The End of the Decade Lists: I Ran Out of Star Wars Titles to Imitate, So I’ll Just Say Films That Got Better Over the Past Ten Years

I know, I know, just take the usual excuse on why I took so long to post this after I said it would be the very next day. Let’s not linger on it.

Instead, let’s continue the sort of positivity that the last list left us with as I head over from the movies I can’t wait to revisit to the movies from this decade I have revisited and ended up looking better for me than the first time I watched them. The 20 Movies from the 2010s That Have Appreciated from Second Viewing, here we go!

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Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017/dir. S. Craig Zahler/USA)

It’s still an overlong and racist movie, but I was less impatient in getting to the impressively grisly genre violence I was waiting for, I’ve actually found Vaughn’s presence and stunted lack of emotional response much more critical and nuanced, and most importantly the first and second half seemed to be more of a complement to each other as a survey of a harsh and hating world that is impossible to survive in. Plus in the wake of Bone Tomahawk’s sloppy damage control and Dragged Across Concrete’s insincere trolling, I find it a lot easier to confront the politics that Brawl actually owns up to (even if I think those two are better movies).

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A Cure for Wellness (2016/dir. Gore Verbinski/USA, Germany, and Luxembourg)

It’s overlong and trashy and tasteless (even beyond the later developments, a queer friend that I watched the movie with deemed it homophobic with convincing examples that went entirely over my hetero headero) and I think it was the stately attitude and the impeccable cinematography and the overall pedigree of the cast that made me consider those to be flaws up until I realized “I spent 2 1/2 hours in a creepy and sloppy fucking haunted vampire asylum and my complaint is that it was too much time and too gross?” It’s practically a pretty version of an exploitation film, that’s a dream come true!

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Godzilla (2014/dir. Gareth Edwards/USA)

I mean, I did have to hand it to a lot of the complaints I’ve heard: yes, Godzilla has not that much screentime and yes, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an outright wooden block of an actor. And I have no real defense regarding the latter (I will die on ATJ’s fucking cross when he’s among my least favorite actors of all time), but I wouldn’t have a single frame more of Godzilla in this movie if I want it to succeed at what it’s trying at. A movie that wants a force of nature beyond our on the ground comprehension of these towering goliaths, a movie that wants us to feel that scale and the insignificance of us in the presence of something massive, a movie that wants to tease and build up before an epic showdown that will give us our money’s worth.  You can’t do that with constant wide shots, filling the frame neatly with these monsters. Say whatever one wants about Gareth Edwards (which y’all do), but he really knows how to bring weight to scale, whether it’s a kaiju or the Death Star. Also, the recent disappointment of Godzilla: King of the Monsters only made me appreciate it more: Godzilla may not appear much but he appears the perfect amount of times and is actually doing stuff instead of looking pretty. And if you think the characters in Edwards’ film are ridiculous, oh buddy…

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014/dir. Dean DeBlois/USA)

I don’t know what was wrong with me. Maybe I was just surrounded by way too many snooty film critics when I saw it at Cannes but I can’t see what was possibly holding me up from recognizing that even without the element of pleasant surprise that made the first movie such a great experience, it was just as on-point with its writing and animation as the last one (I mean, heck, the human character design is objectively better this time around). I spent 2014 Oscar season dreading the idea of this movie winning Best Animated Feature and that was dumb of me (especially since the surprise winner, Big Hero 6, actively sucks). Maybe it’s still not to the level of Kaguya and Song of the Sea but that was still dumb of me. 

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Margaret (2011/dir. Kenneth Lonergan/USA)

Easy explanation: we didn’t really get the true movie from Fox Searchlight because they’re booty. What we got was still great, but it wasn’t something that made me willing to stan the film. Having the opportunity to finally watch the extended edition based on Lonergan’s preference and it amps up everything I already loved about the movie: its opera-esque melodrama, its histrionics, its ups and downs, they’re all more defined and spread out by Lonergan’s original form and pack a harder punch. When I call Margaret one of the finest films of the decade at this point, I’m talking about the Extended Edition Margaret now. Can’t imagine watching it any other way.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012/dir. Wes Anderson/USA)

I REALLY don’t know what the fuck was wrong with me the first time I watched it. It’s a masterpiece, the music is a masterpiece, the ensemble is a masterpiece, the location photography in Rhode Island is a masterpiece and makes me wish to visit the shooting locations one day, and the crazy part is that it’s not even Anderson’s best movie of the decade. But it still IS one of the best movies of the decade.

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA & UK)

And yet I still feel like I need to take a step away from the movie before I revisit it one more time and see how I feel about it. The first time I watched it (at an advance screening), it was just in the middle of another Film Twitter throwdown regarding Tarantino and I was especially on edge with the proposed subject matter. Then I rewatch it again with one of my best friends and a lot of the sincerity of the movie starts to come through, even if it’s also exposed to some of the character flaws of its filmmaker in an honest way. And then I rewatched it one more because I can’t miss the chance to see it in 35mm and the atmosphere felt much more blanketing and warm on the third watch, making me appreciate the lazing factor. But there’s still a bit more to interrogate about the film for me and a lot of it has to do with the idea that Tarantino finally figured out how to work without Sally Menke in his life and how to make Fred Raskin a strength. I don’t think I’m there yet but I’m gonna hope. Just need to step away from it for a minute.

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013/dir. Jim Jarmusch/UK & Germany)

The previously mentioned Jarmusch that aged like fine wine once that I removed any sense of real urgency to my experience and just realized it does that thing I love Jarmusch movies doing most: being cool. And there’s little cooler than rock star vampires Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston having a wrench thrown in by Mia Wasikowska.

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The Raid 2 (2014/dir. Gareth Evans/Indonesia)

I always knew that it was critical to approach The Raid 2 as its own movie rather than as the sequel to The Raid: Redemption but that didn’t necessarily stop me from thinking the new gangster plot we got thrown at our lap was a downgrade from the brisk supercop speedthrough its predecessor was. Now I don’t know what truly brought me to turn around on the film – might be that an overglut of daddy issues movies made The Raid 2’s approach the conflict feel a lot more honest – but the premise seems to really complement the extensive eye-popping action sequences to a point of physical exhaustion that validates Rama’s perspective more than Uwais’ dramatic performance, to be quite honest. This is a movie about violent people convincing themselves that violence is gonna stop and waiting for the violence to end without slowing down their own violence. Still too fucking long, but nowadays when I show to friends in excitement, I don’t feel compelled to warn them about the plot.

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The Resident Evil movies (2010-2016/dir. Paul W.S. Anderson/Germany, UK, Canada, France, USA, & Australia)

Three of the best video game movies of all time and I scoffed at them like the rest of you plebs when I first watched them, but now I found a new religion in vulgar auteurism (I mean, not necessarily but y’know what I’m saying) and sometimes it’s just sweet to watch a filmmaker go “look how fucking awesome my hot wife is” by having her shoot and kill a bunch of zombies.

And then as a bonus for all of the time I spent without posting this: 5 Films That Appreciated Without Even Waiting for a Second Viewing (with minimal comment, just a before and after).

  • Green Room (2015/dir. Jeremy Saulnier/USA) – Before: this movie isn’t as insightful about Neo-Nazi culture and kind of sympathetic to them as idiots. After: it’s not about Neo-Nazis, it’s about how easy it is to be a violent savage.
  • High Life (2018/dir. Claire Denis/France, Germany, UK, Poland, & USA– Before: this is a masterpiece. After: No, wait, it’s REALLY a masterpiece.
  • Shoplifters (2018/dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu/Japan) – Before: the ending is disappointing. After: I don’t care.
  • Suspiria (2018/dir. Luca Guadagnino/Italy & USA) – Before: Great movie but I really don’t see what’s gained by the setting. After: There is a lot of emotional payoff in Josef’s story as he tries to deal with the recent Third Reich trauma, even if the Lufthansa shit still didn’t have to be there.
  • Under the Skin (2013/dir. Jonathan Glazer/UK, USA, & Switzerland) – Before: this is a masterpiece. After: No, wait, TOTALLY a masterpiece and also the old wrinkly bitch who was talking the whole time in the theater should have shut his fucking mouth oh my fucking gott, yo.

And on the next episode of these end of decades lists, the best and worst movie titles of the decade.

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Wanna Be a Member? Wanna Be a Member?

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Tony Zhou’s regretfully short-lived video essay series Every Frame a Painting had a brilliant summary of the Chuck Jones method of cartoon gags based on assumption and reality. The visual setup insists on an expectation based on the set up only for the opposite to happen, often through impossible logic that only a cartoon could supply. I find that this is not a principle that is exclusive to Chuck Jones’ work on the Looney Tunes (Zhou, I assume, does not think it is either as it wasn’t the thesis to the Chuck Jones video), but actually the core of so many early cartoons since the Laugh-O-Grams if not even earlier and the foundation of which they are showcases of not only the physical possibilities of the animation medium but even how they can be comic in basis.

Now, what if that same principle was applied without the desire to be comic but instead disorienting and surreal?

I don’t believe that’s the exact thought that approached Dave Fleischer’s mind when he co-directed Bimbo’s Initiation in 1931 with Grim Natwick, but it’s impossible for me to see that 6 minute short as all that different from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, taking all the techniques Hitchcock perfected the thriller with and replacing the release of suspense with a comedic punchline instead. Bimbo’s Initiation came several decades into the existence of animation to use the fluidity of lines and spaces to twist what we expect to be a casually pleasant cartoon into something akin to a slippery nightmare for its central character, Fleischer’s rotund anthropomorphic dog star Bimbo, to tumble through.

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In any case, Bimbo is minding his own business walking down the street when he falls down a manhole and after tumbling down a zipping z-axis slide lands right in middle of big-bellied white sheet sack-wearing fellas who have soot bunnies for faces, candles on their heads, and all but the leader are holding 2x4s with nails in them. The leader is himself identifiable for holding a staff that is headed by what appears to be a toilet seat, which he yanks as he looks Bimbo in the eye and ribbits “wanna be a member? wanna be a member?”, an invitation that Bimbo declines with an annoyed whining “nnnnooo!”. And there begins the fun that the cult has at the expense of this poor dog, tossing him through a tremendous amount of obstacles that promise pain and death with no escape although the surrealism already began during that twisting slide and the way the end of the slide literally transformed into a mouth and spat Bimbo on the ground.

Nevertheless, most of what follows is individual gag setpieces of doom like where a piece of string holding a ceiling of spikes burns only for Bimbo to be standing right where an unseen hole was when it falls or a room spins entirely around like the hallway in Inception until Bimbo falls right into view of a knife while the floor rolls like a treadmill towards it, the knife suddenly turning shark like in its edge to lick its lip. Another and another unrealistic thing happens to throw him out of the fire and into the frying pan right up until a reassuring and absurdly kink-based finale (but a kink that is foreshadowed if one pays attention) arrives with the familiar presence of Bimbo’s girlfriend and the Fleischer’s next and most enduring star, Betty Boop (this happens to be the last film Natwick worked on with Boop, his personal creation). The repetition, endlessness, and speed in which we run through of all the perils Bimbo encounters are fundamental to Bimbo’s Initiation having a relentless nightmarish quality despite being a minute 6 minutes in length, even if it didn’t have such macabre touches as watching a shadow decapitated. And this is to say nothing of the energy provided by the constantly shivering Bimbo, which communicates his constant fear just from the inability to sit still in suspense.

Fleischer Studios had already broken out in 1918 with Out of the Inkwell showcasing the new toy by producer Max Fleischer, Dave’s brother: the rotoscope, laboriously animating action over frames of live-action film for a smooth motion, so the Fleischers already had revolutionized the way that movement was animated briefly. But rotoscoping is absent in entirely in Bimbo’s Initiation and I think through there the Fleischers and Natwick collectively found a lot more freedom that they took advantage of. There’s no live-action reference to create creatures like Bimbo and the candleheads that menace him, there’s no reference for how walls will suddenly roll up like maps or door knobs shift from one side of the door to the other. And that limitlessness takes center stage around the last minute in one animated long shots where we start on one plane of perspective with Bimbo before the camera switches to another angle fluidly and with clarity to what death he’s avoiding this time before switching once again and the z-axis is maneuvered 3 more times before we get our first cut. It’s not like the camera is sweeping around or into the obstacles Bimbo is encountering, but it is shifting spatial perspective for us in a systemic way that is mindblowing for a cartoon short so early in the medium – far preceding the Disney techniques of Deep Canvas, CAPS, and even the Multiplane. Certainly a showpiece of Bimbo’s Initiation that could not be accomplished with rotoscoping. And I haven’t even mentioned the impressive shadow work in one dark room scene.

I began this discussing expectations and reality. Expecting Bimbo to blow a candle out only for the flame to grow hands to go back on a wick or him to splash on a pool we just saw fish in only to smash into concrete is the rubbery New York Style of executing that principle. It disorients Bimbo and ourselves and assume he can’t win, thankfully assuaged by a happy ending sexy enough to defy the Production Code and make us forgive and forget everything we just watched Bimbo go through.

In any case, you can watch him go through it online. Enjoy!