The Top Ten Films of 2019 (and the Three Worst)

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.

The Good…

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.

The Top Ten Films of the 2010s!

Top Ten of Decade

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!

Dark Knight Rises

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).

Baby Driver

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!

Blade Runner 2049

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!

Inception

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.

La La Land

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.

Silver Linings Playbook

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.

Django Unchained

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.

Blue Jasmine

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.

Life of Pi

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. 

Interstellar

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!

The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Movies of 2017

Interior of a Movie TheaterWhat a great year for movies. 2017 will go down as one of the better years in past decade. Jodie Foster may be out there slamming superhero movies, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a couple of this year’s superhero movies are about nine million times better than Nim’s Island, so slow your roll Clarice.  Of course, as I say every year, here we are again: Less than a month before the Academy of Motion Pictures releases its list of nominees, less than a week before the Hollywood Foreign Press hands out the Golden Globes – and of the likely list of top films to be nominated for Oscars this year, only a handful have opened wide enough to see in a suburban city of a Midwestern state. We’re getting better but movies like The Post, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, The Florida Project, and Call Me By Your Name are still playing it aloof.

Anyway, Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 23rd, bright and early, and while Oscar nominations are a coveted announcement, a far more important announcement is being made right now – my list of the top 10 films of 2017.

The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Films of 2017

mother11!. mother! – Wait a minute; isn’t this a top ten list? Well yes it is, but sometimes something comes out of nowhere that takes you off guard, makes you uneasy, and doesn’t play by the rules (including those of grammar and punctuation!). So fittingly, a film that does all of those things deserves to have an unofficial spot in this year’s list. Now, never have I endorsed a film as impossible to recommend as this one is. My mantra as a critic has always been to write about and critique films based on whether they’re worth your time and money to see. This one, for most of you, is not. However, it is certainly one of the best films I have seen this year, and so it, just barely, belongs on this list. mother! is a parable of nature, religion, and humanity. It uses heavy handed symbolism to unwind its narrative in such a breathtaking and surreal way, that you may be struck silent by the time the credits roll. Another film, Get Out, does all of this to a lesser degree in my opinion, yet has received tremendous acclaim and attention. My hat tips to director, Darren Aronofsky who chooses not to play it safe, allowing mother! to just barely edge Get Out off my list of the best of the year.

war10. War for the Planet of the Apes – Did you see it? Probably not. This, now trilogy, has actually been quite extraordinary, and this third installment is the finest yet. This film has the feeling of an epic, and director Matt Reeves shoots it like a western. Andy Sirkis reprises his impressive role as Caesar, who is pitted against a crazed military colonel played by Woody Harrelson who is fighting off a new strand of the Simian flu that renders human survivors of the previous strand mute. There is a real sense of power and depth to this film and the visual effects are so well done that you easily forget these apes are CGI.

logan9. Logan – This is an X-Men film, but due to some creative play with franchise timelines, Logan gets to be something different. With Logan, continuity is an afterthought, we have a more personal film than the usual comic book fare, there is limited CGI, we get to spend time considering the value of aging heroes, and most of all the case is made that superheroes are not just for kids. Like the number 10 film on my list, this film is framed like a modern-day western, and in fact, there is an overt and critical reference to the 1953 classic, Shane. It is also directed by James Mangold, who is responsible for other “country-western” influenced films like Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma. While not for the faint at heart, this film is one that can be appreciated on many levels by all types of people.

last8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi A Star Wars film has made my list three years straight now, and while this is the lowest ranking one has had thus far, it would have probably fared better against 2015 and 2016 films. The sequel to The Force Awakens starts strong and finishes strong, which like Rogue One before it, is becoming a valuable trademark of these films. Director Rian Johnson takes a risk by exploring the disappointment of meeting one’s heroes and finding out they’re frauds to massive effect. He asks us to examine all of the characters and evaluate them from minute to minute with the goal of showing us that what we thought we knew may not be true at all. These are the places where The Last Jedi shines. The big picture stuff. The exploration of mythos and themes, and not satiating our curiosity with sugary artificial satisfaction. This is unsettling, but also an outstanding achievement for a Star Wars film or any form of entertainment for that matter.

lady7. Lady Bird Welcome to the artsier part of the list, and Lady Bird is certainly that! This is one of the finer films that attempts to diagnose what has lead to the overwhelming degradation in the aspirations of young people, and guess what, the young people are rarely the most to blame. Yes, what this film adds to the mix is a cutting and complex portrayal of the parent/child dynamic. Ronan and Metcalf are outstanding and will certainly be tough to beat come Oscar time. Unlike many mainstream films, Lady Bird has several different methodologies that an audience can take away. It’s a coming of age story, it’s a religious parable, it’s a family drama, it’s a love story, it’s a story about rejection and acceptance, about friendship, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

coco6. Coco This is a great film. This is also the first full movie my daughter has ever seen with me, which makes it extra special. That aside, this movie is hard not to love. Every great Pixar film has a distinct visual style, but I think that objectively, Coco is the most beautiful film they have delivered so far. The color palate, the vibrant environments, and the hypnotic combination of sight and sound deliver an amazing cinematic experience. It’s also a great story about Hispanic culture, legacy, life, death, and tradition.

35. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Director Martin McDonagh has solidified his Coen Brother-influenced style with films like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, now with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, he goes full Coen even hiring Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand as the lead of the film, who incidentally gives one of the finest performances of her career. This twisty, quirky drama plays at first like a murder mystery, but quickly becomes something more. Woody Harrelson shows up on my list for the second time giving another excellent performance as Ebbing police Chief Willoughby only to be outdone by Sam Rockwell who gives a career performance as one of Harrelson’s officers. Incidentally, Lucas Hedges also has a small role as McDormand’s son, and he played a role in Lady Bird this year as well.

thor4. Thor: RagnarokWell, the Thor movies finally found their legs with this third film, which proves the third time’s a charm. This time, Thor discovers dealing with his brother Loki was child’s play in comparison to fighting his previously unknown sister Hela, played by Cate Blanchett. Thor: Ragnarok is the most surprising Marvel film I’ve seen based on the expectations I had going in. The trailers make the film look like it’s basically a video game where Thor fights Hulk gladiator style and Jeff Goldblum steps in to say, “Eh, Hellooo.” Those things do happen, but this is a cohesive, jaunty, fresh action comedy that works very well. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is also not to be ignored, giving the film this quirky, electronic vibe that I loved.

dunk3. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan did it again. This is the third movie Nolan has released since I started doing these lists back in 2013, and with Dunkirk he’s 3 for 3! this is such a naturalistic film, that characters hardly matter, and Nolan even goes so far as to cast actors who all basically look alike. He does not want you to be invested in any one hero or character. He wants you to pay attention to the events, the feelings, the sounds, and the visuals. Nolan also implements his famous nonlinear story tricks that he’s become so famous for using in films like Memento, Inception, and Interstellar to make the film even more engaging.

baby2. Baby Driver – 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 know that sounds weird, but it works really well. Like Dunkirk, story and characters takes a back seat to the experience of watching this movie. In fact, 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. In light of recent events, Kevin Spacey’s presence in this film retrospectively brings it down a peg, but Wright does a fantastic job using authentic sets and stunts along with some crafty camera work to capture the visual feast that is Baby Driver. This is a film not to be missed.

blade1. Blade Runner 2049It’s not shocking that a visually dazzling film from director Denis Villenueve would be my number one film of the year, but it is kind of surprising that that film would be a sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner. 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. It dethrones Baby Driver as the best film of 2017. This is also the rare sequel that improves upon its original. The visual landscapes, environments, and overall immersion experienced with this film are breathtaking. It’s no coincidence that my picks for the top three films of the year are complex, multi-sensory cinematic experiences. I think that is the legacy 2017 is leaving, and with James Cameron’s hotly anticipated Avatar sequels slated to start coming out in 2019 or 2020, I think we’re on the cusp of a truly spectacular evolution of the cinematic medium!

The Four Worst Films of 2017

I mentioned that 2017 was a pretty good year for movies, at least in terms of the ones I was able to see. That being the case along with the fact that I cheated and gave you a top 11, I will make things right here and just put up a worst 4.

atom4. Atomic BlondeThis one suffered from heightened expectations. It probably doesn’t objectively deserve to be on this list, but for me, Atomic Blonde was one of the most disappointing two hours I’ve spent at the movies in 2017. All we have is a middle of the road espionage film, set in a provocative time period with good music and one great action scene. That is the recipe for a high risk of disappointment.

Murder3. Murder on the Orient Express – Speaking of “high risk of disappointment,” try remaking a 1974 Sidney Lumet film based on one of the most famous novels of all time after it has been made into at least five subsequent films over the 30 years in between. Bad idea. Kenneth Branagh is erratic at best as director and star, and while he assembled a decent cast, this is one of the most needless remakes of all time, offering no relevance or value above dull self-indulgence.

Justice2. Justice League – New year, another DC bomb! At the end of 2015, we were all gearing up to see what DC had to offer to combat the cinematic monopoly Marvel Studios has had over the superhero genre. Well, the results came in and two of their films made my worst of 2015 list: Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. This year, they maintain their reservation on my list once again with Justice League. I will say this, it’s their best bad movie yet, but it’s still bad. If you told me you could put Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman in a movie together and still bore me, I’d say you were crazy, but it turns out this is entirely possible. The movie has some fun with some of the characters, but at the end it’s still a messy pile of egos, disorganized and faced off against yet another uninspired villain.

Fifty1. Fifty Shades Darker – How is this still a thing? This movie is unwatchable. This is actually the first time I’ve ever included a movie on any list that I did not actually see in its entirety. I used to have a rule that I would give every movie I review or critique the benefit of at least having seen it through. I can now no longer say that. Thanks Fifty Shades Darker. You have literally compromised my own values as a critic, and for that, you are the worst movie I’ve seen any or all of this year.

 

Top Five Must See Monster Movies

KongIn this day of comic book movie domination, it is easy to forget that there was a time when the most anticipated movies were the ‘creature features.’ This weekend’s, Kong: Skull Island is the latest in the monster movie tradition, and oddly enough, the mighty Kong will be facing off with veteran comic book character, Logan for the top box office spot this weekend. In celebration of this mega mutant melee, I have assembled The People’s Critic’s Top Five Monster Movies of all time!

 

Tremorsposter5. Tremors – This is camp at its finest! Horror and comedy often intermingle, but rarely are they as balanced and well-executed as in Tremors. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward find themselves battling giant, underground snake-like creatures that are picking off the natives in a small, isolated town one by one. The creatures are blind, but they can sense even the tiniest vibration or “tremor” on the ground, and that’s when they strike! So light up your canon fuse and tread lightly.

Brideoffrankposter4. The Bride of Frankenstein – Not only the finest of the classic Universal Monster movies, but one of the greatest monster movies ever. The Bride of Frankenstein sees Boris Karloff return as Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. This film follows much more closely to Mary Shelley’s source material than the original 1931 film did. It is also bookended by scenes depicting Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron discussing Mary’s yet to be published work, which is a nice touch. The Bride of Frankenstein in many ways legitimizes the monster movie and proves that these types of films can be groundbreaking and masterful.

Fly3. The Fly – David Cronenberg is a master of the disturbing. The Fly is without a doubt in the running for best monster movie ever. This 1986 remake of the 1958 original pours on the gore, but in a stunning and obsessive way.  Jeff Goldblum believes he has devised a form of teleportation, until something goes wrong…very, very wrong. No doubt inspired by the #4 film on this list, The Fly explores scientific possibility and the careful line that is so easily crossed when intellect clashes with morality.

Jurassic_Park_poster2. Jurassic Park – It’s a double Goldblum creature feature. That’s right, Goldblum is back again, this time as a chaos mathematician who could easily be the son of Brundlefly! If Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle from The Fly was able to do it all over again, he might end up being a lot like Dr. Ian Malcolm who skeptically agrees to evaluate John Hammond’s dinosaur amusement park, Jurassic Park. His line, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” screams The Fly! Anyway, Goldblum aside, Jurassic Park is a real callback to the matinee era. The man versus monster conflict is explored in epic style with outstanding special effects that still hold up. The sequel, The Lost World, while inferior to this film is even more a call back to the monster movies of old, but when it comes to a list of the best, Jurassic Park is the film to see.

01_jaws_main_01. Jaws – Here we are – number one. Surprisingly, the second “Spielberg” movie to make the list. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws invented the summer blockbuster and made everyone “afraid to go into the water.” Full of iconic characters and memorable lines, Jaws is the best monster movie of all time. Like Tremors, Jaws balances terror and humor nicely. However, unlike any film on this list, the monster in this film is only one that really exists today. Everything works in this monster movie from the acting, to the score, to the quotable dialogue.  Jaws is what every subsequent monster movie aspires to be!

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!

 

  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!

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