State of the Cinema 2018

This was a very strange year. At first we thought it was pretty bad, mostly because of the glut of topical indie movies for the Twitter crowd and the diminishing returns of the franchise blockbuster. But this was also a year when we saw world-historic masterpieces from a number of legendary directors, including momentous posthumous releases from Abbas Kiarostami and Orson Welles, as well as very fine films from Claire Denis, Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, Alan Rudolph, Paul Schrader, Steven Soderbergh, and Hirokazu Kore-eda. The Strohl brothers agree on the best five films of the year (which is a first, even given how much we tend to agree). We also agree that the MVP of 2018 was 88 year old Clint Eastwood, who made two of the most formally audacious films of his career. He redefined gonzo casting with his own daughter playing the estranged daughter who hates him in The Mule and the actual guys who stopped a terrorist attack playing themselves in The 15:17 to Paris. He challenged his own legacy with brutal honesty and graceful poetry. He examined the mechanics of white privilege with surprising nuance. He had two threesomes in the same movie. He broke our hearts with that Dianne Wiest scene. Clint Eastwood: we salute you.

This year we did things a little differently. Josh is incorporating comments throughout his post wherever he has something to say. Matt watched a lot more new releases than usual after Filmstruck was snatched away from him and decided to copy Josh and just rank them all. He gave every film a brief comment. Isabel and Angela did not want to include commentary or full ranked lists.

Joshua Strohl

 

  1. The Other Side of the Wind (Welles) The Other Side of the WindThis melted my face. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I turned this on. I’m a big Orson Welles fan, and the legend of the movie preceded it, but I never really understood what it was. As soon as I started it I was totally captivated, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It creates its own ecosystem of maddening controlled chaos. The movie-within-the-movie is like silk, but it’s always just out of reach for the viewer. It’s a lost burning ember of elemental cinema floating in a world of shit: media consultants and paparazzi and publicists and vultures. John Huston towers over the proceedings with his built-in legendary stature. Not for most people, but if you’re seriously interested in film history, it’s a must watch.
  2. First Reformed (Schrader)first reformedWe’ve been digging late Paul Schrader movies for a while and it’s a weird feeling that suddenly everyone is on board. This is a movie that worms itself into your brain. It’s great to see someone working in this controlled, precise register. The ending left me breathless.
  3. The Mule (Eastwood)muleI like all of Clint’s movies, but every now and then he has a burst of intense creativity, such as when he made White Hunter Black Heart, UnforgivenA Perfect World, and The Bridges of Madison County at the start of the 90’s. This is one of those times. This is the year when he started channeling Kiarostami, which is a very unexpected and most welcome development. He also gave us the most surprising Harmony Korine inspired booty party of all time. I thought The Mule was beautiful, heartbreaking and hilarious and I can’t wait to watch it many, many more times.
  4. 24 Frames (Kiarostami)24 FramesA peaceful and achingly beautiful experience. I love this in the simplest way possible, but it is not at all a simple movie.
  5. Unsane (Soderbergh)Unsane 3Soderbergh channels Frankenheimer through an iPhone. This movie is jagged and nasty and effective. It’s a rare topical movie with sharp teeth. His cinematography is the best of the year.
  6. Ready Player One (Spielberg)RP1Spielberg’s most meta film is a slyly subversive critique of the nostalgia machine and searching examination of his own legacy. Halliday is a high-tech Willy Wonka and Spielberg stand-in. The moment where Wade Watts walks in to meet the final avatar and finds Halliday/Spielberg’s childhood self playing Atari is extremely poignant and peak Spielberg. I think a whole lot of people missed the forest for the trees here. This movie also just straight up bangs. It moves between the real world and the virtual world with the kind of fluidity that only Spielberg is capable of. The rewatchability factory is at the level of Spaceballs and Goodfellas for me.
  7. Double Lover (Ozon)Double loverAfter I watched this, the first thing I did was watch ten other Ozon movies. I had only seen Swimming Pool, which I thought was alright, but I didn’t realize what an enfant terrible he is. This movie is completely nuts, in the best possible way. It tickled me.
  8. First Man (Chazelle)first manAlright Damien Chazelle, now you’re showing me something. I can’t believe the La La Land guy made this movie. As a new father myself, I found its depiction of fatherhood extremely moving– even overwhelming. The movie is a technical marvel and it has an almost Eastwoodian focus. Ryan Gosling is really good, and I don’t easily hand out Ryan Gosling compliments.
  9. The 15:17 to Paris (Eastwood)15 17 to ParisOne of the most radical movies to come out of a major studio in recent memory. Critics didn’t know what to do with it. I think they missed the boat.
  10. BlacKkKlansman (Lee)BlackKklansmanIt’s great to see Spike Lee in the spotlight again. His technique and storytelling are in top form. It’s a masterful and very entertaining movie that hits poignant grace notes with Spike’s distinctive wild tonal shifts. It’s potent, playful, and ultimately devastating.
  11. Welcome to Marwen (Zemeckis)
  12. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.) Pan shot!
  13. Let the Sunshine In (Denis) Juliette Binoche is stunning in this woozy and gorgeous Denis film.
  14. If Beale Street Could Talk (Jenkins) Pure cinema, the strong Jonathan Demme influence is very touching to me.
  15. Burning (Lee) Like Lee’s other films, it uses the grammar of the mystery genre in an abstract way to get at something haunting and just out of reach.
  16. Zama (Martel) Finally, a movie that understands the comedic potential of llamas.
  17. Shoplifters (Kore-eda) Kore-eda doing what he does best: he’s the master of the quiet, tender moment. Major affection for this.
  18. Cam (Goldhaber) A lot of fun. Wicked, witty, wacky cam girl thriller. Madeline Brewer gives the breakthrough performance of the year.
  19. Ray Meets Helen (Rudolph) Alan Rudolph returns after 15 years and he’s bonkers as ever. This movie sticks out like a diamond in the rough amidst all the unimaginative cookie cutter junk. It is *weird*.
  20. Custody (Legrand)  A waking nightmare that starts off like your average family drama and freefalls into something truly terrifying. Some of the finest suspense in recent memory. Parental horror of the highest order.
  21. The Day After (Hong) Another playful Hong Sang-soo movie about a guy who has an affair. This has an interesting rhythm and plays more like French new wave than typical Asian festival fare.
  22. Venom (Fleischer) That lobster tank scene stole my heart.
  23. The Commuter (Collett-Serra) Awesome editing, fun plot.
  24. Looking Glass (Hunter) The Nicolas Cage movie of the year is also a welcome return of Tim Hunter. Wildly unpredictable and fun.
  25. Mission Impossible: Fallout (McQuarrie) Mind-blowing stunts, breakneck speed, Tom Cruise in full gonzo Tom Cruise mode running like a gazelle on top of motorcycles and shit, the best fight scene since Eastern Promises. For me this is a rock solid addition to the franchise.
  26. Creed 2 (Caples Jr.) Another great fatherhood movie that moved me. Don’t overlook how great the acting is in this across the board.
  27. Upgrade (Whanell)
  28. Support the Girls (Bujalski)
  29. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed) Here’s a novel concept: a superhero movie that’s fun. I like this way, way more than any other Marvel Studios movie.
  30. Isle of Dogs (Anderson) It makes a few missteps but I found a lot of delight in the details and I’m a sucker for a Man’s Best Friend movie.
  31. Vox Lux (Corbett)
  32. Incredibles 2 (Bird) Best raccoon fight scene ever.
  33. Green Book (Farrelly) It’s amazing how much ire this stirred up. I get it, but I think people miss how much work this movie does critiquing the very things about it that piss people off.  It’s too complicated to dismiss on the basis of its synopsis. It’s sweet and lovable and it has some very funny food scenes. I am a big fan of the Farrelly brothers and I think Peter has a distinct humanist touch: clumsy but sincere.
  34. Paddington 2 (King) I love that talking bear but Hugh Grant puts this over the top.
  35. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, Rothman) Won over my Spider-Man weary heart.
  36. Roma (Cuaron) One of the hardest movies for me to rank. I was really impressed by it but it left me cold. I haven’t had a chance to revisit it yet, but I have respect for it and I think it’s worth another look.
  37. Western (Grisebach)
  38. May The Devil Take You (Tjajhanto)
  39. Bodied (Kahn)
  40. The Endless (Benson and Moorhead)
  41. Between Worlds (Pulera)
  42. Soller’s Point (Porterfield)
  43. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Van Sant) This moved me far more than I anticipated.
  44. Love, Simon (Berlanti) This has a good heart.
  45. Annihilation (Garland)
  46. The Night Comes for Us (Tjajhanto) A bit repetitive for me but when this is in full force, it’s a sight to behold.
  47. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (Fiennes)
  48. Blockers (Cannon) Apparently our society is done with comedy, so seeing a movie that is actually funny is like seeing a dog walking around on its hind legs.
  49. Mom and Dad (Taylor)
  50. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Dumont) So much head banging. Bring on the sequel.
  51. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (Wadlow) My favorite junk food.
  52. Halloween (Green) As a Green fan, I wanted this to be better. I don’t think he’s a natural horror director, unfortunately, but I appreciate the spirit of the movie and it has some nice directorial touches.
  53. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Bayona) I hated the first Jurassic World but was delighted to find out how campy and ridiculous this one was. It’s a dinosaur/volcano disaster hybrid movie that morphs into a dinosaur/gothic haunted house hybrid movie complete with a Republican dinosaur auction. Can’t say I’ve seen that before!
  54. A Star is Born (Cooper) It’s a weepy, sappy affair and it falls apart in the second half but whatever, sue me, I like it anyways.
  55. Blindspotting (Estrada)
  56. Den of Thieves (Gudegast) Sleazy sweaty Gerard Butler shit.
  57. A Simple Favor (Feig)
  58. Instant Family (Anders)
  59. At Eternity’s Gate (Schnabel) Lots of Dafoe rolling around in fields of wheat. It had a startling immediacy that I responded to.
  60. Wildlife (Dano)
  61. Thunder Road (Cummings)
  62. The Wild Boys (Mandico)
  63. Hold the Dark (Saulnier) This movie is dark.
  64. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun (Wilkerson)
  65. The Nun (Hardy) I don’t like this as much as Matt and Angela do, but I appreciated seeing a horror movie with some craft and panache. It got a little muddled toward the end.
  66. The Rider (Zhao)
  67. The Strangers: Prey at Night (Roberts) I enjoyed this as a nice flipside of the first one.
  68. Super Troopers 2 (Chandrasekhar) There is some comedy gold in this after a shaky start.
  69. Bumblebee (Knight)
  70. Hereditary (Aster) It has major flaws, but also moments of great inspiration. Hard to shake, awesome Toni Collette performance.
  71. The Favourite (Lanthimos) Lanthimos’ weakest movie but there’s still plenty to enjoy. I’m looking forward to his upcoming detective noir.
  72. American Animals (Layton)
  73. King Cohen (Mitchell) Another recent documentary about one of my favorite filmmakers. Generally I think of these movies as extended special features, but this Larry Cohen doc has enough crazy stories and interviews to elevate it above the pack, including the great Yaphet Kotto proclaiming that Larry Cohen was “The white Martin Luther King Jr. for black movies.” I’ve been rewatching Larry Cohen movies since I saw this and they are every bit as great as I remember them. We need more Larry Cohens. We need more renegades.
  74. The Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter (Hill)
  75. Claire’s Camera (Hong) Slight but interesting
  76. Bird Box (Bier) I had a lot of fun with this and I particularly enjoyed Malkovich’s version of the guy’s who’s just in it for himself. A fun B movie, it’s what A Quiet Place should have been.
  77. Game Night (Daley, Goldstein)
  78. Juliet, Naked (Peretz)
  79. Unfriended: Dark Web (Susco) I’m digging the screen capture genre. I hope it can keep developing without repeating itself.
  80. Skyscraper (Thurber) You had me at “The Rock has one leg.”
  81. Searching (Chaganty)
  82. The First Purge (McMurray) A fun hybrid of the Purge and Blaxploitation, but it’s clearly the weakest Purge movie.
  83. The Predator (Black) Two words: Predator dogs.
  84. Before I Wake (Flanagan)
  85. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)
  86. Golden Exits (Perry) This is why we need Woody back.
  87. Rodin (Doillon)
  88. Apostle (Evans) Some good horror imagery but what a mess.
  89. Adrift (Kormakur)
  90. Milla (Massadian)
  91. Revenge (Fargeat)
  92. Andre the Giant (Hehir) This movie gets three stars just for Ric Flair’s dick jokes.
  93. The Devil and Father Amorth (Friedkin) I love Friedkin but I can only appreciate this because of his delightful narration.
  94. The Equalizer 2 (Fuqua)
  95. Boy Erased (Edgerton) What is with Joel Edgerton making nasty movies and casting himself in the most unappealing roles imaginable.
  96. Fahrenheit 11/9 (Moore) For a Michael Moore movie, it gets into more interesting corners of the current political climate than you would expect. Believe it or not, I found it funny and insightful. But it’s still a Michael Moore movie and has all the faults that come with that.
  97. Hal (Scott)
  98. The Meg (Turteltaub)
  99. Uncle Drew (Stone lll)
  100. Tomb Raider (Uthaug)
  101. Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Neville)
  102. We the Animals (Zager)
  103. Arizona (Watson)
  104. Galveston (Laurent)
  105. Mandy (Cosmatos) The most disappointing movie this year. Cheddar Goblin was tight though.
  106. Gotti (Connelly) Of all the bad movies this year, this is the one I find myself drawn to the most. I have affection for it.
  107. Mile 22 (Berg) Murky and dumb but with great action and some solid violence.
  108. Death Wish (Roth)
  109. The Girl in the Spider Web (Alvarez)
  110. Flower (Winkler) 
  111. Leave No Trace (Granik)
  112. Crazy Rich Asians (Chu) I like this more than than my strohltopia colleagues and I’m very ashamed of it.
  113. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard)
  114. 211 (Shackleton)
  115. Tully (Reitman) The parenthood aspect resonated for me and Theron is good but the twist ruins the whole thing.
  116. Tales from the Hood 2 (Cundieff, Scott)
  117. Black Panther (Coogler) It just didn’t do it for me. I just don’t like most Marvel movies.
  118. How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Mitchell)
  119. Fifty Shades Freed (Foley) This is the first one of these I didn’t totally hate. It has some good sex scenes and the camp factor is enjoyable.
  120. Skate Kitchen (Moselle)
  121. Hotel Artemis (Pearce)
  122. Ralph Break the Internet (Moore, Johnson)
  123. Can You Ever Forgive Me (Heller) Melissa McCarthy is pretty bad in this, but it works best when it focuses on middle-aged queer lady dating dynamics. Richard E. Grant is great, as always.
  124. Alpha (Hughes)
  125. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Ross)
  126. Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sollima) Well, apparently Trump liked it.
  127. The Old Man and the Gun (Lowery) How did you mess up this “elderly Robert Redford robs banks for fun” movie? How can this not be good?
  128. The House with a Clock in its Walls (Roth) Eli needs to go back to the grindhouse. No bueno.
  129. The Sisters Brothers (Audiard)
  130. Widows (McQueen) This movie is lucky that Ocean’s Eight came out this year or it would feature the lamest heist in movie history.
  131. Bad Times at the El Royale (Goddard)
  132. Mid 90’s (Hill)
  133. Rampage (Peyton) Giant monkeys, giant crocodile, giant wolf, The Rock: the rest should take care of itself, but somehow they messed it up. Terrible screenplay. Some of the laziest writing in recent memory misses an easy slam dunk.
  134. Three Identical Strangers (Wardle)
  135. Madeline’s Madeline (Decker) Some really interesting and unique qualities in a movie that is insufferable and annoying.
  136. Breaking In (McTiegue)
  137. Kin (Baker Bros.)
  138. A Prayer Before Dawn (Sauvaire)
  139. Assassination Nation (Levison) 
  140. The Grinch (Cheney, Mosier)
  141. Bohemian Rhapsody (Singer) Where to even begin with this debacle. It’s like a car crash you can’t look away from. I didn’t hate it: I kind of enjoyed it as a bad movie, but the awards attention is concerning. In what universe is this up for Best Editing? It’s the movie they will use in editing classes for generations as an example of how not to edit.
  142. The Wife (Runge) This is so lame.
  143. Suspiria (Guadagnino) At least no one else will remake it now.
  144. A Quiet Place (Krasinski) Really good concept. Really dumb execution. IT’S SOUND!!!
  145. The Death of Stalin (Iannucci) Really bad concept. Really unfunny movie.
  146. I Feel Pretty (Kohn, Silverstein) This movie needed to be way more offensive. Made me wish the Farrellys would get back to their roots.
  147. Overboard (Greenberg) Overboard (1986) has to have the most fucked-up premise in all of romantic-comedy history. And they made a REMAKE. A GENDER-SWAP REMAKE!
  148. Pacific Rim Uprising (DeKnight) Why’d you have to go and ruin a good thing?
  149. Eighth Grade (Burnham) Creepy, Todd-Solondz wanna-be-movie that has real disdain for its characters, unlike actual Todd Solondz movies.
  150. Sorry to Bother You (Riley) None of this worked for me. I don’t think it had any interesting things to say and the jokes all fell flat. Overrated.
  151. The Oath (Barinholtz) Like reading annoying, progressive Twitter for 100 minutes.
  152. Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers) This really made me sad for the state of blockbuster cinema.
  153. Escape Plan 2: Hades (Miller) I should have known better…
  154. Christopher Robin (Forster) Where Pooh gives Christopher Robin a two hour guilt trip.
  155. Thoroughbreds (Finley) Pretentious, boring, and depressing. No thanks.
  156. The Happytime Murders (Henson) I really wanted to like the raunchy puppet movie. It’s really bad.
  157. Deadpool 2 (Leitch) I don’t get the appeal of these.
  158. Tag (Tomsic) This is so bad it’s jaw-dropping. The ending is an all time WTF.
  159. Peppermint (Morel) You can’t be serious with this. Pierre Morel is a shadow of his former self in this painful-to-watch slog that expects me to buy that Jennifer Garner is Liam Neeson.
  160. Ocean’s Eight (Ross) I’m not trying to hate on female reboots, but c’mon you gotta do better than this. They had the idea, “Ocean’s 11, but with women,” and stopped there.
  161. Vice (McKay) Ugly, ghoulish, smug, morbid, obnoxious, cynical, and dumb.

I seriously regret not getting to see Welcome to Marwen. I love Zemeckis and I will review it and/or update the list when I see it.

Best Performances (top ten): 

John Huston (The Other Side of the Wind), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Clint Eastwood (The Mule), Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Madeline Brewer (Cam), Tom Hardy (Venom), Claire Foy (Unsane), Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Steven Yeun (Burning), Tom Waits (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)

Best Director: Paul Schrader- First Reformed

Best Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh – Unsane

Best Editing: Bob Murkawski and Orson Welles  – The Other Side of the Wind

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader – First Reformed

Best Adapted Screenplay: Sam Dolnick- The Mule

Isabel Garcia

  1. First Reformed (Schrader) 
  2. Ready Player One (Spielberg) 
  3. BlacKkKlansman (Lee) 
  4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Neville)
  5. Upgrade (Whannell) 
  6. First Man (Chazelle) 
  7. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (Fiennes)
  8. Sollers Point (Porterfield)
  9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse  (Persichetti, Ramsey, Rothman) 
  10. The 15:17 to Paris (Eastwood) 

Honorable Mentions: Creed II (Steven Caple Jr.) / Incredibles 2 (Bird) / Mission: Impossible – Fallout (McQuarrie) / Bodied (Kahn) / The Rider (Zhao) / Green Book (Farrelly) / Roma (Cuaron)

Worst Of: Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers) / A Quiet Place (Krasinski) 

Matt Strohl

The first three are tremendous and I don’t think I can meaningfully rank them at this point, but I tried anyways. The movie that I most regret not getting to see in time for this list is If Beale Street Could Talk. NB, Josh included Lover for a Day on his list last year, but it’s technically a 2018 USA release.

  1. The Mule (Eastwood) A consummate masterpiece where Clint checks his privilege, reflects on his greatest regrets in life, examines his own mythology, poetically depicts the creative drive, elaborates a Kiarostami-esque existential driving theme, and much, much more.
  2. 24 Frames (Kiarostami) Haunting deathbed meditation from one of the greatest artists of our time, it hasn’t left my thoughts since I watched it.
  3. The Other Side of the Wind (Welles) I specifically do NOT recommend this to most people, it is very aggressive. I will not try to blurb it, I haven’t even begun to comes to terms with it, but I may write a longer piece eventually.
  4. First Reformed (Schrader) Schrader finally makes a film in the transcendental style and it’s glorious, even if rewatching it left me feeling like maybe he borrowed too much directly from other movies.
  5. Unsane (Soderbergh) In the tradition of Shock Corridor, it’s one of the most effective thrillers in recent memory, making spectacular use of the iPhone camera.
  6. Let the Sunshine In (Denis) Lovely freeform character study with gorgeous Agnès Godard cinematography.
  7. Ray Meets Helen (Rudolph) Rudolph’s humor, magic, and romanticism are in peak form and it’s wonderful to see a septuagenarian love story so light on its feet, even if it does lose itself a bit in the final act.
  8. Double Lover (Ozon) Exhilarating, lurid, and gives no fucks about making sense.
  9. Roma (Cuarón) Reaching into the past not with nostalgia, but with agonizing hindsight and futile compassion—technical virtuosity as contrition.
  10. Ready Player One (Spielberg) Masterful, infinitely entertaining pop cinema that I like more every time I watch it (which is already a lot of times); it gets back to some of the themes of A.I., which I consider to be his masterpiece.
  11. The 15:17 to Paris (Eastwood) Clint invents conservative postmodernism.
  12. Lover for a Day (Garrel) The best of Garrel’s recent trilogy, his use of light is in vintage form here.
  13. The Day After (Hong) The purposefully disorienting timeline is fascinating and the social horror is acute.
  14. Milla (Massadian) Bracingly original inside-out storytelling, the opposite of condescending towards its subjects.
  15. Western (Grisebach) Brilliantly acted reappropriation of western archetypes to examine contemporary globalism.
  16. The Night Comes for Us (Tjajhanto) When he broke the guy’s leg in half and used each jagged piece to kill a separate guy I knew this would be in my top 20.
  17.  () So bonkers and fun, it’s easily my favorite comic book blockbuster in years.
  18. The Nun (Hardy) In the year when Guadagnino delivered Italian horror cinema the ultimate insult, this was the movie that celebrated its legacy: part Fulci, part Bava, and the most crucifixes in one movie ever.
  19. The Commuter (Collett-Serra) Everything a thriller should be and also a smart commentary on contemporary urban life.
  20. Bodied (Kahn) Might be hard to take if you don’t like battle rap, but this is relentlessly audacious and insightful and the finale is amazing.
  21. Venom F
  22. Cam (Goldhaber) Smart, scary, erotic technological horror.
  23. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Dumont) Too long but plenty mesmerizing and I love the concept.
  24. Looking Glass (Hunter) Excellent Nicolas Cage creepy hotel voyeur thriller.
  25. Rodin (Doillon) A Rodin biopic more focused on depicting his process and ruminating on the birth of modernism in sculpture than on narrative, and it has the strongest sense of tactility of any movie in recent memory.
  26. Burning (Lee) Elusive, gut-clenching movie that definitely stuck with me.
  27. Zama (Martel) Odd colonial purgatory tale with an impressive sense of misery and some very memorable touches.
  28. BlacKkKlansman (Lee) I was a little disappointed by how conventional it is compared to Chi-Raq, but it really moves and I enjoy how much Spike loves depicting white people leaning into the Klan shit.
  29. Between Worlds (Pulera) Maximally ridiculous new age possession movie, with Nicolas Cage in full comedic excess mode.
  30. May the Devil Take You (Tjajhanto) Energetic Raimi-esque horror.
  31. Mom and Dad (Taylor) Fun, violent, and irreverent.
  32. Den of Thieves (Gudegast) Trash version of Heat that works because Gerard Butler is so utterly committed—you can smell his body odor.
  33. Shoplifters (Kore-eda) Sakura Ando’s performance is deeply moving and the first two acts are beautiful, but the procedural third act is a stylistic letdown.
  34. Upgrade (Whanell) A companion piece to Venom, with less exciting acting but some very cool and weird action scenes.
  35. Creed 2 (Caples Jr.) Holy shit, I did not expect the dramatic punch of following up on Ivan Drago.
  36. Paddington 2 (King) This is the closest we have nowadays to vintage slapstick; Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant are amazing.
  37. First Man (Chazelle) Stunningly beautiful, but weighed down by the bad choice to use archival material (especially the sound during the landing).
  38. Love, Simon (Berlanti) I was totally ready to be cynical about this (I watched it on an airplane) but it melted my cold heart and by the end I just really wanted Simon to have a nice boyfriend.
  39. At Eternity’s Gate (Schnabel) Checking off the obligatory van Gogh biopic boxes is painful, Schnabel’s bifocal shots are often annoying, and Oscar Isaac is no Anthony Quinn, but Dafoe is utterly amazing and all the scenes of him painting and basking in nature are enough to sustain this.
  40. Fifty Shades Freed (Foley) Ridiculous, amazing Grade A camp.
  41. Annihilation (Garland) I don’t take this too seriously: it’s a solid genre movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  42. Hold the Dark (Saulnier) Ultra-weird black metal sloooooooooow horror, not for everyone.
  43. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Surya) Uneven but deeply strange in an appealing way and the payoff is worth it.
  44. Blindspotting (Estrada) Stands above most of the other topical indie movies of recent years thanks to its complex outlook and dire intensity.
  45. Blockers (Cannon) Refreshingly raunchy, very funny gender-inverted American Pie.
  46. Support the Girls (Bujalski) Great ensemble cast, sweet and poignant, if slight.
  47. Bird Box (Bier) Very fun if approached as a trashy B movie.
  48. Claire’s Camera (Hong) Minor Hong, but that’s still pretty good.
  49. Super Troopers 2 (Chandrasekhar) Starts out clumsy but once it gets going it feels like a hilarious time capsule from a better era of comedy.
  50. Green Book (Farrelley) Well-acted buddy movie examining issues at the intersection of class and race.
  51. Before We Vanish (Kurosawa) There’s some great material but it plods on too long and lacks bite.
  52. The Rider (Zhao)- I don’t care for Zhao’s visual style but the non-professional acting is amazing.
  53. Hereditary (Aster) Takes itself too seriously in certain ways and botches the finale but peak Toni Collette.
  54. Skyscraper (Thurber) A spectacularly silly B movie with the Rock.
  55. A Simple Favor (Feig) Mostly a fun comedic thriller, but it doesn’t stick the landing and the end title cards are unforgivable.
  56. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.) I appreciate how morbid it is but the vignettes range from delightful to godawful and cringe-inducing (ugh that Liam Neeson one). Pan shot!
  57. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed) Unlike most Marvel movies, it has a genuine sense of wonder.
  58. The Endless (Benson and Moorhead) I like the low-budget Lovecraft vibe, but it pulls its punches.
  59. The Meg (Turteltaub) Giant prehistoric shark campfest with all sorts of ridiculous fake science and Jason Statham.
  60. Incredibles 2 (Bird) Good energy and imagination but I would be fine if this turns out to be the last movie I ever see where the world realizes we really do need superheroes.
  61. How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Mitchell) The first part of this is hilarious but it totally loses me well before it’s over.
  62. Mandy (Cosmatos) Try-hard hipster shit, but not without its pleasures.
  63. Revenge (Fargeat) Mostly standard rape-revenge movie that’s overly slick but has a solid finale.
  64. Game Night (Daley and Goldstein) Too much but often funny and the cast is solid.
  65. Rampage (Peyton) Another fun B movie with the Rock.
  66. Halloween (Green) Half-ass Halloween movie that partly redeems itself with a few inspired sequences and an appropriate sense of love for the original.
  67. The Strangers: Prey at Night (Roberts) I appreciate its 80’s heart but it loses what’s special and terrifying about the first one.
  68. Isle of Dogs (Anderson) The high points are high (F. Murray Abraham!) but the Greta Gerwig stuff is a disaster and Wes didn’t really have very many ideas here.
  69. Mission Impossible: Fallout (McQuarrie) There’s no impossible mission, it’s just a generic spy movie.
  70. Tomb Raider (Uthaug) For what this is, it’s actually pretty good, and it’s got Walton Goggins doing his usual thing.
  71. Unfriended: Dark Web (Susco) I like the form but the screenplay is too stupid for the movie to have much grip for me.
  72. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Bayona) A hot mess that partly redeems itself with its ridiculous genre mashups and amazing Republican dinosaur auction.
  73. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard) Donald Glover is great and there are some good set pieces but the dude who plays Han is bad and this isn’t even trying to be better than mediocre.
  74. 211 (Shackleton) So-bad-it’s-good low budget Nicolas Cage cops and robbers movie.
  75. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay) A grindhouse movie that’s afraid to be what it is.
  76. Happy as Lazzaro (Rohrwacher) Manderlay as a fairy tale– there are some nice ideas but I found it plodding and heavy handed.
  77. Bad Times at the El Royale (Goddard) Too cute for its own good and way bloated, but Chris Hemsworth is amazing.
  78. The First Purge (McMurray) The most generic and unremarkable in the series.
  79. A Star is Born (Cooper) The one thing that works about this is the chemistry between the leads, but that disappears in the second half and all that’s left is Cooper’s amateurish direction, tired musical biopic clichés, and some boring solo numbers from Gaga.
  80. Black Panther (Coogler) I love Michael B. Jordan in this but otherwise it doesn’t interest me.
  81. The Equalizer 2 (Fuqua) Disappointing and tired.
  82. The Favourite (Lanthimos) Emma Stone is terrible, the script (not written by Lanthimos) is tepid, and the movie looks like shitty Barry Lyndon with too much fisheye lens nonsense.
  83. The Girl in the Spider Web (Alvarez) Yo, Claire Foy, that’s not a real accent, but I do sort of enjoy how spectacularly bad this movie is.
  84. Apostle (Evans) This has like a half a movie worth of ideas.
  85. Pacific Rim Uprising (DeKnight) Very disappointing—utterly dumb sequel to a movie that I loved.
  86. Crazy Rich Asians (Chu) So many missed opportunities (you can’t get one joke out of that party boat set piece?), overloaded with cloying bright colors, and how can you unreflectively treat million dollar earrings as authentic self-fulfillment in 2018?
  87. Assassination Nation (Levison) Incompetent, derivative topical pandering.
  88. The Humanity Bureau (King) So tedious I struggled to finish it, but at least its ambition is low.
  89. The Death of Stalin (Iannucci) Godawful concept, not funny aside from Rupert Friend, Jeffery Tambor is as bad as it gets.
  90. Sorry to Bother You (Riley) Painful to watch, not even slightly witty.
  91. Eighth Grade (Burnham) Toothless Welcome to the Dollhouse by way of a hamfisted Sofia Coppola imitation, with a lot of sexualized ogling of the bodies of middle school kids.
  92. Leave No Trace (Granik) Boring Instagram trash that needed a killer bear or a bounty hunter or something.
  93. Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers) To paraphrase our friend Chris Knitter, it’s the cinematic equivalent of the Old Country Buffet.
  94. Widows (McQueen) Pandering topical heist movie without a proper heist.
  95. A Quiet Place (Krasinski) The most inept horror movie in recent memory.
  96. Bohemian Rhapsody (Singer) Reprehensible gay-shaming trash fire featuring the worst Freddie Mercury impression imaginable (for one thing, I don’t want to punch the actual Freddie Mercury in the face) and editing that appears to have been done by a hyperactive toddler.
  97. Suspiria (Guadagnino) Suspiria minus everything that makes it good, plus a lot of pretentious bullshit—it offends me on a personal level.

Top ten performances not by Nicolas Cage:

  1. Sakura Ando in Shoplifters
  2. Tom Hardy in Venom
  3. Gerard Butler in Den of Thieves
  4. Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate
  5. John Huston in The Other Side of the Wind
  6. Selma Blair in Mom and Dad
  7. Toni Collette in Hereditary
  8. Meinhard Neumann in Western
  9. Keith Carradine in Ray Meets Helen
  10. Kim Min-hee in The Day After

Angela Shope

  1. First Reformed (Schrader)
  2. Rodin (Doillon)
  3. Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour (Åkerlund)
  4. The Rider (Zhao)
  5. Den of Thieves (Gudegast)
  6. Roma (Cuaron)
  7. 50 Shades Freed (Foley)
  8. Milla (Massadian)
  9. First Man (Chazelle)
  10. Lover for a Day (Garrel)
  11. At Eternity’s Gate (Schnabel)
  12. Let the Sunshine In (Denis)
  13. Upgrade (Whanell)
  14. The Favourite (Lanthimos)
  15. A Star is Born (Cooper)

Worst of the year:

  1. Sorry to Bother You (Riley)
  2. A Quiet Place (Krasinski)
  3. Isle of Dogs (Anderson)
  4. Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers)
  5. Widows (McQueen)
  6. Black Panther (Coogler)
  7. Crazy Rich Asians (Chu)
  8. The 15:17 to Paris (Eastwood)
  9. The Death of Stalin (Iannucci)
  10. Zama (Martel)

 

State of the Cinema 2017

In what’s become a Strohltopia tradition, we have saved our yearly retrospective for Oscar Sunday. This gives us a chance to see more titles and also to cool down our hot takes and reflect a little bit.

Joshua Strohl:

First thing’s first, let’s be clear about one thing for 2017: there’s David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, and then there’s everything else. We have come down on the side of considering it not to be a movie. It engages throughout with the medium of television in a way that is essential to its meaning. But we all agree here at Strohltopia that no other work of television or cinema comes remotely close to it from this year or any other year in recent memory.
In 2016, I made an effort to watch as many new releases as possible. This year I just did my thing, but I ended up watching a comparable number of movies anyways. Here are a few notes on my impression of the state of the cinema:
  • Franchise movies were a lot better this year than in previous years. Alien, Blade Runner, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, John Wick, XxX, Fast and the Furious, Resident Evil, Transformers: all pretty good.
  • Get Out is the zeitgeist movie. I admire it, and I think it does some things exceptionally well, but where’s the ending?! It could have been a great movie if it stuck the landing. As it is, I’m not quite there with it.
  • Tough year to be a Woody Allen fan. He made his most personal movie in a long time, with the WORST POSSIBLE TIMING. I went to see it, and there were hecklers in the audience. Looking at Wonder Wheel itself, aside from all the controversy, it’s a gorgeous movie. He borrows thematic and stylistic elements from Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams to examine the painful dissolution of his own family.
  • I kinda liked the Disaster Artist okay until I saw James Franco cut off Tommy Wiseau at the Golden Globes, which made it clear that this was a smug James Franco vanity project, more interested in mocking The Room than paying tribute to it.
  • One of the biggest surprises of the year for me was Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting. I’m a Danny Boyle fan, but Trainspotting is not one of my favorites from him. The sequel, however, is an exceptionally inventive stylistic marvel. It brilliantly conveys the weight and melancholy of living on as a recovering addict, without any highs to be had. One of the best examples ever of a late sequel.
  • God’s Own Country is a much better cinematic romance than Call Me By Your Name. Armie Hammer’s character in the latter doesn’t feel like a real person with real desires. God’s Own Country is overflowing with sexual tension, and is also considerably more moving. Its conclusion is well-earned.
  • The Assignment: I really wanted to love the new Walter Hill movie. I do have fondness for it, but I just couldn’t get over Michelle Rodriguez in the first act.
  • I could not handle Fifty Shades Darker. It was so icky to me that it made my skin crawl. The Snowman and The Book of Henry, on the other hand, are the kind of remarkably bad movies that are almost worth seeing to marvel at their ineptitude.
  • I could see how a cynical person might scoff at The Post, but this is master class old-school pop filmmaking. It zigs and zags with seemingly effortless finesse. Its simplicity is a virtue, not a bug. Along with Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, it rounds out what was, for me, an excellent trilogy linking history with the present through retro filmmaking.
  • This year I had a major personal epiphany about how much I love Ridley Scott. I’ve always loved his brother Tony, but I had mixed feelings about Ridley. Mixed feelings no longer: I rewatched most of the Ridley Scott filmography and totally loved it, for the most part. These movies have some flaws, but they are technical triumphs. Alien: Covenant is misunderstood and wildly underrated. Dr. Moreau in space, with freaky Fassbender robots making out with each other and crazy shit like that. Exceedingly dark, hostile, and boundary pushing stuff from an 80 year old big budget auteur.

Without further ado, here’s a ranked list of everything I saw this year:

  1. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)Good Time StillWhite hot lightning! This is what I’m talking about. Pure cinema: hypnotic, visceral and persistently surprising. I left the theater wide-eyed and giddy.
  2.  Song to Song (Malick)Song to Song StillY’all don’t deserve Terrence Malick.
  3. Phantom Thread (Anderson)Phantom Thread StillPaul Thomas Anderson swings for the fences every time he makes a film. His latest is exquisite and beautiful, an ethereal and brooding gothic romance that I’m still thinking about months later.
  4. A Quiet Passion (Davies)A Quiet Passion StillA bold and haunting Emily Dickinson biopic. Terence Davies’ second masterpiece in two years is hard to summarize because it is so full of complex emotions and transcendent moments. It’s a staggering and painful film. Cynthia Nixon’s performance is one of the best of the year.
  5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)The Killing of a Sacred Deer StillA diabolical and twisted black comedy that is alternately repulsive and hilarious. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This is one sick movie and I loved every second of it.
  6. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)Dawson City Frozen Time StillThis documentary about long-buried, decaying nitrate film discovered under an ice skating rink in a Yukon mining town reminded me of why I love cinema. It lays out an impressively researched timeline before it uses scarred images and the weight of history to bowl you over.  It moved me to tears.
  7. Stronger (Green)Stronger StillDavid Gordon Green channels his inner Hal Ashby in one of the most humane movies in recent memory. This movie deserves to be seen: it’s what America needs right now. It’s tender and heartfelt and avoids the pitfalls that sink nearly every movie in the “dramatization of real life tragedy” genre. I loved it.
  8. Raw (Ducournau)Raw StillAs we said earlier in the year, this is some high-brow French cannibalism shit right here. It’s a simmering, seething, blistering depiction of blossoming female sexuality. Julia Ducournau is a director to watch.
  9. Nocturama (Bonello)Nocturama StillNocturama gets in your head and stays there. It’s a strange, dread-inducing tone poem about a group of young terrorists who hole up in a massive department store after carrying out a series of coordinated attacks in Paris. This could have easily been a cliched mess, but it unfolds in an anything but predictable manner. It’s abstract and dreamlike. It also manages to make Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair take on a new indelible dimension.
  10. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Zahler)Brawl in Cell Block 99 StillWho knew Vince Vaughn had this in him? His performance as a man with a code at the center of this bone-crunching, skull-smashing exploitation movie is as soulful as it is shockingly physical and violent . This movie is weird and savage and sad. It’s a completely original vision of what exploitation cinema can be.
  11. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)
  12. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
  13. T2 Trainspotting (Boyle)
  14. Faces Places (Varda and JR)
  15. BPM (Campillo)
  16. The Post (Spielberg)
  17. The Lost City of Z (Gray)
  18. Lover for a Day (Garrel)
  19. Contemporary Color (Ross Brothers)
  20. Alien: Covenant (Scott)
  21. God’s Own Country (Lee)
  22. Behemoth (Liang)
  23. Antiporno (Sono)
  24. Blade Runner 2049 (Villenueve)
  25. The Beguiled (Coppola)
  26. Wonder Wheel (Allen)
  27. Logan Lucky (Soderbergh)
  28. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Besson)
  29. Person to Person (Defa)
  30. Tag (Sono)
  31. Coco (Unkrich)
  32. Baby Driver (Wright)
  33. Detroit (Bigelow)
  34. It (Muschietti)
  35. Lady Bird (Gerwig)
  36. A Ghost Story (Lowery)
  37. Last Flag Flying (Linklater)
  38. A Cure for Wellness (Verbinski)
  39. Downsizing (Payne)
  40. The Challenge (Ancarani)
  41. The Work (McCleary)
  42. Better Watch Out (Peckover)
  43. Staying Vertical (Guiraudie)
  44. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Baumbach)
  45. Call Me By Your Name (Guadagnino)
  46. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso)
  47. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn)
  48. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Stahelski)
  49. The Florida Project (Baker)
  50. The Assignment (Hill)
  51. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)
  52. Atomic Blonde (Leitch)
  53. Princess Cyd (Cone)
  54. Brigsby Bear (McCary)
  55. Lucky (Lynch)
  56. Gerald’s Game (Flanagan)
  57. Leatherface (Bustillo, Maury)
  58. How to be a Latin Lover (Marino)
  59. mother! (Aronofsky)
  60. The Square (Ostlund)
  61. The Bad Batch (Amirpour)
  62. Get Out (Peele)
  63. Happy Death Day (Landon)
  64. The Fate of the Furious (Gray)
  65. All the Money in the World (Scott)
  66. Kidnap (Prieto)
  67. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson)
  68. War For the Planet of the Apes (Reeves)
  69. Graduation (Mungiu)
  70. Girl’s Trip (Lee)
  71. Free Fire (Wheatley)
  72. The Great Wall (Yimou)
  73. Strong Island (Ford)
  74. Transformers: The Last Knight (Bay)
  75. The Villainess (Jung)
  76. Thelma (Trier)
  77. The Lure (Smoczynska)
  78. Only the Brave (Kosinski)
  79. Blade of the Immortal (Miike)
  80. Justice League (Snyder)
  81. Wonder (Chbosky)
  82. The Big Sick (Showalter)
  83. The Foreigner (Campbell)
  84. Donald Cried (Avedisian)
  85. The Belko Experiment (McLean)
  86. Okja (Bong)
  87. The Devil’s Candy (Byrne)
  88.  Kuso (Flying Lotus)
  89. Power Rangers (Israelite)
  90. Wind River (Sheridan)
  91. Kedi (Torun)
  92. The Glass Castle (Cretton)
  93. The Void (Gillespie, Kostanski)
  94. Salt and Fire (Herzog)
  95. Life (Espinosa)
  96. Darkest Hour (Wright)
  97. Brad’s Status (White)
  98. Daddy’s Home 2 (Anders)
  99. Despicable Me 3 (Coffin)
  100. American Made (Lyman)
  101. Split (Shyamalan)
  102. Bitch (Palka)
  103. Roman J. Israel Esq. (Gilroy)
  104. Rat Film (Anthony)
  105. Wonderstruck (Haynes)
  106. The Little Hours (Baena)
  107. Queen of the Desert (Herzog)
  108. Dunkirk (Nolan)
  109. The House (Cohen)
  110. Mr. Roosevelt (Wells)
  111. Beatriz at Dinner (Arteta)
  112. The Unknown Girl (Dardenne Bros.)
  113. 47 Meters Down (Roberts)
  114. The Disaster Artist (Franco)
  115. Paris Can Wait (Coppola)
  116. Colossal (Vigalondo)
  117. Hounds of Love (Young)
  118. Jungle (McLean)
  119. The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Hughes)
  120. I, Tonya (Gillespie)
  121. Wonder Woman (Jenkins)
  122. Una (Andrews)
  123. Ghost in the Shell (Sanders)
  124. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Vaughn)
  125. Super Dark Times (Phillips)
  126. Fist Fight (Keen)
  127. Suburbicon (Clooney)
  128. It Comes at Night (Shults)
  129. Blood Money (McKee)
  130. Gifted (Webb)
  131. Vengeance: A Love Story (Martin)
  132. Geostorm (Devlin)
  133. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh)
  134. Logan (Mangold)
  135. Stray Bullets (Fessenden)
  136. Kong: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts)
  137. Before I Fall (Young)
  138. Columbus (Koganada)
  139. The Mummy (Kurtzman)
  140. The Mountain Between Us (Abu-Assad)
  141. The Emoji Movie (Leondis)
  142. Snatched (Levine)
  143. The Circle (Ponsoldt)
  144. Baywatch (Gordon)
  145. Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts)
  146. The LEGO Batman Movie (McKay)
  147. 1he Boss Baby (McGrath)
  148. Beauty and the Beast (Condon)
  149. Lady Macbeth (Oldroyd)
  150. The Discovery (McDowell)
  151. XX (Benjamin, Clark, Kusama, Vuckovic)
  152. The Book of Henry (Trevorrow)
  153. The Snowman (Alfredson)
  154. Rough Night (Aniello)
  155. Fifty Shades Darker (Foley)

 

Isabel Garcia:

  1. Song to Song (Malick)
  2. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)
  3. Raw (Ducournau)
  4. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)
  5. A Ghost Story (Lowery)
  6. Atomic Blonde (Leitch)
  7. Tag (Sono)
  8. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  9. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
  10. Detroit (Bigelow)

Honorable Mention: Faces Places (Varda and JR), Nocturama (Bonello)

Worst of the Year:

  1. The Circle (Ponsoldt)
  2. The Boss Baby (McGrath)
  3. The Book of Henry (Trevorrow)
  4. The Snowman (Alfredson)
  5. Snatched (Levine)

Matt Strohl:

I haven’t seen anywhere near as many new releases as Josh has, but here’s my top 10. I thought genre movies were strong this year. There are more in my top ten than ever before. Among my many blind spots, the most regrettable ones are A Quiet Passion, The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, and Milla. Without further ado:

  1. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  2. Song to Song (Malick)
  3. Raw (Ducournau)
  4. Antiporno (Sono)
  5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)
  6. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Zahler)
  7. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Stahelski)
  8. Nocturama (Bonello)
  9. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Morrison)
  10. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)

Honorable Mention: XxX: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso)

Worst of the year:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (McDonagh)
I could go on all day about how much I hated this movie. Suffice to say that any movie with the phrase “three billboards” in the title that both starts and ends with an image of three billboards never had a chance.

I also hated: The Unknown Girl (Dardenne Brothers), The Florida Project (Baker), Spiderman: Homecoming (Watts) and The Discovery (McDowell).

Angela Shope:

  1. Song to Song (Malick)
  2. mother! (Aronofsky)
  3. The Shape of Water (Del Toro)
  4. The Lost City of Z (Gray)
  5. Good Time (Safdie Brothers)
  6. Blade Runner 2049 (Villenueve)
  7. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson)
  8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos)
  9. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
  10. Nocturama (Bonello)

Honorable Mention: It (Muschietti)

Worst of the Year:

  1. The Mummy (Kurtzman)
  2. Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri (McDonagh)
  3. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Besson)
  4. The Florida Project (Baker)
  5. The Great Wall (Yimou)

It

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with the horror section in my video store.  I would walk up and down the aisle and look at all of the grotesque cover art that promised something beyond my imagination. These movies were forbidden and mysterious. My friends and I rented every single movie in that aisle—the more ridiculous and nasty, the better. Shoddy B-movies became beloved favorites that we quoted constantly. Every once and a while we’d stumble into a great film. I still remember how the original Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre cut through the noise when I first saw them. They stunned and captivated me.

I miss real horror movies. Most modern horror films lack originality and commitment. They aren’t exciting or dangerous. If it’s not the bland franchise movies at the multiplex then it’s the over-serious art house releases that critics say “reinvent the horror genre” but are actually meant for people who don’t even like horror (I’m looking at you, It Comes at Night). The only standouts last year were The Witch, Don’t Breathe and 31. Everything else I could live without. I was not at all interested in the new It movie when I first heard about it. I assumed it would be yet another entry in the endless stream of PG-13 horror reboots, remakes and sequels.

The Lititz Borough Police Department in Pennsylvania posted a Facebook message after finding red balloons tied to sewer grates around town. The playful message made national news and freaked out the teen girls who executed the prank. When I saw this story on the news, I got really excited that a little red balloon tied to a grate got everyone so worked up. It felt like an urban legend come to life but it came about organically, not as a marketing ploy. Once I got the sense that this movie was already permeating the national psyche I really hoped it might turn out to fit into the great American Nightmare tradition in horror – horror that taps into something deep and dark in our cultural subconscious. I looked a little deeper and saw that the cinematography was done by Chung-hoon Chung, who shot nearly all of Chan-wook Park’s films, including Oldboy and last year’s masterpiece The Handmaiden. SOLD.

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Early in the film I was reminded of the Netflix series Stranger Things, which pays homage to Stephen King and is steeped in 80’s nostalgia. I liked Stranger Things but thought that the nostalgia was too front-and-center. What’s surprising about It is the way that it subverts its nostalgia. It shows the ugly side of 80’s childhood. It’s not sanitized. It examines cruelty and bullying in a painful way that cuts right through the cuddly version of the 80’s that mainstream film and television trade in. The casual homophobic slurs, racial violence and communal slut shaming that occur in the film are jarring and disturbing. This aspect of the time period is rarely depicted in genre film, and it’s very effective here. The stark portrayal of cruelty isn’t one-dimensional: it also serves to bond the characters in a poignant way and helps the audience feel for the crew of misfits at the center of the story.

What about the clown, you ask? Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is the one truly excellent thing about the original It miniseries. Curry’s Pennywise scared the shit out of me and my siblings as children and we would frequently play games where we had to battle It (whom we imagined was hiding under our beds or in the closet). He stood with Freddy Kruger and Candyman as one of the most terrifying boogeymen in my young mind. Bill Skarsgård does an admirable job of updating this character for the 21st century. Curry played Pennywise as an angry and hostile clown who loved to play tricks and generally be a dick. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a sinister creature playing innocent and that fake innocence makes him scary. He’s a salivating wolf in sheep’s clothing just waiting to bust out and eat some kids. He plays Pennywise as more unpredictable and unstable in a way that connects the character with distinctively modern anxieties. The only thing I’d complain about is the use of digital effects to show his ferocious movement. These effects are distracting and don’t add anything—I almost always favor practical effects in horror.

It did not disappoint me. It was bold, inspired, and had teeth. So many sequences were full of dark imagination. Chung’s images are refined, clean and deeply creepy, and they stand out in comparison with the recycled and worn out aesthetics that are typical of most recent horror films. This is top shelf stuff. It is terrifying and fearsome when it wants to be, but also funny and melancholy in an endearing way. This is pop filmmaking at its best.

 

 

State of the Cinema 2016

I’ve always consumed a massive amount of cinema and television, and I’m always on the hunt for new discoveries. It’s kinda my thing. My brother Matt and I frequently receive criticism from our friends over the sheer quantity of things we get excited about. My taste is generous. But you’ve never really grappled with your own taste until you’ve tried to figure out if Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers is your 141st or 142nd favorite movie of the year (I did sort of appreciate its “fuck it” spirit, after all).

This all began with a journal. I decided for the first time to start keeping track of every new film I watch. It quickly became an obsession. I spent mornings at the beginning of 2016 taking care of my sick father. This created a perfect opportunity to watch at least one new movie most days. I decided at a certain point to try to just watch every new release on offer, regardless of whether it’s something I think I’m interested in. I wanted to assess the state of cinema, for better or worse. This led to some really shitty movie watching experiences. Right at the end, I watched my first Tyler Perry movie, Boo! A Madea Halloween (a whole film inspired by a joke in Chris Rock’s Top Five). To summarize, it’s an hour and forty five minutes of child abuse jokes and underage girls/elderly women getting horned up over writer/director/producer/star Tyler Perry. The movie The Forest was so bad I could barely finish it. I took like 30 breaks.

The more I added to the list, the more my own aesthetic priorities became clear to me. The big picture came into view. I started to better understand my own taste and what I value in a work of art. As the list grew I found myself often surprised by how it all landed. I learned, for instance, that as excited as I get about a lot of genre movies, in the end they aren’t my favorite overall. My very favorite movies were the ones that shook me up and overwhelmed me with their ambition or boldness or imaginativeness.

I actually liked most of the films I watched this year (I liked about 150 out of 200 movies). O.J. Made in America was by far the most staggering and accomplished work for me but on the level of pure cinematic ecstasy, it was all about The Handmaiden. Park Chan-wook has always been an interesting filmmaker but with The Handmaiden he made a diabolical and twisted piece of pure cinema with the eye and patience of a true perfectionist madman. Jarmusch’s Paterson struck a very personal chord and I wanted to just go back to it again and again like a song that puts you in a good mood. Scorsese’s Silence is the most underrated film of the year and the most personal and painful film yet from one of the greatest living masters and benefactors of cinema. And Toni Erdmann moved me with its sweet and melancholy take on the absurdity of modern life and the power of stupid jokes as an unconventional expression of fatherly love. I was sad I didn’t get a chance to see several films, especially Julieta, Things to Come and I, Daniel Blake.

Below is the list of the 200 films from the year 2016 that I’ve watched, ranked in the order of how much I liked them.  I also included my Josh’s choice picks to weigh in on tonight’s Oscars.
Thank you to my amazing girlfriend Izzy for sitting through a large number of these films. I promised her that we can just watch Top Chef and Ultimate Beastmaster for a while now that we’ve hit the 200 mark. I’ve included her top ten list as well. Enjoy!

  1. O.J. Made in America (Edelman)
  2. The Handmaiden (Park)
  3. Paterson (Jarmusch)
  4. Silence (Scorsese)
  5. Toni Erdmann (Ade)
  6. Sunset Song (Davies)
  7. Elle (Verhoeven)
  8. Knight of Cups (Malick)
  9. The Neon Demon (Refn)
  10. Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (Demme)
  11. Wiener-Dog (Solondz)
  12. The Treasure (Porumboiu)
  13. Love & Friendship (Stillman)
  14. Valley of Love (Nicloux)
  15. Certain Women (Reichardt)
  16. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi)
  17. Dog Eat Dog (Schrader)
  18. The Edge of Seventeen (Craig)
  19. 20th Century Women (Mills)
  20. The Lobster (Lanthimos)
  21. Hacksaw Ridge (Gibson)
  22. The Witch (Eggers)
  23. Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan)
  24. Don’t Breathe (Alvarez)
  25. High Rise (Wheatley)
  26. Cameraperson (Johnson)
  27. The Nice Guys (Black)
  28. 31 (Zombie)
  29. Cafe Society (Allen)
  30. The Shallows (Collet-Serra)
  31. American Honey (Arnold)
  32. Allied (Zemeckis)
  33. The Love Witch (Biller)
  34. Fire at Sea (Rosi)
  35. Army of One (Charles)
  36. Cosmos (Zulawski)
  37. Lion (Davis)
  38. Nocturnal Animals (Ford)
  39. Indignation (Schamus)
  40. Little Sister (Clark)
  41. Into the Inferno (Herzog)
  42. Louder than Bombs (Trier)
  43. Hush (Flanigan)
  44. Eddie The Eagle (Fletcher)
  45. The BFG (Spielberg)
  46. Train to Busan (Yeon)
  47. Sully (Eastwood)
  48. Arrival (Villeneuve)
  49. Morris From America (Hartigan)
  50. Always Shine (Takal)
  51. Moonlight (Jenkins)
  52. Gimme Danger (Jarmusch)
  53. Blood Father (Richet)
  54. The Purge: Election Year (DeMonaco)
  55. Hell or High Water (Mackenzie)
  56. Doctor Strange (Derrickson)
  57. Green Room (Saulinier)
  58. In A Valley of Violence (West)
  59. Microbe and Gasoline (Gondry)
  60. I Am Not Your Negro (Peck)
  61. The Finest Hours (Gillespie)
  62. Sing Street (Carney)
  63. The Mermaid (Chow)
  64. Dheepan (Audiard)
  65. Hail Caesar (Coen Bros.)
  66. Snowden (Stone)
  67. 13th (DuVernay)
  68. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Burton)
  69. Rules Don’t Apply (Beatty)
  70. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Herzog)
  71. Weiner (Kriegman, Steinberg)
  72. Little Men (Sachs)
  73. Mia Madre (Morretti)
  74. Midnight Special (Nichols)
  75. Under the Shadow (Anvari)
  76. Miss Stevens (Hart)
  77. Patriot’s Day (Berg)
  78. Hidden Figures (Melfi)
  79. The Trust (Brewer)
  80. Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (Schutte)
  81. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Stoller)
  82. Finding Dory (Stanton)
  83. Pete’s Dragon (Lowery)
  84. De Palma (Baumbach, Paltrow)
  85. Eye in the Sky (Hood)
  86. The Invitation (Kusama)
  87. Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (Lee)
  88. Hello, My Name is Doris (Showalter)
  89. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Schaffer, Taccone)
  90. Oujia: Origin of Evil (Flanagan)
  91. Barbershop: The Next Cut (Lee)
  92. Bridget Jones Baby (Maguire)
  93. The Monster (Bertino)
  94. A Bigger Splash (Guadagnino)
  95. Deepwater Horizon (Berg)
  96. Central Intelligence (Thurber)
  97. Hardcore Henry (Naishuller)
  98. The Fits (Holmer)
  99. Everybody Wants Some!! (Linklater)
  100. Tickled (Farrier, Reeve)
  101. The Founder (Hancock)
  102. Zootopia (Howard, Moore)
  103. Lights Out (Sandberg)
  104. Gleason (Tweel)
  105. Krisha (Shults)
  106. The Conjuring 2 (Wan)
  107. White Girl (Wood)
  108. Office Christmas Party (Gordon, Speck)
  109. Fences (Washington)
  110. Amanda Knox (Blackhurst, McGinn)
  111. Imperium (Ragussis)
  112. Tower (Maitland)
  113. Moana (Clements)
  114. The Light Between Oceans (Cianfrance)
  115. Loving (Nichols)
  116. Blair Witch (Wingard)
  117. Kate Plays Christine (Greene)
  118. Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder)
  119. 13 Hours (Bay)
  120. The Magnificent Seven (Fuqua)
  121. The Legend of Tarzan (Yates)
  122. Keanu (Atencio)
  123. X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer)
  124. Mascots (Guest)
  125. Skiptrace (Harlin)
  126. The Boss (Falcone)
  127. Gods of Egypt (Proyas)
  128. Grimsby (Leterrier)
  129. Why Him? (Hamburg)
  130. Sausage Party (Tiernan, Vernon)
  131. Money Monster (Foster)
  132. Free State of Jones (Ross)
  133. The Program (Frears)
  134. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Lee)
  135. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Zwick)
  136. Florence Foster Jenkins (Frears)
  137. Bleed For This (Younger)
  138. Star Trek Beyond (Lin)
  139. Captain Fantastic (Ross)
  140. Swiss Army Man (The Daniels)
  141. Nerve (Joost, Schulman)
  142. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Trachtenberg)
  143. Kung Fu Panda 3 (Carloni, Yuh)
  144. Kubo and the Two Strings (Knight)
  145. Bad Santa 2 (Waters)
  146. Deadpool (Miller)
  147. Yoga Hosers (Smith)
  148. The Jungle Book (Favreau)
  149. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards)
  150. Alice Through The Looking Glass (Bobin)
  151. Criminal (Vroman)
  152. Triple 9 (Hillcoat)
  153. Remember (Egoyan)
  154. Mechanic: Resurrection (Gansel)
  155. The 9th Life of Louis Drax (Aja)
  156. Captain America: Civil War (Russo Bros)
  157. Storks (Stoller)
  158. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Steers)
  159. The Infiltrator (Furman)
  160. Don’t Think Twice (Birbiglia)
  161. A Hologram for the King (Tykwer)
  162. Cell (Williams)
  163. The Bronze (Buckley)
  164. Elvis & Nixon (Johnson)
  165. War Dogs (Philips)
  166. The Meddler (Scafaria)
  167. Masterminds (Hess)
  168. The Birth of a Nation (Parker)
  169. The Secret Lives of Pets (Renaud)
  170. The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Nicolas-Troyan)
  171. The Family Fang (Bateman)
  172. Zoolander 2 (Stiller)
  173. Maggie’s Plan (Miller)
  174. The Girl on the Train (Taylor)
  175. Assassin’s Creed (Kurzel)
  176. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates)
  177. Life, Animated (Williams)
  178. Suicide Squad (Ayer)
  179. La La Land (Chazelle)
  180. The Angry Birds Movie (Kaytis, Reilly)
  181. Ghostbusters (Feig)
  182. Demolition (Vallee)
  183. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Ficarra, Requa)
  184. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Szymanski)
  185. London Has Fallen (Najafi)
  186. Keeping Up With The Joneses (Mottola)
  187. Blue Jay (Lehmann)
  188. The Darkness (McLean)
  189. Nine Lives (Sonnenfeld)
  190. Jane Got a Gun (O’Connor)
  191. Warcraft (Jones)
  192. Now You See Me 2 (Chu)
  193. Miles Ahead (Cheadle)
  194. Mother’s Day (Marshall)
  195. Bad Moms (Lucas, Moore)
  196. Dirty Grandpa (Mazer)
  197. The Accountant (O’Connor)
  198. Jackie (Larrain)
  199. Independence Day: Resurgence (Emmerich)
  200. Inferno (Howard)
  201. Jason Bourne (Greengrass)
  202. How To Be Single (Ditter)
  203. Passengers (Tyldum)
  204. Ben-Hur (Bekmambetov)
  205. Live by Night (Affleck)
  206. Morgan (Scott)
  207. The Eyes of my Mother (Pesce)
  208. Me Before You (Sharrock)
  209. Collateral Beauty (Frankel)
  210. Boo! A Madea Halloween (Perry)
  211. The Forest (Zada)

Isabel Garcia’s top ten:

  1. Moonlight (Jenkins)
  2. Cameraperson (Johnson)
  3. Into the Inferno (Herzog)
  4. O.J. Made in America (Edelman)
  5. Paterson (Jarmusch)
  6. The Handmaiden (Park)
  7. Elle (Verhoeven)
  8. Fire at Sea (Rosi)
  9. Lion (Davis)
  10. Silence (Scorsese)

JOSH’S CHOICE AWARDS

Best Actor: Gerard Depardieu; Valley of Love 

Runners up: Peter Simonischek; Toni Erdmann /&/ Colin Farrell; The Lobster /&/ Nicholas Cage; Army of One /&/ Casey Affleck; Manchester By The Sea 

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Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert; Elle /&/ Valley of Love (haven’t seen Things to Come)

Runners up: Hailee Steinfeld; The Edge of Seventeen /&/ Kate Beckinsale; Love & Friendship /&/ Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri; The Handmaiden 

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Best Cinematography: Chung Chung-hoon;  The Handmaiden

Runners up: Rodrigo Prieto; Silence /&/ Natasha Braier; The Neon Demon /&/ Emmanuel Lubezki; Knight of Cups /&/ Declan Quinn; Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

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Best Editing: Matthew Newman; The Neon Demon 

Runners up: Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, Ben Sozanski; OJ: Made in America /&/ Kim Jae-bum & Kim Sang-beom; The Handmaiden /&/ Affonso Gonçalves; Paterson /&/ Roxana Szel; The Treasure 

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Best Director: Park Chan-wook; The Handmaiden 

Runners up: Martin Scorsese; Silence /&/ Jim Jarmusch; Paterson /&/ Maren Ade; Toni Erdmann /&/ Paul Verhoeven; Elle 

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Best Film: OJ: Made in America 

Runners up: The Handmaiden /&/ Paterson /&/ Silence /&/ Toni Erdmann