This is a live list of all the movies I’ve watched since beginning this list in 2022. A lot of older movies won’t make the list until I rewatch them. Explanations are included in the “Updates” section below the rankings. If you don’t see something on here, give it time. Use the comments to ask about anything or make a request or suggestion.
I favor scope, scale, and depth. If something is higher than you’d expect, it’s probably because it did one of those things very well. If something is lower than you’d expect, it’s probably because it frustrated me.
Rankings | last updated: 2/25/23
- American Psycho (2000)
- Parasite (2019)
- Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
- All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
- Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
- Prisoners (2013)
- Triangle of Sadness (2022)
- X (2022)
- Barbarian (2022)
- RRR (2022)
- Fire of Love (2022)
- Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
- The Batman (2022)
- Hereditary (2018)
- Die Hard (1988)
- Mad God (2022)
- Get Out (2017)
- Enemy (2013)
- Knives Out (2019)
- Midsommar (2019)
- Bones and All (2022)
- Elvis (2022)
- The Black Phone (2022)
- Cosmopolis (2011)
- The Adam Project (2022)
- Turning Red (2022)
- Top Gun Maverick (2022)
- Crimes of the Future (2022)
- Beast (2022)
- TÁR (2022)
- The Northman (2022)
- Nope (2022)
- Babylon (2022)
- Blow Out (1981)
- Falling Down (1993)
- Bullet Train (2022)
- The Menu (2022)
- Violent Night (2022)
- Prey (2022)
- Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. (2022)
- Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero (2022)
- Vengeance (2022)
- Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
- Us (2019)
- West Side Story (2021)
- No Time to Die (2021)
- About Time (2013)
- Knock at the Cabin (2023)
- The Lost City (2022)
- Hustle (2022)
- Decision to Leave (2022)
- Fresh (2022)
- Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022
- Death on the Nile (2022)
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
- Tenet (2020)
- Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
- The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
- Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
- White Noise (2022)
- Troll (2022)
- Pearl (2022)
- Breaking (2022)
- Terrifier 2 (2022)
- Infinity Pool (2023)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
- Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
- La La Land (2016)
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
- Uncharted (2022)
- Smile (2022)
- M3GAN (2023)
- The Pale Blue Eye (2023)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)
- You People (2023)
- Do Revenge (2022)
- Minions: Rise of Gru (2022)
- Fourth of July (2022)
- Morbius (2022)
- Black Adam (2022)
- Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
- Jurassic World Dominion (2022)
- Don’t Worry Darling (2022)
- Goodnight Mommy (2022)
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)
- Inland Empire (2006)
- Halloween Ends (2022)
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
I had a hard time ranking All Quiet on the Western Front. I knew it was going near the top, the question was how high? I think it’s probably the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a while? One of the ways I know a movie is standing out is that I find myself thinking “How did they film this?” over and over again. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s great. So I think it’s fair to say that All Quiet on the Western Front is a masterpiece of the war genre. The scope, scale, the cinematography. The performances. The emotion. The themes. It scores 10s across the board. It’s a statement piece. Everyone involved in making it brought something beyond their A-game. Lighting. Costumes. Sets. Makeup. Everything. I LOVED 1917 and this makes 1917 seem sweet in comparison. It makes Dunkirk feel like a Made-for-TV movie.
So why was I hesitating? Well, because, it’s a realistic war movie. And realistic war movies tend to all hit the same notes. As impressive as All Quiet is, is it anything we haven’t seen before? Even if it’s a superior example of the genre? How much better or different is it than 1917, Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, etc. etc. etc. Is it telling me something I don’t already know?
Compare that to Triangle of Sadness. Triangle isn’t as big and loud as All Quiet, but it’s still pretty big and has a lot to say about economic systems and power structures. And says those things in new and interesting ways.
Then Avatar: The Way of Water was impressive in a very different way. Its technical achievements were unbelievable. Especially watching 48 FPS. Like All Quiet, the story isn’t groundbreaking but It is effective.
Ultimately, I chose to put All Quiet over those films because I have that sense that it’s the definitive king of its genre. While Triangle and Way of Water are merely fantastic entries in their respective genres. Feel free to tell me what war movie you’d rank higher than All Quiet. In case you’re curious, I don’t quite consider Apocalypse Now a war movie. I know it’s set during a war and looks at the effects of war, but I think the central conceit is more about identity and existentialism, with war being a means to get at that conversation rather than the purpose.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA
I liked Quantumania better than Thor: Love and Thunder and maybe better than Multiverse of Madness? But those are two very low bars. Honestly, if Quantumania was just Jonathan Majors talking for 2 hours, it would be the best movie of 2023. But since it’s not just Jonathan Majors talking, it’s not the best movie of 2023.
Majors was in an entirely different movie than everyone else. It was funny. Because in Infinity War, I felt like Thanos had such “I’m him” energy that all the other characters were small in comparison. It was awesome. Exactly what you want from the big bad. With Quantumania, it’s not that Kang is so much more intimidating than everyone else. It’s that Jonathan Majors out-acts the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong—they were all great. But they didn’t have that it-factor Majors brought to his scenes.
So I had fun with the characters. Even poor Corey Stoll as M.O.D.O.K. But f***ing hell. The writing was so bad. There’s no gravity to anything. The plot just rolls out like it’s on an assembly line. Things happen when they need to happen and sometimes bizarre things happen for no real reason other than to add a sense of flavor. It’s less a story than it is a collection of distractions that amount to almost nothing. The only semblance of character journey is Cassie having a coming of age subplot. Hank gets to hang out with ants. Janet reveals she has a lot of guilt. Hope energy blasts. Scott loves his daughter. What a story…
I genuinely loved the MCU from Iron Man through Endgame. It wasn’t always perfect. It had missteps. Bad movies. But there was a stretch where I really thought they had figured out the perfect tone of mostly serious with some fun thrown in and some thoughtful stories. But Phase 4 was like watching the Titanic hit the iceberg. There’s been such a shift to “Let’s have fun and not worry too much about what’s happening and why!” that I legitimately am shaking my head thinking about how dumb the MCU has become. Phase 5 isn’t starting any better. Hopefully Guardians Vol. 3 is less painful.
OH! JUST LET PEOPLE WEAR HELMETS AND MASKS. My god. If you take a drink every time someone puts their mask/helmet on then takes it off within 20 seconds, you’d be in the hospital. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed. If it’s supposed to be meta humor, it didn’t land that way. And if it wasn’t supposed to be meta humor, is there no one to say: “Hey, maybe this happens a bit too much?” I’ll do it. Kevin Feige, hire me. I’ll be the one to say, “No. Stop that. Do better.”
NO TIME TO DIE
There were stretches where I really enjoyed No Time to Die. But that had more to do with Daniel Craig than the story or action. He elevates the material so much. The core cast is very likable. But I’ll forever be sad and a bit bitter that none of Craig’s Bond films ever surpassed Casino Royale. I still remember seeing Royale opening weekend. I was legitimately blown away and so hopeful for what would come next. Then we got Quantum of Solace. Yuck. Skyfall had flashes of that Casino Royale spirit but I wasn’t quite as high on the second half as the first. Then Spectre was a mess. All the patience and craftsmanship that went into Casino Royale and Skyfall went right out the window in order to appeal to the more traditional Bond audience.
No Time to Die is closer to Spectre than it is to Skyfall. I started the movie thinking it was still Sam Mendes directing, but within the first few minutes I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t expect Cary Joji Fukunaga. This is the first thing I’ve seen by him since True Detective in 2014. And…eh? True Detective had such style and tone and artistic presence. I felt that with Martin Campbell in Casino Royale and Sam Mendes definitely made his presence known in Skyfall. I didn’t get much sense of Fukunaga in No Time. Which is unfortunate.
Lastly, I kind of hate the ending. I mean, it was emotional and made me cry and I get the case for the tragic ending. I just don’t think the character deserved that. Let him go be happy. Unless you’re really leaning into the judgment aspect and Bond not deserving a normal life after all the things he’s done. Like this is the fate of 00s. This is the fate of those who traffic in death. They don’t get a happy twilight. That feels a bit more justified. As is, it struck me as kind of arbitrary. And you could even make that work. Like all it takes is one misstep on this job and you’re done for. And Bond finally made his. Something like that. A half-earned noble sacrifice is lackluster to me. I just think this movie could have be something special. Especially as a conclusion to what has been a 5-film epic journey. What we got was just aggressively okay.
It’s so weird to me that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade wrote Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die. How is the narrative quality so all over the place?
This was first time watching Midsommar since seeing it in theaters when it came out. I definitely liked it more the second time. I think after the initial viewing, I’d have put it in the Positives category. But this bumped it up to Really Good. I know, I know. You probably think that’s too low. People really love Midsommar. I get it. Visually striking. Great performances. Weird as hell. Personally, I get a little bored by cult movies going through the same narrative progression of starting friendly then revealing the flaws and cracks before doing some crazy cult thing. So as interesting and weird as Midsommar is, it’s also pretty predictable.
What stood out to me on the second watch was how much emphasis Midsommar put on Dani’s journey through grief. She starts in a place of being completely alone, with Christian providing inadequate support. But ends in a place where she’s seen and heard. Where her pain becomes the group’s pain. The way in which Midsommar explores the idea of support is pretty amazing. And it creates a nice counterpoint to Hereditary. Hereditary was what happens when all support fails and grief takes over. While Midsommar is what does it look like to come out on the other side? The answer seems messed up when you look at Midsommar literally. But when taken symbolically, it’s far more practical. Excise the people in your life who bring negative energy. Find those who support you. Travel can help.
Despite how much I love that part of the story, there was still something missing for me. There were a lot of moments where I thought, “That’s interesting.” But none that had me speechless or enraptured. Not like Hereditary. The bear outfit was the closest one. I didn’t like how quickly that went down though. Especially because Ari Aster spends SO MUCH TIME drawing out all these other scenes. In comparison, Christian in the bear suit feels rushed. We first see the bear on the operating table at 2:16:28. Christian’s placed on the table at 2:17:07. He’s in the outfit at 2:17:16. The speech about his wicked ways is at 2:17:36. Then the fire starts at 2:18:40, after we spend some time with Ingemar and Ulf. So the whole bear thing, while cool, is 2 minutes of a 148 minute film. Great concept, could have been cooler.
That’s where I’m at with Midsommar. Great, but I wish it did more. Maybe the director’s cut is what I need to watch need? There’s one 7 minute scene on YouTube that I did not enjoy. It rehashes the drama of the old people who jumped off the rock but is with a kid about to be thrown into a river, but is weaker in almost every way (visually, narratively, acting). So that’s probably not the answer. Honestly, I kind of like the 2018 Suspiria more than Midsommar. Suspiria probably has more weaknesses and pain points, but I think the highs are a lot higher and the payoff is better. I need to re-watch that thought and see if I stand by that thought or not.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2
I thought Sonic 2 was an upgrade from the first Sonic. They let Jim Carrey do more. And Knuckles has always been my favorite Sonic-centric character, so his inclusion was cool. It felt similar to me to Jurassic World Dominion in that both are blockbuster-y and reliant on a lot of “movie logic” to justify some of their big scenes and move the plot along. Sometimes I find movie logic charming, like in A Goofy Movie or The Waterboy. Others times it just upsets me (see my thoughts, in the entry below this, on Jurassic World Dominion). Sonic the Hedgehog 2 walked a fine line. There were long stretches were I was kind of just not engaged. But then moments that had me laughing or had a cool visual. Plus, I find James Marsden and Tika Sumpter so damn likable. Except they’re also forced into all these moments with Sonic and it makes me mad. Which is really confusing. Because it’s like I’m happy the characters are on screen but annoyed that they were forced to be there.
Same with the use of Super Sonic. Super Sonic is awesome. Seeing it brought to life in a movie was cool. But how it happened, why it happened, and what happened all left me thinking “This could have been so much better.” Which is also how I felt about 99% of the dialogue Knuckles had. Especially at the end. It became painful. And that’s the character I want to like the most. I had a lot of emotional ups and downs while watching this. Ultimately, it came out as a bit of a wash. I could actually see myself putting it in the Flawed category, but, for now, keeping it in Neutral just because it’s at least unique enough and fun enough and I’d like a third one.
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION
Jurassic World Dominion is just so needlessly stupid. It’s infuriating that this franchise isn’t given the prestige treatment in terms of quality. Instead, it’s short cut after short cut. Awful scene after awful scene. Bad callback after bad callback. Sometimes this borders on the self-aware and so-dumb-it’s-interesting, like when Bryce Dallas Howard outruns an assassin velociraptor over the rooftops of Malta, or how Ian Malcolm sometimes outright mocks the movie/franchise. But for the most part, it’s just depressingly poor.
Though. I will say. It does embody a certain classic blockbuster style where you aren’t supposed to think too hard and just enjoy the madness that’s on screen. Films like that are why we have the phrase “It’s just a movie”. There’s always been a brand of cinema that was big, dumb fun. There are many people who love this style. For them, Jurassic World Dominion is probably a delight. I recognize that. I can appreciate that. But it’s not my thing. The whole subplot with the Giganotosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus is so cheap and infuriating that I can’t just enjoy it. It’s not earned. It’s not interesting. I’m embarrassed watching it because it’s so forced.
The only reason Dominion stays out of the I Hate category is because it has dinosaurs. I can never hate a movie that has dinosaurs. But the entire Jurassic World trilogy is an absolute test of what I thought was a core truth of my being. If they make a fourth one, maybe I’ll finally break. I thought I could never hate a Transformers movie. Michael Bay showed me that’s not true, though. Ugh.
We need more and better dinosaur movies. We DESERVE more and better dinosaur movies.
It’s crazy that this was the 15th M. Night Shyamalan movie. I’ve seen 9.5 of the 15. Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Visit, Split, Glass, Old, Knock at the Cabin. And enough of The Last Airbender to last me a lifetime. M. Night is, in terms of quality, such a Magic 8 Ball. You shake the ball, flip it over, and the answer you get will be good, bad, or “reply hazy, try again later”. I still remember watching Unbreakable for the first time and being so absolutely floored with the craftsmanship. Especially during the early sequence on the train. Some of the camera movement was just so exquisite. All these years later, that still feels like the peak. Sometimes there are moments that recall that potential and bravado. Other times, I’m completely flabbergasted by how safe everything is.
Knock at the Cabin lands in a solid mid-to-upper tier for M. Night movies. For me. I’d put Unbreakable, The Visit, and Split in the upper tier. Then Knock at the Cabin and Sixth Sense in tier 2. Then Glass, Signs, Old, and The Village all in the tier of things that disappointed me.
With Cabin, there were a lot of great performances. It was great seeing Bautista have that kind of character and performance. Jonathan Groff is so endearing. I’m ready for Rupert Grint’s second chapter. Kristen Cui is probably getting calls from Marvel for two decades worth of movies. Everyone involved really impressed me. And M. Night was definitely being creative with the camera work and cinematography. So on a scene by scene basis, I was interested, engaged, and appreciative. I cared about the characters and their choices.
But the story left me wanting. It’s not that what we got was bad. It wasn’t. I wanted more. Everything happening at the cabin had a stage play vibe to it. Which isn’t inherently bad, though it is kind of limiting. Especially when I just believed Leonard and his horsemen from the beginning. At that point, you’re waiting around for Eric and Andrew to accept things. That drags the energy down a lot because it makes the entire middle portion nothing more than killing time. The twist on the four horsemen was nice, I thought. And I liked that it was a home invasion movie where the invaders weren’t bad or evil people and only harmed one another. There was something very humanizing about their struggle.
In so far as improvements, I think you need a secondary plot that’s more interesting than flashbacks. Or what we saw should have been cut down to the first half of the movie. The second half could explore the aftermath of the choice. There are a lot of interesting places to take it. You could go down the vision path a bit more by having Wen and/or Andrew start receiving visions. There’s also the fact that in this world there is some higher power that was going to destroy humanity. What are the implications of that? There could have been an opposing group who wanted humanity to end so was chasing down the family to eradicate them. One of them could still be hunting Andrew and Wen. Or even starting the movie with the four horsemen having their visions and coming together and all the cabin stuff being the second portion of the film. I think that version is potentially far more dynamic.
So. I’m happy that Knock at the Cabin was as interesting as it was, but it frustrates me because I think it had the potential to be much better. I’ll forever point to Cabin in the Woods as a movie that absolutely understood how escalation works and three acts and just taking things as far as you can. I wish more movies did that.
LA LA LAND
La La Land does the thing that I hate the most in stories like this. It luxuriates in establishing the characters, building the romance, and the potential of everything. Then has a long nadir and a rushed conclusion. To put this in perspective, the last “Five Years Later” sequence takes up the final 17 minutes. We see Mia is famous now and married with a kid. Seb has his own club. Mia and her husband accidentally walk into Seb’s and Seb plays a song that shows us the life they could have had together. That dream sequence is 7 of the 17 minutes. The two share a final smile and that’s it. In the first 17 minutes? We get the opening song. Mia at her job. Her audition. Her and her roommates. Going out with her roommates. And arriving at the restaurant where Seb is playing the piano. We get such a portrait of Mia’s life at that point. At the end, it’s only a brief glimpse. Especially annoying is that such a big deal was made about her relationship with acting. Now she’s successful and famous. Is she happy with that? Is it truly everything she wanted? If it was Seb or success, would she choose success again? Or give it up for Seb if she could and the tragic thing is she can’t?
That five years later sequence needed to be 30 minutes. What we got struck me as cheap and unfair to the journey that had been established. Sure, there’s a tragic romantic quality to it and a sweetness that will charm 95% of people. But it’s also just…kind of cheesy. I think that’s my main issue with La La Land. Everything was pretty sweet but pretty idiotic. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are amazing. But, like, the idea that he was going to be perpetually touring and would never have free time? It’s ridiculous. Or that we never see her performance in whatever movie catapults her to fame and how she’s dealing with that and if she and Seb ever tried to reconnect once she got back from Paris. It’s just “She’s famous now!” Okay. Sure. Way to earn that one.
What elevates La La Land is that Damien Chazelle is a daring, impressive filmmaker and Stone and Gosling are two of the most watchable actors of this era. Those things aside, I feel like the actual story is pretty lackluster and worse than something like You’ve Got Mail. So we have these very impressive visuals and two actors at the peak of charm. But narrative that betrays them. It’s a shame.
It actually makes me appreciate Babylon a lot more. Babylon has its own flaws, still, but it corrects a lot of what frustrates me with La La Land. Whiplash is still the best, though.
Infinity Pool is almost there. I just thought it was a little shallow. There are feints at themes around identity and self-empowerment. But I don’t think the character journey is very rewarding or cathartic. I keep thinking about Infinity Pool versus something like Neon Demon or even Brandon Cronenberg’s father’s Crimes of the Future. I think those films have similar styles but say what they want with a bit more conviction and confidence. Don’t get me wrong. I love subtext and subtly. So this isn’t a case of “I want things spelled out.” It’s that I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone. It felt more like an hour-long episode of Black Mirror that got stretched to two hours and didn’t earn that runtime. Infinity Pool is one of many movies that I think is missing its third act.
For example, “Only through blood can you release your past” is something that’s told to James Foster a number of times. And we crescendo with him finally confronting himself. But to what end? What does releasing the past mean for him? What does he gain from it? Who does he become after doing it? Is it actually beneficial or a lie? The last few minutes of Infinity Pool just seek refuge in the implication of something meaningful. The story isn’t told. It would be like if Star Wars: A New Hope ended with the Rebel forces leaving to attack the Death Star. Or if 2001: a Space Odyssey ended with Dave shutting down HAL then seeing the alien monolith in the distance. It’s not enough. But that’s the hardest thing to do in storytelling. To go the last mile when you’ve already gone so far. That last mile is what makes all the difference.
With that said. There are really interesting concepts. And Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård are terrific. The filmmaking aesthetic also stood out to me. I got a strong sense of identity and voice. Something I don’t feel like I get enough of these days. So that was good. It just was a tad bit indulgent. The prose-like camera was really interesting for the first hour. Then grew a bit superficial/repetitive in the second hour. B roll footage presented as meaningful.
Infinity Pool gives me hope that Brandon will deliver something special. But this felt too much like someone still figuring it out.
THE LOST CITY
I just saw the movie You People and bemoaned the recent quality of romantic comedies. So I’m probably in a place to be a bit forgiving of The Lost City. I don’t know why I didn’t expect a Sandra Bullock movie to be a romcom, but I honestly had no idea it was going to be one. That pleasant surprise combined with the recent disappointment in You People and I was kind of charmed. It’s far from perfect. And takes a huge suspension of disbelief. But I love Sandra. I love Channing. For me, the positives outweighed the negatives.
I will say, the ending is outrageous. It goes from the duo being rescued to them being on an island in Hawaii. We’re told that it’s the end of a book tour. Everyone’s happy. Loretta and and Alan share a moment. Share what seems to be their first kiss. And it seems like the beginning of a nice new chapter. Except. Except. Except. The book tour is for Loretta’s new book. Not the one at the start of the movie. But the one based on the events in the movie. That means between her rescue and the scene on Hawaii that Loretta got home, wrote a book, had the book published, released, then went on a months long tour. And just now her and Alan finally kiss for the first time and start their relationship? It’s one of my big pet peeves in movies like this. They make choices, completely nonsensical in terms of the diegetic world, for the sake of efficiency and the expectation that most audiences won’t think too much about it. But whenever the decision relies on “Hopefully people won’t care” it’s a bad one.
Sandra and Channing are just so good at this that I’m still keeping the movie in the Positives category. Though it got dangerously close to being knocked down just because of that call at the end. Side note, it’s also pretty wild this was initially called The Lost City of D. Bold. Oh and special shout out to Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s character journey in this. Cracked me up. And I’m pretty sure the first phone call with Brad Pitt’s character had a reference to Fight Club when Edward Norton calls Pitt from the payphone and Pitt’s eating when he answers.
I’m a big fan of romantic comedies. But I feel like it’s been years and years since we’ve gotten a good one. The last that really impressed me was Set It Up from 2018. That’s 5 years since I’ve seen a new romcom I truly enjoyed. So I had high hopes for You People. Alas. I mean…there are good things there. The core dynamic between Jonah Hill and Laura London is fantastic. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was charmed and invested and happy. Then it just becomes a series of awkward, negative encounters that kind of rush by without any real consequence until the very end. I didn’t feel like I was getting a story that relied on the characters. Rather, it was like the characters were in service to a string of gags and commentary. Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have such an enormous bearing on the plot but barely have any development.
So the story ends up in this weird place where it’s not really about Amira and Ezra anymore but about what Shelley and Akbar do to Ezra and Amira. When you finally get the breakthrough, it’s not something the main characters figure out. Akbar changes because his brother, EJ, lectures him. Shelley at least evolves because of what Amira said to her, but the evolution is entirely off screen and within the last 5 minutes. We go from her at her worst to a 3 month break to suddenly Shelley being normal after an entire movie where she was anything but.
Despite all of that, I was still going to put You People in the neutral category. Until the wedding. Amira and Ezra don’t see each other for 3 months. Shelley and Akbar trick them into showing up at the same place at the same time. We get the big apology/breakthrough. Clearly Ezra and Amira still love each other. We assume they’ll pick up where they left off. Seems like an okay place to end. But then the doors open and it’s all their friends and family gathered for a wedding. Imam and Rabbi are there. Look at that!
I’d expect something that ridiculous from a Hallmark movie. But from Jonah and Kenya Barris? It blew me away. Like…I get it. It’s a movie. It’s heightened. It was never about utter realism. The wedding is fun and captures the energy of the moment. It just reads to me like a choice made completely out of a desire for efficiency. “Oh, we want to have the wedding. Except we kind of wrote ourselves into a corner. We could go back to the drawing board with the entire third act and set this up better. But what if we just have the parents surprise reconnect them at a surprise wedding and hope no one thinks too critically about the plot construction?”
It will probably be a completely fine choice for some people. Not for me though. And that’s my big thing with You People. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a story, so much as witnessing a bunch of story beats.
I’m going to preface this by saying that when I first saw There Will Be Blood, I didn’t like it. When the movie ended, I stood up, looked at my friend, and confidently said, “That’s one movie I’ll never watch again.” Then I thought about it obsessively for 6 months. When it finally was available to buy, I bought it. Re-watched it. And now it’s a top 5 all-time movie for me. So there’s hope for Tár.
Tár was one where the trailer sold me with how abstract it was. Then, for some reason, I never saw it in theaters. So I heard about it for months and months. Which built up a lot of anticipation. Especially with people leaving me comments saying they can’t wait to see what I think of it and how befuddled they were. I expected the movie to get trippy. Then it…kind of didn’t? Except it does?
The big tipping point for Tár will be people realizing, critics too, that it is a surreal movie. There are supernatural elements. The question is: how surreal? How literal are events? How subjective? Does everything we see happen actually happen? There are some speculating that parts of the movie are entirely fantastic. While others think there’s a literal explanation for all the ghostly aspects.
I land somewhere in the middle. Personally, I think of Tár as a retelling of The Tell-Tale Heart. Lydia is haunted by guilt. She knows she ruined Krista’s career. And once Krista’s gone, the guilt hits and won’t leave. Which is when the movie turns more subjective and a touch more surreal. Her past haunts her present and reduces her future. There’s conversation about the division between art and the artist, about the idea of the #MeToo movement as part of a purification cycle in the aftermath of culture shifts, and, of course, power. Also age. We see this in the way in which Olga is not impressed with Tár. She doesn’t censor herself out of diffidence to the great composer. She even makes a suggestion to Lydia new music. And when they’re in New York together, Olga blows Lydia off to go party with randoms. It echoes what we saw in the classroom near the film’s beginning when Max didn’t share the same views as Lydia. There’s a disconnect between her and this next generation. Her career was kind of already over and she didn’t even know it yet.
These are all things I love the idea of. And the cinematography and performances are out of this world. The long shots! I love long shots. The patience Todd Fields has in this film is amazing. So why did I only put it in the Positives tier?
At least as of the first watch, I just found it all a bit…blase? The story is essentially: set up the greatness of this character, bring them crashing down. Within the first 10 minutes, I get it. Which means that I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting for the scale to tip and the other shoe to drop. And it’s all very familiar. Not the presentation of events, but the events themselves. Lydia tries to distance herself from Krista and evidence of their connection. But we know that won’t work. The story gains traction. Lawyers get involved. The New York Post writes a story. People close to Lydia have some questions. They want to distance themselves. We haven’t necessarily seen it on the screen in this way, but we all know the story at this point.
So if the story is that familiar, I’m asking “What else?” And Tár‘s answer is the supernatural aspect. Which is cool. Krista’s continued presence in the film is great. The highbrow Poe-ness is great. But is it enough? Like the scream in the park is something that happens, that has me interested, but becomes more of a surreal, subjective commentary on Lydia’s mental state rather than a meaningful part of the story. Likewise with the trek through Olga’s apartment building. The scene is eerie and cool, especially with the growling and the sight of the dog at the end of the hallway. But, again, it’s not necessarily narratively meaningful so much as an outward expression of Lydia’s interior state. There’s merit to that. There’s style to that. But when I want more from the story itself, it just leaves me wishing these things were more literal and consequential than they’re meant to be.
I guess another way to look at it is if you take these surreal moments out of the story entirely, the story doesn’t change. The screaming in the park adds to the stress Lydia feels, but it’s not a key narrative element. If she dropped Olga off and drove away, rather than having that trippy experience in the basement level—nothing significant changes. She could have fallen and hurt her shoulder in a million others ways that would be stylish and interesting.
This is a complaint you’ll see me make a lot, but I think Tár is missing its third act. I want to see something where it’s 50 years later and we’re back in a classroom and a teacher is talking about Lydia Tár to their students. What’s the conversation? Or it’s 5 years later and we’re seeing Lydia trying to make a comeback. Has she amended? How has this experience changed her? Or what? Going back to There Will Be Blood, one of the things that hooked me is that it didn’t just end with the success of the pipeline. It leapt years ahead to show us the end result. How was Daniel Plainview now? Who was he? He gained everything he ever wanted. So was he happy? That final conversation between Daniel and Eli is so climatic and resounding and incredible.
Tár never gave me that? I feel like whenever it started to head in that direction of delivering something profound, it cut. I wanted Tár to crescendo. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more on a re-watch. But, for now, I’m disappointed. But I wouldn’t be upset if it won Best Picture or any of the major Oscar awards. The filmmaking and performances are that amazing. And it is one of the best pure examples of “show don’t tell” that I’ve ever seen.
Man, Babylon. I keep bouncing back and forth between being impressed and disappointed. On the one hand, what it took to make this film is insane. Just the opening party is this frenetic madhouse. I was in awe thinking about how insane the production must have been. On the other hand, it also felt just a bit…try-hard? I think about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and there was a naturalness and casualness to the whole thing that let me flow with its mythologizing of Old Hollywood. But the garishness and absurdity that Damien Chazelle brings to events had kind of the opposite effect. Like it was just a bit too aggrandizing and in love with itself. Garish is the word that comes to mind. It’s likely that was 100% intentional. Especially with how the film comes full circle and begins to imply that Hollywood is always the party on the hill that sweeps people in then spits them out. It is excessive. It is horrible. But it’s also undeniably amazing.
I get all of that. I appreciate the history. More than that, I appreciate how much Babylon feels like a love letter to everyone Hollywood has stepped on and over. I can imagine there are a lot of people who have been in the industry who watch this and feel a validation that’s hard to explained. Like a “Thank you for seeing me.” Even as someone who just loves movies, there’s something powerful in the final moments. Something sad and lovely and right.
Filmmakers making movies about Hollywood is as annoying as novelists writing novels about being a novelist. It can work. Don’t get me wrong. Pretty much anything can be done well and be the exception to the rule. It just means there’s an uphill battle. And I don’t think Babylon really makes the climb. It’s kind of pretty much exactly the elephant in the back of the truck that opens the movie. I guess the elephant eventually gets up the hill, so my metaphor isn’t perfect here. But you get what I mean. It’s also not just another movie about Old Hollywood—it’s another movie about the demise of the Hollywood dream. Sunset Boulevard. The Artist. Mulholland Drive. etc. etc. 2022 already had Blonde. Chazelle does have a unique take on the topic. But it still didn’t really feel like it was telling me anything I didn’t already know. Newer actor flames out. Older actor can’t handle the fall from grace. Hollywood is fake and awesome and awful and magical. Sure. So?
It’s essentially Chazelle saying “I know this industry can suck, but what we do immortalizes us. Isn’t that something?” It is. But is it enough? Is celluloid immortality worth the personal emptiness? Maybe? Through Manny, maybe the suggestion is, “No.” But it also seems like, “Yes.” At least a “It’s complicated.” I just wish maybe there was a bit more contrast. Can no one in Hollywood be successful and have a happy personal life? That lack of antidote, that lack of juxtaposition, became something I couldn’t stop wanting the movie to explore. And it ultimately is one of the reasons I came away unsatisfied. With this being 3 hour movie…I want the exploration to be a bit more kaleidoscopic. Rather than, “Everything’s good. Now it’s bad. Now it’s over.”
Margot Robbie definitely stole the show. And Chazelle reaffirms his potential. I adore Whiplash. But La La Land and First Man weren’t even things I wanted to go see. Now this. I’m starting to think Chazelle and I just have very different narrative interests. I want something present day or futuristic. Not La La Land‘s nostalgia or the actual historical settings of First Man and Babylon. At least we have Denis Villeneuve. I still have hope for Chazelle having another film that hits for me the way Whiplash did. Babylon certainly had its moments.
This was my first time seeing Parasite since theaters. It held up. Obviously some of the excitement was lost since I knew what would happen. The twists and turns weren’t as shocking. But Parasite was so much funnier than I remembered. I’ve always thought of it as having dark comedy elements but the first half is just so fun and funny. Cho Yeo-jeong plays such a hilarious airhead. And Park So-dam kind of steals every scene she’s in. Of course, Song Kang-ho is just masterful. His body language. Delivery. The whole aura of the character he exudes. Man, I want to praise everyone because they all did such a wonderful job.
Obviously the socio-economic commentary is the primary thing Parasite comments on. The dynamic between those who have and those who don’t. The Parks and Kims represent two sides of the same coin. And we see how lax the Parks can be while the Kims have to hustle and hustle and hustle. This comes to a head in the aftermath of the storm. For the Parks, it was nothing. A rainy day. The Kims lost everything.
One thing that jumped out to me a bit more this time was some geo-political commentary. When the Kims have their confrontation with Moon-gwang and her husband, there’s a moment where Moon-gwang pretends to be a news anchor from North Korea. Which could just be a brief moment of humor and not have any deeper meaning. But when you zoom out, these two families are battling over one space (the Park family home) and the confrontation between them goes from civil to violent back to kind of a Cold War then a final fight. At one point, Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) even asks her mom if they shouldn’t at least “talk to them. Reach an understanding?” On top of this, Mrs. Park had just made a reference to a military conflict, the Battle of Hansan Island. A reference to the Japanese invasion of Korea that happened back in 1592. Right after that, we have Mr. Park and Mr. Kim dressed as Native Americans. I don’t think I really have a big point about all of this. I just thought it was interesting. Maybe it’s coincidence, but I do wonder if there’s a larger conversation that people kind of haven’t had yet.
Anyway, a masterpiece by Bong Joon-ho.
I’m lukewarm on Christopher Nolan. I’m someone who really likes to think through movies and pays probably a bit too much attention to how they’re constructed. Nolan films are the equivalent of those McManshion houses that look really nice on the initial eye test but are questionable when you start inspecting the craftsmanship. For example, Interstellar has a dad with two kids. He goes off to space and a lot of time passes on Earth. One kid stays loyal. The other one feels abandoned. The loyal kid is made out to be a good person. The unhappy kid is made out to be a bad person. At the end of the movie, the dad gets to reunite with the loyal kid. There’s a nice moment. He never once asks about the other kid. And he has no idea what transpired. He should still be equally concerned about both. But Nolan’s not that emotionally nuanced. “Disloyal kid is bad. We don’t care, so the dad doesn’t care.” It’s one of those things that 99% of people probably don’t care about. But it pissed me off.
Same thing in The Dark Knight Rises when Batman returns to Gotham and lights this flaming bat symbol on a bridge. I can suspend disbelief that Batman has advanced tech and fights crime in this awesome suit. But I can’t suspend disbelief that he could paint a bat symbol that’s 100 feet wide and spans the upper architecture of a huge bridge. It would take him literally hours. And he did it without anyone seeing him?!?! It’s just too absurd.
Anyway, Tenet. It’s the same thing. Tenet‘s cool. It’s slick. But there are just so many things that bug me that I don’t rate the movie all that highly. A lot of the sequences that are supposed to be cool struck me as mostly silly.
CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS
Rescue Rangers was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise. As a kid, I watched the old show all the time. Loved it. Still, to this day, in my thirties, I sometimes sing the theme song to myself. So when the movie got announced, I was doubtful yet hopeful. Then when Andy Samburg and John Mulaney got on board, I was excited. I probably got my hopes up a bit much. I didn’t think they really gave Samburg and Mulaney enough to do? Especially when I compare Mulaney in Rescue Rangers to Mulaney in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. The latter film utilized him way better, I thought. I did enjoy the meta aspects of Rescue Rangers and how it blended CGI and traditional animation. There’s a lot to like, but it seemed like it stayed a little too safe. I do hope they get a sequel.
THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE
This was fun. There was a genuinely cool and shocking moment in the bottom of a pit. Some good jokes. No major criticisms. Just more of a low ceiling kind of thing. Definitely a fun watch if you like the show. But if you like the show you don’t need me to tell you to watch the movie. If you’ve never watched Bob’s Burgers and are looking for something, it’s a good show. You can start with the movie and not miss too much.
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
I was a big fan of the first Doctor Strange, so was looking forward to this one. Such a let down. The MCU is having a tonal issue. Everything leading up to Infinity War and Endgame was mostly serious in terms of the overall story being told. Even something like Thor: Ragnarok was a pretty heavy film, with Thor using humor as defense mechanism rather than simply for the sake of being goofy. I guess Ant-Man was a bit lighter being a Paul Rudd movie. But the prevailing tone of the MCU from Winter Soldier through Endgame was pretty mature. Post-Endgame has been all over the place. The tone of the Disney+ tv shows is often goofy and outrageous. Multiverse of Madness is often outrageous, even as it deals with mental illness, grief, and trauma. I’m just…pretty frustrated with how Phase 4 has gone. There were good concepts in Madness and I liked the aesthetic/style that Raimi brought to it. But the actual plot left me often just rolling my eyes. This needed a few more major re-writes before filming.
Get Out is still my favorite Jordan Peele movie. I do think Us and Nope upped the scope and sense of spectacle, but I feel like both kind of suffer from feeling incomplete. Even Get Out is a little unsatisfying in terms of what does Chris do next? How has this experience affected him? Does he evolve for the better? Or does it corrupt him? I think that’s kind of my biggest criticism of Peele through his first three films. He has amazing concepts. And a great eye. But he has yet to take a story through its third act. Everything ends halfway. What’s the impact of the uprising in Us? What’s the impact of the photograph in Nope? It’s the same question as “What’s the impact on Chris” just scaled up as Peele tackled larger stories.
If it seems like I’m being overly critical, it’s just because I think Jordan Peele has the potential to be one of the best directors of the 21st century. The talent is there. The potential is there. He’s already made some of the most exciting movies of the last 10 years, if not the entire first 23 years of this century. I think he’s just scratching the surface of his greatness. I just hope he gets there, you know? He’s capable of multiple masterpieces.
This was my third or fourth time watching Knives Out. I’ve been a fan since the opening weekend and was one of the people telling everyone I knew that they should see this movie. But it’s been a few years since my last watch. I was really curious how I’d feel at this point? It wouldn’t be the first film I liked only to lose interest in after gaining some distance. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Knives Out still hit for me. What made this re-watch fascinating was it being the first one post-Glass-Onion.
For those who don’t know, Glass Onion is the Knives Out sequel. And I hated Glass Onion. It felt like such a tremendous drop in quality. Most of my complaints focused on the writing quality. Frustration with the mystery elements. Anger at plot contrivances. A recoil at the overall cartoonishness. I wrote this big long article called “Glass Onion: Bad Writing“. Despite my conviction in the lower quality, it had me kind of gaslighting myself. Maybe Knives Out hadn’t been that good and Glass Onion was closer in quality than I remembered?
So that was really on my mind as Knives Out started. And pretty much immediately, I felt vindicated. And it wasn’t even the writing. It was the visuals and editing. The filmmaking quality is, I think, massively better in Knives Out. It’s patient and atmospheric rather than bright and efficient. There’s a sense of control and mastery I get from Knives Out, where Glass Onion looked like a made-for-TV movie by The CW.
Compare the opening sequences. Knives Out is a brief flourish that shows the house, some aesthetic within the house, then culminates with the discovery of Harlan Thrombey’s body. Then we cut to a week later and settle into Marta as our POV character. Following her, we gradually dive into the Thrombey family and the drama of the Harlan’s demise.
In Glass Onion, it’s this sprawling, multi-character sequence that follows the solving of a puzzle box. And that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong there. You could even argue that it’s a great way to juxtapose the second film from the first. My issue is with the execution. The dialogue. The absurdity of how the solutions present themselves, like when a Yo-Yo Ma randomly overhears a song no one else knows and explains it’s Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor. Some people won’t mind that, or will even like it. To me, it’s too cute. Each person in the group has one bit of information they happen to stumble upon that makes progress toward the solution. It’s so neat and stylized. I hate it. The payoff with Helen breaking the box wide open is nice though, as contrast. It’s not like Glass Onion is without positive moments or elements. It’s just such an overall quality downgrade.
There was a care and craftsmanship to Knives Out that just absolutely stands out to me. Like the introduction of Blanc as this mysterious background character who flips a coin while other people give interview answers to the local police. When he finally comes forward and takes over the movie, it’s wonderful. Alas, I felt no such wonder in Glass Onion.
But, yes, I still enjoy Knives Out.
In the summer of 2020, I had an existential crisis. Before I go to bed, I often listen to music. Playlists. Albums. Whatever. It’s a nice way to decompress. This particular night, I had on Kid A by Radiohead. For those who have never heard it, I’d describe it as beautiful abstract horror. There’s just something haunting and empty about it. Like it’s whispering your future but in a language you don’t understand. In the middle of this ever-so-peaceful chaos, epiphany struck. A switch flipped in my head, and suddenly I felt what it was like to die. There was this void in the pit of my stomach. And it was, one day, going to swallow all my thoughts, senses, memories, hopes, perceptions. Everything. I’d be gone. A TV turned off. Fruit fallen from the branch, rotting in the grass, picked apart by ants. I just lay there in an utter stupor for a couple hours, unable to think of anything else. Finally, I just got out of bed and started the next day. The next night? Got into bed and immediately felt the void. So I hopped out of bed and stayed up until 5am until sleep said “Fine, I”ll do it myself” and knocked me out.
I spent the better part of two years going to bed with a single AirPod in my ear, an audio book playing. The words gave my mind something to focus on that wasn’t the sheer drop of mortality. I started therapy. That sh*t f***ed me up.
The last thing I expected going into Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was to see a perfect distillation of a battle I waged for years and only recently emerged somewhat tentatively victorious. Yet there it was. On the screen. A mid-life crisis in the form of an animated film for children. Amazing. I hadn’t watched a single trailer. I didn’t know anything aside from a single GIF of Puss running across rooftops to attack a giant. I had no idea. The opening song, he talks about being fearless, so I figured his character arc would be an onset of fear followed by a journey to rediscover his courage. Then the bar scene happened. I wanted to applaud then and there. WHAT A SCENE. The atmosphere. The cinematography. The performances by Wagner Moura and Antonio Banderas. The character design. The choreography. Man. Grand slam. At that point, I was hooked.
A cat having an existential crisis isn’t enough for me to rank a movie so highly. Even though it is a great concept. The reason I put Puss in Boots: The Last Wish in the Colossal category is because of the scope and scale and care with which it told the story. The movie is dynamic. It goes places, but doesn’t rush to get there. It’s just a constant flow of micro narratives and each has a beginning, middle, and end. So the scenes feel complete and unique and self-contained while chaining together consequential plot and character developments. So you’re never stuck in one thing for too long. Though you’re not jumping plot point to plot point in a way that feels superficial. It’s a different style of film from something more literary like Triangle of Sadness, but I think Puss in Boots is the best example of “blockbuster” writing that I’ve seen in years.
I knew the broader concept of what would happen (it is a movie for kids, after all). But the journey to get there kept me on my toes and pretty much just continuously delighted me. That’s all I want. To not be bored by how things are playing out. To feel like something is fresh and taking risks. The story might be as old as time. But the what, when, where, who, and how, just shouldn’t feel stagnant or dragged out. For example, a worse movie would have had Puss spend 40 minutes at Mama Luna’s house and have to be convinced to come out of hiding and only have one more action sequence. Or it would have gone into a long flashback to develop Puss and Kitty. Or only had Big Jack Horner’s introduction and one more scene with Jack at the end. In other words, underdeveloped and dragging. Puss in Boots avoided such pitfalls by…staying light on its feet? Is that a good pun? Anyway, what a movie.
What a weird movie. I knew absolutely nothing about it. So imagine my surprise when Edgar Allan Poe is a main character. There could be a cool factor to that? But it rattled me. I couldn’t take anything that happened seriously. Especially once Poe started reciting poetry to people. It’s an idea that maybe could work? But I wasn’t a fan, for similar reasons, of the 2012 movie The Raven. Maybe one day someone will get it right and I’ll applaud them for making me appreciate the use of Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t get me wrong, I love EAP. Movies based on his work? I’m in. But movies that blend his work and him? Eh.
Pale Blue Eye has some style. I could appreciate its use of setting. The chill of winter that permeates the cinematography. Christian Bale is always fascinating. But the story left me wanting. It’s a more traditional whodunit than Glass Onion, which I kind of appreciated. From the beginning, though, I was kind of rolling my eyes at the use of exposition and dialogue. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure will hit the mark for some people and have its cult followers. A few right moves away from being good yet unique enough to surprise and carve out a niche. I guess that’s probably where I see the most value? Is that it does feel stylistically apart from the average 2020s film. I respect that.
Enters at 62 of 74.
I really liked the premise of M3gan and went in rooting for it to be something special. As a horror, thriller, slasher film, it’s aggressively average. As a meditation on grief and the relationship between people and technology—there’s a lot to like. But the film never really lets loose. The goofiest it gets is the hallway dance that was featured in every trailer. So you’re not getting cult movie bedlam that’s over the top like, say, Cabin in the Woods or Barbarian or Tusk.
M3gan is more serious than those. More in the vein of 2020’s The Invisible Man. Except Invisible Man fully leaned into the uniqueness of its premise and had some awesome scenes that were only possible given its “monster”. M3gan is essentially bland in how it utilizes the Megan character in terms of horror. Her confrontation with the neighbor? Generic horror kill. The confrontation with a child bully? Involves a creepy run but nothing else. The confrontation with Funki CEO David? It’s the dance then a generic “blade through the chest”. At the very end, in the final confrontation with Gemma (Allison Williams), more of the robotic element comes into play. But there’s nothing unique that Megan does that a generic movie monster couldn’t. The final robotic elements are just flashy aesthetic moments that check some horror-trope boxes.
“Okay, Chris. Give us an example of leaning into the premise.” Sure!
The movie often has Megan controlling electronic equipment. She casually turns off the Funki HQs security system. She drives a car by manipulating its computer. She hacks Gemma’s home AI. She intercepts cell phone calls. Having this kind of power over computers/electronics could have been utilized in a way that’s dynamic and interesting when it comes to the horror aspect. But it’s never explored. There’s so much potential left on the table that the climax was, for me, totally lackluster. There’s potential for the sequel to find its groove. But this first one is succeeding on concept alone. To be fair, it’s a great concept and I hope the filmmakers figure it out.
I will once again shout out the thematic work. I do think it’s making a poignant statement on the need for human interaction.
I saw M3GAN and was disappointed so a friend recommended Terrifier 2. I was assured I didn’t need to see the original Terrifier to appreciate this. That the mythology and backstory were introduced in the sequel because the first one received a lot of criticisms about its lack of story. Cool. So I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the movie aside from looking at the poster once.
I actually thought the first 15 minutes were the most interesting. The initial tone-setting with Art brutalizing the coroner and heading back out into the world. The laundromat. The ChehkovGunning with Sienna’s costume and sword. I was into it and hopeful. Then the Clown Cafe scene happened. It was so drawn out, inexplicable, and completely without stakes that the payoff didn’t do anything for me. It hit me as indulgent rather than necessary. Which some people might be absolutely fine with. Or even prefer. Especially in the slasher genre. Maybe it would have worked if the film would have done more with the connection between Sienna and Art, but it never developed that part of the story.
Also, the supernatural stuff seemed completely illogical? The Little Pale Girl was just a figment of Art’s imagination…except sometimes she was visible to others. Is that just because of Sienna and Jonathan having a connection to Art? Or what? What are the implication of her existence? Or that there really was a Clown Cafe in the bottom of the carnival? What is this world where Sienna has a flaming sword that brings her back to life? If that kind of power exists, where do we go from here? And is Art just a smaller part of a larger demonic world? Or is he the most powerful entity from it?
I’m not saying I need answers to all of this. It’s just one of those things that as the story introduces stuff like Sienna glowing with light and resurrecting that you kind of wonder how far it goes? It actually makes me appreciate Stranger Things a bit more as Stranger Things really leaned into the premise of the Upside Down and has introduced all of these others monsters. If the Terrifier universe is going to continue, I would hope Damien Leone follows up with some of the concepts he introduced. Like do we get some angel that comes down to fight Art? Kind of going Terminator 2 style where there’s a good cyborg versus an evil cyborg? Does Sienna become some Army of Darkness super badass?
A pile of interesting ideas and style. But definitely not living up to its full potential. I’m rooting for Damien to get there with it. I though Lauren LaVera and Elliot Fullam were great. And is it too much to say David Howard Thorton is in the mold of an Andy Serkis? Would be really interested in seeing him go down that mo-cap route and see where it leads.
I’m a huge Don DeLillo fan. I wrote him a letter once and he was kind enough to write me back. He’s one of the most influential figures in my artistic life as a novelist. So whenever there’s a movie based on one of his books, I’m excited. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who glowingly talks about 2011’s Cosmopolis. I’ve watched the movie like 10 times and read the book almost as many. The Body Artist, Point Omega, Underworld, are all novels that mean a lot to me. White Noise is one I haven’t read. Maybe because it’s the most popular? So I was pretty curious how it would be to go in blind and judge the film without any affection for the novel. The result? Eh.
One thing that was discussed after Cosmopolis came out was how unnatural DeLillo’s dialogue is. Watch any dialogue from Cosmopolis and you can see the actors caught between trying to make it natural vs leaning into how stylized it is. The same thing happens in White Noise. A lot of the time, Adam Driver has to talk with a near identical cadence to Pattinson. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just amused me. But it was something that threw Cosmopolis viewers for a loop. Just like it’s thrown DeLillo readers. So I’m sure there will be people who try to watch White Noise and feel like something is off and not be sure what it is. It’s the dialogue. It reads better than it speaks.
Narratively, there were interesting individual scenes. But there weren’t a lot of stakes. Until the disaster, nothing’s really happening. We’re in the world but without much narrative focus. The train crash and resulting toxic cloud provides the missing stakes. I finally felt somewhat invested. It just never really went anywhere. It’s this huge event that comes and goes and is mostly used to give Jack Gladney a medical scare. Given how the whole theme is about death, that makes sense. I wanted more, though. I don’t think we quite got enough of Jack dealing with his impending mortality. Instead, the story swerves into infidelity. And tries to dovetail the marriage, infidelity, and mortality threads? Instead of coming together in a powerful way, it all kind of unraveled for me. Especially because the final confrontation shares its basic elements with Cosmopolis, as in two characters come face to face, with one wanting to kill the other, and they have a big theoretical conversation. The showdown between Pattinson and Paul Giamatti is something I find truly compelling. Adam Driver vs. Lars Eidinger? Far less so.
The best part of the movie, for me, was Greta Gerwig’s performance. It’s actually the first movie I’ve ever watched with her in it. Which is kind of crazy. I’d heard great things. And I very much enjoyed Lady Bird. But she just kind of carried the movie for me.
I definitely need to prioritize the novel, now, though. Maybe the book has flaws and those were accurately ported over by Baumbach? Meaning it’s less about Baumbach’s adaptation and more about the weakness of the source material? Or it’s just one of the many instances of the book being better as a book. Will update once I’ve finished the novel.
Falling Down is one of those movies I’ve seen a lot of clips from and knew the premise of but had never actually watched it start to finish. It surprised me. For most of the movie, I thought it was kind of glorifying William Foster. He’s the everyman against the system. Isn’t he justified? I could imagine Clint Eastwood watching this in the theater in 1993 and reflexively saying “atta boy” under his breath. Honestly, I was kind of uncomfortable. Falling Down felt like such a relic of the early 90s when you could make a movie that was so socially repugnant and have it cheered. This would never fly in the 2020s, I thought. Then the turn came.
William Foster isn’t the hero. He’s the bad guy. And it’s actually pretty brilliant how the movie initially has people identifying with him. They may not agree with everything he says and does, but there’s probably some recognition of his frustration. With traffic. With prices. With safety. With breakfast no longer being served after 11:30am. Etc. Etc. These are relatable things that most people can understand. Yet Foster’s methods are extreme. He’s racist. Arrogant. Dangerous. Even if you believe in the cause, should you cheer him on? Can you cheer him on?
By the end, he’s a full blown psychopath. Someone who believed he was justified until realizing, wait, no, actually, he’s been at fault this entire time. Instead of feeling completely detached from the 2020s, Falling Down hit me as more relevant than ever before. The way in which the internet, especially social media, has radicalized so many people. There are thousands of would-be William Fosters, sitting in their vehicles, right now, waiting for the bad day that will get them out of the car and “going home”. It’s pretty terrifying.
This was my third time watching Hereditary. The first time absolutely blew my mind and had me gushing about it for months. The second time, I showed some friends. It shocked them but wasn’t quite as mesmerizing for me. It’s been a few years now. This third watch was good. I think better than the second but still not as spell-binding as the first. The performances are still insane. Toni Collette could have (should have?) won an Oscar for best actor. Everyone knows that though. I still think Alex Wolff deserves more praise. And the cinematography is top-notch. There’s such a sense of authority to the film. I’m always surprised this was Ari Aster’s debut feature. From start to finish, it’s a masterclass in structure, camera, acting, everything.
So why a ranking in the Impressive category rather than Amazing or Colossal? I have this hang up on stories that feel like two acts and end with the implication of something more. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If not the biggest. So Hereditary is this huge build-up to get Paimon into Peter’s body. Okay. Then what? What happens? Is it everything the coven/cult thought it would be? Does Paimon grant them power? Does he destroy them? Does he wreak havoc on the world? Does he simply go on living Peter’s life like normal? What happens? What are the consequences of the actions of the film?
The implication of summoning one of the eight demon kings of Hell onto Earth to take possession of a human body is huge. If you’re going to go there, I need for the story to go all the way. But Hereditary just ends. Compare that to Cabin in the Woods. At least it had the decency to [Spoiler ahead] give us a final, climactic moment where the giant erupts from the Earth, probably bringing about the destruction of the planet. I had similar issues with Ex Machina. I think that movie ended too early and needed like…5-10 more minutes of what happens next. So as special as I think Hereditary is, I also think it’s kind of cowardly. So.
Denis Villeneuve is, to me, a top three filmmakers of the 21st century. Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune are all exactly my kind of cinema. Visually rich. Narratively dynamic. Prisoners and Sicario are probably the most subtle of Denis’s films. They seem like straight forward crime thrillers and people may watch them several times over without picking up on a lot of the themes deeper themes. Like most viewers don’t come away from Prisoners saying, “I really liked its meditation on religion through the intersection of Keller Dover’s Christianity and Loki’s Paganism.” How that plays out for them is just “That shot of the tree was intense for reasons I don’t understand?” Prisoners is actually a very complicated exploration of religion and even kind of implies a divine presence. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.
My favorite part of Prisoners is probably Loki? How Gyllenhaal played the character is so cool. All of his choices fascinated me. And favorite scene is probably the race to the hospital in the snow and rain. Even now when I know exactly what will happen, it still gives me anxiety. So well filmed and executed.
My wife had never watched Die Hard. So, in the spirit of the Christmas season, I made her watch it. The good news, she liked it! The bad news, there is none. Die Hard remains a classic. Still doesn’t feel dated to me. I get why some people might think it’s a bit slow or drawn out, but that’s something I’m starting to miss. I’ve watched almost 60 movies in 2022 and most of them are so…efficient? It’s kind of disappointing. Not saying every long or slow movie is better. Just that it seems less and less movies focus on world building and are shallow because of it. It’s one of the reasons Avatar: The Way of Water was so refreshing to me. It took the time to tell the full story. It’s also the reason I prefer the first four Harry Potter movies to the last four. Die Hard is so good because it’s so patient and develops a number of characters and subplots.
My favorite part of Die Hard is probably understanding it better? The first few times I saw it, I was in college and my early twenties. So a lot of the stuff with John McClane and his wife felt more like fluff to me? But now that I’m in my mid-thirties, their relationship dynamics hit me a bit harder. Oh man, and the reporter interviewing the kids on TV. Picturing the social media equivalent of that in modern times sent my brain for some loops.
Banshees of Inisherin is one that could move up, the more I sit with it. It’s a gorgeous movie. And Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are insane in it. Is it okay to say ask if it’s their best work ever? It’s thought provoking, daring, unique. And has the subtext of being a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. Which puts a lot of the absurd stuff into context. Like I’m guessing the cutting off of the fingers is supposed to be symbolic of policies and decisions that did more harm than good. I haven’t looked into it yet, but I’m sure one character represents the Provisional Government of Ireland and another the Irish Republic Army. And I’m sure there were questionable things each side did where you’re like “Why? Why do that?” And that’s what makes the whole fallout between Padraic and Colm so sad—it was entirely unnecessary and came about on a whim and caused real damage.
What’s keeping me from ranking it higher is two things. First, I wanted just a bit more. I prefer movies with scope and scale. And this was just a bit contained. It’s amazing for what it is. But it had a lower ceiling for me. The second thing is an issue with tone. As amazing as Farrell, Gleeson, and Kerry Condon were—the other actors almost sounded more like theater actors than movie actors. Which is a dumb thing to say. I know. Barry Keoghan is very much a capable film actor. I loved him The Green Knight. He’s someone who is just scratching the surface of his potential. But in this, he and others just felt a bit more character-y and exaggerated, like you see in theater. And especially in comparison to Farrell, Gleeson, and Condon.
Take those criticisms for what they are: my idiosyncrasies. And very nitpicky. But it’s that kind of stuff that separates the top movies for me. It still goes into the Impressive category. So it’s not an indictment. It’s a special movie that will really hit the spot for a lot of people.
What a weird ass movie. Especially following up Avatar: The Way of Water. My impression of Bodies Bodies Bodies is that someone who is a Millennial wanted to mock Gen Z culture. And their perspective is that Gen Z is hysterical. Not in a “You’re so funny” way but in a “You overreact about everything and it’s causing problems.” Everyone is cheerfully performative or barely thinking. And that made Bodies Bodies Bodies pretty hard to watch, because I was just so aware of how much the filmmakers seemed to despise their subjects. And I’m fine with satire and lampooning a topic. One of my favorite movies this year (Triangle of Sadness) did exactly that. This just felt…belittling? And I’m not sure how interested I am in that kind of tone? Where as Triangle of Sadness is pretty harsh in its critiques of the rich, but it’s a much larger discussion about economic structure and how that affects people, rather than just a negative statement about people.
There is a bit of the cult film aspect to Bodies Bodies Bodies. Where some of the bad acting and absurd dialogue transcends the idea of quality and is just fun for people. So I can see it being something that a lot of people “get” and enjoy and try and make a thing. It’s just not for me.
Avatar: The Way of Water blew me away. I mean, the story is still pretty basic, which was the big knock on the original. You’re not getting groundbreaking twists and turns like a Nolan movie. Or surprising narrative design a la Barbarian and Triangle of Sadness. Or even subtextual themes and deep meaning. What you do get is thorough. And complete. Way of the Water takes the time to develop character arcs and relationships and stakes. You’re narratively immersed in a way a lot of movies don’t have time for these days. And then visually. My goodness.
Visually, Avatar: The Way of Water is the best looking movie I’ve ever watched. The high frame rate is incredible. The 3D is incredible. And the CGI is incredible. Cinematography wise, it’s not a Roger Deakins movie or anything. It’s not 2001: a Space Odyssey. There are moments that pop. But really it’s just that the floor is so much higher than any movie that’s ever existed. It’s legitimately the best CGI that’s ever existed up to this point. That makes Way of Water a technical achievement, a visual masterpiece. It raises the bar higher than the original did in 2010.
The sequence with the whale hunt was one of the most painful and amazing scenes I’ve seen in years. It’s the perfect example of what I mean by Way of Water being thorough in its storytelling. We watch this whale/tulkun hunt from start to finish and get incredible detail on the tactics and equipment. James Cameron contrasts the fascinating process with the horror from the tulkun perspective. It’s kind of haunting.
Then all the action scenes are wild. Like I kind of felt honored to be watching them? I just couldn’t believe how awesome they looked. How visceral and consequential. It’s kind of the most in awe I’ve been in the theater since watching Inception for the first time.
So, yeah. Even though it’s not the greatest story ever told or anything. It’s arguably the most visually impressive movie ever made. And that deserves the number one spot.
This was a weird one for me. I loved Geppetto and Carlo and found them very endearing. And I grew to like Pinocchio. Oh, and Spazzatura was amazing. But I disliked most of the other characters. Especially Sebastian J. Cricket. His narration was fine, but his in-scene dialogue just always felt off to me. Like not really fitting the tone of the movie or moment. And then there were a lot of the neat Guillermo Del Toro designs and twists. Except they felt kind of truncated? Or maybe too superficial?
For example, the Wood Sprite. She just kind of appears and does this nice thing, vanishes until the end, then saves the day. Her introduction is the individual sprites flowing through the woods and maybe noticing Geppetto’s drunken mourning about Carlo. Sebastian tells us they notice but the actual visual doesn’t provide clear information. And we don’t see the sprites again until they enter the home. Which is pretty much hours after we saw them in the woods. It’s just…muddled and thin. The idea is fine. But the execution leaves, at least for me, a lot to be desired.
It’s the same with the afterlife world. It’s a very cool idea. And the sphinx that turns the hourglass is such a cool design. Yet we don’t really spend that much time there. The world building never goes anywhere. Movies like Mad God and Avatar: The Way of Water spend so much time immersing you in the world. While Pinocchio gives you the elevator pitch. I’m not saying we needed a lot more but a longer scene would have been nice.
I can see why a lot of people would be charmed by Del Toro’s version of Pinocchio. I did appreciate the beauty of the stop-motion and the characters and the last meditation on death. But overall it was a little undercooked for me.
Violent Night was fun. I like to think most of the world is rooting for David Harbour to do great things. And this was definitely in his wheelhouse. It’s really not that different from a bizarro episode of Stranger Things. I liked a lot of the fight choreography and humor. Definitely feels like Violent Night has the makings of a cult classic. The highlight, of course, was the Home Alone inspired sequence. And that it feels like Violent Night is the answer to the question, “What if Die Hard was even more of a Christmas movie?” My biggest complaint would probably just be some of the writing around the main family. And the long long time it takes for Santa to really get his fighting spirit back. I think Violent Night will be a lot more enjoyable than people may expect. And definitely something people might watch every Christmas. The Bad Santa for a new generation.
THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL
This was legitimately one of the worst things I’ve ever watched. And I’m a Marvel fan. I’m an MCU fan. I like Guardians and Guardians 2. I know James Gunn can be a good writer. But, Jesus. Almost every single piece of dialogue hurt me. And Mantis and Drax were insufferable. Truly and utterly insufferable. And kind of the main villains? Part of me wants to let it off the hook by saying it’s for kids. Except it’s kind of not. The whole stretch from the bar, to stealing from the woman selling maps, to breaking into Kevin Bacon’s house, to kidnapping Kevin Bacon, to beating up the police, to revealing Kevin Bacon to Peter was excruciating. The only part I liked was Mantis telling Peter she was his sister. That was nice. Other than that, yikes. I like to imagine James Gunn set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes, opened Final Draft, typed until the bell sounded, and that was the entire screenwriting process.
I will say, it’s pretty funny that James Gunn got a Batman reference in there when he’s the new co-CEO of DC Studios. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a crossover movie one day. Marvel and DC did do a huge thing in the 90s where their entire rosters fought one another. Then merged into hybrid version? Like Wolverine and Batman. It was pretty nuts. I dare both Marvel and DC to base a movie trilogy on it.
Bones and All is good. I’m trying to figure out if it’s great. I’m maybe underrating it a little bit? It’s the first movie in a long long long time to remind me of a Cormac McCarthy novel. And Cormac is, I think, one of the greatest American novelists of all time. It’s a better Cormac McCarthy movie than McCarthy’s own movie The Counselor. It’s like a little mini No Country For Old Men. Which is awesome. It also reminds me of Winter’s Bone, the movie that turned Jennifer Lawrence into a star. I think this is probably better overall? But Winter’s Bone felt more…built out? I guess that’s the thing that’s kind of keeping me from heavily praising Bones and All. As great as it is, it still feels a bit more breadth than depth to me? Or just a bit smaller in scale? Even with all the travel. I kind of felt like Bones and All never went full throttle. Like it was always holding back a bit. And that’s great for the first, say, hour. It’s restrained. It’s building tension and tone. I just prefer for that to culminate a bit more.
Trust me, I completely get you disagreeing. I’m kind of disagreeing. I’m not saying this is a legitimate criticism. Moreso just highlighting a preference I have. There are some really powerful scenes. It just felt, especially at the end, that some punches were pulled. The movie ends completely differently than the book. There’s a similar fight but different results. I don’t think the book ending is better, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with how the movie concluded.
But, with that said, Bones and All is pretty stellar. I can see Taylor Russell being huge deal. And Timothée Chalamet is as star-worthy as ever. Mark Rylance was tremendous. Man, and there’s that moment near the end where we go from in the apartment to outside for a few shots then back into the apartment. The change in sound from loud to quiet to loud is amazing. A lot of great choices. A lot of awesome moments. But was still looking for that one thing that made me go, “There! Yes. Amazing.”
I’ve seen people say Do Revenge is the new Mean Girls. And I get that comparison. Mostly because Do Revenge has so many callbacks to films like Mean Girls and Clueless. But I don’t think it’s anywhere close to the same quality as Mean Girls. It’s like saying Jurassic World is the new Jurassic Park, simply because both feature dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean the quality is the same. Jurassic World is to Jurassic Park what Ohio is to Hawaii. And when it comes to Do Revenge…it’s just…not Mean Girls. Inspired by Mean Girls yet far from the quality of storytelling.
Not to sound old, but I feel like Do Revenge is an Instagram-ized version of Mean Girls. Everything is sleek and chic and glam. It’s all wealth and unreality. It wants people to relate but also keeps them at arms reach. The thing that bothers me the most is just how underdeveloped everything is. The characters. The consequences. The relationships. It all felt like completing a checklist to me rather than a legitimate narrative. When I think of high school films like Mean Girls, Clueless, Superbad, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Breakfast Club, The Spectacular Now, hell, even Sky High, what stands out to me is how developed and grounded the worlds are. Yeah, Mean Girls is silly. Clueless is silly. Sky High involves superpowers. But they’re still often pretty grounded. While Do Revenge is so…manufactured. It’s a daydream. Because of that, I never connected to the characters or what they were going through.
And, sure. I’m not the target audience. I’m in my thirties. Maybe I’m just the old guy saying “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” But watch Do Revenge then watch Mean Girls and you’ll see a huge difference in the quality of the characters, consequences, and world building.
I guess I can get technical really quick and give an example. In Mean Girls, Cady’s parents aren’t around much. But their inclusion adds to the world building. And they also help establish Cady’s initial character. And then serve as a foil once Cady’s become one of the mean girls and messed everything up. Her relationship with her parents, just like Cher’s relationship with her dad in Clueless, adds another dimension to the character. In Do Revenge, parents don’t exist. Drea mentions her mom but that’s it. The mom is completely absent from the story. It’s the same with Russ art collective warehouse. We’re told it’s an art collective. But no one else is ever there. It’s a minor thing. But it adds to the sense of emptiness and hollowness and performativeness. Ultimately, Do Revenge is a really really really really small and unrealistic movie that’s trying to cover up a lot of the “under construction” aspects of its narrative. The actors all do a great job. The story just needed a lot more work.
So I’ve been working on the movie guide for Troll and it had me re-evaluating the movie. I didn’t appreciate how pointed the commentary was about the eradication of Norse history by the church. The whole movie is metaphoric for the loss of the culture, traditions, and myths that predated the arrival and rise of Christianity in Norway. With that in mind, everything the Troll King does is infused with meaning. It doesn’t necessarily elevate the superficial entertainment value of Troll. But I do think it means the movie deserves a bit more recognition than I originally gave it. With that in mind, I elevated it from the Negative category to Neutral. From 39 to 34.
Troll is one I was rooting for but don’t think it quite got there. It’s in this middle ground between being absurd fun like Sharknado and a serious monster film like original Gojira. I’m not sure that’s where you want to be, though. The middle ground is safe. While the extremes are riskier. A polarized film might appeal to less people but resonate more strongly with those who do enjoy it. For example, contrast a zombie movie like Shaun of the Dead with another like 28 Days Later. One leans way more into humor. The other way more into art horror. Or something like the Re-Animator that’s just B-movie fun. Troll tries to do a little of everything. There’s some humor. There’s some emotion. There’s some action. Some romance? But probably not enough of any one thing for it to truly matter. And none of those aspects is all that well done. I’m not sure any one aspect of the film stood out.
With that said, I’m sure plenty of people will watch it and find it harmlessly enjoyable. It hits all the proper beats and you can tell everyone’s working hard. So Troll has my respect. But in terms of Norwegian disaster movies, I’m still very partial to The Wave (Bølgen) and would recommend giving that a watch. I will say, there was this moment in Troll when the troll stopped a helicopter from falling on someone. It’s the one thing that piqued my interest and had me thinking, “Okay, maybe this will get interesting.” But they kind of gave up exploring that angle. Maybe in the sequel?
Watch Troll on:
Watch The Wave on:
Yikes. So the presentation of Don’t Worry Darling was pretty great. Good visuals. Florence Pugh doing her absolute best to save the film. Cool sets. Strong sense of place. It’s just the story was so insanely lacking. And that makes me sad to say because I think Katie Silberman is great. I loved Set It Up. Booksmart was a nice spiritual successor to Superbad. I’m not sure what happened here. If there were too many cooks in the kitchen or the shooting script deviated a lot from the original script? It’s little things, like other characters being half-cooked. Or nothing anyone does really having consequences. The movie is 2 hours and for the first 110 minutes the only things that happen are: Margaret leaves, Alice becomes suspicious. Nothing happens to anyone else. No one has an arc. There’s a flurry of stuff in the last few minutes but it doesn’t lead anywhere because the movie ends. Don’t Worry Darling is only the first 2/3rds of a story rather than a full story.
It just felt like a worse version of The Island or that weird Matthew McConaughey movie Serenity.
I wish the trailers for The Menu wouldn’t have given so much away. I still enjoyed the movie, but not knowing the twist would have been a far better experience. I think it’s my favorite performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. Absolutely my favorite Nicholas Hoult performance. He was making me laugh so much. And Ralph Fiennes won’t get an Oscar nomination for this but maybe deserves one? Or at least some kind of honorary mention? He was just such a captivating portrait of self-destruction. And, man, Hong Chau has such presence. I’m excited to see her in The Whale. I feel like we’re just at the start of her doing some really cool things.
Such a dark comedy. And even though it’s about cooking, it seems applicable to any industry where there’s a classist dichotomy. On the one hand, I root for that. The idea of valuing the $9.95 cheeseburger over the $1250 multi-course dining experience. On the other hand, I’m a pretentious writing nerd who geeks out over Don DeLillo novels and long shots in movies. I have a site where I analyze and rank movies. I’m “in the restaurant” so to speak. But I also love a $9.95 cheeseburger. And I have two published novels. So I’m not Tyler the foodie who knows but can’t do. I can do. I do…do… Sigh. So, what I’m trying to say is—The Menu spurred an existential crisis.
I ended up putting it in the Positives category rather than the Really Good category—and this is the kind of thing that would get me turned into a s’more—because as entertained as I was, I felt like the story needed something more. I think about Shutter Island and how, even though it takes place on a single island, it has all these chapters to it that feel visually and tonally unique. Same with X and Barbarian. There are these distinct sections and areas. In comparison, The Menu felt a bit static to me. Like it didn’t know how to shift from third gear to fourth then fifth. Some people prefer a quieter film. I get that. It’s not like I needed huge action sequences or anything. Just something that would stir the energy up a bit.
For example, and I’m not saying this is what I’d do, but having a subplot that takes place off the island. Get Out did this with Chris’s friend, Rod the TSA agent. It doesn’t have to be much, but it allows for some cross cutting. Barbarian accomplished this by cutting from Tess to AJ. Or if The Menu was 20 minutes shorter in the beginning and spent 20 minutes in the aftermath of the dinner and the public finding out. What does that look like? Or wove together the dinner with events after the dinner, so we jumped from experience and consequence of the experience. Another option is what X and Shutter Island did and just explore the space a little more. The Menu does that a little bit at the beginning with the boat and the tour, then when they have the guys run, then with Anya exploring the chef’s house. But X does the convenience store, the farm house, the farm house basement, the barn, the lake, and the guest house, and really kind of builds a unique scene around each location.
Overall, The Menu has a lot of great ingredients. Just felt a tad undercooked. I understand though why some people might have it in their top five, though. It has a lot of “this will be a cult hit” energy.
Ti West has been a filmmaker that Travis has loved for years now. Hadn’t clicked for me, yet. The Sacrament was well-made but the story was incredibly predictable. Then Pearl was also well-made but also incredibly predictable. Yes, I saw Pearl before I saw X. Which is why I went into X with total apathy. I figured it too would be incredibly predictable. And in some ways it was. Strangers show up on a creepy property. What do we expect to happen to them? But. Buuuuuut. I did not predict X would be startlingly powerful meditation on age and passion and the craving for sensation. There are so many interesting thematic points that a standard slasher film becomes so much more. X has that new wave art horror vibe to it while staying far truer to the genre’s schlocky roots. And it’s gorgeous to boot. That overhead shot of Mia Goth swimming to the dock with the alligator behind her—top 5 shots of 2022. Maybe even the best. Bravo to Ti West on this one.
I did not expect to put X at number 2. It’s funny because I think Barbarian is more my style of film. I had a stronger superficial reaction to Barbarian, in terms of sheer entertainment. But X has stuck with me emotionally in a deeper way than Barbarian. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re both fantastic. We’re splitting hairs here. I just think X was a bit more literary. And how it explored its themes a bit more daring.
Holy hell. This is a mess. A shocking mess. It’s like…the first Knives Out was carefully crafted. Nuanced, thoughtful, fascinating. While Glass Onion is a cartoon. It treats the audience like a bunch of children. It feels more akin to Mama Mia! Here We Go Again than it does to Knives Out. The main commonality is, of course, Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig’s southern detective. I know a lot of people laughed at/complained about Blanc’s accent in Knives Out but it never bothered me. However, I’m 95% convinced the accent in Glass Onion isn’t the same. And that it shifts on a scene by scene basis.
The cast of Glass Onion does a great job. Janelle Monáe is, I think, the standout. But Edward Norton gets to cut loose. Kate Hudson shows up and shows off. Dave Bautista continues to establish himself. Leslie Odom Jr. had great presence. Kathryn Hahn wasn’t given enough to do. Madelyn Cline got to make a splash. And Jessica Henwick is awesome. But they’re limited by how silly Johnson’s script is.
I can appreciate the idea of the “glass onion” and the anti-mystery. And how Glass Onion is a commentary on some current issues in America regrading people who rise to power based on false perceptions. How people like Miles only succeed because of those who enable them. If the enablers were to just…stop…then how much better would things be? I’m down for the concepts. I just was infuriated by how the plot unfolded. Instead of thinking, “Oh that was clever,” I just kept thinking, “That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent. That was stupid. That was indulgent and stupid.” I wrote about it: here
So Glass Onion ends up ranking a lot lower than it probably should just because of how good Knives Out was and how much of a step down this is.
THE ADAM PROJECT
When The Adam Project first came out, I ignored it. Mostly because I have zero faith in Netflix originals. But, my therapist told me to watch it. And she’s typically right about everything. Sure enough, she was right again. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Reynolds since Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. He was so damn charismatic. Then Van Wilder was pretty much the funniest thing 16 year old me had ever watched (though I tried re-watching it recently and yeowch). So I’m always interested in anything Reynolds does. Sometimes it works really well. Like Deadpool and Waiting. But other times, you get watered down, boxed-in Reynolds—The Proposal, 6 Underground. I wasn’t sure what we’d get here. But Adam Project is like…everything I love about Reynolds. It’s him getting to be hilarious and cool and emotional and poignant. Then what a debut for Walker Scobell as 12-year-old Adam. The chemistry between him and Reynolds was crazy. His confidence and deliveries had me completely bought-in. And Zoe Saldaña just stole every moment she was on screen.
What’s interesting is that Adam Project is essentially a theatrical way of demonstrating a therapy technique called inner child work. The idea there is that we’re made up of layers of our previous selves. So if you’re 30 years old, the high school version of you is still inside you. The 8-year-old who spent hours at the arcade. Or the 12-year-old who sat alone on the bus. Or the 24-year-old who was scared to move out of the house. Or the 19-year-old who wanted to conquer the world. These people continue to affect us, whether we’re aware of it or not. So inner child work asks you to engage with these younger yous. Sometimes that’s you trying to soothe them. Sometimes it’s them soothing you. But what we see between Adam and Adam is absolutely a defamiliarization of inner child work.
As someone who lost my dad when I was 20, Adam Project hit very hard. Cool movie.
About Time is one of those movies where the story was just okay but the impact of the movie is actually kind of important. The whole premise of Domhnall Gleeson being able to time travel is just a parable exploring our relationship with time and mortality. It may seem like Tim has a leg up since he can actively go back in time and make adjustments, but we all kind of get to do that. It’s just growing from experience. When you look at what happens in About Time as metaphoric rather than literal, it becomes very instructive. Like Tim’s multiple “first” encounters with Mary can simply be looked at early days of going on multiple dates. Some are amazing. Some are awkward. But you figure it out and find your stride and, if it’s meant to be, it works. And About Time‘s ultimate lesson is just appreciating each day and moment for what it is. Paying attention, being present, and being thankful, even when things are less than ideal. When you can give yourself the space to admire the fact you’re alive and experiencing anything at all, there’s a lot of peace and beauty to be found.
So I was very charmed by About Time. It had a lot of clever stuff. Was funny and sweet and emotional. But there was a lot of cheesy stuff (like the climactic father-son beach walk was so silly I went from crying to rolling my eyes). And some of it felt a bit rushed. And there were a lot of questions I had about the whole time travel thing that I never got answers to. But the whole of it was unique and enjoyable. And Rachel McAdams is just one of the most charming actors of the 21st century. Her screen presence is so powerful. Steals the show in pretty much every movie she’s in. Bill Nighy also did a marvelous job.
American Psycho is such a mesmerizing movie because it’s outrageously stupid yet unbelievably smart. It’s a dark comedy masterpiece. But also prescient in a way that’s terrifying. It’s dissection of the Wall Street ethos that dehumanizes the individual and elevates empty superficiality is even more relevant in 2022 than it was in 2000. It’s a feminist work in the guise of a masculine fantasy that pits empathy against selfishness. We see what the end result is when empathy’s not just rejected but actively destroyed. You get a culture of immense narcissism, petty competition, and no sense of ethics or morality. Consequences disappear. And what then?
And Christian Bale’s performance has to be one of the best comedic performances of all time, right? Is that crazy to think? Especially on re-watches, when you’re in on the joke and know Bateman’s just regurgitating bs statement after bs statement. Every time he says “I have to return some videotapes,” I die.
Like Fight Club, American Psycho is one of those films where it’s a criticism of consumerism hidden in the plight of someone who is an extreme byproduct of consumerism. Except not everyone sees the irony. Not everyone sees the denouncement, the “Don’t be like this jerk.” Some take it literally in all the wrong ways. Which is a shame. The last few years has already seen pushback on the legacy of Fight Club. I wonder if we’ll see the same with American Psycho before the end of the decade?
DECISION TO LEAVE
I think Park Chan-wook is fantastic. The Handmaiden was such a mesmerizing and interesting film. I’ve been looking forward to his next project ever since. Alas, Decision to Leave just didn’t do enough for me. It’s very compelling. Fascinating. With awesome lead performances from Park Hae-il and Tang Wei. I was completely invested in what was happening. But by the end of the film, I just had an overwhelming feeling of “That’s it?”
I think my most consistent narrative complaint is how often stories end up only being two acts. Typically, narratives fall into some derivation of the three act structure. Not the traditional “beginning, middle, end”. Rather, it’s inciting action, escalation, consequences. Most of the page count/runtime is spent on the inciting action and escalation. But, too often, stories overlook the third act. A conclusion to the escalation isn’t always, or even often, good enough. The thing is, it’s hard to talk about the consequences. Especially since the escalation is the longest and most thrilling part of the story. By the time you write your way to that point, you’re ready to be done. It’s like someone getting to the end of a marathon and you ask them to run another few miles. Or you fly across the country just to be told you have to get back on the plane and go somewhere else. Part of you really wants to say, “You know what? I’m good here.”
Most of the time, the consequences section just has to be a few minutes. Five. Ten. Fifteen. That’s it. Sometimes, it’s less than five minutes. Lion King returning to the the opening scene and the song “Circle of Life” playing is the perfect, one-minute consequences end cap. Jurassic Park showing the characters on the helicopter and Dr. Grant sits with the kids after he’s spent the movie rejecting being a parent—that’s consequence. It’s brief. It’s seemingly unimportant, but it’s tremendously important. There Will Be Blood having the flash forward and the final showdown between Daniel Plainview and Eli—incredible. Triangle of Sadness having the entire island sequence—also incredible.
Decision to Leave had a time jump but it felt to me more like a continuation of the dance between Hae-Jun and Seo-rae. The way they parted wasn’t the climactic event between them, rather just a pause in the action. By the end of Decision to Leave, that’s climax. That’s shattering. Now I’m completely invested in what happens next with Hae-Jun. Except the movie gives us nothing. It just ends. You know he’s going to be in a bad place. But what does that mean? What does that look like? Is it possible for him to ever recover? Maybe? Maybe not? That’s what the whole thing builds up to. It’s also what Chan-wook decided to not explore.
So what’s there is very nice and well done and interesting. I just feel like the script could have used someone pushing for Chan-wook to go a little further with the story. Like No Country For Old Men continuing on with Tommy Lee Jones. Imagine if Full Metal Jacket ended after the drama between Gomer Pyle and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman? Instead, it continues for a whole second section. I just keep thinking, “Ten more minutes. That’s all it needed was ten more minutes.”
Wakanda Forever just kind of bored me. The specter of Chadwick Boseman’s loss definitely hangs over the film. Both narratively and emotionally. Emotionally, I thought they did a nice job of honoring Chadwick and not just moving on but allowing the characters and the audience a chance to mourn and find some catharsis. Narratively, eh. The opening scene with T’Challa’s passing was, I thought, pretty rough. Poor contextualizing. Too quick. It just felt anti-climactic to me. Everything was a bit anti-climactic. Talokan was a great concept, but the actual shots were murky and kind of failed to convey a sense of place, culture, or population. Some kids kicked a ball through part of a giant anchor? And someone else looks at a vase? And a girl waves at Shuri. Okay? Ironheart was a cool concept but she doesn’t do much. The Midnight Angel armor is joked about more than it’s actually used in battle.
Then Namor’s motivation never landed for me. He’s determined no one finds Takolan because he’s scared of what will happen. But everything he does only increases the likelihood Takolan is discovered and viewed as a threat. You might be able to chalk that up to total diplomatic ignorance because he’s literally isolated from the rest of the world. Except he seems very aware of world politics and is never shown to be ignorant, just a fierce protector. We’re never even shown where the vibranium mining that freaked him out so much is relative to Takolan. Was it literally right above them? Was it across the ocean? I guess “close enough” is the simple answer. I just didn’t think the movie did a good job of showing Namor was right to be worried or aggressively idiotic. It landed in some nebulous middle area that I wasn’t satisfied with.
Namor’s action sequences were awesome, though. He’s a literal sky walker. All of his action sequences conveyed a strong sense of power, intelligence, and superiority. Something I never really got from other characters. Nakia didn’t do much, action wise. M’Baku beat grunts and that’s it. Okoye had some cool moments but was limited by her repetitious boss fight. Ironheart didn’t get to do much. Even Shuri as Black Panther just had a couple of moments. Most of the spectacle of being a superhero went to Namor.
So it’s like…I didn’t get much from the action. I was pretty frustrated by the way Namor and Shuri were handling their business. And I just missed Chadwick the entire time. Angela Bassett as Ramonda was kind of the best part of the movie to me then she drowns in what I thought was a completely silly situation. I appreciated the heaviness of Wakanda Forever. But the actual narrative choices and scene by scene decision making was just too rough to me. Better than a lot of other Phase 4 films, so far. But not great. Or even good? Just okay.
For months, I heard nothing but great things about RRR. But I was mad at the recent quality of Netflix programming so refused to watch. Finally bit and the bullet and what a movie! I didn’t realize it was going to be such an epic. Nor that it would use a twist on the “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” concept. Raju being the unstoppable force and Bheem embodying the immovable object. I love both actors. The charisma of Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr was off the charts. It kind of felt like a TV show in terms of how the chapters played out. Or a novel. The fact it took so much time to develop its characters and story and really build to the finale was refreshing. Too many movies are scared to take the time they need so end up rushing everything and falling flat. Bravo to S. S. Rajamouli for having the heart to make RRR.
The thing that impressed me most was how much RRR cared about the elemental relationships. It grounds Raju in fire and Bheem in water. Most Hollywood films never really identify characters with elements or archetypes like that. Much less continue to reinforce the dynamic throughout the course of the story. RRR brings back the fire and water aspect in spectacular ways like during the first Raju/Bheem fight on the palace grounds. But also in subtle ways like in the jungle when Bheem uses water for cover and Raju employs fire arrows. I just came home from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever about an hour ago and it completely lacked any kind of additional layering like this. Not to say every action movie needs to be as bombastic as RRR. But there are ways to subtly add dimensionality that very few films take advantage of.
Holy hell. What an experience. I expected it to be good but didn’t know it would be that good. Hilarious. Awkward. Provoking. It goes beyond just being a satire of wealth and becomes an essential explanation of economic structures and the archetypes found within them. It has that same amazing energy and insight as Parasite but through a totally different kind of narrative. Instead of feeling derivative of Parasite or inspired by it, it’s simply familial. Two like-minded projects that put a scathing spotlight on economics. Amazing.
I’m seeing Triangle of Sadness after watching some of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. What’s funny is that it’s not that much longer than them. 149 minutes versus 124 for Black Adam, 111 for Halloween Ends, 116 for Uncharted, 115 for Smile. So a solid 30-40 minutes. Yet it felt shorter to me. It never dragged. It never waned. I was fully engaged and entertained and ready to see what happened next. While Black Adam, Halloween Ends, Uncharted, and Smile were interminable. They feel almost silly in comparison. Triangle just has a heft and intensity about it that I never got from the other films. Triangle of Sadness reminded me what it’s like to feel happy while watching a movie.
Another train wreck. But. To be fair. Aldis Hodge as Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate were amazing. I’d watch a movie that was just those two hanging out. Hodge had a gravity and star power that exceeded even Dwayne Johnson. Put him in the MCU and he’s immediately the most interesting on-screen presence. He was awesome in Invisible Man, too.
Aldis Hodge aside…I was blown away by how much I disliked Black Adam. Very similar to Halloween Ends, I just hated most of everything. For example, in the opening scene you have all this Kahndaqians digging for Eternium. Someone finds a stone. Little Hurut takes the stone, runs up a cliff, and holds it aloft. He’s HIGH UP ON A CLIFF. With no context. He doesn’t yell, “We found Eternium!” or anything. Just arrives on the cliff, holds this relatively small stone aloft to thousands of people who could barely see him, and they all immediately return the gesture? This is the first time in history anyone has done this. And yet this entire group of people knows exactly how to respond? It’s nonsense. I get “suspend disbelief” but you’re supposed to suspend disbelief for things like “a werewolf exists” or “stones like Eternium exist.” Not for things like “Everyone just knew what the kid was doing and what it meant and returned the gesture without hesitation.”
If it were just that scene that had something stupid like that, fine. I could get over it. But it’s pretty much every scene. Over and over again the filmmakers made decisions that looked logic straight in the face and spit in its eye. I love the fact that this Crown of Sabbac has been undiscovered for 5,000 years but one archaeologist, her brother, and two random guys who seemingly add nothing to the group, manage to locate it. With the sole purpose of hiding it so no one else can find it. No one had found it. So why are you finding it? Why did the Shazam wizards imprison Black Adam only to put the exact words needed to free him right there on the door of the prison? And how ridiculous is it that the Justice Society takes Shazam from Kahndaq to an underwater prison way the hell away from Kahndaq, go immediately back to Kahndaq, only to have Black Adam break free from the prison and return to Kahndaq? That was honestly the best decision anyone could come up with? Ugh.
Don’t get me started on the scene where Ishmael becomes Sabbac. The demons and their speech and the only ceremony was the stupidest thing I’ve seen all year. AND THE SLOW MOTION. Zack Snyder can get away with it because it’s his style. In Black Adam, it’s like they said “Do the thing Zack Snyder does so the Snyder fans like this movie” but didn’t understand any of the artistry of using slow-mo. Every shot of Cyclone using her power didn’t have to be the exact same thing every single time with just gratuitous and ham-fisted slow-motion thrown in.
Jesus H. Christ. How the hell did we get here? Halloween (2018) was a good movie! It exceeded expectations and rejuvenated what had become a pretty sad franchise. But Halloween Kills and Ends are two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Garbage-tier story. Garbage-tier dialogue. Ridiculous flashback and montage choices. Every character motivation struck me as either nonsensical or outright stupid. I’d never guess this film was made by the same people who do such amazing work on Righteous Gemstones and Vice Principals. I like David Gordon Green. I like Danny McBride. I think they’re genuinely smart, creative, and talented people. So why the f*** did they make this?
It’s infuriating. I’m angry. Legitimately angry. It would be one thing if it were just a bad movie. But the only thing worse than a bad movie is a long, bad movie. And this is unreasonably long. The entire subplot with Corey and Allyson is ridiculously inconsequential. It hints at a next generation or even a merging of the conflicting sides of Laurie and Michael. The relative of one, the chosen prodigy of the other. You could do something interesting with that concept. But what’s it amount to in this movie? Allyson gives Corey a license to go full Michael. Has no consequences for encouraging his actions. And then celebrates Michael’s demise. It’s nonsense. It’s superficial, ill-thought-out nonsense.
I’ve seen Blow Out a few times and have always loved it. It was playing at my local theater so I went to see it on the big screen for the first time. I brought a friend. For a few days, I kept telling her how much she’d like it. We got to the theater. The movie started. And I was immediately kind of embarrassed. I forgot just how 1980s Blow Out is. The male characters are these active, empowered figures. While the female characters…leave a lot to be desired. It’s been almost a decade since I last watched it so seeing it with fresh eyes was kind of jarring. The filmmaking is still very patient, dynamic, and impressive. And the way in which Blow Out captures the political paranoia of the time is impressive. It also stood out how relevant John Travolta’s need for truth is in today’s misinformation society. The climactic scene with Travolta, Nancy Allen, and fireworks is still one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And the last scene is still one of the best finale’s of any story.
The ending is so good that my friend who hated the movie actually dropped her jaw and started saying how she needed to re-evaluate the entire thing. It’s seriously impressive and is such a huge statement about the American zeitgeist. Man. It gives me goosebumps even talking about it.
If I had ranked Blow Out before re-watching it, I’d probably have put it in at least the Impressive category or even in Amazing. But the re-watch did leave me just a bit less impressed. There’s a whole scene where Travolta drives a car through a parade and almost runs over dozens of people. No repercussions. And Lithgow’s villain is interesting but pretty undercooked. And the dynamic between Travolta and Nancy Allen didn’t do much for me. But the last 5 minutes of the movie is 100% Colossal category worthy. But, I put it at 17 of 44. It’s below Nope because I think Nope is stronger throughout the beginning and middle (even if Blow Out is better at the end). But it’s above Bullet Train because Bullet Train never quite wowed me in some of the ways Blow Out did.
The only reason Uncharted isn’t ranked lower is because I thought the cast was charming. Otherwise, there isn’t much going right for this movie. Maybe it’s unfair, but I compare all movies like this to Pirates of the Caribbean and how inventive that film (and series) was with set-pieces and the twists and turns in regard to the treasure hunting. I at least hoped the mystery, puzzles, or choreography would be more compelling. But nothing ever stood out to me.
So Uncharted lands at 38 of 44. I almost put it above Doctor Strange just because I felt like Doctor Strange had more potential than it delivered on. But kept Multiverse of Madness ahead because there were a few moments that genuinely made me happy. Uncharted was far more bland. I have it above Smile though because Smile was far more disappointing to me. I think Smile arguably the better movie but it’s also, I think, far more predictable, dragged out, and thematically kind of insulting with what it says about trauma.
Smile frustrated me for two reasons. First, it’s predictable. Smile tells you in the very first scene what will happen: possession, several days of this thing taunting you, then it attacks, takes you out, and moves on to whoever witnessed. So when we see Rose go through that exact situation…it takes away a lot of the suspense. Especially when we know it doesn’t actually hurt anyone until it actually hurts someone. So all the scary appearances lack stakes because they aren’t actually accomplishing anything other than freaking Rose out. And Rose is already freaked out. So a lot of the movie just had me waiting for something actually compelling to happen.
And the second issue is that the symbolism is kind of insulting. The demon is symbolic for trauma. Every person it possesses has had some kind of traumatic experience. The demon feeds on that pain then escalates the person’s stress and pain through its manipulations. Once they’re ripe, it devours them. Except when you are so explicit in making the movie a metaphor for trauma and dealing with trauma and have all these characters who have suffered trauma as the victims of the monster, it can take on the thematic implication that “Once you’ve experience trauma, it will ruin you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually it will overwhelm you.” As someone who lost both of my parents by the time I was 25 and has lived with that for almost two decades…f*** off? It’s one thing if the movie shows how trauma can overwhelm a specific person. But Smile takes a step further and seems to be saying “This is what trauma is.” Sure, for some. But not everyone.
So I have Smile at 39 of 44, in the Negatives category. It’s well acted. Decently shot. And the monster design is cool and the last few minutes definitely visually compelling. But the mystery element, narrative structure, and thematics left me wanting a lot more. Especially after seeing Barbarian. Barbarian was so dynamic while Smile was more by the numbers. I will say, as harsh as I’ve been, the birthday party scene was one of the cringiest (in a good way) scenes I think I’ve ever watched. That was really well done. If the film had continued to chain together sequences as jarring as that, it would be a lot higher. The reason I put it below Uncharted is because I just felt better at the end of Uncharted than I did the end of Smile. But I have Smile above Minions because Minions is the most corporate-pleasing movie I’ve ever seen and Smile at least has personality, despite my frustrations.
HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.
Honk For Jesus reminded me of the mockumentary Best in Show. Both films poke fun at their subject matter and capture how the people involved are pretty cooky. Except Best in Show clearly has a fondness for its subjects. Honk For Jesus does not. What starts out as light hearted quickly turns to a lampooning of megachurch leaders. And it makes sense. The people in Best in Show are dog show owners who care a lot about their dogs. The weird things they do are funny but ultimately pretty harmless. They aren’t hurting anyone. The same can’t be said for religious leaders who use their pulpit to amass wealth and trample over others. It’s a huge issue. And one that’s been talked about for decades without anything really changing. Just in the cinematic world, you have films like Primal Fear in the 90s, Spotlight in the 2010s, and now Honk For Jesus. This isn’t new information. But it’s a story that deserves being told as many times and in as many ways as necessary.
Writer/director Adamma Ebo does an amazing job with her debut feature. It looked and felt like a veteran project. Well-shot, multiple viewpoints, some great vignettes. Not to mention the performances. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown put on a masterclass in Honk For Jesus. The mixture of power and subtly they both deliver is captivating. And the way they peel back layers over time. Honestly, some of the best performances of the entire year.
In terms of ranking, Honk For Jesus lands in the Positives category, at 20 of 43. That might be a bit surprising, given how much I praised the movie. Really, I don’t have much in the way of criticism. The ranking mostly has to do with the scope. As entertaining and well made as it is, there wasn’t a scene or stretch that had me on the edge of my seat or dropped my jaw or made me want to applaud. It was a bunch of smart moments. Which is nice but just not quite enough for me. That’s why it ends up ahead of movies like Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and Vengeance—I do think it’s more consistently impressive throughout. But it’s below things like Prey and Bullet Train because those surprised me a bit more.
This will be a controversial one.
I saw so many positives comments about Pearl that I went in pretty excited. But minute by minute, my enthusiasm waned. Let me start by saying Mia Goth did an amazing job. Incredible performance. From her and Tandi Wright. And Ti West and Eliot Rockett made a gorgeous film with awesome visual after awesome visual. But the story. Sigh. Here’s the thing. Pearl is trapped and resentful and she’ll eventually snap. We know that will happen. If you’ve watched a few horror movies, you know exactly what will happen. All that’s left is: how long will it take? how interesting is the journey to that point? and, once it happens, how bad is it? From my perspective, the answers, in order, are: too long, not so much, and not that bad. When the movie ended, I was just kind of sitting there thinking, “That’s it?” The most obvious thing that could happen is exactly what happens and it takes all movie to happen. I find that boring. What would have been far more interesting to me is if Pearl had won the dance competition and had to head out into the world. How would she fair? How long could she pretend and hold in all the awful things she feels? There’s so many places the story could have gone. That it’s as small and contained as it is is just…eh.
So I have Pearl in the Neutral category, at 34 of 44. The performance by Goth is so strong and the visuals are so well done that I’d be crazy to give this a “negative” rating. But the stagnant and predictable storytelling was such a buzzkill that I was left incredibly lukewarm. That’s ultimately the reason I have Pearl under movies like Bob’s Burgers, Chip n’ Dale, and Thor: Love and Thunder. I found the stories in those films just a bit more dynamic and interesting. Like Chip n’ Dale having the awful OG CGI Sonic as a character delighted me in a way nothing in Pearl did. Well, that long speech Pearl gives at the end is amazing. But it was too little too late for me. Honestly, I wish the movie would have started with Pearl and Mitzy at the dinner table, with that speech, and told the story of what followed.
Barbarian is amazing. You know why? Because it f***ing goes for it. It doesn’t continuously pump the brakes or scale itself down the way some movies do. A worse movie would take Barbarian‘s opening chapter and draw it out for 90 minutes, finally reveal something, then end. And it would be infuriating. But not Barbarian. It’s smart, self-aware, dynamic, and keeps you continuously on your toes about what will happen next. Well shot. Well acted. It has the confidence to move from presenting like a John Carpenter thriller to a Quentin Tarantino dark comedy to David Fincher’s Zodiac and back to Carpenter. All while developing thematic nuance and depth. It’s not as visually impressive as something like The Witch or Hereditary. Nor is it as tricky as the original Saw. Or as gory as Evil Dead. Nor does it have a performance like Lupita Nyong’o in Us. But it’s visually impressive, tricky, gory, and has some awesome performances. So the power of Barbarian isn’t that it’s best in class in any one area so much as it’s a top performer in every area. I loved every second of it.
I put Barbarian at number 1 on the list. The main reason it goes above Fire of Love is that there’s more to chew on. Fire of Love has a cool story that’s well told and structured but is pretty simple and bittersweet. The main thing it has going for it is the visuals are so insane and incomparable to anything most people have ever seen. Barbarian doesn’t have the same spellbinding imagery but the story is so weird and jarring and unlike 99% of movies that I got a similar amount of delight as I did from the volcanoes in Fire of Love. And I’m just a sucker for chapter stories like this. There’s a great John Hawkes film called Too Late that is similarly chapter-y and one of my favorites from the last 2010s. More popular than Too Late is something like Pulp Fiction. Or Magnolia. Ooh, City of God too.
If you want to ask why I like Barbarian more than a specific movie on this list (like Nope), feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll let you know. Did not expect to love this movie. But this is where we’re at.
I saw the original Austrian version of this film back in 2014 and I remember thinking it was okay but not anything I’d ever watch again. Then this remake came out. So I watched it again. Which was a pretty huge mistake on my part. This version of Goodnight Mommy was just such a let down. Not even a let down, a damn disappointment. At least the original movie dared to be somewhat shocking and eerie. This was so neutered and spineless. The attempts at horror were elementary. Sometimes even insulting. Once I remembered what the twist was, the entire movie fell apart because everything Naomi Watts does as “Mommy” was pretty much the stupidest thing she could do. It’s weird, too, how the whole premise relies on an unspoken deal the mom made to play along with Elias’s mental illness. At least in Shutter Island the whole experiment is based on a medical hypothesis and carried out by medical professionals. In Goodbye Mommyit’s almost nonsense.
With all that said, Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti did great work as Elias and Lucas. And Naomi Watts is as engaging as ever. But man, the script did them absolutely zero favors. It took a pretty good original story and turned the volume down to “mute”. That’s why Goodnight Mommy enters the rankings at 38 of 39 and takes up residency in the I Hate category. If you’re going to remake an 8 year old movie, you don’t make it worse. You heighten it. You go further. You push the envelope. I’m blown away by how cowardly this movie is. Especially the finale in the barn. It’s melodramatic pseudo-tragedy born on the waves of bad exposition. The only reason it’s higher than Inland Empire is because it’s half the runtime.
Breaking is a noble undertaking, as it brings attention to the true story of Brian Brown-Easley. What you see happen in the movie is mostly verbatim what happened in real life. A former veteran was driven to extremes by the government’s failure to support him. It’s a sad headline that repeats many times a day, every single day. American military veterans aren’t given the care they need. They aren’t given the opportunities. It’s brutal. And Brian Brown-Easley is an example of just how messed up it is. So there’s a lot to admire about Breaking and the care with which the filmmaker, Abi Damaris Corbin, handled the story. You feel for Brian. There’s multiple tragedies that occur. The whole cast does a great job, especially John Boyega and Nicole Beharie. I teared up every time Michael K. Williams was on screen.
But I ended up ranking Breaking at number 32 of 39, near the bottom of the Neutral category. I admire what it went for and how true to life it stayed. But it was more contained than I wanted. Never quite found a scene that soared. Like, Fruitvale Station is a similar movie in terms of scope, scale, and tragedy. It’s the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III. So you follow Grant in his day to day life before he arrives at Fruitvale Station and has a fatal encounter with some awful police officers. You have that same sense of someone who is a victim of a careless system that unnecessarily took their life. When the scene happens in Fruitvale Station, it’s a gut punch. You’re miserable. Or the movie Detroit. Another true story about police corruption and the victims of a horrible system. It really dives into the multiple layers and fallout of the story and paints this broad portrait of the time, place, and people. You see that reflected in the runtime of 143 minutes compared to Breaking‘s 103.
I wanted Breaking to explore more of the fallout of Brian’s story or at least have one scene that had me wanting to scream at the screen. But it doesn’t quite take those risks. Like you have a scene where Connie Britton follows up on a tip about how the VA really did cheat Brian. But it’s quick and nothing comes of it. Even if it’s just a scene or two where we see Britton try to follow up on the story and get stonewalled or meet with Brian’s ex-wife and try to provide some comfort that Brian was cheated. Or hear the hostages give an interview where they defend Brian and call out the police. Essentially what I’m talking about is a stronger third act. Breaking spends a lot of time in acts one and two. But blows through act three, treating it more as a last few minutes of epilogue. Unless act three has the explosiveness Fruitvale Station had, it’s bound to feel a little anticlimactic. And when the second act stretches out as long as it does, there were moments of boredom.
So, I’d still recommend Breaking but I’d do so with the caveat that it’s good but not ever as good as you hope it will be.
THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING
Three Thousand Years of Longing will resonate with a ton of people. Truth is, there are many lonely people in the world. And this is a story for them. It hears them, sees them, and speaks back to them. And there’s something lovely about that. And something each and every person can identify with on some level. But it’s also a very patient movie. So much so that some will accuse it of being a bit narratively stagnant. The present day characters go from a hotel in Istanbul to an apartment in London to a park. And the stuff in London moves awfully quick. The defense is that it’s a movie about story. About connection through story. About the stories we tell ourselves and what we choose to tell others and what that says about who we are. So having characters who do very little but say an awful lot is a choice rather than an oversight. It’s just a matter of how effective the choice is. If you’re identifying with the characters at all, you probably don’t mind it. Though for others it will be the thing that keeps them from being able to identify with the characters.
I’m torn about how I feel. It reminds me of Big Fish and Shape of Water, two films I recognize the charm of but also don’t really work for me. And this feels similar. There’s a lot of beauty and it’s a movie for people who don’t often have movies made for them. A love letter to the solitaries. But I wanted just a bit more. The Djinn’s stories are interesting but I didn’t find them as satisfying as the ones in Big Fish or backstory-driven movies like Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And the romance between “fire” and “dust” was sweet but maybe not as well-developed as in Shape of Water. I thought the sudden statements on technology and British racism a bit jarring in how quickly they came and went.
It is nice that there’s a layered interpretation of events (similar to Pan’s Labyrinth). There’s the fairy tale interpretation where the story plays out exactly as Alithea tells it. There’s also a realistic interpretation where this is merely Alithea’s imagination. She’s a narratologist who finds the inspiration in Istanbul to write a novel. So she does. She imagines the Djinn. Creates him through story. Draws him. Just like she did her imaginary friend from childhood. And in telling herself the story of the Djinn, she finds comfort. The story is enough.
But I’m still not sure if I think that’s enough. I keep comparing it to the father-son dynamic in Big Fish and how that movie explores grief and closure and all these other things through the stories a parent tells a child. And how where we’re at in our lives can affect the impact of those stories. There’s multiple dimensions. And a lovely journey within the stories themselves. In Three Thousand Years of Longing…eh. Alithea starts pretty happy. Becomes happier. And ends happy. I’m not sure it develops her isolation enough because it spends so much time telling us about the Djinn. If you’re willing to just go where the movie wants you to go, I think this will be special. But if you want a bit more, Three Thousand Years of Longing will leave you wanting.
So it enters at the top of the Neutral category, spot 25 of 36. I think it’s similar to Death on the Nile in that both are strongly directed movies by well-established auteurs (Kenneth Branagh and George Miller) but are a tad too drawn out and maybe a bit unsatisfying in their final acts. But Three Thousand Years of Longing is the more daring of the two. And has more potential to really connect with someone. So that’s why it’s higher. In terms of Fresh, Three Thousand Years has the larger scope and better visuals. That alone will rank it higher for some people. But narrative momentum wins out for me here. Fresh carried me along better. So while I admire a lot of Three Thousand Years, especially visually, I wanted a bit more story.
This was my first time watching Inland Empire. I’d wanted to for years and always expected it to be my favorite David Lynch movie. A three hour epic that’s the last film he ever made and is incredibly controversial? That’s essentially my cat nip. Unfortunately, I hated Inland Empire more than I’ve hated any movie in a long time. I can watch something surreal like Last Year at Marienbad and be enthralled the whole time. I can watch La Jetée and find so much beauty. Lav Diaz’s has a 4.5 hour remake of Crime and Punishment called Norte, the End of History and it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. But Inland Empire just infuriated me.
It felt like someone trying to figure out what they wanted to say as they were saying it rather than a cohesive, fully realized statement. I get how that would appeal to some people. You’re essentially seeing David Lynch at his most raw. Story is secondary to feeling. But, holy hell. The meandering is just outrageous. Even when there are a few payoffs, are they really worth it? To Lynch’s credit, he has a few overall arcs and does bring each of them to a resolution: the woman watching TV, the rabbits in the room, Nikki’s talk with the neighbor, and the filming of On High in Blue Tomorrows. You do get a sense of this very complicated, immense thing, coming full circle and finding a way to resolve its various inciting actions. So as messy as the film is, Lynch still has a better handle on the chaos than many might give him credit for.
And cinematically, Inland Empire has Lynch’s one of a kind aesthetic. The odds of seeing another movie like this is slim to none. The different types of cameras employed throughout. The dream-like quality. The headfirst dive into a more pure surrealism many filmmakers would never dare attempt. No one is as “I don’t care what you think, f*** off” as Lynch. And he’s still a master at finding ways to make things truly unsettling. So it’s easy to have some emotional responses to aspects of the movie that it’s hard to get elsewhere.
With all that said, I hated it. Just very much hated it. If I wasn’t angry, I was bored. The cinematography did nothing for me. The acting did nothing for me. The dialogue did nothing for me. There were a few spots I felt some energy. Like the conversation with the neighbor. Or Nikki fallen between the homeless people and the conversation they have around her and the look into the lighter. That was cool. Or the weird, terrifying face when the Phantom becomes some weird hallway monster. But those were very brief moments in the totality of Inland Empire. At its best, Inland Empire could have been Mulholland Drive meets Perfect Blue. But the actual result is nothing as fully formed as Mulholland Drive or Perfect Blue.
I had the impression Lynch was dealing with two issues. One, processing previous marriage and relationship woes but from the perspective of his partners, attempting to understand them and his behavior through their eyes. Two, his falling out of love with movies. So he just kept ping ponging between the two and eventually attempted to dovetail them. There’s definitely something to that. Just not for me.
Inland Empire enters the last at the very bottom, 35 out of 35 and is the lone movie in the I Hate category. I have it below Morbius because Morbius only wasted 104 minutes of my life rather than 180.
Beast deserves more praise. It’s not as elevated a take on horror as The Witch but it has a craftsmanship many a genre film lacks. Part of that has to do with director Balthasar Kormákur being 56 years old and an outsider to the horror genre. Obviously that in and of itself isn’t good or bad. There are plenty of outsiders who attempt genre and fail completely. Just like there are plenty of younger filmmakers who live and breathe horror but make something generic as hell. But watch any 5 minute stretch of Beast and hopefully you notice how patient Kormákur is. The average shot length is way beyond average. Beast actually lets scenes breathe. I know shot length bothers some people as they think it’s indulgent or try-hard or something. But, to me, it’s superior. There’s a direct correlation between immersion and shot length. Just compare the fight scenes in The Batman vs The Dark Knight. No matter which one you think is the better movie, the amount of cuts Nolan has in a Dark Knight action scene is silly. It makes the action almost entirely incoherent. Which may have worked in The Bourne Identity as an attempt at form-meets-function. But, for the most part, it’s something that automatically loses my respect.
So the visual aspect makes Beast one of the more interesting films of the year. Narratively, Beast is a genre film. So there’s not a lot of surprise in terms of the story beats. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But I thought Beast made the best of it. You have the thematic through line with the lion representing the specter of death that haunts the family after the loss of their mom. Idris Elba wasn’t around much during his wife’s battle with cancer and says at one point he wishes he could have been there for his girls to look death in the face. So the lion represents the dad and daughters confronting an incarnation of the mother’s cancer. Good. Great. This is the stuff I want. Whether it’s The Babadook or Lights Out or Hereditary, I like when horror defamiliarizes like this.
All of this is why I’m a Beast defender. I will tell people for the rest of my life that this is an underrated movie they should check out. In terms of the all-time ranking, it lands at 13 of 34, in the Really Good category. I put it below Crimes of the Future because CotF has just a bit more going on and I liked how weird it was. Beast is arguably the more fun watch, though. Some people will probably be upset that I have Beast about Northman and Nope. My main issue with Nope is that I think it ends in a very unsatisfying spot and doesn’t follow through narratively or thematically. And Northman it sloughs a bit in the middle and doesn’t develop characters enough. I think both of them have higher highs than Beast and if they stuck the landing they’re top 5 potential. Unfortunately, the flaws are too great for me. But Beast is impressive enough visually and doing enough thematically that I’m happy to say it’s Really Good.
DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO
I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan. Started watching it when it first premiered on Toonami in the late 90s. When I was 12, I got on eBay and bought 30 VHS tapes of the Buu Saga from Japan. Not even dubbed or subbed. Just straight Japanese and watched it without understanding any of the dialogue. That’s how into DBZ I was. Love the show. Love the phone game Dokkan Battle. So Super Hero was something I anticipated for a long time. Especially after how much I loved Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
This is the fourth contemporary Dragon Ball movie. Prior, we had Battle of Gods, Resurrection of F, and Broly. Super Hero was way better than Battle of Gods. Slightly better than RoF. And not as good as Broly. I liked a lot of what it did. The characters. The humor. The fight choreography. Bringing back Cell Saga Gohan coolness. It just never felt like it had any stakes. No one was ever actually in danger. Magenta as a villain was pretty generic. Then Dr. Hedo, Gamma 1, and Gamma 2 didn’t want to be villains. So you spend most of the movie not feeling much in the way of tension. Then Cell Max appears and he’s scarier but completely devoid of personality. There’s no character there, just a giant monster to defeat. It’s nice that characters other than Goku and Vegeta got to do something. But it felt pretty empty to me. Then Gohan’s transformation into Gohan Beast was cool but he threw one kick then did Special Beam Cannon. That was it. So you have all that build up for the briefest of climaxes.
With all that said, I still put Super Hero at 17 of 33, midway in the Positives category. It’s above movies like Vengeance and Everything Everywhere mostly because of favoritism. I’m a Dragon Ball fan who got a pretty good Dragon Ball movie. The personal connection I have with the characters and story means Super Hero is more fun for me. If all else is equal, that’s a difference maker. But I have it below Prey because Super Hero just didn’t do enough. Prey is also a bit thin in its overall character building but it at least has a complete arc for its protagonist.
I’ve seen the name Koyaanisqatsi for years and years. Always in “film circle” kinds of places. You know, where you discuss the latest Criterion Collection releases and international film festivals. So I knew it was was probably an intellectual movie. Something you’d watch for film school and write some 7-page essay on. When it was playing at a local movie theater, I decided to go. But I went in pretty blind. Little did I know it would be an 86-minute art house Fantasia about the doom of civilization through humanities own folly. I love that concept. And some of the visual explorations really hit home. Especially the “night in the city” sequence and Atlas-Centaur missile explosion. But there were long sections I just didn’t really care about or connect with. And the music could often be too repetitive for too long of a period. Of course there were brilliant musical stretches but…man. I love classical, too. I’m someone who was 25 years old and had the radio on the classical station. So it’s not a lack of appreciation there. I just wanted a less static score.
So I ended up pretty torn. I respect the vision and the concept of depicting humanity’s ruin through the lens of Native American prophecy. With the title itself being a Hopi word for “crazy life; life in turmoil; life out of balance; life disintegrating; a state of life that calls for another way of living.” There’s so much power there. But I didn’t think the overall execution was as powerful as it could have been. Even though some of those shots had to have been insanely difficult to get. So I respect it. Just think it could have been more powerful.
It lands at 28 or 32, bringing up the rear of the Neutral category. Despite how impressive some of the highs were, I spent so much time just kind of bored that I couldn’t put Koyaanisqatsi in the positives category. It’s above Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness because Koyaanisqatsi has more value. But it’s below movies like Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers and The Bob’s Burgers Movie because I just found have a basic narrative more compelling than what Koyaanisqatsi offered.
The early reactions to Bullet Train had me geared up thinking it was Morbiuslevels of bad. It’s a better movie than its Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic scores. That’s not to say it’s some genre-defining, decade-defining work. Just that it’s well-made, well-acted, well-executed, and keeps you on your toes. It was kind of refreshing. Granted, I was a big fan of Smokin’ Aces and Lucky Number Slevinback in the day. The whole style and aesthetic of this kind of action film is Ocean’s Eleven meets Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. That slick, smart style that can feel too smart for its own good, with some over the top action sequences.
I think the cast was definitely the highlight. I love Brad Pitt. And as soon as I saw Hiroyuki Sanada I hoped for a sword fight. Sanada is just so captivating. On top of that I’m always excited to see Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They both have such charisma that even if I don’t like a movie they’re in (Godzilla vs Kong/Savages) I still enjoy their performance. Same with Zazie Beetz.
My biggest complaint would probably be the flashbacks. They felt like the weakest part of everything. None of them landed emotionally for me. So the best case scenario is just “clever exposition.” Which can work and has worked. But that much exposition walks a line between “stylistic choice” and “not so good writing”. I think it plays better in novels than movies. Two of my favorite books, 2666 by Roberto Bolano and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, both use expositional flashback all the time. But they also have a lot more time to really dive into the scenes and build the drama and payoff. Maybe Kōtarō Isaka’s MariaBeetle novel that BulletTrain is based on does it well too. But the film version? Meh.
I’d prefer they just spend 5 minutes at the beginning playing things out a little more linearly. Start with Ladybug in Mexico at Wolf’s wedding. 1-2 minutes showing how a simple job goes wrong. Then cut to another job, 1-2, show how it goes wrong. Then show Bolivia and Lemon popping Ladybug. You cut out so much of the later exposition and allow the movie to have a little more fluidity when it counts. And it really reinforces why Ladybug is nervous about returning to the field.
Overall, though, I still really enjoyed Bullet Train. So it enters at 15 of 31, settling into the Positives category. Nope continues to be a boss fight for these movies. Bullet Train just wasn’t doing enough that was as original or nuanced as Nope so doesn’t go above it. But it definitely felt more confident and dynamic than Prey.
My favorite thing? The cast. My least favorite thing? The amount of flashback. Would I recommend? Yeah, it makes for a great “let’s put on a movie” movie for anyone who enjoys a little action and witty dialogue. And doesn’t mind an R-rating.
As a big Predator fan, I was happy Prey was good. I think it falls more under the “smart horror” genre than the action genre of Predator and Predator 2. Stylistically, it felt more like The Witch than Predator. Which isn’t a bad thing. It has the prettiest cinematography in the Predator franchise. And story-wise it’s definitely a return to form after the debatable quality of Predators and The Predator.
Two main issue keep me from jumping up and down about Prey. First, I wish they would have developed the characters a bit more. Everyone who wasn’t Naru barely got to say or do anything. And even Naru was pretty singular. I know the soldiers in Predator weren’t the deepest characters but I felt like I got to know each one better. And Danny Glover in Predator 2 had more space to react and emote.
Second, the action sequences were a little too video-game-y for me. Prey would be very grounded and naturalistic, then some action would happen and it suddenly felt like a quick time event in a video game where everything is suddenly much more cinematic and telegraphed and slick. I think you lose some of the realism that made Predator and Predator 2 so visceral. Don’t get me wrong, Prey‘s fight choreography was cool and the sequences were fun. It’s not like I’m trashing the movie. Just have some things that kept me from thinking it’s phenomenal rather than just really enjoyable.
Prey enters the charts in the Positives category, at 15 of 30. It’s below Nope because Nope has the higher highs and is a more realized film. But it’s above Vengeance because I think Prey seized opportunities a lot more than Vengeance knew how to.
My favorite thing? Predator vs Bear. My least favorite thing? The herbs that instantly drop body heat with no adverse side effects. Would I recommend it? To anyone who enjoys some horror and action, absolutely.
Fresh was a solid example of smart indie-horror. One of those calling-card movies that elevates everyone involved but isn’t quite doing enough to transcend being a genre staple. And that’s okay. It’s very similar in set-up to Get Out. It’s just about women dealing with the possessiveness of men rather than Black people dealing with White people culturally appropriating,. Watch the movies back to back and you can see how similar the set-up and twist and turn are. That’s not to take anything away from Fresh. It stands on its own by making a lot of great, bright choices. I only make the comparison to point out the difference in the sense of scope/scale. Fresh feels much smaller than Get Out. That’s really the only reason it’s as low as it is. Not so much because it had missteps—like, say, Nope—but because it was so narrow. The overall ceiling was a lot lower.
Fresh enters at 20 of 29, at the bottom of the positives category. I have it under Hustle because I think the two are similar in terms of scope and quality but I was happier while watching Hustle. The list doesn’t have a lot of happy movies at the moment, so they sometimes get the edge. Fresh is above Death on the Nile because Nile was just such an emotionally flat movie. I felt more intrigued by what would happen in Fresh than I ever did Nile.
My favorite thing? The moment the women get their revenge. My least favorite thing? How stupid Sebastian Stan was (which is thematically purposeful but man). Would I recommend? Definitely to anyone who likes smart horror and wants to see some women triumph over a jerk. Though the film might be hard to watch for some people who have been in toxic relationships.
Solid. There’s a very small genre of “front office sports movie” that I’m a pretty big fan of. Little Big League, Moneyball, Draft Day. I think that’s it? Baseball, baseball, football. So it’s nice to have an NBA entry. A lot of famous basketball movies deal with college and high school basketball. The most famous NBA-centric basketball movie involves Looney Toons and monsters. So to get something that’s grounded, visually competent, and gives an inside-look on professional basketball is cool. Like, I can’t stress enough how nice it is to see people who can actually play basketball. And it be filmed in a way that highlights the gameplay rather than tries to hide it via an infinite amount of cuts. So Hustle has a lot going for it.
And that’s before we get into the core cast. Adam Sandler’s on-screen charisma has always been his greatest weapon. And it’s as strong here as it was in early works like Happy Gilmore. Sandler himself isn’t so bombastic. Definitely different energy levels. But he still has a presence that’s magnetic and endearing. Which is kind of nice after how stressful Uncut Gems was—amazing Sandler performance but had me biting my nails the entire time. I liked the whole cast. I liked the Rocky meets Draft Day story. Only criticism is the ceiling is pretty low. Narratively and visually, Hustle is very safe. It avoids a lot of mistakes and missteps. But it never really reaches.
So it enters the rankings at 19 of 28, as the anchor to the Positives category. I actually knocked Death on the Nile down to Neutral as thought the difference in enjoyment I had between Hustle and Nile was great enough that they shouldn’t be in the same category. But Hustle goes below West Side Story. Which. Hm. Now I’m wondering if I’ll eventually drop Hustle down to Neutral haha. There’s a pretty big difference in the overall highs between West Side Story and Hustle. I’ll leave it for now, as Hustle is at least unique in that you don’t see many NBA movies or this degree of on-screen athleticism. As a sports fan, that means something to me.
My favorite thing? Anthony Edwards as Kermit. My least favorite thing? Played it safe. Would I recommend? Yeah, if you like basketball it’s a fun watch. And if you like Adam Sandler, it’s just another solid entry in his overall filmography.
FIRE OF LOVE
Fire of Love is one of the most impressive movies I’ve ever seen. The visuals are out of this world. That’s because the subjects, Katia and Maurice Krafft, happened to be not only leading volcanologists but artists who used volcanos as their medium. Maurice via film. Katia via photograph. So when you have access to their entire catalogue, it’s the cinematic equivalent to Scrooge McDuck’s money vault. The movie itself is part love story, part educational, part tragedy. The structure is simple but effective and there’s enough thematic and clever editing throughout to appreciate the nuanced craftsmanship that went into Fire of Love. Sara Dosa did an amazing job.
I’m not someone who often ranks documentaries ahead of narrative features. But Fire of Love is that good. Visually, Fire of Love is such a one of a kind project that I’m not sure another movie will ever compare to it. It’s the end-all-be-all of volcano-driven films. With that in mind, it enters the rankings at 1 of 27, breaking ground on the Colossal category. While I loved that The Batman was the superhero version of David Fincher’s Seven, that’s also my biggest knock. I’m not a big fan of narrative influence being so holistic (see my criticisms of Everything Everywhere). I think The Batman is a successful example of it but when it comes to rankings it’s something I will detract for. So as good as The Batman was, I think there’s a sizable gap between it and Fire of Love.
With that said, I think the general viewing audience will like The Batman more as it is more classically entertaining. But the volcano footage in Fire of Love will impress 99% of people, whether or not they care about the story.
My favorite thing? The volcanos. My least favorite thing? What happens to Katia and Maurice. And there were a few arts and crafts insertions that I’m not sure worked aesthetically with the rest of the film. Would I recommend? Yes. Just because people should really see how insane the volcano footage is.
This was a rewatch for a definitive explanation. First time I saw Enemy, I liked it. But I wasn’t sure how much. It definitely demands multiple viewings. Which is something I like. This second time, it definitely hit a little harder. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorites and the nuance of his performance is so much fun. And I’m on record as a huge fan of Denis Villeneuve. That this is essentially Villeneuve’s Fight Club is a big point in its favor. It’s taken me a bit to wrap my mind around what’s going on and how it’s presented but I finally think I got it. Excited to write the longer analysis/explanation about what’s going on. It’s confusing but not that confusing once you can get into the proper perspective. And I love the spiders being a reference to Louise Bourgeois’s work. It grounds Enemy not just in an identity crisis but a crisis between genders. There’s a lot to pull apart.
My only real knock is that the scope of Enemy is pretty small. That’s not inherently a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a great thing. I’m just drawn to larger scale films. So even though this is artsy than Fight Club, I far prefer Fight Club for the spectacle. Enemy doesn’t go into my top 3 Villeneuve but it’s a very good movie. I’ll actually have to put together my ranking of Villeneuve movies.
In terms of my all-time rankings, Enemy enters at number 5 of 26, anchoring the Impressive category. I initially had it at 4, ahead of Get Out because I think it’s a more technically impressive work. And I love movies about identity. But I think Get Out‘s scope, commentary, and impact means it wins out. So Enemy is at 5 instead of 4. It goes above Elvis as Elvis is fun but just pales to how interesting and provocative Enemy is. It’s a good example of the divide between my “Impressive” and “Really Good” rankings.
My favorite thing? Spiders. My least favorite thing? How much this fried my brain. Would I recommend it? If you’re into artsy movies about identity that challenge your ability to separate reality from subconscious “reality” then yes. Otherwise, this might be too weird for you. But it’s quick enough and Jake Gyllenhaal enough to at least give a shot.
Vengeance was enjoyable. It’s one of those movies that’s smarter than you expect so can be very charming. The major downside is I don’t think it ever shined in a specific area. You watch Sicario and the cinematography drives so much of the film. You watch Elvis and Austin Butler’s performance drives the film. You watch Blade Runner and the world building and concepts dominate the experience. Predator has an undeniable gimmick. Blood Simple, the first movie by the Coen Brothers, stands out, I think, because of how many layers and wrinkles it introduces to the story, taking something that could have been pretty straightforward and making it a bit more complicated and tangle. That’s memorable. I just wanted a bit more from Vengeance. Everything it did it did pretty well. Just nothing struck me as masterful. And that’s okay. BJ Novak made a solid, fun movie. Not everyone can do that. Especially with their first film.
It enters at 13 of 25, in the Positives category. As charmed as I was the entire time, I just want more “wow” moments. So that’s why Nope is higher. I had plenty of criticisms of Nope but it swung for the fences and when it was great, it was great. But I put Vengeance ahead of Everything Everywhere. Everything Everywhere was enjoyable but owes so much to The Matrix and Cloud Atlas without, I think, capturing the same magic as those movies. It just feels a bit more derivative than I’d like. Vengeance doesn’t so goes higher.
My favorite thing? The characters. My least favorite thing? Who the killer was was too obvious. Would I recommend it? Definitely. I don’t think it’s like a “top 10 movie of the year” kind of thing, but it’s one where people will go, “You know what was pretty good? Vengeance!”
What I loved about Get Out was that theme and narrative were hand-in-hand the entire movie. Start to finish. Us felt less consistent. Sometimes it seemed thematically driven, other times it felt just like a story with some ideas thrown in but no real purpose. And it’s fine for a movie not to have a purpose. There are plenty of amazing movies that are purely narrative with little in the way of theme. In this case, I tend to prefer extremes. Either go all in on your themes or ignore it altogether. If you get wishy-washy, it muddies viewer expectations. And Nope was very wishy-washy. There’s a lot of interesting thoughts and concepts, but they’re never culminated. In fact, I felt like they were outright abandoned. The entire story kind of devolved from this kaleidoscopic, thoughtful thing to nothing more than a showdown with a monster. And that was incredibly disappointing to me. There was so much potential for a grand, multi-faceted, existential conclusion. But we don’t get it. What we get is a fun spectacle that has a lot of value simply as a spectacle. I just wanted a stronger payoff for all the stuff in Nope‘s first hour. It’s good but could have been amazing. And I’m afraid we’re just going to keep saying that about Jordan Peele movies from now on.
Nope enters at 12 of 24, landing in the Positives category. I could easily see an argument for it being at least Really Good but right now I’m a little too frustrated to give it that. But it’s doing a lot right and is gorgeous and interesting. If only it didn’t demoralize me so much.
My favorite thing? Gordy, the chimpanzee. My least favorite thing? The ending. Would I recommend it? Yes, but with the caveat that it’s not as good as Get Out and similarly frustrating as Us.
So Morbius actually threw a wrench into the rankings. As much as I had disliked Fourth of July, it made more of an effort than Morbius, had less plot holes, and had more to say. Morbius is about as narratively cliche and superficial as you can get. But everything else was actually pretty okay? That surprised me. I expected it to be full of bad acting, poor editing, awful dialogue, etc. etc. Outside of a few moments, nothing was that egregious. But it was also never close to good. And that’s 100% on the screenwriting and Sony. At this point, I associate Sony Pictures with messy films. There are a few times they give a great director the necessary budget, like Blade Runner 2049 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Otherwise, we’re getting things like Chappie, The Emoji Movie, The Dark Tower, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Venom, and more train wrecks . There’s the occasional Baby Driver and Into the Spider-Verse. But the amount of Morbius‘s Sony churns out is disappointing.
Morbius enters at 23 of 23, at the bottom of the Bad category. It wasn’t bad enough for me to hate. But it was also so cliched and basic that it doesn’t deserve to go ahead of any other movie on the list.
My favorite thing? Matt Smith. My least favorite thing? The mid credit and after credit scene. Would I recommend it? Not even ironically.
I’m waiting for the Robert Eggers movie that has a story that does justice to how good the visuals are. While The Northman is a classic that will absolutely appeal to a lot of people…it’s very very very familiar. It’s the basis of Hamlet, one of the most famous and influential stories ever. Knowing almost everything that was going to happen before it happens is a little bit of a drag. Doesn’t mean the movie is bad. Just means that I think it has a lower ceiling. With that said, the visuals are insane. This is 100% a visual masterpiece. Especially the final fight between Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) and Fjölnir (Claes Bang). So bravo there.
This enters the list at 11 of 22, at the top of the Positives category. I completely understand why someone would argue it be in the Really Good or Impressive categories based on the visuals and performances alone. But I’m a story person. On the story alone, this would land in either Neutral to Negative. So I think it being atop the Positives is still a strong recommendation. Crimes of the Future is above it because of Crimes‘s originality. And Everything Everything All At Once is under it because I think Northman is the harder film to make.
My favorite thing? The final volcano fight. My least favorite thing? How drawn out the buildup is. Would I recommend? If you know and like the term “art house” then definitely.
DEATH ON THE NILE
Solid visuals. Solid performances. Solid story. But just doesn’t do anything all that well. There isn’t a big visual moment like, say, Spielberg had in West Side Story. Not a big acting moment like Austin Butler in Elvis. And the story doesn’t quite have the twists and turns of Knives Out. In fact, from the first scene that introduced Margot Robbie, Gal Gadot, and real cannibal Armie Hammer, I guessed what the reveal would be. And I was right! A mystery should never be that guessable so early. But I enjoyed the ride and did have doubts. I think there’s potential in this series, just hope they find a way to elevate. It enters at 14 of 21. It’s in the positives category but at the bottom, below Everything Everywhere All At Once, Us, and West Side Story, but above films in the neutral category like Thor: Love and Thunder and Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.
My favorite thing? I liked Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). My least favorite thing? The mystery. Would I recommend? Cautiously. If you’re not getting your hopes up and have some patience/tolerance for methodical stories, then you’ll probably enjoy the experience more than dislike it. But if you don’t have that patience, it might be a little painful.
This was better than I expected. Charming in all the ways you’d hope a Pixar movie would be. Even though it’s a pretty small story, it found a way to add some scope with the kaiju-panda. I appreciate that very much. Along with the thematics of coming of age and generational trauma and what it means to have a healthy relationship with our parents. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to Everything Everywhere All At Once. Just a difference in POV between the mom in Everything and the daughter in Turning Red. They actually share many of the same beats. Turning Red enters number 8 of 20. Goes above Top Gun: Maverick as I think it’s saying more while being just as fun (albeit, in an entirely different way). But it goes below Cosmpolis because I love the existential musings of Cosmopolis.
My favorite thing? All the scenes with the friends together. My least favorite thing? The cheesiness of Four Town singing to help the ritual. Would I recommend? If you like endearing, charming movies, then absolutely.
WEST SIDE STORY
I went into this only knowing that it was based on Romeo & Juliet. I’d never seen the stage performance. Or the original movie. It kind of blew my mind when I heard “I Feel Pretty” because I didn’t even know it was a West Side Story song. So it was nice to finally understand why this version of Romeo & Juliet has been so popular. Classic story with an American twist that gets at issues still plaguing the United States to this day. So it has a timeless quality to it. And really highlights a lot of the tragedy of this country when we fight with each other rather than work together. I can be back and forth on Spielberg movies. Sometime he reminds me of why he’s one of the best ever (War Horse). Other times, I’m just frustrated (Ready Player One). I feel like he really got to show off here. The shot where Bernardo (David Alvarez) and Anita (Ariana DeBose) kiss behind some hanging fabric and we see their faces through the fabric but also their shadows on the fabric…one of the best shots I’ve seen in years. Rachel Zegler and Ansle Elgort gave the charming performances the roles demanded. Mike Faist had great energy as Riff. The performers and Janusz Kaminski were competing throughout the movie for who was stealing the show. I put it in the Positives category rather than Really Good because even though I admired a lot of what went into making West Side Story, the story is just so familiar. It’s a two-and-a-half hour movie where I feel like very few things actually happen. I completely understand why other people would rate it higher though. And it’s arguable that the performances and filmmaking alone should elevate it. My favorite thing: charisma of the actors. Least favorite: songs from side characters went on for an awful long time. Recommend it: definitely.
FOURTH OF JULY
There are core narrative aspects to Fourth of July that many people can relate to: fears of being a parent, feeling different from your family, having something to say to your parents and being scared to say it, and addiction. And there will be people who truly resonate with those topics and love Fourth of July for the unique way it explores them. But not me. I was so frustrated by the acting, characters, narrative choices, and cinematography, that Fourth of July became a completely painful viewing experience. And that sucks to say. Because people worked on to make something they believed in. I don’t want to be the critic that just dismisses their effort. But, man. This movie asked more of me than it gave back. And there’s a realism to some of the choices that go against Hollywood expectations, like the father not giving Jeff (Joe List) a big speech. I can appreciate that attempt to stay real rather than go for the big emotional catharsis. But I just hated how it was handled. Which is how I felt during almost every scene. There were a few chuckles and a great moment of conflict that involves classical piano versus a family singing Billy Joel. Otherwise… not much to recommend here.
I thought they made Thor just a little too silly. Like they took his personality and turned the dial up on all the goofier aspects. I prefer Thor from Ragnarok, Infinity War, and End Game more so than this incarnation. Just felt like the movie was a little all over the place in terms of tone. Thor’s going through existential crisis. Jane has stage 4 cancer. All the Asgardian children get kidnapped. Gorr lost his kid and is grieving in a very bad way. The story is actually a very heavy and serious thing but Taika Watiti never settles into those emotions. Which is exactly what we see with Jane. She’d rather be The Mighty Thor than accept her cancer diagnosis. And I get a lot of people will be 100% happy with this and prefer fun over serious drama. I just think the lightheartedness doesn’t do justice to what the character’s are going through. My favorite things were the screaming goats. Amazing. Least favorite thing was how much ditzier Thor was. Would I recommend it? If you’ve watched all the other MCU movies, you might as well, you know?
Mad God is genuinely an achievement. Regardless of how anyone feels about the message or bleakness or their own confusion, Mad God deserves recognition for even existing. Very few people in the world could pull off making a stop-motion film of this magnitude. Phil Tippett might be the only one. So bravo. My favorite thing was how genuinely impactful much of the imagery was. Some of those scenes will stay with me forever. My least favorite thing was how long the baby worm cried for. Would I recommend it? If you know what a cult movie is and can name one you like, then yes.
With Minions: Rise of Gru. I didn’t hate it. I also didn’t love it or even really like it. I laughed a few times. Alan Alda, Michelle Yeoh, and Taraji P. Henson all delivered. Honestly, the thing that disappointed me the most was the backstory with how the minions met Gru. I thought there’d be something more substantial than “They answered a help wanted add and wouldn’t leave.” I guess it being that stupid is charming, in a way? But I had hoped for something less actively anti-climactic. Also, they could just do a spin-off movie with Michelle Yeoh’s “Master Chow” and that would probably be better.
It surprised me. Was essentially a real good season of Stranger Things but as a movie. My favorite thing was how thematically coherent it was. Similar to Babadook or Lights Out. Least favorite thing was the image of jacked Ethan Hawke waiting at the top of the stairs that will forever haunt me. Would I recommend it? Yes.
This was my first rewatch since seeing it in theaters. And I had a similar feeling. I love the personal story of Addy and her family and the conflict with Red and what happened to them as kids. There’s beauty and tragedy to that. The filmmaking is awesome. The mix of comedy and tension is great. But once again I’m left really frustrated by the larger story being told. It’s not just what happened to Addy. She’s a small part of what is this insane government project that’s entirely glossed over. There are so many insane things to accept that it becomes hard to suspend disbelief. If it had really landed the larger story, it would be much higher. As is, it’s a good story within an absurd one.