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Best of 2018: Movies March 31, 2019

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Photo credit: flickr user Hans Splinter

Based on my personal Rotten Tomatoes ratings, 2018 was a poor year compared with the two years prior. I only rated two new movies 3.5 stars out of 5, versus 6 in 2017 and 5 plus a rare 4-star the year before.

My two favorites of the year didn’t even chart in Box Office Mojo’s domestic top 100. As usual, the top 10 were dominated by superheroes and cartoons, though a biopic snuck in. Does Freddie Mercury count as a superhero?

Some other comments on the box office:

  • For most of the 2010s, there have been three or four $300 to $400 million sellers at the top. 2012’s big Avengers movie bested $600 million, and 2015 saw two re-booted franchises explode: Star Wars sold over $900 million in the U.S. and Jurassic World over $600. Star Wars follow-ons also tended to do very well. In 2018, Disney again did spectacularly, with Black Panther over $700 million, another near-$700 million Avengers title, and the long-awaited Incredibles sequel over $600 million, but the Star Wars Solo was a relative flop. Like 2015, overall ticket sales were up strongly, over 7% better than the prior year.
  • I saw seven of the top 10. The only one I gave a 3-star rating was the latest Mission Impossible. I loved Black Panther’s Afro-futurist look, its women, and Michael B. Jordan’s villain. (I’m definitely Team Killmonger thematically.) But it was way too long, poorly paced, and the special effects were awful.
  • Disney again ruled the roost; its 26% market share was 10 points better than number two Warner Bros. And it’s swallowing up Fox as we speak, presumably to re-unite the rest of the Marvel superheroes.

I have no problem with super blockbusters. I enjoy ’em as much as I do movies for grown-ups. It’s just that this year’s batch wasn’t very good. I’m looking forward to the last Avengers movie, but have no desire to see Aquaman or Shazam. And not because they’re light-hearted – I’m a big fan of the funny Thor episode, even if there’s only so far improv should go.

Last year, like 2017, my tastes looked more adult. The two 3.5 star movies I saw last year:

  • Roma – Full of life and Cuaron’s love of this (his) family and home. The film is beautifully shot, edited, and sound-designed – by all means, see it on a big screen if you can.
  • Free Solo – You’ll catch yourself holding your breath during this documentary. Spectacular footage and gets pretty deep into the heads of the climber and those around him.

The best of the others:

  • First Reformed – Ethan Hawke takes a long look at despair. Will he emerge pastor or Taxi Driver? The script cheats a little – it’s pretty clear whose side of the modern church Calvinist Schrader is on – but the director/writer’s moral convictions are ferocious, his construction formal, and at 71, it’s his best work in 20 years.
  • The Favourite – Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for anachronism, misanthropy, and tone shifts. Swift is name-dropped appropriately. Excellent cast, costuming, cinematography (natural lighting plus fish-eye lenses!), soundtrack.
  • A Star is Born – The first half is pretty terrific, but the draggy second half wilts, and I’m torn as to how effective is its meta-ness. While it’s admirably ambiguous on the “what is authentic” angle, the script – by director Cooper – cheats for actor Cooper with a lame backstory and sweetens the male resentment. And “Shallow” is no “The Man That Got Away.”
  • BlacKkKansman – Painful demonstration of just how little has changed. And – no offense to Jordan Peele and Boots Riley, but this is how a master handles tone shifts. The usual Spike Lee high craft in photography and scoring/soundtracking; if only the cast was more charismatic. Driver, who’s growing on me, is very good and Grace is superbly typecast. But Washington shows no signs of his dad’s charm.
  • 8th Grade – I was cringing throughout – I can only imagine how women or parents with daughters will shudder. Pity the middle schooler. 14 year-old Fisher is terrific; was she acting? Does it matter?
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout – The Franchise that Never Fails. Fast chases, silly stunts, triple crosses, a new hot villainess, and the masks are back. Even earns a few laughs poking fun at Tom’s height, running, and stunting.
  • Widows – Artsy heist movie that doesn’t care much about the heist, but digs into the characters and Chicago race/corruption/politics milieu. Solid cast and good script.
  • And a handful of horror movies:
    • Halloween – Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode still have it. Far more than serviceable updating, with a slow build to its very tense last half hour.
    • Hereditary- Superbly cast with several excruciating scenes, classic camera work, and great sound design. But it lacks momentum and chickens out on its toughest themes. Those scenes will stay with you, though.
    • Suspiria – Nobody goes over the top like Guadagnino. (Except, maybe, Argento.)

This year’s Oscars – I went only 17 of 24 and lost the family pool again – made some, shall we say, dubious choices. They didn’t display much in the way of Big Themes in Pop Culture, either. Maybe a bit of a multi-culti vibe. Green Book was charming enough, I suppose, if glaringly obvious. And its attitudes toward race relations seemed far more Driving Miss Daisy than BlacKkKlansman.

Finally, two big disappointments. I had high hopes for what turned out to be the worst movie of the year. A Wrinkle in Time replaced spacey psychology and Christian insights with Oprah-esque self-help platitudes. Please read the book instead. And one of my favorite talents to watch, writer and sometimes director Taylor Sheridan botched the Sicario sequel badly, losing all the first one’s moral ambiguity. If you want some of that, read Don Winslow’s epic War on Drugs trilogy (The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, The Border).

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Best of 2017: Movies March 9, 2018

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Photo credit: flickr user Hans Splinter

So, my brother in law crushed me in the family Oscar pool, but that’s not what matters, for this post at least. For the record, he went a very, very good 20 of 24 while I got 15 right because I thought the Academy would distribute the love for Lady Bird and Get Out, in a sort of @metoo backlash a la last year’s @oscarssowhite backlash, at the same time the anti-Three Billboards crew would split votes. Shows what happens when you overthink things. Regardless, I nailed the big six, as did William.

But this post is not about my Oscar picks, but about what new movies I saw that I really thought were the best. It was a pretty good year, as I rated 6 films 3.5 stars out of 5. Last year, I gave out my first 4-star rating in ages, and 5 3.5 stars. One of this year’s faves was directed and written by Taylor Sheridan, the writer of my 4-star “Hell or High Water” in 2016, so my expectations for his future (Sicario 2 as writer/director, he wrote the first one) are high.

But first, as usual, a few comments on industry trends.

  • Per Box Office Mojo, the top 10 U.S. box office hits in 2017 were super heroes, mostly sequels, with two other franchises (Star Wars and Despicable Me), a Stephen King, and a Disney live-actor re-make of a cartoon classic. And Pixar didn’t crack the top 10, though Coco was number 13. Yes, America, we moviegoers are all teenagers or younger.
  • Star Wars Whatever (I’ve lost count) and Beauty and the Beast each sold an astounding $500 million plus in U.S. tickets. Star Wars did over $600 million. Disney rules. Encouragingly, Wonder Woman was number 3, Fast & Furious 8 was number 12, and Black Panther will probably crush 2018 and most every other super-franchise, so at least the franchise business is diversifying.
  • I saw 7 and liked 5 of the top ten, for what it’s worth. I like blockbusters as well as niche genre flicks, subtitled movies both classy and crass, and Films for Grown-Ups pretty much equally.
  • Disney seems unstoppable, but Warners is getting a little of its groove back.

My favorite movies of the year, in the order that I saw them, were:

  • Wind River. Very good “reservation noir” with near-tragic themes of grief and survival. Utah stands in beautifully for Wyoming, there’s a Cave/Ellis score, and solid performances all around. Sheridan wrote and directed.
  • Good Time. Likely destined for midnight-cult status, Good Time is a tense sensory overload: jittery closeups, hallucinatory neon cinematography, throbbing electronic score. Pattinson is terrific, and comparisons with After Hours are not out of line.
  • Three Billboards etc. etc. The script is messy – some gags are cheap, one character’s redemption is unearned – but it gives a solid cast a chance to shine with sharp dialogue, deep characterizations, and murky morals. The result: McDormand and Rockwell are spectacular, and Harrelson and Hedges very fine. Very good score from Burwell, as usual. To the backlashers: it’s not about real midwesterners, it’s about the Amuhrican culture of revenge.
  • Lady Bird. Gee, I wonder if this one’s autobiographical. Kidding aside, this is a wise and touching film; Ronan is compellingly believable (channeling writer/director Gerwig without aping her adork-able schtick), and Metcalf as mom is indeed “warm and scary.”
  • I, Tonya. American tabloid tragedy, laced with black humor, and even a couple of good sports movie scenes. Robbie and Janey are very good, indeed. “I worked for Hard Copy, a sleazy program that real journalists looked down on…and became.”
  • Phantom Thread. Kubrick would approve. Gorgeous formalist cinematography, art design, and score. All three leads are terrific.

To get to a top 10 list, the best of my 3-star ratings were:

  • Wonder Woman or Logan or Thor. Wonder Woman delivered, finally, a truly heroic superhero. Logan made critics recall Unforgiven (4.5 stars – I saw it again on the big screen for its 25th anniversary) but was start enough to only name-drop Shane, yet was still pretty emotional for Marvel. In Thor Ragnarok a little too much improv went a long way.
  • Call Me by Your Name. If you see one languid, sensuous, Italian gay romance this year, make it this one. Chalamet smolders, I’m still making up my mind about Hammer, and, of course, Stuhlbarg gets the great, life-affirming speech. It’s all a little adolescent, but as I’ve said about a prior Guadagnino film, man, those Italians know how to live. Even the non-Italian academics, apparently.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Slam-bang action and unexpected character depth. Sure, it has an extraneous third plot and Star Wars-genuine crappy dialog, but the spectacle is there. And if it’s a new theme that you don’t have to be a blue blood to tap the Force, I’m in.
  • Our Time Will Come. Chinese neorealist mother-daughter version of those existential French resistance movies. Humor and pathos.

The Shape of Water nailed the fairy tale but fumbled the parable. I thought Get Out was wildly overrated though it delivered a few nervous chuckles. Ditto the latest Planet of the Apes which took itself far too seriously (c’mon, Apocalypse Now quotes?) as a blockbuster with half a brain. Mother! should be up for worst movie of the year – I guess once you’ve done “Noah as Superhero,” there’s nowhere to go but back to The Beginning.

 

Battlestar Galactica Series Finale March 22, 2009

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Adama: We’ll be in too close for nukes. The same thing goes for missiles. No, this is going to be strictly a gun battle — like  two old ships on the line slugging it out at point-blank range. I want the gun captains to do their job and start firing immediately. And to continue to fire until they run out of ammo. And then…I want them to start throwing rocks.(smiles)

I liked the return to old-war-movie-cliche bits. I like the fact that human (Cylon?) nature and depravity screwed things up. I liked the resolution to the opera house. I’m pretty okay with Starbuck’s fate, and with Baltar’s, but way, way less satisfied with Cavil’s. And I liked the very “end.” But I’m very concerned about the whole hippy thing, and the fate vs. free will vs. religion vs. destiny vs. evolution cop-out. On balance, it was a little like LOTR 3.

There, I think I delivered my opinion without any major spoilers.