fantastic films and where to find them

not necessarily in 2018

Fantastic Films and Where to Find Them: Not Necessarily in 2018

What’s your favorite movie? No, I get it, too broad. How about favorite movie this year? It’s a question I love asking, yet find impossible to answer. Others do too, at least in my experience. There’s the obligatory seven seconds of staring into space, the unlucky interviewee presumably racking their brains for any noteworthy piece of entertainment they’ve seen in the past few months that wasn’t an episode of The Office. And, of course, the universal response:

“That’s too tough. There are just…so many to choose from.”

And there are! Films span genres, platforms, lengths. That’s not even including the most crucial variable in this equation: you. Everyone responds to films differently; that’s what makes movies so special. Viewers can undergo the same carefully curated barrages of sound and image, and all emerge with wildly different responses. No wonder we want to know what others like— what does it say about them? About me?

The truth is, picking a favorite movie each year is often an egregious task. Awards season pundits attempt to make the process easier: They narrow down an entire year’s worth of content to a few must-sees, while we take their word for it and proceed accordingly. But the problem persists  nevertheless. How can one boil down everything they love about film to one perfect, self-contained experience on a yearly basis? Simple. They can’t.

So why bother asking?

Allow me to answer with my personal response to two films. One, a hypothetical contender for this awards season due to its timely release; the other, a nearly decades-old piece of animation. Both claim to be “fantastic”. Both have affected me greatly.

The first you can likely guess from the headline. I was surprised by my degree of hatred for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Like most, Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood. Its coming-of-age narrative proved immensely relatable (despite my being a Muggle), so a spin-off movie franchise seemed reliable. Yet, while the first Fantastic Beasts was amiable enough, this sequel reeked of creative and financial desperation. To be fair, I audibly squealed when I saw the baby Nifflers (I’m not heartless). But baby Nifflers aren’t enough to carry a film. I was left cold in the theater—the magic of the wizarding world was gone. Yet the film remains tucked away in the corner of my mind—made “noteworthy” by its November release date. Its special effects will likely garner a nomination down the line, and the film will still be included in numerous “year-end” lists. Put simply, we film fans rely too much on the calendar.

And yet, I remain more deeply drawn to an older “fantastic” film—one concerning a crafty denizen of a local forest whose wild instincts get the better of him. I first saw Fantastic Mr. Fox when I was 12 years old; then, I understood it only sporadically. But there was this imperceptible sense of knowing—as if the film had been made to appeal to a part of myself that I wasn’t quite aware existed yet.

Yes, Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t released in 2018. It was only due to the whims of a friend that I even rewatched it this year. But as the novelty of my reunion with this childhood relic began to wane, an appreciation for its technical expertise, autumnal color palette, and sheer essence began to take hold. I felt as if I had been hugged by an old friend. It spoke to me—informed me—in ways entirely different from anything else I’ve viewed this year. The enthralled confusion of my childhood was replaced by a sort of understanding— not only of the film’s artistic intentions, but of my own. And that, I believe, matters more than a release date.

That makes a 2009 release my film of 2018. What’s your pick?