Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branaugh
I am back! I’ve been off the grid for about a year now; anything happen while I’ve been gone? In all seriousness, the pandemic has certainly disrupted life for all of us in so many ways that are impossible to quantify. We’ve adjusted and sacrificed and pulled together to keep our families, communities, and beyond safe and healthy. As part of that, watching and reviewing movies had to take a backseat to the challenges of the new daily life. I mean I haven’t written a movie review since 1917 in 2019, which is a line that belongs in the movie I am reviewing today! Accordingly, if a movie was going to get me to crawl out of my bunker it would be one from Christopher Nolan. Especially one like this that I have to watch 100 times to still not understand it.
When the Avengers announced in the film Endgame that they were going to pull a time heist, we all chuckled at the silly little notion and enjoyed our popcorn and superheroes. But somewhere in an inverted turnstile, Christopher Nolan was sitting at a computer writing and cackling maniacally, muttering to himself, “You want a time heist? I’ll give you a time heist!” And now we have Tenet, the unequivocal time heist, sci-fi, Bond-esque, brain bending spectacle that it is.
Tenet opens with a baffling sequence depicting a terrorist attack on an opera house in Kiev where many people are dressed the same but it becomes increasingly obvious that they are very different groups of people all trying to accomplish different objectives. One of the groups is the CIA led by a character known in the film only as The Protagonist (John David Washington), who is at the opera house to secure a contact whose cover is blown and recover some plutonium that the terrorists are attempting to secure. The confusion of it all is deliberate however, and lays the foundation for the viewer by introducing some consistencies that will be explored as the film progresses.
A few things before I continue:
I am going to attempt to avoid spoilers, but in all honesty, it is not that easy to pinpoint what is and is not a spoiler, so be warned.
While I have gotten very good at understanding people who talk while wearing a mask, for the purposes of your enjoyment of this movie, I highly recommend you watch it with subtitles on because there are lots of masks. And if that’s not enough, the booming score by Ludwig Göransson makes much of the spoken dialogue even harder to make out.
Don’t watch this movie unless you are comfortable making some, most or all of the following faces while trying to figure out what’s happening:
With that out of the way, let’s explore Tenet. Tenet is, as you’ve most likely noticed, the word ten forwards and backwards. That in itself introduces you to the concept of the film which is on the surface a story about the future attacking the past. Like Inception and Interstellar, Nolan’s previously most confusing films, there are layers at play. There are also lines in this movie like, “In one hour from now, they had this briefing,” which will just make your head implode in on itself. One character early in the film even says, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” These words should be on the poster because the true strength of Tenet (and most of Nolan’s films) is not in its cast but in its atmosphere and ambition. My suggestion is that you watch this movie, especially the first time, focusing on the surface layer which is a conflict between the future and the past. In the future, technology has progressed in a way that has brought on the advent of a process called inversion. Inversion or reversed entropy as it is also called is a process whereby objects and people can be inverted allowing them to reverse in the trajectory of time like a salmon heading upstream. Inversion is tricky business though as it is achieved through radiation and so inverted objects carry with them radioactivity and inverted people are physically unable to breathe the air and must bring their own oxygen, hence all the masks.
The Protagonist is eventually inducted into a covert group of special forces who use the code word Tenet and are actively fighting this new “Cold War” where inversion from the future is preparing an attack on the present. He is joined by British agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson) to thwart an arms dealer who leads them to the real big baddie in this film, a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branaugh) with lots of money and, you guessed it, ties to the future! The Protagonist and Neil spend the rest of the film in thrilling style attempting to stop Sator from gathering the weapons he needs to complete what he calls “the algorithm,” which he is able to gather thanks to knowledge from the future.
What follows is a head-scratcher to say the least, but a wild ride as only Nolan can produce. The set pieces are second to none, and scenes like the Kiev Opera siege and the climactic battle are truly spectacular. Most notably the Oslo airport scene, which is breathtaking, is done practically and with almost no special effects! Come for the action scenes, stay for the story is what I’m saying.
Once you get the hang of this film, there is so much to analyze and explore. Nolan drops plenty of clues and weaves a narrative that may or may not make sense, but definitely follows its own rules. Once turnstiles start showing up, buckle up for some of the most confusing cinema you’ve ever seen.
Tenet is still event movie making in the style that Nolan has grown accustomed and the challenges put forth by the narrative are not lazy or purposefully divisive; they are surgically inserted with great care and precision. At the risk of sounding cliché, Tenet is a film that must be seen twice. The film asks a lot from its audience in terms of attention to detail, navigating its audio hurdles, and its extended running time, but if you are up for that kind of commitment, it will be a rewarding watch. B
PS – I’m hoping the new year brings more love, health and happiness to all along with more new movies and of course more reviews from The People’s Critic.
Tenet is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 31 minutes.
The 92nd Academy Awards will air live on ABC Sunday, February 9th at 8:00 PM EST. Get in on the action by filling out a prediction ballot right here. I will be updating results live on Oscar night, so fill out a ballot and check my results page Oscar night to see how you did!
Also, speaking of Oscar night, what Oscar party would be complete without The People’s Critic’s Official Oscar Menu for 2020. Enjoy the party with perfectly paired menu offerings for this year’s nominees.
Enjoy the show, and please share this post with all your favorite movie fans! Also, enjoy this free printable paper ballot for your party needs!
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, and Benedict Cumberbatch
1917 is first high profile World War I film since 2011’s…did you see that tracking shot? …uh, 2011’s War Horse directed by Steven…that tracking shot though… ahem, Spielberg – who has championed Mendes’s career since the beginning… I mean the first one was at least 30 minutes long right! Where did he even cut?… Now Mendes has emerged with his best film since 2002’s Road to Perdition….there are hidden cuts in there; there must be, but regardless – that tracking shot!
Ok, have I drawn enough attention to the obvious elephant in the film? 1917, shot as one continuous shot, is not the first to attempt this style of narrative, but it is certainly one of the most ambitious and successful at it! Films as far back as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope or as recent as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films Birdman and The Revenant have executed this technique. Sometimes this method is used ironically or as a stunt, but in the case of 1917, it is used to accentuate the point that the events of this film are happening in real time. Brilliant and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins beautifully implements Mendes’s vision, all but guaranteeing him his second Oscar in three years after having had 14 straight nominations go the other way.
The plot of 1917 is rather simple: A pair of soldiers are sent on a crucial mission to deliver orders for a Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to stand down before walking into a trap that would cost 1600 soldiers their lives. It’s a race against time (hence the single-shot shooting style) as the two men cross enemy lines in an attempt to deliver the message in time. The two men are Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), British soldiers selected by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) because Blake’s brother is part of MacKenzie’s command that will be decimated by the Germans if the message is not received in time. The movie painstakingly documents these men’s journey through the trenches and across enemy territory in the hopes of preventing a tragic tactical mistake.
Mendes does an excellent job of crafting a simple plot but giving us a powerful story, a story that is personal to him. The idea for the film, which is fiction, is based on a story Mendes’s own grandfather, a World War I veteran, told him. The story was one of another soldier tasked with carrying a message into no-man’s land during the war. Sam Mendes used that story as the basis for 1917 and dedicated the film to his grandfather and the many others like him who fought for our freedom. This gives the film an added layer of quality, but regardless, 1917 is a film that is certainly technically brilliant; it managed 10 Oscar nominations without a single one in any acting category, which is precisely what happened with another technical marvel from 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road. Like that film, 1917 is also narratively engrossing in all the best ways making it one of the best films of the year. A
1917 is rated R and has a running time of one hour and 59 minutes.
This morning at approximately 8:18 EST, the Academy of Motion Pictures announced the nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards. A full list of the nominees can be found below! The Ceremony for the 92nd Academy Awards will air Sunday, February 9th starting at 6:30 PM EST on ABC. The broadcast will once again go hostless. Stay tuned to The People’s Critics for my predictions on who will win each award as well as for the hotly anticipated Oscar 2020 Dinner Menu – sure to be (Laura) “Dern” good!
Ford v. Ferrari
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renee Zellweger – Judy
Antonio Banderas –Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes
Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh – Little Women
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins for The Two Popes
Al Pacino for The Irishman
Joe Pesci for the Irishman
Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
The Irishman – Martin Scorsese
Joker – Todd Phillips
1917 – Sam Mendes
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
Parasite – Bong Joon Ho
Best International Feature Film
Corpus Christi (Poland)
Honeyland (North Macedonia)
Les Meserables (France)
Pain and Glory (Spain)
Parasite (South Korea)
Best Documentary Feature
The Edge of Democracy
Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out – Rian Johnson
Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach
1917 – Sam Medes & Krysty Wison- Cairins
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
Parasite – Bong Joon Ho & Jin Won Han
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman –Steven Zallian
Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi
Joker – Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
Little Women – Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes – Anthony McCarten
Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Toy Story 4
Best Original Song
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Unknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet
Best Original Music Score
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Best Film Editing
Ford v. Ferrari
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Best Sound Editing
Ford v. Ferrari
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Best Sound Mixing
Ford v. Ferrari
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Best Costume Design
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Best Production Design
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Best Visual Effects
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Best Live Action Short
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Best Animated Short
Best Documentary Short
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
The year 2019 was a pretty good year at the movies, and as the end of a decade, it really feels like a culmination of something and hopefully a fresh step forward to something new. If you haven’t already, read my Top Ten Films of the Decade post to get a sense of what the last ten years in movies can tell us about where we’ve been and where we’re going. However, the issue at hand is 2019. A lot of movies were released in 2019 thanks to the proliferation of streaming services and their dedication to releasing incredible amounts of quality content on top of the traditional studio and independent releases. So let’s get on to it. 2019: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
10. Knives Out – This one wins the audience award for sure. Of all the films on my list, no film had the audience howling like this one. Billed as a Rian Johnson whodunit, an all-star cast is full of suspects after a wealthy mystery writer suddenly falls dead, and foul play is suspected. Queue two-hours of dark, maddening hijinks that keep the audience guessing but most of all amused. This is a modern-day Clue or Gosford Park full of suspense and laughs. This movie feels like a subtle “jab” at one of the films in my worst of the year list, as one of his previous films was somewhat “sliced and diced” by another with diminishing returns. Well played, Mr. Johnson.
9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – I thought I knew what I was in for when I walked in to see this movie. After having seen the wonderful 2018 documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I expected a sentimental dramatization of the true events of Rogers’s life. That is not what this film is, and that is a good thing. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a perfect companion piece to the 2018 documentary rather than an adaptation of it by letting us see the power of people like Rogers and the impact a kind, contemplative person can have on all of us. Most will be surprised to find Tom Hanks’s portrayal of Rogers as more of a secondary role in this film. The main story follows Matthew Rhys as investigative journalist, Lloyd Vogel who reluctantly accepts a job to write a fluff piece on Rogers only to have his life changed immeasurably. A true heart-warmer, and an understated success for director Marielle Heller.
8. The Lighthouse– Two lighthouse keepers arrive for a four-week shift looking after a lighthouse. At night, there’s little to do but eat, drink, and talk and much of the film is dedicated to these activities, but that’s where we as the audience learn the most. These men have secrets. This actor’s journey of minimalist, psychological horror is one fascinating ride! Willem Dafoe puts out a vicious, raw, funny, and technical performance, and Robert Pattinson too gives a layered and impressive character. This is a challenging but amazingly engrossing film.
7. Parasite – Word of mouth has been non-stop for this South Korean comedic horror satire. Writer/Director Bong Joon Ho has been quietly dominating critical and box office success with films like Snowpiercer, The Host, and Okja just to name a few. With Parasite, it seems like he’s broken through completely by creating a universally relatable parable of class and culture that begins one way and takes a dramatically fascinating turn. Both halves of the film are tremendously compelling and enjoyable, but for entirely different reasons. This is Ho’s masterpiece in a catalog full of near-masterpieces.
6. Midsommar – This is the most beautifully shot film on my list this year. Ari Aster’s latest film is a slow burn with some of the most unsettling horror seen on screen in some years. A group of students arrive in a rural and secretive Swedish community with the hope of learning about their culture and studying their anthropological presence. The beauty of the film starkly contrasts some truly terrifying stuff, and the result is a highly effective and deeply effective.
The Top Five:
5. Avengers: Endgame – This movie is actually epic, and I use that term without hyperbole. The Russo brothers have assembled a true love letter that spans the entire run of the most successful film franchise in history. This is how a saga should end (a certain film in my worst of the year list should take notes). A strength of all four Avengers films is that even with such bloated cast of characters, every one of them gets a moment to shine. The heart, the humor, the excitement, and the impact of events is as strong as in any of the MCU films, and for my money this is the best Avengers film of the four, and it is also one of the best films of the year.
4. The Irishman – I had to sit with this movie for a while. I’m of the rare minority who when this 3-hour gangster volume ended, I wanted more. I knew I liked it, but I wasn’t sure if my nostalgia and good faith for what this film represented was why I liked it, or if it was truly good. Seeing Martin Scorsese revisit the mobster genre and direct Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and a host of other notables is hard not to tickle the fancy of any fan of cinema. So, over a month has passed, and the jury is in; The Irishman is a great film (but only one peg higher than a superhero movie, Marty!).
3. Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach has been a powerful force in telling human stories about the fallouts of the fractured family dynamic. His films The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the wedding, While We’re Young, and The Meyerowitz Stories all predominately explore this central theme, so it’s fitting that his latest film is simply called Marriage Story. Here Baumbach is in familiar territory, but never has been so keyed in on the complexities of coupling and then uncoupling in modern America. Baumbach teams up with Adam Driver for the fourth time in this crushing yet beautiful human drama about how marriage and family can be very different things.
2. Joker – At its core, Joker is a character-driven story about Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a meager, struggling performer hoping to someday be a stand-up comedian. Phoenix is excellent in this film allowing Fleck’s struggles to feel very real and human. His decisions, as radical as they are, all come from a raw and authentic place within the character that Phoenix is able to capture and put on display in a very captivating way. Joker as a film also does an excellent job of pitting this dynamic individual against a society that is crumbling into chaos and compartmentalizing into a vastly unsettling class struggle, and what transpires is compelling and profoundly unsettling. Not because it is necessarily “shocking” but because of what it does to us as viewers who will no doubt be feeling a variety of conflicting emotions by the end – all worth examining.
1. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – What we have here is a modern-day auteur at the top of his technical game taking chances and making movies that still make an audience appreciate the medium and the experience it can offer. There’s tremendous atmosphere populated with thrilling takes on movies, dreams, American culture, music and the divisive nature of society. Plus there’s a bitching soundtrack! Many will cite this as being the least “Tarantino” of all of his films, whatever that means; however, while the plot is perhaps more loose than his previous films, Tarantino captures the atmosphere of this dynamic time with great success. There’s a lot going on in this film. On one hand, we have Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) quest for fame, attempting to leverage some television notoriety into a film career without aging out, becoming typecast, or losing his game all the while battling an internal conflict about whether he is worthy of fame in the first place. Then we have Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) ambiguous, deliberate sojourn through the land of broken dreams. While the two main characters are on two very separate personal journeys, Tarantino craftily balances this film on the relationship between the two men allowing the film to move along nicely despite their uniquely different paths. There’s no arbitrary cliché-constructed conflict dropped on the audience for cheap drama. There’s a sense of history between them both, and this comes through mostly thanks to the exquisite performances given by Pitt and most notably DiCaprio. I have almost nothing bad to say about this movie other than it’s not Tarantino’s best, which is to say it’s still the best movie of 2019 by a long shot, just not the best movie of 1994.
…the Bad and the Ugly
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Just writing these words under this heading fills me with great sorrow. Star Wars movies made my list of the best films of 2015 (The Force Awakens), 2016 (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and 2017 (The Last Jedi). All that being said, it pains me to have to put Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on the list of the worst films of the year, but here it is. Just five short years after this critic touted J.J Abrams as the true geek-legend who will take the franchise light years beyond where it had been, he now ends it all by leaving me with a bad feeling about where the future of Star Wars once again sits. The film is action packed, but it is also, bloated, uneven, full of loose plotlines, and most of all it’s boring. The Rise of Skywalker did not just disappoint me as a film, but it actually made me like the previous two installments less knowing now where it all was heading.
2. Ford v. Ferrari – Speaking of boring movies, let me give you exhibit B; Ford v. Ferrari. To me, this films is another installment in a troubling cinematic trend. Every year, a handful of “Oscar darling” films are released that follow a virtual template of style and perceived wit. Essentially odd-ducks are paired up to navigate an unkind social climate full of architypes and caricatures that must be thwarted. Upon examining these films, what you really have is a film where everyone is uni-dimensional except the principal characters, and the film progresses with a style that broadly spoon feeds audiences hearty portions of quippy one-liners and unlikely conversations practically winking at the camera instead of being in the moment. The style of this film matches those precisely. These historic, character-driven dramas shot with this disingenuous style ring so false to me, and I wind up caring less and less. Ford v. Ferrari, unfortunately, has little gas in the tank and more or less feels like it’s just going in circles, taking too many pit stops before ultimately just being totaled (puns intended).
1. The Lion King – All in all, The Lion King is very rote, stale, and unimpressive (aside from the visual effects, which are stunning). The decision to play it so safe with this film is a real disappointment and the result is a clunky film with no personality. It boils down to a forgettable rehash that could have been a wonderful update on a classic. When these films do not bring something new to the table, it is hard to see them as anything but a shallow attempt to take our money with familiar branding. And that may have been their goal all along with these films, but if you want me to have a Hakuna Matata attitude about these things, at least make me feel the love. My statement with giving this film the unhallowed designation of being worst film of the year is simply to say to Disney…stop. You had a good year financially, so why not take that green and invest in the new. You hung up Star Wars and The Avengers as we knew them, so use this decade to give us what comes next, not a warmed over reminder of what once was.
Well that does it! What did you think about 2019 or about the decade as a whole in regards to movies? I’d say as a movie year, 2019 fits snugly in the middle of the 2010s decade. Nothing with the explosiveness of 2017 or 2014, but also not a mediocre year. Let me know what you think in the comments.
2020 is here, and so awards season is kicking into full swing. Tonight, the 77th Golden Globes presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will air on NBC with host, Ricky Gervais. The show is at worst, a messy borefest, and at best a booze soaked glimpse at celebrities talking shop. Who knows what we’ll get this time, but regardless, the results have been known to influence academy nomination voting, which ends this Tuesday, January 7th (Academy nominations are announced February 7th). Prestige once again reigns supreme, but while box office hits like Avengers: Endgame hoping to cross into awards territory did not make an appearance, Joker on the other hand seems to have found a way in. So sit back, relax, and try your hand at some predictions on the ballot below.
For some reason, 2019 does not feel like the culmination of a decade. It never really occurred to me that we had reached this milestone until some of these “Best of the Decade…” lists started rolling out. Looking back personally, I’ve gotten married, changed careers, had two children, and bought a house, sold a house, and bought another …so I guess that’s about 10 years of life. As a whole, the society reflected in the cinema of the 2010s is one of reflection, nostalgia, and innovation. Reboots, sequels, comic books, and throwbacks were aplenty, but the best films of the decade rarely fall into those categories. Political unrest, the proliferation of the Internet, Social Media, and streaming entertainment as well as incredible strides for minorities, feminism, and civil rights were also a sparked that will continue to define the 2020s. I’ll admit, personally, 2019 carried with it some of the highest highs in my life as well as some of the lowest lows, and the same can be said about the films released this decade. That being said, let’s focus on the positives as we optimistically embark on a new decade. Here are The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Films of the 2010s!
10. The Dark Knight Rises(2012) – Appropriately, the best director of the decade starts this list off with the final film of Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal Dark Knight trilogy. There is no understating the impact these films had on cinema, most notably 2008’s The Dark Knight. With The Dark Knight Rises, we have a fitting end to one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history. There is so much to appreciate in this film. The menacing tone that lies beneath the surface of Gotham City is felt for all of its 165 minutes. For my money, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises is the best of the three. I think, taken as a whole, what Christopher Nolan can be most proud of is that he has captured the attention of a massive audience and taught them that escapist entertainment can be thoughtful and precise. He may present some of this grandiose and complex content in a simplified and somewhat self-important/preachy way, but he achieves his grand design of getting us all thinking about our own morality, our limits, and our duties. This is miles beyond what any other so-called “comic book” movie has achieved or has even been capable of so far (PS, this will not be the last we hear of Christopher Nolan on this list).
9. Baby Driver (2017) – Is it uniquely original? On paper, maybe not so much, but it’s a different story on the screen. It is hard not to discuss Baby Driver in the context of other similar predecessors about getaway drivers and/or villainous lynchpins orchestrating a series of heists. But the execution of Baby Driver is unlike any of those films. On the surface this is a heist film about a getaway driver, but on a larger scale the driving is an instrument to explore music, or more accurately, the act of listening to music. It’s the music that helps push the narrative. Writer/Director Edgar Wright does a superb job using music, actually the act of listening to music, to drive an otherwise classical narrative structure. This film really invited me to analyze exactly what it is that makes movie narratives work, an analysis I further explored in my commentary piece, “It’s All About Choice.” Like so many classic narratives, we don’t learn much about Baby in the film, or about any of the other characters for that matter. Baby is a man of few words, denied the necessity of choice by Doc (a pre-self-destructed Kevin Spacy), and committed to no real set of values given his almost “island-like” existence. Like I mentioned in “It’s All About Choice,” knowing so very little about Baby actually drives the narrative because he is the ultimate individual who can form his own values and not be labeled or expected to act in any particular way. What a cool movie!
8. Blade Runner 2049(2017) – Blade Runner 2049 is a visual achievement, but it is also a triumph of science fiction and exploration into the flawed emotionality of the human being. Denis Villenueve and original screenwriter, Hampton Fancher deepen the themes and ideas introduced in the 1982 original, creating a superb overall film that demands repeat viewings. Villenueve is the runner-up to Nolan as director of the decade. Catching my attention in 2013 with the exquisite Prisoners, and then putting out one great film after another with Enemy, Sicario, Arrival and then Blade Runner 2049, we have seen the evolution of an auteur and true visionary of cinema whose next film, an updated adaptation of Dune should prove to be even better!
7. Inception(2010) – He’s back. Nolan’s second films on the list of the best of the decade actually kicked the decade off in 2010 with one of the most visually complex and narratively multifaceted films of all time. Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a journey through time and mind in a trippy, wild mind heist. Nolan’s imagination is on full display with a film that is inspired and outrageously original. It’s said Nolan spent 10 years on this script, and it shows! Theories abound about what unfolds in this twisted story, but in true Inception style, the means justify the end.
6. La La Land (2016) – I tried people. I tried not to toe the line. I tried not to be all “critic-y,” but goddamnit, my toes are still tap, tap, tapping to this beautiful, heartwarming, goosebump inducing, musical masterpiece. La La Land has the best first and last five minutes of any movie in the last 10 years! What puts it on this list is that between those amazing first five minutes and outstanding final five minutes are 118 exhilarating, beautifully crafted, musical minutes. La La Land is a simple story of Jazz musician meets struggling actor, Jazz musician loses struggling actress, etc., but that’s ok. If the plot were any more dynamic, it would take away from the sensory experience of this film. Gosling and Stone are captivating as the leads and while their voices may not be meant for Broadway, they are perfect for a film that “dances” between worlds. Half nostalgic and half prognostic, La La Land shows us that writer/director Damien Chazelle is more than the real deal. He’s the next big thing (next to Nolan and Villenueve)! La La Land puts a nice bow on 2016 as well as the decade as a whole.
5. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)– The film that started the renaissance for director, David O. Russell. His movies are traditionally about passion, and none have better successfully illustrated that theme than Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper play Pat and Tiffany, two people full of passion who have lost their way. Both turn out Oscar worthy performances, and while Lawrence won, Cooper was given the impossible task of facing a Daniel Day-Lewis performance. He would have won any other year for sure with this performance. This was the best acted film of the decade bar none. Furthermore, Russell’s screenplay is excellent as he also manages to give Robert DeNiro a role that could be indirectly related to his having such a prolific 2019 with Joker and The Irishman.
4. Django Unchained (2012) – Django Unchained is void of any superfluous substance. From the opening scene of dialogue where Django and Schultz are introduced all the way to the final “showdown,” Django Unchained has momentum and remains in stride. Tarantino won his second Original Screenplay Oscar for this because no other film that can be nominated for this category combines such compelling dialogue with such a spirited and ambitions story. The film unfolds in a series of distinct acts. Furthermore, Tarantino takes his flair for the irregular timeline to a more subtle place by interjecting small contextual flashbacks at key points to reveal critical or entertaining pieces of background that enhance an approaching scene. Christoph Waltz gives Tarantino another Oscar winning performance as the film’s moral compass, Dr. Schultz. Schultz’s character also works to deepen and broaden Foxx’s turn as Django. Django has a goal, but lacks direction and Schultz literally provides that for him, which gives Foxx some real dimension and power. However, the film’s crown jewel is found in the film’s closing acts when Leonardo DiCaprio appears as Calvin Candie, owner of the massive and legendary plantation known as Candyland. DiCaprio’s performance is a sneaky one, and while initially campy, it becomes very real all too quickly. His character shows a severe authenticity as a symbol for the evils of supposed “gentlemen” during a deeply deranged time in American history. As fun as Django Unchained is to watch, it is still a Quentin Tarantino movie, which implies vulgarity and violence. It delivers on both of those qualities to excess, which is a good thing in this case. As part of the Western genre, a lot of justice is sought out against a lot of bad people, and a six-shooter is basically the only tool. The balance between good acting, strong writing, unpredictable circumstances, and sudden bursts of violence creates a suspenseful tone that could not otherwise be achieved.
3. Blue Jasmine (2013) – While 2019 has been a tough year for arguably my favorite filmmaker and entertainer of all time, Woody Allen was still churning out classics in the 2010s. First in 2011, he had his greatest box office achievement of his career with Midnight in Paris, and then just two years later, he puts out one of his greatest films of all time, Blue Jasmine. Allen’s film may be contextually set within the confines of financial crisis; however, the film is actually about trust and fate. The strength of the story rests on the complex and fractured relationship between two adopted sisters, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine and Ginger were separately adopted, raised together, but fate sent them on wildly different paths. Allen explores this element throughout the film while also examining Jasmine’s sense of entitlement regardless of the fact that she has no skills and simply fell into wealth. Furthermore, trust is a dynamic issue presented in the film. While mostly known for his impeccable ability to create fascinating female characters (and Blue Jasmine is no exception), Allen also presents the damage of deception through his uncharacteristically diverse set of male characters. Bobby Cannavale is especially indicative of this as Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili. Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., and Peter Sarsgaard join Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay in developing the vital effect of trust, or lack thereof, on the human condition.
2. Life of Pi (2012) – First of all, if you like to enjoy a film in its purest and unanticipated sense, just know Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a spectacular cinematic experience. Now stop reading and go see it. From the moment the map of the Mariana Trench appears on the screen, hold on to your seats! No film, including Avatar, has achieved this level of visual grandeur with 3D technology. What is more, Life of Pi exists right here on our own planet. Lee’s careful precision as a director, takes full advantage of every opportunity to amaze the audience with wonder. Many films have explored the survivor element of what the limits of human endurance are. What allows Pi to rise above those is the spiritual depth that is created from the film’s opening act and the awe-inspiring visual effects that are second to none. Life of Pi is a low-key masterpiece. It sneaks up on you and while not complicated, welcomes multiple viewings. The opening credits depicting animals happily living in captivity holds new meaning after experiencing the film for the first time. Lee presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking version of Martel’s widely admired source material. It was said that Life of Pi was one of those unfilmable stories- that it can exist in the mind of the reader and nowhere else. Lee has proven those skeptics incorrect; however, this film is more than a companion or adaptation of the novel. It has surpassed that into something much more special and distinctive.
1. Interstellar(2014) – This is it; the big one! For six years, I’ve been waiting to see if anyone can take this film down as best film of the decade. No one came close. Interstellar is a phenomenal film. It is the most immersive film of the decade. Nolan does not treat the audience with kid gloves and allows us to observe and appreciate the film without needless exposition or over-explanation. Clocking in at 3 hours in running time, the film actually moves with a deliberate and intrepid pace. Like successful cinematic space operas of the past such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Star Wars, Interstellar is enriched with thoughtfulness, theoretical rhetoric, and intensity! The film is also quite beautiful and awe-inspiring. Nolan, one of the last filmmakers still shooting on 35mm film, uses the technique to his stunning advantage. Darkness, color, perspective, and beauty are all heightened by Nolan’s camera work, and the film resonates with a voracity that feels appropriate for a quality depiction of interplanetary space travel. Like Steven Price’s Oscar winning score from Gravity, the score in this film, composed by Has Zimmer, plays an equally pivotal role. Swells and crescendos of synthesizers and pipe organs counter-balance equally ominous moments of complete silence, all of which emphasize the overall mood. Like most Christopher Nolan films, the true strength of Interstellar is not in its cast but in its atmosphere and ambition. For a science-fiction film, Interstellar feels very authentic and while the film’s final act may challenge some viewers, everything works. It’s a masterpiece.
Well that’s it. 2019 is not yet finished, and some great films are slated to release at the end of the year, so if somehow something blows me away, I will update this list post-haste. That being said, it is just about time to start looking forward to what a new decade of film will bring, and I for one am encouraged and excited to find out!
Screenwriters: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller
Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, and Tracy Letts
Ford v. Ferrari was released November 15th, and that makes sense because it’s a finely set table of exactly what you expect in heaping quantities with few surprises, and when you’re done you need a nap.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale headline this cinematic slog through the American pastime of driving cars fast. Damon plays Carroll Shelby, a famous race car driver and designer who finds himself with a heart condition that forces him to end his driving career. Of course, you can take the driver out of the car, but you can’t take the car out of the driver, and soon Shelby is busy working for Ford to deliver a car fast enough to defeat Ferrari at the world renowned race at Le Mans. Shelby selects hot-tempered British mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be his driver to the chagrin of Ford President Henry Ford II and VP Lee Iococca. Nonetheless, Shelby and Miles must work together with little to gain and everything to lose.
Ford v. Ferrari is this year’s Green Book. Now depending on who you are, that statement will mean different things. To me, it’s another installment in a troubling cinematic trend. Every year, a handful of “Oscar darling” films are released that follow a virtual template of style and perceived wit. Essentially odd-ducks are paired up to navigate an unkind social climate full of architypes and caricatures that must be thwarted. Movies like The Help, Green Book, and Driving Miss Daisy all fall into this category. Now like I said, you may see that list and say, well that’s a pretty good list! What’s the problem? To that I say, that upon examining these films, what you really have is a film where everyone is uni-dimensional except the principal characters, and the film progresses with a style that broadly spoon feed audiences hearty portions of quippy one-liners and unlikely conversations practically winking at the camera instead of being in the moment. Obviously, Ford v. Ferrari does not contain the racial subject matter that the other films I mentioned have, but the style of this film matches those precisely. These historic, character-driven dramas shot with this disingenuous style ring so false to me, and I wind up caring less and less.
We do have the essential ingredients to a film like this in spades though. The main characters of Shelby and Miles are portrayed strongly by Damon and Bale respectively. They ground the movie as best they can, especially through the racing scenes, of which there are many.
Director James Mangold is generally not guilty of producing these kinds of films. In fact, his 2017 film Loganwas raw and exporative despite being a “comic book” movie. Ford v. Ferrari, unfortunately, has little gas in the tank and more or less feels like it’s just going in circles, taking too many pit stops before ultimately just being totaled (puns intended). C-
Ford v. Ferrari is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.
When I heard that a film adaptation was in the works for Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, I admit I was worried. When I read the 2013 novel, I remember immediately thinking, “Well, this will never work as a film.” Then, to my surprise, within a few years, it’s announced that it’s already in production, and with the talented horror-guru Mike Flanagan (Haunting of Hill House, Hush) as writer/director. That’s enough to get me in the theater, and fortunately, Doctor Sleep does not disappoint.
As I mentioned, Doctor
Sleep is Stephen King’s long awaited follow up to his horror classic, The Shining. The original film version
of The Shining from 1980 directed by
Stanley Kubrick has taken on a life and mythology of its own being hailed as
one of the greatest horror films of all time as well as inspiring countless
stories and documentaries about some of the strange occurrences associated with
the production. Doctor Sleep picks up
30 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel from the original novel. Danny,
now going by Dan (Ewan McGregor), is a fully grown, recovering alcoholic, and
still has the shine, a term referring
to his psychic abilities. Dan’s pretty messed up as one tends to be after a
haunted hotel possesses your dad leading him to chase you and your mom around
with an axe and just murder a bunch of people before freezing to death in a
hedge maze. Oh…spoiler alert.
Now, Dan is sort of a lost soul leading him to taking a job as a hospice nurse, a job that puts his abilities to good use, as his shine gives him an uncanny ability to help soothe the dying in their final moments – subsequently earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. The shining is a pretty valuable thing – even more so to a group of steam-punk looking, cultish demons known as the True Knot. Lead by ancient matriarch, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot travels by RV across the country seeking out those with the shine, torturing them, and then devouring their essence, which they call steam. It’s a motley crew of weridos with weird names to say the least (a tip of the cap to Twin Peaks’s Carel Struycken as Grandpa Flick). They survive on steam and it must be extracted through pain and torture, which results in some very unsettling scenes in the film.
When the True Knot sense the presence of a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who possesses incredibly strong abilities, Rose and her band of scoundrels look to hunt her down. Abra reaches out to Dan asking for his help to stop the True Knot from capturing and killing more people in their caravan of death!
I enjoyed Doctor Sleep much more than I expected I would. The performances are good, especially by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose. The horror is quite terrifying in parts, and while The Shining is on a different plane in terms of achievement and experience, Doctor Sleep is a well-told, strongly designed sequel. The nods to the first film are appropriate, but this is a fully realized, complete story all on its own. The adaptation from the source material is extremely faithful in most respects, but Flanagan also takes some massive left turns in other places, most notably with when Abra’s powers manifest and with the film’s ending. Stephen King said in an interview that it is important for readers to understand that the novel Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the novel The Shining and not the film. I think Flanagan took to that approach with this film in that the movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the movie The Shining and not the book, therefore the choices he made to deviate from the book make sense to the characters as we know them from the movie (even though I would have loved to see the novel’s ending play out in the film).
Doctor Sleep does
what it set out to do very well. It invokes the spirit of The Shining without needlessly relying on it to stay above water. The
inexplicable 152-minute running time does unsurprisingly result in the occasional
drag here and there, especially in the first act. Still, there’s plenty that
works and more than enough play in this film to keep Doctor Sleep from being a dull boy. B+
Doctor Sleep is rated
R and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.
Arrr – ye all be a scurvy lot, boastin’ a tall tale of the sea be ye? That is not a line from Robert Egger’s 2019 film, The Lighthouse…but it could have been! The Lighthouse is Egger’s follow up to his film The VVitch: A New-England Folktale, which gained the director a lot of attention in 2015. Now Eggers is back with a film about two lighthouse keepers that will no-doubt have people talking…like a pirate!
stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers off the coast
of Nova Scotia sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century. Dafoe plays
Thomas Wake, a grizzled, weather-beaten veteran and foil to Pattinson’s young,
idealistic Ephraim Winslow. Wake and Winslow arrive for a four-week shift
looking after a lighthouse as wickies,
the colloquial term for this occupation. It’s isolating, hard work, as you can
imagine, especially given Wake’s insistence that he is the only one who gets to
keep the light atop the lighthouse, leaving Winslow to most of the hard labor
and grunt work. At night, there’s little to do but eat, drink, and talk and
much of the film is dedicated to these activities, but that’s where we as the
audience learn the most. These men have secrets.
As the film progresses, we get quite a bit of insight on
these men. Both have questionable pasts that have brought them to this “rock”
as Wake calls it, and both are dealing with inner struggle that slowly reveals
itself. That slow burn could result in a slog of a film; Eggers’s dialogue
through the mouths of Dafoe and Pattinson goes a long way. First, a word about
Dafoe. Whether you know it or not, Willem Dafoe has been quietly scooping up
Oscar nominations left and right. Assuming he is nominated for this role (which
in my opinion is a sure thing), he would be receiving his third nomination in
as many years, placing him on the shortlist of actors like Meryl Streep, Al
Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Marlon Brando who have accomplished such a feat!
Dafoe puts out a vicious, raw, funny, and technical performance as the gritty
Thomas Wake. The credits express thanks to the dark Romanticist, Herman Melville
for inspiring much of the dialect and language for the film, and Dafoe
masterfully spits this lugubrious, Melvillian
prose in such a captivating way that I searched in vain for the screenplay for
this film just so I could read and treasure every syllable of exactly what
resulted when poor Ephraim Winslow expressed disfavor with Thomas Wake’s
prepared lobster dinner. It is a scene for the ages.
Pattinson too gives a layered and impressive performance.
While his character has fewer eccentricities with which to chew the proverbial
scenery, his performance is solid and aggressively mysterious.
For a movie with really only two characters and one principle
setting, The Lighthouse is actually
quite confusing; however, I would preface this with the understanding that this
confusion is mostly deliberate. Writer/Director Robert Eggers layers the film
with texture. Shot entirely in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1,
the film resembles something out of German expressionism resembling films like The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu (coincidentally Dafoe played
Max Schreck, the actor who portrayed Nosferatu, in the 2001 film Shadow of the Vampire). This places us
as viewers in bizarre territory as madness and insanity are tropes often associated
with films that look like this, and The Lighthouse, it seems, is no
exception. Eggers uses Expressionist qualities to tell a fable-like story full
of mystery and mythology that takes some serious unpacking upon its conclusion.
I certainly cannot say I got every bit of this film, but I
can say that I enjoyed the ride from start to finish, and I look forward to reunitin’ with this salty cinematic saga
again one day if the sea-god Triton grants it be so. B+
The Lighthouse is
Rated Arrrrr as has a running time of 1 hour and 5 minutes.