Opinion: A Call For An End to the Razzies

A performance that was nominated at the wrong award ceremony.

We were long overdue for this conversation

When the Golden Raspberry Awards or Razzies were forced to walk back an “award” given to Bruce Willis for worst performance in a DTV movie, a job it’s now known he only took to try to work as much as he could before his aphasia got too debilitating which was I stress an open secret, it forced a conversation about if the awards themselves had any purpose. And it’s a conversation that isn’t new mind you. We’ve been having it in fits and starts for ages and I don’t think anyone who takes film seriously takes them seriously. But we’re finally at such a breaking point I wonder if we’ll hear from them again.

The thing is, we’re not just due for this conversation. We’re due for an analysis of how we discuss bad movies in the mainstream. Because it’s not just rotten but it’s very misaimed. It’s time to seriously analyze what the Golden Raspberry Awards have wrought. Because no matter how often they’ve been discredited, there are still echoes in the culture.

I want to start by examining the culture that birthed the Razzies and that means noting that there was nothing original about the awards. Writers Harry and Michael Medved probably weren’t the first to cover the worst of film either but with books like The Golden Turkey Awards, The Hollywood Hall of Shame, and The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, they have what I consider a fair claim as the originators. I’ve read their books and you can see every tactic the Razzies would use there. Like it’s shameless.

The Medveds were key in codifying a lot of ideas that stayed codified for years. They really instituted the idea that failed special effects were a bad thing without the affection that makes MST3K so great. The (wildly inaccurate) idea of Ed Wood as the worst director of all time starts here. But more than anything else, the sheer seething hatred for Hollywood begins here. If the Golden Globes are legendary for falling all over celebrities, this was their opposite number (sort of).

That cynicism was really what drove the dawn of the bad movie culture. They put it into print but it was something that was in the air. The books predate to conclude a few years after the Razzies started but there were other things in the culture to note. This was the death of the grindhouse and to the lament of Joe Bob Briggs the drive-in. There was such an embrace of modern sci-fi that the classic stuff almost had to be thrown away, completely missing the point of Star Wars btw. And there was a violent rejection of New Hollywood and everything the 60s and 70s stood for in film emerging in pop culture. So I get how the Razzies were born.

And I’ll go one further. I’m not opposed to the idea of a counterbalance to the Oscars which is a bloviating hagiography for an industry that truly could not care less about quality. The concept of stopping and going “this isn’t reality” is fine. But like a sniper who is just a tiny bit off, the Razzies miss their mark.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the obvious: The Razzies have nominated and even honored some great work. They had to publicly apologize for nominating Shelley Duvall for The Shining this year though citing her abuse by Kubrick and not the quality of her work. The sad part is that’s common. As I looked through the 80s I saw an array of great direction like Cimino on Heaven’s Gate, De Palma on Body Double, and Kubrick on The Shining. Acting? Similar. Barbra Streisand for Yentl, Schwarzenegger for Conan the Barbarian (he’s iconic!), and Michael Caine for Dressed to Kill. And that’s one decade that they blew.

But most of those are just nominations. Mostly they pick work that’s at least agreed is bad. But even that’s kind of a problem. The Razzies rarely actually reward the worst art. No what you usually see are the safest jokes. Like they hated Stallone so much despite the 80s actually being a pretty great decade for him as he stretched himself constantly and used the safety of his franchise work to do so. But he was big and that was safe. Kevin Costner and Adam Sandler became huge punching bags with Sandler first winning in 1999 for Big Daddy, a fantastic comic performance.

And then there’s the PR stunts. Look, I obviously need to point out that this whole enterprise is just one. All awards shows are. But somehow they’re worse. And it’s weird because a lot of their political biases I completely agree with. I’m not mad someone mocked George W. Bush or Dinesh D’Souza as I hate them. But Bush was in archival footage in Fahrenheit 9/11 and D’Souza wasn’t an actor. When you reward Paris Hilton for a movie that nobody saw and those who did see it called eh, you’re not concerned with anything more than that headline.

But Hilton brings me to the thing that makes this whole enterprise sick and that’s the bullying. Look, I’m not against a good critique. They honored Gigli and I’ve done a podcast on it and I was probably madder than them. But there’s a dark history of singling out whoever the tabloids hated. They hated Bo Derek and Pia Zadora, women basically under the thumbs of their husbands at the time pressured into work above their talent levels. They hated Brooke Shields, a woman whose mom/manager pushed her into work the opposite of her natural comic gift. They hated Sharon Stone, who was simply one of the best major actresses of the 90s and remains a titan. And as you’re noticing, they hate women. Like a lot.

This bullying spirit is what made me write. Because that’s all the Razzies have contributed is making punching at easy targets ok. And bizarrely they’ve had an influence. I don’t think Mommie Dearest would be seen as a camp classic, the opposite of what it is, without them. They’ve contributed to what I consider the memeification of criticism. All you have to do is pick on the safe target regardless of context. It’s why they felt fine honoring Maddie Ziegler for a performance in Music that, to tread lightly, she was pushed into doing and even autistic people defended. Because really they wanted to laugh at Sia and none of the hate for Music was about the film.

That’s the other thing. They made it ok to talk about movies you haven’t seen. Because we all know they usually don’t. All awards have that issue but they’re legendary. When Sandra Bullock won for All About Steve, she showed up explicitly to call them on this. (I saw the movie and as bad as it is, I assure you there was worse work that year.) I’ve had so many conversations with people who know they’re meant to hate things and they assume they do. Gary Larson fell into this when he assumed Ishtar was the only movie in hell, a movie he later enjoyed.

And I know, a small PR event annually shouldn’t matter. But all of these issues are a rot on modern criticism. All of these are things that we take for granted in discourse and they’re rancid. What’s actually bad about modern film isn’t being brought up. Instead, we just take it for granted that the Oscar nominated films are either good or out of touch and boring but rarely truly awful while we assume that these things are bad. Gigli wasn’t bad because we were sick of Bennifer. It was bad because it was offensive to every single group it depicted, shot like a hotel commercial, and written and directed with the graceful flow of a traffic jam. And that’s rarely brought up in favor of the easy laugh moments which might be the only times it’s alive.

Ultimately there’s another deep flaw to the Razzies that nobody brings up. The ceremony posits itself as the anarchic response to the Oscars but in the end it’s like many a revolution in dystopian fiction: it serves the status quo’s needs. That’s what the Razzies do. They’re the swat on the nose that reinforces that you’re supposed to follow traditional ideas of good.

I look back at Sandra Bullock showing up to great hype the weekend she won the Oscar. It seemed like an anarchic moment. A celebrity showed up to call them out! But was it? For one thing, it was promotion for the film that probably got people to see it. And for another thing, it was a nice distraction from the fact that her Oscar win was for The Blind Side, a movie with chronic White Savior syndrome not viewed particularly well by people who knew Michael Oher’s story. The norm was reinforced that a risky black comedy that fizzled is bad and incredibly racist art that claims to mean well is respectable. And there’s ultimately nothing bold or daring about any of this!

And look, I could go after the Oscars for the same broken issues. They are two sides of one rotten coin. But at the very least, the Oscars are a celebratory force that every so often pushes people to watch something like Parasite. It serves a very minor good even as it does so much ill. Not so the Razzies. They exist to serve a bullying purpose only. And we would be better off without them.

Ultimately the damage can’t be undone I suspect. To the mainstream, the most acting will probably always be the best and anything that dares to not be what the mainstream knows will be bad. The easy targets will stay the definition of bad. But I hope that in this one moment we get to stop and reject them. We have moved past the need for the Golden Raspberry Awards. Next year, may they be ignored.


Opinion: Why The King’s Speech Deserves More Love

The Oscars can ruin modest work.

Little films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno feel elevated into larger conversations with their best original screenplay wins which are bad enough. But if one of these films should win the top prize, it’s devastating. The Artist was a lovely bit of cotton candy that suddenly had to answer for a status it didn’t need. Ordinary People is generally considered one of the best films of the 1980s, but because it won Best Picture over Raging Bull, it will forever have an asterisk. And the less said about the wonderful Shakespeare in Love the better because it will never escape this shadow.

That’s the fate that befell The King’s Speech. When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing on it, they immediately assumed I was going to tear into it. After all, it beat films including audience favorites Toy Story 3 and Inception, critical favorites like Black Swan and Winter’s Bone, and most unforgivably the audience and critical smash The Social Network. No matter what I say about this film, I have to argue that film.

I can’t of course. The Social Network absolutely should have won best picture. It was timely in 2010 and it’s somehow more timely now. It’s a meticulously crafted film with justly Oscar winning work from Aaron Sorkin and the scoring debut of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher absolutely deserved best director. It wasn’t my favorite of the nominees–I prefer 127 Hours, Inception, and Winter’s Bone–but it’s an all time great in an absolutely ridiculous year.

The thing is that doesn’t mean The King’s Speech isn’t a great film too. It’s not on the same tier as those but I don’t think it was meant as that. It’s a warm fuzzy holiday movie about nice people that’s frequently laugh out loud funny. And approached on that level? It’s one of the filmds I keep in constant rotation.

The most obvious thing I have to note is that I approach this film from the perspective of someone with a neurological disorder. I’m autistic–reminder of what site you’re on–so I relate to stuttering. I understand the hell of not expressing yourself clearly. And David Seidler wrote this film from a first person perspective as a stutterer. The film is as much autobiography as it is biography with the scene that got the film an R rating taken from his life. The authenticity the film brings to this struggle in a way so many films don’t sets it apart.

It’s a deeply human film too. Are the characters sanded down? Yes. But I also can’t separate the fact that like Albert in this, I’m the father to at least one girl. I love that the film depicts fatherhood as the highest good. Albert and Lionel are both devoted fathers who reflect non toxic masculinity . Albert is also depicted as a deeply loving husband, a fact it pleases me to note is apparently very hard fact. I did look it up and the way their marriage is portrayed is indeed highly accurate.

The film is a marvel of craft too. Which means I have to discuss Tom Hooper. I feel like we misunderstand Hooper. He isn’t bad at directing. He’s not good at directing large films though. He thrives on intimacy. This movie is basically a stage play and he has a gift at finding the music in the scenes. Hooper needs more of this because this is his gift.

And now I come to the indisputable Oscar this won. Colin Firth’s win is brushed off as a make good for A Single Man. Nah. This is a thoroughly worthy win. Firth is an immensely potent force in this film and he’s matched by two equally fantastic supporting turns. Geoffrey Rush has never been better than he is here. Sure, he’s not straining as an Australian actor. But he’s so likable and funny he’s on fire. And I can’t say enough good about Helena Bonham Carter here. She’d gotten lost in the years of playing weird, dark roles and it’s easy to forget she started as an English rose. She’s the definition of a strong woman here, which again was her actual character. Also credit to Guy Pearce who is so slimy here. He’s great. Though yes the film needed to be much harder on his character.

Now here’s the thing. I’ve made a good case for this as a crowd pleaser. And the film did decent box office. But I still heard it discussed as homework. SNL had a joke about one of its sketches being the movie so now you’ve seen it. By which point I’d seen it twice in theaters. It was treated bizarrely as too stuffy for the mainstream and not good enough for high art. Which is true?

I think the film is a lovely film for a wide audience. And it’s come for me to symbolize how the Oscars force the conversation I began with, This is a minor film, the kind you watch on TNT. But it’s the kind of film you always stop to watch when it’s on TNT. It’s of a piece with The Shawshank Redemption. It shouldn’t have to carry the weight of the best film of an all time great year.

The Oscars really do ruin how we discuss films by putting extremes on them. When there isn’t a choose only one. Do I want only Inception, Best Worst Movie, or Winter’s Bone from 2010, to name three films I saw in a week? No. I’m better for seeing all. I’m better for seeing The Social Network. I’m better for seeing 127 Hours. I’m better for seeing True Grit. I’m better for seeing Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And yes, I’m better for seeing The King’s Speech.

Don’t watch it for high art. But watch it to get a well made piece of art.

2019: The End of the Decade’s Year in Review

First, I think I ought to apologize for how long-delayed this year in review would have been, but I had become incredibly busy over the past few months – to that point I was unable to write many film reviews as of late. Yet I still managed to find enough time to myself to catch films over the year as it was coming to its end in time for awards season, though it also left me with more than enough time to think back upon how great a decade this has been for film in general.

While it still feels sad to have to come think about one journey being over, it only feels most fitting we come back to the thought that we must always make way for tomorrow – the past has run its course, and thus we can dwell upon everything great about such in order to move forward. But as much as the 2010’s may have also been taken over by franchise films eating away the public interest every chance it has, it also made searching for the hidden gems all the more fun too. Yet as the best films of 2019 had already shown us, great cinema is still alive and well, and what matters most is how much we can continually share those experiences with others.

As far as this decade’s years of great films have gone by, many of 2019’s highs have struck a chord with me that I can’t quite put my finger on – but to put it lightly it was also the sort where I knew these films were going to be among films that define the decade too. It feels great to have been able to revel in what these films stood for within their moments, so without further ado, these are my favourite films of 2019.

Honourable Mentions



Knives Out


A Hidden Life


High Life


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks (Finalized)

And now comes the countdown.

10. An Elephant Sitting Still


image via KimStim

What saddens me is the thought that this is to remain the only feature-length directorial effort of Hu Bo, a filmmaker who tragically had taken his own life prior to the film’s premiere at TIFF in 2018. Yet the film that Hu Bo had left behind in his wake is a four-hour long journey all about searching for hope. An Elephant Sitting Still may prove difficult, whether we speak regarding its bleakness or the context behind its making and the context behind the life of filmmaker who brought it to the screen, but it will prove a rewarding experience.

9. The Lighthouse


image via A24

Robert Eggers’s follow-up to The Witch is still every bit as beguiling as one can expect, but that’s also what reaffirms how terrifying it is. It’s only fair to say that The Lighthouse is the sort of nightmare that only a filmmaker like Robert Eggers could make, but there’s a certain audacity you can feel in his vision for the horror genre that feels like only he could have pulled off. Boasting great performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse is more than just terrifying, it’s also funny every now and then but also just gorgeous from start to finish.

8. Little Women


image via Sony

Greta Gerwig already made her mark as one of the most exciting directors to look out for after having established her name through collaborations with Noah Baumbach, and it only remains further solidified by Little Women. Being another coming-of-age tale from her eyes, Little Women does far more than just bring back to the screen another story that has been adapted many times over the years: it still reaffirms the story’s own impact by sharing how it captures generation after generation, which I think becomes the film’s greatest asset.

7. Uncut Gems


image via A24

The Safdie brothers always know how to rack up anxiety to the max but in Uncut Gems, what comes forth is everything you’d have wanted from the makers behind Good Time and much more. Boasting a career-best performance from Adam Sandler, who is at some of the best he has ever been since Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, seeing the sort of work he manages to pull off in Uncut Gems does more than prove he is a wonderful dramatic actor when working outside of his familiar circle. You’ll feel your heart racing as you watch Uncut Gems, but the ride will absolutely be worth it.

6. The Irishman


image via Netflix

It’s hard to say no to a new Martin Scorsese film, because he may arguably be the greatest American filmmaker working today – but he always finds a new way to approach the familiar subject matter of his work. In The Irishman, he returns once again to making gangster films to tell the story of how Frank Sheeran climbed his way up the mafia and even got himself involved with the case of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, but in typical Martin Scorsese fashion, there’s never a dull moment in this three-and-a-half-hour long odyssey. Yet it also shows Scorsese within a more introspective mode, which can be felt from having stuck around Frank’s life from his youth all the way to his old age. By the time you’re finished, you’ll feel like you lived his life, asking questions about how much of it was worth it.

5. Honey Boy


image via Amazon Studios

Shia LaBeouf has already made a name for himself as one of the most fascinating figures working in the industry today but seeing how he enters a more sensitive side within Honey Boy only gives one all the more reason to love him. The narrative directorial debut of Alma Har’el, this semi-autobiographical film all about Shia LaBeouf’s own life experiences, as penned by him, and starring him as his own troubled father, Honey Boy is more than a tribute to the people whom he loved most, it’s a testament to what goes on in the life of a child star – and how those experiences have come to define the sort of person that he has become. I’m also looking forward to what Alma Har’el has got in store for the future, because this movie hasn’t left my head very easily.

4. The Farewell


image via A24

For an Asian audience member, The Farewell will already strike chords for some – but there was something else that I had felt from watching it. Part of me saw my own life experiences feeling exactly like it had been for Awkwafina as shown in Lulu Wang’s film. It can be hard to say no to family matters, but what also makes The Farewell ring so perfectly comes out from how much it’s clear that Lulu Wang had written this as her own family’s love letter. Showcasing Awkwafina at some of her very best, The Farewell may be a slow burn but in that awkwardness it makes you feel from seeing family members you may have been estranged with for so long, it becomes a beautiful emotional rollercoaster.

3. Marriage Story


image via Netflix

The ironically titled Marriage Story shows Noah Baumbach as he returns to familiar territory after The Squid and the Whale but tells of the adults’ perspective on the situation. But for Noah Baumbach it’s clear that this is a subject that nonetheless still hits him very hard, which is what makes it so easy to feel Marriage Story making its impact right from the film’s start, all the way until its end. To call Marriage Story the best that Noah Baumbach has ever been would already be easy enough, but when you’re also taking into account the many personal details sprinkled in, the title already feels fitting. It is less a film about the divorce and a film all about why they married to begin with, which best captures its impact.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire


image via NEON

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival, but what makes this lesbian love story so beautiful can already be felt in its testament to great art. Sciamma’s film is one that is all about looks: how they define the artist’s relationship with muse, but also how both those feelings define the art we make. Boasting some beautiful production design as well as amazing performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunner.

1. Parasite


image via NEON

People who have followed me closely would already know that there was no other movie that would take this spot. Aside from being more rewarding with multiple viewings, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a film that approaches a subject that seems familiar to us, in the most outlandish yet most entertaining way possible, although not without its willingness to hit back with the harsher realities surrounding the circumstances we see onscreen. I feel like there’s already so much in my prior review that I haven’t been able to cover because ever since I had seen the film then, I could already feel as if it were only set to become even more rewarding as I kept coming back to revisit Parasite more over time. Equal parts funny, equal parts gripping, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is more than just the best film of 2019, it’s wholly thoughtful and encourages its viewers to look back at the class landscape that they live within.

The Best Performances of 2019

Actor, Leading Role:

  1. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
  2. Song Kang-ho, Parasite
  3. Adam Driver, Marriage Story
  4. Robert De Niro, The Irishman
  5. Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
  6. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  7. Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
  8. Daniel Craig, Knives Out
  9. August Diehl, A Hidden Life
  10. Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Actress, Leading Role:

  1. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
  2. Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite
  3. Noèmie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Awkwafina, The Farewell
  5. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
  6. Lupita Nyong’o, Us
  7. Zhao Tao, Ash is Purest White
  8. Ana de Armas, Knives Out
  9. Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart
  10. Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell

Actor, Supporting Role:

  1. Joe Pesci, The Irishman
  2. Choi Woo-shik, Parasite
  3. Al Pacino, The Irishman
  4. Lee Sun-kyun, Parasite
  5. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  6. Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  7. Timothée Chalamet, Little Women
  8. Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy
  9. LaKeith Stanfield, Uncut Gems
  10. Asier Exteandia, Pain and Glory

Actress, Supporting Role:

  1. Park So-dam, Parasite
  2. Laura Dern, Marriage Story
  3. Florence Pugh, Little Women
  4. Adéle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  5. Chang Hyae-jin, Parasite
  6. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
  7. Julia Fox, Uncut Gems
  8. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
  9. Penelope Cruz, Pain and Glory
  10. Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out

The Worst Films of 2019

  1. Loqueesha
  2. Katie Says Goodbye
  3. The Lion King
  4. Hellboy
  5. The Dirt
  6. The Haunting of Sharon Tate
  7. Cats
  8. Polar
  9. Girl
  10. It: Chapter Two

And so, this concludes what’s already been a wonderful decade of truly astonishing films – stick around, we’ve also got more to come as I talk about the best films of the decade.

Ten Reasons Why ‘Parasite’ Deserves to Win Best Picture at the Oscars

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is an important first for South Korean cinema history, being their first film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but after having submitted films to compete for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (then known as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), Parasite has not only become the first South Korean film to receive a nomination following the shortlisting of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning at the 91st Academy Awards in said category, but it has also received nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture – becoming the first film produced by an East Asian country to receive such recognition since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

This being one of the most stacked years in recent memory at the Academy Awards, with the most nominated film being a comic book film that still sparks controversy (Joker), fellow nominees also include a WWI epic emulating the look of a single continuous long take (1917), Martin Scorsese’s biggest film since Casino (The Irishman), and a revisionist love letter dedicated to 1960’s Hollywood (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Yet Bong Joon-ho’s Cannes winner still stands atop everything else – at least in my eyes. Seeing Parasite being up for Best Picture felt exciting, because of the doors it opened from its nomination. And of course, I just can’t think of another film more deserving of the honours, in such a fantastic year for film. So without further ado, here are my ten reasons Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite should win Best Picture.

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Last Minute Criterion Suggestions from Us

There’s only a few days left of the half-off sale from the Criterion Collection. If you’re a newcomer to the home video line, all of those selections can look daunting and you’ll probably stand there for a good while trying to decide what to get. With nearly a thousand titles to choose from, it’s overwhelming. Don’t worry, two Criterion aficionados have their picks that are perfect for any first-time buyer or if you’re looking for something to spice up your shelf.

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2018: Another Year of Cinema Come and Gone

This year was a real game changer for a person like myself. To kick things off, it was the first year in which I was able to attend TIFF as a press member rather than as any other audience member. It was a defining moment for myself, though I don’t want to brag a little too much about what happened there. It was just a good year for cinema in general. That’s all I can really say, and I want to bring more attention to the many films that I absolutely loved this year – and so many of them came around this year and so forth. We’re already nearing the end of a decade, and through the good and the bad, the cinema has always been able to provide nothing but the greatest pleasures through and through. Although as we look through the films that have come to define 2018 as a whole, there were many surprises that came along the way just as there were disappointments – all of which came in between the very best and the worst in cinema through the year. So without further ado, let us begin. Continue reading →

The 91st Academy Awards: Comments and Concerns

It has been an absolutely astonishing year for the cinema. But for as amazing a year as 2018 had been, we’re also left with facing one of the most insulting awards seasons to have come by in recent memory. You’d think that given last year’s set of nominees they actually would have been growing progressively better, especially having given a film like Moonlight the top honour for the 2016 ceremony (and a well-deserved one at that), but after the Golden Globes came by, I was already worried that we’d already be in store for one of the absolute worst in recent memory. To think that the Oscars would already have gone far beyond that “popular film” award in order to try and raise their viewership, as if the ceremonies themselves haven’t already been stale enough (i.e. overlong montages praising the industry and shallow activism that amounts to nothing), who knew that we’d be in store for one that was so out of touch – particularly in last year’s amazingly bad timing (with it being only barely ahead of the Olympics rather than in February like they usually were)? As a supposed celebration for the cinema comes by within the year, there are many things here to be concerned about.

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Chuck’s Top Ten Movies of 2018

Folks, you know what this is, you know what it’s about. It’s late, I’m tired, and I want to enjoy what’s left of my time off. Let’s rock and roll.

Actually, wait, I should open with a caveat: I live in the suburbs and have been a little busier than usual this year, so there are plenty of movies I haven’t seen that might have made this list if I was able to carve out the time or otherwise had means to get to them. So my apologies to: Assassination Nation, Beautiful Boy, Ben Is Back, Blindspotting, Boy Erased, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Colette, Destroyer, Fahrenheit 11/9, The Front Runner, The Hate U Give, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mary Poppins Returns, Mary Queen of Scots, The Oath, The Old Man and the Gun, Roma, The Sisters Brothers, Suspira, Thoroughbreds, White Boy Rick, Whitney, and many others.

Also, how about some runners up?

25 – 11

25.) Mandy
24.) Upgrade
23.) Searching
22.) A Star is Born
21.) Mission: Impossible – Fallout
20.) First Man
19.) Revenge
18.) Black Panther
17.) You Were Never Really Here
16.) Annihilation
15.) Mid90s
14.) Won’t You Be My Neighbor
13.) Hearts Beat Loud
12.) Eighth Grade
11.) Disobedience

Yeah, Disobedience was a hard one to lose in this list; it’s strong, empathic filmmaking set in a world we don’t see too often, shot through with a whole lot of love for its subjects. But searching my heart, I felt like…well, it just didn’t connect with me the way these next ten films did.

…my God I’m about to light what little credibility I have on fire

10.) Ready Player One

Ready Player One works on a couple of levels. On one, it’s a striking exaggeration of our current world, where corporations are tacitly running the show, everything seems to be getting worse, and we can’t help but seek refuge in entertainment; more specifically, the past, in times when things didn’t seem so complicated or horrific and we just had to worry about never missing an episode of G.I. Joe or Jem and the Holograms. Rather than condemning our fixation on this brand of bread and circuses, Steven Spielberg celebrates our love of and need for escapism, showing it as a way for loners and outcasts to relax, recharge, find common ground, and ultimately organize against forces that would change the world for the worse. This isn’t always a good thing; the last few years on Twitter have taught me that too many white people think the world is worse off with blacks, Latinxs, Asians, Muslims, Jews, and women with opinions, and it turns out they’re pretty good at organizing. But it’s become common for science-fiction to highlight the evils of our fascination with technology—what’s up, almost every episode of Black Mirror?—so it’s refreshing to see a movie that’s excited about the possibilities of technology despite being cognizant and cautious of its drawbacks.

On the other, it’s a bit of self-reflection for Spielberg as well, who grew from a geeky, socially-awkward kid with a strong fixation on movies into a man responsible for so many other people’s passions. As he hits that age where trades start pre-writing obituaries for people, it’s hard not to compare him to the autistic-coded James Halliday, reflecting on the things he may have missed out on and gently warning those who might worship him not to go down the same path. The films he directed are rarely (if ever) referenced here, but it’s little wonder that a film which embraces the wonders of a virtual life and the joys of human connection builds one of its key set pieces around a film made by one of the director’s best friends.

Admittedly, the film has problems originating back to the inherently consumerist and ultimately chauvinistic source material. (The chauvinism was mainly in the romance between leads Wade/Parzival and Sam/Art3mis; it was smartly refigured for the movie but subtle traces still exist.) It was enough to make me consider leaving the film off the list and giving it a Maguire, but in the end, I feel like this is a deeply if understandably misunderstood film that says more about our world and ourselves than “Gee Robert Zemeckis was cool” (especially if you’ve been paying attention to some of the abhorrent fall-of-Rome shit that “AAA” video game publishers like Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, and Ubisoft are up to), and it’ll ultimately be an important point of fascination for anyone studying Spielberg’s significant body of work.

9.) Game Night

We can talk all we’d like about the important films of the year, but a well-made, rip-roaring comedy will always bring us together and leave a big impact regardless of whether or not it’s secretly “about” anything. Game Night has The Stuff; I’ll put it up there with Animal House, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Groundhog Day, Anchorman, The Hangover and others any hour of the day, any day of the week, any month of the year. It is brilliant, hysterical, and compulsively rewatchable, and it’s got just as much to do with how John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein direct the film as it does with the talent in front of the camera (including a breakout performance from Billy Magnussen and a no-shit Oscar-caliber one by Jesse Plemons) and the funny lines in the script.

Daley and Goldstein smartly make the filmcraft part of the joke, eschewing the flat cinematography and bouncy music that comes standard with most studio comedies in favor of a legit action-thriller score from frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez and a dark Fincher-inspired look that’s alternately grimy and pristine—I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that Daley, Goldstein, DP Barry Peterson (21 Jump Street), and production designer Michael Corenblith (Frost/Nixon) studied the hell out of The Game or The Social Network during pre-production. Along with some appropriate-yet-surprising casting—including Kyle Chandler in a wonderfully against-type turn and Danny Huston in a glorified and quietly glorious cameo—this grounds the film’s tangible life-or-death stakes in a way that enhances the absurdity of its antics. A game of Keep-Away with a Faberge Egg might sound like a fun scene on its own, but it’s elevated to unexpected heights when it’s shot/edited as a oner in a gorgeous mansion set backed by a propulsive electronic score.

Most if not all of the other films on this list have something to say about our world or ourselves; all of them bet big and went the extra mile to say it. Game Night goes big in its own way, and while the result is merely fun, it’s in no way disposable. Game Night is going to be a tradition for a lot of people, and I’m betting will be viewed as just as vital to 2018 as Caddyshack was to the year of Ordinary People and Return of the Jedi.

8.) Widows

Between his effusive review from TIFF and his unapologetic stanning of Elizabeth Debicki, this will likely be one of the few films my list has in common with Jaime’s. I’ve had my own review of the film sitting in my drafts folder for over a month now, but I’ve never been entirely happy with it. I’ll probably try again with a more spoiler-filled breakdown shortly after the film’s home release.

For now, it’s enough to say that Steve McQueen’s first genre exercise, adapting Lydia La Plante’s BBC series with screenwriter/novelist Gillian Flynn, is methodical, patient, and quietly complex. It uses the heist film structure to paint a powerful portrait of modern patriarchal rule; how men are poisoned by it and how women survive under it, for better or worse. It also finds room to touch on race relations and power dynamics in the Black Lives Matter era, and the general growing divide between rich and poor. Shamefully, this is the first film of McQueen’s I’ve seen, but it’s a hell of an introduction, as he demonstrates an astonishing level of control over a slow-paced narrative in a genre that’s normally known for snappy banter and/or regular intervals of wanton violence. And damn if it doesn’t do my heart good to see long-underrated actresses like Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez get roles that make full use of their individual skillsets, while Viola Davis and Colin Farrell do their reliably outstanding work and Cynthia Erivo and Molly Kunz deliver some strong calling-card performances of their own.

Strong, searing, and deeply intelligent, Widows is a must-watch.

7.) Bodied

Bodied, the new film from Detention director Joseph Kahn, takes a sports underdog story and applies it to the world of battle rap in a way that turns the traditional narrative on its head. Its protagonist, Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy, American Vandal), is both hero and villain, a directionless young man whom many of us have been able to relate to at one point or another who wants to understand something that he’s probably not supposed to understand; specifically, “Gee, why do battle rappers get away with saying the ‘N’ word a lot? If I, a college-educated white man, said it, my life would be ruined, but for Them, it’s just another word!” His fascination gets him pushed into an impromptu battle, where he utterly destroys his opponent and garners interest from local battle rap organizers. Suddenly, this white college student from the highly politically correct UC Berkeley is thrust headlong into the highly politically incorrect world of battle rap, setting up a full-throated attack on performative wokeness and forcing the viewer to confront their own fascinations with transgression.

Kahn has to walk a tough line here if you’re a liberal-minded person like myself; political correctness is a target-rich environment, but it’s also regularly lit up by sociopaths and angry baby boomers, so hitting those targets inevitably draws some unwanted comparisons. Personally, I think Kahn does an admirable job demonstrating how basic decency is and isn’t related to political correctness, and in showing the difference between advocating for said decency and trying to score points off of someone else’s moral failings, all without falling back onto unearned sentimentality. Adam’s journey ends up costing him everything, but how much of what he lost was worth holding onto when he didn’t truly believe in much of it? On top of that, how much should he have believed in? The answers are not as clear cut as you’d expect; once the credits roll, you might have a lot to chew on.

And yet, even with everything going on under the surface, it can still be enjoyed as a rousing, hilarious, R-rated sports underdog movie that’s backed by Kahn’s phenomenal eye (assisted here by DP Matt Wise) and Worthy’s incendiary lead performance. Bodied is loud, crass, and not at all for the faint of heart, but underneath all that, it’s sharp, thoughtful, and deeply refreshing.

6.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

It’s one thing for the movie to be a smartly written, engaging and emotional take on an origin story whose major beats we pretty much know by heart at this point. Phil Lord’s self-aware sense of humor (that he normally shares with writing partner Chris Miller, who sits this one out) is in full effect here, and as usual, it feels less about trying to be hip (a fate that befell many of Lord/Miller’s imitators, like Baywatch) and more of a natural part of the story’s charm. Telling the story of Miles Morales is cool enough; what makes it fascinating is how Miles’ story is supported by the handful of other Spider-Men that cross into his universe, a few with fascinating arcs of their own, without ever forgetting who the star of the show is supposed to be. And it uses that crossover to get at a very important point about the appeal of Spider-Man, one that Miles’ story alone wouldn’t have been able to fully get across: “Anyone can wear the mask.”

And if that was all this movie did, that would be plenty. But it just so happens that this film is remarkably designed; I mean the look of this thing is just astonishing. Into the Spider-Verse brings the medium of animation forward in ways only the most ardent believers in the medium could have imagined. Lord and Miller are clearly believers, as are directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. And whatever they do next, I’m all about it.

5.) Paddington 2

This is hands down the happiest, purest, most huggable film of the year and possibly even ever. Paddington 2 is so sweet and wholesome and downright winning, from its charming recap in its opening moments to its dynamite mid-credits musical number, that I had to fight back a pang of guilt every time I ranked a movie ahead of it. I’ve thrown serious side-eye in the direction of anyone who calls this movie “just okay.” It is magnificent, bursting with enthusiasm, and damn near guaranteed to leave you smiling no matter your mood.

Anything else I have to say would just be filler. The only other thing that needs to be said is that the world needs more movies like this.

4.) Vice

I had certain expectations of what I was going to see based on director Adam McKay’s previous film, The Big Short, as well as his long history of railing against Republican politics and on Jaime’s review of the film. I had some other expectations based on the extremely divisive overall reception the movie’s been getting within the critical community, that maybe the film was too preachy or talked down to its audience. I squeezed this movie in at the last possible second, thinking that this could either make my top ten or pick up a consolation Maguire for its effort.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw.

The big thing McKay nails here is that he resists the temptation to turn Cheney into a cold, diabolical supervillain for most of the movie. As played by Christian Bale, Cheney’s a loving father who’s able to cast his politics, and politics in general, aside once his daughter comes out as gay. The film even has the balls to suggest that if George W. never asked Cheney to be his VP, he might not have turned out so bad.

But that’s not the world we were lucky enough to live in…and even STILL, there’s a sense that for all of Cheney’s disagreeable views on governance and power, for all the ways he arguably changed this world for the worse, for all the pain and suffering he inflicted on others in his position, be it directly or indirectly, McKay can’t help but admire the son of a bitch. Bale is magnetic in the role, for reasons beyond an extraordinary makeup team; he’s quiet, calculating, choosing his words carefully and waiting for the right openings to make his move. He really does seem to be playing nine-dimensional chess while the people around him are absorbed in their intense little games of hopscotch. And it’s kind of fucking upsetting how amazing it is to watch; it’s hands down the best performance of the year.

But rather than use this humanity and political genius to paint a fair and balanced portrait of Cheney, McKay weaponizes whatever begrudging respect he might have inspired and uses it to damn the former VP and obvious war criminal even more thoroughly than an easy “Cheney Bad” characterization would have done. Beyond that, McKay deploys the same playful edge he brought to The Big Short to thoroughly explain the complicated depths that Cheney sunk to. In particular, the breakdown of how he and his crew positioned themselves to essentially puppetmaster the entire Executive Branch is one of the most propulsive scenes of the year, with no small assist from editor Hank Corwin (who also cut The Big Short and happens to be Terence Malick’s go-to guy).

The Big Short was a huge surprise from the Anchorman director. Vice proves it wasn’t an accident; Adam McKay is a force to be reckoned with.

3.) A Wrinkle in Time

Selma was my favorite movie of 2014 and introduced me to Ava DuVernay as a director I needed to watch. Admittedly, I haven’t done such a good job of that; haven’t seen her first two films (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere), haven’t seen her TV show (Queen Sugar), haven’t seen her Netflix documentary about the prison system (13th). But I was excited to hear that she landed a big Disney tentpole and could not wait to hear what she could do with a $100M budget.

I did not expect her to go completely buck-wild and turn in what is essentially an art film that throws several wordy concepts at you with machine-gun quickness that essentially all boil down to “Good and evil are tangible forces, love will save the world.”

To many, that was probably ridiculous and saccharine. To me, that’s just freakin’ awesome; it helps that while I don’t think such a sentiment is literally true, it’s nonetheless important to carry with you, especially as the kind of young person this movie is aimed at. I rewatched this film thinking that maybe I was soft on it and I missed something that other critics saw, something that would make this not work as well as it did when I saw it in theaters. There were a couple of things I wished were different: A couple of the needledrops stood out a little too much. Deric McCabe’s performance (as Meg Murry’s adopted brother, Charles Wallace) falls into that unfortunate “obnoxious kid brother” archetype that’s not always pleasant to watch.

In the end, none of that mattered. As soon as we’re introduced to Mrs. Who this movie just takes off for me and doesn’t choke once. The sheer ambition and nerve of it all is enough to astonish, but the execution is sublime. There’s a story here, but DuVernay takes her time making sure you understand the concepts that are driving this story, keeping the pace slower than one might be prepared for. The final result, however, often feels more like visual poetry than a narrative slog. and the images DuVernay creates and presents with these ideas are utterly breathtaking. I ultimately found myself appreciating the slow pace, just to have time to take in everything I was seeing and realize “THIS IS SO COOL.”

DuVernay called a hell of a shot with this one, and damn if it didn’t connect with me. Once again, I’m psyched to see what she does next—in this case, a Netflix miniseries about The Central Park Five. If I’m smart, maybe this time I’ll look at the work she’s already done while I wait.

I had to think long and hard about these next two movies. Their positions on the list switched from moment to moment as I weighed the merits of each one back and forth. Eventually, I came to a decision: A tie in these lists may seem like a cheat, but when two films are as complimentary as these are, it’s the only thing that seems natural.

Listed alphabetically:

1.) BlacKkKlansman [Tied]

On one hand, here is a veteran filmmaker and provocateur wrestling with the sudden surge of populism and fascism on American soil in levels we never saw before, even if people like him always suspected it might happen. Spike Lee is pissed in a way he’s rarely been since his Malcolm X days, and he takes what might be a cute satirical comedy about a black police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and flips it into a tense (if fictionalized) police thriller, a powerful examination of how hatred presents itself and poisons others, and a vicious polemic against the ways that hatred continues to propagate today. Unlike most movies about how racist people were in the past, Lee will not allow you to leave the theater thinking “Thank God things aren’t like that anymore,” and if he has to use the footage of Heather Heyer’s murder to do it (with her family’s blessing), by God, that’s what he’s going to do.

However, he also balances out this rhetoric with a celebration of blackness, as seen through the montage of beautiful black faces throughout Kwame Ture’s speech and little moments of levity like the “Too Late To Turn Back Now” singalong. Lee also wrestles a bit with the difficult relationship between the police and the black community, ultimately suggesting that while the police need reform, we still need them. At the risk of oversimplifying things, this sentiment famously got him into trouble a few months ago with the director of…

1.) Sorry to Bother You [Tied]

Like BlacKkKlansman, Boots Riley’s film has some things to say about the state of American society. But whereas Lee has a few decades of work under his belt, this is Riley’s first film after a long and celebrated rap career with The Coup. And while Lee’s film targeted hatred and how it warps people’s minds, Riley opts to go after the whole crooked capitalist system—of which, by his socialist perspective, the police that Lee tacitly supports are very much a part of.

Riley’s inexperience behind a camera is clear, but it’s the best thing the film has going for it. Nobody, not even Lee in his prime, would have the balls to take what starts off as a modern riff on Putney Swope and turn it into something I refuse to spoil even all these months later. Suffice to say, Riley’s satirical wit is sharp and deadly, and while there’s a sense that he’s barely in control of his narrative, it’s ultimately part of the film’s scrappy and furious appeal.

Ultimately these two films work in concert with each other to paint a scathing and honest picture of where civilization is at today, blinded by the suffering of others through hatred and greed. More importantly, it also shows how we’re getting through it; with a lot of willpower and no small amount of humor.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can check out the full ranking of the 2018 movies I saw on my Letterboxd page. And don’t forget to come back to check out Jamie’s top 10, which will apparently be published sometime next week.

All in all, 2018 was a solid year for movies; here’s to an even better 2019!

Chuck Winters Presents: The 2018 Maguire Awards

I love him! I love him for the man he wants to be! And I love him for the man he almost is!

Dorothy Boyd, Jerry Maguire; written by Cameron Crowe

Well folks, it’s the end of the year. You may have forgotten what that feels like since this year felt about as long as ten years, but as we all go through our various end-of-year rituals, us critics have to start thinking about the best movies we’ve seen this year so we can pick our horses for the Oscar race and yell at everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

In addition to our best of lists, however, many of us like to publish “Worst Of” lists. Not me. To be clear, I don’t mean to be judgmental of those who do; looking over my Letterboxd Diary it seems I’ve only seen 78 films from this year. There’s one more I’m hoping to squeeze in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a little low for someone who calls himself a film critic, and as much as I rag on critics who build careers out of hating movies, I respect the urge to just go “fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you” at all the films that wasted your precious life one last time before you have to move on.

I’ve yet to hit that point, though, so dwelling on the stains of the year just doesn’t interest me. What does interest me, however, are movies that missed their mark in whole or in part but still get at something interesting or worth looking at. I don’t think we do enough to acknowledge these interesting, perhaps noble failures, and while I’ve got this platform, I think I’d like to put my money where my mouth is.

Enter The Maguire Awards, a non-sequential list of five movies I saw this year that fell short in various ways but still get my respect and, yeah, my love. Maybe they left it all out on the field, so to speak. Maybe their successes were completely unintentional. Maybe they just had too much nerve to not be respected. Whatever the reason, I think they’re worth saluting as we close the book on 2018.

Enough preamble; let’s jump in.

Ocean’s 8

I actually love this movie; as I said in my review, it’s strangled by some uninspired cinematography and editing in contrast to the original trilogy—which was already going to be impossible to live up to, given that those movies were directed, shot, and edited by a borderline living legend. Gary Ross tries his best, but he doesn’t have Steven Soderbergh’s cool hand; the film’s visual plan feels like a flat diet version of the master filmmaker’s style as a result. It’s disappointing, especially when you consider the multiple female filmmakers out there with dynamic styles of their own who could’ve given this film a more unique and appropriate identity.

Give Ross credit, though: He put together a hell of a crew for this spinoff—I’m tempted to go down the list to pad things out, but for these purposes it’s just easier to say that everyone kills—and he and Olivia Milch gave them a fun, solid script to work from that subtly comments on the patriarchal world these women live under without losing track of the fun heist flick we came to see. (It also winks at the absurd nature of the spinoff. Danny Ocean is supposed to be dead, but Debbie doesn’t believe it, and her denial barely registers as a point of drama because this is Danny F’ing Ocean we’re talking about here.)

No, it doesn’t live up to its progenitor, but it goes the distance, and god bless it.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

It’s a biopic, with all the good and bad that comes with: the high highs of success, the low lows of drug use (there’s always drugs somewhere and it’s always bad), and the plot beats that you can set your watch to, especially after a quick Wikipedia lookup of the subject. If you wanted to be cheeky, you could say that A Futile and Stupid Gesture is aptly named, celebrating the genius of Doug Kenney and mourning his damage without really digging into how the two were linked and using his story to teach us anything beyond “Yeah, apparently even brilliant, funny people can have depression, it really sucks.” Arguably, if you can’t do that, what’s the point?

Damn if David Wain doesn’t try to do his subject justice, though. The director of Wet Hot American Summer can’t dig into Kenney, but he still did his damnedest to tell the National Lampoon co-founder’s story in a way that would have made Kenney proud. Whether he succeeds at that or not, I’m in no position to say. But the movie is genuinely hysterical, in ways that feel right at home with what I know of Kenney’s sense of humor (going off Caddyshack and Animal House). Key to that: An inspired framing device of an older alternate reality Kenney (played by Martin Mull) narrating the story and popping in every so often to crack wise at the necessary sanitization and even outright invention that comes with the biopic format.

Beyond that, Wain has a blast recreating the little-dramatized comedy scene of the 70s. Watching this, there’s no doubt that he feels a great debt to Kenney and everyone involved with the Lampoon for inspiring his own work; the film is shot through with reverence for the subject. This can be dangerous, but considering the sheer number of outright legends that came from this era, such reverence feels appropriate and warranted (even if, by the film’s own admission, “everyone was a lot more sexist and racist than they appear to be”). Wain also gets excellent performances from his cast. As Kenney, Will Forte is in prime form, and Domhnall Gleeson is a great foil for him as Henry Beard. But nearly walking away with the whole show is Thomas Lennon’s utterly bonkers turn as Michael O’Donoghue. This is the versatile State alumnus’ best performance to date; wherever he pulled that from, I want more of it.

Ultimately, the film doesn’t stick with you the way it probably should have. But it’s funny enough and just unique enough to more than justify its own existence.

Mile 22

“You wanna talk about Russian interference? You wanna talk about election hacking? Pay attention dipshit: Peter Berg’s always been a smarter filmmaker than most of the mindless sheep of this world give him credit for, but my motherfucker lives in two worlds. In one world he’s a good liberal boy—maybe neoliberal or centrist but who gives a flying fuck unless you’re a goddamn commie or something, I dunno—who once fuckbarreled Mitt Romney for using ‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose’ in his presidential campaign. In the other, he’s a dude that comes from a Navy family who gets off on watching this country’s military and police flex on rude fucks who step out of line. So you get movies like The Kingdom and Battleship and Lone Survivor that revel in war but are also cheekily anti-war, you could write a whole fuckin’ book about that shit really, but he goes out and makes this movie, where all his characters are badass spec-ops types that seriously talk and swear just like this, like fuckin’ Lenny Bruce stubbing his toe on a cop’s dick while suckin’ on your momma’s titty. And they talk like this because they think if they make even one mistake it could literally be the end of western civilization, which simultaneously puts them under some real fuckin’ pressure while inflating their egos to the size of a meteor that could wipe out life on Earth. And it’s possible that the whole goddamn fuckin’ point of this movie as underlined by its twist ending is that these sad fucks and their ‘fuck you I’ll smoke you and your whole fuckin’ family if you step in my fuckin’ area you fuckin’ fuck-ass fuck’ approach to life might actually be a net negative for the world. It sure as fuck ain’t good for their interpersonal lives.

“But—partly because Berg’s working with noted Southie hate crime perpetrator Mark Wahlberg, who got to be the big fuckin’ hero in Berg’s three back-to-back movies about real-life tragedies—any meaningful message gets drowned out by basic-ass ‘hoo-rah’ Call of Duty Black Ops bullshit, Poe’s Law One-Oh-Motherfucking-One. Couple this with the decision to show much of the action on security cams that are constantly shaking, leaving you with no sense of geography in a movie with action phenom Iko Motherbitching Uwais, and you’ve got a real five-alarm four-star shitshow starring Brian D’Arcy James in a limited engagement at the Shubert Fucking Theatre. But that doesn’t mean you just wipe your ass with it like your three-year-old’s drawing of the family dog because my dude Peter Berg is a smart motherfucker and when smart motherfuckers fail, it’s still worth watching unless you’re gonna be a punk-ass bitch about it.”

“Sir, this is a Wendy’s.”



(Zhui bu)

There are two ways to look at John Woo’s big return to popcorn filmmaking. One way, it’s an absurd, cornball half-measure of a film with a plot that doesn’t seem to make any sense helmed by an unengaged director cashing in on his considerable reputation. The other is that Woo, even at his best, has always had an absurd cornball streak and is having a blast dusting off all his old tropes and twisting them in fun ways. For instance, his signature doves return, but this time Woo really leans into the spiritual symbolism of their presence by having them literally save the lives of our main characters through not one, but two freak coincidences, one after the other. The akimbo gunfighting style Woo popularized? Returns for a scene with a brilliant innovation that pays homage to Hitchcock, Woo’s favorite director. Just about all his old films and tropes get referenced at some point, right down to the final line of Broken Arrow—and then just for the hell of it, he drops “A Better Tomorrow” into a line of dialogue at the last minute.

As far as I’m concerned, this is The Maestro having fun with his own legend in the hopefully-long winter of his life. Does it work as a movie? Hell no. As mentioned, the plot goes completely off the rails, with a lot of disparate elements that, while not necessarily boring, probably could’ve been cut or reworked to streamline things without losing too much. Still, it’s a blast to watch; even if all it does is remind the world that nobody does Woo like Woo, it’s more than enough to get my thumbs up.

(Note: As you can see from the poster, this film was released in China in November of 2017 after bowing at that year’s Toronto International Film Festival. However, I’m counting it as a 2018 film as that’s when most of the world—and more importantly, I—got to see it.)

Bad Times at the El Royale

If this movie was somehow 30 minutes shorter, we’d probably be talking about a stone classic. Two and a half hours is way too long to be sitting for such a nasty little neo-noir like this, even one that takes such clear inspiration from Quentin Tarantino. I was in a weird position at the 100-minute mark of the movie, thinking to myself “Wow, this is great…but shouldn’t they be wrapping up soon? My butt’s kind of hurting.”

There’s a lot of strong elements here that can’t quite congeal into a strong overall package for whatever reason. Drew Goddard shoots a hell of a film with DP Seamus McGarvey, and his script, pacing issues aside, keeps throwing new surprises at you, even after you think he’d be tapped out. His ensemble is stellar; as (most of) the established names in this cast, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, and Dakota Johnson are rock solid, giving ample room for relative newcomers Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pullman, and Cailee Spaeny to break out with some juicy, ferocious roles of their own. Then there’s Chris Hemsworth, giving an outstanding against-type performance as a murderous cult leader who seems to dance in from a whole other movie to turn this one completely on its head. Now add in some gorgeous late 60s production design and a badass soundtrack, including score from the reliable-at-worst Michael Giacchino and a collection of 60s standards that fit the movie like a glove. I’ll probably associate Deep Purple’s “Hush” with this movie’s heart-stopping roulette scene for the rest of my life, and I’m more than a little mad that Erivo’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” isn’t available anywhere.

All the individual pieces of this movie are so, so, so good, which is why I wish it didn’t feel almost like a chore to sit through it the first time. Turns out you probably can have too much of a good thing.

(Note: Jaime Rebanal loved this movie a little more than I did.)

So there you have it: Five films that don’t quite fall into greatness but still deserve to be admired for what they are and perhaps almost were. I’ll be back on Monday with my top ten of the year, but for the weekend, I’m throwing it over to you: I want you to tweet me @DivisionPost with five films from this year that you respect more than you actually like. Films that went big but fell short for you. Films with problems you recognize but don’t give a damn about. Because sometimes, the movies that demand our passion are the ones with the most glaring weaknesses to defend against.

So tell me: What were your Maguires this year?

The 25s: The Top and Bottom Grossers of 2002

Image result for spider-man 2002

2002 was one long year in film. The highs were epic. The lows were epic. It didn’t feel at all the same at the end as the beginning. Let’s see why.

The Bottom 25 Grossers of 2002

#76. K-19: The Widowmaker. This is why I love doing this column. This was a notorious box office disaster for director Kathryn Bigelow. By contrast The Hurt Locker was considered a huge win for her. This made $15 million more. The difference? It cost $85 million more. And The Hurt Locker is a brilliant film while this is atrocious.

#77. The Hot Chick. Only thing of note about this film: The girl Rob Schneider switches places with is Rachel McAdams who thankfully would go on to much, much, much better things. Schneider, I’m happy to just forget ever existed. Sadly I’ll be crossing paths with him again for this column.

#78. I Spy. Eddie Murphy finally pops up on the radar! I really won’t have very many nice things to say about him going forward aside from his great work in Shrek. This was at the end of Murphy’s days as a draw. The Haunted Mansion landed in the middle in 2003 while this couldn’t even spark that.

#79. Friday After Next. I find it pretty telling this second sequel tanked while the first film is still revered. Opening this next to Harry Potter was the equivalent of suicide. Absolute worst time to release it. I know it’s a holiday film and look I have questions about A Very Friday Christmas. Not a great concept.

#80. The Pianist. Look, I’m enraged this film exists but I won’t lie and say I didn’t contribute to this gross. I wanted to pay for another film out of protest but the theater was too small and weirdly intense to pull it off. (This is true.) This is a thundering, great film that absolutely should not exist because the director is a criminal. I’d lose this profound art for Polanski to have served his time. NEXT.

#81. Analyze That. I like Billy Crystal but nope, this was never going to be a film I watched. Robert De Niro’s comedy run in this period is kind of agonizing. He’s a great comic actor but he rarely had the material worthy of him. So yeah… Moving on.

#82. Murder by Numbers. Not a film I can say I saw or remember much about except it’s the first time Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling popped up on peoples’ radars. Two strong careers that got going here. Can’t knock that.

#83. One Hour Photo. Robin Williams went hard into darkness in 2002 between this and Insomnia and it was a damn good look on him. Williams battled internal demons throughout his life which fueled his genius. These two great turns showed that fight full blast.

#84. Halloween: Resurrection. The end of the original Halloween continuity with Rob Zombie doing two remakes and David Gordon Green retconning all but the first film. Um, yeah, this is atrocious. The way they killed off Laurie Strode unceremoniously just to use Jamie Lee Curtis’ contract was abysmal as a swan song for the character. Again, she gets a better outing ahead.

#85. Queen of the Damned. Hey, Hollywood? If you’re at the end of the rights to material and you cobble something together to hold onto it, we’ll ALWAYS see it. Compare this to the lavish Interview With The Vampire and it’s amazing WB tried to pass this off as an actual film.

#86. Dragonfly. A wild thought: does my generation even remember when Kevin Costner was in hit films? We know he was but they’re all before us save for Waterworld. This was a huge dud. $60 million on production budget for this.

#87. The Banger Sisters. This probably did exactly as well as could be expected. It’s a film about former groupies that came out in the wake of Almost Famous, the clear progenitor of this down to casting that film’s star Kate Hudson’s mom Goldie Hawn in a lead role. It did ok. I’ve only ever heard it was OK.

#88. Bad Company. Chris Rock wasn’t cut out to be an actor. He’s a killer standup but his film career is painful. Joel Schumacher got to rebound from this with Phone Booth the next year but Rock’s career? Write it off.

#89. Ghost Ship. I ain’t mourning Dark Castle. They were like an anti-Blumhouse. Giant budgets, unnotable directors aside from Jaume Collet-Serra, and pretty bad films. This has a great opening and beyond that who cares? It does start Emily Browning’s odd tendency to never go near anything good until American Gods!

#90. The New Guy. There’s a bubble of teen movies that started in about 1998 and utterly died in 2002. Lazy movies like this are why. DJ Qualls wasn’t a lead and I really don’t like to be mean to an actor but Eliza Dushku is so bad she really makes Buffy quite hard to watch. This was definitely a film trying to ride Bring It On’s success.

#91. Swimfan. This one too since it has Jesse Bradford from that film. This, um, it’s a thing. I never saw it. I know it’s teen Fatal Attraction. Nope. Don’t care now. Didn’t care then.

#92. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Another one I didn’t see but I probably should double back to watch this one. The late Steve Irwin was a model of how to be a good man in pop culture. Loved nature, loved his family. He’s sorely missed.

#93. Brown Sugar. Oh this is by Rick Famuyiwa! I’m overdue to watch the rest of his films since I loved Dope. I’ll observe this about the low dwelling romantic comedies: They’re built for longterm video play. I suspect this one has played for a lot longer than say Ghost Sip.

#94. Blood Work. Clint Eastwood’s last film before Mystic River put him back on the radar as a “respectable” filmmaker. Personally I probably enjoy his minor key films more than his major key stuff. This is just a solid, respectable little thriller that was made for TNT on Sunday afternoons, a granddad film. Cool.

#95. All About the Benjamins. Ice Cube hasn’t ever really been a leading man aside from the first Friday and Boyz in the Hood (and Are We There Yet) but I’ll say I’ve always enjoyed him. This was a film he wrote.

#96. Frida. Julie Taymor deserves a hell of a lot more respect than she gets. I’m firmly convinced of this. Mock the Spider-Man musical all you want but it was an artist’s idea. She does her thing and I admire that. This was a modest performer but it did well with critics.

#97. Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. The 2000s wave of Christian cinema was a lot weirder than the modern one. This was a kids Christian film, a CGI animated kids film based on a biblical story. And honestly since VeggieTales is one of very few franchises in that realm not to anger me I’m cool with this existing. It even spawned a sequel!

#98. Beauty and the Beast IMAX. Seriously, IMAX films used to play forever. They actually pop up on these lists more than you’d expect. This is one I kinda wish I’d seen though I was lucky enough to see it in 3D during that release.

#99. The Transporter. It fascinates me that a film can dwell this low and yet still spawn two sequels and a reboot. I’ve seen it and I have no idea how. It’s not a bad film, a nice sleeper even, but I’m at a loss as to why this became a franchise. I can’t even point to international box office, which was worse than domestic. It just…happened.

#100. The Sweetest Thing. Women doing raunchy comedy is nothing new. It just couldn’t click with audiences. Then again I’ve never heard this was even watchable. Comedy Central ran it into the ground, I remember.


The Top 25 Grossers of 2002

#25. Panic Room. I know this is seen as minor David Fincher but this thing just plain hums to me. A cracking script executed by a master director with a stellar cast giving 100%. If you hate Jared Leto, this is probably the most fun you’ll ever have watching him. It’s one of all too few major Dwight Yoakum roles and he’s incredible here. Nothing bad to say about an awesome, awesome film.

#24. Road to Perdition. Given that this feels like failed Oscar bait, I’m tempted to say it’s shocking it did solid box office. Nah, that just means it’s a good film viewers found. Another film where every element sparks.

#23. 8 Mile. RIP Curtis Hanson. We’re so far from who Eminem was in 2002, it’s hard to remember there was a moment he was THE voice of the moment. It’s hard to understand why too when you look at the work. Eh, another solid film.

#22. The Sum of All Fears. Man Hollywood wanted to make Jack Ryan work after three hit films based on the books. (Amazon finally cracked it.) I think this is only on this list because Ben Affleck had a very brief moment. It’s definitely forgotten.

#21. The Bourne Identity. By contrast, there’s this modest performer that basically altered the landscape for modern action. This movie was seismic, though arguably the sequel was even more so. Modern action got a lot less silly. I’ve praised the other two films as I passed them on the column. I’ll do the same here. Awesome film.

#20. Mr. Deeds. Adam Sandler movie. Didn’t see it. Adam Sandler movies all made about the same amount of money in this age and were all about as good. And really were all about the same movie.

#19. Sweet Home Alabama. What keeps this from the other list? Star power. Reese Witherspoon was in a moment and this was a perfect vehicle for that moment. That said it’s a ghastly motion picture with a script that just does not work. The charm of the cast is about all that makes this effective.

#18. The Ring. And thus we come to patient zero for the plague of Asian horror remakes that infested cinema for 6 years afterwards. This is honestly not much better than the rest of them. It just came first and had novelty.

#17. Minority Report. Man I love 2/3 of this film. It’s a great looking film and the way it deals with the modern lack of privacy is rather prescient. But the script? It builds to nothing. The climax is completely underwhelming and mysteries have to end well. It’s got so much good that I hate watching it limp to a close.

#16. The Santa Clause 2. This number is entirely because after 8 years the first was a certified classic. People weren’t missing the sequel. They liked it too.

#15. XXX. Oh I’ve been waiting to get to this one! If 2002 had a symbol it’s this. Loud, aggressive, self absorbed. Everything about this movie was focus grouped to ensure it was dated by September. Yet this was treated as the future of action movies or some reason. Nope. I’m glad this was swiftly forgotten. Still no idea why it got two sequels.

#14. Lilo and Stitch. I shouldn’t feel sad passing this one but I do. This was the last 2D animated hit for Disney. It’s a perfect farewell though. What a bold, imaginative, great film. It’s not one I need to say much on. It’s just what it is.

#13. Scooby-Doo. Roger Ebert nailed it in his review when he said the internet exists for you to find an expert’s opinion on the film. I’m not a Scooby-Doo fan. I respect the effort the cast gave, with Matthew Lillard’s so precise you can’t tell it’s not the original Shaggy a highlight, but not my cup of tea. That said, of course this was a hit. It played to two generations.

#12. Die Another Day. OK, this is an objectively awful film. I love it anyway. It’s so unrelentingly goofy and I think that’s why it was this big. Audiences liked the silliness of the series in this age. That said, everybody knew James Bond had gone too far to the extreme. Time to reel it in and they did.

#11. Catch Me If You Can. This movie makes way more sense as a light Lasse Hallstrom film like it was planned as. That’s how it feels and that’s how it should be taken. It’s a Steven Spielberg film which means it’s weirdly elevated in our eyes. But anyway, it’s still an utter blast of a film. A murderer’s row of talent from DiCaprio, Hanks and Walken to a fresh Amy Adams destroys on an airtight script.

#10. Chicago. In 2003, this was considered a terrible Best Picture winner, too light and fluffy to deserve the win. 15 years later, I think it’s as great a choice as any from this year. This thing stays with you. It’s an intense sensory experience, a film that like a musical plays to the rafters. The satire in the script, which it should be stressed heavily rebuilt the book, is vicious. A film people love.

#9. Ice Age. Eh. Like really, eh. This isn’t a great film. It’s not bad but meh. I don’t get why this was this big. Only answer is no competition in the spring.

#8. Men in Black II. What a weird franchise. The first film is an all time great without one wasted frame. The third film is a boldly imaginative journey with genuine emotion. Then there’s the second film which amounts to 90 minutes of desperately writing their way out of a hole. There is nothing about this film worth noting. It’s just a long slog.

#7. Austin Powers in Goldmember. Remember that trilogy structure I just noted with a perfect first film, an awful second film, and a wild third film? Same structure here! And thankfully we’re on that third film. I actually really love this film. It’s just so utterly bold. It tries everything it can. It’s hilarious too.

#6. Signs. M. Night Shyamalan’s devastating blow. One of the scariest films of the decade easily. It’s a master class in the jump scare. Every beat stings you. That the plot has logic issues…look I don’t care. It’s meant to scare the everloving hell out of you and it’s proof Shyamalan is as great at it as any filmmaker ever.

#5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding. $241 MILLION. There is no universe in which I can make that make sense. It’s not a movie people remember. It’s not a cultural touchstone. Nia Vardalos tried desperately but couldn’t ever recreate it. It’s nothing now. But in 2002, this occupied the same tier as the next 4 films. I have no answer.

#4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Funny to think about given how epic this series was but there was a 40 million dip between 1 & 2 and that’s not inconsequential. When the third failed to reach these standards, it was even seen as a bit of a letdown. My guess on why it dipped? This is the second worst film in the whole series behind Order of the Phoenix which makes sense as it’s the second worst book behind Order of the Phoenix. That said, it’s still a fun movie, just not up to the others.

#3. Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones. To date the only Episode not to crack the top spot at the end of the year. This makes sense when you see the top 2. As for this film itself? I kinda love it like the rest. It’s not as forcefully imaginative as Episode I or as poignant as III but it’s still a blast. It has its weaknesses but Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi is an iconic action star turn. The film looks great. Lucas shoots action like few ever have. It’s still Star Wars to me.

#2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. There was a modest jump in box office between the first and second films. That’s all video along with the hype for the battle of Helm’s Deep. That battle scene was hyped as THE ultimate battle scene. Speaking as someone who hates giant fight scenes, yes, this is the greatest ever though the third film is achingly close. This is what epic should be.

#1. Spider-Man. When this movie crossed the 100 million mark in one weekend, it was all over from there. The age of the modern blockbuster was on. And what a deserving start. This is how big blockbusters should feel. It’s flawed–a bit atonal in places–but so much fun. Spider-Man was done such justice here. Nuff said.