 

06. Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Directed by: Ireneusz Dobrowolski

Plot: This documentary chronicles the life of Polish-American artist Stanislav Szukalski (1893-1987) from his early years in Chicago, to his time in Poland and Los Angeles, and his artistic and political contributions to the world.

This is the story of a brilliant artist and the complexity of human nature. How it transforms over time or if exposed to different events. Szukalski is no doubt a great artist (don’t worry, he’ll let you know) but first and foremost, he was a human beinh. A human with different viewpoints and sins than most of us but the film argues “if a man completely changes his entire world view for the better, should he still be judged for the sins of his past?” Although it meanders a bit and is about ten minutes too long, it’s still a very solid documentary.

 

05. Three Identical Strangers

Directed by: Tim Wardle

Plot: In 1980 New York, three young men who were all adopted meet each other and find out they’re triplets who were separated at birth. Then they discover why.

There’s a multitude of different types of docs. There’s the concert film, the talking heads bio pic detailing people you already know, the ones that chronicle the lives of people you don’t and unbelievable events. Three Identical Strangers is a mixture of two of them. It starts off as typical bio pic about triplets that gained a bit of celebrity in the 80’s but then it starts to unravel the mystery behind their separation and it eventually turns into an unbelievable event. While not being the most entertaining doc, Three Identical Strangers nevertheless tells one of the best stories in any medium this year. Full stop.


 

04. Minding the Gap

Directed by: Bing Liu

Plot: Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.

2018 was the year of the coming-of-age skate movies. Skate Kitchen, Mid90s and Minding the Gap all told essentially the same story but Minding the Gap is the only one that deals with the transition into adulthood. It starts where every other skate movie ends–when responsibility begins. It’s a riveting look into skateboard culture, how the director and his friends each deal with the shift into manhood and the aftermath of the abuse they’ve all suffered.

Minding the Gap is to skateboarding, what Hoop Dreams is to basketball.


 

03. Shirkers

Directed by: Sandi Tan

Plot: A woman explores the events surrounding a film she and her friends began making with a mysterious stranger decades ago.

In 1992, Sandi Tan (a film obsessed teenager), alongside friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique, as well as an older American film teacher Georges Cardona shot the independent film Shirkers. 20 years later, she decides to make a documentary about who the mysterious Cardona was and why he decided to steal her film. Shirkers is a love letter to do-it-yourself filmmaking and an intriguing look at ego run amok.


 

02. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Directed by: Morgan Neville

Plot: An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.

An exceptionally well made documentary about one of the most important entertainers of the 20th century. Make sure you bring a box of Kleenex because this film hits you in the feels. Seriously, I can’t even watch the trailer without tearing up and the movie is considerably longer than the trailer. Apologies to Paddington 2 but this is the feel good movie of the year.


 

01. McQueen

Directed by: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui

Plot: The life and career of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen: from his start as a tailor, to launching and overseeing his eponymous line, and his untimely death.

The vast majority of the documentaries I watched this year, all dealt with artists. Kid show hosts, wannabe filmmakers, forgotten sculpters, egotistical auteurs, horror legends and exploitation directors but the most engrossing of the year, by far, was about a maverick fashion designer. It didn’t have a crazy twist like Three Identical Strangers or hit the emotional beats of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Minding the Gap. It didn’t have any razzle dazzle theatrics but it didn’t need them. It’s a meat and potatoes doc that sets out to examine the life and work of a genius. Nothing more, nothing less. McQueen’s art is the star and it was easily the most interesting character of any doc this year.