This list starts with the best and descends to the dregs, but only includes movies I want to say something about, for good or ill. The comments assume you’ve seen the film, or at least have some idea of its plot.
So, here we go:
Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood
There is a moment in this movie where Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, tripping on acid, confronted with a Manson follower’s gun, simply points a finger gun back. It reduces both Manson and the sixties to childish posturing, and it made my jaw drop. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, an aging, obsolete Western TV star, behaves throughout like the nice, morally upright dad from a fifties sitcom. There’s a lot being said here, and you don’t have to like the alternative history presented to appreciate the audacious brilliance of this film.
This film is close to perfect. It falls to second place on my list solely on the basis of a slightly hurried finale, a series of connected inevitabilities that begins a tiny bit too late, and unfolds a tiny bit too clumsily.
Why is this movie not up for every Oscar there is? It’s observant and fearless, and as much a mind-fuck as The Sixth Sense, which is to say, it’s not really the movie you think you’re watching. I’m troubled at the indignation coming from China; to me, a non-Chinese, this movie is a loving defense of the traditional, communal viewpoint.
God bless Netflix, and damn all the people voting against it whatever the superior product. This film is a miracle despite the silly, unconvincing de-aging. Watch, or better feel the way Scorsese fills every second with intention, telling the story fully for once, telling it his way. It’s classic mobster cinema, gritty and gruesome and utterly pathetic, but also in perfect synthesis with this director’s spiritual side, and both Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are amazing.
Yeah, it’ll keep winning awards, and yeah, that’s because it’s a deliberate masterpiece. It’s the kind of antiwar film that glorifies wartime heroics, and its awesome scope and unsparing horror lend the movie a questionable importance. But it tells its simple story through stick-figure characters, brave boy scouts as remote from living, speaking human beings as can be imagined. The posturing, stage-set, Academy-baiting perfection is embarrassing: that coincidence of the mother and the milk! The sound of singing through the trees! And who rang that very convenient church bell? Why? And of course, if you’re starving, avoid the mess tent and go sit under the lone tree with the widescreen view and gaze pensively at photographs. Did I say it was a masterpiece? It is.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
A wonderful and hypnotic movie: one man’s journey into his own past, and then quite literally into a dream.
Jo Jo Rabbit
I put off seeing this one; I was going to skip it altogether given the reviews and a brief synopsis I read online. It seemed so scattered and silly. I was astonished to feel a lump in my throat through the final third of this movie. Many movies show war though a child’s eyes; this one takes place entirely in a child’s fantasy world, then blows it apart.
Pain and Glory
Memory and reconciliation, painstaking and brilliant.
Ash is Purest White
A journey through China’s recent decades of expansion, criminal and otherwise. I greatly admired this movie, but speaking as a woman, when will we ever learn? It makes me crazy.
Just amazing to view; no color except for flesh and blood, and to illuminate a delicate bamboo forest, and it’s bloody as hell in a Game of Thrones way. Not my kind of film, but astonishingly beautiful and engrossing.
What a ride! What an Adam Sandler performance! What a whole lot of people I didn’t like! Even the kid is a liar!
Very nice, but too centered on Adam Driver’s experience! Plus he gets the big musical number (and it’s wonderful).
I started out really liking this version; it was fun and intelligent, but time’s eroded that initial opinion. I question putting thoughts into minds that never had the chance to formulate them, because those ideas change everything, they mitigate rage, diminish curiosity and ambition, even limit possibility. Did Amy really understand herself that way, even as an adult, or instead remain secretly frustrated and resentful? I realize Louisa May Alcott held modern ideas, but did she mean Jo March to share them? I watched Jo hug her book, and felt nothing, but the romantic ending is satisfying, but logically I should feel the reverse. Maybe Jo wasn’t entirely Louisa; maybe Louisa created a separate character. I did take two new insights from this movie and some further research: first, these were privileged girls, well-connected despite their relative poverty, and at that time, that mattered. And also, I wonder why Alcott depicted Amy as a lesser artist, when her own sister was a genuinely gifted painter who married but never abandoned her art? Was Louisa jealous of the sister who claimed both art and love?
Dolemite Is My Name
What a pleasant surprise: a history lesson, and a biography without any dramatic fall from grace and painful rehabilitation. Just great actors in great roles, having a quiet blast.
Yeah, it might be a clinical and political mess, but it was a damn good movie with a truly great lead performance.
This was clever and enjoyable, if not up to Dame Agatha’s standards. She never considered all rich people corrupt, nor all poor people angelic.
I enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I expected to. Jennifer Lopez pretty much convinced me it was only fair to screw over those banker types.
A delight. And that voice! All bow before the wonderful Jessie Buckley.
A nice, real, loving American survival tale.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
A supurb heartbreaker, exposing a very human emotional messiness. And I like that it understands the importance of things – houses, physical property. No shame in that.
A very good, Casablanca-like effort, or I think so. I can’t make up my mind about his one. It might have been brilliant.
Yeah! Kick-ass movie of the year! Beheadings and a really intelligent love story.
Ford v Ferrari
Very traditional but fine if you’re into the Formula Just not enough of a movie to inspire interest otherwise.
Really, how feminist to show girls can act like stupid boys. The central relationship seemed phony, the laughter forced. And the concept – that dedication to schoolwork could cause such total ignorance of their classmates’ plans and privileges – was simply absurd.
Another perfectly okay biographical film, with a fine Renee Zellweger performance.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
This one left me cold. The leads had no chemistry, and I’m pretty sure the artist sexually abused her young, isolated subject. And that ending, all Elio looking into the fire!
WTF?! I mean, seriously, WTF?
Privilege is being able to make an entire movie about the problems plaguing the privileged. Aren’t we so in love with our own pedestrian experience?
Taron Egerton can actually sing.
One Cut of the Dead
A sweet and funny zombie movie.
There’s something very wrong about this documentary. It’s horrible in concept (I’m not explaining, go look it up) but also utterly illogical unless the entire ‘proposal’ is a setup for this movie, the entire undertaking nothing but a ploy for publicity and leverage.
It’s wonderful, but it’s just extra footage.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Photo credits: Nick-Ansell-York-Theatre-Royal-refurbishment-9-CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Filmstrip-by-Mike-Jennings-CC-BY-2.0 / Global-Panorama-Oscar-Award-Image-Courtesy-Davidlohr-Bueso-CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Oscars-David-Torcivia-CC-BY-SA-2.0
And the sale on the Kindle of Worthy of This Great City has ended.