10 The Death of Stalin
Another jet black comedy. Outside of horror, my favorite (sub)genre. And another awesome movie with Andrea Riseborough (she’s got one more further up)! The Death of Stalin deals with the many lackies attempting to fill the power vacuum in the days after Stalin’s death. It is dark in dealing with the evils these men do, laughs to be mined from how casual they are with ordering executions for faceless thousands and each other. There is such joy in watching these men hurdle power over each other. Backstabbing, witty hissing banter, with perfection timing and hilarious performances by Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, MIchael Palin (Fuck YES, my favorite Python, good to see you again), and a surprisingly funny Jason Isaacs. The word play and insult comedy is some of the best of the year as well. Damn I loved this movie.
Many pushed off the concept of the film at the first note, “oh it’s all on a screen? Pass.” Don’t pass. Searching is incredibly well put together, using what could be a gimmick to the best of its ability, deepening the film and the storytelling.Unlike the standard practice on screen-films, the camera just stay single shot on a screen. Edits, zooms, alternate looks (from different screens) create just as many cuts and design as a regular film. In addition, the film reminds us how tied we are to our devices and how much we lean into them on our lives. And surprisingly strong themes of loss, grief, and how we deal with these gives footing and heart to the film. The opening ten minutes should be remembered for how well it gets off exposition without being so direct like others would be. The mystery is nail biting and while has some plot-contrivance is solid. The viewer won’t’ solve it too long before the characters do, the information given is parsed out in the right pacing. And the best part it – it holds up on multiple viewings. It’s all there, along with several B-stories to be found on the screen.
John Cho is solid, anchoring the film.
Remaking one of the most revered horror films of all time is a tough job. Many question why to do so at all? Luckily for us, Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino has taken on the task, and thrives in his version of Suspiria. Luca and screenwriter David Kajganich have made a fantastic film by creating their own film from the bare plot of the original, filling in the world both in the characters and the witches who run this dance academy. Unlike the ballet in the original, he actually incorporates it into the plot, creating a juxtaposition of dance and witchcraft. (a twisty attack using a real contortionist being turned and broken while Dakota Johnson dances is one of the sequences of the year). Dakota Johnson gives her best peformance yet (she’s a good actress outside of 50 Shades) and FUCK YES TILDA SWINTON. Tilda is my favorite working performer. I’ll watch her in everything. Especially when she has three roles!
Many of Luca’s choices are unconventional, with weird shots and strange edits. These create a continual unease, making one disturbed and off-put.
At two and a half hours in length, it is a little long but it hardly feels it, although one can see where some trimming could be done in the side-story of an older doctor (Tilda again!), but it makes sense in the end.And the sequence features Jessica Harper from the original!
Spike Lee’s newest film is one of his best, and like many films on the list a film we need now, using the past to reflect on the now. (that ending sequence!). I note the true story is much different than the film, but that’s forgivable here. John Washington, son of Denzel, shines as Ron Stallworth, and so does Adam Driver as his partner. They are a pair of policemen pretending to be a Klansman to gain intel on the KKK. Lee balances the humor of a comedy and the tenseness of a race drama with a master’s hand. It doesn’t feel like whiplash to go from laughing at idiot Klansmen to one of the tensest scenes of the year – the “Jew Lie Detector”.
Underneath the humor of the making the Klan look like idiots, there is a dark heart, reminding us racism is still present, still in power, and still violent. Themes of movies are not just movies are reinforced with the ending sequence. A deeply important film, BlacKKKLansman should be seen by all.
6 A Star Is Born
This shouldn’t have worked. The fourth remake (including Bollywood) of a long-told story. Lady Gaga in the lead (she’s done well in small roles before – I’ve not seen AHS Hotel); written by schmlatz king Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) and directed by first time director Bradley Cooper. But it comes together in a perfect storm of hard-hitting dramatic moments, intense chemistry of the two leads, and a killer soundtrack. Lady Gaga is one of the best singing voices out there, but I understanding reticence in moving into a high profile role. We remember Madonna. There shouldn’t have been any fear, she commands the scene with a natural talent and performance. Look at the scene, as seen in the trailer we alls a zillion times, where Coopers’ fading rock star pulls the rising phenomenon into stage. Just watching her face there almost made me tear up, every emotion crosses in a moment and we feel her every doubt, desire, and action. One forgets Gaga and sees only Ally. For such a big personality to disappear into the character is astounding. The chemistry she has with Cooper is bristling and honest. Stripping away all the musical numbers and big dramatic moments and one finds a beautiful love story; a sequence the night they meet as the just talk in a parking lot is simple and beautiful.
Cooper’s direction is straightforward, allowing the drama to unfold with little interruption, yet still gives a dynamic to the performances. The music of the performances is strong, memorable, and stuffed with emotion. “Shallow” is getting the love, but my favorite is “never Love Again.” The film version of the song has a moment that will break you. The film will break you. On top to the strength in everything else – let’s just add Sam Elliot Elliot has only a handful of scenes, but is just as amazing as he often is. There is one moment, backing a truck out of a driveway, his eyes tell a deep, long story.
5 Annihilation REVIEW
You wanna get nuts? LET’S GET NUTS! Or as weird as possible. Annihilation is not a movie for those who like their films safe and normal. But being weird is not a pass for good, automatically. But damn is this flick great. Adapted (kinda, it’s complicated) from Jeff Van Der Meer’s novel from the writer-director of 2015’s Ex Machina Alex Garland, Annihilation presents big, heady ideas and does not offer easy answers. Garland trusts his audience and trusts them to follow the ideas presented and the unspoken implications. Ultimately, it’s a film about cancer and destruction/rebirth. But as many things are here, much more subtly than wide-releases tend to go. Let’s talk design. The fucked up reality in the shimmer is disturbing and off putting. The body horror of the soldier with the creature inside – and the poolside results.
THE BEAR. THE BEAR SCENE. One of the most terrifying sequences ever. Shudder.
Annihilation is beautiful and fucked up in all the best ways.
4 Mandy REVIEW
Mandy has been touted as the next big crazy ass Nicolas Cage flick. But that’s not the best description. While the back half is crazy Cage, the build to it, focusing on Andrea Riseborough (told you we’d see her again.. By the way go to rent Birdman for another great performance fro her) as the title character. Like Annihilation, Mandy is weird, but a different way. Featuring insane colors and often including a design that’s a mix of a Frazetta landscape and a pulp novel cover. Then there is Cheddar Goblin, the bathroom scene, and insanity. Hell yeah Richard Brake and a tiger. Motorcycle cenobites! NIC CAGE.
3 Eighth Grade
The. Best. Screenplay. Of. The. Year. The Golden Globes ignored writer-director Bo Burnham’s writing achievement, so I hope the Academy won’t. I haven’t felt this much for a character, as in knowing exactly what she felt, in a long long time. I was in eighth grade twenty-four years ago, but Elsie Fisher’s Kayla is any not-quite-noticeable young teen ever. I almost wrote “weird” but she’s not. She’s not off doing some odd-ball hobby or the kid who likes dinosaurs a little too much. She’s average, she likes the same things as the rest. She’s just quieter, shier, blends in to the background. Much more like us than the one making waves with weird. Kayla is quiet and reserved but she has so much to say if she can take that step and be noticed in a positive manner. The potential is there, the person is there waiting to bloom. But refreshingly this isn’t a coming-out-of-my-shell changing-who-I-am story found in all too many books and movies. Kayla is how she is. There are changes, absolutely but not the grand gestures or statements. She’s real. Everyone in Eighth Grade is real. The words feel real, the um.. And aah. The pauses. The relationships. The dynamic between Kayla and her father is pitch perfect. The truth or dare scene is unfortunately too real for too many people. But just as much is the talk she has with her father later. The talk is perfect. Eighth Grade is perfect.
2 Hereditary – REVIEW
This film broke me. Broke me hard. Hereditary looks at the deepest, darkest, black holes of grief and despair and punishes you for it. One could say it’s too negative, digging deeper and deeper into it’s horrors with no levity. I thank Ari Aster for not giving levity. Levity would feel forced, disingenuous. Toni Collette is a powerhouse in the single best performance of the year. The reaction to the Act I ending event (no spoilers here); the dinner scene where everything bubbling explodes. The grief group scenes. Damn, this is her movie. Toni Collete for best actress please. Kudos to Ari Aster for creating a film that reaches into the viewer and wrenches out the darkest of emotions honestly, no cynical cloying baity way, just strong and honest storytelling. He builds a story I had no idea where it was heading, fully strapped into where ever the nightmare would take me. In the early summer, Hereditary was the movie everyone talked about – mostly with acclaim though there were some naysayers. But don’t listen to them, it’s brilliant.
THE NUMBER ONE, FAVORITE MOVIE OF THE YEAR FOR BOB IS!!!
Hey readers. Let’s take a breather to mention some great TV this year.
The Haunting of HIll House blew eveyrone away. Sharp Objects! Glow. Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 was weaker than the first but still good stuff. I liked Light as Feather. Bobcat Goldswaith’s Monsters and Madmen had a good start and uneven back half.
1!!! SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – REVIEW
I literally have nothing bad to say about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. So I’m just gonna stream of conscious how much I love this movie. A more coherent take? Click the review above. The animated film uses the medium to the best advantage, not being animated for animated sake but to truly replication all the great feels of the drawn to paper medium. (Spidery-sense! The onamonapias! Clickity-clack, BAGEL!) The sheer amount of movement and pieces wouldn’t have worked live-action. A new (to many) Spider-man in Miles Morales is instantly identifiable and iconic. And the nine other Spider-People (depending how you count) all making an impression and keeping their own animation style for a brilliant series of levels of animation. All the Spider-people were voiced to perfection – Nic Cage anyone? An incredible heart in a moving both emotionally and cinematically film. Great uses of villains, glad to see my favorite Spider-villain in an appearance I wasn’t expecting (not in the trailers at all that I noticed). When the movie ended, I cried happy tears. Don’t not see this simply because it’s animated or you’re tired of Spider-Man. See it. Love it. See it again. And again.
And that’s it! WOW. What a journey. So many movies! Agree, disagree, miss something? Comment or message me!
What were your favorites?