So, here we are again at the end of a pretty cool year of cinema. A year I which I attended 56 screenings, and of those I have, over the course of the year, been marking down which I thought were the best. My personal favourites. The ones that rose above my expectations, or surprised me, but most of all entertained me. Of course, the list reflects my own tastes and likes.
At the other end, we have, well – the other end. The dismal failures, of which I’ve chosen 3.
Brace yourselves, kids. It’s time for what I call The Good, The Bad and The Fugly – 2019 edition.
10 – Shazam!
Out of all the superhero films to date – this is the one I thought would probably stumble and fall. Two reasons – Shazam (properly called Captain Marvel) isn’t all that mainstream and could just fail because it’d be assumed he was just a rip-off of Superman (there was a lengthy court case about that very thing in the 1940s which put the title out of print until DC acquired it in the 70s.) Second reason – for reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people, fandom included, seem predisposed to criticise DC films harshly. But what do I know? The film was a box office success with Zachary Levi charming audiences with his portrayal of a young teenager in an adult superhero body. I was happy to finally see this character come to life, as, seemingly was everybody else. I even had my first published film review in Starburst on the back of this. (Issue 460, if anyone’s looking for it.)
9 – Countdown
One of my gripes over the past several years has been the demise and fall of the proper horror movie. All too often rubbish like the Conjuring nonsense is passed off as horror, and the masses blindly accept it, without demanding better. Or worse, a crapfest like Twilight happens which ruins a horror staple for a few years. (No, I haven’t forgotten or forgiven sparkly, treetop scampering vampires.) Then, as in the best tradition of horror movie characters, the genre rises, refreshed, from the dead, just when you least expect it. Some really interesting and intriguing films have been released in the past couple of years that have a refreshing originality to them, things like It Follows, The Quiet Place, Happy Death Day – and this.
I love seeing horror reflect the times we’re in, and a terror tale about a free app that you can download to your phone and share with your friends which accurately tells you exactly when you’re going to die is an excellent sign of our current app-happy times. Beware what you get for free on your devices, teens.
8 – Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla is definitely the Marmite of monsters. You either love kaiju films or you don’t. There’s no middle ground. That’s an absolute. Further, if you hate them, you’re never going to change your mind. That’s a universal truth I’ve discovered. Personally, I love’em.
The current run of American made Godzilla films finally brought to the screen some of the major players and city destroyers of the Toho films, Rodan – a supersonic giant pterodactyl, Mothra – a giant moth/goddess and best of all, King Ghidorah – a three headed flying dragon (always my favourite). This one was less on the humans’ character building and backstories than the previous films in the series, with the accent fully on metropolis stomping badassery with enough deep bass rumble on the soundtrack to shake the fillings loose in your teeth. It was action and some ground-breaking visuals all the way, boding well for the next instalment, when Godzilla will battle Kong.
7 – Ma
This one really stunned me. A psychological horror starring the awesome Octavia Spencer as a middle-aged woman who befriends a bunch of high school kids, buys them alcohol, allows them to use her basement for parties and stalks them via social media when they begin to stray away from her circle. Ma has an agenda – she wants revenge for a cruel stunt pulled on her when she was in High School.
This hit the same creepily plausible note with me as One Hour Photo did several years ago. Actually, One Hour Photo was the reason I bought my first digital camera.
6 – Spider-Man: Far from Home
Steve came up with the best description of this film. It’s an epilogue. After the stunning Avengers: Endgame, this was the exclamation point , showing what happened after the tumultuous events of that movie, and it was the closer to what they’re calling The Infinity Saga, (also known as Marvel Phases I-III depending on who you ask) that we didn’t know we needed.
It deals with the world still reeling from the loss of some of its most heroic figures, and the return, after several years, of those who had earlier been dusted. Peter parker, in particular is still mourning the loss of his mentor. He’s on a field trip when one of my all-time favourite Spider-Man villains from the comic books shows up – Mysterio. From the first time I saw Mysterio, drawn by Steve Ditko in the sixties, I always liked him. I thought the costume was just awesome (I had/have a strange sense of style. I always reckoned Mysterio and Electro were the best dressed villains in comics) I was dreading to see what they’d do to that costume in the films, having seen Electro and Green Goblin’s costumes changed beyond recognition. But nope – there it was, in all it’s goofy, domed, heavily caped glory. And the film itself? A great homage to the first Mysterio story as poor Spidey is set up as the fall guy.
5 – Captain Marvel
Last time I looked, Captain Marvel (and by Captain Marvel, I mean Marvel’s Captain Marvel. Not DC’s Captain Marvel who has been repackaged as Shazam to avoid confusion) was male. But that was years ago. In fact, in the comics, he died heroically. Then there was a female Captain Marvel – and this is where the film comes in. I had read very little Captain Marvel back in the day, so I came to watch this not really knowing what to expect, but at least a little more aware than I was of the Guardians of the Galaxy a few years ago.
Captain Marvel is, of course who Nick Fury was trying to contact at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, so this instalment of the Marvel Movie Universe is a flashback, set in the seventies with a wonderfully executed digitally de-aged Fury meeting Captain Marvel, the spaceborne hero, for the first time – long before the Avengers Initiative. Bree Larsen is just stunning as Carol Danvers/Marvel. And the story is a surprising switch and bait where the classic Marvel alien villains, the shape shifting Skrull, aren’t as villainous as they seem. Nor are the heroes as noble as THEY seem. This set us up nicely for Avengers: Endgame, where weirdly, the character seemed underused after this glorious build-up.
4 – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Much as I love horror as an overall genre, there are sub genres of that which I prefer to others. And a firm favourite is the anthology movie, or as some call them, the portmanteau movie. The short stories held together by a single narrative thread kind of film popularised by Amicus in the sixties and seventies. Films like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (the first one of this type I ever saw) Tales from the Crypt, From Beyond the Grave, Torture Garden and so forth. Each story with a sting in the tail. Wonderful movies. So, I was delighted to see that Scary Stories was going to be such a film, much like Tales of Halloween a couple of years ago.
I didn’t bother me that Scary Stories was based on a book based at the youth market – after all what was Tales from The Crypt, but a series of dramatizations of stories from the fifties comic book of the same name? The notion of a book of terror tales writing itself and enacting those stories on the victims was tremendously well executed as were the various creatures, particularly outstanding were the homicidal scarecrow (truly the stuff of nightmares) and an obese woman who literally absorbed people. As I’ve said earlier – horror is certainly back, refreshed and ready to bite again.
3 – Joker
At first, I was optimistic. A movie about the Joker. The greatest comic book villain of all time. Then I saw reports that the production was distancing itself from its comic book origins. My heart sank. This was going to be the Halle Berry Catwoman film all over again. Or worse – Trank’s Fantastic 4.
The film explores Joker’s origins – or at least one possible origin. Joker’s always said that if he HAS to have an origin, he wants it to be multiple choice. So, my hoped-for Killing Joke live action movie never happened, but what we got was surprising and a timely shake-up that sent a shockwave through audiences expecting another superhero fest. Joaquin Phoenix played Joker as a tortured loner, eager to please, but tormented by society who lapses slowly into homicidal insanity. Yes, there are mentions of the Wayne family – very prominently, so it DOES acknowledge its four colour origins, and we get a fully formed supervillain at the end. Actually, I saw this as an origin story for the Heath Ledger version of Joker we saw in The Dark Knight. So ultimately, an excellent treatment of a well-known comic book villain which didn’t completely enrage and alienate fans, a stepping in point for mainstream audiences AND a stunning and damning indictment of the mental healthcare system.
If a comic book movie was ever to gain an Oscar nomination for best picture or best actor, it should be THIS one.
2 – Avengers: Endgame
After the insane ending of Infinity War which was my film of the year last year, this had a lot to live up to. Half our heroes were dusted, the others, injured, confused, lost, beaten and retreating. Filmed back to back with Infinity War, Endgame had to come up with one hell of a resolution to satisfy everybody and to all intents and purposes, end the Marvel Movie Saga as we know it. (At least until Spidey’s epilogue).
What we got was a gripping time heist, where the heroes have to go back along the films’ timeline to key points involving the Infinity Stones. I thought that after the introduction of captain Marvel as the mightiest being in the Marvel Movie Universe, she’d have played a larger role, but understandably – being as powerful as she is, she could’ve sorted everything out in five minutes and that would’ve been a short movie. So, she needed to be elsewhere. (The same problem was experienced by the writers of the Justice League TV series with Superman, so they kept writing him out. Who needs a Justice League or an Avengers when you have Superman and Captain Marvel?)
Of course, not everybody made it. There were acts of noble self-sacrifice among our heroes, and we saw some surprising deaths but the final scene would’ve brought a tear to a glass eye. Well played, Marvel. Very well played.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Well, here we are again, at the top of the list and here we are again with Star Wars.
If ANY film had a chance of beating Endgame to the top spot, it was this one. But frankly, I had my doubts. If Endgame had a lot of ground to cover, this one had more. Last Jedi had left audiences in stunned silence and many of us have had conflicted feelings about the film, so the point of someone even starting a petition to refilm it because it didn’t live up to their expectations. (Toxic fandom and entitled nerds – don’t get me started). Some retro fixing needed to be done, and from my point of view, it needed to be the payoff that those of us who were there right at the beginning, 42 years ago have been waiting for. And that’s a very tall order.
But as soon as that fanfare hit, we were in safe hands with J.J.Abrams’ direction. All our favourites over the years had their chance to say farewell. Some surprising ones. Despite seeing some online hostility, I’d say this was a major crowd pleaser and certainly those Star Wars diehards I know who’ve seen it have been pleased at the payoff.
So, much as I love the Marvel movies, I’m happy to see this conclusion to the Star Wars saga nudge it into second place. What a year of films though.
3 – Midsommar
The trailer intrigued me. The Fangoria magazine writeup intrigued me even more.
It’s a gorgeously filmed movie. The sweeping cinematography is marvellous, and the film builds up a slow sense of menace as the unwitting young people are drawn further and further in to a Swiss sect, celebrating the mid-summer festival. But we know something’s not right. And we get a tremendous sense of foreboding.
The scenes of human sacrifice are a sudden slap as some elders simply jump off a cliff, suffering injuries that will turn your stomach, in the belief that they’ll be reincarnated. But then, the whole thing just veers off in the fourth quarter with an orgy scene that’s just plain uncomfortably silly before the film loses it completely and becomes a blatant Wicker Man imitator.
Wicker Man did it so much better back in 1973. We didn’t need this.
2 – Child’s Play
Oh, good grief. Another needless remake that we didn’t need or even want. The one saving grace in this devoid of atmosphere mess was the casting of Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky. Hamill is the definitive Joker voice in my opinion after his Batman – The Animated Series voiceovers. But even HE couldn’t save this. No voodoo incantations of a serial killer transferring his soul to a child’s toy. A.I gone wrong. (Yawn)
Essentially, everything that’s wrong in horror films wrapped up in one dull, derivative, soul-less package and left on your doorstep in a nondescript brown paper bag, and set on fire.
1 - Detective Pikachu
The Fugly is the film that made me want to claw my eyes out in sheer frustration. This year – come on, ya li’l yellow waste of an hour and a half. Those who are fans of the whole Pokemon craze which keeps repeating and repeating in different media probably got this. Sadly, I didn’t. From very early on, I found myself disengaging with the film and its characters. Within the first fifteen or twenty minutes, I was completely detached and disinterested I spent the rest of the film desperately hoping, and looking for something, ANYTHING, I could take away from the movie and say I liked, just so I wouldn’t sound like a grumpy old man.
There was literally nothing. Not one single frame of film. I have nothing good to say about it.
If Ryan Reynolds is reportedly embarrassed by his Green Lantern film of a few years ago, which I incidentally liked, then he should hang his head in shame over this.
Never again. (Shudder)
Happy new year, everyone, and remember - stay different, stay weird.
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