Author Archive: Paul Stanis

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Mini-Review

The Adjustment Bureau

Before I watched 2011’s The Adjustment Bureau, I had concerns. A tale of a secret cabal covertly adjusting society at key pressure points in service of an enigmatic “Plan” seemed at risk of tripping conspiracy theory alarm bells, at a time when the fun has been taken out of conspiracies. But the tack the film (adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story) takes is to code these adjustments as much more personal. Ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) cannot be together… because the Plan says so.

Making it personal saves the premise from too many pesky big-picture questions (though given David’s track toward a Planned Presidency, a cameo by future Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as himself raises an eyebrow). It also makes the emotions land, as this roller coaster of a thriller lays its track to catharsis.

There is silliness inherent in the premise of dapper uncanny agents shaping events. Look no further than water being a semi-arbitrary damper on Bureau agents’ abilities. Water? I’m reminded of Taraji P. Henson in Acrimony: “Crazy things happen to me in rain. Around water.” But that silliness passes an event horizon, crossing into 100% earnest commitment. Nowhere is that better embodied than in John Slattery’s great performance as Adjustment Bureau Agent Richardson. Slattery is spectacular in this, precisely because he doesn’t play it spectacular. It’s another day at the office for him. With the weary affect of middle management, he grounds the premise and makes it real.

Just contrast Richardson with his superior, Agent Thompson (Terence Stamp). Stamp’s stentorian tones portentously exposit that the Bureau engineered the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. (Rather like how in Batman Begins, Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul boasts that the League of Shadows sacked Rome, burned London to the ground, etc.) The character is passable, but more of a walking trope. It falls to his employees to effectively sell the movie’s ideas.

Some of those ideas are akin to The Matrix. Like the Wachowskis’ false computer reality which alters course with a spell of déjà vu, the Plan suddenly changes. But it’s uncommonly remembered that in The Matrix, the day is saved by love. Specifically, the fairy tale idea of true love’s kiss. And so it is in The Adjustment Bureau, just as hope seems lost.

The genre cocktail of the film includes science fiction, romance, and political thriller. Writer-director George Nolfi balances the ingredients extraordinarily well, and commits to the propulsive momentum of the best thrillers, but the emotional spark of life comes from Damon and Blunt, who have electric chemistry. The movie would be underpowered without it. With only minor flaws nipping at its heels, The Adjustment Bureau is a modern classic. This film, which is so full of rules, rules.

In Defense of Naiveté

What makes a hero? A lot of things can; no one thing should. A hero can be a cynical pragmatist, or a morally grey antihero, and stories are often the richer for that. But a persistent, classic mold of the hero is the idealist. In the safe space of a rollicking action movie, heroes can represent idealism that doesn’t have to compromise, and we root for them because of it. Heroes can bear their naivé idealism as a weapon, made all the more powerful by their uncompromising belief in good, and the audience’s knowledge that the real world isn’t like that… but wouldn’t it be nice if it was? Three recent cinematic heroes can all be called naivé for their beliefs and resultant actions, but should also be championed for their idealism: Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in Wonder Woman. Especially in fiction, naiveté needn’t be pejorative, and these characters are case studies in why.

Ilsa

Ilsa Faust is an MI6 agent who has been assigned by her agency to infiltrate the Syndicate, an international rogue cabal of ex-spies who have turned from espionage to glorified terrorism. It is later revealed that the Syndicate was originally the brainchild of Atlee, Ilsa’s MI6 handler, highlighting with a sharpie the agency’s corruption. That murkiness is contrasted with Ilsa herself. Ilsa is an efficient killer and manipulator, no doubt. But she also naivély believes that agents of allied nations have a responsibility for each other, as she demonstrates when she risks blowing her cover to save IMF agent Ethan Hunt.

Ilsa is vindicated, as she and Ethan expose the Syndicate, foil their plans, and arrest their leader Solomon Lane. Had Ilsa followed MI6’s orders, Ethan would’ve been left at the mercy of the Syndicate. At first, when Ilsa rescues Ethan, she feels like a plot device to free the lead character, but in retrospect, Ilsa’s act defines her character. She doesn’t know Ethan has the outsize power that comes with being the main character. Ilsa simply sees an American agent in danger and saves him without hesitation. She represents a better, less pragmatic, more naivé version of statecraft. And accomplishes the impossible mission because of it.

Rose Tico

Rose Tico is a Resistance technician whose home planet was strip-mined by the neo-fascist First Order. At Rose’s first meeting with former Stormtrooper Finn, Rose sees Finn’s actions in The Force Awakens as those of an overly simplistic and idealized hero. Initially, she doesn’t see Finn as a person. Ironically, after Rose reprimands Finn for attempted desertion from the Resistance, she starts them both on a path to true heroism, as he commits to the Resistance that Rose so believes in. Rose’s beliefs are contrasted in the movie with the roguish character DJ, who points out that corrupt weapons brokers sell to the Resistance as well as the First Order. When DJ tells Finn, “It’s all a machine… be free, don’t join”, DJ is using a convenient false equivalency. At a certain point you have to realize, one side kidnaps and brainwashes babies, and the other doesn’t. One side commits willful genocide, and the other doesn’t. And that’s exactly what Finn realizes as he fully commits to the Resistance, thanks to Rose.

Something of an activist, Rose frees fathiers who had been victims of animal cruelty, and disrupts the exploitative luxury of rich war profiteers. She gives hope to downtrodden stable children, igniting their dreams of adventure and heroism. After naivély regarding Finn as a perfect hero, Rose becomes a hero herself throughout the movie. One crucial moment where Rose saves Finn from a useless sacrifice (“That’s how we’re gonna win: not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”) clarifies the thesis of rebellion in all of Star Wars. In the original trilogy, the Rebels are the good guys defined by opposition to the tyrannical bad guys of the Empire. Rose’s backstory, and her inspiration to downtrodden slaves at Canto Bight, provide insight into not only what Rebels fight against, but what they fight for. Rose’s sentiment is idealistic and in some situations naivé, but Star Wars supports it. When Poe Dameron asks Lando Calrissian how the Rebels toppled the Empire, he says, “We had each other. That’s how we won.” This type of idealism drives a fairy tale like Star Wars.

wonder-woman

In her solo movie, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince emerges from the paradise island Themyscira to find a world embroiled in “the Great War” (World War I). Naivély, Diana fervently believes that the only explanation for this grand-scale conflict is manipulation from the rogue god of war, Ares. This is the kind of great idea that can provide the engine for an entire screenplay, since the audience knows the moment will come when Diana’s naiveté will crash into the realization that humanity doesn’t need divine influence to sacrifice an entire generation in the trenches over lines on a map. But when it comes to the audience’s relationship with Diana’s naiveté, viewers can consider themselves more worldly and knowledgeable, but also envy Diana’s worldview. How wonderful would it be if violent conflict could only be explained as outside manipulation? Diana’s naiveté is objectively wrong, but there’s also power to it, right alongside her literal superpowers.

When Diana affirms her beliefs in a final battle with Ares, this manifests as a quantifiable power-up, allowing Diana to break free of shrapnel bondage. She says, “I believe in love”, to which Ares responds, “Then – I shall – DESTROY YOU!” It’s a truly absurd and cheesy moment, but one that speaks to the power of naivé idealism. “I believe in love” is a bold choice for an action movie one-liner, and stands out because of it.

Wonder Woman Rose Ilsa 2.5

Ilsa, Rose, and Diana are very different characters. Where Ilsa can manipulate with the most elite of spies, Rose and Diana are unfailingly earnest. What they share are ideals, some of which are impractical and unworldly. But in heroic stories, storytellers have license to let that very naiveté win the movie. Ilsa Faust, Rose Tico, and Wonder Woman are all characters not diminished, but enhanced, by a dose of naiveté.

 

Top 5 Badass Disney Princess Moments

First, a couple honorable mentions: Ariel Saves Eric and Commits to Her Choice, from The Little Mermaid. After a storm ravages Prince Eric’s ship, Ariel rescues him and takes him ashore. After he comes to and his men retrieve him, Ariel hides herself and reprises her “I want” song, “Part of Your World”, climaxing in the stunning moment when a wave crashes against the rock behind her. In this moment, she definitively makes a choice that was just a notion before, to become part of the human world. I also have to mention The Princesses Save Ralph in Ralph Breaks the Internet. In a sublime moment of fanservice, the Disney Princesses combine their skills to break Ralph’s fall. In terms of pure crowd-pleasing catnip it’s spectacular, but I don’t think it’s fair to run that moment in competition.

5) Tiana Breaks Dr. Facilier’s Talisman, The Princess and the Frog

5 Tiana Talisman

While the decision to turn Tiana into a frog for much of the film’s runtime feels ill-considered, it is in frog form that Tiana shows the strength of her character. After Dr. Facilier murders Ray, he turns his attention to Tiana. Facilier tempts her with a vision of her dream restaurant up, running, and thriving, but she rejects his manipulation and shatters the McGuffin he’s so desperate for. This unleashes a phantasmagoric sequence, where Facilier’s “friends from the other side” come to collect his soul. And besides, Tiana knows she must earn her restaurant’s success through hard work, not by an ill-gotten shortcut.

4) Ice Palace for One, Frozen

elsa-empowered

Elsa inherited a castle from her parents. But her existence there was marked by repression of her true self. So when the people of Arendelle and its political peers see Elsa’s magical ice powers and react in fear to that which they don’t understand, Elsa sings an anthem of self-expression while building a palace entirely of herself. As “Let it Go” catapults emotion across the screen like a trebuchet flinging snowballs, Disney’s animators give us the unforgettable spectacle of Elsa creating an entire palace, culminating in Elsa magically manifesting her iconic ice dress.

3) Mulan Disarms Shan Yu, Mulan

3 Mulan Disarms Shan Yu

After single-handedly crippling the Hun army (a potential entrant on this list all on its own), Mulan is outed as a woman but still warns of Shan Yu’s infiltration of the Imperial City. After Shan Yu’s sheer advantage in size overwhelms Li Shang and Mulan in turn, her fight with the Hun leader moves to a rooftop. Mulan, desperate for a weapon, produces the fan she brandished earlier in the movie when dressing up for a matchmaker. After Shan Yu taunts, “It looks like you’re out of ideas”, Mulan disarms him with the fan and takes his sword in an efficient punch-the-air moment.

2) Anna Sacrifices Her Kingdom to Save it, Frozen 2

The Next Right Thing

For Anna, all hope is lost. She’s auditioned for Les Miserables with her song “The Next Right Thing”, wherein despite knowing her sister and Olaf are dead, she resolves to carry on and do what’s right, no matter how painful. So she wakes up the Earth Giants to destroy the Northuldra dam, the monument to Arendelle’s colonialist sin. Knowing the flood will destroy Arendelle, Anna invokes her royal authority to enlist the help of Mattias and his soldiers in taking desperate action. To be a Princess of a Kingdom is to understand the responsibility of power, and Anna’s decision to proactively confront the shameful history of Arendelle is a stunning display of leadership.

1) Moana Redeems Te Ka, Moana

1 Moana Redeems Te Ka

For the length of the movie up to this point, Moana has believed that Maui, who stole the heart of Te Fiti, must restore it. But the power to do so has always been hers, as she has the insight to see through the corrupted form of Te Ka to the goddess underneath. So Moana parts the sea, sings to the kaiju-size fire demon, and saves it. In practice, this is mythic, poignant stuff supported by astonishing visuals. It gives me goosebumps every time. “They have stolen the heart from inside you / But this does not define you”, Moana sings to the molten monolith, before restoring that heart and saving the entire ocean from magical infection. A badass power move if ever I saw one.

Marnie (1964) Mini-Review: A Hitchcock Skeleton Key

Marnie

“It is not improbabilities of incident but improbabilities of character that matter.” – Thomas Hardy

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film Marnie, Tippi Hedren’s title character is a kleptomaniac embezzler/con artist with crippling phobias of thunder, lightning, and the color red. When it comes to the building of a fictional person, that’s a lot. It’s a meal of a character, and she meets her match in the manipulative, vaguely sociopathic Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), who blackmails her into marriage. In telling their story, Hitchcock deploys a cornucopia of visual tricks, everything from dutch angles to eerie color overlay. The toolbox is wide open, no restraint. But he also displays a great number of his particular hang-ups, making Marnie something of a synecdoche for his preoccupations.

There’s the embezzling women and psychoanalysis of, well, Psycho. The plot device of keys from Notorious. The uncanny phobias and nightmarish imagery of Spellbound. The fluidity of female identity, often associated with hair color, from Vertigo. The twisted relationship dynamics of Suspicion. And most of all, there is the issue of Hitchcock’s behavior toward Tippi Hedren, the star he was jealously in love with, the woman he tormented on the set of The Birds. The representation of Hitchcock as problematic figure.

Many of Hitchcock’s women are there as decoration or as pawns to be sacrificed. To be the angelic girlfriend in Rear Window. To be hacked up in the shower in Psycho. To be grotesquely molded into someone they’re not and thrown off a building in Vertigo. To be brutally strangled in Frenzy. But Marnie is an extraordinary case. Here is a character who’s often a victim, both to her phobias and to her husband. But we always see the strength of her character, in her defiance or in a particularly witty comeback. And as Marnie, Hedren gives what so many other of Hitchcock’s women aren’t given a real chance to: a great performance. From deranged to distraught to childlike to wry, the woman runs the gamut.

The tone of Marnie is a wonderful tightrope walk between heavy thematic material (as the MPAA would say), lurid half-trashiness, and the ability to land a hearty good punchline. We are rather like the Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) character, knowing something dangerous is afoot and cracking a crooked smile as the chaos plays out. In one standout scene presented in wide shot, on screen right Marnie empties a safe of its petty cash, and on screen left the cleaning lady has stealthily started cleaning outside the door. It’s a deliciously tense sequence, but as Marnie sneaks away and agonizingly drops something with a loud thud, she’s allowed a respite: the cleaning lady is nearly deaf. It doesn’t matter how clearly artificial that plot device is; the tension is an end in and of itself. As Hardy said, improbability of incident doesn’t matter. There’s something strangely off about so much of the movie, even in relatively neutral stretches, a sign that Hitchcock won’t let the audience breathe normally for long.

Marnie also contains visual motifs that seem to have specifically influenced later filmmakers. The aforementioned safe-breaking presented in wide shot is a screaming ringer for Brian De Palma’s literal splitting of the screen in so much of his Hitchcock-influenced filmography. And then there’s the unforgettable and non-exploitative rape scene, as a shot follows Marnie in close-up as she glides backward into bed. That was built upon by the Coen Brothers in Blood Simple, as Frances McDormand falls into bed, and pilfered by the show Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch in much the same setup.

Alfred Hitchcock was on a roll. Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds is one of the most iconic sequences in any director’s filmography, and while in some ways a pulpier entry, Marnie stands with those classics as his fifth belter in a row. As a particular nexus for Hitchcockian tropes, and as a showcase for just what Tippi Hedren could do with a meaty role, Marnie is a twisted landmark in the history of the psychological thriller.

The Call of the Wild (2020) Mini-Review

The Call of the Wild

As the newly-minted 20th Century Studios logo opened the Jack London adaptation The Call of the Wild, I didn’t have much in the way of expectation for this CGI dog movie. I ended up pleasantly surprised that this celebration of nature, so much of which is ironically artificial, has a genuine heart and a storyteller’s instinct for simplicity. Many of the landscapes present as VFX plates, and the animals are all digitally rendered, but within the computer-processed hotbox of this Chris Sanders picture, there is an engaging narrative.

The decision to use CG performance capture rather than a real animal for lead dog Buck liberates the animators to depict him as like a bull in a china shop. Buck is a blunt instrument, with no elegance in his movements, careening and crashing around his environs. The treatment of Buck’s great strength makes him out to be some sort of dog superhero. He eventually finds his companion in John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Ford gives a movie-star performance of sincerity and subtlety, jarringly if not hilariously contrasting with the broad, over-the-top villainy of Hal (a wild-eyed and arch Dan Stevens).

Ford also serves as the film’s narrator, his gruff but soulful reading not seeming phoned in. There’s something of the old chestnut of being willing to listen to certain people read the phone book; Ford is certainly more engaged than when studio notes led to his bored-sounding narration in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. The narration also serves the narrative function of keeping John a presence in the movie, since it takes a significant amount of time for him and Buck to develop their partnership.

Director Chris Sanders, a major creative force in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, borrows that series’ composer John Powell, and certain plot elements, such as the courtship between a male animal and an exotic all-white female. Powell, whose music here reaches no transcendent heights as he did when scoring dragonflight, still generates emotion, and appropriately fits the pitter-patter of paws on ground.

At the moment the dog movie as a genre is experiencing a proliferation (A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, A Dog’s Way Home, etc). Thanks to an earnest sentimentality and the not-so-secret weapon Harrison Ford, and despite creating an amusingly baffling thankless role for Karen Gillan, The Call of the Wild feels like a cut above such “dognip”.

(It’s also the second movie I’ve seen this month, after Sonic the Hedgehog, that features a man and his animal sidekick getting into a bar fight.)

Dolittle (2020) Mini-Review

Dolittle

“We have no choice but to embark on this perilous journey” – read in a cod-”Welsh” accent

Dolittle exists at the exact midpoint between Old Hollywood exotic adventure epics like Around the World in 80 Days, and hackneyed star-studded animations powered by bodily function humor. So this film, concerning the animal menagerie loyal to Doctor John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), is itself a strange and fascinating mutant, more Doctor Moreau than Doctor Dolittle.

Take an extinct type of pastel spectacle, dress it up with anachronistic phrases, and throw a lot of money at it. Put in “down with the kids” bits for the tykes, and unstuck-in-time references to The Godfather, Rush Hour, and Star Trek for their parents. Inconsistently drop in narration from the honeydew voice of Emma Thompson (articulating a parrot). Shove credited director Stephen Gaghan to the side and bring someone with practical but profoundly creatively unsuccessful form with CGI creatures (Jonathan Liebesman of 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) in for extensive reshoots. Push back the movie almost a year from its original release date. And then roll in the dough, right? Wrong. The film will die a death at the January box office and could lose Universal nine figures. But, here’s the thing. Dolittle is kind of a genuinely fun watch.

There are choices that are undoubtedly correct. Like showcasing Michael Sheen as the main, hilariously arch villain. And current Academy Award nominee Antonio Banderas is clearly having a lot of fun as a pirate turned warlord. Kumail Nanjiani as the voice of an ostrich can’t help but get a few laughs.

And there are choices that are undoubtedly… not necessarily correct, but fitting for what this movie is. Like Robert Downey Jr. turning in an East End pantomime performance, complete with a “Welsh” accent you have to hear to believe. “This is a NIGHTMARE!”, his Dolittle declaims, when the cruel world forces him to finally interact with another human again.

The film has a classic adventure structure. It uses a “fetch quest” template; you have to get MacGuffin A from Location B, but to get to Location B you need MacGuffin B from Location A. But what a contrast to something like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Dolittle lets the audience breathe in the sense of adventure, and wonder what weird thing is going to happen next rather than the movie running up frantically and shoving you into it. Yes, I’m comparing The Rise of Skywalker unflatteringly… to Dolittle.

And that is the pleasure of Dolittle. Its runtime is peppered with weird jokes, bad jokes, and baffling choices, but it all unfolds with a pleasant sense of whimsy and efficient but unhurried cause and effect storytelling. Not quite for kids, not quite for anyone, its very imperfections make it easy to engage with. It’s entertainment with one foot in the retro and one foot in the focus group panel, which turns out to be oddly diverting.

 

P.S. As much as Downey Jr. tries to disappear behind his wild hair and askew accent, the role affords him many opportunities to echo aspects of two of his other famous roles. 

Sherlock Holmes:

  • Diagnosis via deduction
  • Isolated in a cluttered workspace
  • Penchant for boxing
  • A sequence taking place on an unfinished bridge

Tony Stark:

  • Tinted spectacles
  • A Tom Holland-esque apprentice (ironic because Tom Holland is a voice in the movie)
  • Dons an underwater diving suit like Iron Man armor

My Year at the Movies – 2019

Best Non-2019 Films Discovered in 2019

https://letterboxd.com/paulstanis/list/best-non-2019-movies-discovered-in-2019/

Best Comedy of the Year

Booksmart

Good Boys

Isn’t it Romantic?

Spider-Man: Far from Home

Toy Story 4

Director Trajectory: Up

James Bobin. Dora and the Lost City of Gold > Alice through the Looking Glass

Tim Burton. Dumbo > Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ruben Fleischer. Zombieland: Double Tap > Venom

Bong Joon-ho. Parasite > Okja

Guy Ritchie. Aladdin > King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Director Trajectory: Down

Danny Boyle. Yesterday < T2 Trainspotting

Bill Condon. The Good Liar < Beauty and the Beast

Joe Cornish. The Kid Who Would be King < Attack the Block

Michael Dowse. Stuber < What if?

Jon Favreau. The Lion King < The Jungle Book

Paul Feig. Last Christmas < A Simple Favor

F. Gary Gray. Men in Black: International < The Fate of the Furious

Neil Jordan. Greta < Byzantium

Steven Knight. Serenity < Locke

Best Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year

10) Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), Long Shot

9) Dora Marquez (Isabela Moner), Dora and the Lost City of Gold

8) Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), Where’d You Go Bernadette

7) Jasmine (Naomi Scott), Aladdin

6) Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), Happy Death Day 2U

5) Natalie (Rebel Wilson), Isn’t it Romantic

4) Molly Davidson and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever), Booksmart

3) Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Knives Out

2) Anna (Kristen Bell) & Elsa (Idina Menzel), Frozen 2

1) Nebula (Karen Gillan), Avengers: Endgame

Nebula

Best Horror Film of the Year

Doctor Sleep

Escape Room

Happy Death Day 2U

It Chapter Two

Ready or Not

Moments of the Year

12) Bureaucracy monologue, Ford v Ferrari

11) The last shot, Pain and Glory

10) Happy pep talk, Spider-Man: Far from Home

9) Astral projection, Doctor Sleep

8) Losers Club reunion, It Chapter Two

7) Picking yourself up, Captain Marvel

6) Picking yourself up, “Be with me” edition, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

5) Good acting, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

4) Knife out, Knives Out

3) Death montage, Happy Death Day 2U

2) Avengers assemble, Avengers: Endgame

1) Ahtahollan, Frozen 2

Show Yourself

One-on-One Fights of the Year (SPOILERS)

10) Henry Brogan (Will Smith) vs. Junior (Will Smith) Round 1, Gemini Man

9) Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) vs. Ken Miles (Christian Bale), Ford v Ferrari

8) Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) vs. Franklin Yoshida (Bobby Nish), Ad Astra

7) John Wick (Keanu Reeves) vs. Zero (Marc Dacascos), John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

6) Rey (Daisy Ridley) vs. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

5) Elsa (Idina Menzel) vs. The Water Nokk, Frozen 2

4) Stu Prasad (Kumail Nanjiani) vs. Victor Manning (Dave Bautista), Stuber

3) Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) vs. Red (Lupita Nyong’o), Us 

2) Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) vs. Thanos (Josh Brolin), Avengers: Endgame

1) Steve Rogers (Captain America) (Chris Evans) vs. Thanos (Josh Brolin), Avengers: Endgame

Fight Steve Thanos 3

Best Pop Culture References/Allusions of the Year

6) You’ve Got Mail, It Chapter Two

5) “The Phantom of the Opera”, Dora and the Lost City of Gold

4) Danica McKellar, Knives Out

3) The Doors, Rambo: Last Blood

2) Kenner Star Wars, Toy Story 4

1) Back to the Future time travel cue, Happy Death Day 2U

Ranking Disney-Distributed Movies (best to worst) 

10) The Lion King

9) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

8) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

7) Noelle

6) Dumbo

5) Captain Marvel

4) Aladdin

3) Toy Story 4

2) Frozen 2

1) Avengers: Endgame

Disney Fox

7) Dark Phoenix

6) Ford v Ferrari

5) Stuber

4) Terminator: Dark Fate

3) Ready or Not

2) Jojo Rabbit

1) Ad Astra

Best Remake of the Year 

Aladdin

Child’s Play

Cold Pursuit

Dumbo

Gloria Bell

Best Science Fiction Film of the Year

Ad Astra

Alita: Battle Angel

Happy Death Day 2U

Serenity

Terminator: Dark Fate

Sequel Improvement 

Avengers: Endgame > Avengers: Infinity War

Angel Has Fallen > London Has Fallen

It Chapter Two > It

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil > Maleficent

Rambo: Last Blood > Rambo

Spider-Man: Far from Home > Spider-Man: Homecoming

Terminator: Dark Fate > Terminator: Genisys

Zombieland: Double Tap > Zombieland

Sequel Decline 

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World < How to Train Your Dragon 2

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum < John Wick Chapter 2

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part < The LEGO Movie

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker < Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sequel (#2 – Second Installment) of the Year

Frozen 2

Doctor Sleep

Happy Death Day 2U

It Chapter Two

Spider-Man: Far from Home

Stray Observations 

After last year’s Smallfoot, Missing Link and Abominable are two more tales of yeti in the Himalayas or thereabouts.

As a connoisseur of bonkers mainstream movies with prestige casts, I declare that Serenity is 2019’s Winter’s Tale or Collateral Beauty. It also wins my “Pardon One Turkey” award for underrated movies.

In 2019 we had The Aftermath, After the Wedding, and regular old After.

Last year Regina Hall played the best boss ever in Support the Girls, and this year she played the worst boss ever in Little.

Matt Damon was punched in the face while wearing glasses in Suburbicon, and again in Ford v Ferrari.

Movies that feature Deep Purple’s “Hush”, and a Manson or Manson family-adjacent plot element include Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood and Bad Times at the El Royale.

The Rambo series used to be one where each installment was consistently worse than the last, but I do prefer Last Blood to the 2008 Rambo, so the formula is broken.

“Wakanda forever!” is said in Long Shot. Not in Avengers: Endgame! There’s also a Wakanda reference in What Men Want.

Tearjerkers of the Year 

Captain Marvel, Dumbo, Avengers: Endgame, Booksmart, Toy Story 4, Happy Death Day 2U, Frozen 2, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Little Women

Best Villains of the Year

11) Jexi (Rose Byrne), Jexi

10) Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), Glass

9) Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, et al.), It Chapter Two

8) Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin

7) Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer), Ma

6) Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

5) Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Toy Story 4

4) Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), Doctor Sleep

3) Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), Shazam!

2) Red (Lupita Nyong’o), Us

1) Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), Spider-Man: Far from Home

Quentin Beck Mysterio

WTF (bad) 

Northern California hospitality, The Intruder

The motivation twist, The Good Liar

The title drop, Angel Has Fallen

Palpatine’s magical mystery tour, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Late night talk show host makes fun of a nobody, Joker

Never-ending mid-credits scene, What Men Want

Fighting over the helicopter, Dark Phoenix

Abandonment issues, Shazam!

WTF (good)

“Be Our Guest”, The Lion King

Social worker sequence, Marriage Story

Sound mixer meltdown, Black Christmas

Dark throwaway frat house joke, Good Boys

Special bullets, Rambo: Last Blood

The dog, Polar

Les Miserables allusions, Frozen 2

Mad Max on the moon, Ad Astra

Dennis Quaid’s over-the-top villain performance, The Intruder

And two movies, Ma and Cats, embody all of WTF (bad) and WTF (good).

(Rough) Final Ranking of All (79) 2019 Films Seen (Best to Worst)

Avengers: Endgame; Booksmart; Frozen 2; Ad Astra; Knives Out; Parasite; Doctor Sleep; It Chapter Two; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Little Women; Toy Story 4; Jojo Rabbit; Her Smell; Spider-Man: Far from Home; Isn’t it Romantic; Happy Death Day 2U; Good Boys; Aladdin; Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood; Marriage Story; John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum; Ready or Not; The Irishman; Terminator: Dark Fate; Serenity; Dora and the Lost City of Gold; Escape Room; Ma; Pain and Glory; Captain Marvel; Us; The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part; Dumbo; Where’d You Go Bernadette; Stuber; Long Shot; Pokémon: Detective Pikachu; Ford v Ferrari; Noelle; Zombieland: Double Tap; Cold Pursuit; Hobbs and Shaw; Gemini Man; Missing Link; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; Maleficent: Mistress of Evil; Rambo: Last Blood; Gloria Bell; Child’s Play; Everybody Knows; Alita: Battle Angel; Jexi; Greta; Black Christmas; Men in Black: International; Angel Has Fallen; Crawl; Yesterday; Rocketman; Late Night; Godzilla: King of the Monsters; The Laundromat; The Good Liar; Dark Phoenix; Last Christmas; Shazam!; The Intruder; The Upside; Brightburn; After the Wedding; The Lion King; The Aftermath; How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; Glass; Polar; The Kid Who Would be King; Cats; Joker; What Men Want

By the Numbers 

Percentage of films viewed that pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test: 47%

8 Films featuring a character symbolically or literally killing their younger self (Avengers: Endgame, It Chapter Two, Gemini Man, Zombieland: Double Tap, Her Smell, The Good Liar, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Rocketman)

7 Films featuring carnivals, theme parks, or Ferris wheels (Us, Dumbo, Shazam!, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far from Home, It Chapter Two, Rocketman)

5 Disney movies with elephants (Dumbo, Avengers: Endgame, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King)

5 Nick Fury appearances (Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Long Shot, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood)

4 Evil doll appearances (Shazam!, Toy Story 4, Child’s Play, Annabelle Comes Home)

4 Groups putting their hands together in solidarity (Shazam!, Avengers: Endgame, It Chapter Two, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

4 Head bumps that change the lead character’s perception of the whole world (What Men Want, Isn’t it Romantic, Last Christmas, Yesterday)

4 Stalker thrillers (The Intruder, Greta, Ma, Child’s Play) (In both Greta and Ma, it’s an adult woman stalking younger prey.)

4 Steve Rogers appearances (Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Long Shot, Spider-Man: Far from Home)

3 New York Mets pennants (Spider-Man: Far from Home, Marriage Story, Yesterday)

3 Steven Sondheim numbers (Joker, Knives Out, Marriage Story)

2 Aurora borealis appearances (Frozen 2, Noelle)

2 Films featuring a child and mother whose life forces are supernaturally tied together (Frozen 2, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

2 Films featuring Dennis Quaid showing up at the front door with food and being told, “You can’t show up like this” (The Intruder, A Dog’s Journey)

2 Films featuring evil frat boys (Good Boys, Black Christmas)

2 Films where the heroes fight elemental forces (Spider-Man: Far from Home, Frozen 2)

2 Fresh Prince-era Will Smith appearances (Aladdin, Gemini Man)

2 Films featuring horse-fu (John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, Missing Link)

2 Ice castles (Missing Link, Frozen 2)

2 Films featuring Jason Clarke being cheated on by his wife (Serenity, The Aftermath)

2 Films featuring Julianne Moore singing along loudly in a car and dancing to disco music (Gloria Bell, After the Wedding)

2 Films featuring a kid locking a cop in a store (Shazam!, Good Boys) (The inverse happens in Child’s Play, where a cop arrests and handcuffs a kid in a store.)

2 Films where the lead character walks into a glass door (Joker, Jexi)

2 Mungo Jerries (Avengers: Endgame, Cats)

2 Films featuring old 80s action stars celibately helping out a woman and a kid on an idyllic homestead near the U.S.-Mexico border (Rambo: Last Blood, Terminator: Dark Fate)

2 People saved by counterfactual history (Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Yesterday)

2 Quicksand appearances (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Dora and the Lost City of Gold)

2 Redrum appearances (Doctor Sleep, Her Smell)

2 Scary scenes in a funhouse of mirrors (Us, It Chapter Two)

2 Settlers of Catan appearances (Cold Pursuit, Happy Death Day 2U)

2 Sleeping Beauty’s Castle appearances (Aladdin, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil)

2 Superman appearances (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Shazam!) (Shoutout to Brightburn, which is a take on “evil Superman”.)

2 Films featuring a character throwing a weapon into water (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Irishman)

2 Time travel movies that reference Back to the Future (Avengers: Endgame, Happy Death Day 2U)

2 Films featuring toy surgery (Toy Story 4, Child’s Play)

2 Films featuring a male tutor kissing his female student (Parasite, The Good Liar)

2 VHS copies of The Right Stuff (Captain Marvel, Us)

2 Wives having to properly install a booster seat (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Marriage Story)

2 Woke comedies featuring Molly Gordon (Booksmart, Good Boys)

 

Messing with the studio logos (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Dark Phoenix, Toy Story 4, Happy Death Day 2U, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Men in Black: International, Terminator: Dark Fate, Zombieland: Double Tap, Doctor Sleep, Noelle)

Opening title sequences – * = dedicated sequence (Glass, The Kid Who Would be King, Us, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum*, Aladdin, Greta, Hobbs and Shaw, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Ready or Not, Jexi, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Pain and Glory*, Zombieland: Double Tap, The Good Liar*, Ford v Ferrari, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood*, Yesterday, After the Wedding)

Wrap Party Finales (Avengers: Endgame, Aladdin, Isn’t it Romantic, The Lion King, Last Christmas, Her Smell, The Good Liar, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Little Women)

Epilogue text (Ford v Ferrari, The Laundromat)

Curtain Call Cast Credits – * = no specific character iconography (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World*, Captain Marvel, Shazam!, Avengers: Endgame, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, Booksmart, What Men Want, Isn’t it Romantic, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Missing Link, Good Boys, Knives Out, Noelle)

Mid-Credits scenes – * = does not take up the entire screen (Glass*, Captain Marvel, Shazam!, Aladdin, What Men Want, Toy Story 4, Isn’t it Romantic*, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Happy Death Day 2U, Hobbs and Shaw, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood*, Where’d You Go Bernadette*, Angel Has Fallen, Rambo: Last Blood*, Brightburn, Jexi*, Zombieland: Double Tap, Last Christmas*, Her Smell*, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood*, Marriage Story*, Rocketman*, After the Wedding*)

Post-Credits scenes (Captain Marvel, Shazam!, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Hobbs and Shaw, Zombieland: Double Tap, Frozen 2)

My Film Awards – 2019

Best Supporting Actress

Lashana Lynch

Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel

Cho Yeo-Jeong, Parasite

Scarlett Johansson, Avengers: Endgame

Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit

Gayle Rankin, Her Smell

 

Best Supporting Actor

Al Pacino

Al Pacino, The Irishman

Bill Hader, It Chapter Two

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tracy Letts, Ford v Ferrari

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

 

Best Original Song

Show Yourself

Show Yourself”, Frozen 2

“Into the Unknown”, Frozen 2

“Not Evil”, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

“Some Things Never Change”, Frozen 2

“Speechless”, Aladdin

 

Best Cinematography

Ad Astra

Hoyte Van Hoytema, Ad Astra

Dan Laustsen, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

John Mathieson, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Jason McCormick, Booksmart

Robert Richardson, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Christopher Markus Stephen McFeely

Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Endgame

Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep

Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

 

Best Editing

Bob Ducsay

Bob Ducsay, Knives Out

John Axelrad & Lee Haugen, Ad Astra

Ben Baudhuin, Happy Death Day 2U

Brent White & Jamie Gross, Booksmart

Yang Jin-mo, Parasite 

 

Best Original Score

Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri, Avengers: Endgame

Michael Giacchino, Spider-Man: Far from Home

Nate Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Matthew Herbert, Gloria Bell

John Williams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

Best Production Design

null

Rick Heinrichs, Dumbo

Rick Carter & Kevin Jenkins, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

David Crank, Knives Out

Patrick Marc Hanenberger, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Kevin Thompson, Ad Astra

 

Best Animated Feature

The Next Right Thing

Frozen 2

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Missing Link

Toy Story 4

 

Best Original Screenplay

Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson, Knives Out

Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won, Parasite

James Gray & Ethan Gross, Ad Astra

Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins & Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman, Booksmart

Alex Ross Perry, Her Smell

 

Best Director

James Gray

James Gray, Ad Astra

Rian Johnson, Knives Out

Andy Muschietti, It Chapter Two

Anthony and Joe Russo, Avengers: Endgame

Olivia Wilde, Booksmart

 

Best Actor

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt, Ad Astra

Daniel Craig, Knives Out

Robert Downey Jr., Avengers: Endgame

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Matthew Rhys, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

 

Best Actress

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o, Us

Cate Blanchett, Where’d You Go Bernadette

Jessica Chastain, It Chapter Two

Ana De Armas, Knives Out

Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell

 

Best Picture

Fight Wanda Thanos 4

Avengers: Endgame

Ad Astra

Booksmart

Frozen 2

Knives Out

 

My Favorite Films of 2019

10) Little Women

Little Women

A movie in the melodramatic tradition, this Louisa May Alcott adaptation carries the audience on a wave of joyful highs and tear-jerking lows (people weren’t just crying, they were having emotional breakdowns in the theater). The interweaving flashback structure generates a powerful sense of nostalgia, which comes to a satisfying sense of resolution at the end. Warm as the day as long, Little Women benefits from a solid ensemble and clever construction.

9) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

After Can You Ever Forgive Me, another excellent New York-tied movie from Marielle Heller, this time with added cinematic inventiveness (those establishing shots!). Fred Rogers’ aspirational idealism turns a mirror to the cynicism and false decorum of the other characters. Matthew Rhys is great in the lead role, the “broken” man who is changed by Mister Rogers. Not without its flaws, but lovely.

8) It Chapter Two

It Chapter Two

The first It is a solid movie, but I had no investment in it. In this sequel, there are several scenes that are surprisingly emotional for me. Look no further than the Losers’ Club reunion in the Chinese restaurant, an electric sequence of bittersweet warmth that turns into uncanny terror. The first two hours are excellent. A few wonky moments in the finale can’t taint this epic parade of jack-in-the-box horror, as director Andy Muschietti shows himself to be a showman in the grand guignol tradition, and my favorite actor Jessica Chastain further elevates the film.

7) Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep

The second straight Stephen King adaptation on this list, Doctor Sleep walks the fine line of sequelizing both King’s novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film. It’s a slow-burning dark supernatural fantasy, featuring stunning astral projection sequences. The wonderful Rebecca Ferguson plays the sadistic villain, and the movie itself must find her fun to watch as well, given how much screen time she gets. I don’t find Doctor Sleep or the It chapters particularly scary, but that’s not how I measure a horror movie, especially more ambitious ones like these. I’m here for some thrills, sure, but primarily for story and character.

6) Parasite

Parasite

This knife-sharp farcical thriller from Bong Joon-ho features an impoverished family of con artists inveigling themselves in the household of a rich family. Between Parasite and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, it’s clear that class struggles and the perils of upward mobility loom large in Korean cinema. Parasite milks its premise for tension, silliness, and sobering outbursts of violence.

5) Knives Out

Knives Out

In some ways an old-fashioned detection-driven mystery puzzle, in other ways a hypermodern character-driven sociopolitical satire, and in every way addictively entertaining. Knives Out is one of those “obviously good” movies, given how much writer-director Rian Johnson accomplishes at once while having so much fun doing it. Daniel Craig is unforgettable as drawling private detective Benoit Blanc (an even better Southern accent for Craig after Logan Lucky’s Joe Bang), and Ana de Armas gives the film its heart.

4) Ad Astra

Ad Astra

Strikingly sober, both as a piece of science fiction and as a character study… while still finding time to do Mad Max on the moon. From the cinematography to the production design to the visual effects, Ad Astra is cinematically gorgeous, a more than worthy successor to the Gravity/Interstellar/The Martian cycle. Brad Pitt has movie star presence, not by turning on the charm in the role of a gung-ho astronaut, but in a deeply bitter, internal performance. Last year we had another “emotionally closed off male astronaut gets the job done” movie in First Man, and I’m way more into this version of it.

3) Frozen 2

Show Yourself

What a difference six years of technological advancement makes. Frozen 2 makes for a perfect companion piece to its predecessor, but its improved animation really makes it shine. That’s not even to mention the deep emotion, effective humor, and supernatural action, or of course, the songs. From the giddy “Some Things Never Change” to the soaring “Into the Unknown” to the Les Miserables riff “The Next Right Thing”, songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have outdone themselves. Best of all is Elsa’s transformative song “Show Yourself”, accompanied by mind-blowing imagery that is a clear highlight in Disney’s entire animated canon.

2) Booksmart

Booksmart

Director Olivia Wilde delivers the goods with Booksmart, a hilarious and visually inventive coming-of-age one-crazy-night movie. This level of energy, tight screenwriting, and charismatic performance is pretty outstanding, as rare as a coelacanth sighting. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein generate out-of-this-world chemistry. That pairing alone would probably have been enough to carry a movie, but they’re aided by every other department around them firing on all cylinders as well. Booksmart, Good Boys, and Blockers prove you can be “woke” and extremely funny at the same time, no matter what some in the industry may think.

1) Avengers: Endgame

Fight Wanda Thanos 4

Sticking the landing for a 22-film saga, Avengers: Endgame is a game of thirds. A melancholy first act, a romp of a second, and a triumphant third coalesce with a mastery of structure and tone. One of the missions of the movie is to honor the original six Avengers, giving particularly note-perfect send-offs to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. But it is to the film’s credit that it also honors characters like reformed villain Nebula (Karen Gillan), making her character growth an explicit part of the plot. Given how the MCU has been playing at such a high level, Endgame’s creative success as a full cinematic meal doesn’t exactly surprise, but how rich a culmination it is may be more than its fans could have hoped for.

 

My Most Anticipated Films of 2020

While every year sees its fair share of event tentpole movies, the stars aligned in 2019 for this superfan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Frozen, and Star Wars. Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in particular positioned themselves as culminations of years, or decades, of storytelling (albeit with different levels of success). The point being, Disney had a firm monopoly on my most anticipated of the year in 2019. Not so in 2020, as the playing field is more evened out. Let’s see what’s coming down the pike.

Before my top 10, some honorable mentions. Possessor (an elevated Canadian b-movie sci-fi horror from the son of David Cronenberg, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andrea Riseborough, and Sean Bean); Jungle Cruise (Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson amidst some iconography strikingly close to the Disneyland ride); Black Widow (in which Scarlett Johansson finally gets the spotlight in the MCU, also featuring Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, in an intriguing interstitial setting between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War); West Side Story (longtime passion project for Steven Spielberg, as he directs his first musical… remember “Anything Goes” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?); The Personal History of David Copperfield (on the list purely because of writer-director Armando Iannucci, late of my 2018 Best Picture winner The Death of Stalin); The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin’s return to the big screen following Molly’s Game) and In the Heights (the first cinematic adaptation of a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, as we all await the eventual Hamilton picture).

10) Rurouni Kenshin: The Final Chapter

Rurouni Kenshin

Five years ago, three excellent films adapted from my favorite comic series Rurouni Kenshin were released in Japan. And now, the final act of the quasi-historical samurai manga, never before adapted even in the series’ animated incarnation, are coming to cinematic fruition in two parts. This “Enishi arc” has the potential to emotionally send off a quietly masterful five-film saga.

9) Tenet

Tenet

A new high-concept film from Christopher Nolan is not to be underestimated. The trailer implies a premise based on localized time distortions, a concept familiar in SF television but given a blockbuster budget here. There are even rumors that Tenet somehow ties in with Inception, an intriguing development despite my not being a big fan of that movie. May feature returning Nolan repertory player Kenneth Branagh as some type of underworld figure, so I’m hoping he bathes in the river of ham.

8) Color Out of Space

Color Out of Space

While a movie like Re-Animator delivers fun chills, truly classic Lovecraftian horror depicts an ineffable fear of the unknown. This Nicolas Cage vehicle has the potential to deliver fascinating cinematography-driven horror. (And Mandy recently saw Cage against the backdrop of crazy swirling colors saturing a whole movie.)

7) The Eternals

The Eternals

A Guardians of the Galaxy-esque risk for Marvel Studios, right down to revolving around cosmic characters. The Eternals has the potential to go properly weird and spectacular, which is very exciting indeed in a bit of a transitional year for the MCU. An impressive ensemble cast (among others, Angeline Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, and Salma Hayek, with Gemma Chan strangely playing a second character in this universe) will work to ground the space opera.

6) Death on the Nile

I look forward to Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, follow-up to 2017’s excellent Poirot adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, not necessarily from any expectation of it being one of the year’s best, but on the premise of the film being a fun and cozily rewatchable mystery. Branagh’s Poirot is a likable and eccentric hero, but it was the emotion of Orient Express that often elevated the movie. Hopefully, Nile will find a similar “in” to give it an extra punch, but even failing that, it should be a reliable whodunnit confection.

5) No Time to Die

No Time to Die

I am not a fan of the previous James Bond film, Spectre, and equally, it seemed there was a sentiment from star Daniel Craig that the result could’ve been better. So if anything, I’m surprised how much this new installment leans into a continuation of Spectre plot threads. But fresh blood behind the scenes, and a solid first trailer, point the way toward a more full-throated and rock ‘n’ roll Bond movie.

4) Fast & Furious 9

One of the most enjoyable action franchises running, Fast and Furious has been going from strength to strength, at least in the main series. Curiously, for a movie coming out in the spring, we don’t know much about this eighth sequel, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the release gets pushed back as it starts to come together. 9 also promises to be an odd one; Jordana Brewster is coming back as Mia Toretto, so they’ll have to address the Paul Walker elephant in the room, and Helen Mirren is set to return as Magdalene Shaw, without any of her fan-favorite children in tow. In any case, I await the fist-pumpingly absurd moments I know the movie will deliver.

3) Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho

One of the most talented working directors, Edgar Wright looks to be changing his pace yet again for Last Night in Soho, a genre-bleeding cocktail of horror and time travel (maybe?). Details are intentionally opaque, and the film might well see Wright in a spot where he can’t rely on his snappy editing style. With a cast including heavy-hitting young talent such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie, I have every confidence Wright will surprise us with this one.

2) Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

We are all constant consumers of the movie trailer. So it stands out all the more when a film has a genuinely excellent trailer, and Wonder Woman 1984 has an excellent example of the form. I’m sure director Patty Jenkins has been given license to go a little weird, and craft a sequel awash in color to sharply contrast the World War I setting of the first Wonder Woman. Even with myriad movies milking 1980s nostalgia, the setting looks fun, and I am so here for Kristen Wiig as a comic book movie villain/foil.

1) Dune

Dune

With Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve has staked himself as a master of a certain type of granular, spectacular, and hauntingly beautiful science fiction cinema. Dune continuing in the vein of those two films is an exciting prospect indeed. With an outsized ensemble including Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Javier Bardem, Dune is set to mesmerize just as David Lynch’s maligned adaptation did.