#4 – Minding the Gap
2018 was a strong year for documentaries. Standout titles included Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo and Hale County, This Morning This Evening — none of which I saw, unfortunately. But I did watch one of the most powerful, moving docs I’ve ever seen — Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap.
If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and stop reading the blog and go watch it! It’s on Hulu, for God’s sake. Hell, if you don’t have Hulu, I’ll give you my password.
Minding the Gap, which follows a group of skateboarder friends in Rockford, Illinois, for a decade or so, is at turns beautiful, haunting and hopeful. It’s a cinematic Trojan Horse, starting off as a skateboarding Hoop Dreams but transforming into a powerful treatise on the cycle of familial violence.
Director Bing Liu, an avid skater himself, says the idea for the film came to him years ago when he was skating with a group of friends and realized it was Father’s Day. None of them had a good enough relationship with their fathers to have reason to be anywhere else. He wondered what it was about this sport that drew so many neglected young men.
Minding the Gap explores that question, and hints at an answer in its extraordinary ground-level cinematography, shot by Liu himself, which gives viewers a glimpse of the existential release offered by four wheels and a board. But it goes so much deeper, into the lives and relationships of its central characters. I hesitate to say any more, because the film is full of small surprises that change the way we think about everybody in it. This is a work of startling empathy and maturity. Please don’t miss it.
#3 – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
OK, I get it. I’ve listed seven movies that are variations of powerful and important, heartbreaking and groundbreaking, and now here we are at #3 — a cheesy musical sequel. Something does not compute!
I can defend my love of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again on a strictly cinematic level. It is extremely well-cast and well-acted, down to the smallest roles. Director Ol Parker stages the music numbers with charm and wit. The film is so well-paced, I defy you to jump on at any point and not stay until the end. The script delivers big laughs and quite a few tears. The lesser-known ABBA songs are better than the lineup from the original film.
All of that is true, and warrants this film’s presence on my top ten list. But all of that aside, I have it where I do because I just love it. Without shame, without apology. I remember watching it the first time, somewhat reluctantly, and realizing as it went on that I was completely falling for it. I took my daughters to see it a second time a week or two later, and loved it all the more for giving me that experience. I’ve treasured every repeat viewing since (and there have been more than I care to reveal).
How can a movie that makes me that happy not be one of the best of the year?
Say hello to the video life
Meet myself on the action replay
Hope I get there right on time
In remote control
Starts right here
Make the image clear
Got to take evasive action
Got to do it pretty soon
For fear of aerial warfare
Right here in your room
On the late late show
Baby baby I love you so