31 December 2019

2019 FINISHED! These Movies Were So Bad!

As we wrap up another year it's time to end on an awful note. Or...AWESOME note! We've talked at length about our Favourite Films of 2019, and the best films we saw this year, but it's time to talk about the flat-out worst films we saw. Let's go by year and by all-time that we just happened to watch this year.

Exposed (2016)

I watched this because it starred Keanu Reeves and Ana de Armas, the former of which is an obvious all-time favourite actor, and the latter is a rising star who I've enjoyed in everything so far (including the recently awesome Knives Out [2019]). Plus they were both in Knock Knock (2015). Okay, they're sexy. They're just really hot. Is that what you want to hear? This movie was so boring and forgettable I literally added it to my Netflix Queue again three months after seeing it because of all those reasons above. Like, I still wanted to watch it. Completely forgot that I had already. This was terrible.

Polar (2018)

Mads Mikkelson is pretty awesome and this was on Netflix, so whatever - cool! Problematic is the kindest way to describe the plot of this film, which seems to try to be a Liam Neeson-esque protective revenge fantasy, but bungles every possible scene. Nothing makes sense, and although it seems at first like it isn't taking itself seriously, all the style and pizzazz are empty. It actually makes me appreciate someone like Quentin Tarantino a lot more - his clones fall on their face.

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

I dig Orson Welles, especially late Orson Welles when he was just impossibly fat and crazy. I've modeled much of my life on him. I watched the documentary, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018) and got excited about this possible lost, unfinished film by Welles. It was to be his last masterpiece, one that could change film forever, again! I hope to chalk this up as a whiff because Welles died thirty years ago, but this incomprehensible mess that works best if you know all the intimate relationships of all the actors (well, mostly directors who are acting) involved in the 1970s. There is a sincere meta quality here that may have worked out, but it's such a mess. Somehow it needed another thirty years in editing.

Europa Report (2013)

This sci-fi film had just been in my streaming queue forever. I don't know why, maybe I just liked the title and thumbnail. This should be deleted from all streaming queues. It turned out to be a found footage film, which just didn't work in the scope of space. It's all a building mystery and then at the end it's just like, a monster that eats people. It's so deflating. It pretends to deal with some deep cosmic horror but it's just like a squid. And yeah, I spoiled it for you without warning. This was on purpose. There are some interesting actors here, but don't bother with this one.

6 Underground (2019)

So by default the worst film in 2019 that I saw, this was just a huge disappointment. Why can't anyone figure out the right tone for Ryan Reynolds? They make him too dangerous to be playful and Bay, while he's always reliable for getting a great action shot and usually does better with a smaller budget (yes, believe me), can't wrap his head around this plot. Despite an incredibly charismatic cast this just stumbles not out of implausibility (I mean, that's a given here), but from tone and what the film wants to be. It's a mess.

There were others that you might be surprised about. I loved CATS (2019) despite it being objectively terrible, but that's kind of the point. There were a lot of other pretty bad ones. In the Army Now (1994), 47 Ronin (2013, yes I really tried a lot of Keanu this year), Jupiter Ascending (2015), and Hellboy (2019) are all good candidates. None of these, however, made me as angry as what you see above. Happy 2020!!

27 December 2019

2019 FINISHED! Top 10 Movies

It is finally the end of the year. And so, after a long series of posts about movies this year here is the only one that really matters. The FINAL definitive Top Ten for the films of 2019. Now, as usual, we were totally wrong last year. Let's give an updated BEST of 2018!

Revised 2018 List:

American Animals
Assassination Nation
Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Death of Stalin
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sorry to Bother You

Now it's time to get into 2019!

#10: JoJo Rabbit

It's scary to think about Taikia Waititi can do totally unchained and with full confidence behind him after making a huge game-changing major studio blockbuster. Yeah, that result was JoJo Rabbit. It's hilarious, painful, gruesome, and full of commentary. It's the kind of original film that sticks with you for a while but also completely bonkers. I don't know where Taika goes from here, but he joins a long list of great Hitler parodies.

#9: Dolemite is My Name

This movie gives credibility to one of the most niche artists of all time, Rudy Ray Moore. Who better to play the iconic black star than the biggest black star of all time, Eddie Murphy. Eddie does a fantastic job here, and the film works both within its context and with what's going on in the margins. On it's face it's an Ed Wood (1994) - style insider look at a famously bad movie and terrible filmmaker. In reality it's a statement about both what culture appeals to American Black Community and how mainstream purveyors of pop culture tend to totally ignore that.

#8: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Alright, I know, I know. No one else is going to have this on their list. This is just another ridiculous smash 'em up Hollywood blockbuster that revels in excess, sacrifices character for spectacle, and is a hollow cash grab. I loved every second. It's world-ending mayhem, globe-trotting wackiness, and a total lean-in to the ridiculousness of these Kaiju, all while actually giving quite a bit of deference and fan service to the totally pulp source material. This stuff was never meant to be given the multi-hundred million dollar tentpole treatment. It's dudes in bad rubber suits. I don't know why this exists, but I love that it does.

#7: The Irishman

I mostly can't believe that this movie even exists. There a lot of problems with the CGI de-aging, not so much that it looks crappy (it largely doesn't), but that it doesn't give newer younger actors a chance to break out (the common refrain is that Bob De Niro got his major break playing a younger version of Marlon Brando in The Godfather: Part II [1974]. With Scorsese in 2019 he would have just de-aged Brando...). Still, this is what Goodfellas (1990) should have been. The glamour of the mob world is stripped and we instead have a lonely, sad old man who kills without compassion until he just sort of dies alone. It's definitely too long but still a director near the top of his game.

#6: Booksmart

This at first just seems like a female Superbad (2007). I mean, down to literally starring the female Jonah Hill (his sister, Beanie Feldstein). But what happens when it's like...BETTER than Superbad? Booksmart takes the genre into a fun directions, especially as it explores the simple fact that everyone who seemed to party and not care in High School are actually also as successful as the nerds. I was among the nerds. That sucks. It's fun and positive as hell.

#5: Us

There wasn't a film that made me think more this year, and even if the entire core conceit doesn't actually make all that much sense, that's not really the point of this movie. It blends itself more truly in that fantasy fairy tale world and as you think more about who is switching with who and how the Tethered mirror and amplify the personality aspects of their corresponding characters the depth of this movie reveals itself. That doesn't even say enough about the political ramifications, the spiritual ramifications, even the title - U.S. It's us! There is more to this than we can get into here, but in an age where these original films are so rare, this was a treat.

#4: Knives Out

We might as well cite the other big original film this year. Knives Out was constantly surprising and a somehow fresh take on the murder mystery genre, fueled by the greatest cast of any movie this year. It's exceptionally well made and rewards multiple viewings despite blowing its secret far too early. BUT DOES IT?! Reveals aren't reveals, except they kind of are, and Daniel Craig is Alabaman. It's great.

#3: The Lighthouse

This might be #1. It's a good candidate. Robert Eggers follows up The Witch (2015) with another bizarre period piece in what's getting to be a good genre for him. Black and White and in a boxy 1.19:1 aspect ratio, it's also the best looking film here, in large part because these conscious choices inform the story being told. That story is Robert Pattinson and a mostly farting Willem Dafoe hanging in a lighthouse, which are two people we need in 2019.

#2: Uncut Gems

This is the film I watched most recently and the hype is real. Adam Sandler delivers an amazing performance by actually just being really Adam Sandler-y, and the film is a frenetic, stress-inducing two hours of mayhem and bad deals gone worse. Its unpredictable until its final moments, which I'm still digesting as to whether it's earned, but for a brief moment it does feel really good. Then reality, but it's all good. Ultimately a sad story of a degenerate insane gambler.

#1: Midsommar

This may sound weird, but I saw Midsommar last week and didn't really think it was the greatest film of the year, but going through this list today it just worked out. Don't ignore that as a less-than-ringing endorsement, this is fantastic. Like Robert Eggers, this is the highly anticipated follow-up from a quasi-arthouse freshman debut (in this case, Ari Astra's follow-up to Hereditary (2018). This is one of the best films I've seen to deal with the heavy emotional baggage that comes with loss, particularly suicide, which then blends into a pagan horror film, although it remains slight and subtle. Well, mostly. It's not a film I would rush out to watch again, but it sure did stick with me.

Honorable Mentions:

There are quite a few. The Beach Bum was so pointless but ultimately amazing. I was close to including The Perfection because its twists, plotting, set-up and pay-off, and the sway allegiance to protagonists shift is just so amazing. Finally, I never got a chance to see Hustlers1917, Midway, or Parasite, all of which might creep back in when we reevaluate in December 2020!!

What do you think? What are your picks for the film of the year?

23 December 2019

NMW's Top Albums of the Two-Thousand Tweens!

We might not even do a 2019 music recap this year, but going back through this decade we have had some fantastic musical moments. As typical, I'd like to break this down into what I consider the only three big genres of music: POP, Hip-Hop, and Rock. Let's list our Top Three in each category (in order!):


Rainbow (2017) - Ke$ha

This was a revolutionary album by the Pop Queen. Yes - Pop Queen! Ke$ha sheds her greased up glitter persona for something more mature and soulful, but still full of her unique brand of energy. After a hellish few years she turns her tragedy into triumph without a single note of auto-tune to prove she has always had the legitimate vocal chops. She does and this is a bowlful of positive vibes where every track is a glamour bomb.

Bangerz (2013) - Miley Cyrus

2013 was peak Miley and with songs like "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball" at the forefront it seemed like this was just an obnoxious party album. She showed surprising maturity, though with a collection of heartfelt tracks that signaled maybe there's more to this girl than a wild partier. "Oh Darling", "Maybe You're Right", "Adore You" all make this album one I keep going to.

anti (2016) - Rihanna

Your #1 pop album of the decade, I could listen to this every day. Rihanna pours all her relationship angst into this with little care for song length, track listing, or anything to make a conventional pop album. The most bankable song is "Work" which blew up big, but there's a lot of drug-addled pain behind everything else. Drug-addled love, too. There is more of the latter and this album keeps thumping between Caribbean hymns, club beats, and guitar riffs to come together for a complete experience.


To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) - Kendrick Lamar

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is a fantastic debut but part of it still has that stitched together, mixtape feel. TPAB blasted Kendrick onto the main scene as a tour de force of rap artistry for the current generation. I listened to this over and over again and it's one of the few albums that I have completely saved as a constant YouTube playlist. It's full of radio-friendly beats as well as the more biting politically conscious tracks that Kendrick has jumped ahead on.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) - Kanye

I listen to a lot of Kanye, and although I have typically leaned on Graduation, MBDTF may be his greatest album ever, and for sure this decade. There's a lot here. He spits ironic rhymes and wordplay motivated with both earnest goofiness and racial change. He tries new musical techniques like fusing dozens of voices on "All of the Lights." He expands length with "Runaway." He practically debuts Nicki Minaj with "Monster." It's a majestic achievement, fueled by a lot of his pre-Kardashian pain. It's a triumph.

Run the Jewels 2 (2014) - Run the Jewels

Every single track here is hot as hell. Never a mainstay until they landed "Legend Has It" in front of the Black Panther (2018) trailer, RTJ has been cranking out some of the best hip-hop tracks of the decade. The beats are the best around and Killer Mike's brutal bellow complements LP's acerbic fire like few rap duos out there. Their second album is their most defined, unencumbered by expectation or novelty. It's the best hip-hop album of the decade and maybe my favorite overall.


Modern Vampires in the City (2013) - Vampire Weekend

This is weird to say, and correct me if my zeitgeist detector is off-base, but I feel like most of the decade transition sounded like Vampire Weekend. It's that twinkly kind of soft alt-rock that sounds emo except for the subject matter. This is their best album and one I keep going back to when I want to hear something that sounds like the early part of this decade. As is apparent, that statement makes me feel crazy because I don't believe it's a sentiment anyone else feels. What say you?

Pure Comedy (2017) - Father John Misty

Father John Misty launched with his first album, I Love You, Honeybear, which introduced his socially conscious folk rock attitude to the world, but he canonized his long form folk poetry with Pure Comedy. It's a scathing critique of just about everything evil in the world to the tune of humble folk beats. It'll make your head spin and also totally depressed and also totally happy.

Plastic Beach (2010) - Gorillaz

NMW's pick for the overall #1 album of the decade is one that launched nearly ten years ago. I've been a Gorillaz fan since the beginning (they're just about the only band whose every album I own). Plastic Beach traded the haunts of Demon Days for sunshiny island tunes, but stirred it with a corroded chemical bath that gives the entire optimism an maladious subtext. The entire album pumps with this and it's one of the most coherent and thematically consistent I've ever heard or have yet to hear. It's the best.

22 December 2019

2019 FINISHED! Top Movies Seen for the First Time in this Calendar Year

This is always a weird column because it's really a shine towards my personal tastes. Basically, every year I keep track of every film and TV show I watch. To me this is more genuine than a simple "Best of 2019" list because it's more a ranking as if every movie I saw for the first time had come out in 2019. This is so subjective. But for you, dear reader, it works as a way to highlight maybe a movie that has been otherwise lost in the shuffle, or there could be something you haven't heard of or haven't gotten around to. I like it. For the first time doing this, I'd also like to exclude any film actually made in 2019. Now that's a lot to think about.

Let's do a quick run down:

American Animals (2018)

I've never quite seen a film constructed like this in faux-documentary style which is kind of an actual documentary? It plays with its narrative as it goes, inviting the actual participants of the failed heist of the most expensive book of all time to comment in talking heads on what we're watching Evan Peters and company act out. Beyond that it's also a gripping story about how easy it is for white collar college kids to hop into serious crime, or at least think they can. There's real consequences here and the film isn't afraid of a downer ending. This snuck under the radar in 2018 and even though I caught it in January of last year, it stuck with me.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

I watched this movie out of both a desire to see more old Universal Studios horror movies and because I've never jumped into that much Abbott and Costello. This movie was hilarious. In an age where we seem to be struggling to find our comedic footing it was amazing how great their timing was, how quickly they establish their characters, and how funny they remain seventy years later! It's suddenly apparent why these comics are considered timeless. They literally are! This was also a nice way to get Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and Dracula all on screen together, almost all played by original actors! I just kept thinking about like, Seth Rogen and James Franco starring in a Freddy vs. Jason movie. That's about the equivalent here.

The Great Escape (1963)

This is a classic that hopped on Netflix, so no brainer here. In the past few years I've been trying to expand my Paul Newman and Steve McQueen knowledge and what struck me the most is just how much of an impact this film has had on the past fifty years of culture. So many Simpsons references I now understand. It's such a simple movie but works as a brutal prison movie, a character study, even in some ways as a comedy. The amount of assumptions here that keep the film moving despite its long runtime, the cleverness of the escape attempts, and the very real and demonstrable stakes make this still a great one.

Road House (1989)

I was surprised that this wasn't appreciated when it came out. Maybe I thought it was more of a classic than it was, but I ended up loving this. I had always avoided it, maybe it seemed like more of a Red Dawn (1984) bro flick or something to me, but it was consistent, exciting, dramatic, dangerous, and pretty fun. Swayzee is great on his own then young Sam Elliott shows up! Fantastic!

Free Solo (2018)

Not about liberating Han, this is a recent documentary about professional rock climber Alex Honnold who loves climbing so much he tends to do it without ropes. Watching Alex's personal obsession with danger is almost as impressive as his ability to hold on by his fingertips thousands of feet above the ground on a slick sheer surface of rock. The real-life danger is always present and this could have turned into an absolute tragedy with just a few more strong breezes. The fact that there's only one way out of this profession is the most depressing stat yet. Good movie!

Assassination Nation (2018)

Okay, no 2019s but we threw a lot of 2018s in that we just didn't get to that year. This movie is bonkers and probably a little bit exploitative of what it's trying to satire, but it's also the most coherent statement on privacy in an age of both hacks and just general Internet stupidity. It's laced with irony, lust, terror, revenge, and righteous fury. I loved this movie. It gripped me hard and never let go by piling insanity over insanity, all fairly motivated.

In the Mouths of Madness (1994)

This was an offbeat choice to watch - a relatively obscure John Carpter film starring Sam Neill right after Jurassic Park (1993). That this was his next film should say a lot about Sam Neill. It's like a Lovecraft story without exactly being Lovecraft and on the surface seems like a Stephen King story without quite being that, either. It ends up being a trippy dance with the nature of insanity and reality, which has enough mind-bending moments that was right up my alley.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

This is another classic that for some reason I had never gotten around to. It is preceded by a fifty-year reputation for changing filmmaking, but the most I really knew about it was Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty screwing up the Oscars and that Jay-Z and Beyonce song. I've been missing out. It's a competent period piece that says more about the relationships between impotent women and potent women than it does about cinematic violence. Or at least that's a much more jaded 2019 perspective. It's really a brutal film that makes you sympathize with horrible spree robbers and thoughtless killers. It's all part of this film's magic that these two are heroes.

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

I've definitely been on a Herzog kick, and this was an obvious choice. It's clear that I'm attracted to totally off the wall films and this is up there. I mean, this was enough:

There are coherent criticisms of colonialism mixed with a Colonel Kurtz-esque search through an impenetrable jungle where hope slowly decreases until it's clear that there is no going back from this mad journey. From there it's fun to see Klaus Kinski double down on desperate craziness rather than finding any rational way out. There is ultimately no purpose for the Conquistator's journey, but pride be damned if they admit that.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Conceived in the paranoid 70s, this film echoes even more in the current day. It's a classic story of pod people replacing everyone on earth and gets points for its escalation, complete failure of government institutions, and of course, the greatest scream in cinema history. It's subtle sci-fi that brewed a phenomenal cast, offers protagonists that twist and turn and become hard to trust, and provides a weary chase where everything we think we love is taken away. Fun for the whole family!

Solid Honorable Mention goes to A Simple Plan (2018), which I totally wrote off when it came out as a joke campy thriller, but it's just so much more than that. Okay, it's definitely a joke campy thriller, but it's also the fun version of Gone Girl (2014), which I never knew I needed so bad.

What did you watch this year? Any gems or classics you caught up on that you should have watched years ago?

2019 Stuff We Looked Forward to...in REVIEW!

Last January I made the bold prediction that "2019 will be the greatest year for movies in the 10,000 history of humanity" You had better believe that I was 100,000% right! That's the deal we make here at Norwegian Morning Wood. 100,000 percent right for 10,000 years. Anyway, most of these films actually turned out to be not that bad. So, let's dive in with what we predicted might not suck in 2019:

Like this face, 2019 was a MYYYYSSSTERY!!!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
- 05/19

Verdict: GREAT! This movie was amazing and I loved every single second of it. This ultimately wasn't all that impactful and it's a miracle they will move forward with Godzilla vs. Kong (2020), but I was at least super into this. Full review here.

Avengers: Endgame - 04/26

Verdict: GREAT! Delivered on just about everything it could have and successfully capped off the first eleven years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well worth the wait and extremely satisfying. Full review here.

Detective Pikachu - 05/19

Verdict: OKAY! It was still a really bizarre way to introduce live action Pokemon to a mainstream audience and Ryan Reynolds was definitely miscast, but there were plenty of fun moments and nice to see some favorite on the screen.

Spider-Man: Far From Home - 07/05

Verdict: GOOD! I like this a lot, probably more than Homecoming (2017). It grounds itself in characters really well and Tom Holland is incredibly likable as Peter Parker. The weight of Tony Stark weighs a little heavy, to the point where Spider-Man is starting to feel like an Iron Man spin-off and I wish he had his own identity a little more. Still, in the big spectrum of MCU films, this is in the Top Third.

Joker - 10/04

Verdict: OKAY! I didn't end up seeing this and although it has earned an extreme amount of both critical and commercial acclaim it seems like it's dropped at a tough time for its subject matter politically. OR depending on your point of view, an excellent time. I'm reserving judgment on how much it glorifies vs. satirizes its male subject matter, but I'd say it was at least a strong cultural force that ought to have some big waves in blockbuster filmmaking.

Ad Astra - 05/24

Verdict: PROBABLY PRETTY GOOD! I also didn't see this, but heard good things. I would like to because I think it has earned deserved praise, but it also seems to have been forgotten rather quickly.

Six Underground - Sometime

Verdict: BAG OF TRASH! This was probably one of the worst movies of the year. I could have likely seen this coming. For some reason Ryan Reynolds is straight up only good as Deadpool. And in Adventureland (2009) and Just Friends (2005).

Knives Out - 11/27

Verdict: FANTASTIC! One of the best movies of the year, original, encapsulating, fun, mysterious, and a dream cast. Just great. Full review here.

The Lighthouse - Someday

Verdict: GREAT! Okay, I didn't see it. But I want to and it looks great. Reviews have been stellar. It's not going to light the world on fire, but it seems like my jam.

Uncut Gems - Whenever

Verdict: GREAT! I also didn't see this. Yet. I might when it gets a wider release. But by all accounts Sandler is huge, the movie is great, Kevin Garnett for some reason. This seems to have delivered on its January 2019 promise.

I also had a long list of possibly good movies. Let's go through them just as fast:

Rocketman - Okay
Ford vs Ferrari - Pretty good
Boss Level - This did not happen
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - I didn't like it, but successful
SHAZAM! - Pretty good
Hobbes and Shaw - Okay
Velvet Buzzsaw - This ended up being okay, a little letdown
Brightburn - Not that great
Cold Pursuit - Greatest movie ever
Us - Amazingly fantastic

What did you think about 2019 movies? Did they deliver on your hype?!

21 December 2019

Star Wars Again

The last time this happened, I felt like writing far too much about my history with this particular franchise. It has been a hell of a two years, folks, because so much of my attitude about Star Wars has morphed and shifted, to the point where I'm really not looking forward to The Rise of Skywalker at all. And that has all to do with how much I loved The Last Jedi (2017), not how much many people hated it. So, let's dive into this a little bit, particularly what has become more and more apparent over the past two years.

They better bang by the end of this

The past four years have been packed with cultural events. Can you believe that The Force Awakens (2015) came out a mere four years ago? From that moment an entire new Star Wars Trilogy launched, and us long-term fans couldn't really understand the long-time ramifications of that launch. First, all of the Expanded Universe was bunk now. That's a nice way to clean up a conflicting sandbox that authors and video game creators have played in for decades so everyone can catch up equally with the new films, but with this franchise and new ownership, it also feels like a way to re-do thirty years of mythos and sell even more literature and video games.

There is more to it than that, though. There are substantial narrative issues with jumping into this without any sort of backstory. I think about this far too much. How did Star Wars (1977) work with much less of a backstory? Why does it matter? Well, the simple answer is that when we're thrown into something fresh we can piece things together in our own heads. We get that Darth Vader is bad, this moisture farmer is good, and okay, there is a story here.

I hate JJ Abrams. That is the biggest thing I've realized in the past four years. He is a fine director, casts well, his films look great, and he chases heart like few directors out there. But he chases it. He's a hack. He's probably the biggest fraud con artist director of all time. His specialty is creating films that emulate the feelings of old films, but actually contain none of the substance - and so he covers this with his infamous mystery box. Those mysteries never have an actual answer. They just distract the viewer from the fact that the film sucks. Looking at his work over and over again it's just so clear that none of his mysteries actually have any satisfying answer. They just exist to be interesting in themselves.

The Force Awakens is full of this. From the first damn scene we get Max Von Sydow who seems like an important character. He's not and it's never explained. I am done with believing that this will ever come. It's just running on a treadmill with no end. This goes on and on and on. Snoke. Rey's parents. The origins of the First Order. The Resistance. It's so obviously an overreaction to the prequels.

To some extent we can't complain about this. The prequels were pretty awful and near universally reviled among fans. The thing is, though, this really wasn't the fault of story or creativity. It was just acting and dialogue, which George Lucas really really can't figure out. This has been examined to death. I've been rewatching the prequel trilogy this past weekend and it's striking just how good Revenge of the Sith (2005) actually is thematically. It strikes me that the Jedi had no business being the main military arm of the Republic and Generals in the Clone Wars. The Order had to be re-started. Palpatine is right. It's close to being downright brilliant.

Now, beyond these big overarching themes it's incredibly clear that Lucas didn't know how to write a love scene or handle basic character motivation. The casting of Hayden Christensen was one of the worst casting decisions in modern cinema. These bog down the prequels. But what's bonkers is that kids who grew up on the prequels and Clone Wars and an Era where they have had nothing but Star Wars media rammed down their throats have started to reevaluate these movies. Nostalgia has shifted. It's not as much old nerds pining for the OT, but rather younger nerds interested in prequel memes.

This brings up all kinds of weird issues. Both the animated and computer animated Clone Wars shows likely went on a little too long for a three-year war and created all kinds of problems when these Clones decide to all kill the Jedi. How did their spider senses not alert them to any of this mischief? Well, it's quite simple - Palpatine was right and the Jedi were blinded by their hubris.

This brings me to Rian Johnson. He's the exact opposite of JJ Abrams. Burn the past. Destroy it. But he also is one of a very few (including, I think Lucas himself) who understood what the Jedi are actually supposed to be - humble peacekeepers of the galaxy, better suited to meditate and contemplate than raise a lightsaber. I never thought The Last Jedi (2017) was about destroying our collective appreciation of Star Wars, but actually righting it.

When this suddenly conflicts with a more commoditized vision of Star Wars that normalized the Jedi as fun soldiers and action heroes, then the conflict becomes a little more apparent. That and also general woman-hate from insecure incel nerds. Basically, all of society is terrible now. Everything great is ruined by Nazis, from Rick and Morty to Joker (2019) to the fucking okay hand gesture. Thanks, Nazi jerks.

So, what's wrong with Rise of Skywalker? In the past weeks one thing has become painfully obvious. This franchise has had absolutely no direction from its outset. How is this possible? First, how can you have literally no overarching idea of where these three movies are going? There was always going to be three. Marvel has done this down the hall with no definitive story and adding Spider-Man halfway through. How can you give one movie to JJ Abrams to set up all this crap and then to Rian Johnson who loves undermining this crap, and then BACK to Abrams to set up all the crap he originally wanted?

It's astounding. It may prove to be one of the biggest blunders in movie history. How can you acquire the most valuable IP of all time and then just wing three of the biggest movies of all time? It's baffling. More than anything it just feels like Disney wants to jerk us around. Will there be another Trilogy? More Disney+ series? Who cares. It just all feels like a waste of time. Nothing is fueled by artistic merit or a desire to tell stories. It's just a big huge way of selling us the same stuff we bought in 1977.

But you may say, isn't this obvious?! We knew all this going in! Yes, that is true. It is obvious to anyone. But there has been an assuredly strong amount of this lately. For a while for all their monopolistic criticism Disney at least actually did feel like the studio that gave a shit. There was reason why they were so mammothly successful. They put the right people in place both behind the camera and behind it, gave films the right resources, and had the confidence to set trends, not follow them. When they gobbled up Fox, it was a sigh of relief that we'd never see another Fant4stic (2015). This is hardcore Devil's Advocate, but when every studio screws up superhero movies far harder than Disney, we might as well cheer for them all to be under a studio that's trying.

That seems to be unraveling now. Modern Star Wars is creatively bankrupt. Like everything else, they're stuck in safe remake mode rather than trying to be something actually new and interesting. I never thought I'd appreciate the prequels this much. It's actually tough to generate races, planets, technology, and costuming for the same universe but different. It's depressing to see so much of the same crap again instead of any evolution. It would have been such a more liberating step to see these characters dealing with an entirely new set of circumstances.

This gets back to our original question. Why does the sequel trilogy have a harder time selling itself? The problem is expectations. We're no longer wide-eyed and awestruck, able to explain away inconsistencies with fanon, but also acknowledging small errors for likely just issues with 70s filmmaking and it was good not to overthink anything. We're just not in that world anymore. Lore is important.

If The Last Jedi lacks anything it is some misunderstanding that people actually cared a lot about characters like Ackbar and Nien Numb, as dumb as they are. Rian Johnson should have treated them like a major death instead of just some random people. I don't really even have an issue with Canto Bight. In fact, that felt like the most Star Wars to me of any scene - it's just so dumb, incoherent, and childish. Yeah, that's this series of movies. Very Lucas. While it doesn't hold up to fridge logic, it aligns with the ideology they are trying to establish, and that's more than most of the other factions in the Sequel Trilogy, which seem to have no goals or ideology.

This is all to say that I'm pretty turned off. There is a part of me that wants to see Rise of Skywalker, but even that freaking title makes me cringe. I was so satisfied that the Skywalkers were passing. Rey is probably Luke's daughter or something stupid, undoing Rian's most brilliant story move. I hate this. I do want to see how it ends but I know it's not going to be satisfying. I'm so upset.

I hear The Mandalorian is good?

17 December 2019

2019 FINISHED! Movie Stuff of the Year

It's that most lovely time of year, folks. Not only do we countdown our movies and scenes and music and all the food we ate, but we dig a little deeper. This column has ranged a little bit over the years but we're sticking to the basics in 2019. Can't you tell?

Actor of the Year

One may only look towards the Golden Globe nominees to see how weird 2019 has become. Hanks, Hopkins, Pesci, Pacino, Pitt reads like it's 1991. What the hell is going on here? After Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood and Ad Astra, is Brad Pitt having the best year? Is he really the definitive Actor of 2019? Keanu Reeves was certainly the Actor of May 2019. Adam Sandler? Again, 90s. Shit, man. James McAvoy actually had one of the more prolific years, with Glass, It: Chapter Two, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Every single one of these movies felt like the lesser version of their predecessor, though. Going with IT, hell, maybe it's Finn Wolfhard or Bill Hader.

Let's go with a classic double shot. Chris Evans gave us the most defining performance of the biggest movie of the year as well as played that completely against type in a critical and commercial darling (that made 6% of Endgame's total worldwide). I'm not totally sold on it, but between Endgame and Knives Out, Chris Evans is maybe THE ACTOR of 2019. Of course The Rock has Jumanji coming out to add to Hobbs & Shaw. And Adam Driver has The Rise of Skywalker to add to Marriage Story and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and The Report. Maybe it's Adam Driver's. It certainly feels like a bigger year for Driver rather than Evans. Let's go with him.

Actress of the Year

Jessica Chastain has the same deal as McAvoy. I mean, quite literally, they were in the same movies. Poor cultural influence, though. Scarlett Johansson goes the Adam Driver route of Marriage Story and a big one, Endgame. Jennifer Lopez is hot right now because it's the 90s. Daisy Ridley pulled down Jumanji and Endgame. Endgame casts a long damn shadow.

Naomi Scott should fit the bill. Huge movie with Aladdin and a solid follow-up franchise starter with Charlie's Angels. Except the former bombed and seems to have passed quickly from memory. Even Aladdin doesn't seem like it ended up holding much weight. That's not fair - Scott is the biggest non-Will Smith name in that cast! Oh, maybe that's why. Margot Robbie had OUATIH and the upcoming Bombshell which would be a really good case in any other year...

But let's go with a no brainer, a newbie who held her own against actors who have been doing this superhero thing for eleven years. Brie Larson in the one-two punch of Captain Marvel and Endgame proved herself to be a cultural force this year unlike many who came before. I have no idea where they're taking her next (she was conspicuously absent of Marvel's next plan. They also didn't really know what to do with her for most of Endgame. Cool. Can't wait to see what's next whenever they think of an actual idea.

Trailers of the Year

I really didn't watch many trailers this year. I've kind of stopped. Even for movies that I think I'll like - I most just go see them instead. There weren't a ton that stood out. There are a few Christmas releases that have all been pretty interesting. Let's rank by order of goodness:

Jumanji: The Next Level

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) was a huge guilty pleasure for me. I have no shame about this. This sets up a sequel with the same exact premise but pushed even more insane by having The Rock play Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart play Danny Glover. The trailer shows all this and more. It works on premise more than stakes and it does a great job of getting me interested in wasting $10 this Christmas.


According to early reviews, this trailer is a little better than the final film, which seems to deal with more surface level Fox News issues than digging deep into these problems and providing a proper #MeToo film. That's okay - we can still watch this trailer and pretend this is the massive takedown film it could be. Starring three fantastic actresses in different stages of their careers coming together is amazing. It's like a blonde version of The Hours (2002). I'm a big fan of teasers that show one simple scene that demonstrates the feel of the entire movie. Bombshell knocks this out of the park.


Lol just trolling you. But really, this trailer is fine, great even. The subject matter is just so cuckoo bananas off the mark that there's no way anyone will see this film except for the dumpster fire memes it will generate. Ooh, we should just through Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) on this fire, too. I'll give the Sonic people all the credit in the world for admitting a weird mistake and correcting it. CATS not so much. They really should probably just have human bodies or cat bodies, not somehow both.

Wonder Woman 1984

This just dropped and I love it. I have no idea what this is about or why Steve Trevor is back and it seems to probably reveal way too much, but the soundtrack is bumpin and the humor and action seem on point. Why is it in 1984? Just nostalgia porn? A fascinating inability to set women superhero stories in the present day? I don't know, this does seem fun, though. It finds itself my most anticipated superhero film of 2020.

Hero of the Year

There are so many good candidates. Iron Man? John Wick? The Girl from Crawl? Queen Elsa? Let's go with a dark horse candidate from an insanely underrated movie - SHAZAM! This was all about a kid who wants to be a hero, and then becomes one, but has to learn that it's not that easy. That sounds simple, but this fun flick paid off in really satisfying ways that felt weirdly under the radar for a major DC movie. I guess that's why.

It was a really weird feeling. I think about who I would want in my corner. I just want Shazam there zapping folks. We probably need a Shazam vs. Thor movie now. That would be perfectly fine. I welcome the haters for not picking a single character from Endgame. Or CATS.

Villain of the Year

Eek! I've been waiting seven months for this! It's King Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters! I heartless alien fiend that can't be reasoned with or spoken to - merely unleashed and then uhh...leashed. It's a literal alien monster hurricane that destroys most of the planet before Godzilla can nuke him out of Boston. He's fearsomely powerful, intelligent, and untouchable. It's perfect.

Ok, Thanos, Joker, It, the alligator from Crawl. Or the entire village from Midsommar. Or the Tethered from Us. Damn, these are all good candidates. I'm sticking with Ghidorah. My second pick would be SPOILER stop reading if you haven't seen Far from Home, but you should honestly have figured this out - Mysterio! Slyly powerful, a master emotional manipulator, mind games, illusions - always one of my favorite villains brought to life in the best possible way. It's honestly better if you don't know he's a villain, but also every single appearance of Mysterio in every comic, TV show, and video game has started out like this. That Far from Home actually still sells that and almost convinced me, is brilliant. It's like Paul Rudd totally definitely not playing the same Mac and Me (1988) clip on Conan.


2019 was  a very big year. Endgame, Star Wars, Marvel, Disney remakes, Pixar fourquels. It's a lot. Maybe I'm just digging a bigger niche hole for myself, but not many of the biggest movies seemed to make a cultural impact, though. Where are the Toy Story 4 and Lion King memes? I'm at a point where I'm not actually sure if I just have superhero algorithms blasting at me in my self-perpetuating bubble or nothing else really made an impact.

There were massive flops. Audiences may actually be getting tired of seeing the same crap totted out over and over again. To be specific, though, they still want crap, just new old crap. There are weird Disney flops, though, like Mary Poppins Returns (2018) and Maleficient: Mistress of Evil. Comparative flops, of course. It's clear that audiences are sick of some stories, like ANOTHER X-Men and ANOTHER Men in Black and ANOTHER Terminator. Yeah, remember all those came out?

It's time to rank the original movies at the box office. Us is still in the Top 10 and there's totally not a movie coming out Friday that will knock them out... Next up is Hustlers at #25, then Ford v. Ferrari, Good Boys, and Knives Out, getting down to #34 at that point, still over $75 million. That's not entirely terrible, but far from a great sign.

In 2020 we have no Avengers, Star Wars, or Jurassic Park movie. We have one Disney remake, Mulan, a Godzilla movie that will probably do no money, a ninth Fast and Furious film that I'm actually predicting is over (no trailer yet?), a Ghostbusters movie that maybe won't suck? AKA Stranger Things: The Movie. DC is sure trying to have a big year. I've talked about WW84 and they have Birds of Prey as well. Marvel really only has Black Widow. Sure, The Eternals, but what the hell even is that, guys? There is a new Bond movie, and supposedly Daniel Craig's last, but Bond has been retiring for longer now than between Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012). Sure.

What did you like about 2019? Looking forward to anything next year?

16 December 2019

2019 FINISHED! Movie Scene of the Year

Normally when we run through the year there are a collection of great scenes, both in terrible and great movies. This year was different, though. When it happened I knew instantly that it was the scene of the year, nay, let's call it the scene of ALL years. I haven't found a good cut of everything I want in one video, so here is a bunch, but in 2019 this was everything:

This still chokes me up. There is a lot to unpack and an uncanny amount of earned pay-off here, both helped and hindered by this pay-off not being limited to one movie, but a literal decade of films. It requires a decent amount of knowledge to really understand, but well, I have that knowledge so it tugs at my heart pretty hard.

In Avengers: Infinity War (2018), both Iron Man and Thor get their asses kicked by Thanos. So does Captain America, but it's very brief. He doesn't have the emotional stakes the other two characters have. During their bout here there is a little hesitation with the other two. They know how powerful this dude is. It's great that they gave Cap a chance to shine. That moment when Mjolner flies into Cap's hands was the loudest I have ever heard a theater in my life.

It's full of little moments, too. First, there was always that inkling that Cap was worthy when he nudged the hammer just a little in Age of Ultron (2015). In that same movie, Cap bounces the hammer off his shield to create a soundwave, which he repeats here. This is the second team-up move after Thor lights up Tony's suit with lightning like in The Avengers (2012). These little things show that this team has been fighting alongside each other for a long time and have gotten to know what works.

Cap is just such an earnest figure that this moment feels so deserving. It's a classic, "Of course this is how it should happen" moment, but not one that an audience member would ever believe they'd actually do. Endgame (2019) is such a bonkers movie - it feels like they are headed for a showdown with Thanos early, but then they dispatch him with relatively little effort. It's an amazing ploy, then, that they're able to have their cake and eat it too with the introduction of this feisty younger Thanos.

Throughout the fight we're always wondering what will stop him. Will Thor or Tony get some redemption? Will Captain Marvel fly in and kick ass? Will Ant-Man go inside Thanos' nostrils and expand to giant size, exploding his head? Cap with Mjolner seems like the answer for a while. He gets some good licks in, which we've never really seen Thanos take before (save the axe to the chest from Infinity War, but that's overshadowed because he still wins with the Snap). It's an amazing moment.

But the film isn't content with that. Thanos overpowers the powered up Cap. He busts his unbreakable shield (there is a pretty incredible bit of acting when he does this, just disbelief, and fear, but still resolve). Thanos summons and army and Cap straps in. It's a stunning moment that wisely knows it has more gravitas than the oft-repeated "I could do this all day" line, but that sentiment is there. You know that Cap would stand and fight against that entire army alone. It's downright inspiring.

Then we get another great moment, though. Portals open up, they again call back to The Winter Soldier (2014) with an "On your left" and every character ever (except Daredevil, dammit) appears. There is a reason why Cap is the centerpoint. It's him standing alone. But film-wise it works because one moment leads into the other and it sells itself. It's earned. It's fantastic.


I love that M'Baku and Korg get prime spots as everyone charges into battle. It shows a lot of how random mashing up a lot of these worlds are. I actually just re-watched the entire battle here, which you should also do. There is a ridiculous amount of little lines and moments that connect the franchise. Spider-Man's insta-kill. The Wasp slyly referring to Steve Rogers as "Cap" to Paul Rudd after she made fun of him in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). Weird Guardians banter. Funny Valkyrie banter. La Cucaracha. It's as if dumb Ant-Man movies are infiltrating the Avengers movies. Black Panther calls Hawkeye "Clint" after this scene in Civil War (2016). It's actually a little ridiculous.

Most importantly, though, the images I've had in my head literally since the 80s of insane stupid comic superheros mashing up against each other on a big screen comes to life more than I could have ever dreamed. It hit an emotional core I didn't know I had, and clearly affected quite a few other people. This scene entered pop culture in a way that no other scene this year, or in many years has.

It's been the subject of memes, full-on parody, a surprisingly thoughtful musical analysis, and other fun recreations. We're at the point where everyone knows the rhythm of that Cap vs Thanos fight. The Stormbreaker snatch and press into Thor's chest. The Mjolner save and catch. The running spinning smack, the lightning, the hammer shield toss. It's so damn satisfying.

I have a feeling that we'll be returning to this scene quite often. It's the best in any action film of recent memory. Importantly, though, it's because it's steeped in character, stakes, goals, set-up and pay-off. Marvel has its faults for sure, and I won't rank Endgame as one of my best films of the year, because it literally isn't even a movie. It's just a sprawling nightmare. However, this scene is downright amazing and I think folks who tote Marvel as the Death of Cinema ignore how well they can pull off a moment like this. It's not easy.

Oh, and the runner-up is definitely when Captain Wack swims with dolphins who definitely aren't dolphins in The Beach Bum. I cannot find a clip, but here's the next best thing:

What did you think? What is your vote this year?

15 December 2019

Because I watched it on DVD: Hobbs & Shaw

Here's some very late impressions for you - Fast & Furious presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)! So bold the title required two ampersands! I don't want to dive in like crazy, but this movie left me with a good dose of weirdness that we should address. SPOILERS forever, but who cares. This movie is ridiculous.

This looks like two other movies. Walking Tall (2005) and
I don't know, any other Statham movie.

I was a late bloomer Fast fan for sure. I got into 2 Fast 2 Furious (2002) repeats on the USA Network in the mid-2000s and like most of the world, was fully on board when the franchise shifted to straight action heist movies starting with Fast Five (2011). Like all good things, though, a good thing has been bled dry. The pinnacle seemed to be Fate of the Furious (2017), which was all kinds of terrible, but instead it turns out that Hobbs & Shaw found a way to push insanity forward.

It's a fine line why Fate sucked. I loved Furious 7 (2015). There was some line that was tripped and I have spent a lot of time trying to think of what it was. I think it has all to do with Vin Diesel's turn towards evil. It's in that weird zone between being motivated enough and not actually going all the way. Diesel can be a brutal character and even since the first film they've resisted leaning into this. Replacing fan favourites like Paul Walker with charisma-free Scott Eastwood wasn't great either. How could they have fired him?!

Hobbs & Shaw takes all this to another level. These films have always featured quasi-superheroic acts, but here Idris Elba is literally a technologically-infused supervillain. It's never quite explained how, but it doesn't actually matter. What might be weirder is that Statham and the Rock are actually able to fight this cyborg somehow. Sure, not right off the bat, but they eventually do get it together - by "working together." Of course they do. If anything, it's nice to finally have an excuse why all these people can survive these car crashes and submarine explosions.

But there's other weird stuff at play. This film feels like it's just made by the stars and producers rather than any kind of coherent screenwriter. I know what that sounds like - every film is culpable of this. But it opens with a straight-up cameo by Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, and I mean his character is just Deadpool. He doesn't have the mutant powers or guns but the exact same attitude and line delivery. Or maybe it's Ryan Reynolds. Hobbs & Shaw was directed by David Leitch, who did Deadpool 2 (2018), but it's still a weird move to just mash these franchises up so blatantly.

The movie also ends with a trip to Samoa, and it's almost as if between this and Moana (2016) the Rock is trying really hard to remind us that he's Samoan instead of just "generically ethnic." It's just bizarre that his estranged Samoan brother is able to fix a nanite-virus extraction machine that only one other dude could ever build. It all builds toward this anti-technology message which is bizarre in a film where the police rely so much on technology. There's no heart here. Nothing makes sense.

Again, I know. This is a Fast movie. Not making sense is part of the game. The thing is, though, not making sense in other films still fit into the rules of the established world. Sure, Vin Diesel inexplicably headbutt flies into a huge dude and the runway is like 28 miles long. But this was all in service of a reasonably exciting conclusion. Hobbs & Shaw more feels like an excuse for the actors and producers to flex their own interests rather than producing something that the fans might think is cool.

And the Samoan stuff is sort of cool. There's fire and stuff. But the Rock also convinces his brother far too fast that he's cool after twenty years in exile from turning in their car thief father. His line is that people are going to die because this white lady is carrying a virus inside her. Their mom just believe them and the story moves on. It's really bad.

Like other films, moving quickly can be a good thing, but Hobbs & Shaw seems to stumble from the start. There was opportunity to present a really interesting duology here but they don't really establish how Statham and the Rock differ in their methods. Sure, they call Statham a ghost and the Rock a bulldozer, but they're both fucking bulldozers. There still exists a really weird zone where Statham is moving towards a Fast hero, which doesn't make any sense. He killed Han in cold bold. How can Dom ever work him? Maybe the Rock doesn't have major beef, but we yearn for some retribution or guilt or catharsis!

What's more true is that these filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner by killing Han in what was supposed to be a direct-to-DVD crapshoot, but brought the character back because they liked him, but then liked Statham too much and wanted him to be one of the gang. Just not enough 40-year old bald men in this franchise. And Statham is talented for sure, but this movie is all over the place.

I also totally thought the movie was going to end at the electro-torture scene. Like, they built that up so much, like every movie ever, and then I checked the time and had over an hour left! It was structurally bizarre. It just makes me think that the Rock came in and told everyone to go to Samoa.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, Vanessa Kirby is the best thing here and a total badass. She also gets this bomb-ass intro song and it's nice that the movie continues the Fast tradition of having great soundtracks. She holds her own, although was definitely not children with Jason Statham.

Did Hobbs & Shaw push this terrible franchise over the brink or am I crazy? I will say it was more fun than Fate but it also feels like a series of missed opportunities. Maybe I should just watch At Eternity's Gate (2018) or something instead.

13 December 2019

NMW's Decade-Late Best Films of the Decade - 2000s Version!

Listen, when we do a list, we're going to do it right. Even if it's ten years late!

We actually did put forth a Top Fifteen Films of the Millennium back in 2009 (in TWO PARTS!), when this blog was still in its infancy. Looking at that list and what I've come up with today in 2019, a few things struck me as odd. So let's go through that first.

The 2000s were weird. It is weird to realize how weird it was. Going through my shortlist of about twenty or so qualified movies I was struck by just how many major cinematic blockbusters and superhero films made the list. I still watch all these of course, but none these days feels superior to a small indie film in its resonance with me. I don't know if that's me aging and looking back on these days with nostalgia or a genuine shift in filmmaking. What draws me towards the latter hypothesis is the simple fact that a movie like Avengers: Endgame (2019) isn't even a movie. It's a brand. It's a good brand, and elicited one of the most moving emotional responses in me this year. But it's hard to evaluate as an actual movie.

Films in the 2000s were all over this. There are tons of clever, game changing films produced by big studios, but even the smaller movies here feel bigger. They were Oscar darlings or critically lauded, classic comedies. I look at my 2010 rankings and see Under the Skin (2014) and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) and can't picture these coming out in the 2000s. Is it a shift in distribution methods? Or maybe just a rapidly increasing niche market where I'm able to find these things.

Looking back ten years on it's also clear that so many of these films have been canonized as great. I can put on No Country for Old Men (2007) any day of the week and know every minute of it, and by this point it's a ranked list no-brainer. There is still some debate in the 2010s. It doesn't help that I personally haven't really connected with recent Oscar winners. When this decade opened with The King's Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011), neither of which have really improved on age, that disconnect becomes clear.

Some spoilers for all these 10+ year old movies here, so go watch them first. Or stop reading a movie site, why are you here if you haven't seen these yet.

So, here is what I got:

#10: ELF (2003)

dir: Jon Favreau

Somehow Favreau and star Will Ferrell created not only an instant classic Christmas movie but also the most re-watchable movie of all time. It's also very genuinely funny. This was an early foray into Ferrell's "man-child" persona, here quite literally with the Peter Pan Syndrome Buddy the Elf unable to differentiate childish elfish culture with that of early-2000s adult New York. It never gets too dark, but flirts with danger enough to give an edge to the ever-present sweetness. Buddy never falters, either, even at his lowest, suicidal point he doesn't back down from his kind values, and it gives this film its staying power. 2003 also gave us the Christmas classic Bad Santa which equals this film in writing and memorability, but to make a film this instantaneously universally beloved is an underrated feat. To do it with a movie that's actually good is next to impossible.

#9: Mean Girls (2004)

dir: Mark Waters

Oh, Lohan. Somehow the biggest name going into this film became the worst name coming out. This is the kind of comedy that exists above all others - infinitely rewatchable by anyone on planet earth. It casts itself with such undeniable swagger and confidence, prone to sublime fantasies that mix in perfectly with its rock steady premise. It's the side characters and endlessly quotable lines that keep this movie going strong and like ELF, is rewatchable until the end of time.

#8: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

dir: Jake Kasdan

I originally had Shaun of the Dead (2004) in this spot, and I'm going to backhand it in here by acknowledging it as the culmination of early millennium Zombie fever (...of course that shit just never actually ended). In much of the same way, Walk Hard was the culmination of early millennium Apatow fever, although in seeking to parody all the self-serious movies that came before it, Walk Hard actually succeeded in being better than any of them. It's an underrated parody in part because it's so stealth. I didn't really get it on first viewing because it's so subtle and more interested in walking a very thin line and acknowledging biopic tropes. It's tough to walk the line. What's amazing is that no one has learned. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) is actually just Walk Hard. I think about it every day.

#7: Tropic Thunder (2008)

dir. Ben Stiller

This is perhaps the most meta movie ever made and exists as both a send-up of war films as well as Hollywood, excessive actors, out of control budgets, and insane producers who are scarier than drug cartels. It's full of set-ups, pay-offs, irony, and characters who all experience real growth. I'll never forget my grandfather describing a new movie he saw a commercial for that he couldn't believe and I slowly put it together that it was Satan's Alley. The first four movies today have all been comedies, and that says a lot about my sensibilities as a film fan.

#6: The Prestige (2006)

dir. Chris Nolan

The 2000s gave us Christopher Nolan on a huge stage and many people will pick The Dark Knight (2008) (I did in 2009), and while that's solid of course, I was far more impressed by the topsy-turny filmmaking of The Prestige, easily beating out fellow period magician film The Illusionist (2006). Hugh Jackman is so underrated here, as well as most of the Batman cast and even Scarlett Johansson shows up briefly. David Bowie and Andy Serkis show up for some reason. The movie is about a simple rivalry, but it's the questions that linger - when Wolverine and Batman each caught on to each other, how the hell Wolverine became a British Lord, and who really earns the Prestige after the trick. It's a melding of subject matter into filmmaking that rewards repeat viewings.

#5: The Departed (2006)

dir. Marty Scorsese

Otherwise known as Boston Accent: The Movie, this was a huge play for Marty. Like The Prestige, it's really about two rivals trying to outdo each other, while swearing and shooting each other all the way through. It stars every actor ever in their best role ever, especially Mark Wahlberg playing himself. The movie is really about deception and self-deception, though, and the continuous turns of loyalty and double-crosses that are all totally earned is what makes this movie watchable every day of my life. Like most Scorsese films it exists more as a series of scenes that are forever re-playable. It feels like a giant montage in the best way.

#4: City of God (2002)

dir: Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund

This is an epic saga of the city of Rio de Janeiro and there hasn't been a better film to expose life in the poorer and more dangerous city neighborhoods. It's a ride from start to finish, nominally starring protagonist Rocket, but so freely whisks in and out of dozens of characters lives as the city and people and violence shape everyone. It's the only foreign film on this list and one that I had heard a lot about but proved to be instantly enthralling when I watched it. Unlike a lot of films here, I don't know if I'm up for another watch. It's exhausting. In a good way. Maybe again.

#3: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

dir: Peter Jackson

It's tough because all of these films should really be here. The Fellowship (2001) may actually be the best one and I always go back and forth. But everything comes to a head in King and it serves as the poster-child for inexplicably the only franchise that didn't run out of steam by the third installment. It certainly helps that they were all filmed at the same time with the same crew and it's astounding that in an age of insta-sequels more films haven't actually gone after this method. It's iconic, epic, baffling, and a lot of fun. It never wants to end, but neither do I want it to.

#2: No Country for Old Men (2007)

dir: Coen Bros

I still remember leaving the theater thinking "Wait...evil wins?" That's the point of No Country, and while it's the little things like Anton Chigurh and low key hilarious lines ("Llewellyn, what's in the satchel?" Alright, that's not funny, but it gets me) that make it watchable, I'm also always shook by the sudden and terrifying off-screen removal of our protagonist. It should be on Psycho (1960) levels. Or at least SCREAM (1997) levels. But better. It drops the audience into the sea of nothingness and while we wait for someone to get a comeuppance, Tommy Lee Jones just retires instead. We're left adrift and after everything settles we're still not settled.

#1: There Will be Blood (2007)

dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

An excessively long character study starring the best character actor there is or ever was, Daniel Day Lewis. It works here and makes a phenomenal film. 2007 was nuts. Atonement (2007) didn't even make the cut. Evil wins again, but this time it's a long, drawn-out evil, sudden violence replaced by sustained greed and conniving ambition. It's another collection of fantastic scenes that all prove iconic, memorable, and at times very concerning. There is some debate as to what everyone represents, who is the milkshake and who is the straw but in the end it's just Capitalism winning over everyone else. And that is the message of the 2000s. And every decade.

Naturally, we have some Honorable Mentions. This is really just a weak excuse to proclaim that I appreciate a lot of movies. I'm okay with this: Finding Nemo (2003), Wall-E (2008), Zodiac (2007),  Bad Santa (2003), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Ocean's 11 (2001), The Hangover (2009), The Rundown (2003), Memento (2000), Inglourious Basterds (2009), The Hurt Locker (2009), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Wrestler (2008), Gran Torino (2008), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), In the Loop (2009), Cast Away (2000), In Bruges (2008).

You know what? Nevermind, the best movie of this decade was definitely How High (2001). No more questions.

What do you think? What would you list look like ten years ago? I'm surprised by how much this hasn't really changed. Also how canonized this decade has become. I'm not sure there is really much debate at all towards the top. What say you?

08 December 2019

First Impressions: Knives Out

Back in January I was looking forward to Knives Out (2019) as some kind of Rian Johnson Daniel Craig murder mystery whodunnit that would succeed because Johnson could dig into the tropes and come up with something interesting. What's amazing is that I actually said that these movies are either contrived or give themselves away too early. What then might we say about this one that totally blows its mystery within the first hour and then continues to be compelling? SPOILERS forever as we talk about Knives Out!

Sitting in the Game of Thrones Interrogation Chair

Like most folks I first found respect for Rian Johnson from Looper (2012), which was such a cool idea with some really inspired casting and genuinely creative uses of the premise, if you are able to ignore some time travel nonsense (the film even encourages us to just go along for the ride at one point). It was enough of a fresh sci-fi that I was locked in and excited about his take on The Last Jedi (2017).

And okay, I often feel like the only person on the planet who feels this way, but The Last Jedi was amazing. Every day it feels more like the New Star Wars Trilogy was completely made up on the fly and that's just not a good thing. I love that Rian Johnson decided to blow up the whole thing as well as mess with every idea at the core of Star Wars itself. It's amazing. Weirdly, not many people liked him messing with childhoods (or giving women positions of authority), but I love how he clearly sees terrible characters like Po Dameron as worthless as they are and acknowledges Luke not as a godly chosen hero but a whiny brat from Tatooine.

Sorry, off topic here. But after that whole debacle it's great to see Johnson clear his palette with this original zany tale that works like a somehow worse version of The Royal Tenenbaums (2003) with a brilliant immigration subtext. Also a murder mystery that's not exactly obvious, but plays its hand very early, but in doing so finds a more ingenious way to keep its momentum going. Let's start with the plot.

Christopher Plummer is an aging author and executor of a publishing empire with an assortment of terrible children and in-laws who are all looking for a piece of the pie. A big theme here is what it takes to truly become self-made or just launching oneself from a position of money and privilege. It may be the first of quite a few digs at Trump, but hey, that's what every possible piece of culture is now.

Beyond the titular family head is a truly amazing cast of characters. Jamie Lee Curtis is arguably the only one semi-admirable. Her husband, Don Johnson is a cheating piece of shit with the sorts of veiled racist rhetoric against immigrants that fuels most of the Republican Party. Michael Shannon is an awkward, creepy follower in his dad's footsteps. His son is not explicitly shown, but told to be a Nazi troll, a sly dig at the young white men in today's society turned by the more selfish and racist parts of the internet. On the other side of the spectrum is a "snowflake" daughter and her mother, Toni Collette, double dipping generous funds to pay for what seems like a never-ending school. Rian Johnson shows us both sides of today's hypocritical political society in very subtle ways. Finally there's Chris Evans as Jamie Lee Curtis' son, who seems like an aggressive piece of shit without much real direction in life.

LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, and some other white guy round out the non-family cast, and they're all great. Each cog works in this machine to spit out a pretty entertaining movie. Ana de Armas is revealed early on as the accidental killer of Chris Plummer, but she's ironically the only one without motivation and it was totally an accident! Or was it! There are plenty of double crosses and twists that are largely earned, although it does leave us with a lot of talking and last minute reveals, mostly by Daniel Craig, who does his best Logan Lucky (2017) southern accent. It's actually becoming a nice niche for him that largely works just because it's the farthest possible from James Bond.

It is entertaining to watch Bond vs. Captain America for much of the latter part of the film. Chris Evans also plays heavily against the type he's generated in recent flicks, but is really a sleezebag remisicent of earlier roles in Sunshine (2007), Not Another Teen Movie (2001), and The Losers (2010). Remember him in Push (2009)? No one saw Push. I liked Push. Anyway, through a bunch of twists and turns Chris Evans really did the poisoning, or at least tried to, and was going to set up Ana de Armas, but because she is good and awesome at life and everything he got his comeuppance. It's very satisfying and surprising in ways that are both befitting of the genre and intriguing within the genre. It all just works.

The stages of the actual murder involve a cheeky sequence where Ana de Armas ingeniously needs to cover her own tracks (quite literally) as Daniel Craig enlists her to solve her own crime, her being the least suspicious. This is then reversed as she suddenly becomes the most likely when she is revealed as the sole inheritor of Christopher Plummer's will. It all drips with irony that keeps us engaged until the end.

As I mentioned, there is also this political undercurrent here. Ana de Armas is worried that her mother will get deported if she brings on a lot of attention. The attitudes of the family are largely that they are privileged and deserve what's rightfully theirs and care not for this intrusive immigrant swooping in and stealing what's theirs, even if she earned it. It's full of a lot of lip service for both the right wing and left wing members of the family that show their true colors when the chips are down. There's a few legendary moments - from Michael Shannon promising Ana de Armas the considerable resources of the family, then she asserts that those resources are now hers. Chris Evans demands their ancestral heritage, but Daniel Craig rightly points out that they purchased this house in the 80s. It's all on the nose, but still delightful.

The film looks great, is filled with fantastic actors on limited sets and budgets. It is certainly heavy on the dialogue and monologues, but this is a murder mystery centered around a slain mystery novelist. You know what you're getting into. The characters all have their own distinct motivations and quirks without becoming caricatures. It's everything you could want right now.

Most importantly, it's clever. That's one common thread I feel is missing from most films these days. I just watched Hobbs & Shaw (2019), which may inspire its own DVD-based post soon, but most big blockbusters just don't feel iconic or clever any more. They're full of missed opportunities to be great. It's so rare to have a mainstream movie like this full of compelling dialogue, layers of irony, interesting characters and relationships that bounce off each other. It's very well done and worth watching.

Did you see Knives Out yet? Or just watching Frozen II (2019)?
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