Movies Watched, May 2024

Still from “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” directed by George Miller

The takeaway from the May box office was that it was a disaster. Receipts were down by almost a third compared to the three years leading up to the pandemic, a frightening statistic for anyone worried about the future of movie theaters.

I’m pretty cynical about this stuff and my natural instinct would be to declare that “The general public just isn’t interested in quality movies.” The reality though was more nuanced than that. Yes, a number of less-than-good movies seemed to have performed decently, e.g. “IF” and “The Garfield Movie,” neither of which I’ve seen but, really, who really needs to actually see these? “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” also did well, and while I actually liked this one, I’m not sure its success is owed to its provocatively ambiguous ideas about humanity as much as to the fact that it has apes on horseback kicking ass.

It’s also true that some well-reviewed films missed the mark, like “The Fall Guy” and “Challengers.” I did see both of those and while I thought they had their merits, neither of them was an outright home run. Personally I would have liked to see them do better business, but the fact that they didn’t earn gobs of money does make a certain amount of sense.

The one that really disheartened me was the frankly terrible box office for George Miller’s “Furiosa.” In hindsight this newest entry in the four decade-long series was always going to be a tough sell, as it’s a prequel to Miller’s “Fury Road” made without that film’s two leads. It’s also an extremely difficult task to follow such an iconic movie; against all expectations, “Fury Road” became one of the most beloved and well-regarded masterworks of the 21st Century. You can’t make a follow-up with the same characters and in the same universe without inviting direct comparisons.

Despite all of that, “Furiosa” is much more than just a weak echo in its franchise chamber. It crackles with an energy and life that’s rare in movies of any era. The explosive stunt work and practical effects alone, always a hallmark of this franchise, both reach new heights, and the movie explores its post-apocalyptic landscape with greater depth and nuance than we’ve seen before. There were many moments watching “Furiosa” when I just shook my head in amazement at the sheer audacity and invention on display. Miller, at a sprightly seventy-nine years old, is still bursting with wild, unprecedented ideas that he somehow turns into cinematic reality at a rate that most filmmakers less than half his age couldn’t dream of.

This prequel is not, however, perfect—nor is it even as nearly perfect as its predecessor was. You can find many detailed arguments online about how it falls short in its protagonist’s motivations, in its use of computer graphics, in its inability to resolve the cul-de-sac nature of the prequel form, and more. I find some of these criticisms valid and others not so much, but for me none of them dilute the worth of this film. It’s still a towering achievement that thrilled me to my bones. So long as he’s making films at this level, so long as he’s aiming as high as he is, I regard it as a privilege to be here for whatever Miller puts on the screen. Put another way, even the paintings that Picasso made after “Guernica” are still Picassos.


Here’s the full list of all twenty-two movies that I watched in May. This is the latest in my monthly round-ups of movies I’ve been watching. You can also see everything I watched in April, in March, in February, in January, and summaries of everything I watched in 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

  1. Godzilla” (1954) ★★½
    It’s easy to see how this original, the one that started a decades-long franchise, was startling and novel, and in the detailed miniature work that the rubber-suited Godzilla stomps all over it does retain some of that fascination, but as a narrative it’s pretty humdrum.
  2. Brief Encounter” (1945) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Showed this incandescently romantic, post-War fairy tale to the family. Half of them adored it, the other half said it was boring but good. So, a win, I guess?
  3. Knife in the Water” (1962) ★★★
    This early directorial effort from Roman Polanski, in which three basically unlikable people go for a boat ride together for no discernible reason, is really well made but also kind of dumb.
  4. Mikey and Nicky” (1976) ★★★
    John Cassavetes and Peter Falk in a brutal character study of two friends on the fringes of the mob, directed by the legendary Elaine May. Beautifully shot, but it’s a showcase for some uneven acting more than a triumph of screenwriting.
  5. The Rainmaker” (1997) ★★
    Someone told me this movie was good. I don’t think that personn really understands what it means to say a Francis Ford Coppola movie is “good.” This is not a “good” Francis Ford Coppola movie.
  6. Challengers” (2024) ★★½
    I don’t like director Luca Guadagnino’s movies but the first half of this was great. And then it’s just really not great at all, and in the end I hated it.
  7. The Fall Guy” (2024) ★★★
    This incredibly okay movie should’ve found a bigger audience, but then what do I know?
  8. The Breaking Ice” (2023) ★★★
    Three listless twenty-somethings wander an unsympathetic town in northern China looking for cheap thrills, personal connection and free flowing liquor. Except for its setting, near the border with North Korea, this is stuff we’ve seen before many times, which isn’t to say it’s bad, really.
  9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) ★★
    First time seeing this—really! It was sad to realize I wasn’t missing much.
  10. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” (2024) ★★★½
    This latest installment in the long-running series traffics in an unexpected amount of ambiguity that may or may not be intentional. Either way, I enjoyed it way more than I expected, which is usually the case with this franchise that often under-promises and over-delivers.
  11. 12 Angry Men” (1957) ★★★★½
    Showed it to the family and they agreed: it’s a feat that director Sidney Lumet packs so much goodness into a one-room drama that runs only ninety-five minutes long. A true masterpiece.
  12. Suzume” (2022) ★★★
    This anime fantasy about a young girl led into a wondrous other world by a dreamy boy is all clichés, but gorgeously, intricately rendered, just as you would expect from the guy who directed the amazing “Wolf Children.”
  13. A Matter of Life and Death” (1946) ★★★½
    A whimsical take on the afterlife and how orderly, polite and very English it is, by the legendary duo of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell. Worth it mainly for the immense scale of the fanciful sets—jaw dropping.
  14. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (2024) ★★★★
    This will forever live in the shadow of its predecessor, which is fair but also unfair. It’s imperfect, but it’s also a stunning work on its own.
  15. Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (1971) ★
    If the idea of a movie about futuristic apes time traveling back to 1971 sounds dumb to you—really dumb—then you know what you need to know about this third installment in the original pentalogy.
  16. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972) ★★★
    I almost skipped this because of how bad its immediate predecessor was, but it’s an entirely different animal, no pun intended. Dark, hellishly modern and cynical, this is among the best of the whole franchise.
  17. The Sting” (1973) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Every detail sparkles with a halcyon glow, like an old 78 rpm record buzzing with warm crackles and pops. A marvelous entertainment.
  18. Mambar Pierrette” (2023) ★★★½
    A cinéma vérité style narrative about a single mother in Cameroon who struggles against a string of unfortunate events to equip her kids with what they need for the back-to-school season. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, but also suspiciously borders on misery porn.
  19. Go” (1999) ★★
    Rewatched. Once this struck me as amusing. Now this post-“Pulp Fiction,” nonlinear, hipster comedy from the nineties feels hollow.
  20. Tori and Lokita” (2022) ★★★
    Another cavalcade of bad news from the Dardennes Brothers, masters of these sympathetic portraits of those left behind by contemporary social systems. This is powerful, but I really have to wonder whether it’s feeding a jaundiced Western stereotype.
  21. Ferris Bueller's Day Off” (1986) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Structured so ingeniously and elegantly, it feels like comic music.
  22. The Souvenir: Part II” (2021) ★★★★
    Joanna Hogg’s follow up to her 2020 masterpiece “The Souvenir” is a sequel that no one expected or even asked for, but it’s a triumph. We get all of the naturalistic stylization of the original, plus a shockingly deft foray into a fantastical blurring of the line between fiction and filmmaking.