Movies

The 1978 Project: Part VI

The 1978 Project is a deep dive into the movies of a single year (guess which one!) As of right now, I’ve seen 66 movies made in 1978 (and am now caught up in reviewing each one). I keep discovering new pockets of films I want to watch, so there’s still a solid 10-20 left to go, but here’s the last 7 I’ve watched:

  • Convoy – A group of truckers led by the inimitable Rubber Ducky (all the truckers have goofy names like Love Machine, Widow Woman, and Big Nasty) run afoul of an abusive sheriff and form a mile long “convoy” in order to escape the forces aligned against them. Director Sam Peckinpah, in need of a success, basically took on this Smokey & the Bandit ripoff mostly because he didn’t really have any other options left at that point in his career. It falls pretty squarely into the trucker and C.B. radio craze of the 70s and while Peckinpah was able to add some of his own flavor to the proceedings, it’s ultimately just as cheesy and goofy as the other trucker-sploitation flicks that this imitates. You could certainly map traditional Western genre tropes to these trucker movies, which might have been the draw for Peckinpah. The truckers are the noble outlaws, the Sheriffs are corrupt lawmen, trucks are horses, and so on. I suspect Peckinpah’s big contribution was to incorporate the subplot about a politician who attempts to co-opt the convoy’s popularity for his own purposes, which does add a dark note to an otherwise silly story. Peckinpah’s visual preferences are also well represented here, particularly the cramped, sweaty environs of the truck cabins and general gritty tone. This film has its moments and it’s a diverting enough affair, but it’s nothing particularly special unless you’re a huge fan of trucker/C.B. cinema or a Peckinpah completest (which, to be fair, are both worthy pursuits, though not necessarily mine). **1/2
  • Slave of the Cannibal God (aka Mountain of the Cannibal God) – Sergio Martino‘s take on the jungle cannibal jamboree, it’s the standard tale. A woman charters a trip into the nefarious jungle to find her missing husband. Naturally, the jungle is filled with cannibals and it’s not long before star Ursula Andress (most famous for being the first Bond girl, but she has a long list of grindhouse credits) is strapped up on the chopping block. Look, it’s not delicate, subtle cinema, but it’s pretty entertaining.

    Slave of the Cannibal God

    Andress is always fun and it’s nice to see larval Stacy Keach (bordering on unrecognizable) as the experienced woodsman. I’m not an expert on the sub-genre, but this seems like a decent take on the Italian cannibal flick that is perhaps understandably overshadowed by the more controversial entries like Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s got some twists towards the end that sorta recall the nonsensical turns in Giallo flicks and I kinda like that. Apparently this was the highest budgeted Italian Cannibal movie and the only one to have internationally recognizable stars. It’s also one of the few that wasn’t outright banned in most countries, and thus is more accessible these days (Is it thus missing a badge of honor? Eh, probably not…) It’s still gorey as all get out, and while I’m sure we could come up with some sort of grand pretension about these types of films, it’s mostly about the gore and prurient interests, and Martino’s visual prowess pulls it off in fine style. **1/2
  • Heaven Can Wait – Not to be confused with Heaven Can Wait, the 1943 comedy of errors about a man who dies and tries to convince the devil that he belongs in hell (I really enjoyed that Ernst Lubitsch movie, watched as part of the 50 Under 50 project). This 1978 movie also deals with the afterlife, but is otherwise completely different. An overanxious angel accidentally sends a quarterback to heaven, only to realize that the quarterback wasn’t supposed to die yet. To make up for his mistake, the angel finds another body for the quarterback to inhabit, that of a recently murdered millionaire.

    Heaven Can Wait

    The millionaire’s wife and accountant, who were the attempted murderers, are naturally confused by this development. The become even more so when the millionaire decides to buy the LA Rams and become their quarterback, just in time for the Super Bowl. It’s certainly got some silly screwball tendencies, but there’s a more sophisticated core at work here, a balancing act that I’d attribute to writer Elaine May, even though Warren Beatty made this movie happen. It’s got some nice comedic touches, and I love the way Beatty interacts with his would-be murderers in ways that confound them, but it eventually settles into a more dramatic story that I found genuinely involving and pleasantly surprising. I didn’t realize this was nominated for an Oscar, a rare comedy to be recognized in that way, and it makes for a fun change of pace to the more somber, dramatic nominees in 1978 (which we’ll cover in more depth soon enough). ***
  • Koko: A Talking Gorilla – A documentary about Dr. Penny Patterson and her work with Koko, a gorilla who has been taught sign-language. It consists of standard talking-head interviews where people discuss the complexities of Koko’s use of language, and actual footage of Patterson interacting and speaking with Koko. There’s lots of interesting ideas about language and consciousness that are thought provoking. The interactions captured on film are great, if repetitive (especially in the middle of the film), but it’s hard not to fall in love with Koko and it’s nice to see the way Koko and Patterson develop a relationship. It’s not formally inventive or anything, but it’s great subject matter and well worth checking out. ***
  • Foul Play – Goldie Hawn gets caught up in a criminal scheme involving albinos, dwarves, and a plot to assassinate the Pope. Along the way, she has the help of Chevy Chase as the bumbling but competent detective, Burgess Meredith as the lovable landlord, and Dudley Moore as a… pervert. As a romantic-comedy-action-thriller-mystery, it’s completely serviceable, even if it doesn’t manage to do any of those genres justice. Apparently a big success at the time, having Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase as leads helps a lot. Not a lot of chemistry there, to be sure, but they’re pretty charismatic on their own, I guess. Everything’s just a hair off here. The convoluted assassination plot involving dwarves and albinos and the Pope has the potential to reach madcap proportions, but it never quite pulls together for what should be a cascading series of revelations and confrontations. Instead, it just sorta limps to the finish line. The comedy never quite gels either, and the action/thriller components are sorta undercut by the other elements (the car chase towards the end of the film, for instance, is a total drag and it goes on forever). It sounds like a blast, so I did find it a little disappointing, but it’s ultimately just fine. **1/2
  • Someone’s Watching Me! – John Carpenter’s made-for-TV movie about a woman being stalked by a stalking stalker. Carpenter would go on to direct Halloween not long after this, and you can see his craft evolving here. It’s got more of a Hitchcockian feel to it than Carpenter’s other work, and the reliance on the telephone as an element of suspense recall Mario Bava and Bob Clark. Lauren Hutton does good work as the lead, and Carpenter puts her through the paces well enough. It’s clearly a limited production, but as 70s TV movies go, it’s a pretty solid line drive. Ultimately, it’s probably more for Carpenter completists than anyone else, but there are worse things to be (this is kind of a theme in this recap). **1/2
  • Coming Home – A woman whose husband is fighting in Vietnam begins work in a VA hospital and falls in love with a paralyzed veteran. Jane Fonda plays the woman at the center of the love triangle and she’s a fine actress, I guess, but her infamously outspoken anti-Vietnam activism always kept me at arms length from this movie. There’s a lot to respect about it, a distinctly more feminine perspective on the vietnam war (it contrasts nicely with 1978’s other Vietnam movie, The Deer Hunter), but I also tend to prefer later takes on the war (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wasn’t far off, but Stone and Kubrick’s efforts had the benefit of perspective, I think). No one element felt overbaked (even the love triangle, which isn’t nearly as cliched as you might expect) and the performances are all excellent, but it never really gelled together for me when you collect all these elements together. It’s worth stressing the performances. Fonda does good work, but Jon Voight really stands out as the paraplegic vet (his closing monologue is a highlight of the film) and while Bruce Dern doesn’t get as much time as the husband, he really turns up the juice when he comes back from the war with a nervous, wiry energy that I don’t think could be duplicated by anyone else. Unfortunately, big performance showpieces like this often don’t work as much for me. I have similar issues with the aforementioned Deer Hunter, which also has great performances but is otherwise pretty plodding, with the exception of one masterful scene. It probably deserves a better place in the Vietnam war movie canon, but it didn’t particularly work on me. I’m glad I watched it though, and I’m clearly in the minority on this one. **

This brings me up to date on my progress so far. Things have slowed a bit as the most accessible movies have been watched at this point, and now I’m trying to scrape up copies of out-of-print movies or I’m starting to tackle some things I want to watch, but which seem to have difficult subject matter, etc… Again, I still have a solid 10-20 more 1978 movies I want to catch up with before doing the traditional awards/top 10 &c.

The 1978 Project: Part V

The 1978 project is a deep dive into the cinema of a single year, undertaken on a whim late last year. As it turns out, this is somewhat good timing, as tons of 2020 films are getting delayed, so it’s nice to still get a feel for a single year, even if it’s not this year… and honestly, it’s much easier to get a feel for the current year because, you know, you’re already living it. I have no idea when I’ll finish this project, but I’ve been making steady progress. Current status: I’ve seen 62 films made in 1978. I still have at least 10 films I want to check out, if not more. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Speaking of which, let’s see what I’ve been watching whilst in lockdown:

  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand – Robert Zemeckis’s feature directing debut about Beatle mania and six teenagers from Jersey who make the trek to NYC to see The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. The only problem? They don’t actually have tickets for the show. It’s basically a nostalgic “one crazy day/night” story reminiscent of American Graffiti, except this is much more focused and all the little episodic bits tie together better. This little sub-genre experienced a sorta heyday in the 80s, but has remained with us in various incarnations to this day. It’s also notable that most examples of this sort of thing are not led by teenage girls, which this definitely is (though a couple of boys are along for the ride).
    I Wanna Hold Your Hand
    I tend to like, but not love, these sorts of movies, but this one is definitely one of the better examples. The use of the Beatles really serves to crystallize what could easily have fallen into a fractured narrative with no cohesive point. The tone is also perfectly calibrated. Zemeckis isn’t parodying or mocking Beatle mania, nor is he especially praising it. It’s just a thing that existed, and while the goal of getting to meet the Beatles might seem silly, it’s not like it wasn’t a common desire at the time. Zemeckis takes the time to show that the screaming throngs of teenage girls outside the Beatles’ hotel all had their own stories and hangups and reasons to be there, and the result is a playful little film that doesn’t feel forced or cloying (as Zemeckis would later do with Forrest Gump), but remains sweet and a whole lot of fun. ***
  • Up in Smoke – The first Cheech and Chong flick and landmark stoner comedy holds up reasonably well, I guess, but this duo has never really been my thing. They get into wacky adventures and do drugs and it all feels disjointed and pointless… but then, no one is claiming this is high art (though maybe it is, um, “high” art). Some of the bits work well enough and I chuckled a few times, and I like the concluding rock show where Cheech is running around in a tutu playing guitar… but it’s not like I’m gonna rush out and watch the rest of the Cheech and Chong oeuvre. **
  • The Lord of the Rings – Ralph Bakshi’s animated take on the Tolkien classic has a tortured history, and unfortunately that kinda sinks the movie. Bakshi clearly didn’t have the budget to pull off what he was attempting, and there were apparently lots of studio shenanigans and meddling in play. The animation doesn’t look particularly great. There’s a mix of traditional 2D animation and rotoscoping, and the latter comes in a variety of quality ranging from not that bad (I thought it looked ok for wide shots or landscapes) to absolutely horrendous (the barely animated film of extras wearing off-the-shelf gorilla masks pretending to be orcs). The transition between the two styles can be jarring too. A lot of that can be chalked up to budgetary constraints, but even the general designs aren’t that attractive, and the decision to condense the first two books into one narrative leads to an awkwardly plotted, rushed, and yet somehow simultaneously plodding experience. Much of the battles and chases take forever to get through, even as the narrative plows forward. Naturally, it ends on something of a cliffhanger and Bakshi’s follow-up was never produced (though there was a Rankin-Bass attempt to resolve the narrative a couple years later). Bakshi’s movies have a bit of a cult following, and I can kinda see why, but now that we have Peter Jackson’s take on the trilogy, this just pales in comparison.
    Lord of the Rings
    Even considering that Jackson clearly has some affection for Bakshi’s adapatation (he lifted some scenes directly from the animated version, particularly when the Ringwraith catches up with the hobbits on the road), the live-action films are far better paced and look much better. It’s worth a watch for completists and Tolkien nuts, but probably not much interest to anyone else. *
  • Fedora – Billy Wilder’s penultimate film winds up being something like Sunset Boulevard Redux, covering similar themes, perhaps updated for the 70s. Unfortunately, what that means is that the film demands comparison to an all-time classic and can’t help but fail to live up to that standard. That being said, it’s an interesting little ride, and Wilder’s not-so-flattering portrait of Hollywood and its inhabitants works well enough, even when transported to Europe. A down-on-his-luck Hollywood producer attempts to lure the famously reclusive but world-renowned actress Fedora out of retirement. But he’ll have to get past her retinue of well-meaning but possibly abusive hangers-on. It’s not quite as clever or twisty as it wants to be, and it drags in the second act, but it’s still a fun ride and the ending is engaging if not entirely surprising. If it’s a failure, it’s an interesting one. **1/2
  • Autumn Sonata – A mother-daughter showdown between an absentee concert-pianist mother and mousy caretaker daughter. Also known as “The Meeting of the Bergmans”, with Ingmar Bergman directing Ingrid Bergman (no relation) in the waning chapters of both of their careers. It starts slow, with the mother arriving for a visit and the daughter seemingly glad to have her… but things gradually become more tense, perhaps even passive aggressive. It all boils over when a lifetime of pent-up resentment and anger gets released one night.
    Autumn Sonata
    This is not normally my thing, but once that second half started, I couldn’t help but fall into the rythms of the movie. It’s talky and melodramatic, but you can’t help but fall for it. Ultimately, I’m not sure how much I really understand about these characters, though it’s hard not to feel for them. Ingmar famously deploys closeups in his directing, and he uses them to good effect here, making the accusations and emotional baggage nearly inescapable. Ingrid Bergman is certainly the more famous actress and she’s great as the overbearing yet oblivious mother, but I was more impressed by Liv Ullmann as the deservedly angry daughter. Her initial meekness and all the niceties of her interactions takes a big turn mid-way through the film, with Ullmann nearly hyperventilating in anger and resentment, and she pulls it off well. Ultimately, I can’t help but respect this movie, even if I don’t especially “enjoy” it or even understand it that well. ***

I’ve got a few more flicks in the hopper, but I’ll leave it at these five for now… look for another recap in a few weeks!

Dean Vernon Wormer’s Lockdown-Friendly, Double-Secret Probationary Quarantine-Quality Movie Quiz

Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I’m excited to participate. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, Ms. Elizabeth Halsey, Professor Abraham Setrakian, Mr. Dadier, Professor Abronsius, Professor Moriarty, Professor Birdman, and Dr. Jonathan Hemlock are also available. Hard to believe it’s taken this long to get to Dean Wormer, but here we are… Let’s get to it:

1) You’re on a desert island (and you sort of are)—What three discs do you select out of your own collection to keep if you had to get rid of all the rest?

These questions are ruff because I hate choosing favorites from such a large pool, but at least they narrowed it to discs from my personal collection. Which isn’t tiny, to be sure, but it’s not exactly comprehensive either. Then there’s the added complication of format. Normally, The Godfather would be the immediate first choice, but I’m still working off of the DVD Collection, which is great and all, but I’ve been hoping I could leapfrog to 4K (given the number of double dipping they’ve done with this series on BD, it’s shocking that there isn’t a 4K edition yet). Same problem for The Terminator. So looking at my shelves and considering rewatchability and quality of the release, here’s what I’ve got: The Criterion release of The Silence of the Lambs (a classic that I rewatch far too often, and it being Criterion, there’s plenty of special features), the recent 4K release of 2001: A Space Odyssey (it’s funny, I don’t normally handle movies paced like this that well, but I’m always transfixed by this one, and it will be a good option to have for when I’m being more contemplative on the island), and oh, let’s just say the regular BD of Ocean’s Eleven (I want something fun and breezy, after the previous two). This was harder than I thought…

2) Giuletta Masina or Jeanne Moreau?

Jeanne Moreau by default, since I’ve actually seen her in movies and stuff.

3) Second-favorite Roger Corman movie.

Limiting this to movies he directed, I’m going with A Bucket of Blood. I only caught up with it recently, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it…

4) The most memorable place you ever saw a movie. This could be a film projected on a big screen or seen in some other fashion—the important thing is what makes it memorable.

It’s sadly not anything particularly special: I really loved going to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin for Fantastic Fest a few years ago. Fantastic time, good food, good beer, and a great crowd of cinema lovers.

5) Marcello Mastroianni or Vittorio Gassman?

I haven’t seen much of either (though in a twist for these, I’ve actually seen movies from both actors), but Marcello Mastroianni, because I’ll definitely be seeing him again when I get to some of the classics that I haven’t seen yet…

6) Second-favorite Kelly Reichardt movie.

Oof, I’m not a huge fan of the two that I have seen, so I haven’t seen more, but I’ve seen enough to answer the question: Meek’s Cutoff. I might like it better if it wasn’t so monotonously paced. Remember earlier where I said that I don’t usually handle this sort of thing well? Here’s an example where it doesn’t work for me, while 2001 for some reason does.

7) In the matter of taste, is there a film or director that, if your partner in a relationship (wife/husband/lover/best friend) disagreed violently with your assessment of it, might cause a serious rift in that relationship?

Depending on how violent they get, I don’t see any serious rifts developing because I think that the world would be a boring place indeed if we all agreed on everything (so long as we can agree to disagree). Now, if they, like, stabbed me or something because I liked/disliked something, that might be an issue… but that’s more the stabby-stabby part causing the issue. If we’re just talking about violent verbal assaults, we’re probably good.

8) The last movie you saw in a theater/on physical media/via streaming (list one each).

I believe the last movie I saw in the theater was The Invisible Man (which was great!), but it’s been a while. It may have been The Way Back (which I’m a little more mixed on). On physical media, it was Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou needs more releases in the US). On streaming, it was Extraction (really solid action sequences with derivative glue inbetween, solid B movie territory here).

9) Name a movie that you just couldn’t face watching right now.

There’s lots of movies that I feel like I want to be in the right mood for, but I’m not particularly interested in tackling famously disgusting movies like Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom or A Serbian Film

10) Jane Greer or Ava Gardner?

Definitely Ava Gardner. They both have some nice noir films to their credit, but Gardner also has wacky 70s horror like The Sentinel, which puts her over the top.

11)Edmond O’Brien or Van Heflin?

I’m going Edmond O’Brien. Mostly because I’ve seen more movies starring him, but also because I really do enjoy those movies moreso than the ones I’ve seen Van Heflin in (though I like those too).

12) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu movie.

And here comes my first embarrassed mulligan. You might just shame me into watching Ozu as a quarantine opportunity.

13) Name a proposed American remake of an international film that would, if actually undertaken, surely court or inevitably result in disaster.

There was once a time when I really followed upcoming movie news, but that time has passed, so I’m finding it difficult to think an answer here. Are they still trying to remake Akira? That seems like a disaster waiting to happen…

14) What’s a favorite film that you consider genuinely subversive, for whatever reason?

I’m not exactly a connoisseur of subversive films, but let’s just say Pink Flamingos for the extremity and rawness with which it throws itself towards the human condition. That sounds good, right? Sure.

15) Name the movie score you couldn’t live without.

My mind first went to John Williams, but then I tried thinking of things that I actually listen to on a regular basis. I actually love the original score from The Terminator, so let’s go with that one.

16) Mary-Louise Weller or Martha Smith?

Mary-Louise Weller (this reminds me that I should probably rewatch Animal House as part of the 1978 project)

17) Peter Riegert or Bruce McGill?

Bruce McGill, without question. A lot of times with these questions I have to look up who the actor is, but not for him, a favorite “that guy”.

18) Last Tango in Paris—yes or no?

As always with questions like this: Yes.

19) Second-favorite Akira Kurosawa movie.

Well that’s a tough one! I could probably narrow it down to a top 5, but they’re always shifting in rank.

Sanjuro

Let’s just say: Sanjuro, because I feel like it’s one of his more underrated flicks.

20) Who would host the imaginary DVD commentary you would most want to hear right now, and what would the movie be?

My first thought would be Quentin Tarantino, just for the sheer depth of his knowledge of the medium (and the number of recommendations and rabbit holes you could go down based off of a tossed off line in one of his commentaries). He doesn’t do a lot of commentaries, but they’re always great. As for what I’d want the movie to be, I’m not sure – it could be damn near anything, honestly. Let’s go with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, because it’s one of my favorites and I’ve been meaning to rewatch it lately. I also thought of a lesser example, which would be a Kevin Smith commentary for Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It’s basically the movie that broke Smith, not so much because of the filming, but because of the reception. There’s actually a lot to talk about with that movie and up until that point, Smith had been very open about the inner workings of his career, so it would have been interesting to hear his commentary on the film. His commentaries are always a lot of fun (or, er, they were up until that point) so it could have been an interesting expose of marketing and behind-the-scenes shenanigans. For whatever reason, I don’t think he even did a commentary for that one…

21) Favorite movie snack.

Look, popcorn is the answer, but it’s so obvious and ubiquitous that I’ll be more interesting and say: Soft Pretzel Bites (or some variation of Soft Pretzel). Most theaters just use crappy ones, but occasionally you’ll find a theater doing something more ambitous.

22) Second-favorite Planet of the Apes film (from the original cycle).

I guess it would be Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Nothing beats the original, but this one was a neat inversion.

23) Least-favorite Martin Scorsese movie.

I guess it would be New York, New York. I actually don’t remember too much about it other than that I wasn’t enjoying it and it was loooooong.

24) Name a movie you feel doesn’t deserve its current reputation, for better or worse.

Vertigo. It’s a fine movie, but it’s nowhere near Hitchcock’s best, and certainly not the best movie of all time.

25) Best movie of 1970. (Fifty years ago!)

Patton.

Patton

I caught this on TV a couple years ago and man, I’d forgotten how good this movie is.

26) Name a movie you think is practically begging for a Broadway adaptation (I used this question in the last quiz, but I’m repeating it because I never answered the quiz myself and I think I have a pretty good answer)

My answer from last time: Planet of the Apes, especially considering there’s already a template that people absolutely love and really my answer was only that so that I could link to that clip, which is really so fantastic. You’ll never make a monkey out of me.

27) Louise Brooks or Clara Bow?

Clara Bow! Another person I actually don’t need to look up. Things are looking up for my chances in this quiz.

28) Second-favorite Pier Paolo Pasolini movie.

Oh, never mind, let’s take a second embarrassed mulligan. (Or maybe not so embarrassed – as mentioned earlier, I’m not rushing out to watch Salò these days)

29) Name three movies you loved in your early years that you feel most influenced your adult cinematic tastes.

The Terminator, Phantasm, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (woopsie, I usually try to avoid mentioning the same movies over and over, but then, here we are).

30) Name a movie you love that you think few others do.

Gabriel Over the White House, mostly because no one else has seen it. Let’s get Criterion on this ASAP.

31) Name a movie you despise that you think most others love.

To be consistent with previous quiz answers to similar questions: Easy Rider

32) The Human Centipede—yes or no?

Yes, though in this case, I don’t actually blame people for saying no.

33) Anya Taylor-Joy or Olivia Cooke?

Anya Taylor-Joy, mostly because I just love The Witch so much.

34) Johnny Flynn or Timothée Chalamet?

Ah crap, I don’t especially love either, but I guess Timothée has some more exciting movies on his filmmography.

35) Second-favorite Dorothy Arzner movie.

Third embarrassed mulligan. How many of those do I get? This is a very long quiz, at least.

36) Name a movie you haven’t seen in over 20 years that you would drop everything to watch right now.

I don’t know if it’s been 20 years, but I really want to revisit Raise the Red Lantern, which isn’t really available anywhere at this time…

Raise the Red Lantern

We need to get Criterion on this!

37) Name your favorite stylistic filmmaking cliché, and one you wouldn’t mind seeing disappear forever.

My favorite would probably be long takes/tracking shots, even stitched together ones like I just saw in Extraction. My least favorite is the “shaky cam” aesthetic. It worked in Saving Private Ryan and Paul Greengrass can occasionally coax something out of it, but it’s otherwise a ghastly cliche that has thankfully been on the wane in the past few years…

38) Your favorite appearance by a real-life politician in a feature film, either fictional or a fictionalized account of a real event.

I love seeing Fred Thompson show up in everything, and he’s usually some sort of official. I’m particularly fond of The Hunt for Red October and In the Line of Fire. Smallish parts, I guess, but he’s got a memorable gravitas or something.

39) Is film criticism dead?

Nope! This is the sort of question that lead to Betteridge’s law of headlines.

40) Elizabeth Patterson or Marjorie Main?

I guess I’m going with Marjorie Main. I’ve seen movies starring both, but I feel like I remember Main more…

41) Arch Hall Jr. or Timothy Carey?

Timothy Carey, because I’ve seen more movies with him and they’re also pretty great movies he’s in…

42) Name the film you think best fulfills the label “road movie.”

Lots of options here, but my favorite would probably be Midnight Run.

43) Horror film that, for whatever reason, made you feel most uncomfortable?

Martyrs really gets under my skin. I can respect what it’s going after, but I will never watch it again and will never recommend it.

44) Least-favorite (directed by) Clint Eastwood movie.

The Rookie. I don’t remember much about it (I think I saw it on cable about 30 years ago and promptly forgot about any meaningful detail, other than that I didn’t like it).

45) Second-favorite James Bond villain.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He’s great, but got watered down by too many different depictions.

46) Best adaptation of a novel or other form that had been thought to be unfilmable.

The Lord of the Rings is a pretty strong contender for this one, but I’m tempted to go with Arrival or maybe even Naked Lunch. I’m having trouble deciding, so there. Deal with the three answers…

47) Michelle Dockery or Merritt Wever?

Michelle Dockery. I haven’t seen quite as many of her movies as Wever’s, but I like Dockery’s movies better…

48) Jason Bateman or Ewan McGregor?

Ewan McGregor is certainly the better actor, though they both choose a lot stinkers, which muddies up their filmographies.

49) Second-favorite Roman Polanski movie.

Chinatown, though it could easily swap with Rosemary’s Baby… but then, I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about the filmographies of fugitive child rapists.

50) What’s the movie you wish you could watch with a grandparent right now? And, of course, why?

All of my grandparents have long since passed away, so really it would just be anything, so long as they were alive…

51) Oliver Stone two-fer: Natural Born Killers and/or JFK—yes or no?

Yes, though JFK would be more yes than NBK.

52) Name the actor whose likeness you would proudly wear as a rubber latex Halloween mask.

A circa 1978 William Shatner mask with maybe a bit of white paint.

53) Your favorite cinematographer, and her/his greatest achievement.

Is Roger Deakins a boring answer? Because he’s great, and stuff like No Country for Old Men or Skyfall are really elevated by his work (especially the latter film, which might be the best looking Bond movie ever).

54) Best book about the nitty-gritty making of a movie.

I don’t know that I’ve read a book about one movie, but Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman is phenomenal and really gets into the details in a way that most accounts don’t… and I think it’s also worth noting Crystal Lake Memories, an absurdly comprehensive oral history of the Friday the 13th films that almost inadvertently becomes an exploration of how indie cinema evolved in the 80s.

55) If you needed to laugh right now, what would be your go-to movie comedy?

I don’t know that I have an actual go-to movie for this, but two movies I want to revisit: Blazing Saddles and Jackass: The Movie. I feel like we need more comedies in our lives, especially these days.

So there you have it! As always, looking forward to the next quiz already.

The 1978 Project: Part IV

The 1978 Project is a deep dive into the cinema of a single year (guess which one!) The chosen year is mostly arbitrary, but it’s been a fun experience so far. I’m still working through a backlog of films watched earlier in the year, so these reviews are bound to be a bit fuzzy. I’ve made pretty good progress so far, and am hoping to do the usual Movie Awards and Top 10 sometime this summer. For now, here are six 1978 flicks, these perhaps less obscure than the movies from the last recap:

  • Death on the Nile – Hercule Poirot returns, this time taking a luxury cruise down the Nile river. Naturally, a newlywed heiress is found murdered under suspicious circumstances. Can Poirot solve the mystery before the ship arrives at its destination? A sequel to the more famous 1974 production of Murder on the Orient Express (helmed by Sydney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as Poirot), this one doesn’t really carry over any of the creatives from the earlier film, but still comports itself well in comparison. Director John Guillermin is more of a journeyman director than Lumet, but here he’s perhaps hitting above his weight (while Lumet wasn’t doing his best work on Orient)… or perhaps it’s just that the cruise down the Nile affords more picturesque atmosphere, and the ship presents more varied environs. Peter Ustinov also does admirable work as Poirot; not hamming it up as much as Finney, but still presenting the calm fastidiousness and passive aggression of the character well. Along for the ride is a talented cast of side characters, including Bette Davis trading barbs with Maggie Smith in a tuxedo, which is something to behold.
    Death on the Nile with Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in a tux

    Angela Lansbury and Mia Farrow are there too, as is Olivia Hussey (perhaps only of note to genre nerds like myself, but it was neat to see her in something else). The story itself, based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name, works well, lots of twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps a bit overlong, but once everything’s established, it moves at a brisk enough pace. Solid stuff, well crafted. ***

  • The Boys from Brazil – A wannabe Nazi hunter played by a larval Steve Guttenberg stumbles upon a sinister plot put together by none other than Josef Mengele to rekindle the Third Reich in 1970s Brazil. It’s a good example of the Nazis in South America plotting mayhem trope, but despite some kooky twists and a trio of scenery chewing performances by elder statesmen actors Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, and James Mason, it all feels a bit inert. The plot has some weird components, but there’ve been plenty weirder, and it feels like the long-ish runtime dilutes the premise too much (that, or we’ve see far too many of this sort of cuckoo nutso Nazi tales and thus put the pieces together far quicker than anyone else in the movie). It’s a sturdy little thriller and well worth checking out, but I suspect you’ve seen many of these elements before. **1/2
  • The Inglorious Bastards – A not so straightforward men-on-a-mission in WWII flick made in Italy, it stands in contrast to Force 10 From Navarone (covered in my last recap). It’s a little more freewheeling and mean-spirited, as evidenced by the fact that the men on this mission are all slated for prison. They get lucky when a German attack disrupts their convoy, and are able to escape from both the Allies and Axis forces, attempting to make their way to neutral Switzerland. Along the way, they get entangled with the French Resistance and become reluctant heros. Or something like that.
    The Inglorious Bastards

    While Force 10 From Navarone felt formulaic and staid, this is more suffused with the chaotic 70s energy mixed with who-gives-a-shit grimy exploitation panache. It’s easy to see why this attracted the attention of someone like Quentin Tarantino, who clearly took inspiration (though not plot or story) from this movie. It’s not as star studded as something like Navarone, but folks like Bo Svenson and especially Fred Williamson keep our crew of criminals likable enough that we never really turn on them. Director Enzo Castellari doesn’t get as much play as his brethren in Italian horror (Bava, Argento, Fulci, etc…) but you can see that same Italian flare here, and you better believe I’m gonna watch more Castellari (up next: 1990: The Bronx Warriors looks like a ton of fun.) This is a solid little romp through war torn Europe with a couple of bombastic action setpieces, and I really enjoyed it. ***

  • Midnight Express – A youngish guy is caught attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey. The Turkish courts decide to make an example of him, eventually sentencing him to more than 30 years in prison (in a legal process that is really torturous, as it starts as a 3-5 year sentence that is extended right before he’s set to be released). There are only two ways out of the mess: 1. legal appeals and 2. escape, termed the Midnight Express. It’s based on the true story of Billy Hayes, though it’s pretty obvious that some of the scenes (particularly towards the end) are fabrications made for the sake of dramatic expedience (i.e. typical filmic adaptation of real events stuff). That being said, the story at its heart is genuinely involving and powerful. While Hayes did a dumb thing, the sentence and conditions of the jail are pretty extreme, and you can’t help but put yourself in his place. The opening, where Hayes is caught, is fantastic and tense, but things slow down a bit in the second act as he adjusts to prison life. Brad Davis plays Hayes in a pretty melodramatic way, which works during the initial portions of the film, but becomes a bit strained by the end. It’s not a bad performance and the movie does fine, but I found something lacking, especially in that middle portion. Of note in the supporting cast is a young Randy Quaid, playing a bit of a hothead (apparently not much of a stretch!) It’s not exactly a pleasant movie and it has its flaws, but it ultimately works. **1/2
  • Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! – Tomatoes have become intelligent and mounted a revolt against humanity. Cheap spoof of B-movies has its charms and a couple of laughs, but isn’t exactly a good movie. It’s outrageous and some of the gags actually work, but many really don’t. This is one of those movies that a lot of people know about, but few have actually watched all the way through. I suspect I may have had fonder memories of this if I had caught up with it when I was 12 or something and the premise is genuinely goofy and fun… but you already know that just from the title of the film, and I’m not sure the actual movie can sustain that premise. Maybe if I was in a different mood I’d like it better, and again, I like the premise and some of the gags, but it’s not exactly inspiring me to revisit it anytime soon. **
  • Starcrash – Yet another Star Wars ripoff, made in Italy and starring Caroline Munroe (best known for her role as a Bond Girl in The Spy Who Loved Me, but fans of horror know her from the likes of Maniac and Slaughter High), Christopher Plummer (most recently seen as a scummy bank robber in The Silent Partner), a fresh-faced David Hasselhoff, and typical “that guy” Joe Spinell (who would work with Munroe again on the aforementioned Maniac). As with most other Star Wars ripoffs, the plot here is almost nonsensical, the dialog laughable, and the performances wooden (the Italian practice of dubbing, even when the actors were originally speaking English, doesn’t help). It’s ultimately more trippy and woozy than Star Wars, though I don’t know if that makes it any better. There’s lots of special effects and miniatures work, which looks decent enough, though this is clearly a low budget affair. The production design is more reminiscent of older serials and 50s Sci-Fi movies, which doesn’t really hold up, but has its charms. Interestingly, the fighting is a little more gruesome. While Star Wars was a mostly bloodless affair (even when stormtroopers are being gunned down), this one kinda makes you feel the laser burns. At one point, a dude whips out a lightsaber and just slaughters a whole group of people in reasonably graphic fashion. Munroe doesn’t get a ton to do other than wear fantastic space bikinis and the like (which, to be sure, she’s great at, even if it’s pretty incongruous; at one point she gets caught by the space police and sentenced to “hard labor”, where her prison uniform is a… space bikini.) Spinell looks pretty great as the main villain, and is suitably menacing, if a bit silly (like the whole film). Also of note is Marjoe Gortner as Munroe’s kinda partner in crime. He has a weird sorta charisma about him that is almost repulsive; then I found out that he’s kinda famous for being a former Child-Evangelist who made a documentary about the “Religion Business” and so on. Weird dude. It’s far from a good movie, but in its own way, it’s far from a bad movie too. I guess? It’s not a movie that I’d recommend, but it has some fun bits for dorks doing a sorta anthropological study of the impact of Star Wars on cinema… **

Current tally of 1978 films seen: 55 films (pretty much caught up with the backlog, so we’re back on track)

The 1978 Project: Part III

Back in September, I started a deep dive into the cinema of 1978. This was mostly on a whim and 1978 was chosen just because it was the year of my birth (i.e. it’s still pretty arbitrary), but it’s been an interesting exercise so far. Since September, usual blogging traditions have somewhat gotten in the way, especially the Six Weeks of Halloween (which at least had some 1978 entries) and the recap of 2019 movies. Now that we’re clear, I’ve built up a pretty steady backlog of 1978 flicks to cover, so strap in. These are the older ones that I watched in Decemberish timeframe, so recollections might be a bit more sparse, but here goes:

  • The Silent Partner – Elliott Gould plays a sullen bank teller who is able to anticipate a bank robbery and works things so that he ends up with the money while the blame goes to the robber. Realizing he’s been conned, the robber (played by Christopher Plummer) tracks Gould down to engage in a game of cat and also-cat. With Susannah York along for the ride as the love interest and John Candy in an early role. Special notice goes to Gail Dahms-Bonine, the buxom blonde who works at the bank and wears t-shirts with bank-themed innuendo (i.e. “Penalty for early withdrawal” and “Bankers Do It With More Interest”). A decent enough 70s thriller that doesn’t have much else on its mind, Gould has charisma but the character as written is a bit of a cold fish. Not as smart as he thinks he is, but smarter than the robber, who is far more ruthless. It’s an interesting battle of wills that only occasionally breaks suspension of disbelief. It’s a fun little flick, if not exactly mindblowing. ***
  • Message from Space – Kinji Fukasaku helmed this Japanese Star Wars ripoff. It has a nonsensical plot that’s almost not worth describing at all, solid special effects for low-budget 1978 Japan, great costumes and production design, and a soundtrack that apes Star Wars except when it turns into surf-rock.
    Message From Space

    Highlights include the Darth Vader analog wearing a Shogun-esque costume (his mother is the Emperor, which was a nice touch), the Battlestar-esque ships mixed with ships with, like, space-sails and shit, like something out of Master and Commander but in space (anyone remember Spelljammer? No? Just me? Ok then). Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow provide some recognizable faces and you’ll recognize a lot of stuff copied from Star Wars, which makes it feel familiar even if it’s completely bonkers. Worth a watch for fans of batshit insane cinema, but not exactly “good” but then, what does “good” even mean in this context? **1/2

  • Force 10 from Navarone – Straightforward men-on-a-mission in WWII flick is pretty entertaining, if a bit derivative. It doesn’t really do anything new with the story, and previous films in this arena are certainly better (i.e. the original Guns of the Navarone or Where Eagles Dare are far better), but there’s something to be said for a well executed formulaic film like this, and it’s a decent enough watch. Seeing the likes of a young Harrison Ford (just off Star Wars), Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers, and a bunch of “that guys” like Richard Kiel and Franco Nero help out considerably, but again, it doesn’t really stand up to previous iterations on similar stories (or, as we’ll see later in this series of posts, other 1978 men-on-a-mission movies). **1/2
  • The Avenging Eagle – You know what, I might have to have a separate top 10 of 1978 for martial arts flicks, because there are just tons of great entries in 1978. I wasn’t expecting much out of this one, but it was a really fun flick with great action sequences and decent enough performances.
    The Avenging Eagle

    The story involves two guys running into each other on the road to their respective tasks of honor, or something like that (one of them is seeking to atone for dishonor). Initially distrustful of one another, they eventually gain an unconventional respect for one another. Again, fantastic fight sequences scattered throughout, and they stand up to the heavyweights in the genre. Plus the villain has metal claw hands, which is fun. ***

  • The Redeemer: Son of Satan! – A priest (or maybe a demon or a priest possessed by a demon, or something like that) lures a group of former classmates to a high school reunion, traps them in the building, and starts killing them off one by one, citing their sins as justification. It sounds like it would an interesting sorta proto-slasher (or at least a proto Slaughter High), but it’s far more surreal than that. This might really click with a certain type of viewer, but it did not click very well with me. There’s some interesting visual tags here and there, but there’s a fine line between surreal and nonsense, and this veers a little too far towards nonsense, and the characters aren’t especially likable, which makes the whole affair fall a little flat. Maybe the film thinks it’s explaining things enough, but it didn’t really make much sense, and the scares were pretty rote and unmemorable. The only thing that really strikes me, a few months later, is the opening and closing shots of the film. I have no idea what they mean, but they kinda work? I dunno, it’s not the worst movie, but it’s not something that’ll climb very far on the 1978 rankings… **
  • Girlfriends – This slice-of-life, angst and ennui of a 20-something woman in NYC has become something of an indie cliche in recent years, but this sort of thing was exceedingly rare back in 1978. This is emphatically not my style of movie, but I’ll say this: I liked this a lot better than I liked Frances Ha (which clearly models itself as a sorta modernized Girlfriends). It’s hard to deny the sincerity and genuine affection the film has for its characters and the way they grow apart and together, change, and evolve. It’s not really my thing, but it’s well done and I’m glad I watched it. **1/2

We’ll follow this up with another post on 1978 flicks soon, so keep your eyes open for that. I mean, you can still blink. And you’ll probably need to sleep before I post the next one. Just, you know, do normal things with your eyes, but at some point, you’ll be able to point them at another post on 1978 movies, which I’m sure you (and the other 3 people who still read blogs) will be spellbound.

Current tally of 1978 films seen: 53 films (I covered 6 in this post, but another 5 are already in the hopper for the next post…)

Weird Movie of the Week: Galaxina

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a touching tale of Vampires and Robots. This time, we’ve got voluptuous androids and Space Police! The poster is certainly an eye-catcher…

Galaxina Poster

Let’s get a load of this plot description:

Galaxina is a lifelike, voluptuous android who is assigned to oversee the operations of an intergalactic Space Police cruiser captained by incompetent Cornelius Butt. When a mission requires the ship’s crew to be placed in suspended animation for decades, Galaxina finds herself alone for many years, developing emotions and falling in love with the ship’s pilot, Thor.

Sounds glorious, let’s watch it!

  • We’ve already mentioned this, but the captain’s name is Cornelius Butt, and it bears repeating. To be clear, it’s not like one of those things where it says “butt” in the credits, but they pronounce it “boot” or somesuch, they actually just say butt. We’re introduced to him when he opens a ship’s log, aping the form of Star Trek, but with the content style of Dark Star (it reminds me of the line where the entire ship’s supply of toilet paper was destroyed, though let’s be real, nothing else can be that well written). He describes his ship’s boring assignment as “Joy and yummies.” Anyway, that’s just his voice. The visual reveal is accompanied by Thus Spake Zarathustra (theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and, well, words kinda fail me.
    Cornelius Butt

    Look, it’s obvious that this is a parody and clearly meant to be funny, but it somehow manages to work on both that level and in an unintentionally hilarious way. Neat trick

  • The film kinda, sorta stars Dorothey Stratten as the titular android Galaxina.
    Galaxina and friends

    Stratten was a former Playboy Playmate and Playmate of the Year who was attempting to parlay that success into a career in film. She had some other small roles, but this was basically her only real starring vehicle because she was murdered by her ex-husband and manager (who also shot himself) not long after Galaxina came out. The tragic event inspired two movies (in one, she was played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and songs like Californication. The general consensus was that she had some talent and could have grown into a pretty good presence on screen. Sorry to bum out what will otherwise be a lighthearted post, but here we are.

  • In space, no one can hear your space siren, but they can apparently see your billboards.
  • There’s a dude who is exercising while smoking a cigar and drinking beer. It’s Thor, the guy who Galaxina will fall in love with…
  • Another dude is dressed in an old Dodger’s uniform (with the sleeves ripped off, natch) and cowboy hat, clearly the inspiration for Danny McBride’s character in that Prometheus/Alien:Covenant/Whatever movie that came out recently and is somehow worse than Galaxina. Also, he’s watching a space opera on future tv. And by space opera, I don’t mean, like, science fiction, I mean a literal opera that ends with a song sung by a fat (alien) lady.
  • The wine served with dinner is called Thunder Ripple, meaning that this is clearly a corporate dystopia where Thunderbird and Ripple have merged. Captain Butt comments that it’s vintage 2001, a very fine year.
  • Captain Butt eats a weird space egg raw, and has an Alien moment where he vomits a monster that runs away. In a shocking twist of fate, the monster becomes the hero of the film (er, spoilers? Can you spoil a movie like this?)
  • Oh look, there’s a space brothel in this movie. Very classy.
  • While the crew is asleep en-route and Galaxina is left to run the ship, there’s a very David from Prometheus/Alien:Covenant/Whatever movie that came out recently and is somehow worse than Galaxina vibe, as she falls in love with one member of the crew and reprograms herself or somesuch.
  • Once the get to their destination and Galaxina is sent out to retrieve the Blue Star (more on that in a sec), we have our Mos Eisley Cantina moment, only the people on this planet eat human beings, so their menu consists of things like “lady fingers” that are actual human fingers. My guess is that, economics being what they are, only approximately half of the fingers served are actual “lady” fingers though. I mean, I guess there could be some “gentleman” fingers that would be recognizably male (or at least, not ladylike?), but why throw away the revenue stream if you don’t have to.
  • Every time someone says “Blue Star”, an “ah ahhh” chorus erupts in the soundtrack, but in a meta maneuver, the people in the scene can actually hear it and are kinda confused. It recalls the Frau Blucher horse whinny gag from Young Frankenstein. I’m sure there’s actually a better reference for this, but it’s not coming to mind at the moment. I know, this movie deserves better from me.
  • The Mos Eisley bit culminates in a shootout that is straight out of a spaghetti western, but with laser pistols. This movie has it all.
  • Oh no, Galaxina has been captured by a strange cult that worships… the great hog in the sky, Harley Davidson. Of course, her crew shows up and they all escape in the cult’s lord, an actual Harley motorcycle.
  • There’s more, but what we’re ultimately left with is an intentional parody that is also somehow unintentionally funny. It’s like they invented a new way to laugh that can never be replicated. Bespoke humor. Look, I don’t want to oversell it and it drags a lot over its runtime, but I had a lot of fun with it and B Movie aficionados will get a kick out of it. The copy on Amazon Prime actually looks pretty good too (i.e. it’s not a pan and scan pal transfer, which has been known to happen to movies like this.)

So there you have it. It’s not a good movie and you shouldn’t watch it, wink, wink.

Favorite Films of 2019

We conclude this recap of 2019 movies with a traditional top 10 list, only a month and a half (or so) late! This marks the fourteenth year in a row that I’ve posted a top 10, which is a pretty respectable streak. For reference, previous top 10s are here: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

I always try to find some sort of themes for the year in movies, which is a total fool’s errand, but I guess I’m a fool because I enjoy trying it out. This year’s biggest theme seems to be an “Eat The Rich” sort of thing. I would list some examples, but it appears that the grand majority of the below films actually comment on wealth and inequality, directly or indirectly (alright, fine, some of the more notable examples include Parasite, Knives Out, Hustlers, Ready or Not, Us, and many more). I would normally say that this isn’t my favorite theme or anything, but then, these are some pretty fantastic movies, so what do I know? Another theme worth mentioning is the continued influence and growth of streaming. One film in my top 10 and three more in the honorable mentions are streaming exclusives, which is a pretty solid showing… We’ll see if the Oscars will get over the hump and recognize some streaming stuff tonight, but it’s clear that there’s some interesting stuff happening on streaming services.

As of this writing, I’ve seen 98 films that could be considered a 2019 release. While this represents an increase over the past few years and is certainly significantly higher than your average moviegoer, it’s still a much smaller number than your typical critic, so take this all with the appropriate boulder of salt. Standard disclaimers apply, and it’s especially worth noting that due to regional release strategies, some of these would be considered a 2018 movie, but not available until 2019. Eagle eyed readers may notice one particular entry reappearing on this year’s list from last year (which had to do with unofficial release shenanigans last year), but I love the movie so much and most people haven’t seen it, so in it goes! Anywho, I think that’s enough caveats for the moment, let’s get to the list:

Top 10 Movies of 2019

* In roughly reverse order

  • Us – Jordan Peele’s sophomore directing effort isn’t as lean or focused as Get Out was, but it is jam-packed with interesting ideas, visual flare, amazing dual performances, and yet it remains entertaining and rewatchable. It’s bold and exciting filmmaking, and I’m intrigued to see what Peele does next.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

  • Dolemite Is My Name – Eddie Murphy’s triumphant return to comedic greatness comes in what is clearly a labor of love. For some unknown reason, Rudy Ray Moore movies were a staple of my teen years, and this bio-pic of Moore is supremely entertaining and funny; an excellent example of the “I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!” style of movie. Murphy’s performance alone makes this worth the watch, but the whole thing is just so much fun.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner] [Capsule Review]

  • Parasite – Bong Joon Ho’s films don’t often work for me, but this one really opened my eyes. It’s a fantastic con movie with lots of thematic heft bubbling under the surface. It’s one of those movies where I never really knew where we were going, but once we got there, it felt inevitable. Impeccably crafted with great performances all around, I’m glad this one is garnering lots of attention.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Shadow – Zhang Yimou’s tale of palace intrigue sometimes approaches Shakespeare-esque grand historical drama while also featuring excellent wu xia action sequences and a muted but somehow still visually striking visual palette. Zhang handles the intricate plot and action with a clarity and fluidity that is impressive (and beyond most other directors).

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Apollo 11 – This documentary is an astonishing document of one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

    Apollo 11

    It winds up being more informative, exciting, and emotionally potent than any “dramatization” of the same events can manage, and the restored 65mm footage looks astounding.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Knives Out – Rian Johnson’s whodunit perfectly captures the Agatha Christie ouvre; tons of red herrings, mysteries within mysteries, an old creaky house, a will reading, cozy sweaters, and so on, all expertly crafted and knitted into an airtight narrative. While some of its surface politics might initially feel ham-handed, the real lesson at the heart of the movie is that it doesn’t matter what ideological position you take, it’s your actions that matter.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek – Taut single-location thriller about a militia member trying to ferret out a killer in their midst, this movie is gravely underseen and underrated. Smart, sharp writing anchors the film and manages to ratchet a lot of tension out of what are essentially a bunch of conversations.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • One Cut of the Dead – Longtime readers may recognize this as my favorite movie of last year, but due to various release date snafus, it’s probably more apt to put it in this year’s list. It obviously has traction among genre fans, but it deserves wider recognition so I’m including it near the top of this year’s list too.

    One Cut of the Dead

    What starts as a somewhat rote zombie story (albeit one that is made more interesting due to the filmmaking), eventually morphs into something that is so much more. Highly recommended Japanese flick, very entertaining and surprisingly resonant.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino’s latest love letter to 60s Hollywood and the power of cinema continues some of his more indulgent tendencies and at first glance feels a bit disjointed, but after watching a couple times, any reservations have been obliterated. Tarantino is still at the height of his craft, he’s able to harness star power while getting great performances, and he managed to redefine Sharon Tate as a real person while he was at it. A supreme hangout movie, I have a feeling this will age very well.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

The Quantum Jury Prize:

Awarded to films that exist only in a quantum superposition of two or more states. If you’re not sure what that means, but that’s kinda the point, and I’m going to confuse matters even more because while I’ve had this section in the last few years’s Top 10 lists, I’m using it in a completely different way this year. In the past, the quantum state had to do with my respect for films that I didn’t particularly love watching, or things that I went back and forth on.

This year, it’s more about which film would end up in the tenth slot (astute readers may have noticed that there’s only nine films listed above). Like Shcrodinger’s Cat, the actual #10 film exists in a superposition that will only experience a waveform collapse once we observe it. But every time I observe it, I get one of four answers. Or something like that. I guess I could have just done a four way tie for #10, but it’s my list and I’m doing this instead.

  • 1917 – The single take conceit dominates the conversation around this affecting WWI drama, but I found it effective at emphasizing the tension and claustrophobia of the young soldier’s mission. The story is perhaps a tad simplistic, but the execution is so spectacular that it deserves some recognition. This is the sort of film that I do tend to gravitate toward, so it could easily have taken that #10 slot.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Dragged Across Concrete – S. Craig Zahler’s latest crime thriller is a real doozy. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start, but once the unconventional bank robbery at its core gets going, it sinks its teeth in and never lets go. This movie occupies a similar space as several others on my top 10, but that’s because it’s sorta in my wheelhouse.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Little Women – Greta Gerwig’s impeccably appointed adaptation of the famous Louisa May Alcott novel hits on all cylinders, but the performances of a large ensemble are what really shine for me. As I understand it, Gerwig’s spin on the story was to introduce some chronology tinkering, and I have questions about one bit in particular, but I ultimately loved the movie. This film would make my top 10 a more rounded list.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Just in terms of pure action, this film is worthy. In particular, the knife fight is one of the most spectacular sequences I saw on film all year. The only thing holding this film back is the plot, which is starting to feel a bit creaky and strained at this point. That said, it’s still supremely entertaining to watch, and that’s the sort of thing I like in my top 10.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Kaedrin Movie Award Winner]

Honorable Mention

* In an order I dare you to discern

  • Uncut Gems – The Safdie brothers pull an exceptional performance out of Adam Sandler and the last hour or so of the film is almost unbearably tense, but I can’t help but thinking that I’d enjoy this movie a lot more if I cared at all about pretty much any of the characters. The artistry is evident and the film is very well made, but it’s far from a crowdpleaser. I liked it, but it’s a far cry from the top 10.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Prospect – This indie science fiction flick about a doomed prospector and his daughter’s fight for survival on an alien planet has some setup issues, but is ultimately a very well done thriller with good performances and worldbuilding (I particularly like the decision to make wearing the space suit with helmet at almost all times a necessity; it’s one of those things that seems like a limitation but is actually an opportunity and actually makes for a good aesthetic choice.)

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon] [Capsule Review]

  • High Flying Bird – Steven Soderbergh shot this film on an iPhone, and it’s true that the film mostly consists of simple conversations, but there’s a nifty plot baked in, with sharp dialogue and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. This is one of those things that got kinda dumped on Netflix early in the year, but is worth seeking out (also of note: I hate basketball, but I still enjoyed it!)

    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]

  • The Irishman – Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, but it’s also an interesting character study about a man who (very) slowly hollows out his soul over the course of decades of working for the mob. By the time you get towards that last hour, it becomes utterly devastating. De Niro and Pacino put in their best performances in years (decades?), but Joe Pesci is the real standout, and that’s saying something. It’s not a “fun” film, but it has grown on me, and is well worth checking out.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix] [Capsule Review]

  • The Kid Who Would Be King – Joe Cornish’s modern-day take on Arthurian legend is probably more entertaining than you expect. This seems like one of the more chronically underseen films of the year, with great performances from a young cast and properly archetypal characters. Maybe it’s a little silly, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Avengers: Endgame – The culmination of more than a decade’s worth of films somehow manages to mostly stick the landing. It doesn’t break the mold of your typical Marvel movie, but that sort of thinking doesn’t work for the MCU. The real strength is not the individual films, but rather the way they underline and reinforce one another. This may or may not be your thing, but it is still a pretty amazing achievement. (Oh, and this particular film is, in itself, pretty damn entertaining.)

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • The Farewell – Lulu Wang wrote and directed this drama about cultural differences between China and America (as illustrated by a family crisis precipitated by the matriarch’s cancer diagnosis). Wang manages a fine balancing act between the specific and the universal. We all have families and events (ranging from happy to sad and everywhere inbetween) like those highlighted in the story, but the movie also portrays a very specific family and a very specific culture clash with oodles of keenly observed details. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would (it’s one of those films I probably wouldn’t have caught up with if I didn’t go out of my way for posts like this).

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Little Monsters – Lupita Nyong’o leads this goofy Australian zombie flick about a down-on-his-luck musician and a teacher protecting a field trip from a zombie outbreak. Well worth checking out.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Klaus – Animated Christmas movie that plays with the origins of the Santa Claus (er, Klaus) myth, this is a gorgeous movie with a clever script and fun story. I’m not sure if it’s destined to become an annual tradition, but you could do a lot worse in that respect…

    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]

  • Marriage Story – I’m not a big fan of Noah Baumbach’s general obsession with dysfunction, but there seems to be a bit of balance here that helps this story about bitter divorce proceedings. There’s a somewhat even hand between the two aggrieved parties, but the real insight of the film is just how shitty lawyers are and how the legal system can intensify an already brutal and vicious event into something even more severe. Exceptional performances abound, and even a touch of hope in the end.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Netflix]

  • Ready or Not – A new bride becomes enmeshed in her new family’s gaming tradition, which sometimes involves a hunt to the death. One of the most fun times at the movies of the year, with an eye opening and unexpected ending which I’m probably ruining for you just by talking about it, sorry. Worth checking out for you horror bloodhounds out there.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Good Boys – Surprisingly affecting story about a group of tweens going on an epic quest to fix a drone (or something, that part isn’t important). I thought this would be a rote, one-joke affair (tweens cursing!), so when it turns out that this movie had some pretty sharp insights into the nature of growing up and friends who come together or drift apart, I was quite surprised, and you might be too.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

  • Hustlers – A group of strippers band together to scam a bunch of Wall Street clients, this sorta has the feel of a Scorsese gangster epic; the rise and fall of a brash criminal enterprise, anchored by Jennifer Lopez’s magnetic performance and her relationship with costar Constance Wu.

    More Info: [IMDB] [Amazon]

Just Missed the Cut:

But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order:

Should Have Seen:

Despite having seen around 90 of this year’s releases (and listing out 30+ of my favorites in this post), there are a few that got away. Or never made themselves available here. Or that I probably need to watch, but don’t wanna because reasons. Regardless, there are several movies here that I probably should have caught up with:

Normally, I’d do a whole post of Oscars predictions, but since they pushed the ceremony up this year, I basically ran out of time and in the end, who cares about my predictions? I’ll be on Twitter during the show, so feel free to hit up @mciocco for incisive commentary (or, more likely, retweets of people funnier/more insightful than me). For the record, my guesses are for Best Picture: 1917, Director: Mendes (maybe Bong Joon Ho), Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Actress: Renée Zellweger, Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Original Screenplay: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood (though maybe Parasite), Adapted Screenplay: Little Women (though maybe Jojo Rabbit). So there.

2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards: The Arbitrary Awards

The 2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week. The premise of those awards is to recognize aspects of films that aren’t reflected in more traditional awards or praise like a Top 10 list or whatever. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available, so we come to the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don’t conform to normal standards. A few of these “awards” have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]

  • The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue: Serenity. Sometimes this award goes to bad movies, other times it goes to movies that are so bad they’re good. This utterly bonkers movie straddles the line, and is almost worth watching for the absurd twist at its core, but the dialogue is also quite impressively bad (A favorite line read: “Baker Dill, you’re no more than a hooker“, funny just because of his name, but then the struggling fisherman responds: “A hooker who can’t afford hooks”).
  • The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Glass. Overall, I like a lot about this movie, but boy, are those hospital employees stupid!
  • Award for Achievement in Seagull Violence: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse. I was mixed on the film overall, but the, er, seagull scene was pretty eye opening, and it’s worth noting that Willem Dafoe probably deserves more recognition somewhere too.
  • Best Stripper Who Doesn’t Really Strip That Much: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. There’s this thing in Hollywood movies were really famous people play strippers but they don’t actually take their close off but in this case, who cares, J Lo is magnetic and super charismatic in this film that definitely warrants more recognition than it’s got.
  • Give This Person Their Own Action Franchise, Dammit: Mackenzie Davis was really fantastic in the middling Terminator: Dark Fate, it really just made me want to see her in an original action movie that isn’t saddled with all the baggage of the Terminator sequels.
  • Most Explosive Ending: Ready or Not. I will not spoil the ending, but I admire that they went there.
  • Best Entrance to Graduation: Booksmart. This movie is fun, if not quite the revelatory experience some have proclaimed it as, but I kinda loved their entrance to their graduation, so here we are.
  • Best Documentary About a Complete Fraud: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. The story of multi-billion dollar medical-testing startup Theranos is fascinating and the fraud at its heart is completely bonkers. Strong runners up in the the Fyre Festival documentaries, but there were two of them and they split the vote and besides, Theranos’ fraud is much more egregious than a poorly run music fest.
  • Best Long Take/Tracking Shot: 1917. Duh. Due to release date weirdness, I’m not sure if One Cut of the Dead qualifies, but it would be a strong contender.
  • Should Host the Oscars: Babu Frik from Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Look, he won’t be better than my dream host for last year’s Oscars (that would be Cheddar Goblin, who should host every year), but Babu Frik would work…
  • Best Hero/Disembodied Body Part: I Lost My Body. This is an interesting animated French movie that I’m not sure adds up to much, but approximately half of the screen time portrays the quest of a disembodied hand making its way back to its body, and it’s something else, let me tell ya.
  • Most Egregious Use of Bullet-Time Technology: T-34. Tank battles galore. Some of the effects aren’t perfect, but it’s a really fun action movie with great tank battles.
  • The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: American Factory. It’s perhaps not as distinguished as the award’s namesake, but the access the filmmakers managed in this Chinese run American Factory is admirable and enlightening.
  • Best Drinking Game: Whatever it was they were playing at the wedding in The Farewell. I don’t know what the game was, but the visual comedy of it all was perfectly calibrated.
  • Achievement in Sandwich Eating: Vince Vaughn in Dragged Across Concrete. Dude just plows through a breakfast sandwich after a long stakeout night. This is one of those scenes that immediately made me think “This needs to be an arbitrary award”, but since that was like 9 months ago, I totally forgot about it until now (I’m adding this after the fact), but it 100% warrants recognition.

Stay tuned, the top 10 comes next week (just in time for the Oscars, which I probably won’t be posting about because they pushed the broadcast up a few weeks)…

Update: Added the last category, which I can’t believe I forgot to add. I had the flu this weekend, so I wasn’t thinking straight…

2019 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners

The nominations for the 2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Since then the Vegas odds-makers and Howard Ratners of the world have been going bonkers, so it’s time to announce the winners so that the criminals trapped in that weird vestibule thing can be buzzed out (get it? I’m being topical! For the approximately zero of you who have seen Uncut Gems, at least.) Next week, I’ll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I’ll post my top 10 of 2019 (the Oscars are much earlier this year, so I may post some commentary, time permitting, or more likely not). Alrightly then, enough preamble, let’s get to the winners. And the KMA goes to:

  • Best Villain/Badass: Red, played by Lupita Nyong’o in Us. And it’s not even particularly close. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as Red is full of menace and barely suppressed rage, but it’s a dual role, and she puts forth a distinct performance has Red’s doppleganger too (and without spoiling the movie, the villainy is not diminished by such machinations).
    Red in Us

    The other nominees aren’t so much bad as they are simply perfunctory. It’s a superhero film or a Star Wars film and so a villain is dutifully trotted out. For the most part, they get the job done, but few leave a lasting imprint. Thanos works less because of himself than because he’s the villain in the culmination of a ten year run of movies (this is Marvel’s superpower – the individual films matter less than the whole). Jake Gyllenhaal makes Mysterio work better than he does on paper, but is ultimately a little silly in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Mark Dacascos is interesting in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, but it’s hard not to see him as the Chairman from Iron Chef America, which adds its own surreality to the proceedings, I guess, but perhaps not intentional. Plenty of fine villains, but nothing stands out as much as Red…

  • Best Hero/Badass: Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. An altogether better year for heroism, even for a more atypical, perhaps even ambiguous character like Cliff Booth. Tarantino doesn’t explicitly tell us what happened with Booth’s wife, but what we do see in the film proper is certainly badass and heroic. It’s one of those things where your interpretation of the character in the film probably says more about you than the film itself.
    Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Lots of other strong contenders in this category too. I don’t know how John Wick keeps losing this award, but it appears he’ll have another chance soon enough, and we’ll certainly be talking more about this film below (this is perhaps why I don’t feel compelled to give him this category – it gets recognized elsewhere). Scott Adkins puts in a fun, badass performance in Avengement, pouring himself a pint after beating the hell out of every gangster in a bar with a cricket bat. Even bit parts like Tilda Swinton in The Dead Don’t Die warrant some mention, though that character has a distinct lack of heroism (which is not to say that she’s a villain either). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not also does well, though she suffers in comparison to Sharni Vinson’s Kaedrin Movie Award Winning Hero/Badass performance in You’re Next. Actually, the grand majority of nominees are pretty close, with only a couple standouts. It’s a pity that most of them were not opposed by proper villainy.

  • Best Comedic Performance: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. This movie was clearly a labor of love for Murphy, and his passion for the material really shines through. This is an award that is often muddled due to the prevalence of comedic ensembles (and a glance through the nominees shows some of that), but Murphy’s performance really does stand out in a way that most others do not. A bunch of the nominees are smaller, side characters who manage to steal scenes from the larger narrative (Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe, Zoey Deutch in Zombieland: Double Tap, and perhaps most impressive due to the young age, Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit). Other nominees are more conventional, or perhaps less conventional but not defined so much as comedic roles. In the end, Murphy’s performance is why this award exists.
  • Breakthrough Performance: Florence Pugh in Midsommar and Little Women. For whatever reason, I had a tougher time populating this category this year, but Florence Pugh was my first thought and the obvious winner due to a strong lead performance in Midsommar and her thankless ensemble work in Little Women (“thankless” might not be the right word for this, but the character of Amy is fraught with some baggage for sure). The woman can frown like no other, but she has a nice smile too (there’s a scene in Little Women where the sisters are doing one of Jo’s plays and she clinks her pipe with her sister and for some reason that moment is very memorable for me.) Anyway, Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U is here as a sorta “sorry, I forgot to nominate you last time”, but she genuinely seems up for anything in this sequel (the glee with which she kills herself to reset the day, jumping out of the airplane or headfirst into a woodchipper, really does stand out). Samara Weaving in Ready or Not again gets a nod here and I’m expecting good things from her going forward. Did I say it was hard populating this category? Huh, because all the nominees are pretty great, actually.
  • Most Visually Stunning: Shadow. It’s an odd choice, because the color palette of this movie is quite muted, to the point where it almost feels like a black and white film at times, and yet that only makes the visuals in the film stronger and more memorable.
    Shadow

    Strong runner up in the form of 1917, whose single take shenanigans are impressive to say the least. The rest of the nominees range from the gorgeos spectacle to the more sober but very well photographed that usually populate the category…

  • Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Us. Jordan Peele’s sophmore directing effort isn’t as lean or focused as his first effort, but it’s still good and interesting stuff. The rest of the nominees are a pretty fun bunch and well worth checking out. They skew towards horror, as I wasn’t taken with a lot of this year’s high-profile artistic SF (like Ad Astra or High Life), but the lone SF nominee, Prospect, is quite good and it feels underrated (or at least underseen) too.
  • Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Avengers: Endgame. As mentioned above, this movie’s strength is not just that it’s a fun movie with lots of good stuff, but rather that it’s the conclusion to more than a decade’s worth of films, and the achievement as a whole seems worhty of recognizing (and what better place than the best sequel category). Given my usual distaste for sequels, this category is often difficult to populate and it’s hard to believe that I never had “Remake” as part of the category before (though I’m sure I had some nominees that were remakes in the past? Maybe?), but two decent remakes this year in Little Women and Cold Pursuit) persuaded me to add that to this category. The other nominees are just fine and well worth checking out if you liked their respective previous films…
  • Biggest Disappointment: The Laundromat. Remember when Steven Soderbergh quit directing films? Well, he made two in 2019, one of which was pretty great (High Flying Bird), and the other just fell completely flat. So many of the elements of The Laundromat should work, but it just continually fails to inform or entertain, culminating in a bizarre non-sequitur of a 4th wall break that’s just plain boorish. This is not a category I like to dwell on, but I will say that I generally enjoyed the other nominees, but for whatever reason, I had higher expectations that I probably should have going in, which makes them disappointing. But the Laundromat takes the cake here.
  • Best Action Sequences: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Hey may not have won the best Hero/Badass, but this film certainly had the best action sequences of the year. With each new installment, these movies one-up the action, and this one contains a few amazing setpieces, most notably the knife fight and the one with the good doggies. This marks the year in which I discovered Jesse V. Johnson’s direct to video/streaming offerings, so a couple nominees show up here that are worth watching for action fans (Avengement and Triple Threat). I didn’t love Ad Astra, but what’s not to like about the moon rover battle? Also of note, S. Craig Zahler’s more measured, deliberate action setpieces are tense and unpredictable, punctuated by gruesome violence. Oh, and not nominated but should be: T-34, a Russian tank movie with great, propulsive action sequences and extensive bullet-time-esque shots (the one on Amazon Prime is dubbed, but who cares, you’re not watching this for the dialog). A decent crop of action this year, for sure.
  • Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Knives Out. “It is not a doughnut hole, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not holed at all!” I won’t go into details here due to spoilers (and I suppose the fact that there’s a twist/surprise is spoiler all on its own, but in the case of a whodunit, what else would you expect?) Some other good nominees here, but again, I’ll refrain from details due to spoilers…
  • Best High Concept Film: 1917. The idea of a “high concept” is a bit of a nebulous one and maybe the “stringing together shots so it looks like one continuous take” isn’t enough of a high concept for you, but it really worked in 1917, so here we are. Much has been made of whether this is a gimmick for gimmick’s sake or otherwise effective, but it worked well for me, building tension and claustrophobic dread over the course of the film (with little in the way of release). Other nominees had some neat ideas for sure, and most are worthy, even when the high concept doesn’t quite work out in a way I loved (i.e. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a bizarre documentary and I’m not entirely sure it works but it’s interesting nonetheless…)
  • 2019’s 2018 Movie of the Year: A Simple Favor. It’s a nice, twisty little thriller. Once I get past a given year, I don’t usually catch up with stuff from that year, especially when it comes to more challenging films. This year wasn’t really an exception to that, but I did catch up with a lot of fun things. Perhaps another benefit of the streaming era… One notable nominee would be Suspiria, which felt a little overlong and overindulgent, but which I ultimately liked a lot. Most of the other nominees are worth a watch here or there too, though none are really lighting the world on fire.

So there you have it. Congrats to all the winners. Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week!

2019 Kaedrin Movie Awards

Welcome to the fourteenth annual Kaedrin Movie Awards! The idea is to recognize films for various achievements that don’t always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we’ll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we’ll post a traditional top 10 list (usually sometime in early/mid-February). But first up is the awards! [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018]

Standard disclaimers apply: It must be a 2019 movie (with the one caveat that some 2018 films were not accessible until 2019 and are thus eligible under fiat) and I obviously have to have seen the movie. As of this writing, I’ve seen 92 movies that would be considered a 2019 release. Significantly less than your typical critic, but more than your average moviegoer and enough to populate these awards. Obviously this is a personal exercise that is entirely subjective in nature, but the world would be a boring place indeed if we all loved the same things for the same reasons, right? Right. Without further ado:

Best Villain/Badass

It seems like the last few years have been mired in mediocre villainy and while this year is not exactly breaking the mold, the winner is very clear and could hold their own with most of the previous winners in this category. In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc…) or ideas.

Best Hero/Badass

Probably a step up from villainy, and a more broad coalition of heroism to boot. A few standouts, might be difficult to pick the winner here. Again limited to individuals and not groups.

Best Comedic Performance

This is sometimes a difficult category to populate due to the prevalence of ensembles in comedy movies (this year being no exception). I also noticed a distinct bias towards smaller side roles or cameos this year, which is neat, but makes it hard to pick those roles as a winner. That being said, this year has a clear lead performance that exemplifies why this award exists…

Breakthrough Performance

This used to be a category more centered around my personal evaluation of a given actor (rather than a more general industry breakthrough), but it’s trended more towards the youngsters breaking through as time has gone on. This year is certainly more along those lines, with plenty of decent options. For whatever reason, I had a more difficult time populating this list this year, though I think I’ll be able to narrow it down easily enough…

Most Visually Stunning

Sometimes even bad movies can look really great… and yet most of these are pretty great. A middling year for this sort of thing, perhaps leaning towards more sober, well-photographed beauty than flashy spectacle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film

It’s always nice to throw some love to genres that don’t normally get a lot of recognition in end-of-the-year lists. As an avid SF fan, it’s sad that the genre has to be combined with Horror in order to come up with a well rounded set of nominees. There was a time in the past decade or so where that seemed like it was changing, but that moment seems to have passed. At least, for the types of SF that I love (there were a few high profile SF films that I didn’t love this year, so the industry is still trying, at least).

Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake

Always an awkward category to populate, especially given my normal feeling on this sort of thing. After an unusually fertile year for this category last year, this year isn’t quite that great, but still pretty good.

Biggest Disappointment

A category often dominated by sequels and reboots, and lo, this year is a bit of a return to form, though there’s still some original films that were quite disappointing as well. This category is definitely weird in that sometimes I actually enjoy these movies… but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale).

Best Action Sequence

This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and there’s actually a pretty good range this year. I think there’s a pretty clear standout, but there’s not a lot of filler in this category, so it’s been a pretty solid year for action…

Best Plot Twist/Surprise

I suppose even listing that there is a twist is a bit of a spoiler, so I guess we’ll just have to risk it. A pretty strong lineup this year, and I think there will be a strong standout…

Best High Concept Film

A bit of a nebulous concept for this one, but I think the category fills out nicely, with a couple of standouts. Pretty wide open for the winner though.

2019’s 2018 Movie of the Year

This is a weird category. Once I get past my top 10, I rarely tackle challenging material from the previous year, though I do sometimes find a few diamonds in the rough. This category emerged from one frustrating year in which I saw two movies far too late for the top 10, so I created this award to recognize them. Since then, the nominees are pretty lackluster (and indeed, the amount of films I watch that qualify are usually pretty low to start with). This year, for whatever reason, I’ve seen a ton of decent things from 2018. None that I think would override my top 10 from that year, but I’m sure we can find a winner worthy of recognition.

So there you have it. 51 different films nominated (2018 films and disappointments not counted), so really spreading the love here. Surprisingly, Ready or Not leads the way with 5 nominations, which is an honor all by itself (because, um, I don’t think it’ll be winning many of those awards, even if I really enjoyed it). Us, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and Happy Death Day 2U clock in at a respectable 4 nominations a piece (with at least a good chance of winning some awards). Five movies snagged 3 nominations, and the grand majority have 2 noms or a lone nomination. Winners to be announced next week, followed by Arbitrary Awards, a traditional Top 10 of the year, and maybe some Oscars commentary (the ceremony is much earlier this year, so maybe not?) Stay tuned!