Sunday, January 23, 2022

My 2007 film rankings (in 2007)

No time like the present to get started on a thing like this, right?

I said in yesterday's post, in which I announced a year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of deciding to rank my films each year, that I wanted to post my rankings from before this blog came online, as an additional means of keeping them safe from the caprices of fate.

I've got 12 to post, so might as well get going. 

Ha! I just noticed I can do one per month.

I decided to go chronologically backwards rather than chronologically forwards, for no good reason. I was sort of inspired by Filmspotting, the podcast I have listened to the longest, who made it a recurring feature to go back and consider their top five films from the years before they started the podcast, since they discussed all their new favorites of each year on the podcast (as I do here on my blog). They decided to start with the first year before they started and go backwards, so I'm doing the same.

(Technically speaking, these are my 2007 film rankings in early 2008, not 2007, but I thought that made it too confusing for anyone who looked at the title of this post at a glance.)

As a reminder, the idea behind this post will be to post the rankings as they were that year, for posterity and for your consideration, then show the films in the order they are currently ranked on my Flickchart, which is implicitly an accurate representation of what I think of them today. Following that will be a little analysis. 

There's no direct correlation between which lists I'm posting each month and which couple #1 movies I'm watching that month. As I said in yesterday's post, I intend to rewatch those #1s in random order, based on my moods, leading up to the year-end ranking of all 26. These lists will appear in reverse chronological order. Some month, the two will probably accidentally overlap.

And yes, I realize this is a pretty deep trip up my own asshole. Hey, your reading time is yours to do with as you see fit. Who am I to argue if you choose to spend it here?

Here are my 2007 film rankings as determined on the date these rankings were closed: January 22, 2008.

1. There Will Be Blood
2. Once
3. Juno
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
6. Sicko
7. Away From Her
8. Into the Wild
9. Alpha Dog
10. I Am Legend
11. Atonement
12. Noise
13. Margot at the Wedding
14. La Vie en Rose
15. Bee Movie
16. Beowulf
17. Knocked Up
18. Surf's Up
19. The Living Wake
20. Charlie Wilson's War
21. The Golden Compass
22. Bug
23. The Host
24. Paprika
25. Ratatouille
26. I'm Not There
27. The Savages
28. Persepolis
29. Zodiac
30. Grace is Gone
31. Stardust
32. Grindhouse
33. Music and Lyrics
34. The Ex
35. Next
36. The Simpsons Movie
37. Balls of Fury
38. Michael Clayton
39. 3:10 to Yuma
40. Hot Fuzz
41. Black Snake Moan
42. Transformers
43. A Mighty Heart
44. Superbad
45. The Jane Austen Book Club
46. 28 Weeks Later
47. Waitress
48. Awake
49. No Country for Old Men
50. Sunshine
51. 300
52. The Namesake
53. The Invisible
54.  Lars and the Real Girl
55.  Live Free or Die Hard
56.  Resident Evil: Extinction
57.  Breach
58. Disturbia
59. Arthur and the Invisibles
60. Arctic Tale
61. Premonition
62. Miss Navajo
63. Ghost Rider
64. The Number 23
65. Meet the Robinsons
66. Happily N’Ever After
67. Smokin’ Aces
68. Day Watch
69. Paris Je T’aime
70. Eagle vs. Shark
71. The Nanny Diaries
72. Southland Tales
73. American Gangster
74. Fracture
75. The Darjeeling Limited
76. 30 Days of Night
77. The Heartbreak Kid
78. Death Sentence
79. Shooter
80. Civic Duty
81. Epic Movie
82. Captivity

Only 82 movies! What a rookie I was back then. It's more than double that now.

And here's the order those movies respectively chart today on my Flickchart, with their overall ranking and percentage in parenthesis, as well as how they have moved up or down within the 82. Numerical ranking is out of 5763 movies on my chart.

1. There Will Be Blood (57, 99%) 0
2. Once (76, 99%) 0
3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (102, 98%) +1
4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (168, 97%) +1
5. Away From Her (343, 94%) +2
6. Juno (351, 94%) -3
7. Into the Wild (370, 94%) +1  
8. Atonement (371, 94%) +3
9. Beowulf (514, 91%) +7
10. Alpha Dog (646, 89%) -1
11. Sicko (732, 87%) -5
12. The Living Wake (741, 87%) +7
13. I Am Legend (751, 87%) - 3
14. La Vie en Rose (869, 85%) 0
15. Bug (877, 85%) +7
16. Margot at the Wedding (886, 85%) -3
17. The Golden Compass (902, 84%) +4
18. Charlie Wilson's War (972, 83%) +2
19. Surf's Up (1007, 83%) -1
20. Bee Movie (1079, 81%) -5
21. Zodiac (1120, 81%) +8
22. I'm Not There (1132, 80%) +4
23. Ratatouille (1149, 80%) +2
24. Noise (1196, 79%) -12
25. The Simpsons Movie (1310, 77%) +11
26. Grindhouse (1330, 77%) +6
27. Knocked Up (1476, 74%) -10
28. The Host (1675, 71%) -5
29. Black Snake Moan (1703, 70%) +12
30. Balls of Fury (1735, 70%) +7
31. Music and Lyrics (1817, 68%) +2
32. The Savages (2029, 65%) -5
33. Paprika (2031, 65%) -9
34. The Ex (2188, 62%) 0
35. The Jane Austin Book Club (2228, 61%) +10
36. Stardust (2258, 61%) -5
37. Hot Fuzz (2475, 57%) +3
38. Persepolis (2556, 56%) -10
39. Grace is Gone (2705, 53%) -9
40. No Country for Old Men (2776, 52%) +9
41. Michael Clayton (2783, 52%) -3
42. American Gangster (2849, 51%) +31
43. The Invisible (2857, 50%) +10
44. Transformers (2912, 49%) -2
45. A Mighty Heart (3009, 48%) -2
46. Next (3129, 46%) -11
47. Superbad (3329, 42%) -3
48. 300 (3406, 41%) +3
49. Resident Evil: Extinction (3437, 40%) +7
50. 3:10 to Yuma (3464, 40%) -11
51. Sunshine (3808, 34%) -1
52. Waitress (3909, 32%) -5
53. Premonition (3926, 32%) +8
54. Miss Navajo (4023, 30%) +8
55. Awake (4033, 30%) -7
56. Arthur and the Invisibles (4098, 29%) +3
57. 28 Weeks Later (4111, 29%) -11
58. Ghost Rider (4156, 28%) +5
59. Lars and the Real Girl (4222, 27%) -5
60. Meet the Robinsons (4274, 26%) +5
61. Disturbia (4306, 25%) -3
62. Arctic Tale (4419, 23%) -2
63. The Namesake (4494, 22%) -11
64. Day Watch (4623, 20%) +4
65. Paris Je T'aime (4639, 20%) +4
66. Breach (4644, 19%) -9
67. Happily N'Ever After (4650, 19%) -1
68. Smokin' Aces (4696, 19%) -1
69. Live Free or Die Hard (4745, 18%) -14
70. The Number 23 (4772, 17%) -6
71. Eagle vs. Shark (4922, 15%) -1
72. Southland Tales (4964, 14%) 0
73. The Darjeeling Limited (5031, 13%) +2
74. Fracture (5168, 10%) 0
75. Death Sentence (5207, 10%) +3
76. The Heartbreak Kid (5495, 5%) +1
77. The Nanny Diaries (5580, 3%) -6
78. Shooter (5609, 3%) +1
79. 30 Days of Night (5613, 3%) -3
80. Civic Duty (5640, 2%) 0
81. Captivity (5699, 1%) +1
82. Epic Movie (5721, 1%) -1

Now that I've typed all that out, it seems like a lot of work, and I may have to reconsider the utility of it going forward. Then again, the earlier the years get, the fewer titles I'll have -- I believe there were fewer than 40 in that first year. So I guess I'll kick the can down the road on that particular decision.

Five best 2007 movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): The Lookout, My Kid Could Paint That, Shotgun Stories, Timecrimes, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Five worst 2007 movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): Dan in Real Life, Rocket Science, Run Fat Boy Run, Smiley Face, Stephen King's The Mist
Biggest risers: American Gangster (+31), Black Snake Moan (+12), The Simpsons Movie (+11)
Biggest fallers: Live Free or Die Hard (-14), Noise (-12), The Namesake/Next/3:10 to Yuma/28 Weeks Later (-11)
Average percentage on Flickchart: 51.09% (1 of 1 so far)

I actually have this blog to thank for the big rise in American Ganster's position. It was a 2010 rewatch of the movie for my series Second Chance Vance (discussed at length here) that allowed me to reevaluate the film and go from thumbs down to thumbs up. (Incidentally, it's as funny to look back on those early days of the blog as it is to look at these early movie lists.)

Among fallers, I believe I would still love Matthew Saville's Noise. However, I do know him -- saw his film at Sundance on a trip planned specifically to see it -- so it may just be that my initial ranking was a little inflated because I was too close to it, and it has settled from #13 to a more realistic #24 over the years. 

I am curious to figure out what I found and apparently continue to find so disagreeable about The Nanny Diairies, not a great film if I remember correctly (obviously), but surely innocuous enough, and an early Scarlett Johannson vehicle. It's not like we didn't know what she was capable of back then, as this was four years after Lost in Translation (another #1 of mine). I don't think I'm curious enough to actually watch it again, though. Maybe it just needs to come up in some more favorable duels on Flickchart.

Okay, one rankings committed to the permanence of the internet, 11 to go. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

My 25th anniversary ranking of #1s

This is not a post about 2021 movies. I promise.

It occurred to me that this January marks the 25th anniversary of the first time I ever ranked my movies from first to worst. Because of the way these things work, I just named my 26th #1 film, since I chose a #1 in January of 1997 and in January of 2022, bookending that 25-year period. (It might have even been February back then because the Oscar nominations dropped a little later in those days.) But it's 25 years, and I didn't think to mark the 25th #1 last year, so I'll have to acknowledge the anniversary rather than the milestone. Besides, I didn't decide at the start of 1996 to rank my movies that year -- I decided at the end of it. So the whole thing really did start 25, rather than 26, years ago. 

I still remember quite clearly my apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, working on that first list, which I may have actually written down on a piece of paper before ultimately committing it to permanence via Microsoft Word. I obviously didn't have my current methodology on that first time through, where I steadily add movies as I go and assign them a comparative worth, so I am building the list all year rather than right at the end. No, that first one was a matter of sitting down with a list of movies and choosing their order right then and there. I think my current system allows for better accuracy, but there was something thrilling about that initial approach.

I've moved eight times since I lived in that Providence apartment, but the lists have always come with me, safe and sound on Word documents I have regularly saved and backed up and never lost in some sort of calamity. And of course the desire to keep making the lists has also traveled with me, as intact as it was that first year -- or should I say, even more intact, as the obsession has only grown over a quarter century.

So let's honor that obsession with something obsessive.

Last night I watched my #1 of 2017, A Ghost Story, which I had mentioned in a post two days ago as an example of something I was discussing. Invoking its name got the movie in my head, as did noting Casey Affleck's entry into the two-timers club of people who have been in two of my #1 movies, a feat he accomplished this year with Our Friend. The reasons A Ghost Story came up twice in three days on my blog had nothing to do with each other, except that both times it was because it had topped one of my year-end lists. So now that I'm no longer watching 2021 movies and am free to watch whatever I like, I had to scratch that itch.

As I was going to bed afterward, I thought, "What if I rewatch all 26 of my #1s in 2022?"

At first I laughed at myself for such a suggestion. I recently got done telling you that I was only doing one bi-monthly series this year, instead of the intertwining ones I did last year, so that I had six fewer viewing commitments over the course of the whole year. So now I want to add another 25?

It's 24 actually, because I already started a couple weeks ago without realizing it. I watched Our Friend for a second time on January 10th to confirm it should be my #1 of 2021. That counts I think.

And there's something really good about that number of 26 as it relates to a calendar year. To watch 26 movies in 52 weeks just means you have to watch one every two weeks. I'm already 1/13th of the way there.

I won't commit myself to watching them at those intervals, though I'll try. If I get behind it will be easy enough to catch up later.

What will this lead up to, you ask?

At the end of the year, I will rank these 26th movies from first to "worst," like I do with the movies I watch each year, and post the results here. Think of it like that season of Survivor comprised entirely of past winners, where they competed to see who was the winnerest among them.

Rewatching some of these movies might feel a bit like overkill. Since they are among my favorites from the last 25 years, I do watch them with some regularity anyway. In 2021 alone I watched three of them, those being the two Charlie Kaufman had written (Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) plus a random rewatch of my best of 2018, First Reformed. (Kaufman wrote a third #1, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, but I didn't watch it in 2021 because I had just watched it a second time at the end of 2020, and there weren't enough available viewing slots in my I'm Thinking of Kaufman Things series.) I still think I need to watch those films again to be completist on this project, but I'll push them back closer to the end of the year. 

It's been longer for most of the others -- a lot longer in some cases, as you will see in a minute -- but I rewatched all my #1s from 2010 to 2019 in the year 2019 so as to consider them for the best of the decade. So those are comparatively fresh too. Still, I think it makes sense to rewatch all of those again as well, to make my impression fresher. Three years is plenty long between viewings of favorite films that it should not seem like a chore to watch them again, even if they are long like Toni Erdmann

This also gives me an excuse to finally do something I should have done ages ago: Rewatch the first #1 I ever selected, which is also my only #1 movie I have seen only once.

That's right, given that it was the movie that kicked off this whole thing, you'd think I'd have been eager to go back and reconfirm the greatness of Al Pacino's Looking for Richard, my #1 of 1996. I can probably thank my enthusiasm for this movie for starting the list project in the first place, and yet I've never gone back to see if my 23-year-old brain was making good cinematic choices. This despite the fact that I've owned the movie on DVD for most of the past decade after buying it from a video rental place that was going out of business.

That will likely be one of the first I rectify, but chronological order is obviously not important to me, as I've already ticked 2021 and 2017 off my list. That might have been an interesting way to go about it and it certainly speaks to the organizational part of my brain. But if I'm going to add 24 more viewings to my 2022, the least I can do is catch them as catch can. Watching them in random order seems to be a good way to randomize their impact on me as well, and even the playing field when they do all duke it out for top honors in December.

I'll probably use the same system I used to determine my best of the last decade, which is that I'll put all 26 movies in a special Flickchart account and keep dueling them until I'm satisfied with the order. Based on my current Flickchart, which includes some of these movies in my top 20, I have a suspicion about how things will go, but it's also possible that new viewings will help me reconsider my assumptions about their relative worth. I hope so or else it's really not worth doing.

One last thing, and it has to do with the backing up of these lists that has been successful so far, but is always potentially fallible despite my best efforts.

Although I won't write about these new viewings on this blog unless something else about the viewing inspires me to write -- you better bet there will be a specific Looking for Richard post when I get to it -- I do think this might create an opportunity for some blog material, and it has everything to do with committing my lists to permanence.

You can find my rankings from #1 to #whatever dating all the way back to the first list I published after beginning this blog in January of 2009. That one saw The Wrestler claim top honors. But my lists before then? They are still only saved in these Microsoft Word documents.

As having material to write about has proven something of a challenge in recent years, setting aside these prolific times at the end of the year/start of the year, I think I will periodically post the other lists on this blog, starting with the best of 2007 and going backwards. In this case I think chronological order is warranted. I'll post the list exactly as it was on the day I closed it, and then of course do some analysis, maybe even showing the order in which those movies rank for me today on Flickchart, to see how much has changed.

And then I will have versions of these lists that are safe from every calamity short of the calamity of The Audient itself going offline. 

I don't think you need or could possibly want any more on this topic for today. Just know that I'm off and running on yet another movie project, one that is assured of having a lot of quality viewing in store for me.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Do I hate The Matrix Resurrections as much as J.K. Rowling hates it?

Yesterday I devoted a post to my best film of the year, though that was really a way in to discussing a larger phenomenon.

Today it's the worst, and it also gets into a larger phenomenon. 

When I reviewed The Matrix Resurrections, giving it tied for the lowest rating I gave any film in 2021, I was not thinking of it as a film with trans themes directed by a trans person. This was a precursor to rating it my worst film of 2021 earlier this week. 

Before I had a chance to do that officially, about a week after my review went up, a friend told me he didn't like it either and said "It was just a film entirely about transitioning."

Uh oh, I thought.

His argument was that the shift of power from Neo to Trinity was a mirroring of the director's own decision to transition from man to woman. 

I don't think this friend is a transphobe. He didn't really elaborate on why that specific thing was a detriment to his enjoyment of the film, but if I had to read between the lines, I'd say he thought it was a film about transitioning at the expense of all the other things a Matrix film should be about. In his view, it could have been about transitioning as long as that didn't prevent its director from devoting the energies and resources that make a good Matrix movie a good Matrix movie. 

Which is worse, that he saw and was somehow bothered by a trans theme, or that I didn't see the trans theme at all?

Did my sisgender privilege give me the "luxury" of not seeing a trans theme in The Matrix Resurrections?

There's a sentence I wouldn't have written ten years ago. I wouldn't have even known what "sisgender" meant. But I'm glad I do now because trans rights are human rights, and I'm wiser than I was then.

Still, it's possible someone doesn't see a trans theme in a movie because they are not trained to see -- or because they are trained not to see -- such a theme. They passively dismiss the possibility that something is trans because it's too foreign to them. The possibility of a trans theme never even enters their consciousness in the first place. 

More to the point: Would I have judged the movie less harshly if I did perceive the trans theme?

Either because it would have contributed in some useful way to what the film was doing, or just to come off looking better myself as a critic and human being?

And that gets into this tricky gray area in film criticism where you have to try to control the way you're perceived by your readers. If you're like me, you live in fear of being thought of as racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic. You know you aren't, but the fear that some careless wording might cause you to be perceived that way is strong -- even as you are taking great pains to avoid such carelessness. It's another situation where a line I love in Glengarry Glen Ross feels really pertinent. Ed Harris' character tells Alan Arkin's character "You know who doesn't get nervous around the police? Criminals." It's the people who are least guilty of something who are the most worried that they might be found guilty -- might actually be guilty.

I'm probably not the least guilty person out there in any sphere, but I sure do worry about this sort of thing. "If I don't rate this movie directed by this person of this race or gender high enough, what will my readers think about me?"

The thing is, The Matrix Resurrections really is shit. Lana Wachowski made a movie in which she takes pleasure in trolling her fans, though I suspect she thinks the object of her trolling is really Warner Brothers. I say, we're all trolled. Equal opportunity trolling.

But first there was my friend who agreed with me about the film, and whose comment was possible to interpret as transphobia, and then, making it worse, I heard the movie discussed on The Slate Spoiler Special, where host Dana Stevens had a trans critic on to discuss it with her. I'm not going to find that critic's name right now, because it's not relevant and I probably don't want to add to the list of terms someone could search to find this post -- if there's any chance they might misinterpret what I'm writing here. (See, there I go again.)

But it was a trans woman, which I could tell from the pairing of the name with a voice she had not made any specific attempt to modify, if her goal had been to better align it with our preconceived notions of her gender identity. Plus she revealed that identity near the end of the podcast, in what she jokingly characterized as a completely unsurprising disclosure of information. 

Anyway, this woman admitted the movie was flawed, but loved it. 

It's that more than anything that makes me wonder if I was too poorly equipped to see the themes in The Matrix Resurrections that she saw.

I think Dana was caught in between a rock and a hard place too. She clearly didn't like the movie very much, but I could tell she was selecting her language in such a way that she made it sound like a "her problem," and tried to over-praise the things she could legitimately say she liked about it.

What I don't know is, does this trans critic love the movie because it's about transitioning, because she thinks it's important to support trans artists in anything they do, or just because she thought it was a good movie?

To her credit, I could not tell from her analysis. She didn't go on excessively about issues of transitioning, and in fact, they might have only gotten a quick mention in passing. So there was no way, from the text of her words, to ascribe to her the same motivations in liking the film that my friend ascribed to Lana Wachowski in making it.

But it might be worse if just being a trans person allows you to appreciate certain trans dog whistles, if you will, that I didn't see/hear, because I was not capable of seeing/hearing them.

Why is this worse? Well I'll try to articulate that.

For starters, there is the goal I try -- fruitlessly, I'm sure -- to achieve in my criticism, which is to suppress the self as much as I can. That is to say, I try to remove my particular subjectivity as a white, heterosexual, 48-year-old American man living in Australia, so I can try, if at all possible, to view the art before me objectively.

Well a) that's the luxury of some white sis hetero privilege right there, but b) it's probably impossible anyway, so I shouldn't blame myself. Trying to pretend that I can see a movie made by Black people through Black eyes is a self-delusion meant to make me feel more comfortable about my place in the sociopolitical landscape. (Bo Burnham is well aware of this essential truth.) I can no more see a Black movie through Black eyes than I can see a trans movie through trans eyes.

The problem, then, is how much do I allow my constitutional deficiency to adjust how I either praise or scorn a movie for a reading audience of indeterminate demographic makeup? If I hate a movie, as I did The Matrix Resurrections, is it my duty to hate it ten percent less because [fill in the blank] person made it, as some kind of offset to compensate for my constitutional deficiency? Does some part of me have to write the review keeping in mind the comparatively small percentage of my reading audience -- and even smaller in the case of potential trans readers -- who might get things from the film that I don't?

The philosophical purists would tell me not to do that, and would applaud me for going with my gut and naming The Matrix Resurrections the worst film of the year despite my reservations about how it could make me look. But then you have neurotics like me who continue to wonder.

Because part of choosing any film as your worst of the year is a statement, right? The movie you say you hated most may not actually be the worst, but something about the manner it disappoints you makes it "worse" than a piece of technical garbage that was made poorly. If we were going for the actual worst film that I saw in 2021 -- like most poorly made -- I might have to choose the low budget film Royal Jelly, a body horror movie in which a woman starts taking on the traits of a bee. 

And yet there are always mitigating factors. Things like this can never be absolute. I actually ranked 16 films lower than Royal Jelly because I was considering those mitigating factors, like the low budget, like a cast with limited professional experience, like the fact that there were some cool ideas, some of which were executed interestingly, even as the vast majority of the film was executed poorly.

Naming a film your worst of the year is really a measure of how much it disappointed you based on your expectations. And I was super disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections. When you add in a sort of bad faith by Wachowski in the cheeky manner in which she skewered The Matrix and the whole idea of reboots -- in addition to how ugly the film looked, how poorly the fight scenes were executed, how uneven the performances were, and how totally lacking it was in mind-blowing concepts -- you've got what was a fairly slam dunk choice for worst of the year. I was never even tempted to drop #169, Sweet Girl, below it.

But the fact remains that someone, somewhere, would/will read my rankings, without reading this post that provides context for them, and will assume my hatred of the movie is a result of my retrograde ignorance about gender identity -- my desire to downvote trans themes or trans artists the way people downvote movies on IMDB whose subject matter and/or creator offends them. 

To make matters worse, I've cheekily chosen a specifically provocative title for this post. J.K. Rowling is perhaps the world's most famous transphobe -- at least among people from whom we would expect better -- but I hope even in her weakened moral state she would not judge The Matrix Resurrections on the grounds of it being trans wish fulfillment. 

In particular because I don't think it is. To say that those themes aren't present on some level would be incorrect, but to say that Lana Wachowski only cares about issues of transitioning is to do her a massive disservice. The best artists are the ones who care about a lot of different elements to and perspectives on the human condition, and stuff all of them into their films. And Wachowski has been a great artist for a long time, dating not only back to The Matrix and the several smaller successes she's had since then, but to Bound, which is currently ranked as my 20th favorite movie all time on Flickchart.

She just needs to make a better movie next time.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The resonance of present day

This is not an official 2021 wrap-up post. Really. I'm moving on.

But I did notice something about my latest #1 that I thought was worth exploring in a blog post, so gosh darn it, I'm going to do it.

Specifically, Our Friend marks my 12th straight #1 movie that takes place in the present day -- or at least, recently enough to be functionally indistinguishable from the present day. 

In reality, the events of this movie take place eight years ago, or nine, now that we've crossed into 2022. There are also some flashbacks within the previous ten years before that. But for all intents and purposes, this movie takes place "now."

Just like my previous 11 #1 films:

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Parasite (2019)
First Reformed (2018)
A Ghost Story* (2017)
Toni Erdmann (2016)
Inside Out (2015)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Beyond the Hills (2013)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
A Separation (2011)
127 Hours** (2010)

* - there are scenes in both the distant past and distant future, but the jumping off point is "present day"
** - technically a portrayal of events seven years before the film's release, but that hardly seems significant and is about the same length of time ago as Our Friend

You have to go back to 2009, when Duncan Jones' Moon was clearly set in the future, to find a #1 that does not, effectively, take place "now." If you want a movie set in the past, you have to skip over The Wrestler in 2008 to get to There Will Be Blood in 2007.

I don't know if this is actually significant or not.

The largest number of films, overall, probably take place in "present day," as there are whole genres of films where there's rarely a function in setting it in a different time period (such as romantic comedies). Movies set in the past probably outpace movies set in the future to comprise the rest. But I'm still thinking that's only 60 to 65 percent of the movies at most. So it being 100% of my #1s over the past 12 years certainly does seem like a bit of an outlier.

Then if it is significant, I have to determine if it's just a coincidence or if there's something to it.

Theoretically, one might conclude there's something about the now that resonates with me. Broadly speaking, people watch movies to grapple with themes they feel are relevant to their current lives. (Or to laugh, or to be scared, or to watch cars fly in outer space, but you get what I mean.) I might extrapolate from my recent results that I am more touched or intellectually provoked by a movie that is set in the here and now, whose application to my life is crystal clear.

But it's easy to find exceptions, movies that were purposefully set in the past but are clearly in conversation with our current moment. This year a good example is The Last Duel, which was set in the 14th century but feels as of-the-moment as any film released in 2021. While Ridley Scott's film probably did not have a realistic shot at my #1 spot -- it was bested by three films set in the present day -- you can't say the same for Celine Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2019. That enormously affecting film, set in the 18th century, probably only missed out on being my #1 in a coin flip with Parasite. (Though subsequent viewings have confirmed I still give Parasite the slight edge.)

I think one thing that's true is that a movie set in the present day doesn't have to try as hard to seem relevant to the moment. It can sort of stumble into relevance by being both set and made right now. Whereas there are many movies set in the past that don't speak to the current moment because that's not really what attracted the director to the material. Sometimes a person just wants to make a straightforward western. Ditto future films, though I think films set in the future are more likely to grow out of a present-day hope or anxiety.

I guess one other observation is that a film set in the past or in the future is much more likely to be a genre film of some kind. And films with strong genre connections are not usually the type I award my #1 spot. They can get close -- Creed, Wonder Woman, etc. -- but they are usually stopped at #2, like those films were.

Considering all this, I'm conscious of the fact that I'll start watching certain films knowing they have no realistic hope of being my #1. The time period is probably one of the subconscious factors I'm considering in any snap judgment about the likelihood of a film contending for top honors. But not always. For example, I feel like any film with science fiction elements that are integrated into a high concept -- meaning the film could be set in the future -- does have a shot to be my #1 due to the blown mind factor. It's one of the reasons I was so surprised to have only a middling response to Her back in 2013.

As usual these are just a collection of ruminations without any obvious conclusions. I don't think there could be an obvious conclusion, because I have rarely rewarded two movies that I thought were doing exactly the same thing, or even very similar things. Yeah, both Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and A Ghost Story are about memory and loss and the passage of time -- subjects that demonstrably resonate with me -- but they go about exploring those issues in such different ways that I don't think anyone would even begin to compare them.

Now that I've had this realization, I do wonder whether it will affect how I view candidates for my #1 of any given year -- both before and after I've seen them. Will I try to boost a period piece to the top spot in 2022, to prove myself wrong? Unlikely, and none of these decisions get made without oodles of thought. But it could be a subconscious thing.

If we're going to keep looking back further to when I started ranking movies in 1996, I only have one more movie set in the future (Children of Men) and two more movies set in the past (Gosford Park and Titanic). Interestingly, there are also two movies about Shakespeare in there -- Looking for Richard and the 2000 Hamlet adaptation by Michael Almereyda -- but they each only have a foot in the past, as they are both Shakespeare as viewed through a present-day lens. That might be the most interesting discovery of this whole post.

No other discoveries for now. But it's a good something to chew on. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

2021 in portmanteaus

Want some 2021 movie titles mashed together to make a crazy new movie?

I figured you did! 

The Green Knight in Soho - Sir Gawain sees reflections in the mirror of the 60s pimp who is going to cut off his head in one year. 

Judas and the Black Widow - Bill O'Neal sells out Natasha Romanoff to Dreykov, regrets another ten years' worth of air traffic control issues caused by the Red Room. 

Raya and the Black Messiah - Fred Hampton uses his rousing oratorical skills to unite the kingdoms of Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife of the Party - A party girl conks her head on the toilet, dies, and finds herself sharing space in a containment unit with Muncher.

Tick, Tick ... DUNE! - Time is running out for Jonathan Larsen to write a musical about Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi novel, tentatively titled Hark! The Harkonnens or Duncan Idaho and his Merry Fremen

The Last Dune - Its box office success ensured that it would not be. 

The Power of Clifford the Big Red Dog - An oversized maroon canine gets groomed by Bronco Henry. 

Encantomorrow War - Mirabel Madrigal discovers her gift is traveling to the future to fight aliens alongside people who aren't born yet and people who have already died. 

There's Someone Inside Your House of Gucci - The leadership structure of a fashion empire crumbles when a serial killer begins killing them -- while wearing a laser-printed mask of Jared Leto's face.

Vivoyeurs - A musical kinkajou spies on the retiring singer who broke his master's heart as she takes photos of people and has sex with them.  

Red Licorice Pizza - Simon Rex offers up his lengthy endowment around the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s, calling it "my tasty ten inches of red licorice." 

Bo Burnham: In the Heights - Bo Burnham decides the best way for a white comic to change the world is to gentrify a neighborhood of primarily Latin American immigrants.

The Finch Dispatch - Having survived the apocalypse, Tom Hanks moves to France and starts a newspaper about his experiences eating fussy cuisine through a hazmat suit.

Dear Evan Shang-Chi - An ancient warrior loses all his powers when he can't fit his ten rings around the cast on his broken arm. 

Candymany Saints of Newark - If you say Dickie Moltisanti's name five times in a row, he bludgeons you to death against the nearest steering wheel.

The Matrix Reminiscence - Remember when this franchise had something interesting to offer the world?

The Matrix Remorse - What Lana Wachowski should be feeling right now. 

Chaos Walking Richard - Richard Williams gains a coaching advantage by telepathically projecting his thoughts to his daughters during their tennis matches.

Space Jam: A New Legend of the Ten Rings - Lebron James sets his sights on six more championships to reach double digits, in a Disney/Warner Brothers crossover that features all the intellectual property in the known universe.

Spider-Man: No Time to Die - Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig team up to cure Dr. Julius No, Colonel Rosa Klebb, Auric Goldfinger, Emilio Largo, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Mr. Big, Francisco Scaramanga, Karl Stromberg, Hugo Drax, Aristotle Kristatos, Kamal Khan, Max Zorin, General Georgi Koskov, Franz Sanchez, Alec Trevelyan, Elliot Carver, Viktor Zokas, Gustav Graves, Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, Raoul Silvia and Lyutsifer Safin of their desire to be villains.

Belfast and Furious 9 - Dom Toretto perishes in a fiery crash after he forgets he's supposed to be drag-racing on the other side of the road.

Passing 2 - Not only do animals try to pass themselves off as professional singers a second time, they try to pass themselves off as different animals than they actually are.

Titannette - Impregnated by a car, Marion Cotillard gives birth to a doll that can sing all the songs on the car's preset radio stations. 

Malcolm and Maud - A woman becomes possessed by the devil after her director husband fails to thank her at his film premiere. 

Venom: Let There Be Card Counters - Oscar Isaac gets backed off the blackjack table after he transforms into a toothy monster and starts eating the other players.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2021: Another year inside

We came into 2021 with optimism and without masks, at least here in Australia. We come into 2022 with less optimism, and masks whenever you're indoors and not actively involved in eating or drinking.

Instead of Bo Burnham: Inside being a document of recent history now happily concluded, it was a document very much for our times and the ways they are still ongoing. 

It was a year of fights between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, maskers and anti-maskers. It was a year of variants, delta and omicron and others that may not have even been reported. It was a year of living with COVID as a reality, as getting the virus became a fact of life and an occurrence from which you usually recovered, not the death sentence it seemed like in 2021. Though it did kill a whole lot more people as well. 

In terms of the movies, this meant long periods where cinemas were closed again, yet somehow, I saw more movies released in 2021 than I had seen in any other year at the time I closed my rankings (which was, of course, yesterday). This gives you an indication of how the means of distribution are changing, as all Warner Brothers movies had a day-and-date release on HBOMax as well, and Netflix and Amazon continued to feature a host of movies that were gathering awards buzz and watercooler talk -- as long as the watercooler was virtual.

Though all was not lost. Various box office records were still set in 2021, though I can't remember if these were pandemic-era records or actual records. (Maybe actual with Spider-Man.) I kind of stopped paying attention to things like box office in 2021, knowing it was no longer a meaningful measuring stick for a film's success or failure. I do know that quite an encouraging number of people went to the theater to see Dune, meaning one of my favorite movies of the year, which was up against a poor cinematic precedent with David Lynch's original version, will get at least one sequel, maybe more than one. So that means audiences still have a chance to vote with their wallets and help get great movies made and seen. (Though the same could not be said for flops like The Last Duel, which finished even higher on my list than Dune.)

I don't really know what we'll have in store in 2022, but I just hope next year's incarnation of this post is not called "2022: Yet another year inside." And that Burnham does not have sufficient material for a sequel. 

To get us started on a looser look back on the best and worst of the year than the essentially numbers-oriented analysis of yesterday's post, let's look at the creative talents who should be most and least proud of the year just completed.

Three who had a good year

Dakota Johnson
- Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths' daughter has been a favorite of mine ever since she appeared on a short-lived sitcom that my wife and I loved called Ben and Kate, opposite Nat Faxon, a decade ago. She's been doing good work ever since, but our ability to always recognize it as such has been clouded by her appearances in three Fifty Shades movies. All the roles were on the right page in 2021, as she tested her range by playing a cancer-stricken mother, a conflicted mother and ... herself. Okay, maybe on the page that doesn't sound like a lot of range. But the mothers she played in Our Friend (#1) and The Lost Daughter (#23) are as different from one another as mothers can be. The first is an exceptionally devoted woman -- to her kids, anyway -- who is saddled with the heartbreaking responsibility of telling them she's going to die of cancer. Of all the good moments she produces in this film, I am drawn to one where her husband, on whom she has cheated, tells her she is willing to try to make it work, and Johnson emits this sound that's a mixture of a sob, a laugh and a hiccup. It might be the purest single moment of acting I saw all year. Then her Lost Daughter character is ambivalent about parenthood and on the verge of some sort of emotional collapse, driven to contemplate abandoning her child who just can't recover from the loss (actually, theft) of her favorite doll. The thousand-yard stare in her eyes is as true as true gets. As a bonus, Johnson did actually play herself this year in the little-seen (I saw it at MIFF) fake rock documentary The Nowhere Inn (#36), in which she appears in lingerie as a plaything for the documentary's subject, St. Vincent, who is going through a crisis of trying to reimagine herself to improve Carrie Brownstein's film within a film about her. This is really just the cherry on top of two performances that would have had her on this list even without it. 

Idris Elba - If you wanted a poster boy for the most stylish genre movies of 2021, you needed look no further than Idris Elba. Elba wasn't the vision behind either The Suicide Squad (#14) or The Harder They Fall (#22), but he appeared front and center in both, offering a charisma to match the whizz bang technique of directors James Gunn and Jeymes Samuels. Sometimes we forget that Elba was introduced to us as Stringer Bell in The Wire, where he was unambiguously evil, because everybody loves the guy so much, as recent hopeful discussions of him being cast as the next James Bond will attest. (He's turning 50 in 2022 so it seems unlikely.) Well he was back in villain form in 2021 with one film where he played a good bad guy and one film where he played a bad bad guy. I like Will Smith, but it was easy to see how much more engaging Elba was in the de facto Smith role in this version of The Suicide Squad, which tickled me pink and back again. We know his Bloodsport is (ultimately) going to do (mostly) the right thing, but Elba brings an edge and a presence to the character that leaves us with as much doubt as we could reasonably expect to have. There's no goodness in The Harder They Fall's Rufus Buck, who opens this western by assassinating a man and his wife and carving a cross into the forehead of their son, whom he leaves alive to tell the tale. Because it's Elba, we keep hoping for the menace to have a softer edge, but it's hard to come back from an opening like that. His authority and charisma really showed through in 2021, and as a bonus, if you were watching him on screen, it also meant you were watching a really talented director ply his trade. Two of the year's most clever action movies used Idris Elba as their best visual effect. 

Ridley Scott - I didn't like House of Gucci (#79), which was one of my final ten viewings of 2021, enough to make Scott a slam-dunk inclusion on this list. I did include him, though, for the rare opportunity to honor a non-performer in this space, plus the fact that he had his fingerprints on two of my top five movies of the year. I had heard some buzz about The Last Duel (#4) before seeing (and loving) it, from a writer who also praised House of Gucci -- first putting him into my head as a possible "guy who had a good year." But it was my rewatch of Our Friend (#1), and seeing that it was produced by Scott Free (with Scott himself credited as executive producer), that really left me flabbergasted. Even when I think I've got Ridley Scott figured out at the ripe old age of 84, he keeps surprising me. Our Friend doesn't in the least seem like the type of film Scott would gravitate toward, and I tried to figure out if a previous professional relationship with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite explained it. Nope. The three very different sorts of films with his name on them in 2021 all have something different and interesting to say about the human condition, in the form of an epic about knights dueling over a rape accusation, an epic about a warring fashion dynasty, and an epic about fighting disease. (There's gotta be fight of some sort in every Scott movie.) Okay, maybe we shouldn't call Our Friend an epic, but at 124 minutes it does eclipse the two-hour mark. Maybe the biggest surprise is that I had developed a really negative attitude toward Scott following his remarks about young people and their devices, and the famous incident several years back where he listed two of his own movies in his favorite science fiction films of all time. The last few months have gone quite a ways toward restoring his good name with me.

Honorable mentions: Olivia Colman (The Father, The Lost Daughter), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Courier), Naomie Harris (Swan Song, No Time to Die)

Three who had a bad year

Amy Adams
- This was the year Amy Adams' exceptional good taste finally failed her. (Some thought it started last year with Hillbilly Elegy, but I was warmer on that film than most.) I was sure The Woman in the Window (#167) would be the worst film I saw in 2021, so idiotic is its setup as it steals liberally from Rear Window and poorly executes the theft. I really wish my format would have allowed me to include the other of Adams' hands in this picture, as this Marcel Marceau-like hands-against-the-window gesture is a good metaphor for her acting in this film. Some moments are not-terrible, but they all go really big in an epic failure of modulation by Adams and director Joe Wright. Then again, maybe there's no other choice how to play the absurd details of this script about an agoraphobic child psychologist/trauma victim/alcoholic. Yes, there's a lot going on in this film, none of it good. She's more life-sized and milquetoast in Dear Evan Hansen (#163), the adaptation of the popular stage musical that I assumed was good for some reason. I have to imagine this show is completely tedious in whatever format you see it, because only the music itself excels while the lyrics and story are earthbound, forgettable and redundant. In a cast of characters who are all deluding themselves about the truth behind the suicide of a teenager, Adams is probably the biggest sinner as the boy's dupe of a mother. I can't tell if the character really is this stupid, or just appears so because she's being played by an actress who is normally known for her intelligence. Some other year, she will be again. 

Melissa McCarthy - For the sake of her marriage, McCarthy has committed to bringing husband Ben Falcone's every half-baked idea to the big screen. This means she has at least one stinker per year. (He's very prolific.) Usually she offsets that with a role that either flirts with or receives an Oscar nomination. Not this year. Oh it was mapped out that way, but Theodore Melfi's The Starling (#155) never turned into the awards bait all involved were certainly hoping it would. Instead, it's a lachrymose little movie about mourning that tries to work Kevin Kline for some eccentric laughs (unsuccessfully), and the rest of the time alternates between performances of grieving and performance of bird-swooping related pratfalls. It has a middlebrow earnestness that never satisfies. The Starling was supposed to take the bad taste of McCarthy's first Netflix movie of the year, Thunder Force (#165), out of our mouths. No such luck. Her annual Falcone obligation is a lowbrow bit of idiocy that has the worst idea how to use Octavia Spencer, among other talented actors. For McCarthy, not fitting the mold of a superhero is the point, as it is for Will Ferrell in most of his films. That doesn't work for Spencer and the movie doesn't work at all. McCarthy is its worst part, as not only does she play it super big, but she also voices the most regrettable of Falcone's jokes, some of which involve (probably accidental) homophobia and implied fat-shaming. Hopefully trading thunders in 2022 -- Thunder Force for Thor: Love and Thunder -- will get her back in our good graces going forward. 

Sam Claflin
- I have to wonder where Sam Claflin thought his career would go when he started out as sort of a poor man's Hugh Grant in a variety of romantic leads. I almost wrote a separate post about how it's ended up going full villain, and not even the likeable sort of villain Grant sometimes plays (see: Paddington 2). In Every Breath You Take (#168), he plays the most idiotic and cliched sort of villain, albeit one that uses the surface charms that made him worth likening to Grant. He's that hoary old trope of the "handsome psychopath who seduces both your wife and daughter as a means of getting revenge on you," and he doesn't even play it for any irony. Yep, this is a role right out of an early 1990s erotic thriller, and the movie feels like it could have been made then too. (Incidentally, this movie also was a very bad choice for Casey Affleck, who becomes one of the first I can remember with a film in both my top five and bottom five of the year.) If overplaying this ridiculous role weren't bad enough, his next step might have been even worse, as he plays a character who doesn't even get a name. One of the weirdest things about watching Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho (#152) was that in one of the many late second act sequences that function somewhere between flashback and fever dream, Claflin randomly appears, again plying his sinister wares. He's in the movie for such a short time that you wonder why they even cast a known name in this role. Oh, and according to the credits, that role is "Punter #5." (A punter is a person who solicits prostitutes, for my American audiences.) As long as it involves grinning superciliously, I guess no role is too small for Sam Claflin. 

Dishonorable mentions: Ryan Reynolds (Free Guy, Red Notice), Brian Tyree Henry (Godzilla vs. Kong, Eternals), Bob Odenkirk (Nobody, heart attack)

He who had the most year

Just a quick honorable mention of sorts for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who may have had more exposure in 2021 than any significant artist has had in a single year in cinematic history. Unfortunately, the only one of his five (!) projects that was a total hit with me was Summer of Soul (#19) ... and I've heard people snarkily say they wish he weren't interviewed in it at all. He was remarkably middle of the pack with his other four projects, In the Heights (#69), Encanto (#73), Tick, Tick ... Boom! (#77) and Vivo (#99). Still, a year where he spread himself this thin and still produced quality work must be acknowledged somehow ... and let's hope the Miranda backlash and burnout that have already begun don't define his next few years ahead. 

Parenthood and terminal illness take center stage

Not to bring down the room in what is meant to be a fun 2021 recap post, but there must have been a one-year delay in my reaction to my mother's death, in June of 2020, in terms of the films that most resonated with me. You could ascribe the delay to films being made in the wake of COVID with COVID informing them, but I think we won't really be getting most of those films until next year. Especially since my #1 film, which deals with both parenthood and terminal illness, actually debuted at TIFF in September of 2019, before we even knew what a coronavirus was.

It seems telling that five of my top 15 films dealt with parenthood, terminal illness or both, given that my mother had both Alzheimer's and COVID, the latter only hastening along what the former was working hard to achieve. Obviously I would still be processing her passing, and the films of 2021 certainly helped me do that.

However, it wasn't just that she was my parent where the parenthood factors in. Many of these films made me think of my own role as a parent to my children, and how terminal illness would make that role all the more complicated and poignant.

In addition to Our Friend (#1), in which the characters played by Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck must figure out how to break the news of her terminal cancer diagnosis to their daughters, you've got my #3 film, The Father, which is perhaps the closest match to my own particular circumstances. Anthony Hopkins' descent toward dementia is witnessed and felt most deeply by his daughter (Olivia Colman), who must make many of the decisions my sister and I had to make about treatment and even daily interactions.

Then at #6 you've got Swan Song, a film in which Mahershala Ali's character, also cancer stricken, considers an experimental technique to clone himself and the full set of his memories so he can effectively replace the damaged version of himself with a clean copy, without anyone knowing the difference. His struggle to say goodbye to his family, when they don't even know what's going on and that they are losing any version of him, was heartbreaking to say the least.

At #8 you've got a less emotionally fraught version of terminal cancer in the co-lead of Saint Maud, played by Jennifer Ehle. She's going downhill and also possibly possessed by the devil, according to her caretaker (Morfydd Clark). That gets at personality changes that occur during the late stages of cancer, a topic Our Friend touches on as well (and that The Father also touches on, though obviously not as a result of cancer in that case). 

Then finally my #15, Fatherhood, deals with how a single father (Kevin Hart) addresses parenting a baby girl after an abrupt form of illness -- his wife's sudden death of a pulmonary embolism while she's still in the hospital after giving birth. For much of the narrative this one deals more with parenthood and if you're doing it correctly, a worry every parent feels.

You could even throw in #9 Dune if you want to talk about films examining mothers and fathers and their sons, and both themes are touched on in Drive My Car (#5), though I don't want to stretch the point too much.

We don't control what films resonate with us each year, and I have never thought of myself as a person who is unduly influenced by a particular set of issues that disproportionately affect me. I think that's the best way to be, if you can help it, when you are a film critic. But there's no doubt that something about these themes spoke to me in 2021, making for a fitting farewell to my mother.

My kingdom for a short movie

Movies in 2021 were long.

Forty-three of the 170 movies I saw were in excess of two hours. That's 25 percent. I can't say for sure how this stacks up against other years, because I don't think I've counted before, but it's got to be a pretty high percentage. And given the number of movies that were in excess of 115 minutes but not 120, which I'm not even counting here, the average length has got to be higher still.

I suppose filmmakers view it as good news that studios and streaming services now treat it as a benefit if a movie runs long. Film critics might disagree, both in their interpretation of the films they're watching, and in the length it takes to watch them -- sometimes back-to-back-to-back on consecutive days, or even within the same day. (There was a stretch last week as I was closing out my list when I watched The Eyes of Tammy Faye, House of Gucci, Drive My Car, Eternals and Annette on consecutive days, all of which surpassed two hours.)

Speaking of Drive My Car, that was the longest at 179 minutes. Good thing it ended up at #5 on my list for the year. The shortest of the qualifiers was The Many Saints of Newark at exactly 120. Given what that movie had to cover, it's a miracle it wasn't longer. 

I've complained about long movies before and it's not a particularly interesting observation to make about the film industry. But something feels like it changed in 2021. Maybe it was when I was asked by an Australian filmmaker to review a movie he made called Rage, which I actually liked pretty well despite it finishing at only #120 for the year. Even this was 143 minutes. It defies everything you think you know about a low budget film, which would typically require every bit of financing it could scrape together just to reach proper feature length.

There were some short movies out there. One of my big regrets was that I could not get my hands on Petite Maman, the 72-minute film from Celine Sciamma, whose Portrait of a Lady on Fire was my #2 of 2019. In fact, I had a debate about whether to include a 45-minute film I saw via Slamdance, Taipei Suicide Story, ultimately preserving my old-fashioned notion of the lower length limits of a feature film. At times, though, I felt like a year of 170 Taipei Suicide Storys could be just the ticket. 

I guess the days are long gone when studios insisted on merciless cuts to get the film down to a length audiences would happily consume. Thanks Marvel! 

Latest inductee into the two-timers club

We've got a new inductee into the two-timers club, in other words, actors or others who appear in more than one movie I've selected as my #1 of the year. And he's a problematic one.

Welcome, Casey Affleck.

Affleck joins, among others, the likes of Ethan Hawke, Emmanuel Lubezki, Paul Dano, Kate Winslet and Charlie Kaufman -- Kaufman is actually the lone member of the three-timers club. Affleck appeared in both my #1 of 2017, A Ghost Story, and this year's #1, Our Friend

As mentioned earlier in this post, he also appeared in one of my worst of the year, Every Breath You Take, so 2021 was by no means a slam dunk for him.

That last is an indication of the sorts of movies he's had to settle for after falling from grace in the wake of #metoo allegations. The allegations against him are disturbing, but at least they are not as bad as those against some other people.

Anyway, I won't deny when an actor is good and when his contributions to a great movie make it that much greater, and that's the case with Our Friend

So welcome, Casey. No asterisk next to your name. You're in. 

Best non-2021

These were the ten best movies I saw in 2021 that did not come out in 2021. Listed alphabetically.

Freaky (2020, Christopher Landon) - It may not actually be one of the ten best non-2021 movies I saw, but this cheeky horror comedy with heart was definitely one of the ten best times I had watching a movie in 2021.  

Freaky Friday (1976, Gary Nelson) - I was clearly in a freaky mood in 2021, and could never have guessed what pure joy I would get from our family viewing of this Disney live-action classic. 

Gaslight (1944, George Cukor) - I finally got to appreciate the cinematic origins of this term, as well as why the movie that spawned it was classic enough to have introduced the word into our consciousness.

The Harder They Fall (1956, Mark Robson) - The final film of my Knowing Noir series was also Humphrey Bogart's final film, and put the finishing touches on a small bit of Bogart redemption at the end of the year. 

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013, Frank Pavich) - This remarkable documentary was responsible for kicking off a Dune-themed final quarter to my year, including reading the novel prior to watching Denis Villeneuve's film -- or most of the novel, as I still have about a hundred pages left (eek). 

Key Largo (1948, John Huston) - One of only two older movies I gave five stars in 2021 (along with the next film on this list), Key Largo quickly became both my favorite noir and favorite Bogart movie of all time. 

A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) - What a delightful contemplation of life, love, the afterlife, and a romance that crosses over the thin membrane between this world and the next. 

On the Beach (1959, Stanley Kramer) - Who knew that nuclear cautionary tales made back in the 1950s -- and set in the city in which I currently live -- could be so eerie and trenchant? 

Throne of Blood (1957, Akira Kurosawa) - In a year in which I came across several versions of Macbeth, this was the one that finally turned me around on one of Shakespeare's most alienating tragedies. 

Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara) - The existential properties of sand have never been as profound to me, nor as profoundly realized, as this. 


Just for fun, a look at some stats for the viewing year just completed:

Movies by star rating: - 5 stars (2), 4.5 stars (15), 4 stars (32), 3.5 stars (41), 3 stars (30), 2.5 stars (16), 2 stars (20), 1.5 stars (8), 1 star (6), 0.5 stars (0)

It was nearly comical for me to note how predictably spread out my movies are in a parabolic shape, and how little the shape changes from year to year. Here is the variance from last year in these categories, with a + representing more movies with this rating this year, a - indicating more last year and a zero indicating the same in both years: 

5 stars (0), 4.5 stars (-2), 4 stars (+6), 3.5 stars (+5), 3 stars (+1), 2.5 stars (+1), 2 stars (+11), 1.5 stars (+2), 1 star (-1) and 0.5 stars (-2) 

And most of that change is due to just seeing more movies, with one exception: the jump by 11 of movies I rated two stars. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have my explanation for why this feels to me like a very mediocre movie year.

Movies by source - Netfix (44), theater (37), iTunes (31), Amazon (16), screener (10), MIFF (10), Disney+ (9), AppleTV+ (6), Fetch (2), Stan (2), Slamdance (2), Australian Broadcasting Company (1)
Total new movies watched in the calendar year - 277
Total rewatches - 47 (down from 81 in 2020)
2021 movies watched more than once - 3 (Our Friend, Bo Burnham: Inside, Fatherhood)

Another name for ...

Gunda is ... Pig
Pig is ... The Truffle Hunters
Clifford the Big Red Dog is ... Dog Gone Trouble
Sing 2 is ... Ballad of a White Cow
Sing 2 is ... Swan Song
In the Heights is ... West Side Story
The Green Knight is ... The Last Duel
The Tomorrow War is ... Army of the Dead
Don't Look Up is ... Shadow in the Cloud

And finishing with ...

Lighting round

Again sacrificing the "my list vs. the Oscar nominations" portion of "Lightning round." Maybe next year.

Highest ranked film I first saw on streaming - Bo Burnham: Inside (#2)
Highest ranked film I first saw on rental - Our Friend (#1)
Highest ranked film I first saw in the theater - The Father (#3)
Actor who may have won me over - Jennifer Ehle (Saint Maud)
Actor who may have driven me away - Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious 9)
Breakout actress - Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza)
Breakout actor - Alex Hassell (The Tragedy of Macbeth)
Most unexpected performance - Simon Rex (Red Rocket)
Most unexpected performance in a film I actually liked - Benedict Cumberbatch (Power of the Dog)
Best Netflix movie - Bo Burnham: Inside (#2)
Worst Netflix movie - Sweet Girl (#169)
Director who dropped out of my good graces - Sean Baker (Red Rocket)
Director who dropped out of my good graces, runner up - Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho)
Director who dropped out of my good graces, second runner up - Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch)
Director who is back in my good graces - James Gunn (The Suicide Squad)
Movie that got better the more I thought about it - The Lost Daughter (#23)
Movie that got worse the more I thought about it - Nobody (#158)
Most overrated by critics - Zola (#139)
Most underrated by critics - Our Friend (#1)
Best sequel - Sing 2 (#11)
Worst sequel - The Matrix Resurrections (#170)
Best reboot - The Suicide Squad (#14)
Worst reboot - The Matrix Resurrections (#170)
Best title - Gunpowder Milkshake
Worst title - Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! 
Most literal title - Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar 
Least literal title - Licorice Pizza
Loudest Bruno - Luca
Quietest Bruno - Encanto
Most cars in space - Fast & Furious 9
Fewest cars in space - The Last Duel
Birds - Swan Song, Swan Song, Penguin Bloom, The Starling, Ride the Eagle

Portmanteaus tomorrow!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Our 2021

Nearly two years into the pandemic, the Oscars have still not totally normalized.

Back in the olden days, the hard-and-fast rule was that we would close out our rankings from the previous year on the morning the Oscar nominations were announced. This was usually the second or third week of January, and had been landing pretty reliably between the 10th and 14th of the month in recent years. (I say "we" because I have a friend who does this along with me.)

Last year was obviously an exception, as eligible films were still being released until the end of February, nominations weren't revealed until March and the show itself went up at the end of April. 

Even this year, though, when the eligibility deadline has returned to its previous date of December 31st, the nominations are still lagging behind. We won't know which films get nominated for best picture until February 8th.

Simply put, that's too long to continue the already interminable-feeling home stretch of cramming in 2021 movies.

My friend and I had decided on January 10th as the day to close our rankings, as we did last year, when we chose January 11th. (We chose Monday morning as that has been what the Oscars have been doing lately.) Then we called an audible and changed it to January 17th, which I didn't realize at the time was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (No disrespect is perceived in this choice, I hope, because none is intended.)

Why? A little film called The Tragedy of Macbeth

Because it wasn't coming to AppleTV+ until January 14th, my friend was fretting over his inability to include it this year. I could get to it at the cinema, but I was loath to use one of my limited available theatrical excursions to see it when it would be available for home viewing only a few days after our ranking deadline. 

So we just mutually decided to extend that deadline.

We wouldn't normally make an exception for a single film, but my friend was also trying to set a personal viewing record (he got there), so we just decided to do it -- a decision made easier because January 10th was essentially an arbitrary deadline anyway.

Hopefully in 2023 things will be back to normal and we'll get a mid-January reveal of the Oscar nominations. 

Because of the extra week and other factors that I have already discussed a number of times on this blog, I also set a personal record for movies ranked at the deadline. Not just set, but shattered. My total of 170 is 19 higher than my previous record of 151, set in 2016. That's in a year in which theatrical visits were severely restricted for a good portion of the year. These are the counterintuitive times we live in, I guess.

I won't subject you to any more of this preamble. But before we get on to the good stuff, a quick listing of five titles (in no particular order) that eluded me for one reason or another, which I regret:

1. Petite Maman - Celine Sciamma's follow-up to my cherished Portrait of a Lady on Fire just wasn't available anywhere to me.

2. A Hero - Ditto Asghar Farhadi's latest, which I would have seen at MIFF had the theatrical portion of the program not been cancelled due to COVID.

3. Nightmare Alley - A scheduled advanced screening of Guillermo del Toro's latest had to be cancelled last Tuesday due to COVID (you're seeing a theme here).

4. Memoria - I'm not sure if anyone has actually seen Apichitpong Weerasethakul's latest, given its weird release strategy, and that includes me. 

5. CODA - I heard good things about this year's MIFF opening night film, but it never seemed to become available for rental.

Okay, it's time to get to the list of my best, my worst, and all 170 films I ranked in 2021, starting with a countdown of my top ten:

10. The Tragedy of Macbeth - Speaking of The Tragedy of Macbeth ... I'm glad I was able to fit it in, as it booted out one of my top ten on the final weekend. (Though I'm sorry for that film.) On artistic merit alone, this could shoot much higher on my list and I'd be only too happy to see it go there. Because of a lingering dislike for this play, though, I'm comfortable slotting it in here. Joel Coen's solo adaptation of "the Scottish play" is one of a few recently seen adaptations that has helped me appreciate Macbeth a bit more, and this streamlined version, which seems not to sacrifice any of the choicest bits of Shakespeare's language, removes a lot of the narrative ambiguity the play previously held for me. Not only do you have an otherworldly landscape and black and white cinematography that would have sent Ingmar Bergman into fits of professional jealousy, but you have a perfectly chosen cast, starting with Denzel Washington -- an actor I never thought would have been such a fit for Shakespeare. His conversational, Washington-style engagement with the dialogue helps us understand this character's humanity, and Frances McDormand, her own character's monstrosity. Kathryn Hunter's depiction of the three witches stands out both for the difficulty of her performance and for the eerie encapsulation of Coen's singular vision for the material. And it really is an unforgettable vision. Ethan who?

9. Dune - This is what I wanted from Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner reboot. If you remove the possibility of the story going wrong -- as it's based on one of the most beloved sci-fi novels of all time -- you're left with only the massive spectacle Villeneuve has proven himself capable of staging. Even other people's disappointments with where the story ended weren't a problem for me, because I was reading the book at the time and knew what to expect. Simply put, Dune was one of the most overwhelming experiences I've had at the theater in quite some time, kicking off from the very first moment, when a profound quotation about space is read by a voice both infinitely alien and infinitely alienating. The sound design is where this film begins, on the audio side, but it continues with possibly my favorite score from a man (Hans Zimmer) whose bombastic collaborations with Christopher Nolan had driven me away. That I would have first chosen to discuss two auditory elements before even getting to the visuals is just a measure of what a massive success this is, as the gloriously conceived images of multiple fantasy worlds just dominate and envelope you throughout, and the cast has been perfectly selected to bring their roles to life. To watch Dune is to feel yourself in the presence of prestige, of artists working at the absolute peak of their abilities. I'm a little worried that the events of the novel's second half won't make for a very good sequel. Fortunately, the unqualified brilliance of Dune was a hit with audiences, so we'll get a chance to find out.

8. Saint Maud - Every once in a while, a horror film is creepy enough (like 2016's The Blackcoat's Daughter) or topical enough (like 2020's The Platform) that it makes my top ten list. Saint Maud has both of those things in spades. The most obvious part of Rose Glass' debut feature, after a half-dozen shorts, is the creepy part. The subject matter concerns a highly religious live-in nurse in England, who becomes convinced that the expatriate American artist she's caring for, currently dying of cancer, is possessed by the devil. There's plenty of eerie shit here, as religious horror can be the best sort if it's done correctly (see: The Exorcist). But without calling attention to it, Glass also has her eye on the religious right and the way they impose their morals on everyone around them. Maud (Morfydd Clark) thinks Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) must be a sinner because she has a relationship with a girl who comes to visit her, and throws lavish parties that are entirely lacking in sensible decisions about her health. But is this just Maud's superiority, and is it hypocritical superiority, as it covers up Maud's own checkered past? Is the increasingly agitated Maud able to separate her twisted fantasies from reality? You have to watch this unforgettable debut to find out, and you'll be treated to an incredible vision of spiritual distress. 

7. La Veronica - For the fourth year in a row (following Everybody Knows in 2018, Vivarium in 2019 and The Killing of Two Lovers in 2020), I am ranking a movie I saw at MIFF that other people haven't seen yet in my top ten. Those three all made my top five -- actually my top three. La Veronica could not quite get there but that does not make it any less fantastic. It's a stylistically unique contemplation on the fame and interior emptiness of social media influencers, from Chilean director Leonardo Medel and starring, in a role with an incredible degree of difficulty, Mariana di Girolamo (Ema). The stylistic uniqueness comes from the fact that every shot in the film -- with one small exception -- is a shot of the title character in the exact middle of the frame, the exact same distance from the camera, only in different environments as she navigates her daily influencer duties, her campaign to become the face of a cosmetics company, her severe post-pardom depression and the possible infidelity of her soccer star husband. It's solipsism incarnate. Each shot runs for several minutes and requires perfection from di Girolamo, which she gives throughout. As I said in the final line of my review on ReelGood, "It's a searing portrait of the toxicity of the self." And it's incredible, so you should see it as soon as someone deems it fit to give you the chance. (The movie started making the festival rounds in 2020 but has not yet found distribution, apparently.)

6. Swan Song
- This is the first year since I've been ranking movies that I've seen two movies with the same title in the same year. Spoiler alert: Only one of them made my top ten, though the other did make my top 20. This one is directed by Benjamin Cleary, an AppleTV+ original in which Mahershala Ali gives one of the best performances of the year in a dual role, as both himself and his clone. In a year in which films about fatherhood seemed to hit me pretty hard, this one did as well. It features a future where cloning is a secret new technology that makes it possible to replace a human being, including his memories, in his family context, leaving all of them none the wiser -- except the original man, who deteriorates with a fatal illness in a remote scientific facility as his family goes on with their lives, believing he's still with them. Whether to do this or not -- to say goodbye to your son and wife when they don't know they're saying goodbye to you -- is the intellectual and emotional crux of this fascinating film. This is the film in my top ten I am most concerned about rewatching in order to confirm its legitimacy as a top ten film, because I was in an admittedly vulnerable emotional place at the time I saw it, less than 48 hours before I moved out of the house I had been living in for eight-plus years. I think it'll hold up under normal conditions, though, both for its immaculately conceived vision of a near future, and for capturing emotions that are timeless. 

5. Drive My Car
- I hadn't even heard of Drive My Car until late December, and was not expecting to have a chance at it, since it's not even open yet in most of the U.S. But it fell into my lap when I got a screener link to review it ahead of its February 10th Australian release. Then there was the issue of it being the longest film of the year at 179 minutes. I overcame all these obstacles to select Ryusuke Hamaguchi's adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story in my top five for the year. Unlike the other very long recent adaptation of a Murakami short, Burning, Drive My Car's meditative rhythms and slow build toward unbearable emotional intensity totally clicked with me. It's the story of an actor and theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as he works on a multilingual staging of Chekov's Uncle Vanya, where actors speak in their own languages (including sign language) and a screen above the stage translates. That's about all I really want to tell you about the plot, because certain things will come as a surprise even though Hamaguchi doesn't necessarily structure them that way. Narrative surprises are too pedestrian an artistic approach for this film, which doesn't suggest it is complicated or hard to follow -- it is actually extremely straightforward. Hamaguchi just knows that the key to an engrossing story with emotional potency is to spend a long and leisurely sojourn with its characters, as ever more is revealed about their actions and motivations. The resulting film grapples with loss and regret and the ways disparate characters, some of whom should be enemies, are bonded through shared human experience. Just sign up for the three hours -- it's time well spent.  

4. The Last Duel - One director I never expected to make my top ten was Ridley Scott, because you know what? He had directed 16 films since I started ranking my movies in 1996, and not a one of them has cracked my top ten. I guess all he had to do was marry his undeniable technical gifts for staging epic subject matter with a script that gave a real event in 14th century France all the immediacy of our 21st century social discourse. The different voices present in The Last Duel -- it was written by the intriguing motley crew of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener -- are a good metaphor for the film, which considers the perspectives of, appropriately, two men and a woman on the rape of the woman, and the duel to the death between the other two that was designed to prove the veracity of the charge. Depending on who won that duel, either one or two of those three would be dead at the end of it -- because if the woman's husband failed to kill the accused rapist, it was seen by the courts as proof that she was lying, which carried her own (very painful) death sentence. Not only does the Roshomon-style story have major implications in our #metoo era, but the six primary collaborators -- Adam Driver and Jodie Comer join Damon and Affleck on screen -- consider other urgent modern matters like Trump-style cronyism and the divide between the haves and have nots. What I may have found most interesting about the movie is that even when the very flawed characters played by Damon and Driver tell their side of the story, their own self-presentations are colored by a blindness to their own monstrous behavior, weaknesses presented as virtues. Privilege gets the most wicked skewering in this rousing spectacle that confirms our human faults have continued to repeat themselves throughout history.

3. The Father - The ambiguity about which movie came out in which year had some benefits, which was that I decided I had good reason to rank The Father this year -- even though Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for it last year. Any time I see a film I love this much, I long to be able to include it in my top ten list, and the release and Oscar eligibility rules were goofy enough that I just decided to interpret them as I saw fit. You might assume The Father resonated with me because I have recently lost a parent who had Alzheimer's. You'd only be partially correct. The Father resonates with me more than anything because of its exquisite filmmaking, only one part of which was the searing portrayal of dementia that somehow legitimized Hopkins' Oscar upset of Chadwick Boseman. Director Florian Zeller could have asked Hopkins to carry the whole film, and he would have obliged, but Zeller's shrewd sense of how to amplify Hopkins' condition through manipulation of the sets and Hopkins' fellow actors went beyond the needs of a film that could have easily just been an acting showcase. Zeller really recreates the confusion surrounding our protagonist, also named Anthony, who alternates from jolly tap dancing to lashing out and back again. You would too if different actors were playing your loved ones from one scene to the next, and a hallway led to a different part of the house today than it did yesterday. That's dementia for you. The film culminates with my most emotionally potent moment of the whole year -- maybe either 2020 or 2021.   

2. Bo Burnham: Inside
- Bo Burnham may have been responsible for 2021's most vital and exciting use of the tools of cinema. Yes, I said "cinema" -- I will not tolerate any suggestion that this is "just" a comedy special, or is even primarily that, given that 1) there is no audience, and 2) no comedy special I've ever heard of has an entire soundtrack of amazing music, which I listened to more than any other in 2021. Burnham took his year-long indoor COVID sentence and turned it into a brilliantly conceived and executed, one-man tour de force that tackles every political and social ill of our times, wrapped up in crippling depression, plus all the ways the internet eats its own tail -- witness the Russian nesting doll of reaction videos pictured here. Miraculously, Burnham never forgets to be funny. His improbable mixture of tones is never better exemplified than the song that earned the biggest external life of its own, "White Woman's Instagram." In the middle of a spot-on evisceration of white privilege, Burnham sucker punches us with the film's most unexpectedly poignant moment. In among all her miniature pumpkins and quotes from Lord of the Rings attributed to Martin Luther King (whose legacy we are celebrating today), the character admits to missing her mother, who died ten years ago, listing for her the ways she has come good in the world -- and asking her to give a hug to Dad. Is this woman's desperate quest for validation just a life-long reaction to losing not one, but both of her parents? One moment she is Burnham's ultimate fool. The next, she is just a human being with the needs we all share -- particularly Burnham himself, who is the most merciless victim of his own satire, a rich white guy torn between trying to change the world and clearing the way for others better qualified to do it.

1. Our Friend
- Welcome to the least critically acclaimed movie I have ever selected as my #1. Oh, I think the people who saw Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Our Friend liked it well enough, but they were spread out over a couple years, as the film premiered at TIFF in 2019 before finally garnering a limited theatrical release this past January, of all months. Some ardent fans notwithstanding, and despite starring a great trio of actors (Jason Segel, Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson), it was basically lost in the shuffle. Well, I'm here to tell you this is a profound achievement both in films about terminal illness and films about friendship. Cowperthwaite, known primarily to me as a director of documentaries (Blackfish), has assembled a lyrical, challengingly structured adaptation of journalist Matthew Teague's article "The Friend," about how his and his wife's mutual friend Dane (Segel) supported them and their two daughters following Nicole Teague's terminal cancer diagnosis. What sounds like a non-stop bummer is actually an engrossing contemplation of our interpersonal duties to the people we love, who are rarely as perfect as most disease movies make them out to be. The stellar trio of performances -- and a fourth from child actor Stella Kai -- made me cry once on my first viewing, and about six times on the viewing a week ago that served as confirmation of my choice. Segel in particular astonishes as a man going nowhere who finds a purpose in just being there for this family as they struggle through the worst time in their lives. The film also shows the history of his relationship with Matthew and Nicole -- whom he asked out before realizing she was married -- interspersed throughout the narrative. It's funny and sad and ultimately life affirming, in the best possible sense of that fraught phrase. It's also thematically compatible with COVID, a time when we've all put our lives on hold, not worried about where we're going or where we've been, and tried to find one thing we could do to make this moment in time more tolerable. This is a touching tribute to all the Danes out there, and it's my favorite of the year.

Congratulations to Burnham, Villeneuve and Coen, making their second (Eighth Grade), third (EnemySicario) and fourth (Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) trips to my top ten as directors, respectively. That puts Joel Coen alone in first place as the director who has made my most top tens of all time, breaking a previous tie with (deep breath) Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Spike Jonze, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and of course his own brother Ethan.

Now on to the bad news. Here are my five worst films of 2021:

5. Jolt - An idiotic female John Wick-style action movie starring Kate Beckinsale, in which the gimmick is that she has rage control issues and must give herself periodic electrical shocks to keep from unloading on the nearest person guilty of the most minor microaggression. Sounds like a good idea until you see how poorly the gimmick is used and/or executed ... oh, and until you see the scene where our hero throws a baby in a maternity ward as a means of misdirection.

4. The Woman in the Window - This laughable rip-off of Rear Window has that gross sheen of airport paperback fiction, which may not be surprising as it's an adaptation of exactly that. Can you say the movie wastes the talents of director Joe Wright if he's the one wasting his own talents? He's clearly wasting Amy Adams' talents as this is an absurd misfire full of incorrectly modulated performances and dumb twists. Just a shameful waste of celluloid -- or maybe these days I should say gigabytes. 

3. Every Breath You Take - Do we really need an extremely basic psychological thriller in which a handsome stranger seduces and ultimately stalks a family recovering from a trauma in the Pacific Northwest? Director Vaughn Stein (that's gotta be a fake name) thinks so. I thought they stopped making these movies in the 1990s. Stein stopped making this movie on day two or three of the shoot.

2. Sweet Girl - If my bottom five movies of the year are laden with groan-inducing twists in bad thrillers, Sweet Girl has easily the worst, which for some reason I will not spoil. Let's just say it's one of those movies where when you get to the twist, you just say "Nuh uh" for everything else that has happened to this point. It's extremely poorly directed, with the normally charismatic Jason Momoa particularly hamstrung by director Brian Andrew Mendoza's cluelessness.

1. The Matrix Resurrections - I normally find myself in the position of defending reboots, so this is a strange outcome for me. In a year I didn't hate many movies, the latest Matrix earns its spot in the all-time hall of shame by being the most disappointed, the most bored, the most confused and the most annoyed I was by any movie I saw this year. Lana Wachowski's jokey meta interpretation of her own disinterest in making another Matrix movie was a massive tonal misfire, and to make matters worse, the film is ugly and poorly executed with extremely uneven performances. Whoa indeed. 

Before we get to the whole list, I need to remind you that I ranked 170 films this year. That means my top 85 are all in the upper half of my rankings. So if a film you loved is lower than you might expect, remember there was a lot of competition this year. 


1. Our Friend
2. Bo Burnham: Inside
3. The Father
4. The Last Duel
5. Drive My Car
6. Swan Song (Benjamin Cleary)
7. La Veronica
8. Saint Maud
9. Dune
10. The Tragedy of Macbeth
11. Sing 2
12. The Disciple
13. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
14. The Suicide Squad
15. Fatherhood
16. Shadow in the Cloud
17. The Power of the Dog
18. Passing
19. Summer of Soul (... or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
20. Swan Song (Todd Stephens)
21. The Rescue
22. The Harder They Fall
23. The Lost Daughter
24. Long Story Short
25. Language Lessons
26. Stowaway
27. Oxygen
28. Those Who Wish Me Dead
29. Val
30. Minari
31. Fear Street Part Two: 1978
32. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
33. Don't Look Up
34. Fear Street Part Three: 1666
35. Wish Dragon
36. The Nowhere Inn
37. The White Tiger
38. Penguin Bloom
39. Spider-Man: No Way Home
40. Licorice Pizza
41. Space Jam: A New Legacy
42. Psycho Goreman
43. Nine Days
44. King Richard
45. The Worst Person in the World
46. The Truffle Hunters
47. All Light, Everywhere
48. Luca
49. The Velvet Underground
50. The Dry
51. Candyman
52. Afterlife of the Party
53. Black as Night
54. The Green Knight
55. Ballad of a White Cow
56. Riders of Justice
57. The Dig
58. We Are the Thousand
59. Malignant
60. No Time to Die
61. Cruella
62. Ninjababy
63. Gunda
64. Judas and the Black Messiah
65. Best Sellers
66. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
67. Space Sweepers
68. Raya and the Last Dragon
69. In the Heights
70. Lamb
71. Belfast
72. Spencer
73. Encanto
74. West Side Story
75. Worth
76. The Courier
77. Tick, Tick ... BOOM!
78. Cinderella
79. House of Gucci
80. One Second
81. The Night
82. Pig
83. Beckett
84. I Care a Lot
85. Music
86. Finch
87. Being the Ricardos
88. A Quiet Place Part II
89. Malcolm & Marie
90. The Voyeurs
91. The Many Saints of Newark
92. My Name is Gulpilil
93. Awake
94. Blood Red Sky
95. Palmer
96. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
97. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed
98. About Endlessness
99. Vivo
100. Till Death
101. The Card Counter
102. The Scary of Sixty-First
103. Annette
104. Ron's Gone Wrong
105. Coming Home in the Dark
106. Willy's Wonderland
107. Everybody's Talking About Jamie
108. The Guilty
109. The Tomorrow War
110. Titane
111. Night of the Kings
112. Streamline
113. The Godmother
114. Tom Clancy's Without Remorse
115. Percy vs. Goliath
116. Jungle Cruise
117. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
118. Things Heard & Seen
119. A Brixton Tale
120. Rage
121. Old
122. Madres
123. Army of the Dead
124. Coming 2 America
125. Earwig and the Witch
126. City of Lies
127. Lapsis
128. Free Guy
129. Cherry
130. Chaos Walking
131. Black Widow
132. The Food Club
133. America: The Motion Picture
134. Night Teeth
135. Fear Street Part One: 1994
136. The Manor
137. Eternals
138. C'mon C'mon
139. Zola
140. Gunpowder Milkshake
141. Ride the Eagle
142. There's Someone Inside Your House
143. Nitram
144. Dog Gone Trouble
145. Red Rocket
146. Red Notice
147. Spiral: From the Book of Saw
148. Fast & Furious 9
149. Mortal Kombat
150. Moxie
151. The French Dispatch
152. Last Night in Soho
153. The Unholy
154. Royal Jelly
155. The Starling
156. Bingo Hell
157. Reminiscence
158. Nobody
159. Hurrah, We Are Still Alive!
160. Godzilla vs. Kong
161. Good on Paper
162. Bad Trip
163. Dear Evan Hansen
164. He's All That
165. Thunder Force
166. Jolt
167. The Woman in the Window
168. Every Breath You Take
169. Sweet Girl
170. The Matrix Resurrections

And ending with five films with potentially controversial rankings that I felt like I needed to explain:

11. Sing 2 - Would have been the first animated sequel in my top ten since Toy Story 2 had Macbeth not displaced it. What can I say, I loved this movie.

32. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar - As much as I loved everything this was going for, it only got 75% of the way there for me. 

54. The Green Knight - See my comment for Barb and Star.

69. In the Heights - Would have been much higher if the last hour didn't draaaaaag.

151./152. - The French Dispatch/Last Night in Soho - My 1-2 punch of directors I've loved in the past who really pissed me off with their latest films. 

Okay, I'd love to hear what you think! Speak now (in the comments section) or forever hold your peace! (Actually, this is a blog so it will be up forever, until they take down the internet. Speak at some point in the future as I would love to hear what I got right and wrong.)