Happy New Year, everyone. Time for my annual ranking of all the movies I saw in the recently deceased year. I didn’t see as many as I usually do. I really wanted to see Into the Spider-Verse but my schedule lately just won’t let me get to a movie theatre. Anyway, here’s what I did see, ranked from worst to best:
17. The Cloverfield Paradox
It’s hard even to call this one bad, it was so indistinct. But I suppose it was more actively a waste of time than staring at a Yule Log video.
16. Madame Hyde
Having Isabelle Huppert play a modern Jekyll and Hyde is a good idea. Unfortunately, the movie flounders from there, spending its run time almost, but never quite, reaching a concept, settling instead for a cast wandering around with blank expressions.
15. Fahrenheit 11/9
The best part of the film is the beginning, when Moore summarises the experience of watching the 2016 election and it makes you realise what a painful subject it is to revisit in detail, an indication of the subtle level of lasting trauma. But after the beginning, Moore’s narrative lacks the inventiveness of his earlier films and is little more than a politically slanted digest.
14. Avengers: Infinity War
Too many ingredients to make a discernible dish, this feeding trough of Marvel characters nonetheless inevitably had its moments because many of those ingredients are top shelf. Segments pertaining to the Guardians of the Galaxy characters were particularly strong.
13. Mission: Impossible—Fallout
Not a truly great action film but also a flawless one. Its story about balancing love and risk isn’t told in any way that seems like a revelation but it doesn’t stumble, either. Its action sequences flow seamlessly and plot developments are never really bad. It’s like a nice, inexpensive, pocket watch.
12. Black Panther
Ridiculously overrated but by no means a bad film, this American fantasy about Africa is an example of how great cultural appropriation can be.
Saturated with style and atmosphere, this fun revenge fantasy is held together by Nicholas Cage exerting seemingly very little effort, delivering a perfectly satisfying basic looniness.
10. The Predator
An underrated film, it is a bit of a mess, and doesn’t really conjure atmosphere. But its cast has great chemistry and director Shane Black has the too rare insight to know this kind of movie needs an ensemble of memorable supporting characters.
Extravagant visuals and choreography, there’s some great, decadent beauty on display here, making up for an unimaginative story and a silly villain.
8. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Yep, there was a Star Wars movie this year. I have to admit I almost forgot. It wasn’t on the list until I was going back through my blog, checking to see if there was anything I missed. The real shame is Solo’s not a bad film, it’s just not the spectacle one looks for in a Star Wars movie. It could’ve been good television.
7. You were Never Really Here
Another revenge fantasy film, this one’s a lot more grounded than Mandy. Joaquin Phoenix gives a great, restrained performance in a film that very effectively creates an atmosphere of menace.
6. King Lear
Not a great production of King Lear but King Lear is still King Lear. Can we finally admit that productions that put Shakespeare plays in modern military dress have been done to death?
5. The Death of Stalin
A sharp and subtle political comedy as expected from Armando Iannuci, not as brilliant as The Thick of It but still a wonderful satire of self-perpetuating bureaucratic paranoia.
4. Isle of Dogs
(Wikipedia entry, my review: coming soon)
A sweet film from Wes Anderson and a love letter to Japanese films of the 40s and 50s. It’s primarily an extremely effective tale about loyalty, a kind of story that maybe can only be told with dogs to mass audiences nowadays.
3. First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s psychological descent into obsessions with justice and death is more claustrophobic than Taxi Driver. Ethan Hawke takes us along on this terrible journey with a superb performance.
2. The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles’ long delayed satire of the 1970s film industry is mesmerising and dizzying. He mocks the avant guarde films of the 60s and 70s while proving he can play their game—and maybe, as the influencer he was, he was playing it all along. A strange and beautiful film and Welles’ talent for telling a coherent story from chaotic elements is certainly in evidence.
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
A beautifully crafted American fantasy with perfectly cast, brilliant actors. This was an eminently appropriate release for NetFlix because it’s a movie better served by viewing in the comfort of your home, it has the quality of a good book that keeps you company for hours. It’s a collection of stories told with fantastically constructed visuals and pitch perfect casting, commenting on and continuing threads of old, ongoing ideas in the dreams of humankind. The best Coen Brothers movie in years.