For as long as they’ve existed, movies have been synonymous with entertainment. We sit down in the theater, $6.00 Coke and $7.50 popcorn in hand, with the expectation that we’ll be awed by memorable performances, transcendent storytelling and the latest razzle-dazzle in what special effects have to offer.
But the cinema is also a classroom, a place where we learn things about ourselves and the world around us. Directors, screenwriters, production designers, cinematographers, special effects teams—they’re all artists, yes. They’re also philosophers, psychologists and theorists; people who seek to bring messages through their medium. Like all artists, they aren’t creating something for the sake of creating something.
“E.T.,” for example, taught us there’s different ways to confront things that are strange and new. “The Godfather” depicted how legacy is a trap. “The Lord of the Rings” proved no person is too insignificant to change the course of the world. “The Shining” warned us of the terrors of abandoned hotels; “Jaws” of beaches on the Fourth of July; “Blue Valentine” of relationships. “The Social Network” showed us how much Mark Zuckerberg was in over his head years before The New York Times did. And, admit it, you didn’t know a quarter-pounder with cheese was called a Royale with Cheese until Vincent Vega said so.
Sometimes, those lessons aren’t fully absorbed on the first watch. Often, what a film teaches becomes the bedrock for how we’ll appreciate it years down the road. And always, we learn different things than those sitting around us and watching the same exact thing we are.
Such is the magic of movies.
Below are 50 things that, in retrospect, last year’s new movies taught me. One for every 2018 film I watched from the beginning of January to the end of December. It’s by no means comprehensive; you could fill long chapters of a Yellow Pages-sized textbook of what I learned from those films, but even that would gain new appendixes over time. These 50 are just an appetizer before inevitably returning to many of last year’s cinematic standouts.
Welcome to a sneak peek at my own personal cinematic syllabus.
•That I should never skydive with my team of superpowered amateur heroes through some slight wind gusts.
•That email is never an outdated mode of connection.
•To never rummage around in your older sibling’s room.
•That maybe we can live with our inner demons.
•That Paimon will always prevail.
•That confronting evil is worst when you’re doing it alone.
•That the hell we’re avoiding sometimes resides within us.
•That our memories can build entire cities of nostalgia.
•And also internal caverns we’ll spend a lifetime trying to emerge from.
•That dogs will always be a man’s best friend.
•But only bucket hat-wearing bears have the ability to turn entire prisons into the happiest places on earth.
•That there’s always something lurking under a shield of confidence.
•And that we shouldn’t judge people based on their lack thereof, because none of us were born with it anyway.
•That we should refrain from playing God before it catches up with us.
•To realize the absurd times we’re trying to avoid are, in reality, very much already here.
•That there is always something more impossible that can be accomplished.
•Even if we’re the only ones who can truly appreciate the sacrifices we’re making.
•That the things we bring into this world won’t always be ours.
•That even the most extravagant of places have secrets.
•That I’m really, really, really glad I didn’t live in the Wild West.
•That playing favorites comes at a price.
•That opening interdimensional wormholes is the last thing humanity should ever strive to do.
•That the only thing better than seeing Nazis lose is seeing Nazis get disgustingly ripped apart.
•That our origin stories begin earlier than we may realize.
•That virtual reality is going to hella evolve in the coming years.
•That childrearing makes maneuvering post-apocalyptic Earth much harder than it already is.
•That my 30s will eventually come around the corner like a garbage truck at 5 a.m.
•To always aim for the head.
•That, if my siblings did it, why the hell can’t I?
•That in this period of constant change, even math doesn’t stay the same.
•That my inner child may sometimes know better than my adult self.
•That our circumstances will dictate our methods.
•That thrills are as primitive a need as food and water.
•That even after a doomsday event, there’s always time for some laughs.
•That it’s never just coincidence.
•That legacy can hoist us up or tear us down.
•That alien canines aren’t as faithful as our own.
•That lingering in life’s backstages will keep you where you’ve always been.
•That superstardom becomes legend when it breaks through the limits of public perception.
•That even the most capable of us have something we’re running away from.
•And that while we can run away from our circumstances, we can never escape ourselves.
•That sometimes we’ll have to take responsibility for the actions of others.
•That persuasion is a powerful tool, and an even more powerful weapon.
•That selflessness is timeless.
•That your friends’ dreams, goals and needs are as important as your own.
•That sometimes all we can do is scream into the void.
•That elections can, in fact, have much bloodier endings than our political landscape has shown.
•That in our relationships sometimes no one is at fault.
•That the easiest thing we can do is cherish our peers, neighbors and strangers. All of them.
•That if we don’t shed our worst skins, nothing will change.