Movies - Lists postsTuesday February 26, 2019
My Five Worst Movies of 2018
My top 10 list is always late because I try to see the best movies of the year, which often arrive late. My five worst movies list is always incomplete because I don’t try to see the worst movies of the year. That’s the caveat here.
There’s no real hatred for the movies below as there have been with past lists. Nothing pissed me off as much as “Batman v. Superman” or “Tusk” or “Nocturnal Animals.” There’s just a lot of boredom, disappointment, and occasional face palms.
5. Life of the Party
Back in college, middle-aged Deanna winds up schtupping Jack, a handsome, supernice fratboy who becomes obsessed with her—which seems a bit much. Later, at an expensive restaurant with her friends, including bestie Christine, Deanna runs into her ex, Dan, and his new wife Marcie, who acts all catty. Then their waiter arrives and ... it’s Jack! More: Jack is Marcie’s son! What are the odds? So trump card for Deanna, right? Yes, but it quickly gets uncomfortable. Christine in particular rubs it in Marcie’s face as if Dan weren’t standing right there. That’s all he does, by the way: He doesn’t defend mom from Christine, doesn’t defend Deanna from mom. He just stands there, a stupid expression on his face, while the others improvise around him. None of it is funny.
4. Big Brother
This should’ve been the easiest movie in the world to make. Donnie Yen becomes the new teacher for a gang of ne’er-do-well kids in a poor Hong Kong neighborhood. It’s “Ip Man” meets “To Sir, With Love.” Except the kids come off less underprivileged than spoiled. One girl feels her dad doesn’t love her so she wants to race cars. A Pakistani kid wants to sing but keeps remembering that time other kids laughed at his Cantonese accent. The most clichéd problem and insulting resolution is the alcoholic dad. He comes homes from what little work he does and demands his two boys buy him booze. Then one day Donnie sends the class on a field trip to a rehab center. And guess who’s speaking? Dad. Not sure when he decided to give up drink—the night before?—and if this is what the Chinese do instead of AA meetings. Please, come bare your soul to some high school kids who don’t know shit. Anyway, Donnie solves all their problems. “The White Shadow” wishes he were as involved in his students’ lives.
3. Ocean’s Eight
After all the schemes and shenanigans and supercool talking through earpieces, we discover there was a bigger haul than the $150 million Cartier necklace: the crown jewels on exhibit at the Met. So guess which of our intrepid female heroes swiped those? Sandra? Cate? Rihanna? The answer is Shaobo. If you’re thinking, “Huh, I don’t remember her,” it’s because Shaobo is a guy—the Chinese Cirque du Soleil dude from the other Ocean’s movies, who shows up late to lend a hand. Wait, lend a hand? He does it all. That’s our feminist heist film. Written and directed by Gary Ross.
This wants to be “Die Hard” in Hong Kong. One reason it fails miserably? You more-or-less buy Bruce Willis as a cop, you buy Bonnie Bedilia as his estranged wife/business exec, and most of what McClane does—even the crazy outside-the-building stuff—seems vaguely plausible. Do I buy The Rock as a security executive? Neve Campbell as a surgeon fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese? Do I believe the size and shape of The Pearl: 240 stories, with outside turbines forever spinning? Do I believe that the Rock’s character, Sawyer, who has a prosthetic leg and must weigh 250 pounds, can climb a building crane, swing it close to the Pearl, and leap from the crane’s top into an open window 150 stories above the ground? The only thing I bought about this movie—sadly—was the ticket.
1. Hello, Mrs. Money
At a Sunday matinee show at Pacific Place (attendance: 3), most of my time was spent waiting out overlong set-pieces and not-exactly #MeToo-friendly scenarios. Nothing funnier than a man in drag being sexually assaulted by a grinning lothario who won’t take no for an answer. Nothing funnier than date-rape drugs sprinkled into drinks. It felt like vague consolation that the powder was less sedative than Chinese aphrodisiac, and the people who drank it were already in relationships. At the same time, those relationships were hardly worth saving. The deer that lost its penis for the aphrodisiac must‘ve gone: “You’re shitting me. For this?”
My Top 10 Movies of 2018
It was a weak year for American movies. At the least, it was a year in which I disagreed with most American critics about most American movies. The movies they touted (“First Reformed,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) left me cold, while the movies that stuck with me (“Wajib,” “Love Education”) no one mentioned at all. Overall, I left a lot of theaters disappointed.
That’s my curmudgeonly greeting to this way-late list of 10 best movies of 2018.
I should add I don’t feel like a zealot on the matter. I’m open to the idea that the problem is me. Maybe in five years I’ll see some of these again and go, “What was I thinking?” But for now, this is what I was thinking.
10. People’s Republic of Desire (China)
It does what documentaries are supposed to do: gave us e a glimpse into a world we know nothing about. It's also a world we know everything about. It’s about the desire for wealth and fame, yes, but at bottom it’s about loneliness and isolation. It’s about the urge to connect, and how social media taps into this urge and never assuages it. Social media is to connection like salt water is to thirst. We drink and we drink, and we wonder why we keep getting thirstier.
9. Mid90s (USA)
This rang so true to me in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut: reaching a certain age, 10, 12, and suddenly having to navigate shit you’re supposed to know but have no clue about. It’s generally stuff about girls and sex, or about how to act with guys. What to say, what not to say, and when. What’s cool and what isn’t? What are the rules? Where are the rules? At such moments, ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s terrifying. The great irony with “Mid90s” is that the navigator, Stevie, is trying to fit in with a gang that is slowly breaking apart.
8. The King/The Searcher (Part I) (USA)
During the summer of 2016, Eugene Jarecki drove Elvis Presley’s 1964 Rolls Royce through the places that made Elvis who he was—Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Germany, Hollywood, and Vegas—and let different folks into the backseat to play, sing, or just talk about Elvis and the state of the country. It’s Elvis as metaphor for America. We took over the world with a sneer and a shake of our hips, then we grew comfortable, addicted, overweight and addled. Trump is our late-stage Vegas period. “The Searcher” is the more straightforward HBO doc that digs into the roots. The second half makes too many excuses but the first half rocks and rolls.
7. Juliet, Naked (USA/UK)
It’s that rare rom-com for adults. Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as Tucker Crowe, a shaggy, reclusive, former indie rock star who released an album of quiet love songs, “Juliet,” in 1993, then disappeared from a Minneapolis stage and never came back. Chris O’Dowd is perfectly cast as the fan obsessed with his work. Rose Byrne is the woman between them. Comedy, and something approaching wisdom, ensue.
6. Cold War (Poland)
One of the surprising things about this movie is the relative ease with which Cold War borders are crossed. At one point Wiktor returns to—is it Prague?—to see the troupe, and Zula, again, but the secret police pick him up. And interrogate him? Make him love Big Brother? No. They put him on a train back to the West. You chose your side, Wiktor, they seem to be saying. Stay there. This is true until it horrifyingly isn’t. Question: Is it a fault of the film that it seems to be saying the horrors of Soviet totalitarianism are nothing next to a crazy broad? If you can't be happy as an artist/singer in 1950s Paris, good god, brother, what hope?
5. John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City (USA)
What really won me over was the gazebo bit. Mulaney talks about seeing a gazebo in Connecticut that was dedicated in 1863, and before he gets to the joke, this was my thought: “Huh. Middle of the Civil War.” And that’s the joke. Mulaney imagines the scene with a Prof. Harold Hill-type charlatan selling town leaders—who have just read off their Gettysburg war dead—on the concept. I immediately knew I’d found a kindred spirit: someone who paid attention to the chronology of things. Mulaney also tells jokes, of course, that reveal the trauma of our times—from “Horse loose in a hospital” to idiot online Captcha crap: “You spend most of your day telling a robot you’re not a robot. Think about that for two seconds and tell me you don’t want to go walk into the ocean.” It’s the line of the year.
4. Burning (South Korea)
“Burning” is about the death of a girl that happens off-stage. Not only do we not see it happen, we don’t even know if it does happen. Consider it an arthouse version of a revenge thriller. The revenge happens clumsily, and less-than-heroically, at the 11th hour, and we’re not sure if it’s necessary. Traditional revenge movies are all about certitude and satisfaction. This leaves us with nothing but questions. It haunts us long after we leave the theater.
3. Capernaum (Lebanon)
The sadness and hardness of the world is reflected in the eyes of Zain, age 12, and there’s nothing romantic about it. As you’re watching, you wonder how this kid could act this. How he could be so dead-eyed? What trauma could he have suffered? Answer: He’s a Syrian refugee. He plays Lebanese here, a son in a large family of the undocumented, who tries to look after his sister, who then tries to look after a small immigrant baby, and the most heartbreaking moments are those moments, like on the bus with Cockroach-Man, or in the movie’s final scene, when you realize that despite all the adult things he's doing he’s just a fucking kid.
2. Love Education (Taiwan)
You work through the comedy to get to the poignancy. I think that’s what most of life is like, and that’s what Sylvia Chang’s “Love Education” is like. We get three generations of women, each dealing with their own issues at their own stage of life. When the grandmother dies, and her daughter (also Chang) wants to move her father’s grave next to her mother’s, that’s when things kick into another gear. I saw this at SIFF and keep waiting for it to show up anywhere else: streaming, video stores, etc. It deserves an audience.
1. Wajib (Palestine)
A father and his estranged son spend a day hand-delivering wedding invitations in present-day Nazareth and resurrect old wounds. It’s the kind of episodic non-plot that should weary us; but writer-director Annemarie Jacir and her two stars—real-life father and son Mohammed and Saleh Bakri—make it riveting. “Wajib” is specific and universal, funny and human. The day is long, tempers cool with the evening, but nothing is resolved. It’s just another round of forgiveness and understanding that never seems to stretch far enough; but maybe it covers what we can while we can.
You know, now that I look at it, that's a pretty good year. A shout-out as well to the following: Free Solo, The Third Murder, Shoplifters, Three Identical Strangers, The Guilty, Roma, The Favourite, Last Letter, Eighth Grade and Isle of Dogs.
No-Drama Obama's Top 15 Movies of 2018
Today on social media, which helped elect Donald Trump and destroy his legacy, Barack Obama listed his favorite books, movies and songs of 2018. Dude's well-read, well-watched, well-listened to.
In music, glad that he likes local hero Brandi Carlisle but gotta wonder where his Matt Maltese is. Probably too apocalyptic for 44. Oh wait, “As the World Caves In” is last year? Damn, I'm old.
Movie's I know, and here's Obama's top 15:
- Black Panther
- The Death of Stalin
- Eighth Grade
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- Leave No Trace
- Minding the Gap
- The Rider
- Support the Girls
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor
A few of these will be on my top 10, but overall there's nothing surprising. It's like he took critics “best of...” lists and mixed, sorted. I wouldn't have minded a surprise or two. (The closest to a surprise is “Blindspotting.”) On the other hand, if everything I did caused 40 percent of the country to throw up their arms and curse and shout and spit and threaten my life for the rest of my life, I'd probably play it safe, too.
Besides, there's something to be said for having a president who's well-read, well-watched and well-listened to. Not to mention well-liked
The First Top 10 Movie List of 2018
We are the champions?
And so it begins. The first top 10 movie list of the year—from Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine—was released on Thursday.
I usually dread these since they‘re full of movies I’ve heard about (via the festival circuit) but won't be able to see for another month or so. Or longer.
Not here. Of Zacharek's top 10, I‘ve already seen five, and only three haven’t been released in U.S. theaters yet. It's a good eclectic collection. She's a movie booster:
Every year, there's someone around to say, “This seemed like a bad year for movies,” to which I invariably say, “I think it's been a great year for movies!” This has been going on for decades now, so the problem—if you want to consider it one—is clearly with me. What stuns me each year isn't how many bad movies get made, but how many good ones do.
No wonder she got the Time gig.
She adds, “Naturally, there's a broad middle ground of mediocrity” (oh yeah), and “I go to the movies not to be impressed, but to be overwhelmed” (who doesn‘t?). She ends thus: “So here is a list of 10 movies that didn’t impress me so much as they brought me an exquisite and sometimes formidable kind of joy.”
Then we get to Stephanie's list:
- 10. Paddington 2
- 9. Bohemian Rhapsody
- 8. If Beale Street Could Talk
- 7. A Star is Born
- 6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- 5. The Favourite
- 4. Eighth Grade
- 3. First Reformed
- 2. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
- 1. Roma
I like a good eclectic collection that leans toward popular fare. But joy? Of the five movies I've seen in her top 10, I admire some (“Eighth Grade”) but was generally disappointed in the others.
Of course, this has been a year of real movie disappointments for me. I keep being unimpressed with the movies critics love (“BlacKkKlansman,” “First Reformed,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and wonder why no one talks up the movies that I loved (“Wajib,” “Love Education,” “The King”). I know. That could be any year for any of us. Just seems more pronounced this year.
What's an A+ CinemaScore Worth?
One of my old freelance employers, MSN, finally uploaded something I wanted to read: a list of the “46 movies with A+ CinemaScore since 2000.”
First, this is CinemaScore:
CinemaScore is the industry leader in measuring movie appeal among theatre audiences. Since 1978, CinemaScore has been polling moviegoers at major movie releases on opening night to collect demographic information and calculate a distinctive CinemaScore grade.
In other words, it tries to find out if the movie appeals to the people to whom it's supposed to appeal—the people who couldn't wait to see it; who had to see it opening night.
So what kind of movie appeals to the people to whom it's supposed to appeal? And appeals to them SO MUCH they give it an A+? Superhero movies? Horror films? Chick flicks? Actioners starring The Rock?
Nope, nope, nope, and nope.
Turns out, they‘re movies starring and/or targeted toward audiences that feel marginalized by Hollywood. Two groups in particular: African Americans and conservative Christians. Their films make up 65% of the A+ scores.
Of the 46 movies, 17 are about or star African-Americans:
- Finding Forrester (2000)
- Remember the Titans (2000)
- Antwone Fisher (2002)
- Drumline (2002)
- Ray (2004)
- Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
- Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
- Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (2007)
- The Help (2011)
- 42 (2013)
- The Best Man (2013)
- Woodlawn (2015)
- Selma (2015)
- Queen of Katwe (2016)
- Hidden Figures (2016)
- Girls Trip (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
And twelve are conservative Christian movies:
- The Passion of the Christ (2004)
- Dreamer (2005)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
- The Blind Side (2009)
- Soul Surfer (2011)
- Courageous (2011)
- Dolphin Tale (2011)
- Lone Survivor (2014)
- American Sniper (2015)
- Miracles from Heaven (2016)
- Patriots Day (2016)
- I Can Only Imagine (2018)
There's also one Mexican-American co-production:
- Instructions Not Included (2013)
So why are so many of the A+ scores from groups that see themselves at odds with the very entity (Hollywood) that creates the product? A few guesses.
Many of the above movies have no other audience other than that group. Who went to see “Miracles from Heaven,” for example, except white Christians? Who went to see “Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?” except black Christians? At opening night, there were no outsiders going, “What the fuck is this crap?” and screwing up its score.
But that doesn't mean the targeted demographic will like the movies in question. So why did they? And so uncritically?
A lot of it, I'd guess, comes down to this: If you‘re embattled, or feel embattled, you don’t disparage your side to the enemy. You circle the wagons. Most of these scores seem like wagon-circling to me. Or some kind of circling.
As for the other 16 A+ movies? Eight are animated—Pixar, mostly:
- Monsters, Inc. (2001)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- The Incredibles (2004)
- The Polar Express (2004)
- Up (2009)
- Tangled (2010)
- Frozen (2013)
- Coco (2017)
Then there's live-action movies that should be geared toward kids but which we all go see now:
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: Returns of the King (2003)
- The Avengers (2012)
We also have inoffensive Oscar (or Oscar-y) movies:
- Cinderella Man (2006)
- The King's Speech (2010)
- Argo (2012)
Finally, we have two recent from-the-heart curios:
- Wonder (2017)
- Love, Simon (2018)
What's missing from CinemaScore's list of A+ movies from this century? With the exception of the Pixars, just the best movies from this century. But I kind of expected that going in.