Back in July, deep in the middle of my summer break, I went to see “After Yang,” the second feature film from YouTube video essayist-turned-film director Kogonada. This artful, incredibly subtle indie flick is a great reminder that technology in movies is rarely as convincing—or frightening—as when it’s boring. Like many science fiction films, this one asks what it is that makes us human in a near-future world where tech has subverted our idea of humanness. But it frames that question in much more quotidian terms than we’re used to seeing on the silver screen.
Instead of treating tech with the awe and reverence that other filmmakers employ, instead of conspicuously pointing at how mind-bendingly fantastic it is, Kogonada presents it off-handedly, almost as a matter of course. The story is nominally about an android companion, but not one that’s super humanly strong or wildly intelligent—rather one that’s literally broken down and in need of repair. The quest to restore him to working order gives us glimpses of unauthorized A.I. repair shops operated by conspiracy nuts; genetically engineered clones so commonplace that the neighbors have them; driverless cars doubling as miniature gardens; massively multiplayer, global dance competitions that whole families join after dinner; and much more.
The result is a supposition of not just of how technology might change the world around us, but of how we might be changed by technology—a more lucid and plausible understanding of the broad impact of tech than any film at least since “Her.” It’s also incredibly touching. All of the delicate, nuanced thoughtfulness that Kogonada brings to his vision of tech is applied in equal measure to the emotional toll those advancements take on his characters. All of the innovations are ostensibly there to make their lives easier, but the director has an uncanny understanding of how it exacts its own cost—not just financially, but also in terms of time, dependence, morality and humanity. His expression of the complex relationships that people form with technology is wonderfully singular, and this movie is very special as a result.
Here are all fifteen movies that I watched in July.
“Jurassic Park” (1993) ★★½ Diverting at times but also a bit of a slog.
“The Fourth Protocol” (1987) ★★★½ Rewatched. Serviceable, late-Cold War spy thriller featuring Michael Caine in a ridiculous 80s dad ski jacket.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 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.
“Turn Every Page” was directed by Lizzie Gottlieb, daughter of Caro’s longstanding editor, Robert Gottlieb, a titan in his own right who has edited an astounding number of high profile titles of both fiction and non-fiction. (He’s also a published author himself.) As far as I’m aware, this film is the first time either man has ever gone on the record about their working relationship. Though founded on a high level of mutual respect, it turns out that their collaboration is also incredibly fraught, frequently contentious, and borderline adversarial. In fact, when the younger Gottlieb proposed the idea for the documentary to Caro, the author initially refused outright, and then only acquiesced with the stipulation that he should never be filmed in the same room as his editor. Fast friends, they are not.
Nevertheless, this is the professional relationship that has produced some of the most important books ever written about the way American democracy truly works. Capturing that weird dynamic alone makes “Turn Every Page” a gem. I can’t say that the film really transcends all of my reservations about documentary as a form, but I enjoyed every moment of it all the same. In fact, I’m sure that even audiences who aren’t familiar with these books or these men will still enjoy the rare look at how authors and editors work together, a too little discussed aspect of how the books we all read come to be published.
As it happens, the timing of this ridiculously delayed write-up of this movie turns out to be fortuitous. After making the rounds at film festivals throughout the second half of the year, “Turn Every Page” is today starting a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, and hopefully expanding to more screens soon. If you’re lucky enough to live near a theater that’s showing it, this has my heartiest recommendation as a truly great way to avoid seeing “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Here are the other fourteen movies I watched back in June.
“Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) ★★★★ Rewatched. The character building throughout is masterful.
“The Bad Guys” (2022) ★★★ Sharply styled, marginally above-average kids movie.
“No Way Out” (1987) ★★★★ Rewatched. Holds up as a crackerjack, Reagan-era neo-noir.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 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.
Back in May, the only movie that mattered was Joseph Kosinski’s wildly retrograde, politically dim, conservative fantasia “Top Gun: Maverick,” in which defiantly ageless madman Tom Cruise revisits his absurd, jingoistic blockbuster from 1986. I hated the original, not just for its politics but also for the fact that it wasn’t much of a movie. Here’s what I wrote when I revisited it two years ago:
The hackneyed, tedious script is an impoverishment of ideas and of character development, enlivened only by Tom Cruise’s irrepressible mugging—not a performance, really, as much as a continual series of guest appearances in his own movie.
All the same, I enjoyed the heck out of the sequel. After seeing it on the largest IMAX screen in North America on its opening day, I dragged my kids with me to see it again the very next afternoon. The movie’s many, many absurdly macho conceits aside, it delivered everything that you want out of a summer blockbuster: a singularly theatrical experience that lets you turn your brain off without feeling like your intelligence is being insulted. I attribute this not to director Joseph Kosinski, whose otherwise consistently mediocre filmography practically proves that the real creative force behind this film is the uniquely productive collaboration between Cruise and writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie. Over the past decade-plus, the two have created a remarkable body of work within the contemporary Hollywood studio system, and I look forward to each new project with tremendous excitement. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
Here’s the full list of twenty movies I watched back in May.
“Happy Hour” (2015) ★★★ A very long, complex journey through the lives of four women friends. Starts very off strong but eventually can’t resolve itself.
“The Player” (1992) ★★★★ A zippy, entertaining compromise between a true Altman film and a great Hollywood script.
“Z” (1969) ★★★★½ A fantastic political thriller that feels borne from the heart of 1960s era social unrest, made with shocking confidence.
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) ★★½ Rewatched. They really were trying to do something different with James Bond in this movie; they just weren’t trying hard enough.
“The Color of Money” (1986) ★★★★ I’d always heard that this is lesser Scorsese but it still rocks.
“The Adam Project” (2022) ★ Ryan Reynolds has become the face of the overbudgeted, undercooked Netflix era of film.
“The Man Who Never Was” (1956) ★★½ Rewatched. A much better (if still kind of unremarkable) recounting of the events behind “Operation Mincemeat.” I saw this as a kid and I’ve been fascinated with this story ever since.
“Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★ A cinematic triumph of conservative ideas that even a lefty can dig.
“Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★ Rewatched. I went back to see it again the very next day.
“The Parallax View” (1974) ★★★★ Rewatched. Still fascinatingly paranoid, but the real star is Gordon Willis’s gorgeous cinematography.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in April, in March, in February, in January, in 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.
For a few months earlier this year, everyone everywhere all at once was talking about “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a break out sci-fi adventure film from the directing duo Daniels. I found a lot to admire in this movie but I just couldn’t get fully on board, despite my best efforts.
I can’t argue that this film doesn’t deserve accolades, but after seeing it a second time within a few weeks of the Nicolas Cage-starrer “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” I was able to hone in on what irritated me so much about both: a hugely self-congratulatory streak that seems to stand in for genuine invention. As I wrote in my review of “Massive Talent”:
“These movies are all about echoing back to the audience the stuff we know already, and they’re measured in the frequency of chuckles and hoots of approval from the audience when we recognize something pulled out from our media memory trunks, when our past purchases are flashed in front of us and the value of those transactions are reasserted. They wink and nudge at us and say, “Hey, we’ve all seen this stuff before and here it is again but in a slightly different context. Isn’t that hilarious? And aren’t we all great for being in on this joke?”
By contrast, I was much more energized by Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” a triptych of much more straightforward—and much less bombastic—dramas focused on the romantic lives of young women in contemporary Japan. Hamaguchi hit the jackpot at awards season with “Drive My Car,” which I also watched in April; that film was also released in late 2021 but went on to much greater attention, even winning an Oscar for best foreign film. Nevertheless, “Wheel” is the better film for my money; each of its tales is delicately crafted to achieve a subtle, bittersweet kind of magic. What’s more, the third story, titled “Once Again,” a truly heartbreaking reminder that you can never go home again, is as virtually perfect as anything I’ve seen in recent memory.
Here are all fourteen films I saw in April.
“The Great Beauty” (2013) ★★★½
A somewhat preposterous protagonist makes for a movie that is shallower than it thinks. Still, Paolo Sorrentino’s incredibly vivid direction turns it into something exactly as rapturous as his aspirations.
“Drive My Car” (2021) ★★½
Is Haruki Murakami really that good of a storyteller, or are we all just deluding ourselves? This movie really made me wonder.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in March, in February, in January, in 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.
As I’m writing these long-delayed roundups of my monthly movie consumption from earlier this year, I’m finding that the movies I want to talk about most are the smaller scale productions that went little noticed at the time. That’s not out of a disdain for Hollywood blockbusters—well, not entirely. I admit, I am a movie snob, but I’m also a guy who went to see Matt Reeves’s “The Batman” twice and really liked it, after all. Nevertheless, there are so many unsung triumphs out there, and I really enjoy trying to point more folks in their direction.
One film I saw in March that’s actually kind of a treat to discover sight unseen is “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” a seventy-minute Japanese indie directed by Junta Yamaguchi. It debuted in Japan in 2020, made the rounds at film festivals for a year or so, and only made it to American audiences earlier in 2022. This is an utterly charming, family-friendly and incredibly winning flick with a script that’s tight as a drum and performances and dialog that work like a beautiful, high-end watch movement.
I’m being intentionally vague regarding what it’s about or even what genre it is because, if you’re not already familiar with it, then great! It’s a movie that really, really ought to be watched with as little prior knowledge as possible, which is exactly the way I watched it. I knew nothing about its cast, crew or plot beforehand, and that made it all the more richly satisfying. I’ve since recommended it to friends, lots of them, with the advice: “Don’t read anything about it beforehand. Don’t Google it. Don’t look it up on IMDB. Don’t even read the movie description if you can avoid it. Just watch it.” None of them have been disappointed, and I bet you won’t be either. As of this writing, it’s streaming on Prime Video, so what have you got to lose?
Here are all fourteen of the movies I saw in March.
“A League of Their Own” (1992) ★★★½
Rewatched. Formulaic but fun, with a full slate of irrepressibly genial performances.
“Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928) ★★★★½
Buster Keaton’s masterwork of invention, completely undiminished, even ninety-four years later.
“The Batman” (2022) ★★★★
Takes itself way too seriously but does what we can only wish more super-hero movies would attempt: do away with the fan service and tell a story with a real point of view.
“Morocco” (1930) ★★★
When you’ve got two smoldering hot leads like Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, having a plot is almost unnecesssary.
“Joker” (2019) ★★★★
Rewatched. Didn’t expect to be as impressed with this—or enjoy it as much—the second time around.
“Irma Vep” (1996) ★★★★
Fleetfooted and nimble and hilarious in ways that so many indie movies, including this same director’s, just aren’t.
“Seven Chances” (1925) ★★★½
Early Buster Keaton; takes a while to get in gear, but it’s worth it.
“Red Desert” (1964) ★★★½
Rewatched. Antonioni’s uncompromising vision is conceptually rewarding but also exhausting.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in February, in January, in 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.
Continuing my catch-up of the past year of movie posts, here’s my roundup of the twenty-seven movies I watched in February.
Mid-winter is the worst time for movies in general, and this slate reflects that. On the one hand, I was still watching holdovers from the previous year’s prestige season, though what remained on my list was not exactly the cream of the crop: “Old Henry,” a mediocre revisionist Western; and “Nightmare Alley” Guillermo Del Toro’s unremarkable remake of the classic carny noir. Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” doesn’t necessarily fall into this bucket, but I found this to be little more than a decent romantic tragedy that’s frankly undermined by its clickbait title.
This was also the time of year when film studios empty their coffers of unpromising dreck, most of which I was smart enough to skip. As a whodunnit fan though, I nevertheless felt compelled to watch “Death on the Nile,” in which director Kenneth Branagh continues his overwrought abuse of Agatha Christie’s catalog and star Gal Gadot continues her unbroken streak of never appearing in a genuinely good movie. February is bleak times.
Still, there are some gems to be found in the rough. One of them was director Philip Barantini’s “Boiling Point,” a deep dive into the inner workings of a London restaurant on one of its worst nights, shot in a single, continuous take. I’ve been a bit of a sucker for one-shot films ever since seeing Hitchcock’s “Rope” as a kid. The ingenuity required to stage the action and camera movements, plus the storytelling nimbleness required to maintain a cohesive narrative in “real time” fascinates me. I enjoyed “Boiling Point” so much that I immediately went back and watched the original 2019 short film on which it was based, also directed by Barantini and starring several of the same players, including the superb Stephen Graham. The feature length version is definitely recommended, and if you enjoy it, I think you’ll find the short film worthwhile too.
Here’s the full list.
“Light Sleeper” (1992) ★★★★ An absurd premise but executed so well; Paul Schrader creates a somnambulent version of Manhattan that Willem Dafoe glides through like a wounded ghost.
“Boiling Point” (2021) ★★★½ Scrappy indie film about a restaurant staff basically on fire. Not perfect but very worthwhile.
“Boiling Point” (2019) ★★★ The original short film that formed the basis of the 2021 feature-length version. Also very worthwhile.
“Old Henry” (2021) ★½ The terrific Tim Blake Nelson in a western, but fighting against a mediocre plot and casting.
“To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985) ★½ Rewatched. Aside from a car chase clearly meant to one-up “The French Connection,” the rest of this is satire-level macho posturing.
“Nightmare Alley” (2021) ★★★ Both better and worse than the 1947 original, but not a movie that really sticks with you.
“Radio On” (1979) ★★★ A gorgeous, dissonant tone poem in the form of a road movie.
“My Cousin Vinny” (1992) ★½ I can’t believe this sitcom plot of a movie made any kind of cultural impression at all, much less garnered an Oscar for Marisa Tomei.
“Paper Moon” (1973) ★★★★½ Rewatched. A grand slam of a movie, with a walk-off home run ending that’s spot on perfect. The Coen Brothers learned so much from this.
“What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) ★★★½ A remarkable recreation of the wit and spirit of screwball comedy, but still a recreation. Streisand is fabulous though.
“5 Fingers” (1952) ★★★★ A corker of a spy tale but in the old fashioned sense, so don’t expect explosions and golden girls. Instead what you get is a comedy of manners, rendered with extreme elegance by James Mason in the lead role.
“All About Eve” (1950) ★★★★½ Every bit as good as everyone says it is.
“A Letter to Three Wives” (1949) ★★½ Post-war melodrama sports three terrific leads and digs into some interesting territory for a while, but never really breaks through.
“Kimi” (2022) ★★★½ Capable, small scale noir unexpectedly set in the world of smart speakers defies expectations and manages to be terrific.
“Gaslight” (1944) ★★★★ I’m amazed that the 21st century reached way back in time to this terrific but fairly obscure noir and turned its title into a culturally incisive colloquialism.
“Lifeboat” (1944) ★★★★ Hitchcock’s specialty: a sparse, limited set; richly drawn characters; and a taut, morally ambiguous conflict. Genius.
“The Hit” (1984) ★★★★ An existential odyssey disguised as a gangster flick.
“Speed Racer” (2008) ★★★★ Rewatched. This might be the best f all of the Wachowski’s films, even that one with the sunglasses and trench coats.
“Rushmore” (1998) ★★★★ Rewatched. Holds up, and shows how Anderson’s early characters were sometimes more internally coherent than they are today.
“The Thief of Bagdad” (1940) ★★ Dunderheaded plot logic, but interesting to see how special effects were pulled off in the dark ages.
“The Addams Family” (1991) ★★★ Rewatched. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston were perfect.
“Phantom Boy” (2015) ★★½ Gorgeously animated, as expected, but not much of a progression from “A Cat in Paris.”
“A Whisker Away” (2020) ★★★ The story, a teenager’s fairy tale in every aspect, is delicately executed, but the main reason to watch this is for the long string of exquisitely, lovingly rendered backgrounds.
“Air Bud” (1997) ★½ There’s not a moment here where naturalism of any kind creeps in, even for a second.
“Death on the Nile” (2022) ★★ Reasonably entertaining if intermittently bombastic and unconvincingly woke take on a classic drawing room (on a boat) whodunit.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in January, in 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.
Following my much-delayed recap of the movies I watched in 2021, here’s a roundup of January of this year. February will follow in a day or two, then March, etc., until I’m all caught up.
Looking back, I watched almost a full third of my year-end top ten list in January: “A Hero” (now somewhat notorious) “Bergman Island” (wonderful but esoteric) and “Titane” (only for the brave). I was of course still catching up on all of the prestige releases from late 2021, which also meant I sat through some real stinkers: Ridley Scott’s completely air-headed “The Last Duel” and Jane Campion’s excruciatingly shallow “The Power of the Dog.” Don’t let anyone try to convince you that these are good, ’cause they ain’t.
A word though on Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island,” which seems to have slipped by unnoticed by many. I went in with somewhat dire expectations; the title alone suggested slavish imitation but this ode to the great director Ingmar Bergman somehow pays tribute while remaining fully distinctive. It’s also got a wonderfully intricate, story-within-a-story construction that dovetails at the climax with such grace and lyricism that it beautifully recolors its preceding hundred minutes; a nifty trick. I wasn’t familiar with Hansen-Løve before this, but based on what I saw in this film, I’m desperate to see the follow-up she released this year, “One Fine Morning.”
Here’s all seventeen of the movies I saw in January.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in 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.
Twenty twenty-one? Surely that’s a mistake, right? No, it’s not, and don’t call me Shirley. Despite the calendar already closing in on 2023, I’m here today to make up for lost time. That is, I’m finally posting my annual recap of what I watched last calendar year. It just happens to be about twelve months late. Sorry!
In fact, over the next several days I’m going to catch up on recaps from the past twelve months of this year, too—believe me, I had all the best intentions about keeping current on this site but life repeatedly got in the way. So I’ll start tomorrow with January and then publish a new one every day or two until we’re all caught up through December. Of course this is possible not because I have an amazing memory (I really don’t) but rather because, lack of posts on this site notwithstanding, I have in fact been diligent about recording my movie watching history—I was just doing it over at my Letterboxd diary.
Okay, so let’s not waste any more time on housekeeping. Come with me as we jump into this makeshift, blog-driven time machine and revisit the distant past, a time when Joe Biden was president and Taylor Swift was releasing albums every other week: the year 2021.
Total Movies Watched by Year
In total I watched 239 movies, handily beating my previous record of 219 in 2019. Living through the second year of a pandemic had something to do with this, but also, I always like to point out that I avoid TV shows as a rule, freeing me from the countless lost hours that others might spend bingeing “House of the Dragon” or whatever. Still, this continually upward trend is clearly not sustainable, and I can already assure you that the numbers for 2022, when we all more or less started to get back to normal, are definitely looking more earthbound.
“Dune” Denis Villeneuve’s magisterially pragmatic adaptation of a notoriously adaptation-resistant novel feels more like a true “universe” than anything sci-fi filmmaking has attempted in decades—every detail, small or large, achieves a truly momentous aesthetic grandiosity. It’s also deeply moving in how well it understands its characters, a quality which, it needs to be said, is far, far better than the vast majority of genre blockbusters. This is a triumph of filmmaking on the most immense scale. I’ve watched it five times.
“The Card Counter” Whether it’s vigilantism or faith or labor, you can expect every Paul Schrader joint to be a revealing disquisition on the subject matter advertised on the label. But this examination of the pathology of gambling manages something unexpected by reckoning with nearly forgotten crimes from the War on Terror, to suitably terrifying effect.
“The Beatles: Get Back” When a friend saw this on my list he asked, “You consider that a movie?” All I can say is that I watched it with rapt attention, soaking up every detail, fully living in the milieu on the screen, and then, when it was over, I wanted to rewatch it immediately. That’s basically the exact same experience I have with the very best movies.
“The Hand of God” I have reservations—deep reservations—about the sub-genre of auteur autobiography that this deeply felt reminiscence by director Paolo Sorrentino falls into. I’m not sure we need any more of these, but this one is so alive, kinetic and hilarious that it dashed away all of my cynicism. It’s a useful reminder that giving our best directors the opportunity to tell their most personal stories can lead to genuinely great film.
“A Hero” One interesting thing about writing a best-of roundup a year late is that circumstances can really alter the perception of a given film. It now seems evident that the idea for Ashgar Farhadi’s morality play about a debtor who can’t get out from under was almost certainly stolen from one of the director’s students (see The New Yorker’s devastating investigation). Not to excuse that offense, but for me it doesn’t diminish the heart-breaking power of the movie itself.
“Bergman Island” I fully expected this tribute to “The Gloomy Swede” to amount to little more than two hours of painfully obvious fan fiction. But this delicately crafted tale of a barely connected couple on a vacation to Bergman’s spiritual home—cleverly and beautifully intertwined with its own story-within-a-story, too—manages to find a voice that’s both uniquely its own and also, somehow, surprisingly faithful to Bergman’s spirit.
“Titane” This is really not my kind of movie. But it’s jam packed with so many ideas—not just provocative ideas, but bold and vulgar and sometimes beautiful ideas, that it can’t be denied. I just couldn’t not watch. I also couldn’t wait for it to be over. Gorgeous but excruciating.
“No Sudden Move” A punchy, throwback noir in the same vein as Soderbergh’s own, indelible “Out of Sight.” It’s not quite as good, but it has the added benefit of an older, less romantic sensibility, with Soderbergh more interested in pulling on threads that lead to inconvenient places this time.
“Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” For my money, this is really the 2021 Ryusuke Hamaguchi movie that deserves all of the plaudits that “Drive My Car” got. Admittedly, “Wheel” is less sweeping in its ambition, being comprised of three short stories rather than one grand, dramatic arc. But the third story, “Once Again” is a remarkable interlude that balances emotional authenticity with dramatic inevitability to achieve something very close to perfection.
“Wrath of Man” I’m as shocked as anyone that Guy Ritchie, who has perennially been on my list of suspect directors, made one of my favorite movies of 2021. Was it because this was the first flick I saw back in theaters, post-vaccine? Maybe, but when I watched it again a few months later, I found this brutal, slightly ridiculous crime thriller just as absorbing as I had before. There’s nothing new here, it’s true, but the execution, especially in the uncompromising opening scene, is thrillingly disciplined.
The full rundown for all of 2021 follows below. You can also see Letterboxd’s automatically generated overview of the year here. Or you can turn back even further in time and see what I watched in 2020, in 2019, in 2018, in 2017, and in 2016. Finally, you can always follow me on letterboxd.com—where I’m writing quick reviews after each movie I watch.
“Midnight Run” (1988) ★★★★ Rewatched. Nearly flawlessly constructed Hollywood road movie with what might be DeNiro’s most convincingly inhabited role ever.
“Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993) ★★★½ I saw all the maudlin story beats and the soaring climax coming a mile away, and yet I was defenseless against it all.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021) ★★★ Dumb as heck, but fleet of foot, plus it has a giant ape and a giant lizard knocking the stuffing out of one another.
“The Kid Detective” (2020) ★★★ The premise of a grown up Encyclopedia Brown who refuses to really grow up is almost too cute by half, except it’s executed with just enough gentle humor to see it all the way through.
December and January are the best time of year for movie lovers. There’s so much to see. Not all of it is great of course, but this year one of my favorites was “The Hand of God,” director Paolo Sorrentino’s semi-autobiographical re-creation of the Naples of his youth, which debuted on Netflix last month. It’s tempting to think dismissively of Netflix, which also brought us Alfonso Cuaron’s similarly autobiographical “Roma” a few years ago, as a clearinghouse for middle-aged male directors looking to finance self-indulgent trips down memory lane. But these two projects are probably the two very best things the streamer has ever undertaken. Sorrentino conjures a deliciously vibrant, idiosyncratic vision of Neapolitan family life in the 1980s that I found intoxicating.
I also watched Peter Jackson’s monumental “The Beatles: Get Back,” a documentary culled from over sixty hours of footage originally shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg during studio recording sessions in 1969. I take an extremely skeptical view of most feature-length documentaries, but in this case I was all in. Where most documentaries tend to meet time constraints by playing fast and loose with facts or by raising questions they don’t have time to answer, the extended running time for “Get Back” allows Jackson the space to give us a truly unprecedented view into the creative life of this iconic band. Across its three parts, “Get Back” clocks in at nearly eight hours, but hardly a moment seems inessential and I would have gladly watched another eight hours. A shorter documentary would have told the story of the band’s creative process; this one shows us who the band members were during that creative process. “Get Back” is not quite a film in the sense of most of the films I prefer to watch, but nevertheless it was one of the most absorbing things I saw all year
I’ll post a full roundup of my favorite films from 2021 soon, but in the meantime I highly recommend two that I also saw in December: “Passing,” the directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, which beautifully recreates the milieu and racial anxiety of Harlem in the 1920s; and “Benedetta,” an over-the-top mash-up of lesbian nun exploitation and unbridled interrogation of Catholic power. I’d also warn you against two hugely overrated, high profile movies: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” in which he breaks his incredible winning streak of challenging, exquisitely made masterpieces by offering a series of lazy and largely incoherent vignettes of Los Angeles in the 1970s; and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which, in all likelihood, you’ve already seen anyway so what’s the use?
Here’s the full list of sixteen movies I saw in December.
“Licorice Pizza” (2021) ★½ Paul Thomas Anderson working well below his abilities.
November was a bit of a slow month for movie watching. The only new release I saw was director Jeymes Samuels’s “The Harder They Fall,” a Black western that had everything going for it and sadly whiffed. I’m a big fan of westerns and a big fan of nearly everyone in this cast, but after two relentless hours of stylish but empty posturing, I just got bored. Thanks to its provenance as a Netflix-financed production, it will probably experience a marginally kinder fate than it would have likely met had it been released twenty years ago in theaters: this is the kind of flick that would have been forgotten incredibly quickly, only to surface some years later in bargain DVD bins at Walmart, where a younger generation would have picked it up and said, “Look at this stacked cast! There’s no way this isn’t good, right?”—only to be disappointed all over again.
I’m keeping this entry short because it’s the holidays. I’ll do my December round-up soon, and then I’ll be posting a year-end round-up in January. Until then, here’s everything else I watched in November. Cheers!
“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) ★★½ Rewatched. Never takes itself too seriously, which is amusing. Refuses to take anything seriously, which is exhausting.
“Pig” (2021) ★★★½ Nicolas Cage as a…well, part of the fun is that this is all very unexpected.
“Touchez Pas au Grisbi” (1954) ★★★★ French gangster classic details the quotidian drudgery of “one last score” that actually succeeds.
“Blade Runner 2049” (2017) ★★★★ Rewatched. Not unlike its predecessor, this gets deeper and richer with each viewing.
“Sicario” (2015) ★★★★★ Rewatched. As much as I like Villeneuve’s franchise work, original fare like this is what he was put on earth to do.
“Hangover Square” (1945) ★★★½ An entertainingly formal bit of Edwardian, paranoid noir, with a wacko editing.
“The Harder They Fall” (2021) ★★ Could’ve been a classic, should have been a classic, but it’s just boring instead.
“Neighboring Sounds” (2012) ★★★½ A Brazilian neighborhood where the mundane is bizarre and the bizarre is mundane. Mesmerizing.
“Paddington” (2014) ★★★ Rewatched. So genial that even Ben Whishaw’s nails-on-a-chalkboard voice is tolerable.
“Dune” (2021) ★★★★ Rewatched. I was down with the flu so I just figured I’d watch it a fourth time.
“In the Cut” (2003) ★½ Jane Campion tries to art up the thriller, but in the end it just amounts to a cavalcade of clichés.
“Point Blank” (1967) ★★★★ Rewatched. Throws you headlong into stylized, abstracted action that still seems striking, if shallow.