Way back, when this blog was still started (in fact it was mentioned in the intro post), I shared a radio show in my undergrad alma mater with Britt Rhuart and Erickh Norman by the name of A Night at the Opera promptly ended by our subsequent graduations and my leaving Phoenix, AZ where we had it. We had been talking for the last 4 years about pulling it back up from under the ground and now we’ve taken our shovels and broken the ground. Can we maintain the chemistry we once had in our college years? Do we probably need a new banner image? Can we make this a regular thing despite out conflicting work schedules and different time zones? Tune in for the first few episodes to see if you like me better in print or think I have sexy voice and find out.
In any case, this first episode finds us catching up on a few things that passed us by: the 93rd Oscar nominations, the breaking up of Daft Punk, the bankruptcy filing of Alamo Drafthouse, the passing of Yaphet Kotto, and the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. And of course going through the bottom five of our top ten list, leaving a heartpounding cliffhanger as to what will make our top five (and even if the bottom five of mine has changed in the 6+ months since originally posting, I expect my top five is still easy to predict).
The referred-to Monkey Hu$tle review can be read here.
The referred-to 150 favorite movies of the 2010s list can be read here.
I admire everyone who is trying to stay positive and optimistic about the last 9 months of the movie year, but I just don’t see any possible way this wasn’t the all-time worst movie year… possibly ever? Definitely since I’ve been alive. Even beyond the obvious factor of movie theaters (including the fact that AMC’s on the verge of being bought by Disney now that the Paramount decree has been overruled. Thanks a lot, Trump) and video stores closing across the country and film productions having to shut down costing a lot of people in the industry their jobs and livelihoods and Disney’s grip tightening more and more over the conversation around movies, there was no popcorn summer movie season. Most of the prestigious arthouse fare was pushed back to 2021 alongside the big-time popcorn movies that couldn’t yet be thrown into Disney or Warner Bros.’ streaming content power plays. Cannes didn’t occur this year. We are witnessing maybe the least impressive slate of Oscar contenders since 1929 to the point where the best of the most-locked Best Picture movies (One Night in Miami and Minari) are still movies where I am fucking meh about. There was not one fucking movie I gave a five star rating to on letterboxd. Not. One. Especially in comparison to how there were two movies I gave half-star ratings to. And frankly I don’t want to diminish my top ten so soon, but I’m not sure half of them would have made my top 25 of, say, 2019 if they had released then.
Besides which, now that streaming seems to be the full force behind movie-watching, I got to get this off my chest… it is just a downright awful way to watch movies: On a tech basis given how even the best video quality of 4K streaming doesn’t match up with the worst video quality of a blu-ray (oh shit but there goes the video stores), on an industrial basis given how flat and polished movies already look even when they’re not Netflix originals that have this visually windexed aesthetic, and on an experiential level: whether I’m alone in the theater or the theater is packed (in which the experience is shared in a way that makes movie-watching feel so much more community-based than having a water cooler subject of the week), being in a pitch black room with one image glowing above me and hanging in the air like a ghost as the soundtrack surrounds, sinking me further into a movie than sitting in my living room off of a flatscreen tv with a soundbar. It just doesn’t match up in an effective way, whether or not I get to determine the bathroom break. And now it’s threatening to be the only way movies I would have otherwise loved to see in theaters will be available to me. This is not the fault of COVID necessitating we all stay at home and take care of ourselves and being the bare minimum way to incentivize others staying indoors as much as possible, but there’s no fucking way I wouldn’t have enjoyed Soul much more in the movie theaters than I did at home.
So yeah, I am not in the slightest conflicted about saying that 2020 as a movie year was garbage. To say nothing about its experience as a year with actual consequence and exhaustion to every single person in the world (though this is a movie blog and I feel like if you get me started on the state of affairs within 2020 overall, I will never stop) and I’m way happy to wave it goodbye.
Let’s get this wrapped the fuck up, so I can take a step away from it all.
First, a post-mortem…
REST IN PEACE Ennio Morricone Diana Rigg Sean Connery Olivia De Havilland Wilford Brimley Chadwick Boseman James Lipton Max von Sydow Ian Holm Fred Willard
CLOSED-DOWN VIDEO STORES I WILL MISS Odd Obsession Vulcan Video I Luv Video (and I guess Family Video qualified even though that took place January-February)
10. The Lie (Veena Sud, Canada/USA) – This movie got delayed as much as the distributors could before having to hide behind similarly mediocre horror movies, but this one was still a standout of badness.
9. A Fall from Grace (Tyler Perry, USA) – How low do y’all think Tyler Perry can go? Because he is always surprising me.
8. Scoob! (Tony Cervone, USA) – Maybe the worst instance ever of trying to will yourself an unearned cinematic universe.
7. Stardust (Gabriel Range, UK/Canada) – Imagine thinking it’s a good idea to make a David Bowie biopic without his music. Marc Maron without a moustache is an unnerving sight.
6. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (Debbie Allen, USA) – The only bad thing Dolly Parton can ever be associated with.
5. The Turning (Floria Sigismondi, USA) – The Turn of the Screw for the hyperactive generation, complete with missing an ending so bad.
4. Godmothered (Sharon Maguire, USA) – Disney is death.
3. Cats & Dogs 3: Paws United (Sean McNamara, USA) – It’s a third Cats & Dogs, movie. Why?
2. Fantasy Island (Jeff Wadlow, USA) – I wish I hadn’t seen this.
Dolittle (Stephen Gaughan, USA) – Having Robert Downey Jr.’s career after being cast as Tony Stark is clearly a fate worse than death.
BEST TITLE I’m Thinking of Ending Things
WORST TITLE Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
MOST OBVIOUS TITLE ATTEMPT TO AVOID ABBREVIATION TO WW2 Wonder Woman 1984
EASIEST PAIR OF TITLES TO MIX UP Emma. and Ema
I swear those are two different movies. To be fair, they both star Latin Americans, but one of them stars an Argentinian and a Brazilian and the other one stars a Mexican and a Chilean. OK, actually that doesn’t clear anything up. As the director of one of these gloriously pointed out, the period film is the one with a period at the end. That help?
BEST POSTER Da 5 Bloods
A side effect of barely any movies at the theaters means that there’s hardly any physical posters since there’s no theater to display them at, so I really hoped to pick a theatrically released film to stick it to streaming but there’s just slim pickings. Even then, it’s hard to argue against this poster’s utilisation of protest art – of a beautifully dual-sided anti-war and pro-black protest – aesthetic to present the grab bag of ideas it’s delivering as well as reflecting on the epic and unwieldy nature of the movie.
BEST TEASER POSTER Gretel & Hansel
At least this one can be a theatrical release and it’s just about simple enough to creep one out without even trying, placing Alice Krige’s wonderfully creepy vacant face on one edge of the poster to the point of barely capturing her profile and her hand at the opposite end and makes sure to fill that empty space with just one very wrong thing to tell what kind of movie this is with the sickly yellow hue of it sealing the deal. “A Grim Fairy Tale” is also a very cute pun.
WORST POSTER Mank
I know what it’s trying to imitate but it is imitating it badly. It’s the text placement that is messing it up for me, which would make more sense if they didn’t still shove conventional credits at the bottom. Plus the attempt to take what’s already a plenty expressionist art style and overwhelm it with the warping to imply a drunken haze. Like, nah, this ain’t it.
BEST TRAILER The Green Knight
Ambiguous enough to pull the interest for more information, even as someone who is already familiar with every part of Arthuriana. Eerie and atmospheric to give the psychological sense of fear without acting like a horror movie. David Lowery has generally been a director that I’ve been dubious of but every image and sound that this trailer communicated has me just ready for what he’s about to deliver and it’s even enough to wash the bad taste of David Copperfield out of my mouth.
BEST TRAILER UNDER ITS CIRCUMSTANCES The Batman
Nothing particularly revelatory in this trailer, but one has to admit it’s impressive what they were able to put together just to build early hype especially given how cursed the production was turning out to be. Plus the build up with Nirvana almost makes me forgive how much a Nirvana song showing up in a movie trailer would have Kurt Cobain rolling in his grave.
WORST TRAILER Mank
Same as the Mank poster, it is just so bad at resembling the Citizen Kane era movie preview-isms. It feels like too much of a blur to make any worthwhile impression. Really emblematic of my issues with Mank as a movie, how dedicating it is to imitating a style instead of using it as a launchpad.
BIGGEST PLOT TWIST IN A TRAILER Connected
This loses its punch now that the title has been changed back to The Mitchells vs. the Machines but once upon a time I had absolutely no reason to expect the trailer to suddenly change the movie’s premise halfway through its family road trip picture to a robot action movie. Felt like a Spies in Disguise move.
MOST “SO BAD, IT’S GOOD” TRAILER Hillbilly Elegy
This movie is a bad terminator but the trailer is a so bad, it’s good terminator.
MOST UNORTHODOX NEEDLE DROP IN A MOVIE “The Plan” – Travis Scott in Tenet, which I’m imagining was just Ludwig Goransson lazily inviting Travis Scott to check this cool thing he was working on and Scott deciding he wanted to lay a verse over one of the music cues of the film. At least it’s in the credits, but Travis Scott in a Christopher Nolan movie is wild.
MOST SCENE-BREAKING NEEDLE DROP “Running with the Wolves” – Aurora in Wolfwalkers. I can admire the musicians for trying to rearrange the song to fit more with the wonderful Celtic folk score, but it still sounds just way too poppy in its drums to prevent taking me out of this transportive film as an emotionally critical moment.
BEST LINE “There’s fuckery afoot.” – Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery) giving us word up in The Gentlemen (written by Guy Ritchie)
WORST LINE “Oh, my Barry berries” – Barry the tiger (Ralph Fiennes) after getting punched in the balls in Dolittle (written by Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, & Doug Mand and definitely other ghostwriters but whoever is responsible for this line knows what the fuck he did).
BEST MOMENT The fireworks sequence in Wonder Woman 1984, absolutely hokey and cheesy as it is but feeling just as much a part of the Silver Age optimism of Richard Donner’s Superman with as much dazzling colors and light. If modern superhero movies were more like that scene, I’d probably not be complaining as much about their existence. Almost as iconic as the first movie’s No Man’s Land scene.
WORST MOMENT The very last reveal of Fantasy Island involving a character’s new identity, which had to work incredibly hard to be a low point for a film that just kept getting worse and worse and feels like some miscalculated fan service for the internet generation.
MOST FILM-DESTROYING MOMENT The third act of Promising Young Woman which crashes and burns where a previously perfectly functional anti-rape revenge picture was flying to have really unchecked character nihilism.
MOST INSANE PLOT TWIST Wild Mountain Thyme and I ain’t spoiling a damn thing.
BEST CAMEO Veronica Ngo in Da 5 Bloods
Always a pleasure to see her show up in a picture and her presence as a source of inspiration and disillusion for the characters in the minimal screen time she shows – I have no real reference towards the mimicry of the real-life Hanoi Hannah so I can’t say much on that – is balanced impressively.
MOST BALLSY CAMEOS Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Sturgill Simpson, and Glenn Howerton in The Hunt
I really like how long The Hunt was able to play the long con of who of these recognizable actors is supposed to be the protagonist while dispatching of them bloodily over the first 20-30 minutes.
MOST EGREGIOUS BRAND PLACEMENT Amazon and US Gypsum in Nomadland.
Imagine actually working with two of the main benefactors for the system that causes poverty while making a movie ostensibly about poverty and being actually nostalgic for those benefactors.
MOST INEXPLICABLE PRODUCT PLACEMENT Olive Garden for Sonic the Hedgehog.
MOST UNORTHODOX CAMEO Bill Nye in Mank. I genuinely would like to know the thought process that determined we’d watch Bill Nye chant socialiast ideals in silhouette pretending to be Upton Sinclair for 60 seconds.
MOST UNEXPECTED CAMEO Michael Bay in Bad Boys for Life. So I guess he left the franchise on good enough terms but I can’t tell if he was playing an MC at the wedding or actually a friend of the family’s. The wooden delivery of calling Will Smith “Uncle Mike” blurs those lines.
WORST CAMEO Simon Cowell in Scoob!. Are we still in 2003? The man is basically trying to synergize his brand and apparently dragged his poor son into this as well.
HORROR MOVIES ABOUT MISERABLE HOME SITUATIONS RANKED The Dark and the Wicked Run The Lodge Color Out of Space Come to Daddy Come Play You Should Have Left The Turning
MOVIES ABOUT WEIRD SOUL SWAPS IN OTHER BODIES RANKED Wolfwalkers Ride Your Wave Zombi Child Soul Wonder Woman 1984 Freaky NiNoKuni
(I regret to say I have not yet seen Possessor)
BEST MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE MOVIE The only good thing about 2020 in movies is that we’ve had the best MCU year ever: 0 fucking movies.
Now we’re slated for 4 movies and 6 tv shows in 2021 and already the discussion on WandaVision got me sick of it without even watching an episode.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Ema
It’s not like Pablo Larrain has never made a movie I disliked, given that The Club exists. But the stylisation gave me much higher hopes that this would exactly be my shit and instead it’s not nearly stylized enough or with a strong enough central performance to function as what it wants to be: a coy character study with an opaque central character.
MOVIES I WAS MOST EXCITED TO SEE IN 2020 THAT I GOTTA WAIT UNTIL 2021 FOR NOW Annette – Not only for being Leos Carax’s new movie since Holy Motors reawakened him but also for being a musical composed by Sparks and starring Marion Cotillard. The French Dispatch – Yes, of course I am excited for a Wes Anderson omnibus. The Green Knight– Even as someone suspicious towards David Lowery, I’m just too much of a sucker for Arthuriana. The Tragedy of MacBeth – Apprehensive about if one Coen brother is as strong as the two of them together but also Denzel playing Shakespeare seems a no brainer. Top Gun: Maverick– I cannot imagine watching this movie anywhere but on a big screen.
MOST OVERRATED Oh my word, it’s slightly early still but the Best Picture Oscar is basically Nomadland’s to lose right now and everybody is eating it up and I will want to crawl under a fucking rug when it happens. Sure, it’s nice to see a woman of color sweep awards but it’s hard for me to root for it without feeling performative when it’s a movie I disliked and morally object to by a director I’ve been unimpressed with.
MOST UNDERRATED Technically this would be the ridiculously over-hated Wonder Woman 1984 or the disappointingly underappreciated Monster Hunter, but those will both have their moment later in this post. Instead, I must give this to Underwater, a movie whose sole crime appears to be a tense and murky deep sea thriller with basically no fat to its escalation to deep sea monster movie. Some people just can’t appreciate the good stuff.
MOST LIKELY TO DEPRECIATE FOR ME OVERTIME Birds of Prey and Fatman
Both of them for similar reasons of feeling like they try a bit too hard, to the point that Fatman has already aged enough for me to go maybe “it’s more the idea of its humor than it actually being funny”. In Birds of Prey’s case, the more I look back on any self-referential winking moment, the more it reminds me of Deadpool’s artificial attempt at bounciness and while Birds of Prey is definitely better than Deadpool and Suicide Squad… that chain isn’t a good thing to be reminded of.
MOST LIKELY TO APPRECIATE FOR ME OVERTIME Greenland and Zombi Child
Again, both of these pretty much already started growing more on me: Zombi Child is the sort of weird thing that just sticks in my brain and never lets go, steadily climbing to my honorable mentions of this year as you will see. Greenland, it’s all about that first act and how much it does with the scope of an apocalyptic movie even while it later devolves into the usual Gerard Butler vehicle trash. Maybe I can just stop the movie 40 minutes in next time and pretend it’s that perfect.
MOVIE I’M MOST PROBABLY GOING TO REWATCH SOON On the Rocks
It’s the same thing as every Sofia Coppola movie, the surfaces are so distracting in awesome ways that I feel the need to go back and scratch further underneath to see what else it is she’s got on her mind. And say what we like about her using the same premise over and over, she always has a lot on her mind.
BEST SURPRISE The Croods: A New Age is probably the 2020 movie that has the least reason to exist at all and yet it justified itself and more by its embracing of color and ridiculous animal designs, disabusing me of the fear Trolls: World Tour gave me that Dreamworks Animation’s unexpected late reign of visual splendour had ended and giving Kelly Marie Tran a role worthy of her talent (she sounds like she’s having more fun here than she did in Raya and the Last Dragon) and Cloris Leachman a hilarious final hurrah.
(For the record, I almost made Trolls: World Tour my Biggest Disappointment for the symmetry of having Dreamworks Animation sequels up in here, but even as someone who really likes the first Trolls, it was worryingly evident in the trailers they already over-smoothed the textures that made the first a visual delight).
BEST POPCORN MOVIE This is technically Tenet but that’s in my top ten and it’s also technically Wonder Woman 1984 but look below on that so I will instead dedicate this space to the awesome popcorn movie power of Monster Hunter, the most successful of Paul WS Anderson’s experiments to translate video game storytelling to real big movie scenarios. On top of its ability to take Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa and star in their own wasteland buddy comedy together. On top of having a pirate chef cat.
BEST Fantasy Island ADAPTATION Wonder Woman 1984, complete with a better Mr. Roarke in the form of Pedro Pascal. Sorry, Michael Peña. (Thank you to Z.G. for making this joke in my view)
MOST UNEXPECTEDLY APT FILM FOR THE PANDEMIC She Dies Tomorrow. Talk about prophetic with the conceptual virus here.
BEST BAD MOVIE You can tell Josh Trank had no intention of wasting his unexpected “second chance” at a career as a filmmaker with Capone and the resultant excess is a gloriously dedicated time. Which is probably to be expected everytime you give Tom Hardy a chance to ham it up, but even in its laughability… this movie is weirdly admirable in its go-for-brokeness.
GUILTIEST PLEASURE A Recipe for Seduction. In the words of Rick Sanchez, I just looked straight into the bleeding jaws of capitalism and said “yes, daddy, please…”. Helps that it’s only 16 minutes long though and that I never have any craving for the world’s worst fried chicken so I am immune to the propaganda. My craving is just for Mario Lopez’s biceps with that moustache.
BEST FESTIVAL WATCH NOT YET RELEASED IN THE US Frank & Zed
BEST MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN 2020 FOR THE FIRST TIME Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke, USA) A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang, Taiwan) The Cameraman (1928, Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton, USA) The Falls (1980, Peter Greenaway, UK) Forty Guns (1957, Samuel Fuller, USA) Glistening Thrills (2013, Jodie Mack, USA) God Told Me To (1976, Larry Cohen, USA) Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989, Tracey Moffatt, Australia) Redline (2009, Koike Takeshi, Japan) Tekkonkinkreet (2006, Michael Arias, Japan) (and One Cut of the Dead and La Flor, though they qualified for 2019)
MOVIES I WISH I HAD SEEN BEFORE MAKING THIS POST BUT DIDN’T WAIT BECAUSE I WANTED TO BEAT THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS AND IT’S MY OWN FAULT THERE’S SO MANY FOR BEING TOO BABY TO KEEP UP WITH NEW RELEASES BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE STREAMING Possessor, Peninsula, The Willoughbys, The Cordillara of Dreams, Graves Without a Name, Joan of Arc, Sunless Shadows, The Painted Bird, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, The Truth, Young Ahmed, Liberté, Kajillionaire, A White White Day, The Roads Not Taken, Vitalina Varela, and Tigertail.
HONORABLE TELEVISION MENTION Small Axe, Primal, and Keep Your Hands Off, Eizouken!
Primal is on its second season of course and there doesn’t seem to be any mistake with Eizouken’s status as miniseries, so I guess Small Axe is the only one that needs explaining. In which case I’ll just point out that save for Mangrove (which definitely feels cinematic in its choice of runtime and structure and aspect ratio), the strengths that make Small Axe (and especially the phenomenal Lovers Rock) one of the best things I’ve watched all year are strengths that take advantage of the limitations and format and even the viewing area (probably your living room) of a television program.
HONORABLE MENTIONS The Assistant (Kitty Green, USA) Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil/France) Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, Poland/France) Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, USA) Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie (Richard Phelan & Will Becher, UK) The Father (Florian Zeller, France/UK) Let Them All Talk (Steven Soderbergh, USA) Monster Hunter (Paul WS Anderson, China/Germany/Japan/USA) Nimic (Yorgos Lanthimos, Germany/UK/USA) Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach, UK/France/Belgium) Soul (Pete Docter & Kemp Powers, USA) Synchronic (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, USA) The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, China/France) Wonder Woman 1984 (Patty Jenkins, USA) Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, France)
AND THE TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2020
10. The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, USA)
Probably more of a result of having directly binged as much of her expansive short film work (as well as her first feature) as I had access to before watching this one, but there’s just something really satisfying about watching a filmmaker’s development over her career to something as confident as this. Using her characteristic avant-garde stop-motion cutting over textiles, The Grand Bizarre guides us through a wordless globalist musing on how cloth with its colors and textures communicate cultural ideas to us and has its mark all over the world.
9. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
Without diverging from his MO of lacking narration or narrative, Wiseman finally went and decided to show his hand as a political filmmaker and the result is his most exciting documentary since National Gallery. Is it the sort of movie where you imprint your own conceptions on the fly-on-the-wall footage, same as his other films? Absolutely, but the arrangement in his cutting here surprisingly brings his personal perspective this hometown city of his and the frustration with bureaucratic slowness that feels stuck between the urgency of each individual constituents’ personal issue and glad-handing idealist speak that politicians use to give the impression that they’ll do something without providing any actual action.
8. The Fall (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
Kind of easy to do when it’s a short film, but I promise I haven’t forgotten a single image from this most harrowing of short films. Uses lines and blackness in a way that makes it more solid and urgent as a nightmare and with Mica Levi’s score amplifying the terror that this short is supposed to communicate without relying on anything visceral or grotesque. Just masks and lines and black and bass. So good, rewatching it washes off the bad taste of Strasbourg 1518 from the same year. I don’t know how long we need to wait for Glazer’s next feature, but I can’t wait.
7. Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, UK/USA)
All it needed to do was be well constructed enough and have a cast that has a good enough handle on the material to be a movie I liked. The way that De Wilde and company walked into this production with a contemporary willingness to be mean about its characters and that her crew got to let the colors truly add a rosy irony in its aesthetic to all the nastiness going on beneath the proper prose. It’s always the dopest when filmmakers REALLY get Jane Austen’s viciousness and play into it. Begs for a rewatch double feature with Love & Friendship and I wouldn’t be surprised if I indulge in that soon.
6. Tenet (Christopher Nolan, UK/USA)
It is just a huge breath of fresh air to have Christopher Nolan finally tell us the only things he really cares about with his movies: visual sleekness, pounding momentum, and structure. That’s it: story and characters are at the mercy of the writer (which is him. Oops!) and the cast (which play with 2D spy movie stock types incredibly well – Washington and Pattinson with their personality, Branagh with his hamminess). So all that’s left is to just rocket through the creative big-time action set pieces with enough spy movie tension in between so that we don’t get a chance to catch our breath even when stuff isn’t going backwards on-screen, in Nolan’s lovely feature-length tribute to the oldest of cinematic visual effects: running the film backwards. Really, I feel the chilliness this movie received is based on a misconception that its convolutions and flatness as a story are a puzzle to be solved rather than just a ride to be rode. And I really enjoyed the ride.
5. The Wolf House (Cristobal León & Joaquín Cociña, Chile)
If The Fall was harrowing as a fantastical concept delivered in less than 10 minutes, The Wolf House was like slowly discovering your spine has been shivering for the past 75 minutes. From its impressive meta-gambit to the grotesque look of its animation style as though watching characters painfully melt and reconstruct over and over, The Wolf House was already plenty horrifying enough on a fundamental manner of its creeping dark aesthetic even without the context of the real-life horrors this movie is trying to contextualize under its skin. Have something ready to cheer you up after watching this for sure.
4. Ride Your Wave (Yuasa Masaaki, Japan)
The argument can of course be made that it’s Yuasa’s second shot at the same concepts as Lu Over the Wall, but Ride Your Wave takes the similar ingredients while having its own visual identity – its sunbright pink and blue animated lighting, the singular pop song as an emotional anchor of Ride Your Wave are easy to distinguish from the Fleischer dance animations, the cool green, and the bouncy music of Lu Over the Wall. And while I love Lu with all my heart, Ride Your Wave sweeps the floor with it: it has a much more down-to-Earth (for a fantasy about resurrection) story about making your own life while dealing with love and loss as things that the human soul is going to have to push through, however hard it gets. Sneaking in emotional gut punches while still having the sense of humor that something as cartoonish as a Yuasa film should have, I’m honestly disappointed with how little it’s been making waves on the Animated Feature awards circuit while being surprised there were at least two animated films that surpassed this year.
3. World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (Don Hertzfeldt, USA)
It took me a minute to get used to the sudden shift of focus and mood that the third film in Don Hertzfeldt’s ongoing existential future series of short films threw us into, and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got my footing on it (but I am confident I’ll have it by Episode 4). But the presence of the wonderful Emily Prime of the first two seemed to have brought us to forget how dark and cynical Hertzfeldt was capable of being in between his insightful humanity as a storyteller. Either way, each World of Tomorrow entry has proven to be Hertzfeldt’s most visually ambitious work to date and Episode 3 did not fail on that: it plays with the z-axis to give physical depth to these stick figures. It also adds a new fatalist visual layer for gags on top of bringing more clutter and detail to the world-building. If nothing else, this entry really put the World in World of Tomorrow in a way I didn’t even realize it needed.
2. Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart, Ireland/Luxembourg/USA/UK/France)
Cartoon Saloon already pretty much nailed the use of two-dimensional shapes resembling Celtic art aesthetic with The Secret of Kells and based on their subsequent lovely but unrevelatory features, I was starting to feel they had hit a stop on where to develop the style from there. Wolfwalkers was beyond my dreams of what they were capable of. Moore and Stewart and the other animators transform folk art into something actually malleable to code the dichotomies in its story at war: placing blocky shapes against relaxed round elements in order to visually compliment its unexpectedly rich screenplay basically at its core about resistance as independent feminine nature vs. masculine violent urbanisation in the form of two girls’ friendship within a hostile world (with the threading of the complex discommunication between father and daughter). By the time we got to our first instance of seeing the pencil sketch lines remaining on certain character designs and point of view shots (adding a roughness that gave the visuals further amiable character), I was convinced that Cartoon Saloon was the best animation studio working today.
1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
And from one period piece that uses its own portrayal of a developing society to comment on the world as it is now to another. And there’s really nothing within First Cow that Reichardt hasn’t been exploring all throughout her career – what with its central oddball friendship to muse on where quiet tenderness has its place in masculinity and its quiet implication of capital and class as a source of hierarchical exploitation of both people and nature – but it’s done with a silent confidence that gets to have its shagginess without feeling lazily put together by Reichardt. It’s ambling and patient stuff that only yielded more depth the deeper it sinks into its time and place as an ambling state of mind and earns the emotions of its unexpected final beats without stressing it in the slightest. I know I said nothing I saw all year earned five stars from me, but maybe on a rewatch this movie and the two runner-ups (Wolfwalkers and World of Tomorrow Episode 3) would creep up to that.
Alright, that’s it. I’m done. Let’s move on to our next shitty year.
A bit of personal news: I am moving once again this weekend, this time to the Chicago area and with no intention of moving back to Miami (which is not the same thing as not going back for holidays and what not, most of my family is here, y’see…). With such an anticipated event as fully lifting off out of this city finally occurring, it marked an occasion to finally do something I’ve been often considering but never jumped on: a list of movies that I feel represent Miami as I’ve known it for most of my life.
The bad news is that… well… most of the movies set in Miami aren’t shot in Miami (the city has particularly shown its ass with regards to film production incentives) and most of the movies shot in Miami… are not good. So I don’t particularly take this to be an endorsement of all the movies in question and I’m going to be breaking this down into a few categories before I reach a top ten of my favorite cinematic representations of Miami as a city.
Movie I Definitely Feel I Should Have Seen Before Committing to This: Wild Things (1998, John McNaughton, USA) From all the things I hear about it, it is the sort of tawdry that South Florida’s public image is tailor-made for as well as being a pretty thorough look at the Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne area. But I ain’t seen it, so I can’t confirm that. (Second place goes to Chef. And I do have to admit that despite him being a longtime son of Miami that also doubled as its criminal historian, I have not seen a single Billy Corben film).
Movie with a Frustrating Lack of Clarity to its Title: Miami Connection (1987, Richard Park & Y.K. Kim, USA) Indeed, it breaks MY heart too when I have to explain to others that just because Miami is in the title doesn’t mean it takes place in Miami – opening skyline and establishing shot with Coral Gables in neon lights aside – and that the “connection” is a drug source term. You don’t see The French Connection being set in France (actually parts of it are set in France and parts of this movie are set in Miami but nothing shot in Miami).
The Usual Suspects That Don’t Do It for Me: Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma, USA) For the blunt truth that the movie wasn’t shot in Miami and maybe it’s just me but it ALWAYS looked like Los Angeles-by-way-of-Miami to me. Sorry to all the 305-based lovers.
Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann, USA & Germany) Even outside of Miami friends who love this movie, this has been earning something of a reappraisal and I just don’t get it. It’s just too visually ugly for little payoff that I can’t get into its representing of the city. It’s clear between this movie and Collateral that Mann and Dion Beebe have more to give with Los Angeles’ streets than Miami’s.
Out of Sight (1996, Steven Soderbergh, USA) The hardest to take out but I honestly only recognize like… one scene in Miami itself and the rest of it looks very much like Los Angeles. Feels like they gave more fidelity to Detroit as a city in the second half than Miami in the first half – though it was hot enough for regular summertime fare in Miami nights.
So Close but No Cigar – The Broward County Selections:
10. Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock, USA) – It’s Hitchcock so it’s obviously a soundstage being rear projected, but it’s rear projected with the most romantically deco look of Miami’s beaches circa the 1940s when it felt most like a discovered escape. Perfect backdrop for a romance-turned-thriller.
9. Caddyshack (1980, Harold Ramis, USA) – A confession that is going to possibly get this list shouted at by anyone else in Miami – I’m including Broward-shot movies. Part of the metropolitan area so my conscience is… mostly clear. Anyway, try as Ramis did to make it look like a Midwestern setting, it was impossible not to recognize the extremely bright hot Ft. Lauderdale grass and the flopsweat that all the privileged snobs of the numerous gold courses and yacht clubs would take so that I took extra heart to watching them made the butt of a million jokes as a teenager. Key Biscayne doesn’t look like a Great Lake on the water, it looks like Key Biscayne.
8. Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan, USA) – The other Broward movie I worked in (and to be clear, I’m very fond of both and would have them much much higher if they weren’t Broward). Particularly the way that Kasdan and company use Miami as the heated wet beach backdrop for some extremely steamy material that visually lends the outrageous sweltering sexy stickiness of the premise and its characters. Probably the best usage of the Miami area, Dade-County or not, but I am a man of my principles.
7. The Transporter 2 (2005, Louis Letterier, France) – A lot of it specifically on the merit of its car chase sequences. Virtually none of which provides much fidelity to the geography of the city itself but much of it taking enough time to capture the ridiculous boxy angles of the streets of South Beach and the perpetual state of construction for like every five buildings in certain places – almost certainly set to be another fucking parking garage.
6. The Bad Boys trilogy (1995-2020, Michael Bay/Ardi El Arbi & Billal Fallah, USA) – The latter of these is the least deserving – shot mostly in Atlanta – but any movie that takes care to include Mac’s Deuce Club or Calle Ocho deserves to be considered. As for the first two, they aren’t necessarily the worst movies on this list (ok maybe Bad Boys II is), but you can definitely tell that Michael Bay is a Miami resident at heart who was specifically seduced by the imagery of the city, trying to catch THIS landmark and THAT landmark simply because he has the money to act like he owns the place. Where else would a man pretend that a pair of cops could afford a high rise in Brickell or a house on Sunset Island. On a cop’s fucking salary. This is high-imagination luxury porn on the beach. (I will humbly confess that the extended car chase on the MacArthur Causeway with the flipping cars is possibly my favorite setpiece in all of Michael Bay’s filmography).
5. Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins, USA) – Sure, I still hold angrily towards its depiction of a magical transit system that could definitely take Chiron from Liberty City to South Beach without any issue and I do hold that James Laxton’s color work does try to aestheticize Liberty Square in a way that I don’t find very interesting, but it’s a story told from the perspectives of two inhabitants of Liberty City – director/co-writer Jenkins and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney. They’re so clear-eyed about the state of the community and its isolation while recognizing what about it would repress or enable or nourish personalities like Little, Chiron, or Black’s in quiet ways, the sort of manner that comes from a life lived in these walls recognizing the good and bad they brought out of it. Overall, it illuminates what is a near-invisible side of Miami to most that it feels essential an entry on this list.
4. Step Up Revolution (2012, Scott Speer, USA) – If you have to ask me if I believe the loud dance movie about flash mobs in Miami that is part of a franchise that remains one of my deepest guilty pleasures represents to me the vibrancy and obnoxiousness of Miami in balanced measures… you’ll never know me.
3. Invasion U.S.A. (1985, Joseph Zito, USA) – Speaking of deep guilty pleasures for yours truly… Miami Connection‘s disqualification can be forgiven when I am able to include a Chuck Norris vehicle produced by Cannon Films. The excellent excessive 80s action movie would have to spill over beautifully in Miami (too bad it didn’t work out as well in Band of the Hand) where we get streets filled with tanks and shootouts in Dadeland Mall playing out like my childhood daydreams of being a badass while destroying the city as collateral damage.
2. River of Grass (1994, Kelly Reichardt, USA) – I’m possibly going to jump on a Reichardt retrospective for First Cow if I have time later this year, so excuse me if I try to restrain myself but what really impresses me about River of Grass is how it sees Miami’s highways the same manner that I did – a tangle of manmade constructs imposing on fields of green and brown, far from the famous blue of the East Coast and driving us deeper and deeper into an isolated grassy wetland border away from cities and people that honestly make me feel me more isolated than when I drive for 3 or 4 hours through I-75 to Tampa or Sarasota. Wisely, Reichardt never came back to Miami once she bounced after this film (I remember a local screening of this movie’s new restoration that she couldn’t even be convinced to attend) but I’m glad she had one chance to treat this city the same way she treats Portland on the screen.
Miami Blues (1990, George Armitage, USA) – 7 years before he ended up making a movie about a sociopath trying to deal with life in Grosse Point, Armitage provided a movie about a sociopath trying to deal with life in Miami and… I feel very seen. First off by how Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography lives up to the “Blues” in the title by visually overt ways, by the manner in which the movie captures the most boring and suburban side of Miami (I believe it’s the only movie besides Invasion USA‘s Dadeland sequence to be shot in Kendall), and how it is impossible to bring a façade of stable domesticity even if you’re not a hair-trigger murderer. Alec Baldwin and Fred Ward each represent a different side of my exasperation with this city and its pressures. I take it be a point of great faith that it’s a movie produced by Jonathan Demme and based on a book by Charles Willeford, two former Miamians that totally get it to those who aren’t beach bums and just trying to find one of these ugly colored concrete blocks with four walls to fall asleep in.
BONUS LIST OF THREE PLACES I’VE PREVIOUSLY LIVED (with no further text, I’m just gonna give the titles ’cause I’m tired):
Best representation of Algiers in the movies: Z (1969, Costas-Gavras, Greece/Algeria) and The Battle of Algiers (1965, Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria)
Best representation of Phoenix in the movies: Raising Arizona (1987, Joel & Ethan Coen, USA) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989, Stephen Herek, USA) (I would also like to shout out my friends involved with Car Dogs and with Running Wild Films)
10 Favorite Representations of New York City: 10. Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumet, USA) 9. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974, Joseph Sargent, USA) 8. The Last Dragon (1985, Michael Schulz, USA) 7. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet, USA) 6. Man Push Cart (2005, Ramin Bahrani, USA) 5. The Clock (1945, Vincente Minnelli, USA) 4. Manhattan (1979, Woody Allen, USA) 3. The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin, USA) 2. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee, USA) 1. The Warriors (1979, Walter Hill, USA) (With a glorified honorable mention to The Squid and the Whale, After Hours, John Wick, Goodfellas, Sweet Smell of Success, God Told Me To, and The Godfather I & II)
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
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
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
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?
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.
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 (BeautifulDay 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
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 KnivesOut‘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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, it’s Mother’s Day and Cinema has a lot of mothers (which is funny because people usually can’t figure out who their father is inste– ahem) and I think it’s just about time that rather than honoring my own mother like I probably should, maybe I should tell these fictional mothers (with two real-life exceptions) that I see them and the hard work they do for their children and how their status as a mother informs their actions and decisions within their films more than a little bit. Anyway, I gotta finish this intro real quick because I promised my mom I’d buy her tickets for Life of the Party.
10. Lynn Sear (Toni Collette) – The Sixth Sense
9. Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) – The Exorcist
They both essentially play the same fields, so I’m discussing both Lynn and Chris in this entry. Both are characters being foregrounded within the first half as very desperately trying to find every option on why their child is performing some alarmingly bizarre behaviors and both are sidelined by the time that the element of the supernatural is fully acknowledged by the main players in the film. And yet these are both pretty overqualified actors giving fatigued urgent performances as they run through the options and find themselves in dead-ends that they have to barrel through. Chris gets the edge with an extra layer of dire guilt we watch on her face in a scene of torturous medical tests that provide more horror than any of the spooky ghost scenes after, but Lynn just as well has a standout scene upon her son Cole helping her accept his gift while he relays a message from her own mother.
8. Maria von Trapp (Julie Andrews) – The Sound of Music
Who could possibly hate Maria? Even her romantic rival for Christopher Plummer’s Baron is eventually able to see what wonderful things she does for the von Trapp household and the kids themselves, able to function in all areas as a step-mother before the prospect of marriage is put on the table. She sees why the children feel alienated by their father and yet also why their father is such a demanding disciplinarian and by her presence connects the two together again. And also it’s Julie Andrews indulging in song and hating on Nazis. That’s it, game over.
It’s practically criminal to include a list of the best movie mothers and not have Mildred Pierce on here. She pointedly throws herself on every possible cross she has to to make sure her monstrous elder daughter Veda is able to have everything she needs and more, while her success as a businesswoman is driven by her memory of the more loving Kay. And despite the disparity in reciprocation, we don’t see her play any favorites between the two. The only reason she’s so low is, given how the movie is mostly dominated with the Mildred-Veda pairing (Kay’s death occurring early in the film), Veda’s malicious elitism towards her own mother mark out their relationship as so draining and toxic to Mildred one knows the best course would have been to move on from her daughter’s grip. Pretty funny given that Crawford’s real-life relationship with her own daughter is notoriously the inverse.
6. Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo (Uma Thurman) – Kill Bill Vol. 2
I’m honestly getting more and more suspicious of Quentin Tarantino’s behind-the-scenes treatment of women, but I’m still no less a fan of his work nor can I think of many other American filmmakers so generous to their female protagonists (save for James Cameron, who has not ONE but TWO entries here). We aren’t really aware of the survival of Bea’s child until the very last line of the first movie. But the second movie’s final act especially makes casual weaponization of a maternal grief and instinct that Thurman delivers cold as ice, slicing and dicing her way to some sort of personal peace up until she finds her daughter alive. Of course, the point of the final moments is that even with B.B. around, all the Shogun Assassin sit-down watches with B.B. in the world won’t satiate her until Bill is dead. And yet the final beats of the film are Beatrix looking forward to restarting as a mother and holding B.B. in her arms.
5. Lornette “Mace” Mason (Angela Bassett) – Strange Days
Ah yes, one of the James Cameron mothers (I bet you were expecting someone else) although directed by his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow. I don’t know who is specifically responsible for Bassett’s exhausted performance in the film as she carries the most moral and grounded perspective of any other characters in this film, but Mace’s function as a mother is more in the peripherals of a movie that has bigger concepts to acknowledge. And yet we know that Mace’s dedication to her son as a divorcée whose ex-husband is possibly still in prison is why she’s carrying two jobs (possibly at the same time). Her marital and parental status gives everything else about the character – her distrust of police, her unwillingness to indulge in virtual reality, and her feelings for Lenny Nero – a soul in which for Bassett to build the performance out of. Not for nothing that the very scene where we see her meet Lenny and infatuated with her is one where she finds him comforting her son as her ex-husband is being arrested right outside their home.
Hottest Take: Julia Roberts totally deserved her Oscar for this movie, even above the crowd favorite of Ellen Burstyn’s more doomed mother in Requiem for a Dream. It’s a performance that turns around the image of America’s Sweetheart at the time into a gritted (but still lovable) mother, whose constant losses toughened her up enough to get really dirty when demanding what she needs to provide for her kids and without losing sympathy for the many other mothers and fathers and kids she is fighting for in the central legal case she’s cleaning up. The early ability of hers to statistically breakdown her financial and family status to Aaron Eckhart’s love interest later returned into easily reciting numbers and details of her clients towards a condescending legal assistant and her later explanation to her son’s feeling of abandonment by elaborating on the situation of a mother and daughter dealing with illness affected by her case boosts her hella up this list.
3. Tina Quintero (Carmen Maura) – Law of Desire
Tina, like every other character in Almodovar’s Law of Desire and especially her brother Pablo, is a character of contradictions of a variety. She’s a transsexual woman who remains devoted to a Church that judges her, she’s a struggling actress who feels like she must exploit her struggles to remain in the spotlight, she’s a coke addict who has image issues involving her age. And that’s all without spoiling the rest of the craziness that happens in my favorite film by cinema’s greatest provocateur.
And yet she’s effortlessly functional as a mother to Ada, who is not even her blood daughter but of her cold ex-wife, constantly putting her first in any consideration and comfortably able to have any degree of discussion with her. The tight family unit between Tina, Pablo, and Ada is an unexpected source of warmth within the film’s sexual and violent story and there’s no doubt that despite all the fucked up things that go on in the movie, Tina has provided Ada with a very healthy household to grow up in.
2. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – Aliens
Frankly, this is the character I think of when “movie mom” comes up. Nobody gets points for recognizing that Aliens is secretly a treatise about motherhood and dealing with grief by finding one another in the vein of Ripley and Newt, but the reason why Aliens is such an easy choice is because Weaver is just so good at giving that sort of surprise savage Momma Bear turn, making it all nervy but determined against beasts that have clearly traumatized her enough. The only fucking reason this character is not number one is because I’m a shitty prescriptivist of a person who recognizes that 1) Ripley is not Newt’s blood mother and 2) most of the deeper character and relationship shaping for both of them are in the Special Edition of the film released in 1990.
Coincidentally, Aliens and Kill Bill are both movies my mom really loves.
Mrs. Jumbo (Verna Felton) – Dumbo
And apropos of nothing, Dumbo is one of the first movies I’ve ever watched and so the image of Mrs. Jumbo protecting her son from the laughter and gawking of everybody simply because he happens to be much much more adorable than any of them runs hella deep in me. And her desire to keep her son warm and comfortable even in her saddened imprisonment for whupping the asses of folks who deserved those whuppings jerks tears so hard half my face comes off with them. I mean, who doesn’t go awwwwww at that?
The following is my reprinting of a write-up done for a Facebook group titled The Horrors of the Dissolve where every week somebody gives a Triple Feature suggestion. For that reason, I hope you will excuse the very casual manner of this particular post and enjoy!
Oh boy, mah fuckin’ turn! What’s good, bruh? If you saw Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue, you’re aware that sometimes the social climate of a country can affect their national cinema and if you’re anything like me, you were wondering what some of those people were smoking when they came up with their theories. Still there is the certainty that pop culture can’t be said without the word “culture” (seriously try it. You just end up with, like, “pop”) and that the national identity of some cinema has to be swayed by either current or past affairs and concerns as a way of squaring with it as a community, hence why sometimes people will read into them the state of a nation (my favorite of these readings is Stephen King in Danse Macabre implying The Amityville Horror is based on anxiety over home ownership in a terrible economy).
Personal affairs come into it too (for what is cinema but personal?), but that’s not what I’m here for, I’m here for the communal affairs. The type of thing that recognizes an emotional earthquake just happened around its target audience and wants them to face that fact, and usually war is the best source of that. That’s why I’m here to give y’all my
NATIONAL TRAUMA TRIPLE FEATURE!
Three horror movies focusing on the affected nations in the wake of some violent af conflict. Here we go, baybee!
Of course, this was going to be my number one, for it is my favorite horror movie of all time. And I’m sure everybody is aware of how the film unconsciously comments on race relations in the middle of Civil Rights era America, but what is hardly discussed is how direct it is as a reflection of the still fresh scars from the Vietnam War. The cynicism, the undeniable madness and the closeness to home of the violence all presented by Romero and Russo in their framing the information given to our characters through the news – nevermind the fact that the horror is happening right outside that door. Romero may have considered it an accident that Night of the Living Dead was such a potently angry indictment of race relations in 1960s America (which is still outrageously relevant in 2010s America), but there’s absolutely nothing unintentional about his mirroring of the conflict overseas and how invested American families felt in the carnage we watched. The anonymity beyond the zombies while it’s clear they’ve all once been people and personalities has been read as being representative of the “Quiet Majority” against the war, but I think the movie is a lot more damning than that. The fact that our “protagonists” (if you can call them that) are eagerly striking them down without any problems (beyond Barbra’s clear shell-shocked manner) reflects the inhumanity and refusal to recognize the Vietnamese as people or casualties with weight, just people to be cut down. It’s not just the complete inability of our characters in-fighting and having no clear compromise on what to do that promises Night of the Living Dead won’t end well, it’s the chilling vibe that we’ve been through this before as a nation that hammers down that nihilistic certainty.
Like any other country involved in World War II, Japanese post-war cinema of the 1940s and 50s are of a very rich variety all sort of having some kind of attitude on life in the aftermath of it all (in fact, post-war Japanese cinema is maybe, like, my favorite kind of cinema). They’re usually dramatic and full of mandates on society in no small words (I mean… fucking Godzilla, y’all) and Ugetsu is obviously no different except in that it’s the only movie to use horror in a sense to portray what kind of devastation war leaves and how that diverges on its effects based on things like gender and class. The ghostly specter is always a possibility in this movie, even if ghosts don’t actively appear until 30 minutes in (and you’re not aware of what the ghosts are until later), what with the amount of smokiness on the river in which our lead family evades death by bandits and how they encounter a dead body (quickly exclaiming that it must be a ghost on the river). So yes, tension is at the very least present from square one of the picture, though horror is in how the characters we witness and align with are treated and have to suffer without ethics at the feet of Civil War (standing in for World War II). Once the supernatural enters the screen, it becomes outright eerie in its invocation of nature (dat hot springs scene) and history, as we listen to the noblewoman explain how her once proud family was practically erased by Nobunaga only to truly see the devastation at the end of it all. This gives the themes a base to move onto a relatively optimistic ending of moving on beyond what devastates us – after Genjuro is warned he must or die – and rebuilding from our ashes in spite of the unfairness of the world.
Kind of cheating a bit on account of the fact that it was more than 40 years past the Spanish Civil War and obviously the Mexican Del Toro never actually lived through it (nor did producer Pedro Almodovar). Originally, it was based in the Mexican Revolution so it’s a story that can be fluid enough to reflect on most armed conflict in the face of oppression and I don’t think it’s such an accident that it was nearly based in Mexico and so soon after the infamous kidnapping of Del Toro’s father. The idea that even an orphanage cannot become a sanctuary for fearful souls (nor even Catholicism), the disappearance and re-appearance of faces always more damaged than the last time, and the always remaining aftermath of conflict and war sitting around. There’s no sense of safety in The Devil’s Backbone despite barely having any war combat in it, which is why I find it more devastating a portrayal of war than Del Toro’s return to the Spanish Civil War in Pan’s Labyrinth. And that inside of that nihilism, Del Toro saw to craft some of his most ghastly and nightmarish creations to pop out of the black dark corners of the orphanage end up making The Devil’s Backbone feel like the very pinnacle of his career thus far and everything he ever wanted to say about the anguish of a torn Mexico state that he and his father still felt the effects of, even after he followed his contemporaries Lubezki and Cuaron into Hollywood, an escape that Del Toro knows many cannot afford. “Every day, every week, something happens that reminds me that I am in involuntary exile.”
And now some honorable mentions AF, y’all.
War of the Worlds (2005, dir. Steven Spielberg, USA)
The very film that inspired this triple feature suggestion to me, though I did not want to make it US-centric and Night of the Living Dead was going to be the ONE I put in. Still, you’d have to be incredibly dense not to recognize how much of 9/11 lives inside the devastation and confusion present in every single second of War of the Worlds and the distanced lens on the amount of people dying en masse makes it certainly the darkest film Spielberg ever made and a strong anti-thesis on claims of his sentiment, even despite its ending.
The Host (2006, dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
Likewise, I didn’t want more than one East Asian film (as well as the fact that the attitudes in The Host are not necessarily representative of all of South Korea), though Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to political commentary and probably knew as best as we all do that Monster movies make the best indictments on chemicals and politics (Godzilla, Them!, etc.) but Bong wanted to go one step further than them pointing a finger at “who the fuck did this to my nation”. Hence, the ever-presence and incompetence of the U.S. military’s encampment in South Korea (ever since the Korean War) being the very source of the beast and their inability to take full accountability for their negligence proving to be just a greater example of dysfunction than our broken family protagonists themselves and a clear polar opposite when that family takes immediate action to save one of their own.
-Conversation I overheard in Grade School around the release of Die Another Day
I’ve been wanting to make this list for months, spurred by my return to the job-hunting market earlier this year, but of course, that’s the thing about job-hunting: you don’t have time for other things. Y’know, assuming you have things to pay for like school and stuff. Anyway, thinking about this has made it a lot more fun than anxiety-inducing and now that I have time to post it, I present:
Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries always have a ball of a time making any niche yet adorable field look like a clusterfuck, but Best in Show is the only one that made me think beyond my laughing at the characters’ stresses that the dogs do end up looking purdy and adorable beyond the effort and who wouldn’t want a job surrounded by all these doggos? So gimme any position, poodle fluffer, commentator, manicurist, dog washer, dog walker, I’ll do it all, just lemme be ’round those doggies.
Did I even know what the hell a chaotician did when I was kid watching Spielberg’s famous dinosaur picture? Hell nah. But Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm made it look no different than being a goddamn rock star and his ability to know ahead of time how doomed the whole thing was but still be so cool and collected with made me wonder what was his secret. Then I realized it wasn’t that he was a chaotician… it was that he was a DIVORCED chaotician.
I mean, yeah, obviously as a kid I was into all of the globe-trotting adventure that’s very clearly not archaeology, but then it interested me into the intellectual and cultural aspect of it and it opened a lot of doors into its applications in world history and then I was bad at AP World History in high school and that was the death of a dream.
Obviously this one could ONLY apply to me as a kid, but it seemed like the easiest job in the world, even despite how overexaggerated the problems of Gunther’s adolescent life seemed to be accentuated by his route. But there’s no such thing as a PTSD-suffering Freddy Krueger, so there’s really nothing to worry about taking in fresh air, having your morning exercise, and learning how to throw a newspaper like a baseball in a peaceful quiet suburb.
Ahhh… now here’s another one that could only apply to a certain age (I’m just turned 25 and still think I’m far too old to work in a record store at this point). Like anybody else who saw Empire Records at their teenage life, it made a good ol’ impression on me (one that sadly faded as I turned into my 20s) and it might have resulted in a over romanticization in surrounding myself in a big ol’ building full of music and having the liberty to mess around with it rather than actually help out my customers or musical guest.
I’m sure it’s not that cool. Please don’t let it be that cool and have me realize I missed out.
I mean, come on, we can’t ALLLLL be Remy, but there’s something inspiring about how he does what he does. Ratatouille is essentially an ode to all of art, but having cooking be at the very forefront of that art means being visually more inclined to the art we’re witnessing in that context. And man, that stuff looks good. At the very least, I’d want to personally able to make that food for myself.
Note I specifically pointed out XXL and not, y’know, the original despite my loving Magic Mikemore than its sequel. But the first Mike is a sobering portrayal of the economic atmosphere and makes the act feel like hard work. XXL doesn’t dismiss it (I mean, these characters will essentially be broke shortly after the movie – the movie opens with all of their unceremonious ejection from their livelihood with no direction to go), and yet it’s so carefree and eager to turn itself into a celebration of the job nevertheless, full of life and energy and party feelings. Plus, as much as objectification like that might seem shallow, wouldn’t it also kind of make you feel comfortable? At least, I’d be comfortable with myself being objectified that way. Or I would be if I knew how to dance.
When Spotlight looks much less glamorous and like more hard work than your film, that says something. I mean, I like a lot of hard work and I like putting a lot of investment in things and I like research, but I especially seeing the fruits of that labor (something Spotlight implied there’s always threat of it never coming to fruition without being so very ominous about it). All the President’s Men made its workers look once again like rock stars (most of it Carl Bernstein changing up the script to make himself look cool), but it also has a since of working-collar long and heavy nights changing the world just by typing kind of sense and there’s a real excitement to what Bernstein and Bob Woodward are doing that Spotlight can’t supply in all its sobriety.
Man, this really came across more as why Spotlight isn’t in this list than why All the President’s Men is.
I know it’s crazy as hell to imagine the movie where everything that could go wrong in that sector went horribly wrong and threatened to take the lives of those men, but the thing is… they survived. And they made it. And what was kind of a failure ended up one of the biggest success stories because of Jim Lovell and Gene Kranz’s ingenuity and problem solving and that sort of intellectual accomplishment while being able to reach the cosmos is… it’s something I’d love to find inside of me. Exploration on top of being able to take care of myself.
I mean, always be Batman. That’s just a law of life. Especially when Batman does the most Batman-y things in this movie: actually investigates, saves the whole city, kicks some ninjas. It seems like a cool gig.
I mean, is this a cheat? Because I almost put Godzilla and James Bond as potential jobs too.
Sure, it’s gig-based and Parker’s literally struggling financially, but it’s only two steps away from filmmaker and it’s something that gets him into places. Except I work there and it’s more stressful than I’d imagine.
Every time I gotta work on my car some more (because I’m too broke to bother getting help) in hopes that I’m doing everything right, I end up wishing I was Vin Diesel. Or James Hetfield. Or somebody else.
2016 has basically been a year where most of the movies I’ve found to end up on my Top Ten, especially in the top four slots, have had more personal resonance to me than any of them really being overall perfect crafts of cinema. Which is a nice way of saying 2016 was a year that was… conflicting. It was so severe to me in life outside of movies that I ended up digesting a lot more movies simply out of comfort. Emotional exhaustion is not a good state in which to qualify a whole year of movies, but man… there were slim pickings to begin with, even when I was being kind and enjoying works I didn’t expect to like.
2014 and 2015 had such excellent mainstream and popcorn fare and 2016’s summer was… absolutely middling. And one should never expect the prestige season to harbor anything that’s not peddling for Oscars, but the Best Picture slate obviously leave a lot for want when one truly gets a good look at it. When I literally have to dig for great movies to watch, I don’t… really complain because that’s how I do anyway, but I like digging for great movies anyway, but it doesn’t translate into a good year.
Let me put it this way: Mad Max: Fury Road and The Grand Budapest Hotel are moneymakers that people all over the world knew. This year… I dunno… maybe the only animated film on my Top Ten will be something y’all will recognize but so many movies people want to parade as high water marks like Zootopia and Arrival just seemed average to me. There was very little challenging cinema, nothing that was a true gamechanger to the field after our past two years.
Anyway, that’s enough Debbie Downing… let me slowly work my way up to the best…
WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
5. Independence Day: Resurgence – You think maybe the fact that this movie retreads the same horrifically boring story beats of the first without Will Smith to pad it means people realize that original movie is terrible too. Guess not.
4. Batman: The Killing Joke – The comic book was already a very poor bit of storytelling that Alan Moore even knew was terrible, adding the random saturday morning cartoon at the beginning of the movie to pad its running time only ruined the structure of the film and ended up giving Barbara Gordon even less autonomy than she already had.
3. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party – Dinesh D’Souza’s ever continuing odyssey of how liberals make him the saddest. But, y’know, given he had a scene in 2016: Obama’s America where he BRAGGED about arguing there’s no systemic racism in America, I’m glad he finally recognized it was a thing. I’d assume as he tries to brand the Democratic Party on that.
2. Norm of the North – Holy shit, people think this is a good movie to show their children.
1. Yoga Hosers – Watched this to celebrate my friends being married by Kevin Smith himself. I would not let the man who made this movie marry me. There is nothing about this that felt like they were actually trying to make this movie.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Readers are more than aware of how upset I am that The Birth of a Nation was found to be more of the vanity project of Nate Parker than an accurate portrayal of Nat Turner’s angry revolt against his oppressors, let alone the revolutionary portrayal of the blood that it takes to fight off systemic corruption and racism. Boy, do I wonder how fired that Fox Executive is. Remember how this was the front-runner to Best Picture early in the year?
MOST “HUH” CASTING DECISION Charlotte Gainsbourg – Lars von Trier’s Favorite Muse, Daughter of Serge Gainsbourg – has a role in Independence Day: Resurgence. Because sure.
WORST MOVIE I’M LOVING ANYWAY Gods of Egypt will never be taken seriously by anybody with its megazord battles and the inconsistent size of its Gods and I’m fucking fine with that. It’s a broken terrible video game of a movie with faulty mechanics. Plus Chadwick Boseman is just the best as a flamboyant Thoth as the expositional tutorial of a character.
BEST ACTION SCENE Say whatever you will be saying about Captain America: Civil War (and I’m already hearing it), but the final fight scene between Iron Man, Captain America, and Bucky accomplished something no other Marvel film was ever able to do: give emotional weight (and physical weight) to just one man trying his hardest to kill two men he felt betrayed by and those two men trying their hardest not to die, aided by two of the best line deliveries Robert Downey Jr. ever gave in the role: “I don’t care… he killed my mom” and “So was I.”
FUNNIEST SCENE The Mermaid‘s scene of police officers trying to continuously Liu Xuan’s description of a mermaid followed by their uncontrollable laughter at his tale feels like exactly the reaction I’d have to the story which made it super funny to me, right down to the ineptitude at drawing.
CUTEST SCENE Come on, you know damn well you’d have made a movie calendar of a kitten like in Keanu if you had the chance. Relle accomplished all of our fantasies with his photoshoot scene and the results:
BEST MUSICAL MOMENT Green Room, I’ve been warming up to for certain. But it brought out the smile in me as a punk rocker who got jumped by skinheads in high school once and has always had a closed fist policy with Neo-Nazis to witness the Ain’t Rights open up their set on the inflammatory and direct Dead Kennedys’ classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. Enough to make this supercede a year of musicals that were pretty enjoyable – especially Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and La La Land.
BEST MOMENT The pounding percussion soundtrack in the Exorcism scene of The Wailing brings such arresting momentum to the pain of the characters trying to deal with its presence and the unnerving bloody ritual that takes place adjacent to their exorcism only amplifies the intensity of the film from that moment forward til its credits. It’s a moment I could not forget and one I looked forward to when I rewatched the movie.
BEST SIA SONG FROM A MOVIE Sia has been making rounds as far as even writing Rihanna’s song for Star Trek Beyond and as a unrepentant semi-closeted Sia fan that made me happier than it should be. As for my favorite, I have no clue what “Waving Goodbye” really has to do with The Neon Demon but it was the perfect salutation to the shitty year that was 2016.
BEST SONG Speaking of Popstar, I will never ever ever ever forgive the producers for not submitting “Finest Girl (Fuck bin Laden)” as a contender of the Best Original Song Oscar. It’s certainly not a deep critique of imperialism or war nor does its mixing of politics and banal pop music very sensible unless it’s trying to insult some of my favorite artists… which is a bad move. But it IS an outrageously funny song in all of its absurdity.
GUILTIEST PLEASURE The Barn looks like exactly the type of average, amateur, cliche-o-mat movie you’d pick up if video stores were still around. There’s very little exceptional about it. But it nevertheless has that earnest Halloween feel in spades and I had a lot of fun watching it. In any case, a lot of its flaws only heighten how much personality the low-budget horror film about friends having to open. And those monster costumes are hella fun.
FAVORITE ANIMAL CHARACTER We got Black Phillip, we got the crabs from The Red Turtle, we got the cutest lil baby bird in Piper, the adorable cat in Keanu, and yet my biggest love goes out to the great “Steven Seagull” in The Shallows for being the perfect co-star to Blake Lively’s fight for survival.
FAVORITE CHARACTER AND FAVORITE BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR It’s insane to me that a movie can be as kinetic as Anne Rose Holmer’s The Fits and yet have the director rather have trust enough in one character’s controlled chaos of body movement as Royalty Hightower’s portrayal as Toni to be the center of all that energy, even when it’s clear Holmer can frame like a motherfucker. In any case, Holmer is my favorite breakout presence in 2016 film and Toni – especially with the aid of being a fellow boxer – is my favorite movie character of the year.
BEST COUPLE No offense to Ryan Gosling’s chemistry with Emma Stone, which is fantastic in La La Land as it is in the rest of their exploits, but my dawg… when he gets hit in the face by Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys, it’s love at first site in my eyes. Crowe is a obviously easy at being a dangerous brute in his sleep while Gosling does emasculated pain really really well. That scream when his arm is broken.
BEST POSTER The Handmaiden‘s poster was something I KNEW I wanted in my room from the very beginning that I saw it…. all around with its re-enacting of the main tale of the story in cultural fashion.
BEST SHOT: From Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, Vittorio Storaro + Digital Cinematography =
WORST SHOT Because I will not rewatch Sea of Trees unless I have to, I will re-enact it on my computer:
BEST SURPRISE Listen, shark movies as a rule suck. Or at least, they used to as they were all just lesser versions of Jaws. But I did not expect The Shallows to be the breezy effective minimalist thriller that it was, only distracting itself enough for the audience to invest in Blake Lively’s survival and otherwise just a movie about fear of the shark’s ever fatal presence entrapping us in the middle of the beach for a good hour and a half.
I liked Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla more than most people, but I’m much more happier to see my favorite giant monster make his big return in Japan as the star of the latest episode of The Thick of It directed by Anno Hideaki, even if we insist on calling it Godzilla: Resurgence. Also the best use of titles in any movie of the year.
Speaking of Gareth Edwards, Rogue One has a lot of flaws that I won’t pretend are there but one thing even it’s detractors must admit: Vader possibly also had the SCARIEST NON-HORROR SCENE (OR PRESENCE) showing up at the end to mow down helpless Rebel soldiers trapped in a hallway with him, indiscriminately and violently. The moment that lightsaber flashed red at the end of the hallway, you knew you were finally getting the monster you hadn’t seen since 1980.
WORST CAMEO Remember those flaws Rogue One had I was talking about? Vader’s first scene talking smack with Ben Mendehlson before making a James Bondian quip about force chokes. Could have done without that.
BEST LINE “The noodles got soggy… I knew this job wouldn’t be easy.”
-Acting Prime Minister Satomi Yusuke (Hiraizumi Sei) in Godzilla: Resurgence (written by Anno Hideaki)
BEST POPCORN FILM Sure, The Conjuring 2 is a little too long than it should be and it doubles down on being Christian prop hagiography (practically a plot point now with scenes discussing the “con artist” status of the Warrens). But that doesn’t stop it from being a very effective work of classical horror tropes made in the most digestible manner ever (James Wan showing how many 1970s horror movies he saw) and with just the slightest invention in how those scares and atmospheres present themselves as another compelling haunting case. And while the Amityville Horror scene could certainly be cut out of the movie with no harm to the product (and frankly recent events close to my family and community made the shotgun rampage hard to watch the second time around), it’s nevertheless a nice creepily-shot and made short film in its own right.
MOVIE I WILL RE-WATCH THE MOST Knight of Cups is the first Blu-Ray of a 2016 release I bought at all and certainly already the movie I’ve been watching and re-watching the most. Bored rich white guy trying to find out why he can’t fuck his way into a soul is definitely the most basic story Terrence Malick has ever dealt with, but it’s nevertheless something with which Malick re-shapes into something barely recognizable as a traditional narrative (I’m not even sure it has a true chronology) and some of the most inventive cinematography work of all time. Emmanuel Lubezki got bored with his Oscar-winning lighting and decided to see what’s new to play with and it makes L.A. look like something not of this Earth.
MOST IMPORTANT MOVIE So many pictures about race relations yet none of them are able to make their argument about their thesis as well as Ava DuVernay’s 13th, one that refuses to align with any of the candidates of the 2016 election (unlike D’Souza or Michael Moore) instead only to implore people become more read about the systems they elected in place and how they affect race in America horribly. Its pessimism is unfortunate, but its urgency is also unmistakable. Certainly more imperative a watch than I Am Not Your Negro or O.J.: Made in America (which… should not have the Oscar nomination it has. Not because it’s good but… guys… this is a tv show… guys?…).
American Honey – Andrea Arnold has followed in the footsteps of Wim Wenders to map the heart of America.
A Bigger Splash – A bunch of gorgeous superstar personalities all coming together to reveal not how empty their lives are, but how asphyxiating their desire for drama is.
Embrace of the Serpent – Imperialism destroyed by the presence of Karamakate.
Evolution – Kafka on the shore. Or at least his nightmares of what he’d find on that shore.
Hail, Caesar! – It’s the version of A Serious Man with Catholicism and Hollywood instead of Judaism and Math. A lesser version? Yes. But still hilarious.
Jackie – It’s just a potent mental presentation of grief and how it hurts to cover up enough of it to be a presentable griever, doubling as the hardest character study to cut into.
Knight of Cups – Like I said, I’ll watch it again and again.
La La Land – Fuck the backlash. Go home.
Love & Friendship – The movie Whit Stillman and Kate Beckinsale were born for.
Piper – Have I not mentioned how FUCKING CUTE that bird is?
SPOILER ALERT – MOVIE MIAMI WILL EAT ME ALIVE FOR NOT HAVING ON MY TOP TEN: … Moonlight.
AND NOW THE TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE YEAR
10. Lemonade (prod. Beyonce, USA)
Sometimes you just have to admit you probably should have gotten to something sooner. All my friends who I trusted demanded that I get to witnessing the visual accompaniment to my favorite album of the year but I took until the last second and so this visually arresting work of social narrative might have just missed the Top Ten. It’s no secret that I love socially conscious work, even as cyclical as this might have been as a work, but the fiery passion of this visual album, mixed with its range of stylistic decisions (many of them in homage to previous cinema, including an unexpected callback to Tarkovsky’s The Mirror of ALL THINGS!) makes it standout amongst many of the social message pictures to have come in such a tumultuous time.
9. The Eyes of My Mother (dir. Nicolas Pesce, USA)
Imagine if Tarr Bela decided he wanted to make a slasher film. The Eyes of My Mother is what you get, perhaps except with more intensity and gutwrenching visuals than the director of The Turin Horse would have wanted you to suffer through. Still the narrative patience (even for an 80-something picture, this thing honestly crawls to make you as uncomfortable with the imagery as possible) and some of the sharpest cinematography I have seen all year in crisp black-and-white landscape make on the pro-side of this very divisive film.
Also, I am extremely proud to have been name-dropped by former Dream Theater engine aka One of the Best Drummers Ever Mike Portnoy for recommending this movie to him (which I knew he’d love as a lover of sick films).
8. The Wailing (dir. Na Hong-jin, South Korea)
And yet still The Eyes of My Mother is unable to take the top slot of best horror movie of the year when Na is able to give us an ambitious mix of small-town study, landscape cinematography showcase (which only adds to the creepy isolation of said town), domestic drama about the strains of a parent being unable to help his child in anyway, and damn impressive genre horror film. And none of these are exactly things other movies haven’t done before – hell, I’d exhaust myself listing movies that mix all four – but The Wailing is something that fires on all cylinders working to mix the four into a complex, devastating, and rich exorcism tale, certainly my favorite exorcism picture of all time. Coming from the same year as The Fucking Conjuring 2.
7. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany/Belgium)
I honestly was always intrigued, but still very anxious about the concept of a film on rape where the victim is… shall we say, complicated. And yet Paul Verhoeven – a way too intelligent filmmaker for his own good – and Isabelle Huppert – an actress who lives for challenging roles that make her take her due from the viewer without cheating out brilliant performances – are a fucking miracle to work with, it seems. Shortly after being entertained as all hell by Love & Friendship, Elle takes everything already great about that comedy of manners and turns it into one where we witness a true sociopath at the center and everybody except one figure in her life are just idiots for her to control and move around. And as uncomfortable as the film is, it works. It’s funny and it’s unapologetic for the idea that women don’t need to fit certain roles or be defined by elements or events around them. Which is probably how the central Michele is able to be such a moving figure regardless of how reprehensible her actions are.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, USA)
Laika has outdone itself… possibly. I didn’t see this movie in 3D, but nothing could hardly beat how perfectly Coraline utilized those dimensions to invoke the viewer into the wonder of its lead character. Nevertheless, the craftsmanship behind Kubo‘s ambitious designs – including the giant skeleton battle and the fight in the rain in the middle of the ocean – are impeccable enough to prove that Laika is still best-in-show of the big animation schools these days. Nevermind the tender sincerity behind its ideals on storytelling and grief and how the two can be intertwined to calm the soul enough that its extremely forgiving ending becomes the pitch-perfect emotional moment for the film to close on. I have not been so moved by an ending since The Grand Budapest Hotel and this time it was bittersweet rather than sobering.
5. Francofonia (dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, France/Germany/Netherlands)
There are some people who will say this is just a less impressive version of Sokurov’s breakout film Russian Ark, replacing the Hermitage Museum for the Louvre. To this people I say, get the fuck out of my face with that shit. Bruno Delbonnel shot this movie and when Delbonnel is shooting, you will definitely be looking at things with a brand-new eye no matter how familiar you are with the Mona Lisa. Not to mention that Sokurov just seems to have a lot more intellectual exercises to throw out in this picture, wrapped up by a historical recollection of the Louvre’s status during World War II that interests the WWII reverent in me. Nah, this is probably the denser picture out of Russian Ark, if not the more impressive film, and I feel like Sokurov’s puts more of his soul on screen here than his whole career preceding it.
4. Cameraperson (dir. Kristen Johnson, USA)
So here’s where it really becomes obvious that I am into movies that have the personality of its filmmaker in spades and Johnson maybe labors that concept a bit too much in Cameraperson, but she also makes up for it by hiding her interests and voice behind a kaleidoscope of images of life in all possible corners of the world you can think of… all captured from a lifetime of trying to bottle lives in documentaries and movies. And in turning such a plethora of footage into an autobiography, it also ends up being a succinct portrayal of moviemaking in itself and what it brings out of the people who give their lives to telling stories, both as the subject and as the storyteller.
3. No Home Movie (dir. Chantal Akerman, France/Belgium)
And as though the more depressing sister film to Cameraperson… I don’t know what this movie is doing on this list so high. It feels wrong. It is essentially the suicide note to one of the greatest filmmakers we’ll ever be blessed to have witnessed, as we had lost her near the end of 2015. But I do know, I have to talk about it. Because Akerman has made in No Home Movie one of the most painful portrayals of a heavy truth in life: that sometimes we feel lonely even around the people we love and that even that emptiness won’t make it hurt any less when those people leave us. A personal work that still in its dryness (and dryness is the name of Akerman’s career game) is able to feel pained to anybody who encounters this film.
2. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/Greece/France/Netherlands)
I mean, it’s cold and distanced so I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it was also extremely funny to me, impressively alien and surrounding without any re-design of the world we ourselves lived in, unsubtle in its insistence that relationships are impersonal and it’s just another demand from society that you sacrifice your identity, and I was in the middle of a breakup when I first saw it at the Miami Film Festival so I was open to such a jaded yet funny movie.
So, yeah, basically watch this when you just went through a breakup and it will be a goddamn miracle if it’s not in your number one.
THE NUMBER ONE FILM OF 2016 For STinG BEING…
Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade, Germany/Austria)
So, once again… when you see a movie at the perfect time, it’s gonna hit you no matter how hard you avoid it. I saw Toni Erdmann shortly after spending a good amount of my summer with my Dad and our relationship has been strained for a long while for reasons that are frank – we come from separate worlds and we don’t really know how to communicate at all, let alone with each other. Still that summer, in which my trip to see him wasn’t spurred by his presence in New York City where he resided for years but a separate emergency that was taxing on me, meant we spent a lot more time in each other’s presence than we had probably had since I was a kid. My Dad is not at all similar to Winfried, in fact, probably the polar opposite in every way.
Still, the story of two separate worlds of father and daughter having to fit together and find a way to conform one of these souls to the other’s worldview in order to save her from being overwhelmed by a harsh world (in Toni Erdmann‘s case, a social/business world that doesn’t take her seriously as a woman) is going to hit places for me that it probably would not have hit if it hadn’t happened after that summer. And I’m not going to pretend that’s the only reason this movie is at the top – it’s sharply written not only in terms of its relationships but its commentary on global attitudes, especially Germany’s two splits of old ideals and new ideals in the context of the world. It has two incredible performances at the center of that relationship between Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller. It’s goddamn hilarious, even if those scenes of hilarity are exactly the kind that make this the WORST movie to recommend to my dad. But I’m also not going to pretend this movie wouldn’t be this high without that context.
Again, when you watch a movie at the right moment… especially certain scenes at the right moment…
You’re gonna be helpless in your response.
Anyway, that’s 2016 in a nutshell and here’s to 2017!
Recent news came out that Jessica Harper, star of the Dario Argento masterpiece and arguably the greatest horror movie ever made in my mind Suspiria, has just signed on to join the cast of Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming remake and this is not the news that made me onboard with the idea of this remake (that was the news that Guadagnino is making it with his muse Tilda Swinton), but it nevertheless reminded me of the inevitable backlash on the idea of the project’s existence and – though in a perfect world I’d rather Suspiria not remade at all – it makes me kind of sad to see it dismissed so immediately. Jim Jarmusch said “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent” and while that doesn’t mean we ought to start remaking Citizen Kaneor Casablanca, I can’t think of a more authentic and inspired filmmaker to put behind this than the Italian maestro of gorgeous color and shape Guadagnino himself (to match Suspiria‘s own gorgeous color and shape) and that makes me cautiously optimistic about this film being worth watching, even if it never matches up to the original (for that IS a high bar).
Cautious because the last time I felt this way, it’s because Kimberly Peirce should have been a better director for the subject matter of Carriethan Brian De Palma and that remake was an absolute wreck, but HEY LET’S KEEP TO THE BRIGHT SIDE, EH?!
This kneejerk connotation of “remake” being a bad word is something I once subscribed to as a young cinephile and have since shaken off after being exposed to enough great remakes, so how’s about I list some right now for all you guys to trick into being somewhat happy about this?
Kurosawa Akira just makes great stories (Star Warswas on an earlier incarnation of this list, but that seemed a stretch. Do not expect A Fistful of Dollarson this list though, because I’m just too damned in love with Yojimbo). Sturges’ cowboy film is one I saw since I was a child and so it got to me before Seven Samuraidid, but I won’t make any illusions about which film is much better – it’s obviously Samurai. Nevertheless, one thing Seven does better is give its enemies a face in the form of Eli Wallach, playing a bandit in the most unexpectedly humane form (or not too unexpected given his later career peak as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly) and nevertheless Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen have enough stature as the “cool” characters to have made me want to grow up to be those gunslingers and save villages.
Darker is better sometimes and without getting into so much detail (as that would require spoilers), Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 classic is undoubtedly more darker and nihilistic (and hence kind of appropriate to the 1970s of Watergate and post-Vietnam, though it is also nearly apolitical unlike Siegel’s film) as from the very beginning it lets us in on how threatening the aliens are (while the original slowly lets us unmask the scenario with its characters) and surrounds us with a modern feeling of helplessness and hopelessness rather than the preparing to fight anti-Communism of Siegel’s picture. I’m not certain as to whether it is better than the ’56 film (I know, I know, I said “darker is better”), but Kaufman’s picture is its own beast of its own time and a world without both films would be remiss of how differently a story can be told through mood and style.
Sometimes a remake doesn’t even need to be more than its predecessor. La Jeteeworks as an exercise in storytelling form with still images led around by narration and sound, and as glorious as that is, it’s an experiment that only needs to be done once and perfectly as Chris Marker did. Gilliam was uninterested in how Marker made his film, but what it was about and tried to sprawl into more of an apocalyptic setting the way you’d expect Gilliam to construct his worlds – all mechanic and defective and bureaucratic with hella room for miscommunication.
I can’t imagine any other remake possibly taking more good-natured fun at the material it is re-adapting than Frank Oz’s film version of the popular off-Broadway musical. It absolutely loves Seymour, it loves the rock and doo-wop music it indulges in, it loves Skid Row (what a gorgeously artificial set, perfect for a musical), it loves Mr. Mushnik’s shop, it loves Audrey, and even as villainous and bloodthirsty as it is, it loves Audrey II. It loves Audrey II so much that when you take a Muppeteer as the director of a film where its major money element is going to be the puppetry behind its hungry monster plant, well… it’s gonna meet all your expectations with flying colors.
I know people are probably tired of me defending the hell out of this movie, but I will do so until my dying day or until everyone who hates it realizes how wrong they are. It nods enough to Pal’s (admittedly superior) 1953 version for me to count it and the main difference is that Spielberg’s remake is honestly and wholeheartedly frightening. The helplessness of the mass of people as we continuously watch their doom and mass genocide before our very eyes is made only more disturbing on how their bodies just disappear without a trace. The tension of hiding without a certainty that you can remain safe where you are. The revelation of what happens to the people who are captured alive. It’s all dark stuff, the sort of horrifying side of Spielberg we’ve seen hinted before but never with this blunt an objective look at how easily so many people can be killed, except obviously for Schindler’s List.
This is cinema at some of its most devastating and that it has an admittedly shoddy estranged children plot in between its setpieces is dismaying but I don’t think it damns the picture.
You know what’s even less appreciated than remakes? Remake musicals. And even more unappreciated are ones that can use the usually jovial style of musical film to provide a backbone for some real melancholy. Which is already something Ross’ film takes hold of when it uses the already tragic material of the BBC miniseries and translates it to the already downset Depression era of America. But hey, that dark dark place brings out the best talents of both Steve Martin and Christopher Walken and has just the twinge of hope and pleasure within its absolutely catchy old-timey musical numbers. And hey, Jessica Harper is in this one too.
Oh that shit’s not good enough for you? Well, then how about…
I’ve never ever ever heard a worthwhile defense of the original Rat Pack vehicle Ocean’s 11 as a good movie. I like to keep myself open to other opinions, but that’s just a movie where the Pack themselves seem so damn bored with what they’re doing. Enter Soderbergh bringing in this lovely piece of popcorn cinema that is all flashy and fun and makes Las Vegas look exactly like the desert paradise you’d expect while giving us a non-stop barrage of good-looking and stylish actors to gawk at (Clooney, Pitt, Roberts) or comic personalities whose company we enjoy (pretty much the entire 11 crew) and what we get is a movie that could only be described – as a friend of mine observed once – as “cool”. It is the movie that pops into my mind first when I think of “cool”.
Given the basis of this generational tale is purely as a tragedy-based star vehicle, it’s very easy to see how Judy Garland in this film has more to show off than Janet Gaynor in the previous film and that gives Cukor a hell of an advantage. Probably enough of an advantage that he truly recognized that – while Cukor’s brilliant craftsmanship is very present in the film – he knew that all the movie had to do was take a backseat in the spectacle that such a showcase could accommodate for the character drama and what results is a very moving and impressive piece on the arts that still works as entertainment.
John Carpenter loves the shit out of Howard Hawks. This is extremely obvious to anybody who has watched enough of both directors. Hell, Carpenter has been very candid about the majority of his films being unofficial remakes of Rio Bravo and the majority of his leading ladies being modeled off of Hawks’ leading ladies. So it’s no surprise that he would remake a Hawks production eventually in his career and frankly I don’t think there’s any contest as to who pulled off the high tension and gorgeous snow cinematography better. Carpenter done outdid his idol in this work and that’s not even acknowledging the grisly and amazing make-up effects work as the characters become taken over, because that’s just not fair to a 1955 production.
But don’t worry, Hawks will be getting the last laugh soon.
I’m sure some people may claim that Huston’s Maltese Falcon is not a remake of the 1931 production of the same name or the 1936 Satan Met a Lady so much as a re-adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel. I call that straight up shenanigans. WB had been working hard on getting a good unedited version out there and got it perfect the third time around (plus the original two were included in the 3-disc DVD release of the 1941 film, they definitely intended you compare them). The Maltese Falcon is a quintessential example of many things – detective story with its hardboiled capable lead of Sam Spade, man of men. Film noir in its cynical, dark nature with the way it dolls out death to many of its characters in search of a mythical bauble. Star vehicle for Humphrey Bogart to just how coolly and calmly he can control any scene he takes part in and deliver barbs effortlessly. And the masculine craft of Mr. John Huston himself, presenting self-proclaimed men of codes and watching them slowly break those codes for the sake of riches or being manipulated by a wonderfully arch Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, femme fatale to set off all other femme fatales.
I’m no fan of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, but when people try to argue to me that gender-swapped remakes are an inherently flawed concept, that just makes me realize they’ve never seen His Girl Friday and that’s a damned shame (or not because it means their first time seeing it could possibly be from the upcoming Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray release and not from a shitty copy as is common since the movie is in the public domain). Because Rosalind Russell is more than just a fair match for the screwball banter of Cary Grant, she’s the very engine by which the movie runs about – she fuels both the romantic tension between her and Grant simply by being in the room with threat of running off, she’s our main surrogate into the case of a man whose life is being held by the crooked legal system, and her wit is the source of so many of the laughs of one of the movies I can’t help dying at. But all those things are only there to reward you if you can catch up to the film’s machine-gun-fast dialogue, I’m talking Jimmy-John’s-delivery fast in a way to throw aside all the slow shot-by-reverse-shot conversations in the likes of the 1930 (including the original The Front Page) while providing a much much more engaging look at the newspaper lifestyle as its predecessor (which probably ends up fueling my fascination with the newspaper subgenre and life because of that sort of quick-footed office style).
His Girl Friday is not the best remakes or one of the best comedies, it’s one of the best movies and a testament to Hawks’ continuous inventiveness and ability to work with actors all around to get a crackling sensation just from dialogue and action.
So there you have it. Keep your mind happy that remakes can and do provide a good at times.
I’m very sorry. My sister, who was publishing these pre-drafted posts in my absence as I was taking a brief respite upstate without my computer, accidentally posted the wrong article first and then forgot to post the second one the next night. I provide Article 10 of Movie Motorbreath, promise to be more careful next time (as will she, who is very apologetic) and promise a unique installment in 31 Nights of Halloween by the afternoon today for Night 12. Just when I was ready to get this shit back together, it gets out of control again. It’s my first time… Thanks for your patience.
This was about a year ago, but the Film Experience had two little list challenges for their contributors about horror pictures, dividing them in classifications of classic (before and during The Exorcist) and modern (after The Exorcist). I don’t know why the fuck they chose The Exorcist, but ok, I’m game and I decided to participate on my own… partly because lists are fun and largely because I’m not on my computer and my sister is posting this pre-arranged article for me. Sorry to cheat you guys out like that, but I wanna keep on schedule (despite how late my posts arrive), so here we go with my choice for my favorite ten horror films before and during 1973.
10. Godzilla (1954/dir. Ishiro Honda/USA) For being the beginning of the modern kaiju picture and the heights that it would never reach again.
9. Freaks (1932/dir. Tod Browning/USA) For the idea of a monster right on its head and still reaching out as completely humane despite its cynicism and anger. 8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968/dir. Roman Polanski/USA) Intruding on domestic paradise with paranoia, deceit and violation… and the irony that it came out of Roman Polanski’s lens of all people. 7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919/dir. Robert Wiene/Germany) For making you feel just a little tipsy, for making things seem not like they should, for still frightening you in the eyes of Cesare and then confirming all your suspicions. 6. The Wicker Man (1973/dir. Robin Hardy/UK)For being both a criticism of culture and rejection of culture. 5. Psycho (1960/dir. Alfred Hitchcock/USA) For having Hitchcock do what he does best… Change film’s playing field.
4. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935/dir. James Whale/USA)For helping itself to all different sorts of genres and elements of Whale’s life and Shelley’s story to create one of the most unique tales of horror ever gracing the screen.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968/dir. George Romero/USA) For eschewing too much gore and marrying the horror of ideas into the real shocker of the century.
2. Faust (1926/dir. F.W. Murnau/Germany) Because it gave one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived one more chance to change a genre’s standing and he did it so beautifully with one of my favorite tales that it almost made me cry.
And number 1
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943/dir. Maya Deren/USA)
See for yourself…