Midwest Film Journal came into its own in 2018. Our five core writers — Aly, Mitch, Nick, Sam and myself — contributed a ton of fantastic writing to the site. We welcomed a new writer, the illustrious Lou Harry. Combined, the six of us published over 150 essays, offering a unique perspective on almost every noteworthy release in 2018.
I was proud of my writing about First Reformed, Ready Player One, Mandy, Paddington 2, Phantom Thread and Suspiria.
For Mitch, it was his reviews of The House That Jack Built,The Favourite and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich(“A timeless tale of love and Nazi puppets”).
For Aly, her reviews of Call Me By Your Name, Annihilation and Roma (“It is a sequence that will simultaneously break your heart and make you realize that, even at your most empathetic, you can never really know how any one person feels…”)
Nick’s takes on … I mean, good lord, he published at least once a week. His Avengers: Infinity War review managed to cap off our group writing project, The Marvel Decade (more on that below); his review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ( “Yeah, yeah, you say it’s 129 minutes. But what’s that TIME DECELERATION INDEX, Nick Rogers? What’s that REAL FEEL on your ass muscles as they numb? Flip the first two numbers and … well, you’re not close at all”), which was simultaneously my best and worst experience in the theatre this year; his Zemeckis synthesis about Welcome to Marwen, this year’s most impossible-to-review movie and maybe his finest piece of writing for the site as a whole.
Sam reviewed several movies this year, but our experience together at Book Club was a singular moment in a friendship made by the movies.
Lou brought a illuminating piece on At Eternity’s Gate and a review of Mortal Engines that made me actually want to see it.
And it’s impossible to express how thankful I am with what everyone contributed to our two community writing projects for 2018 — The Marvel Decade and No Sleep October. Each came together like a dream. More than a dozen writers — some by trade, some not — telling us about movies and what they meant to them. If anything, these express the core of why we founded Midwest Film Journal.
A special shoutout to James Ledesma for his piece on music biopics and Bohemian Rhapsody and Lauren Emily for her take on family roles in A Quiet Place.
And we still have plenty more for you as 2018 concludes. Year-in-review reflections from each of our writers, our yearly roundtable and, finally, one last community post to round things out.
If someone were to ask what I think the Midwest Film Journal brings to the table, the above paragraph would be the first part of my answer. I’ve been a fan of films, and specifically film criticism, for a long time, starting with old review guides. I then moved on to Roger Ebert’s writing, discovered writers like the old AICN crew, Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael and contemporary critics like Walter Chaw, Amy Nicholson and even Armond White.
Obviously Sam Watermeier holds a special place in my heart! And it was through Sam that I fell into The Film Yap and became friends with Joe Shearer, Chris Lloyd, Nick Rogers and their crew. And, through them, the rest of the fine writers at the Indiana Film Journalists Association, of which I am a member. Many of them are my favorites to read week in and week out (but don’t tell them).
And it was through my film criticism that I met my wife.
I wrote for The Film Yap for five years before starting this website. From 2012 to 2015, I wrote an average of 25 articles per year (not including the odd commentary with Sam). In 2016, I was granted entry into the IFJA. I wanted to earn my keep. I wrote 56 essays that year. Something had changed — the sense that I was practicing a profession, a form of artistic and intellectual expression that meant the world to me and gave me an artistic outlet. But writing for another site, even one owned by friends, wasn’t the best way to express just how important it was to me.
So Nick, Aly, Sam and I started Midwest Film Journal in mid-2017. The idea was to make sure everything we posted was meaningful; even the negative reviews had to be considered, thorough and honest to how we felt watching the movie, and how it made us feel later. To write substantive posts rather than advertising copy. It’s easy to get into a pattern of publishing 500-word throwaway reviews about movies you didn’t care about because the studio wants coverage in the Indianapolis market. I don’t think we — meaning I — have always succeeded, but I think we give it a damn good effort and I’m very proud of the site we’re becoming.
We make no money running this website. Only one of us is on Rotten Tomatoes. But we love doing it. Our page views are up. Our Facebook page is growing.
And we’ll keep doing it. As honestly as we can.
2018: Favorite Narrative Films
While watching the scene in which Kane cuts open his friend, revealing innards turned into some kind of worm, my wife pointed at her pregnant belly and said “That’s how this feels.” Between that and her review, it all fell into place.
A one-trick pony, kind of like Memento. The living Great Gatsby. It’s a Korean neo-noir about toxic masculinity with great atmosphere. It kept me enthralled.
A priest’s crisis of faith. His existential crisis. What is God? It feels ripped straight from my heart.
If we are kind and polite the world will be right. I’ve said enough about this one.
Authentic performances, authentic emotions. A glimpse inside an under-seen life. As humanistic as a movie gets.
As my sister Ellen said, “I was thinking about it the next day, and crying about it. Which must be how you know it’s a good movie.” Like The Rider, it captures something pure and often not seen about the human experience, and it meant a lot to me to see and learn more about Mexican culture, and history, on screen.
Sorry to Bother You
Combines all the social issues you care about into the kind of gonzo science fiction-story ripped straight from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Lakeith Stanfield is everything.
A Star is Born
Conjures the feeling of watching a classic in the making, even though it’s a story told every few decades. Maybe that’s why. Bradley Cooper’s the real surprise here.
Few films enraptured me quite as much as Suspiria did this year. For lack of a better term, it’s fully felt, and it left me in its spell for weeks afterwards.
You Were Never Really Here
A broken man tries his hardest to fight through the pain. My friend and IFJA colleague Richard Propes’ review remains one of the best pieces of Hoosier film writing this year.
2018: Other Narrative Movies I Liked a Lot
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Black Panther
- Book Club
- Creed II
- Destination Wedding
- The Hate U Give
- The House that Jack Built
- The Hurricane Heist
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- Madeline’s Madeline
- Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
- Mission: Impossible — Fallout
- Ocean’s 8
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Support the Girls
- Vox Lux
Minding the Gap
Like two of my favorite narrative features, this one focuses on a group of people who, quite honestly, aren’t frequently depicted within the realm of entertainment. But what makes it truly special is that it starts as a vanity documentary and becomes so much more, from a place of true empathy.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The biography of Mister Rogers that gave everyone catharsis right there in the theatre.
I also enjoyed RBG, The Kingand Free Solo.
I also watched a lot of movies this year from other years. Only 25% of my 500+ filmgoing experiences represented films released this year. What else did I love?
I watched every Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers film. I liked most of those OK, particularly all the first entries. I also loved Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Freddy vs. Jason and Halloween 2 (2009),
I watched the first 15 Godzilla films (the Shōwa) era. I particularly enjoyed King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothraand Terror of Mechagodzilla. The first (Gojira) is obviously still the best of them.
As a Peckinpah novice, watching Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and The Ballad of Cable Hogue absolutely blew my mind.
We broke our Fuck, Yeah! Film Festival record by watching 20 movies in three days. Highlights included Humanoids from the Deep, Gotti, Doomsday, Poseidon and Freddy Got Fingered.
In August, Nick and I took a trip to Spokane, Washington and Missoula, Montana. Although the main destination was a Pearl Jam concert, we managed to squeeze in The Meg, Congo, Firestorm (with a trip to the Smokejumpers museum!), and Mission: Impossible — Fallout (on a big screen in Missoula). We also watched about half of Days of Thunder. Good times.
Our No Sleep October Fuck, Yeah! Film Festival was the best yet, featuring quite a few movies but most importantly Inside, the most disturbing fucking movie I watched in October.
I watched Paddington and Paddington 2 a combined 20 or so times. I was never, ever lying about how strongly I feel about them. It’s all real. You should know that already.
I’m very proud of this website, and I had a nice time watching all these movies in 2018. I hope we can all do just as well, if not better, next year.