2019 Top Ten and More…

And we see the close of a whole decade (unless you believe the decade is ends in 2020 rather than 2019 in which case… nyah). And what note did we exit? Honestly… they had us in the first half. Painfully sparse, almost felt like an extension of the January movie graveyard. And then we continued on to a relatively unimpressive summer until an abrupt shift: somewhere around the June/July turn, we started getting a reliable feed of summer popcorn cinema. And then we started getting nice nostalgic movies, and then we started getting perceptively directed movies. And then we started getting the masterpieces. Turns out the end of the decade saved the best for last, most of the best surprises were backloaded probably in a hope to let the cinematic year end with a bang if distributors cared about that sort of thing. Doubtful, since my favorite movie of the year doesn’t go wide until Valentine’s Day and I’m sure smaller cities will still have to wait longer to receive it.

In any case: the moral of this movie year stands. Sometimes, patience…

Let’s check it…

Weirdest Fucking Trailer:
Dark Waters

I regret not having yet seen the movie (especially since everybody I trust on this matter has had nothing but glowing praise for it, but I do have a screener sitting on my tv stand now) but there’s no way in hell anybody could have looked at this and thought of the name Todd Haynes. Michael Mann more likely. And specifically I can’t get enough of hearing Mark Ruffalo and Bill Camp say “190 cows” and shit that rural element just throws the Michael Mann-ness into a whole layer of imbalance.

Worst Teaser Trailer:
Onward – Teaser

I was already frustrated by Zootopia’s weird modernism and Onward appears to adopt a modernness without any semblance of inspiration in the design that Zootopia had and thereby none of the charm. Plus Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are the two most annoying leads you could pick and it doesn’t help that Holland’s character has the same punchable visual design as his character in Spies in Disguise just fucking blue.

Worst Trailer:
Shaft

You’d think that uniting Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree to beat up people would be cause for celebration but instead this trailer treats it as a means to suggest the latest family comic romp with the kind of attempt at performative wokeness that turns right around into a different kind of toxic masculinity on top of the one depicted. Baby Shaft is so shrill in less than a minute.

Best Teaser Trailer:
Richard Jewell

On top of being Eastwood’s best film of the decade, it also feels like the best utilization of his latest teaser conceit with presenting an individual scene as a short thriller. Hauser’s recitation of the phone call establishes an escalating rhythm in a more impactful way than the also great trailers for American Sniper and The Mule did with silence and the growing distress in his voice brings it all to heart-pounding by the end.

Best Trailer:
Joker – Trailer 1

Up until the online discourse made the months leading up to its release a nightmare, the pair of Joker trailers were fascinating pieces of ironic baroque tragedy that used two canonical pieces of music to boost gravitas but maintain the seedy nature of the film. It felt properly individual of its character’s iconic status in a way no other comic book movie attempted, even with its big “Joker walks in the hallway” reveal moment.

Worst Poster:
6 Underground

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Everybody in front of the car is about to be a victim of vehicular manslaughter from the world’s longest car that’s the same color as Adra Arjona’s dress. Melanie Laurent is clearly the one that gives the least shits. That’s nothing compared to the helicopter that is – according to the slanting of this poster – set to literally crash into that temple. Imagine being the pilot of that chopper and thinking you’re good because it looks normal on the poster, then wondering why you’re tipping right so hard.

Also that tagline is just another casualty of Ryan Reynolds making every role of his another Deadpool.

Best Teaser Poster:
Wonder Woman 1984

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For some reason, I already doubted that Wonder Woman 1984 will be as visually splendid as this poster is and the recently released trailer confirmed this by having the least poppy version of 1980s mall culture I’ve ever seen. But this poster gives me hope.

Best Poster:
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – US Release

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Admittedly it took my dumb ass a while to be told it was a vagina (much as I took long to recognize the titular Lighthouse as a penis), but even without the duel imagery and symbolism… the texture of it communicating the thick smudginess of oil paintings and the subtle changes in color mixes is lights my soul on… flames, I guess.

Worst Title:
Stuber

Best Title:
The Dead Don’t Die

Most Hilariously Ass-Covering Title:
The Current War: Director’s Cut

Worst Needle Drop:
I still have no fucking clue what “Angel of the Morning” was doing showing up when it did with a monster vomiting gross out moment in It: Chapter 2. Those 5 seconds were the most disorienting thing in that movie. A close contender for worst moment of the year.

Worst Song:
“Beautiful Ghosts” in Cats is indicative of the elements I hate most in both of its writers: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift. That it’s an original song addition fitting on paper with Cats is a disappointment because everytime the characters sang that song, it was the only moment where I was bored from how fucking seriously they took themselves.

Best Needle Drop:
I don’t dare spoil the PERFECT credits song to Transit, I just insist you all see the movie as soon as you can because it is a wonderfully glib surprise (and the movie attached to that needle drop in phenomenal too).

Best Song:
There is one and only one good thing to come out of the ghastly remake of The Lion King and that is the sonically beautiful new arrangement with Zulu vocals of Lebo M.’s wonderful “He Lives in You”, which was already the best song associated with The Lion King when it premiered in the Broadway musical version, miles above Elton John and Time Rice’s work on the film. So keep it up, Lebo!

Best Original Song:
Once again, reliant on a spoiler to a movie where clips are almost certainly not readily available but the performance that practically ends Episode 2 (and the first part) of La Flor is the single most satisfying usage of original music I’ve seen in this whole decade, aided by how the movie teases the song by giving us bits and pieces and charging it with the main premise of the episode.

(Apologies to “Shotgun Safari” from Dragged Across Concrete which had this clinched up until I watched La Flor. I had missed S. Craig Zahler’s excellent credits songwriting until earlier this year and now this year he’s been usurped with ease.)

Ranking of the Idina Menzel Solo Songs in Frozen II:
1. “Show Yourself”
2. “Into the Unknown”

Best Theatrical Experience:
Us had an immensely responsive audience that reminds me of what a great time it can occasionally be to see a good damn horror movie with an opening weekend audience. But the greatest moment of that night was when⁠—in the middle of the intensity⁠—somebody loudly cried out “I thought this was supposed to be a comedy!”

Worst Dialogue:
There are some things beyond our understanding, Mark. We must accept them and learn from them. Because these moments of crisis are also potential moments of faith. A time – when we either come together or fall apart. Nature always has a way of balancing itself. The only question is… What part – will we play.”
“Did you just make that up?”
“No. I read it in a fortune cookie once. A really long fortune cookie.” -Dr. Serizawa Ishiro (Ken Watanabe) giving Orientalist advice to Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (written and directed by Michael Dougherty, co-written by Zach Shields)

Most Painfully Online Dialogue:
“I read a tweet about a New Yorker article about you.” -Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) in Knives Out (Written and Directed by Rian Johnson)

Least Bit of Research Done for a Dialogue Exchange:
The Great Gatsby, huh? Spoiler alert: it was all a dream.”
“Actually… it was all a lie.”
– Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) failing Basic Lit in After (written and directed by Jenny Gage and co-written by Tom Betterton, Tamara Chestna, and Susan McMartin, based on the novel by Anna Todd so how the fuck did five people not check a wikipedia page?)

Best Dialogue:
“D’accord, mes contours…” -Marianne (Noémie Merlant) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma)

Best English Dialogue:
Damn ye! Let Neptune strike ye dead Winslow! HAAARK! Hark Triton, hark! Bellow, bid our father the Sea King rise from the depths full foul in his fury! Black waves teeming with salt foam to smother this young mouth with pungent slime, to choke ye, engorging your organs til’ ye turn blue and bloated with bilge and brine and can scream no more – only when he, crowned in cockle shells with slitherin’ tentacle tail and steaming beard take up his fell be-finned arm, his coral-tine trident screeches banshee-like in the tempest and plunges right through yer gullet, bursting ye – a bulging bladder no more, but a blasted bloody film now and nothing for the harpies and the souls of dead sailors to peck and claw and feed upon only to be lapped up and swallowed by the infinite waters of the Dread Emperor himself – forgotten to any man, to any time, forgotten to any god or devil, forgotten even to the sea, for any stuff for part of Winslow, even any scantling of your soul is Winslow no more, but is now itself the sea!” -Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) getting way defensive of his lobster cooking in The Lighthouse (Written and Directed by Robert Eggers)

Worst Animal:
I know the rat from 1917 is an easy target but, Bella potentially abandoned a bunch of kittens to be crushed in a construction site in A Dog’s Way Home so that.

Best Not-A-Real-Animal Creature:
I know it doesn’t do to go against the star of the show, but Pikachu in a deerstalker in Pokemon Detective Pikachu is not what made me want a plush toy the most. It was the fluffy square-headed frowning Snubbull that melted me most, especially when he glares at Ken Watanabe after he pets Snubbull’s head. Come on, who doesn’t want to be liked by that Pokemon?

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Best Animal:
In a year where we’ve had several dogs bite motherfuckers’ nuts right off from Sofia’s Malinois pair to Cliff’s pitbull, the one that won me over is the one that didn’t do anything except sit and smile. I’m talking about the Jewells’ family beagle Brandi in Richard Jewell, who seems to be present in the background as stress relief for very tense moments and works very well on that matter because of how obliviously lovable he was.

Worst Cameo:
JK Simmons’ surprise return as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: Far from Home doesn’t just function as a complete misunderstanding of what made the performance charming in its lack of zippy Hawksian rhythm or its appropriation of the character as some shitty Alex Jones parody. It’s also cynically lazy – maintaining Simmons’ bald head with minimal makeup and just having him shout exposition in front of a green screen – a clearer indication of the complete lack of interest Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have for the world of Spider-Man (beyond the fact that they’ve been trying to model him into a second Iron Man). If I still (barely) think the movie is better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, this individual moment was worse than any individual moment from that crap.

Best Cameo:
I had no clue Sid Haig was going to die and it appears that there was controversy in the fandom regarding his physical appearance over the last few years that Haig angrily rejected, but it seemed pretty clear to his long-time collaborator Rob Zombie that Haig didn’t have long because for the single scene that Haig shot for 3 from Hell, he gets one last opportunity to flaunt his raw grindhouse mania by delivering a crazed-eye monologue that feels apocalyptic and pointed. It is almost enough for me to forgive the movie’s existence undoing one of my favorite movie endings.

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Most Overhyped Cameo:
Only in a movie as painfully dragging and lacking in personality as Always Be My Maybe could that particular cameo by Keanu Reeves be so inflated. It hits all the same beats as every other “celebrity plays themselves as a dick” joke cameo we have been getting since the 2000s and I know it’s unfair to compare a movie cameo to a TV show role but knowing how well Nahnatchka Khan did with James Van der Beek on Don’t Trust the B– in Apt. 23 added to my underwhelmed attitude.

Most Painfully Dragged Out Cameos:
Even as someone who had a ball with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, I felt like it was way too long and believe that at least 5 hours of the 2 hour and 20 minute movie would have been cut down by viciously cutting down Ryan Reynolds’ screentime and taking out one of Kevin Hart’s two scenes. At least the latter is at his best with The Rock as his screen partner, I don’t know why the fuck Reynolds had to exist. And they just keep re-appearing as much as they possibly could short of being proper supporting roles.

Worst Moment:
The climax of The Last Black Man in San Francisco where the two leads interrupt a one-man show to artlessly shout clumsy declarations over one another completely opposite to what their goals originally were is the moment where I decided I can’t really forgive this movie’s ostensible well-meaning core for the multiple cliched Sundanceisms. In a movie that always felt narratively and thematically lost, that was the most lost moment – a scene that artificially creates a confrontation between these two characters and an exaggerated arena for that confrontation just for the sake of it.

Very close contenders were That Worst Needle Drop entry from It: Chapter 2 (and also the suicide note epilogue), The Ethiopia prologue from Uncut Gems, the midfilm twist of Waves, the prologue of Midsommar, and the sex scene in Queen & Slim so I’m getting the vibe that maybe movies don’t need to be so… online as they’ve been this year.

Most Weirdly Self-Contemptuous Moment:
Imagine failing twice to write a big number for Elsa as good as “Let It Go” and then having a moment in Frozen II where Elsa specifically scoffs at the memory of such a brilliant song that has been buttering Disney Animation Studios’ bread for the past 7 years.

Best Moment:
Technically I want to say the “Minute of Silence” sequence in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which in addition to utilizing unspoken cameos functioned as a beautiful tribute to the people who were in Mr. Rogers’ life in this non-biopic, also boasted a very confident usage of sound mixing and shot length in understated gravity.

But I don’t want to keep every superlative in this post to one movie (Beautiful Day will appear again later), so I will ostensibly give this crown instead to the dance sequence in the Golden Bear winner Synonyms, slowly beginning with a claustrophobic fleshy close-up from the very dance floor cluttered within low colors before cutting to an expansive wide shot bright with yellow (accentuated by the character’s usual yellow jacket) and the contrast is exhilarating, going from organism to microcosm in the span of minutes. In the same year where Climax existed to suggest the horror of losing your body in momentum, this scene in Synonyms suggest the opposite: it is thrilling and you’re not alone when you do.

Movies That Least Earned Their Overlong Runtimes, the worst trend in 2019 movies:
Midsommar
Ford v. Ferrari
Out Time
Uncut Gems
Avengers: Endgame
Doctor Sleep

It Chapter 2

Movie That Knows Exactly The Runtime It Deserves and Needs:
Rambo: Last Blood

Uses of Extended Long Takes, Ranked:
1. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
2. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
3. 1917
(I have unfortunately not yet seen One Cut of the Dead)

Most Overrated:
I know that Shirley Jackson fans like I are starved for adaptations of her works that aren’t Hill House, but I don’t know why we’re so desperate to overinflate the direct-to-video quality of We Have Always Lived in This Castle. We can do better.

Most Underrated:
The only possible excuse I can consider for Knives Out being ravenously praised is that Ready or Not has not been watched by enough people: a great variety of characters, excellent genre thriller filmmaking, a delicious sense of humor anchored by Samara Weaving’s winning everyman performance. Why are people forgetting Ready or Not so quickly?

Movie I’m Expecting to Appreciate More Overtime:
Absolutely feeling like sentiment has already done this a lot for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out‘s emptiness has done this for Ready or Not. If I had to guess, I can’t imagine that being as far away from the discourse as possible won’t do wonders for my fatigued attitude towards Joker.

Movie I’m Expecting to Depreciate Overtime:
I don’t mean to match these with the most contentious movies that start with “Jo” but my precious protection of Taika Waititi from claims that he’s a Nazi for making a bad anti-Nazi movie have clearly blinded me from the fact that Waititi made a bad (and homophobic) anti-Nazi movie. Exhaustion with the discourse swings both ways.

Movie I’m Most Looking Forward to Rewatching:
Cats. Will comment later on but for now… judge the fuck out of me.

Biggest Offense:
Releasing Aladdin during Ramadan, get that shit out of my fucking face.

Guiltiest Pleasure:
While you losers went forward towards boring disappointment with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, that same weekend I saw the light and went forward towards eye-opening disaster in the form of Cats and I… loved… every… second of it (outside of the assholes in front on their cell phones that I was supportingly given paper ball ammunition to throw at). We have been gifted an honest-to-God ambitious failure that’s grinning so desperately that the energy wafts over me. Not a single thing works and the movie swears it does: the inconsistent scale of the characters against the sets, the solemn deliery of its messages, the blatantly unfunny choices in comic relief, Idris Elba’s fucking everything. But it pushes itself forward as far as it can and bless it for that forever. It’s like what if you had the distressed joviality of The Greatest Showman applied to actually ill-conceived garbage.

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Best Popcorn Movie:
It is probably unfair to include a movie that can never be seen again in the proper way (maybe there’d be potential for re-release if you motherfuckers went to see it), but Gemini Man – while feeling no less a transplant from the 1990s than Serenity – boasts some incredible things done with its high frame rate and 3D combination to give this shameless sci-fi action trash a sense of visual restlessness and surround drowning that I’ve never seen before. And even without that gimmickry, the Colombia foot chase turned shootout turned motorcycle chase turned ass-whupping is a more exhausting and physically dizzying setpiece than any action sequence since Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, it is a better action scene than John Wick 3 even if the rest of the film is not up to the challenge). The bad script, the pseudo-philosophical experimentation, the high frame rate, and the amazing action puts together the best movie that’s secretly a video game.

Biggest Disappointment:
I don’t know where exactly things went wrong (I’m going to blame Disney because it’s easy), but Taika Waititi has shown a much defter handle on humor and tone than Jojo Rabbit indicated, arguably. It’s even more upsetting knowing how well Waititi handled pretty much the same arc of young disillusion in Boy, so what even the fuck? This is promising to be the second time in 5 years where one of my favorite working directors made one of their worst movies and it turns out to be an Oscar darling (*nods to Guillermo Del Toro*)

Biggest Surprise:
I don’t like biopics and I was one of the very heartless beings who didn’t like the formless Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Tom Hanks resembles Fred Rogers as much as a Hungry Hungry Hippo resembles Fred Rogers, so I had the lowest possible expectations you could have for this movie. Well, it’s not a biopic, it has an exquisite usage of form in the manner of basically being an approximation of a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episode, and Hanks’ stunt casting as the figure was largely aided by the fact that he’s such a recognizable screen personality (not to mention it added power to the final shot). So there’s some Oscarbait that deserves the Oscar it’s baiting.

Bottom 10:

10. The Goldfinch (John Crowley, USA)
Oscarbait is rarely fun as is and failed Oscarbait is no fun at all, just funereal and torturous. And I can’t think of any recent Oscarbait that feels so mummified than this joyless prestige picture.

9. Eli (Ciarán Foy, USA)
Lands (or moreso crashes) on its worst foot with all the most ridiculous contrivances that you can imagine. But at least my bodily rejection of it was a bigger response than the most predictable sluggish version of this premise that one might guess.

8. Serenity (Steven Knight, USA)
Aye, the late revelations of this film are still deranged enough for potential “so-bad-it’s-good” energy. But, an ill-advised rewatch made me recognize what an otherwise unenjoyable experience it is, dealing with this overly serious displaced-from-the-1990s thriller. It’s so stone-faced that even the most ridiculous twist (as this film has) will lose its novelty. 

7. Replicas (Jeffrey Nachmanoff, USA)
In a year where we received possibly Keanu Reeves’ best movie and performance, it is humbling to remember how easy it is to bring out his weaknesses as an actor like this trashy robo-day Prometheus does without even trying.

6. Hellboy (Neil Marshall, USA)
If it ain’t broken, don’t fucking fix it. Practically too much shit is broken in this reboot outside of Milla Jovovich to fix any of this movie.

5. The Lion King (Jon Favreau, USA)
What is the fucking point of the finest of bleeding edge CG animation with Disney money if everything the emotionless beings inhabit looks like underlit butthole?

4. Good Boys (Gene Stupnitsky, USA)
All the artlessness of mainstream American comedy with like… no jokes? Little boys saying curse words aren’t jokes.

3. Shaft (Tim Story, USA)
A painful attempt at crafting a faux-woke satire on the blaxploitation figure that just ends up filled with self-loathing of its own material. None of it is sincere and that’s just sad when you have Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson’s combined caliber together.

2. Polar (Jonas Åkerlund, USA)
Painfully boring for all its attempt at violent and sexual excess. There’s an eventual horseshoe where maximalism turns all the way around to white noise and this movies hits it within 3 minutes of the opening credits ending.

  1. Loqueesha (Jeremy Saville, USA)
    Unsurprising whatsoever that it is as unpleasant as any movie based on a self-satisfied strawman argument was going to be, but it also compounds its smugness with some of the most artless filmmaking one can have. It’s not just an unfunny movie, it’s one that’s hard to look at.

IMDb is weird up on their release dates as Oscar nominees, but if they qualify… you can consider last year’s Best Narrative Short Oscar nominee Detainment and Best Narrative Short Oscar winner (!) Skin to take spots 2 and 3, respectively. The latter is the worst Oscar-winning movie I have ever seen and the former is the worst Oscar-nominated movie I have ever seen.

Honorable Mentions
3 Faces
Apollo 11
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Climax
Everybody Knows
Hair Love
Honeyland
Hustlers
“I Don’t Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”
In Fabric
Monos
Richard Jewell
Us
This Magnificent Cake!
Tito and the Birds
Transit

Special Mentions
Deadwood: The Movie is as satisfying a conclusion as one could hope for the show, sort of applying the same nostalgic mood as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Pain and Glory, but with an anticipation of death that I think David Milch had to have spill over it. In any case, it is a TV movie through and through and unqualified for this list. Then there’s Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal⁠—despite fighting to qualify for the Oscars⁠—that is also unconditionally a miniseries in its presentation, though it should be celebrated for its endless sense of danger and tension with an unsettling usage of Tartakovsky’s cartoon styles to deliver chilling violence. Then John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is a thing whose classification as movie is… questionable to me. Not only because of its presentation as TV special on Netflix, but because it actively interacts with the structure and format of a television special in a way that is joyous and celebratory. That makes me hesitant to call it a movie. And then there’s Zia Anger’s My First Film, which does not feel at all like a film. It is a performance art presentation of film materials using the screen to interact with the audience. I know that J.B. would throttle me to death if I didn’t give it mention here as a vulnerable and honest self-examination about being a woman making an independent feature and all the mistakes and lies and fears about it, but I also know that they will get mad when they see this and see me calling it not a movie. I’ll never hear the end of it.

AND NOW MY TOP TEN OF 2019:

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10.       Atlantics (Mati Diop, Senegal/France/Belgium) – Claire Mathon basically owns 2019 after shooting two of the year’s most gorgeous movies, here by providing a soft and dreamy atmosphere without losing the realist textures of Dakar. But let’s not have her overshadow Diop on her confident feature debut, who uses Mathon’s visuals to communicate a heightened tale of romance and class conflict and… well, surprises that I don’t want to ruin. Any first-timer would be expected to blunder the abrupt turns in tone and direction that Atlantics take but Diop has no such trouble. The result is an exciting story unlike anything I have ever seen before.

9.       How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dean DeBlois, USA) – A movie inexplicably forgotten the second it came out for reasons I’ll never completely understand. Maybe it’s because of clearly unconcerned The Hidden World was to its primary conflict, but I adore that it’s a movie that wants to give space to Hiccup and Toothless to recognize and learn hard truths about their friendship and the end it is reaching (including environmentalist themes). After 3 movies with these characters, DeBlois has achieved a sincere and warm version of Toy Story 3 to bring these soaring creatures to their final bow (I might even like it more than Toy Story 3…?). Plus it has the loveliest lighting I’ve ever seen in a CG animated movie, with great care to the fog and the flames and the reflections and the colors surrounding these characters as they learn how much bigger and bigger their world is. If the story doesn’t jerk a tear, the visuals absolutely do.

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8. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) – So universally beloved at this point that putting the movie THIS low is probably a hot take. Nevertheless, it is maybe Bong’s biggest flex of his abilities as a director, taking advantage of two very perfect set designs to visually map out the haves and the have nots in a confident and direct manner. He also eschews his usual surrealism to just start with a very good genre narrative before pulling tonal swing and emotional shifts out of his sleeve without giving away the game much. If it is not my favorite Bong film, it is still undeniably the work of a master who has full control over the cinematic medium.

7.       John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski, USA) – Chapter 2 ended on some promises and Parabellum delivered them and then some. Even if you’re not like deeply enjoying the dedication of this franchise’s mythology, Parabellum’s action setpieces just keep growing bigger and bigger in ambition with steady escalation: more combatants, new weapons, globe-trotting locations in dazzling colors and visual crispness. But what sets it apart in a decade filled to the brim with exciting and ambitious action cinema is how gleeful it is to create these scenes: there’s more winking humor here than Parabellum’s already tongue-in-cheek predecessors with settings and music being selected just to have something to smash or throw or break. This is 87Eleven’s tribute to the art of cinema and its basic use as spectacle.

6.       Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, USA/UK) – A movie I was borderline hostile to and then something happened: I went back twice (my local art cinema played it in 35mm and 70mm). And I saw my personal friendships in the movie: driving a friend to work and back because my car is terrible and he was healing from surgery, my well-off friend putting her small dog in her handbag to carry around, my friend sitting in a driver’s seat listening to my woes silently. For better or worse, this IS Tarantino’s most personal film. But it also means it’s his nicest and most relaxed movie in spite of the cartoonishly violent climax. There’s an uninhibited affinity that is felt throughout the whole movie of its setting. No, of the memory of its setting, something Tarantino is trying to bring and share in a present way. If it’s a movie of Tarantino’s favorite things, it just goes to stand that I have some of the same favorite things.

5.    The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, USA/Canada) – In the beloved words of Seinfeld, it’s a movie “about nothing”! And that apparently has riled up a portion of viewers, but I can’t imagine a better way of pacing out the descent into madness this film is than by involving us in the same boredom as its poor trapped souls. On top of which, I’m not that bored because it happens to indulge in all of my cinematic catnips: the inky black and white cinematography, the focused boxy aspect ratio, the craggled delivery of ye olde Englishe, fart jokes. It is unspeakably hilarious for a horror movie and a powerful tug of war of a star vehicle (albeit one-sided as Willem Dafoe delivers not just my favorite performance of the year but one of my favorites of the decade).The Lighthouse is indeed a movie about nothing, but it still contains multitudes and Neptune bless it for all of these.

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4.       High Life (Claire Denis, France/Germany/UK/Poland/USA) – Denis’ entry into English-language filmmaking is a masterpiece no less confident than her earlier works. Which means it was also no less relentless in its examination about the most basic savagery that conscious human beings can commit, now expelled to the far ends of the universe. Denis’ attention to the cold details of the ship and the pseudo-grotesque movements and shapes of the human bodies trapped on it add to the distressing desperation⁠—interrupted by silence-cutting baby cries⁠—until providing maybe the warmest and most optimistic ending a movie like this could earn, setting a father and daughter against the universe.

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3.       A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, USA/Germany) – I have to admit an attitude of victory to find that Malick’s hailed “return to form” is not a rejection of the formless experimentation he’s been making with structure and cutting since 2011. It is instead an embrace of that stylistic technique to create a new version of subjective memory, an announcement that Malick has finally cracked the code and perfected the task as applied to a character drama about retaining morality in an amoral world. And then he gets to go even further by getting fish eye lens crazy, giving us a movie that is so in love with the world around it that it wants to capture it all and so overwhelmed by the walls entrapping the lead in the second half that the are exaggerrated and looming. That it happens to be anti-Nazi is a pleasant bonus.

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2.    La Flor (Mariano Llinas, Argentina) – A fucking journey, I will tell you. But the most effortless and engaging possible watch that a 14-hour movie could be. And “engaging” is not a term used lightly: Llinas has put together a cinematic conversation to have with the viewer, joking around about our dogged commitment (right down to the almost feature-length credits), keeping our interests high with absurd turns of plot and tone, and happily betraying the exhaustion this takes out of the players Piel de Lava as it does with the audience. And yet it is completely invigorating and possibly the single most fun experience I had watching a movie this year. I cannot wait to give it another watch at some point in my life.

1.       Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, France) – Perfection achieved. Sciamma has taken complete mastery of the cinematic language to provide a sensory experience that blurs the lines between artist and lover just on the way that it observes. This is a movie hyperaware of details that doesn’t feel crowded and a movie intoxicated without feeling obsessed. It is instead delicate and intimate and more than being about seeing somebody, it’s about how to see somebody and translate that into the tangibility of art.

Right then. See you all on the other side.

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