Tag Archives: Year-end Review

My Year at the Movies – 2020

Best Action Film of the Year

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Ava

Bad Boys for Life

Mulan

Wonder Woman 1984

Best Action Scenes of the Year (SPOILERS) (see below for One-on-One Fights)

6) Xian Lang rampage, Mulan

5) Riyadh, Ava

4) C-47, Da 5 Bloods

3) Extraction and chase, Extraction

2) Hospital hallway havoc, The Invisible Man

1) Funhouse spinning skirmish, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

Best Adventure of the Year

Da 5 Bloods

The Call of the Wild

Doolittle

Onward

Over the Moon

Best Non-2020 Films Discovered in 2020

https://letterboxd.com/paulstanis/list/best-non-2020-films-discovered-in-2020/

Worst Non-2020 Films Discovered in 2020

https://letterboxd.com/paulstanis/list/worst-non-2020-films-discovered-in-2020/

Best Comedy of the Year

Palm Springs

An American Pickle

My Spy

The Prom

Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made

Director Trajectory: Up

Niki Caro. Mulan > The Zookeeper’s Wife

George Clooney. The Midnight Sky > Suburbicon

Stephen Gaghan. Dolittle > Gold

Spike Lee. Da 5 Bloods > BlackKklansman

Ryan Murphy. The Prom > Eat Pray Love

Gavin O’Connor. The Way Back > The Accountant

Steven Soderbergh. Let them All Talk > The Laundromat

Director Trajectory: Down

Michael Dowse. Coffee and Kareem < Stuber

Guy Ritchie. The Gentlemen < Aladdin

Michael Showalter. The Lovebirds < The Big Sick

My Least Favorite () Yet

Tenet, my least favorite Christopher Nolan film yet

Best Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year

6) Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain), Ava

5) Young woman (Jessie Buckley), I’m Thinking of Ending Things

4) Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), The Last Thing He Wanted

3) Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart), Happiest Season

2) Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), Mank

1) Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), The Invisible Man

Best Horror Film of the Year

The Invisible Man

Color Out of Space

The Lodge

Run.

Snatchers

Moments of the Year

9) “Music of the night”, Wolfwalkers

8) Race to the mailbox, Run.

7) “Under Pressure”, Valley Girl

6) “Husavik”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

5) She’s not there, The Invisible Man

4) Another world, Color Out of Space

3) Mulan revealed, Mulan

2) Call from Billy, The Vast of Night

1) “Be True to Your School”, Stargirl

Best Novel Adaptation of the Year

Color Out of Space

Greyhound

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The Midnight Sky

Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made

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

7) Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) vs. Sloane Caldwell (Alison Brie), Happiest Season

6) Andromache (Charlize Theron) vs. Guard, The Old Guard

5) Bill Goodfellowe (Wolf) (Sean Bean) vs. Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney), Wolfwalkers

4) Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain) vs. Simon (Colin Farrell), Ava

3) Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) vs. Saju Rav (Randeep Hooda), Extraction

2) Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) vs. Barbara Minerva Round 1, Wonder Woman 1984

1) Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) vs. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

Most Overrated Film of the Year

Sonic the Hedgehog

Tenet

The Gentlemen

Enola Holmes

Best Pop Culture References/Allusions of the Year

7) Peter Pan, The Vast of Night

6) The Thing, The Lodge

5) Doctor Who, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon

4) Up, Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made

3) The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

2) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Sonic the Hedgehog

1) On the Beach, The Midnight Sky

Ranking Disney-Distributed Movies

7) The One and Only Ivan

6) Artemis Fowl

5) Onward

4) Stargirl

3) Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made

2) Mulan

1) Soul

Disney Fox

2) Underwater

1) The Call of the Wild

Best Romance of the Year

Palm Springs

Happiest Season

The Lovebirds

The Prom

Stargirl

Best Science Fiction Film of the Year

The Invisible Man

The Midnight Sky

Palm Springs

Underwater

The Vast of Night

Sequel Improvement

Bad Boys for Life > Bad Boys 2

Sequel Decline

Wonder Woman 1984 < Wonder Woman

Stray Observations

After last year’s Gemini Man, Will Smith made Bad Boys for Life, another movie where he’s attacked by a guy in a motorcycle helmet who turns out to be his son.

In last year’s Stuber, Kumail Nanjiani’s car was commandeered by a cop, and it happens again in The Lovebirds.

This year we had Bad Boys for Life, a Bad Boys framed picture on a desk in Bloodshot, and a Bad Boys 2 parody in Coffee and Kareem.

Most Underrated Films of the Year

Trolls World Tour, The Midnight Sky, The Last Thing He Wanted.

And Dolittle wins my “Pardon One Turkey” award.

Best Villains of the Year

5) Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen), Dolittle

4) Barb (Rachel Bloom), Trolls World Tour

3) Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson), Run.

2) Xian Lang (Gong Li), Mulan 

1) Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), Wonder Woman 1984

Worst Villains of the Year

3) Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk), My Spy

2) Mickey Bowen (Logan Paul), Valley Girl

1) Hal (Dan Stevens), The Call of the Wild

WTF (bad)

Karen Gillan wasted, The Call of the Wild

Cell phone gag, Valley Girl

Simon Cowell, Scoob!

The kid, Vivarium

WTF (good)

Stabbed in the back, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Death of a sandwich, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

And two movies, Dolittle and Capone, embody all of WTF (bad) and WTF (good).

(Rough) Final Ranking of All 69 2020 Films Seen (Best to Worst)

The Invisible Man; Color Out of Space; Soul; Palm Springs; The Prom; Mank; The Vast of Night; Run.; Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn; An American Pickle; Bad Boys for Life; Wolfwalkers; The Way Back; Wonder Woman 1984; Ava; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Bad Education; The Lodge; The Old Guard; Mulan; Greyhound; The Midnight Sky; Blow the Man Down; Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made; Stargirl; The Banker; Happiest Season; Onward; My Spy; On the Rocks; The Last Thing He Wanted; Extraction; Da 5 Bloods; Trolls World Tour; Shirley; Military Wives; Emma.; Dolittle; The Call of the Wild; The Lovebirds; Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; Rebecca; Let them All Talk; Guns Akimbo; Buffaloed; Snatchers; Tenet; Underwater; Over the Moon; Fatal Affair; All Together Now; Artemis Fowl; Project Power; A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon; Fantasy Island; Bloodshot; Scoob!; Like a Boss; Vivarium; Capone; Coffee and Kareem; Sonic the Hedgehog; The Witches; Enola Holmes; The One and Only Ivan; Valley Girl; The Gentlemen; The Grudge

By the Numbers

Percentage of films viewed that pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test: 67% (up from 47% last year)

7 Films featuring traumatic showers (The Grudge, Color Out of Space, The Invisible Man, Vivarium, Palm Springs, The Lodge, Soul)

6 Envelopes filled with compromising photographs (The Lovebirds, The Last Thing He Wanted, The Banker, Bad Education, On the Rocks, Run.)

4 Films featuring table tennis (Sonic the Hedgehog, Fantasy Island, Enola Holmes, Over the Moon)

2 Alpaca appearances (Color Out of Space, Snatchers)

2 Animated young men who mourn the destruction of their beloved vans (Onward, Scoob!)

2 Aurora borealis appearances (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Greyhound)

2 Disney movies featuring a main character whose outsider status at school is symbolized by a piece of neckwear that gets ripped at one point (Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Stargirl)

2 Disney movies starring precocious boys (Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Artemis Fowl)

2 H.P. Lovecraft horror shows (Color Out of Space, Underwater)

2 Stalker thrillers featuring “wave crashing on rock” imagery (The Invisible Man, Fatal Affair)

Messing with the studio logos (Sonic the Hedgehog, Guns Akimbo, The One and Only Ivan, Mulan, Trolls World Tour, Tenet, Soul)

Opening title sequences – * = dedicated sequence (Bad Boys for Life, Like a Boss, Color Out of Space, Fantasy Island, The Lovebirds, Artemis Fowl, Capone*, Vivarium*, Guns Akimbo*, Buffaloed, All Together Now, Ava*, The Gentlemen*, Happiest Season*, Underwater*, Snatchers*, Wolfwalkers*, The Prom, The Midnight Sky, Wonder Woman 1984)

Wrap Party Finales (Emma., Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Trolls World Tour, Happiest Season, The Prom)

Epilogue text (Military Wives, Da 5 Bloods, Capone, Greyhound, Buffaloed, The Banker, The One and Only Ivan, Bad Education, Valley Girl, Underwater)

Curtain Call Cast Credits – * = no specific character iconography (Dolittle, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn, Sonic the Hedgehog, Bloodshot, Da 5 Bloods, My Spy, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Scoob!, Enola Holmes, Trolls World Tour, The Prom)

Mid-Credits scenes – * = does not take up the entire screen (The Grudge*, Dolittle, Bad Boys for Life, Sonic the Hedgehog, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga*, Palm Springs, Greyhound*, An American Pickle, The One and Only Ivan, The Witches, Valley Girl, The Prom, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Midnight Sky*, Wonder Woman 1984)

Post-Credits scenes (Stargirl, Snatchers, Soul)

My Film Awards – 2020

Best Supporting Actress

Kristen Wiig, Wonder Woman 1984

Toni Collette, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Gong Li, Mulan

Kristen Schaal, My Spy

Andrew Seyfried, Mank

Best Supporting Actor

Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Harrison Ford, The Call of the Wild

Daniel Levy, Happiest Season

Tzi Ma, Mulan

Matthias Schoenaerts, The Old Guard

Best Original Song

Husavik”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Feels Like Home”, All Together Now

“Lion of Love”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“The Other Side”, Trolls World Tour

“10 p.m.”, Military Wives

Best Cinematography

Steve Annis, Color Out of Space

Philippe Le Sourd, On the Rocks

M.I. Littin-Menz, The Vast of Night

Erik Messerschmidt, Mank

Quyen Tran, Palm Springs

Best Adapted Screenplay

Simon Rich, An American Pickle

Jack Fincher, Mank

Mike Makowsky, Bad Education

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man

Best Editing

Andy Canny, The Invisible Man

Andrew Dickler & Matt Friedman, Palm Springs

Nick Johnson & Will Merrick, Run.

Junius Tully, The Vast of Night

Sidney Wolinsky & Mark Czyzewski, Greyhound

Best Original Score

Harry Gregson-Williams, Mulan

Bruno Coulais, Wolfwalkers

Alexandre Desplat, The Midnight Sky

Nami Melumad, An American Pickle

John Powell, The Call of the Wild

Best Production Design

Grant Major, Mulan

Jim Bissell, The Midnight Sky

Aline Bonetto, Wonder Woman 1984

Kendal Cronkhite, Trolls World Tour

Mark Rickler, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Animated Feature

Soul

Onward

Over the Moon

Trolls World Tour

Wolfwalkers

Best Original Screenplay

James Montague & Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night

Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian, Run.

Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers, Soul

Brad Ingelsby, The Way Back

Andy Siara, Palm Springs

Best Director

Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man

Niki Caro, Mulan

David Fincher, Mank

Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night

Richard Stanley, Color Out of Space

Best Actor

Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

Ben Affleck, The Way Back

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Gary Oldman, Mank

Seth Rogen, An American Pickle

Best Actress

Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man

Kiera Allen, Run.

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Kristen Stewart, Happiest Season

Meryl Streep, The Prom

Best Picture

The Invisible Man

Color Out of Space

Palm Springs

The Prom

Soul

My Favorite Films of 2020

Honorable mentions: Bad Boys for Life (an interrogation of Will Smith’s screen persona in a Bad Boys follow-up that dares to have an emotional story); Wolfwalkers (gorgeous perspective-flattening animation and weighty historical themes from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon); The Way Back (one of Ben Affleck’s best-ever performances in another outstanding sports drama from Warrior director Gavin O’Connor).

10) An American Pickle

This solid dramedy is built on an improbable intergenerational culture clash. Like an inverted Back to the Future setup, an Eastern European Jewish immigrant to America named Herschel Greenbaum is pickled in time for a century, waking up out of his depth in a modern world, and face to face with his great-grandson. Both roles are played by Seth Rogen, who almost disappears into the role of Herschel. It’s an excellent comedic performance spearheading a year with several standouts in that field, getting laughs and going to unexpected places to get them.

9) Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Can you imagine saying, “Oh yeah, I just saw BOPATFEOOHQ!” Well, I did, and found a dynamic, caustic action movie wrapped in neon warning tape. It’s a testament to Cathy Yan’s film that my inherent irritation at the Harley Quinn character gave way – it helps no end that she untethers herself from the Joker – and I came to really appreciate a) her taste in team members, with Rosie Perez’ Renee Montoya a standout, b) the small moments when her background as a psychologist paid off, and c) her desperate and doomed quest for a sandwich. 2020 was supposed to be the year women dominated the superhero landscape (Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Chloe Zhao’s Eternals). In the end only DC retained their comic book slate this year, helmed by Yan and Wonder Woman 1984’s Patty Jenkins.

8) Run.

One of the best films of 2018, Searching was a stunning debut from director Aneesh Chaganty. Run. is Chaganty’s follow-up, a claustrophobic horror-thriller about one mother’s sadistic attempt to control her wheelchair-bound daughter’s life. Newcomer Kiera Allen is outstanding as the daughter, with Sarah Paulson a memorable maternal arch-villain. This type of contained, nerve-serrating thriller built on time-release twists might not have the most rewatch value, but it’s certainly worth at least one watch. Sarah Paulson pushing phony prescriptions on people, who does she think she is, Nurse Ratched?

7) The Vast of Night

This Lynchian, minimalist yet ambitious slice of 50s small town “watch the skies” wonder is one of the purest slices of science fiction in years. Unfolding like an Outer Limits radio presentation, this story of a DJ and a switchboard operator trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious signal is chilling and riveting, especially in one glorious extended phone call with a veteran named Billy. The level of craft is impressive, especially in propulsive tracking shots, but the movie knows exactly when to contract to send a subtle shiver through the audience, and when to expand to stoke a sense of wonder.

6) Mank

When I heard that the story of Herman Mankiewicz and the writing of Citizen Kane was David Fincher’s next movie, I thought it was quite an interesting departure for him. As it happens, this screenplay was written by his father Jack decades ago, on track to star Kevin Spacey (…) and Jodie Foster in the late 90s. In its final form, Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are in their place, poignantly portraying the friendship between Mank and actor Marion Davies. I would say the first act’s bouncy “day in the life of a 1930s studio” stuff is outside Fincher’s wheelhouse, and doesn’t grab nearly as much as the story’s secret weapon: its razor-sharp political material.

5) The Prom

The Prom is probably the movie on this list with the biggest “your mileage may vary” tag attached. But if you’re into go-for-broke production numbers in a hammy, broad, cheesy, self-consciously fabulous Broadway musical adaptation, this scratches that itch. Use your enjoyment of, say, the 2007 Hairspray as your yardstick. I’m certainly there for the slathered-on color palette (typical of Ryan Murphy) and Meryl Streep serving up that ham and cheese as a self-centered diva who delightfully romances Keegan-Michael Key.

4) Palm Springs

More 2020 escapism. A wonderful new spin on Groundhog Day, as Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (both excellent) find themselves stuck repeating the same day, as wedding guests, over and over and… over. More 2020 escapism. A wonderful new spin on Groundhog Day, as Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (both excellent) find themselves stuck repeating the same day, as wedding guests, over and over and… over. More 2020 escapism. A…

3) Soul

The best Disney-distributed movie of the year. Simultaneously disturbing, funny, and moving, Soul is a delight even as it’s dumping tons of metaphysical rules on the viewer (part of what helps that go down is the pleasing number of Kiwi accents). In Collateral, Jamie Foxx’ character is asked if he likes jazz, to which he responds, “Not that much”. In Soul, here he is as a passionate jazz musician, and when he gets “in the zone”, the world around him disappears like he’s in Fantasia. Both Pixar movies this year, Onward and Soul, get mileage from very loose-limbed physical comedy, which in this case is a necessary counterweight to an ambitious and poignant story of a musician dead before his time.

2) Color Out of Space

One thing that can be tricky to adapt from Lovecraft is that some of his horror is more conceptual than empirical, or more intangible than visceral. But Color Out of Space nails the fear of the ineffable unknown breaking down earthly logic. A meteorite crashes on a family farm, an impossible color seeps into the air, and interdimensional hell breaks loose. When it comes to depicting some of these lateral horrors, the visual effects clearly aren’t the highest ticket in terms of budget. But that actually fits the movie; it reflects the difficulty our reality has of accurately manifesting the matter of another dimension.

1) The Invisible Man

Structurally, like clockwork. Everything comes together: a precise take on the material, a star willing to run herself ragged emotionally, a director with a keen visual sense and ability to generate tension. The opening sequence easily outdoes A Quiet Place at its own game, Elisabeth Moss is Oscar-worthy, and between this and Upgrade, Leigh Whannell is developing into an exciting voice in genre filmmaking. With the thinner release schedule leading into this awards season, hopefully The Invisible Man will not be invisible.

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 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.

My Year at the Movies – 2018

Action Scenes of the Year (SPOILERS) (see below for One-on-One Fights)

10) Car chase, Ant-Man and the Wasp

9) Battle on Cybertron, Bumblebee

8) Train chase, Paddington 2

7) Chaos on the field, Black Panther

6) Parr House melee, Incredibles 2

5) Battle of Loudon Hill, Outlaw King

4) Helicopter havoc, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

3) Sicily skirmish, Aquaman

2) Thanos fight on Titan, Avengers: Infinity War

thanos fight on titan

1) Bathroom brawl, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

bathroom fallout

Best Films Based on a True Story

The Death of Stalin

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Favourite

Outlaw King

Tag

 

Best Non-2018 Films Discovered in 2018

https://letterboxd.com/paulstanis/list/best-non-2018-films-discovered-in-2018/

 

My Favorite () Yet

Black Panther, my favorite solo MCU debut movie yet

Bumblebee, my favorite Transformers movie yet

 

Best Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year

10) Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), Bumblebee

9) Amanda (Olivia Cooke), Thoroughbreds

8) Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), Ralph Breaks the Internet

7) Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), Mary Poppins Returns

6) Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Incredibles 2

5) Shuri (Letitia Wright), Black Panther

4) Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), Solo: A Star Wars Story

3) Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Mission: Impossible – Fallout

2) The Nurse (Jodie Foster), Hotel Artemis

1) Paddington Brown (Ben Whishaw), Paddington 2

09 Paddington 2

Moments of the Year

15) The table kill, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

14) The beach, Roma

13) Legacy of Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

12) Who’s on the film?, Bad Times at the El Royale

11) Flubbed lines, BlacKkKlansman

10) Back to amber, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

9) A small measure of closure, First Man

8) Chess business, Thoroughbreds

7) The Soul Stone sacrifice, Avengers: Infinity War

6) Death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

5) Disney Princesses in the green room, Ralph Breaks the Internet

4) “Ask me who I am”, Black Panther

3) Han sees the Millennium Falcon for the first time, Solo: A Star Wars Story

2) McGregor’s freak-out at work, Peter Rabbit

1) “Shallow”, A Star is Born

Shallow

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

8) Grey Trace vs. Fisk Brantner, Upgrade

7) Tobias Beckett vs. Enfys Nest, Solo: A Star Wars Story

6) Ethan Hunt vs. John Lark, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

5) T’Challa vs. N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens Round 1, Black Panther

4) Tony Stark (Iron Man) vs. Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

3) Violet Parr vs. Hypnotized Voyd, Incredibles 2

2) Red Miller vs. Klopek, Mandy

1) Arthur Curry/Aquaman vs. David Kane (Black Manta), Aquaman

aquaman david kane black manta sicily

Best Pop Culture References/Allusions of the Year

5) Box office returns, Deadpool 2

4) Hercule Poirot, Paddington 2

3) Paddington 2, The Commuter

2) The Haunted Mansion, The Predator

1) Disney Princesses and Cass Hamada, Ralph Breaks the Internet

Special awards: Blockers, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Ranking Disney-Distributed Movies (worst to best) 

9) A Wrinkle in Time

8) Christopher Robin

7) Mary Poppins Returns

6) Ralph Breaks the Internet

5) Ant-Man and the Wasp

4) Incredibles 2

3) Solo: A Star Wars Story

2) Black Panther

1) Avengers: Infinity War

 

Best Romance Films of the Year

Book Club

Blockers

Crazy Rich Asians

Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again

Set it Up

 

Sequel Improvement

Ant-Man and the Wasp > Ant-Man

Incredibles 2 > The Incredibles

The Predator > Predators

Ralph Breaks the Internet > Wreck-it Ralph

 

Sequel Decline

Creed 2 < Creed

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald < Fantastic Beasts and where to Find them

Mary Poppins Returns < Mary Poppins

Pacific Rim: Uprising < Pacific Rim

Sicario: Day of the Soldado < Sicario

 

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

Paddington 2

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Incredibles 2

Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again

Ralph Breaks the Internet

 

Best Spinoff of the Year

Black Panther

Aquaman

Bumblebee

Ocean’s Eight

Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Stray Observations

Biggest tearjerker of the year for me is Christopher Robin, particularly the first five or so minutes.

Both The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Suspiria are presented in six acts. (The Favourite has even more.)

First there was Early Man. Then there was First Man.

John Krasinski imperatively communicates through sign language in A Quiet Place. In Aloha, he shared a bizarre scene with Bradley Cooper where they have a subtitled conversation using only subtle shrugs.

Ready Player One is Steven Spielberg’s The LEGO Movie. Ralph Breaks the Internet is Disney’s The LEGO Movie and The Emoji Movie.

 

Most Underrated Films of the Year

The Predator; Book Club; I Feel Pretty; Hotel Artemis

And Death Wish wins my “Pardon One Turkey” award.

 

Best Villains of the Year

10) Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Avengers: Infinity War

9) Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Creed 2

8) Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya), Widows

7) Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), Crazy Rich Asians

6) Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), Peter Rabbit

5) David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Aquaman

4) Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), The Death of Stalin

3) Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), Paddington 2

2) Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), Black Panther

1) Thanos (Josh Brolin), Avengers: Infinity War

Thanos

Worst Villains of the Year

5) Orm (Patrick Wilson), Aquaman

4) Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), Apostle

3) Kores Botha (Roland Møller), Skyscraper

2) Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), Gringo

1) The Wydens (Malin Åkerman & Jake Lacy), Rampage

 

WTF (bad)

Most of Venom

Disingenuous sequel baiting, Tomb Raider

Character retcons, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Independence Day: Resurgence similarities, and Scott Eastwood doing his dad’s voice, Pacific Rim: Uprising

 

WTF (good)

Electric guitar beatdown, The Commuter

The Hokey Pokey, Mom and Dad

Tom Cruise stunt insanity, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Prog-rock album cover imagery, Aquaman

 

(Rough) Final Ranking of All (84) 2018 Films Seen (Best to Worst)

The Death of Stalin; First Reformed; Mission: Impossible – Fallout; Avengers: Infinity War; Black Panther; Searching; Mandy; A Simple Favor; Paddington 2; The Favourite; Solo: A Star Wars Story; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Game Night; Teen Titans Go! to the Movies; Aquaman; Outlaw King; Incredibles 2; Ant-Man and the Wasp; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Hotel Artemis; Book Club; Set it Up; Tully; Roma; Bumblebee; Widows; Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again; Upgrade; Mary Queen of Scots; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Blockers; Annihilation; Mary Poppins Returns; Bad Times at the El Royale; Thoroughbreds; Christopher Robin; Crazy Rich Asians; A Star is Born; A Quiet Place; Love Simon; Tag; First Man; Death Wish; Juliet Naked; The Predator; If Beale Street Could Talk; I Feel Pretty; Hold the Dark; Skyscraper; Green Book; Creed 2; Sicario: Day of the Soldado; Sorry to Bother You; Isle of Dogs; Early Man; Breaking in; BlacKkKlansman; Mom and Dad; Peter Rabbit; Disobedience; Vice; 12 Strong; Mary and the Witch’s Flower; Ready Player One; Apostle; Deadpool 2; Bohemian Rhapsody; Overlord; Woman Walks Ahead; Wildlife; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; The Commuter; Ocean’s Eight; Red Sparrow; A Wrinkle in Time; Beautiful Boy; Venom; Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; Pacific Rim: Uprising; Rampage; Proud Mary; Tomb Raider; Gringo

 

By the Numbers

Percentage of films viewed that pass the Bechdel Test: 40%

8 Stan Lee appearances – RIP (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)

5 Films featuring genetically mashed-up animals (Annihilation, Rampage, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Sorry to Bother You, Venom)

4 Train crashes (Paddington 2, The Commuter, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mary Poppins Returns) (Special mention to The Death of Stalin’s climax, which features chaos reigning with over 1000 dead because the trains start running again.) (Subverted in Incredibles 2.) (A train also features in the climax of Black Panther.)

3 Films featuring characters called Black Panther (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Gringo)

3 Films with people digging into fried chicken (Green Book, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Vice)

fried chicken

2 Crime films set in a hotel with a heavy 60s-themed soundtrack written and directed by a guy named Drew (Hotel Artemis, Bad Times at the El Royale)

2 Crime films set in Chicago (Death Wish, Widows)

2 Dog food advertisements (Paddington 2, Isle of Dogs)

2 Female villains named Proxima (Avengers: Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story)

2 Films about Scottish agitators to the English throne that open on a flickering candle (Outlaw King, Mary Queen of Scots)

2 Films about secret pen pals, which also uses The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” (Juliet Naked, Love Simon)

2 Films featuring Simon Farnaby and a talking bear (Paddington 2, Christopher Robin)

2 Films featuring voluntary toilet bowl drinking (Peter Rabbit, Aquaman)

2 Films where adult superheroes are hypnotized via screens and younger superheroes have to save the day (Incredibles 2, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Foot chases in St. Paul’s Cathedral (Paddington 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout)

2 Freak-outs taken out on a pool table (Mom & Dad, Tag)

2 Giant crabs (Roma, Aquaman)

2 Households with Julie Walters as a live-in homemaker, Ben Whishaw, and a pantry full of marmalade (Paddington 2, Mary Poppins Returns)

2 Incongruous animals rockin’ out on drums (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Aquaman)

2 Lead characters who have to climb a crane to jump onto a tall structure (Skyscraper, Bumblebee)

2 Long-lost mothers stranded in an isolated zone, wearing bespoke armor (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Aquaman)

2 Nannies who come exactly when needed and leave exactly when her purpose has been fulfilled (Mary Poppins Returns, Tully)

2 Neighbors who constantly try to join the main characters’ game night (Game Night, Christopher Robin)

2 Paddington appearances (Paddington 2, The Commuter)

2 Say Anything… boombox parodies (Ready Player One, Deadpool 2)

2 Suited office boss villains equated to sinister fantasy animals (Christopher Robin, Mary Poppins Returns)

2 Swims with dolphins (Mary Poppins Returns, Aquaman)

2 Tartigrade appearances/references (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Sorry to Bother You)

2 Tesseracts (A Wrinkle in Time, Avengers: Infinity War)

2 Uses of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (Ralph Breaks the Internet, Bumblebee)

2 Visions of World War II with fighter planes and a mushroom cloud (Black Panther, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)

 

Messing with the Studio Logos (A Wrinkle in Time, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Avengers: Infinity War, Rampage, Incredibles 2, Proud Mary, Peter Rabbit, Game Night, Christopher Robin, Bohemian Rhapsody, Overlord, The Favourite, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mary Poppins Returns, Aquaman, Upgrade)

Opening Title Sequences – * = dedicated sequence (Paddington 2, The Commuter, Mom and Dad*, Isle of Dogs*, Deadpool 2*, First Reformed, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Proud Mary, Mission: Impossible – Fallout*, Christopher Robin, A Simple Favor*, Woman Walks Ahead, Set it Up, Apostle*, Bohemian Rhapsody, Overlord, Breaking in, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs*, I Feel Pretty, Roma, Mary Poppins Returns*, Vice*, Love Simon, Tully)

Wrap Party Finale (Paddington 2, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mary Poppins Returns)

Epilogue text (The Death of Stalin, BlacKkKlansman, 12 Strong, A Simple Favor, Woman Walks Ahead, Bohemian Rhapsody, Outlaw King, Beautiful Boy, Green Book, Tag (epilogue footage) , Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Mary Queen of Scots, Vice)

Curtain Call Cast Credits (Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, The Death of Stalin, Deadpool 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Peter Rabbit, Game Night, Early Man, Overlord, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Creed 2, Aquaman, Bumblebee)

Mid-Credits Scenes – * = does not take up the entire screen (Paddington 2*, Black Panther, The Death of Stalin*, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Isle of Dogs*, Deadpool 2, Hotel Artemis*, Proud Mary*, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Mary and the Witch’s Flower*, Peter Rabbit, Game Night*, Sorry to Bother You, Crazy Rich Asians, Book Club, Christopher Robin, A Simple Favor, Set it Up*, Blockers, Venom, Tomb Raider, Bad Times at the El Royale*, Bohemian Rhapsody*, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Tag*, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again*, Roma*, Aquaman, Vice, Juliet Naked*, Bumblebee)

Post-Credits Scenes (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)

 

Movies like Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, and Ralph Breaks the Internet feature tons of characters and iconography crossing over in the same movie, often in tiny cameos. This has necessitated a special category of “By the Numbers” I’ll call the Intellectual Property Tally.

3 Aquaman appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Aquaman)

3 Iron Man appearances (Avengers: Infinity War, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Bumblebee [toy])

3 Millennium Falcon appearances/references (Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

3 Stormtrooper appearances (Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 “Back to the Future” main theme needle drops (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Batgirl appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Batman appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Deathstroke appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Eeyore appearances (Christopher Robin, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 Flash appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Groot appearances (Avengers: Infinity War, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 Infinity Gauntlet appearances (Avengers: Infinity War, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 Lara Croft appearances (Ready Player One, Tomb Raider)

2 Mera appearances (Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Aquaman)

2 Mobile Suit Gundam appearances (Ready Player One, Pacific Rim: Uprising)

2 Optimus Prime appearances (Ready Player One, Bumblebee)

2 Original Jurassic Park Tyrannosaurus Rex appearances (Ready Player One, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

2 Peter Pan representations (Ralph Breaks the Internet, Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

2 Proxima Midnight appearances (Ready Player One, Avengers: Infinity War)

2 Red Skull appearances/references (Avengers: Infinity War, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 Supergirl appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appearances (Ready Player One, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies)

2 TIE Fighter appearances (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

2 X-Wing appearances (Ready Player One, Ralph Breaks the Internet)

My Film Awards – 2018

Best Supporting Actress

Andrea Riseborough Death of Stalin

Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin

Molly Kunz, Widows

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Annihilation

Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Michelle Williams, I Feel Pretty

 

Best Supporting Actor

Hugh Grant Paddington 2

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Simon Russell Beale, The Death of Stalin

Josh Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

 

Best Original Song

Shallow

Shallow”, A Star is Born

“Always Remember Us this Way”, A Star is Born

“My Superhero Movie”, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

“A Place Called Slaughter Race”, Ralph Breaks the Internet

“Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life”, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Best Cinematography

Alfonso Cuaron Roma

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Rob Hardy, Annihilation

Rob Hardy, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Benjamin Loeb, Mandy

Bradford Young, Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Christopher Markus Stephen McFeely

Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Infinity War

Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther

Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, & Peter Fellows, The Death of Stalin

Paul King & Simon Farnaby, Paddington 2

Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

 

Best Editing

Nick Johnson Will Merrick

Nick Johnson & Will Merrick, Searching

Eddie Hamilton, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Peter Lambert, The Death of Stalin

Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite

Pietro Scalia, Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Best Original Score

Lorne Balfe

Lorne Balfe, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Christophe Beck, Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther

Rupert Gregson-Williams, Aquaman

Justin Hurwitz, First Man

 

Best Production Design

Aquaman Black Manta David Kane

Bill Brzeski, Aquaman

Hannah Beachler, Black Panther

Ralph Eggleston, Incredibles 2

Paul Harrod & Adam Stockhausen, Isle of Dogs

Neil Lamont, Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Best Animated Feature

13 Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Best Original Screenplay

Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Diablo Cody, Tully

Bill Holderman & Erin Simms, Book Club

Drew Pearce, Hotel Artemis

Leigh Whannell, Upgrade

 

Best Director

Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Ryan Coogler, Black Panther

Panos Cosmatos, Mandy

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Paul King, Paddington 2

 

Best Actor

Domhnall Gleeson Peter Rabbit

Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Rabbit

John Cho, Searching

Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Alden Ehrenreich, Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

 

Best Actress

Olivia Cooke Thoroughbreds

Olivia Cooke, Thoroughbreds

Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Jodie Foster, Hotel Artemis

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Emma Stone, The Favourite

 

Best Picture

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

Avengers: Infinity War

Black Panther

First Reformed

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

My Favorite Films of 2018

15) Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

15 Teen Titans Go to the Movies

One of the advantages of Corporate Synergy™ is the ability to poke fun at your own characters even as you stack them all up in a movie for basic-math super-marketability (see also Ralph Breaks the Internet). In Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, DC satirizes their own stable of superheroes and the broader context of superhero cinema, in a constantly clever and subversive kid-friendly family comedy. (My jaw hit the floor after the Thomas and Martha Wayne gag. How did they get away with this?) The conflict of the movie, which exists in a world where every DC hero imaginable has been given a starring role in their own blockbuster, comes from Robin and the rest of the Teen Titans trying to get a film of their own, with hilarity, and songs, ensuing. Yes, this is stealthily the best musical of the year on top of everything else.

 

14) Game Night

14 Game Night

2018 has actually been a damn solid year for studio comedies (a genre that I have sometimes associated with dread), with Blockers, Tag, and I Feel Pretty all sticking the landing. But none of those films reach the heights of Game Night, a high-concept murder-mystery-party-turns-real setup that’s basically shot like a straight thriller and performed with knee-slapping gusto. Jason Bateman kills his line readings, but the standout performances, getting big laughs in two totally different ways, come from Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plemons.

 

13) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

13 Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

This psychedelic animated delight fractures reality in service of a coming-of-age tale for alternate Spider-Man Miles Morales. But in addition to its humor, excellent voice acting, and universal themes, Spider-Verse is notable for its formal experimentation. When a radioactive spider bites Miles, his inner monologue and the animation style of the world around him change to closely resemble a comic book. And when alternate reality versions of Spider-Man converge in his world, different animation styles co-exist seamlessly on the screen: the modern CG of Miles, Peter Parker, and Gwen Stacy, the Looney Tunes-esque shading of Spider-Ham, the anime Peni Parker, and the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir. These unfussy mash-ups represent a special thing: the medium of animation taking a step forward. Also featuring perhaps the best Stan Lee cameo.

 

12) Can You Ever Forgive Me?

12 Can You Ever Forgive Me

A film of sharp wit and strong sense of place, Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars Melissa McCarthy in the true story of biographer Lee Israel, who is motivated by cash-strapped finances to forge and sell counterfeit letters from authors and actors she knows so well from research. This literary crime movie is bolstered by fully committed performances from McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. But just for the record, one of the bookstores in this film set in the early 1990s carries an anachronistic book that wouldn’t be written for another 25 years! Clearly, now the whole movie is a wash.

 

11) Solo: A Star Wars Story

Qi'Ra Han Solo

As the young Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich gives at once a movie-star performance and a remarkably subtle technical one. And as an excuse to spend two hours in the company of fun characters, in a crime movie in a galaxy far, far away, the movie named Solo comes up aces. Reflecting Star WarsFlash Gordon roots, the film so nails the feel of an adventure serial. As far as the spinoffs go, while Rogue One’s highs are higher, Solo is more functional as a movie. And when Han sees the Millennium Falcon for the first time, I cry every time.

 

10) The Favourite

10 The Favourite

Not your typical regency drama, this love triangle/three-way power play between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and newcomer maid Abigail (Emma Stone) features lots of drive-by backstabbing, pointed barbs, and more shade being thrown than is around co-star Nic Hoult’s eyes. The latest askew dramedy from Yorgos Lanthimos after the visceral satire of The Lobster and the stygian horror of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite is an acting showcase with a well-bred caustic wit.

 

9) Paddington 2

09 Paddington 2

This sequel to one of the greatest family movies ever made continues to spread joy like marmalade on celluloid. Ben Whishaw reprises his charm offensive as the voice of Paddington Brown, the bear in the blue duffel coat, and this time he’s in opposition to Hugh Grant’s delightful villain Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor turned criminal. In service of maximum entertainment per square minute, director Paul King deploys every filmmaking trick conceivable, including Wes Anderson-esque symmetrical storytelling and a detour into the pages of a pop-up book.

 

8) A Simple Favor

08 A Simple Favor

A total blast from start to finish, A Simple Favor is one of the crop of Gone Girl-alike thrillers, but filtered through the nimble no-frills lens of Paul Feig’s comedy. Anna Kendrick is the single mom food vlogger who gets caught up in the overwhelming larger-than-life existence of Blake Lively’s fashion company PR director, who seems like she should be in a Bond movie! With his run from Bridesmaids to this amusing mystery, Feig has become one of my favorite journeyman directors. If you’re humming along on its wavelength, A Simple Favor is a simple pleasure to watch.

 

7) Mandy

07 Mandy

An elevated exploitation movie with otherworldly cinematography, a demon biker gang, and Nicolas Cage in a chainsaw-on-chainsaw fight, Mandy feels less like a movie and more like a 1970s prog-rock album cover brought to life. It almost feels wrong to put it on a list of my favorite films of 2018, because it almost exists in a pocket dimension out of time. Is it a cliché to say that Mandy will become a modern midnight movie classic if it’s true?

 

6) Searching

06 Searching

A thrilling mystery anchored by a raw nerve performance from John Cho as a father desperately looking for his missing daughter, Searching hits a home run with its formal experiment of 100% computer screen-sourced visuals. The film deftly shows both the positive and negative aspects of the Internet, in service of a tightly coiled twist-filled narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And the thing is, John Cho’s character is on the edge of his seat too, as Searching achieves a rare synergy between audience and lead character.

 

5) Black Panther

Veldt

Recently, superhero movies are adding “exotic fantasy epic” to the list of genres they can patch into their framework. Wonder Woman takes us to Themyscira, Aquaman to Atlantis and beyond, and in a move that has struck a chord throughout pop culture, Black Panther gives us Wakanda, a hidden afro-futurist über-technological nation. The film mixes spycraft, racial and interregnum-based political debate, and Shakespearean inheritance drama with apparent ease. And it all plays out through a deep bench ensemble of fascinating characters, from Chadwick Boseman’s dignified T’Challa to Letitia Wright’s scientific genius prankster Shuri to Michael B. Jordan’s magnetic villain Erik Killmonger. Overall, 2018 has been the strongest year yet for Marvel Studios. Speaking of which:

 

4) Avengers: Infinity War

Tony Stark Emotional Wringer

Marvel’s Avengers movies come fitted with a goldmine of action, character, and humor. But on a storytelling level, all three of them are deeply impressive. The 2012 Avengers effortlessly fires on all cylinders of its big-for-the-time ensemble. Age of Ultron has one of the firmest commands of theme that I’ve seen in a movie, let alone an action movie. And now, Infinity War miraculously balances its Biblically huge cast, all while arguably raising supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin, in a standout motion capture performance) to the status of lead character. The film excels at applause moments and brutality. And when seven superheroes combine their power sets to fight Thanos on his home planet Titan, that’s the stuff comic dreams are made of.

 

3) Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Ethan Hunt Helicopter

A pure crash course in the language of cinema, the sixth Mission is a nexus of filmmaking craft operating on the highest level: stunts (many of which, near-impossibly, are performed by Tom Cruise), editing, scoring, acting, directing, cinematography, and more are all award-worthy. While I adore Fallout’s predecessor Rogue Nation even more, watching either film is like going to my happy place. I’ve listened to writer-director Christopher McQuarrie talk about this movie for six podcast hours, and with the audio commentary still ahead of me, I’m ready for more.

 

2) First Reformed

02 First Reformed

A serrated crisis-of-faith movie, First Reformed stars an electric Ethan Hawke as a priest despairing the existential threats that humanity has visited on itself. So, a feel-good romp, then. There’s the sense that 72-year-old writer-director Paul Schrader has put everything he has, themes of prayers like open wounds that he’s wrestled with his entire career, into this epistolary ecological thriller. Such a personal infusion runs the risk of railroading the audience with macho flagellation, but First Reformed breaks out of that box and just cooks.

 

1) The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

This list has included cornucopias of dark humor bled out of historical politics (The Favourite) and virtuoso cinematic balancing acts (Avengers: Infinity War). The Death of Stalin embodies both, as it walks a delicate tightrope: finding the absurdist humor in the bumbling villainy of fascistic statesman. Leavening evil with wry laughs enhances the sense of both, and director/co-writer Armando Iannucci has created a culmination for his practiced room-where-it-happens satire (The Thick of it, In the Loop, Veep). The screenplay takes characters like Simon Russell Beale’s monstrous Committee member and Andrea Riseborough’s grieving daughter and pinballs them around in a farce of national proportions. Adapted from a French comic, The Death of Stalin is incredibly the year’s best comic book movie. And we do live in an age of comic book adaptations, don’t we?

My Most Anticipated Films of 2019

With the winter solstice just come and gone, it’s time to look forward to the cinematic offerings of the imminent new year. Hope springs eternal for the quality of movies of all shapes and sizes, though many of them aren’t ready to register on the radar yet. Of course, the franchised gears of Hollywood continue turning, but there are at least three tentpoles promising a tricky thing indeed: closure. Time will tell as to whether they deliver, but for now, here follows what I’m most looking forward to in 2019.

First, a smattering of bonus picks. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (next in the so-far-so-good “Monarch Monsterverse” brings out the big guns of Mothra and King Ghidorah, with Vera Farmiga as a possible twist villain); Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino’s late 1960s epic is his ninth film, and he claims retirement after ten); Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (an artifact of profound nerd disorientation that could be a charming slice of 90s nostalgia); The Woman in the Window (outsized talent Joe Wright’s stab at a thriller with Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, in the vein of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc); Hobbs & Shaw (the Fast and Furious spinoff greenlit on the strength of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s chemistry together); Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi’s bonkers-sounding Nazi-adjacent domestic dramedy); “untitled Danny Boyle Beatles movie” (a big swing that could go either way, about a musician who finds that he’s the only person on Earth who can remember the Beatles – could go completely cornball, or it could blow Across the Universe out of the Liverpudlian water); John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (the follow-up to the excellent Chapter Two promises more audacious worldbuilding and killer gun-fu choreography).

 

10) Last Christmas

10 Last Christmas

There’s something to the idea of being a reliable journeyman. Paul Feig is in the midst of an astonishingly solid five-movie run from Bridesmaids to last year’s delightful pulp-fizz fiction A Simple Favor. Last Christmas could well continue to keep up that quality, seeing as it’s co-written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Emma Thompson (who appears in the film as well, alongside Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh).

 

9) Eve

09 Eve

Jessica Chastain (my favorite actress) is starting to produce and star in a slew of action movies, and I couldn’t be more here for them. Not a whole lot is known about Eve, and it doesn’t help that the directorial choice of Tate Taylor skews more on the generic side (though, hey, I thought The Girl on the Train was underrated). But it’s a time for leaps of faith, plus the movie features Geena Davis, star of one of my all-time favorite action films, The Long Kiss Goodnight.

 

8) Knives Out

08 Knives Out

Of all the digital ink spilled, vomited, used and abused discussing Rian Johnson’s work on (the masterful) Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the visual aspect is often ignored. Johnson’s sublime camerawork has a lot to do with my high regard for that movie; the guy just speaks the language of cinema. And Knives Out looks to bring him back to the mystery neo-noir mode of Brick. That is, with an absurdly deep bench of a cast, including Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette, just to name a few. This is the type of middle-budget genre fare that can really kill if executed properly.

 

7) Captain Marvel

07 Captain Marvel

It’s taken 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but some firsts are coming to fruition in Captain Marvel. The first female-led MCU picture (Brie Larson), the first female (co-)director (Anna Boden). And less consequentially but also super important given the future of franchise filmmaking: the first time the de-aging process previously applied to Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Pfeiffer will be used for a whole runtime’s worth of Samuel L. Jackson. More prosaically, Captain Marvel will be a welcome cosmic MCU entry, even bringing back a couple lame-duck Guardians of the Galaxy villains for a second chance. This origin story for essentially Marvel’s equivalent to Superman has all the ingredients necessary to be a supersonic blast.

 

6) How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

06 How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World

After the stratospheric delights of two previous entries, The Hidden World promises much-delayed closure to this gorgeous animated trilogy. And as long as John Powell’s triumphant score is present and correct, the series should continue to soar. Given the inherent ticking clock on humanity’s bond with the dragons, there may not be much blood, but there will be tears.

 

5) Us

05 Us

Jordan Peele has set Us up a bit similarly to Get Out, but it’s a fool’s bet that this will be more of the same. Twisted-happenings-visit-a-family-unit is getting an airing here, and I can’t wait to see what layers Us will reveal. Get Out is a Swiss clock of a movie, paced and spooled out with a preternatural confidence. Look for more of that coiled tightness in service of fascinating theming here, though the trailer for Us promises even more overtly chilling horror right off the bat.

 

4) The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

04 The LEGO Movie 2

Speaking of fascinating theming, the first LEGO Movie is a poster child for it. It’s incumbent on the sequel to continue that multi-pronged storytelling that runs the gamut from delightful silliness to sharp movie narrative pastiche to trope (and LEGO brick) deconstruction. But all the narrative pyrotechnics are worth nothing without The Second Part delivering a pastel-colored rictus-grin blast, which it almost surely will.

 

In a virtual three-way tie, I could make an argument for any of the top three choices to be my number one. That being said, the following pecking order works for me. (And yes, all three are distributed by the monolithic Mouse House.)

3) Frozen 2

03 Frozen 2

As a Frozen superfan, I ride hard without irony for Frozen Fever, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and Frozen Live at the Hyperion (the stage musical version adapted for Disney California Adventure), all in anticipation of the legitimate follow-up to one of my favorite films. Frozen left the castle doors open in a fairy tale happy ending, so introducing a movie-justifying conflict is an interesting quandary to start the sequel from. And even more daunting, there’s the challenge of living up to some of the greatest Disney songs ever written. Even so, the movie has more than a snowball’s chance in Hell.

 

2) Avengers: Endgame

02 Avengers Endgame

Avengers: Infinity War ends on a stark note to say the least (pun intended), so the first teaser for Endgame made the laudable choice to focus entirely on character and emotion, which is simply unheard of for a superhero blockbuster. The (correct) assumption is that we keep coming back not just for digital spectacle, but also for the quiet and loud human moments between characters. We love these people. And Endgame, in addition to bringing some measure of closure to 21 films, will likely be the last time we see Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, and more besides. Fans should be in for one hell of a payoff.

 

1) Star Wars Episode 9

01 Star Wars Episode 9

Here’s that word again: closure. This film will close out the Star Wars sequel trilogy begun in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but is predominantly being sold as the culmination of the “Skywalker saga”, spanning all nine numbered films. How it will feel as such is very much up in the air (Hayden Christensen appearance?), along with most things about the movie (including how Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa will be given her due justice). But any movie including Rey, Kylo Ren, Rose Tico, Lando Calrissian, and Luke Skywalker’s Force ghost is probably my most anticipated by fait accompli. J.J. Abrams steered the ship of The Force Awakens under very specific circumstances that called for a slightly conservative imagination, and I think with 9, he and his crew are ready to cut loose. Imaginative epics like Rogue One and superbly executed stories like The Last Jedi have helped to make me a bigger fan of Star Wars now than I ever was before, and Episode 9 is the gift I’m most looking forward to unwrapping next December.