2019 Top Ten List

My feelings towards 2019 as a year-in-film are mixed, because it felt like two radically different years fused together in the middle whose individual parts ultimately coalesced about as well as bone marrow and cheddar cheese. January until about June was one of the most disheartening seasons I can recall, and that was despite a conscious effort to avoid movies I knew I’d hate such as Godzilla: King of the Kong and X-Men XXII: Dark Phoenix Revisited. I must have angered the Indie Film Gods at some point, because there were key movies in the early portions of 2019 that I had pegged for a slot on the ol’ Top Ten that proved woefully disappointing. In fact, until about July I had been getting ready to give up on films altogether and devote myself to more worthy pursuits, such as reading, exercising, and dating—oh God, help me…

July, however, triggered a dynamic shift in the quality of films available to me, with some surprisingly great films trickling into my hometown’s Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies (likely by accident) and slowly but surely filling up my Top Ten.

Buckle in, dear readers, because I saw a great many movies throughout 2019 – some I enjoyed, a handful I loved, and two that might be among my favourite modern films period. All the rest reinforced my chronic nihilism and occasional flirtations with suicide.

The exceptions are:

The Lighthouse

10. The Lighthouse. Robert Eggers’ second directorial feature about two mentally-unhinged white dudes gradually driving one another into a homicidal frenzy on a soggy lighthouse rock at the tail-end of the 19th century is both visually compelling and a testament to Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s acting chops (the latter of whom has been hitting it out of the park this year). As impressive as The Lighthouse is to behold, I likely would not have ranked it among my Top Ten had I fallen in love with more 2019 releases, but because my heart only truly opened for eight or nine films throughout the year, I’m left with having to populate the bottom of my list with something because whoever heard of an Annual Top Nine List? Anyway, this experimental quasi-horror is worth watching at least once, even if you’re not generally into black-and-white period pieces, slow-burning drama that culminates in emotionally-explosive monologues, or mermaid fetishism. The unreliability of the camera coupled with the sheer unpredictability of Dafoe’s elder lighthouse keeper begets a tense, caliginous atmosphere that is only counterbalanced by the surprising humour infused into the situations and interactions of its two doomed wickies (Dafoe pleading for Pattinson to admit he loves his lobster will forever be etched into my funny bone, not to mention the sight of a hungover Pattinson attempting to empty the lighthouse’s chamber pots). As was the case with 2017’s A Ghost Story, I’m impressed by The Lighthouse but sadly not in love with it. Still, those seeking an ethereal, atmospheric creep-show with strands of The Shining evident in its cinematic DNA will surely be enthralled by this nightmarish tale. For myself, my heart still belongs to The Witch.     7.5/10

The King

9. The King. The creative approach taken with this grim adaptation of a series of Shakespeare plays about a line of English monarchs named Richard, Henry, Henry, and Richard seems to have been “Let’s do the exact opposite of everything Game of Thrones has been doing since season 6” – that is, emphasize spectacle over substance. This tale of a young, temperamental King Henry V grappling with the weight of ruling in the face of impending hostilities with France is enthralling for its simplicity, restraint, and focus on its characters’ moods and relationships. Though the shadow of war looms heavily over England, the majority of the story centers on the sort of political intrigue and courtroom scheming that made the first season of Game of Thrones so compelling. Life in 15th-century England is shown to be hard and joyless, with its drafty buildings and debilitating sicknesses and dim lighting and soul-oppressing greyness, and nowhere is this stark realism felt more strongly than on the field of battle. Duals between knights are staged without music and swiftly devolve into no-holds-barred brawls in the mud, swords cast aside in favour of gauntleted fists; sieges against fortified strongholds are shown to be long, dull affairs that end in the unconditional surrender of the besieged; and the climactic battle between the English and French forces is blunt and messy and proceeds without fanfare or rousing instrumentals. It’s interesting how a modern historical drama could eschew the sort of stirring, romantic swells that accompanied the charge of the Rohirrim at the forces of Mordor or the clash of Northmen at the Battle of the Bastards and still manage to be gripping, but The King manages it simply because it’s so grounded in reality. Though the rousing speeches of noble commanders and final stands of heroes willingly embracing death and glory have long-since captured our imaginations, The King invites us to see combat and warfare for what they really are – a bunch of tired, sweaty men hacking each other to pieces or bludgeoning one another to death with something heavy.     8/10

Us

8. Us. The trouble with listing a film on my Top Ten that I’ve already written about in-depth earlier in the year is that I’m left trying to come up with something new to say that can be articulated in a single, succinct paragraph. In previous years I had generally only been forced to rehash points for a couple films I’d already written about, but over half of the entries on this year’s Top Ten already have full articles dedicated to them. The reason I bring this up here is because I have virtually nothing left to say about Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone-esque fable Us that I haven’t already said, so I’m padding this recommendation as best I can in order to fill up the paragraph. Anyway, Jordan Peele uses Us as a platform to take Get Out’s blending of otherwise incongruent tones and genres to new heights, juxtaposing doppelgänger horror and urban science fiction to create a genuinely unique cinematic experience. Its high-concept premise (genetic duplicates of everyone in America inhabiting inexplicably clean subterranean tunnels and rising up to the surface to… hold hands?) and complex world-building lend it a remarkably storybook quality, so much so that it almost leaves us content with not having the answers for the multitude of questions it raises. Just as nobody concerns themselves with how the giant’s castle stays suspended above the clouds for the beanstalk-ascending Jack to find or where the three little pigs obtained the building permits for their houses, so nobody should lose any sleep wondering where the doppelgängers originated from or how they manage to stay so well-groomed. While Us may not be as streamlined or immersive as Get Out, it’s still unnerving and bizarre enough to satisfy both horror fans and sci-fi enthusiasts. As an aside, I wonder how Keegan-Michael Key feels now that Jordan Peele is rubbing elbows with the Academy’s upper crust, especially since he hasn’t exactly been invited to participate in any of his former stage partner’s ventures…     8/10

Jojo Rabbit

7. Jojo Rabbit. Ten-year-old “JoJo” (Roman Griffin Davis) lives with his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) in Nazi Germany during the waning years of World War II, where he embraces the combat lessons and nationalistic ideologies imparted to him at a Hitler Youth training camp and aspires to be best friends with Adolf Hitler himself, who is manifested in the film as Jojo’s goofy imaginary friend and internal voice-of-reason. Jojo’s burgeoning fanaticism is put to the test when he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic, the knowledge of which sets him on a path to begin questioning his nation’s rampant anti-Semitism and realize that Nazism is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be. On the off-chance that it’s not clear, this is a comedy – a damn good one, too. I might call this the greatest film that Wes Anderson never directed simply because it reminded me so much of Moonrise Kingdom, but that would be a discredit to Taika Waititi’s distinct directorial style and comedic sensibilities, which certainly may have been inspired by early Wes Anderson films but easily stand out from the cinematic flavour cabinet thanks to Waititi’s unique voice (not a pun on his Kiwi accent, though it did contribute to finally winning me over to Thor: Ragnarok). The most effective comedies anchor their jokes and humour on something emotional that speaks to viewers on a heart level, and Jojo Rabbit isn’t afraid to pump the comedic brakes and get serious when the situation calls for it. Amidst the quirky humour and comical accents and ridiculous dialogue are appropriately tender moments, particularly between Jojo and his mother Rosie, who diligently endeavors to reverse her son’s jingoist programming without ever lapsing in her love for him or her duty to protect him from certain truths too great for him to handle. Like 2018’s The Death of Stalin, Jojo Rabbit never stoops to trivializing the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews or even their own people, but instead approaches its serious subject matter through the fanciful perspective of a ten-year-old boy. As such, the tone is whimsical and lighthearted – until the moment it isn’t, a moment I wouldn’t dare to elaborate on here. The cast is in top form, with Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell in particular giving amazing performances that absolutely nail the tonal blend of comedy and drama. I was also surprised to find myself enjoying Rebel Wilson’s signature awkwardness and the startingly funny non-verbal reactions of Alfie Allen, of all people. Also, Taika Waititi as a screwball Hitler might be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. In all, Jojo Rabbit upholds the dramatic and comedic qualities established previously in What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and, yes, even Thor: Ragnarok, and proves that Taika Waititi is a credit to the industry both in New Zealand and abroad. Case closed.     8/10

Ready or Not 2

6. Ready or Not. There were some curious commonalities linking otherwise dissimilar movies across 2019. Polar fracking led to bloodthirsty monsters rising up from the earth in both The Slaughterhouse Rulez and The Dead Don’t Die (see far, far, far below for assessments of those timeless masterpieces), deranged clowns mugged for the spotlight in both It Chapter Two and Joker, and labyrinthine mansions served as a venue for murder and dysfunctional families and both Ready or Not and Knives Out. In my full write-up for Ready or Not back in August, I drew comparisons to Get Out, The Most Dangerous Game, and Mayhem, but it is with Rian Johnson’s quasi-murder mystery/comedy that hit theaters later in November that Ready or Not is perhaps most equitable to. Both focus on good-hearted heroines who find themselves completely out of their depth in situations beyond their control, both highlight the calamitous whims of the idly rich, both center on lavish estates with architectural secrets, and both utilize black humour to make the inherent ridiculousness of their premises more digestible. What ultimately gave Ready or Not its winning edge over Knives Out is in its characterizations of its One Percenter family. Though both RoN’s elitist Le Domases and KO’s entrepreneurial Thrombeys are both made memorable by dedicated performances, the Le Domases feel more real simply because we’re permitted to know what makes them tick. Consequently, their animosity with one another is more relatable and their individual motivations and personal demons feel more fleshed out, especially when compared to the more boilerplate interpersonal conflicts besetting the Thrombeys. The Le Domases are just as dismayed as Samara Weaving’s hapless bride that they must engage in a fatal game of Hide-and-Seek and only strive to shed her blood out of personal necessity, whereas some of the Thrombeys seem to despise their unassuming caretaker simply because the script decrees it. I feel that I’m pinpointing everything that excluded Knives Out from this Top Ten instead of revealing what made Ready or Not worthy of inclusion, but I already extolled this film’s virtues at length back in August and have little else to add. In all, Ready or Not is safe and fun for the whole family, especially if you belong to a bourgeois family that enjoys hunting proletariat swine through the woods.     8/10

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5. Parasite. Back in 2013 I was introduced to South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-Ho by way of his alleged sci-fi action romp Snowpiercer, which was recommended to me on the basis of its supposedly biting commentary on classism. Full disclosure, I hated Snowpiercer – not for what it was saying, but for the blatantly obvious and on-the-nose route it elected to say it, which involved the flagrantly rich partaking in hors d’oeuvres and steam baths at the front of the post-apocalyptic global train and the poor consuming cockroach cakes and occasionally each another in fits of desperation at the back. By all means, filmmakers, make a statement with your project if you must, just remember to layer your themes and messages into the subtext as opposed to overtop the damn plot, otherwise your movie is little better than a glorified after-school-special like 2004’s Crash (which endlessly reiterated the otherwise noble message “Racism equals bad” like a brain-damaged Pokémon). Fortunately, Joon-Ho’s newest film, Parasite (which deservedly scooped up the Palme d’Or at Cannes), executes its social commentary effectively in that it never stifles the story or stoops to preaching to its audiences like a megaphone-toting street evangelist. The story follows the downtrodden Kim family in their tenacious attempts to improve their station in life by infiltrating the lives and home of the wealthy Park family, whom they envy for their possessions and the luxuries they enjoy. Curiously, the affluent Parks, while dismissive of the less-fortunate, are not the loathsome, sneering oppressors they might have been in a lesser director’s hands – in fact, it is the underprivileged Kims, especially the parents, who are the resentful, underhanded ones in this cautionary tale about jealousy, duplicity, and economic inequality. The film’s initially lighthearted tone makes the absurdity of the Kim family’s schemes feel like a top-notch episode of Seinfeld, but a series of unexpected dark turns later in the story serve as a jarring reality check and provides an unsettling reminder that every decision we make has consequences – even disastrous ones.     8/10

Midsommar

4. Midsommar. What starts out as a standard breakup film centering on a toxic, self-absorbed schmuck and his pure-hearted but emotionally-distraught girlfriend gradually morphs into the sort of psychedelic skin-crawler that would give The Wicker Man nightmares before looping back around to becoming a highly-artful breakup film slash feminist liberation piece. As enthusiastic as I am for Midsommar, it’s one of those films that I won’t need to see again for a very, very long time simply because everything in it has stuck with me so vividly – especially the full-frontal nudity, grotesque violence, and completely traumatizing sex sequence (not a scene, mind you – a sequence). In fact, everything presented in Midsommar seems to have been carefully selected by auteur Ari Aster with the specific intention of instilling maximum discomfort in his viewers – from the off-kilter camera angles to the tension of the musical score to the oversaturation of the colour palette to the eerie placidness of the Hälsingland commune members’ demeanors (the reason I have never, ever travelled abroad is because of films like this – also, because I’d have to leave the house). As unnerving as Midsommar’s tone and feel are, its aesthetics are wholly pleasing to the eye, with many of its scenic shots having potential to serve as oil paintings. It’s a film that you want to look at, even if what’s happening in it makes you want to look away. Also, I love narratives that toy with your expectations of who you should be rooting for to survive, and Midsommar satisfies this inclination expertly by gradually shifting your sympathies away from the emotionally-distant Jack Reynor toward the selfless but deeply damaged Florence Pugh. Pugh’s character is exactly the sort of protagonist you want to see outlast everyone, and the fact that the films ends with her finally finding a place to belong almost makes how poorly she’s treated by her dunce-cap boyfriend worth the price of admission. Unlike some other films this year, this is not a date movie – unless you’re trying desperately to break up with your girlfriend and can think of no other way to do it. Come to think of it, Jack Reynor could have benefitted from some Ari Aster films in his attempts to rid himself of Florence Pugh…     8/10

Once Upon in Hollywood

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. After Tarantino’s love letter to himself that was The Hateful Eight back in 2015, I became worried that one of my favourite auteurs had exhausted his creative reserves and effectively doomed himself to walk the same path into obscurity and irrelevancy as David Cronenberg (who is still my hero, even after Maps to the Stars) and James Cameron (Avatar 2 was originally projected for Christmas 2014it’s never coming out and nothing you say will ever convince me otherwise, damn you). Anyway, it only took ten minutes for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to completely reverse my misgivings regarding Tarantino’s ability to deliver, which was good for me because I’m honestly not sure what I would have done if this film sucked. Tarantino’s 9th feature film is a bright, colourful, funny, subversive, and optimistic encapsulation of the world of 1960’s Hollywood and one of the most expertly-crafted films of the modern age. Again, I’m impressed by Tarantino’s ability to take a setting involving something as heinous and borderline taboo as the Manson Family Murders and rework it in such a way that it not only treats the real-life victims and their families with respect, it actually leaves you feeling warm and hopeful – which is more than can be said for The Haunting of Sharon Tate (which I did not see but will openly deride anyway because I have a paragraph to fill, dammit). Tarantino’s films have been spawning cheap imitators since Pulp Fiction back in 1994, but what’s curious about 2019’s critically-panned Lizzie McGuire-helmed supernatural slasher about the Tate–LaBianca murders is that it came out four months before OUATIH’s wide release. Considering how relatively small the film industry actually is and the uncanny manner in which the creative zeitgeist seems to inspire thematically-identical movies in rival studios, it’s quite possible that the minds behind Sharon Tate simply sought to capitalize on a timely opportunity to turn a quick buck using the controversy surrounding Tarantino’s own film as a springboard. Perhaps if it had included a modicum of taste (not to mention a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio flambéing a cultist with a flame thrower) it might have fared better than a 19% Rotten Tomatoes score. Mr. Tarantino, you make good movies.     8.5/10

1917

2. 1917. Mercy sakes alive, Pig Pen – it isn’t often that a film leaves me speechless. Sam Mendes’ newest war film is one of those highly-effective narratives that I dedicate my life to seeking out, the ones I revel in systematically breaking down in a ten-page analysis to determine precisely what elements it incorporated to make it so emotionally resonant. It’s a gross injustice that I’m forced to condense all my thoughts into a single paragraph because this transcends all mere film categorizations and achieves the level of cinema – and not just because it’s famously edited to look like a single, continuous tracking shot. Set in World War I on the French front line, 1917 chronicles the covert mission assigned to two soldiers, Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal William Schofield (Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay), who must overnight a message to a battalion commander on another line warning him of a German trap that could cost the lives of 1600 men, Blake’s older brother among them. We then follow these two young soldiers as they bravely navigate the war-torn countryside in an effort to make it to their brothers-in-arms before it’s too late. It’s difficult to discuss what makes 1917 so spectacular without overtly spoiling anything, but let’s just say that this film is gripping on every level of production – from its character arcs to its visuals, from its editing techniques to its music. Perhaps the most effective draw of the film is that its protagonists aren’t out to save all of Europe, they’re on a mission to save one little corner of it. Like Frodo and Sam persevering to Mount Doom out of love for the Shire, Corporals Blake and Schofield are invested in their mission for personal reasons – the stakes and urgency of their assignment resonate on the grander theater-of-war scale simply because they originate on an individual one. Their journey is further marked by emotional checkpoints that provide necessary moments of respite for both them and the viewers, such as the meeting with a sage captain played by Mark Strong, the chance encounter with a French peasant mother, and the gathering of troops observing one of their own sing ‘The Wayfaring Stranger.’ The story is magnetic from start to finish and is bolstered by some of the most jaw-dropping visuals I’ve ever seen – notable among them the foggy, mortar-ravaged front line and the haunting, starkly-lit French village. Unlike 2014’s similarly-edited Birdman, the continuous shot never feels gimmicky or pretentious nor does its implementation distract from the story, which was inspired by the accounts Sam Mendes’ grandfather brought back from his own service in WWI. In all, 1917 is a gripping, emotionally-blitzing credit to cinema and easily the greatest war film since Saving Private Ryan.     9/10

The Irishman

1. The Irishman. This should really come as no surprise to anyone who has had a conversation with me that’s lasted for more than twelve seconds since November (not to mention my loyal four-and-a-half readers who liked and subbed my most recent critique). With its epic scope and talented performances and innovative special effects and painstaking direction and emotional heft, The Irishman may very well be a modern masterpiece – and I’m not just saying that because I would have traded my spotted liver to sit with Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino at that round table discussion following the film. What surprised me most about The Irishman is that Scorsese didn’t settle for making just another paint-by-numbers gangster film to bookend his filmography – he crafted a riveting character-driven story that just happened to involve some famous mobsters, not to mention one of the most infamous unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. Directors like Scorsese are a dying breed – the legends who once delivered high-caliber films that simultaneously dominated the box office, pleased general audiences, and appeased snooty film critics are now few and far between. Spielberg has been phoning it in since Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (spit), Ridley Scott misses more than he hits, and Ford Coppola, De Palma, and Cronenberg have all dropped off the face of the map. The theatrical landscape has changed drastically since these men were in their prime, with endless remakes, soft reboots, and Marvel movies diminishing the nation’s collective palate and making studios reluctant to finance anything that requires that their audiences pay attention. Last year, Scorsese experienced backlash for having the audacity to label Marvel movies uncinematic, and I for one couldn’t have agreed with his statements more vehemently. The Irishman represents cinema – Avengers: Endgame represents everything wrong with modern movies. Anyway, regardless of your interest in the gangster genre or level of knowledge regarding the power of the Teamsters or the living legend that was Jimmy Hoffa, The Irishman is a surprisingly accessible story of friendship, betrayal, and family that merits multiple rewatches, assuming that three-hour time code isn’t an issue. Though this is easily one of my favourite films of the past decade… I still almost awarded this top slot to 1917.     9/10

(Dis)honorable Mentions:

Yesterday

The “Runner-Up Award” goes to Yesterday… but only because I wrote a Top Ten paragraph for it and was forced to bump it after seeing Jojo Rabbit. The 80’s and 90’s were something of a breeding ground for high-concept comedies with supernatural elements, the sort that could be pitched in one sentence during an elevator ride. “A smooth-talking lawyer is unable to lie for 24 hours.” “A jaded TV weatherman finds himself inexplicably reliving Groundhog Day.” “A preteen boy wakes up in the body of an adult Tom Hanks.” “Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant.” Following the spirit of these premise-driven films of a bygone era, Yesterday might have been pitched like this: “After getting hit by a bus during a global blackout, a struggling musician awakens to discover he’s apparently the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles.” Naturally, the beleaguered musician (Himesh Patel) capitalizes on the world’s collective amnesia to finally achieve success and stardom, taking credit for everything from ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (despite not exactly remembering all the lyrics) to ‘Hey Jude’ (which gets rechristened ‘Hey Dude’ by Ed Sheeran, who looks about as enthused to be here as Tommy Lee Jones at an awards ceremony). The lovely Lily James stars opposite as Malik’s lovestruck manager and Kate McKinnon practically steals the show as his unscrupulous agent. Essentially a romantic comedy, Yesterday is cute and charming but sadly isn’t terribly interested in exploring the ramifications of its Mandela Effect-premise in much depth. Still, it’s an inoffensive, entertaining date movie, even if your date is a bottle of wine…     7.5/10

Let’s give a hearty round of applause for the incredibly versatile Adam Driver, who – along with Daisy Ridley – carried the entire Disney-era Star Wars movies on his shoulders. However, for a better showcase of his talents, check out The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and A Marriage Story, both of which are a solid 7.5/10

Rocketman

Rocketman. The Elton John biopic succeeds in every respect that Bohemian Rhapsody failed, telling an engaging story that offers fresh insight into the mind, heart, and soul of its subject and effectively weaving his discography into the plot. This film is bold, sexy, and energetic and actually made me interested in exploring Elton John’s music in greater depth. Also, it’s unafraid of putting its titular Rocketman’s homosexuality front and center.     7.5/10

I generally avoid mainstream comedies like the plague (especially if Paul Feig or Judd Apatow are attached in any way), but Booksmart, the directorial debut for Olivia Wilde, charmed the hell out of me and actually succeeded in making me laugh. Wilde’s direction is surprisingly artful for a comedy and the performances are strong and memorable enough to launch careers. Though the third act unraveled fairly noticeably and included an odd payoff that hadn’t actually been set-up at any point, Superbad With Girls is still a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s become extremely tedious.     7/10

Dolemite is my Name

The “Dual Comeback Award” goes to both Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes for Dolemite Is My Name, the Netflix Original biopic about 1970’s Blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore. Some structural problems with the script aside, this film is jolly good fun and difficult to condemn simply because everyone involved is having so much damn fun, just like the characters producing the Dolemite film-within-the-film. Far be it from me to dampen everyone’s good time with criticism. See, grandma? I do have a heart.     7/10

I had originally planned a “Let’s Talk About” article for El Camino, the long-awaited Breaking Bad movie, but I didn’t get around to it so I’m going to do my best here. In short, it mimics the feel of AMC’s best series beat-for-beat in that its first act is often frustrating (seasons 1-2), it’s second act finds its footing and slowly gains momentum (season 3-4), and its third act packs an explosive punch and concludes satisfactorily (season 5). Being a fan of Breaking Bad, I had reservations that the follow-up film revealing the fate of poor Jesse Pinkman would ruin the ambiguity of the series finale (just as David Chase left it up to us to decide whether or not Tony Soprano lives, so Vince Gilligan left Jesse’ fate up to his viewers). Fortunately, El Camino managed to wrap things up in a way that made sense and crafted an appropriate sendoff for the only Breaking Bad character to actually deserve a happy ending.     7/10

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Secret World. The continuing adventures of Hiccup and Toothless is decent at best and relies too heavily on events from the second movie (which apparently I’m obligated to remember going into this one), but the animation is phenomenal and compensates for the film’s narrative shortcomings. “Oh my god,” I cried from my La-Z-Boy recliner. “Did they animate those individual sand grains?!”     6.5/10

Glass

The “M. Night Shyamalan Made a Movie I Didn’t Hate Award” goes to Glass. I enjoyed Unbreakable back in the day and I hated Split with all the passion of a thousand concupiscent war elephants, so it makes sense that a sequel combining both those movies and their casts would fall somewhere in the middle. Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised by Glass, mostly because I was expecting a two-hour trash fire and instead got something mostly decent. Though it suffers from the usual M. Night Shyamalan hallmarks of wooden dialogue, logical leaps, and general lack of understanding of how the real world works, Samuel L. Jackson and James McAvoy are mesmerizing and share great screen chemistry.     6.5/10

Toy Story 4. The continuing adventures of Woody, Buzz, and all the rest is decent at best and suffers from an over-abundance of story material that felt like it was culled from four different scripts, but the animation is phenomenal and distracts from the film’s narrative shortcomings. “Oh my god,” I cried from my wheelchair-accessible theater seat. “Did they animate those individual bristles on that pipe cleaner?!”     6.5/10

My best advice regarding It Chapter Two is to watch the original— wait, never mind. Read the book— wait, never mind… Watch Joker instead— ah, hell with it.     6.5/10

Knives Out

Knives Out. Rian Johnson takes your standard murder-mystery-mansion whodunnit template and goes in an interesting new direction with it in the first twenty minutes, showing us not only what happened and whodunnit, but crafting a story around the protagonist being forced to prove their innocence. Unfortunately, he failed to commit to his own unique angle and wrapped the third act back around to a standard murder-mystery-mansion whodunnit with a twist you could see coming from space. The best thing about this movie is the cast, especially Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig.     6/10

The “I Was Marginally Entertained by a DC Comics Movie” goes to Shazam! Full disclosure, I briefly thought Zachary Levi was Jimmy Fallon.     6/10

Regarding Under the Silver Lake, I’m sadly still waiting on that post-Cannes edit that will draw an actual, coherent story out of all the superfluous nonsense.     6/10

On April 30th I gave my hometown’s Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies three hours of my life, Disney $6 of my income to add to the pile, and Avengers: (The Never)End(ing)game a 6/10 – one point for every dollar and two for every hour I spent in that seat bored out of my mind. There’s my review.

Brightburn, an ostensible horror flick written by James Gunn’s brother and directed by literally some guy, dares to ask the question “What would happen if Superman were evil?” The answer, incidentally, is “Exactly what you’d expect.”     5.5/10

Ad Astra

Ad Astra. Though visually impressive, this Brad Pitt-helmed space voyage gets docked serious points for incorporating lunar pirates and space station baboon attacks into its script and then making them boring.     5/10

What does one say about The Highwaymen, besides “Go watch 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde”?     5/10

I started to watch Steven Soderbergh’s The Big Short-esque docudrama The Laundromat on a sick-day, only to turn it off in a fit of boredom in favour of an earlier, far superior Soderbergh crime drama The Limey. Despite not finishing this, I still feel like I saw enough of it to slap it with a Nondescript 5/10

The “Last Jedi Redeemer Award” goes to Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I’m not a fan of the Disney-era Star Wars movies, but at least The Last Jedi felt like Rian Johnson had something he wanted to say, even if his articulation fell short. This, on the other hand, felt like it was 60% reactionary backpedaling and 40% out-of-touch studio execs stuffing focus group-approved story notes into a blender and then vomiting in it.     4/10

Joker. This movie has received a Best Picture nomination, so apparently the joke’s on me.     4/10

Velvet Buzzsaw

Velvet Buzzsaw. This quasi-Final Destination horror about killer art entrapping critics and then butchering them had its moments (basically when its characters were getting picked off). Unfortunately, the rest of it looked and felt like an episode of Desperate Housewives.     4/10

The “I Still Love You, Sam Elliot Award” goes to The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot. Sam Elliot was the Marlboro Man in 2007’s Thank You for Smoking – how’s that for pitch-perfect casting?     4/10

I first got wind of the horror-comedy Slaughterhouse Rulez back in late 2018 and swiftly jotted it on my theatrical hit list, figuring that anything boasting the combined talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Michael Sheen, and Margot Robbie had to be an instant hit. Alas, I waited for a wide release that never came, and by the time I finally tracked it down in 2019 I understood why it never saw the light of day – because Pegg, Frost, Sheen, and Robbie collaborated in an attempt to bury it.     4/10

Spider-Man: European Vacation truly has Iron Man 2 to thank, for otherwise it would be the dumbest Marvel movie I’ve ever seen.     3/10

Rambo Last Blood

With Rambo: Last Blood, the Rambo series has officially devolved from a poignant, nigh-bloodless character tale about a troubled veteran trying to find a place in a society that despises him to a cheap imitation of 2008’s Taken. The key difference, however, between Last Blood and Taken is that Liam Neeson rescued his daughter before she was gang-raped to death by psychos.     3/10

My best advice regarding Pet Sematary is to watch the original— wait, never mind. Read the book—ah, got it that time!     3/10

The Dirt. I like Mötley Crüe as much as the next guy, but this supposed tell-all biopic is more interested in glorifying twenty years of hedonistic behavior and ruining other peoples’ lives with minimal apologies than it is in giving any real insight into the individual Crüe members or the music they rocked the world with.     3/10

TheDeadDontDie

Finally, we come to The Dead Don’t Die. I recall the first time I picked up Ernest Hemingway as a younger man, intent on finally expanding my literary tastes beyond Batman comics and junior novelizations of fantasy movies. It was To Have and Have Not, which I read in a day, put down, and asked “This is the great American writer everyone’s been talking about? What’s the big deal?” Later on, I read The Old Man and the Sea, at which point I said “Ohhhh, that’s what the big deal is.” From there I plunged into Hemingway’s bibliography from the beginning and now revere him as one of the greatest literary minds in human history. I’m not trying to brag, here – the point I’m making is that To Have and Have Not represented a lapse in quality for an otherwise compelling author. I bring this up because The Dead Don’t Die is admittedly my first Jim Jarmusch vehicle, and all I find myself asking is “This is the great American auteur everyone’s been talking about? What’s the big deal?” I honestly can’t tell what the point of this movie was – is it satirizing the zombie genre or attempting to say something serious about polar fracking? How does polar fracking even lead to a zombie apocalypse, anyway? The tone is messy, the point nebulous, the pacing about as smooth as my old Chevy in the middle of February, and the cast seems to have been assembled solely to make audiences question “Is that seriously Iggy Pop?”, “Is that seriously Selena Gomez?” “Is that seriously JAMES DEAN??!” Maybe one day I’ll get around to trying another Jim Jarmusch film and, on that day, realize that this one, like To Have and Have Not, was a fluke. Until then, I can’t say I see what the big deal is.     3/10

On the television side of things, I swore off superhero fiction just in time to see Amazon Prime’s The Boys, and I learned my lesson so well that I swore off Star Wars just in time to see The Mandalorian. If I ever bothered with a Top Ten for television, those two series would top the list. Also, I loved that Game of Thrones fan-fiction that HBO aired as a promotional stunt for Season 8. Can’t wait for the real thing…

Here’s to 2020!

 

 

 

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