The year has reached its midpoint — how did that happen? Wasn't it snowing just a few weeks ago? — and it seems like a good moment to pause for an intermission. Here are the movies that have lingered in my mind most for the first half of the year (caveat: I haven't seen everything!), and the movies I'm most looking forward to in its second half, all ranked alphabetically.
Favorites so far:
"Amazing Grace." This astonishing concert documentary does something both simple and miraculous: It takes us back to a Los Angeles church on a day in 1972, when Aretha Franklin was recording her legendary gospel album "Amazing Grace." In footage that's been stored away for decades, Franklin creates soaring magic with her unearthly voice, and the experience feels like we've been given a gift.
"Booksmart." Two honor students (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever) realize on the last day of high school that they've missed out on some fun, and head out looking for it. That's the premise of Olivia Wilde's irresistible buddy comedy, but its endearing message is something else: your first best friend is, and always will be, your first great love.
"Everybody Knows." Asghar Farhadi's mesmerizing Spanish-language drama/thriller features Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz as a former couple who are drawn together again after tragedy strikes her family. Every character in this film tells a story — some with barely any words — and Bardem and Cruz's emotional, wrenching chemistry (they're married in real life) practically melts the screen.
"The Farewell." Lulu Wang's comedy/drama revolves around a secret: A young woman (Awkwafina) travels to China to visit her dying grandmother — as part of her family's scheme to keep its matriarch from knowing that she has a fatal illness. No movie this year made me cry more; no movie left me happier. ("The Farewell" screened at SIFF but doesn't officially open in Seattle until July 19. It's worth the wait.)
"Peterloo." I love Mike Leigh's historical dramas, and this one brought a cast of lived-in faces to tell a haunting real-life story of the British class divide in 1819. It's deliberate, it's meticulously detailed, and it's absolutely masterful; creating, in its bits and pieces, a vivid and coherent world.
"Spider-Man: Far From Home." Sometimes, you just want a movie to cheer you up. The latest from the "Spider-Man" gang did exactly that — and, even if you're not in need of cheering up, I can't imagine that you wouldn't be delighted by this film's deft mixing of superhero seriousness and high-school-class-trip melodrama.
"Toy Story 4" Before this movie came out, I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of its existence. And then I saw it. The Pixar wizards have once again created something magical: a story both wonderfully funny and devastatingly poignant, in which we reflect on what it means to be needed.
"Us." The other day I tweeted my favorite-movies-of-the-year-so-far and forgot to include this; not because it's at all forgettable, but because I seem to be doing a fairly good job of repressing the memory of it. Nonetheless, Jordan Peele's follow-up to "Get Out" is smart and scary and at times utterly devastating, particularly every moment Lupita Nyong'o — in an eerie double role — is on screen.
Potential favorites that I'm hoping won't disappoint me:
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (Nov. 22) Five words: Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. Two more words: zip-up cardigans. Should you need more convincing (and why on Earth would you?), this is directed by Marielle Heller, whose "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" was a highlight of 2018.
"Downton Abbey" (Sept. 20) Oh, like I haven't been waiting for this one ever since the end credits of the TV series rolled, back in 2016. Bring on the hats! (And the Dowager Countess!)
"Gemini Man" (Oct. 4) A new film from Ang Lee, whose varied output includes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Sense and Sensibility," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Life of Pi," is always an event, and usually a good one (let's just forget about "Hulk"). This one's a sci-fi drama, starring Will Smith as a hit man facing a younger clone of himself.
"Judy" (Sept. 27) Seventeen years after "Chicago," looks like Renée Zellweger's singing again. And not just any singing: she's playing Judy Garland, in a biopic set in 1968. Yes, "Over the Rainbow" is now stuck in my head, and not in a bad way.
"Little Women" (Dec. 25) Greta Gerwig's adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel (celebrating its 150th anniversary this year) had me at "Saoirse Ronan as Jo." Other potential delights: Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, Emma Watson as Meg, Meryl Streep as Aunt March ... oh, just bring me this movie already.
"The Last Thing He Wanted" (fall TBD) Writer/director Dee Rees' beautiful, wrenching previous film "Mudbound" never got a theatrical release, but I'm hoping Netflix doesn't make the same mistake on her latest film, which is based on a Joan Didion novel about a journalist (Anne Hathaway) turned arms dealer.
"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" (Oct. 18) In the category of Reasons Why Popcorn Was Invented: quite possibly for this Disney sequel. In the trailer, Angelina Jolie and her scary prosthetic cheekbones tries to stare down Michelle Pfeiffer, who's wearing a massive crown and amazing earrings, and both of them look like they are Not Having It and I wouldn't bet against either of them.
"The Truth" (fall TBD) I've long been a fan of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's delicately nuanced films, often about families and children ("Shoplifters," "After the Storm," "Our Little Sister"). His latest film sounds like a fascinating departure: his first set outside Japan, it features Catherine Deneuve as a legendary actress who has written a memoir, the contents of which disturb her daughter (Juliette Binoche) and son-in-law (Ethan Hawke).