Much thanks must be given to the little voice in my head.
When buying my ticket for Dune, the voice told me to try and buy a seat as close to the screen as possible. While my neck did not start truly hurting until the last forty minutes or so of the film, the voice was correct, as the experience gave me small vibes dating back to when I watched the original Star Wars Trilogy re-released in the mid-90s when I was nine years old.
Within the last few weeks, there have been at least two instances at the dinner table where my siblings and I were at each others throats. The ultimate discussion (with varying amounts of volume) were taking place over a subject of vital importance: Which was the best film of the Star Wars saga (not including spinoffs)? Despite my best efforts to ensure Connor and Jackson how great the original trilogy was, they stayed defiant that Revenge of the Sith (Episode 3) is the best.
More than likely, you have become part of a “fandom” at one point in your life. It may not be as vast as those of Star Wars or Star Trek, but it is there. You invest in characters and they become more than just entertainment: They become like an extra family member you feel you did not need at first.
Toward the end of 2019, only when looking back did I realize how truly strong of a year this was for movies. As I progress in life as a movie goer, finding the good movies becomes easier. I always equate it to picking raspberries when I was a kid: the better ones are not always out in front. As has been the case of the past few years, I have decided to do a top 20 instead of a top 10. Even with 20, movies shown above such as The Two Popes,A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Pain and Glory, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did not make the cut.
Update: With The Rise of Skywalker less than a week away, it was inevitable that I would return to watching The Last Jedi. I am confident in saying that no other movie in my life time has ever been this divisive, splitting the opinions of families and friends world wide. I am still sticking to my guns (or blasters, as it were).
No one can overstate the fandom of the Star Wars Universe. Even so, regardless of how many times you have seen the movies, the amount of books you read, the hours of gameplay you have spent on KOTAR (Knights of the Old Republic) and the Lego versions, and even if you know the difference between a fambaa and a Tauntaun (actual creature names in the Star Wars Universe), you are still going to be surprised by Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. The dialogue from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) says it best:
“This is not going to go the way you think!”
Set right after the events of The Force Awakens, this film shows the rebels under attack and virtually cornered by the first order, led by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Despite efforts by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and others, the rebel’s star ships seem to be running low on fuel and are at the end of their rope. Still, hope is still being held onto, mainly by Leia (the late great Carrie Fisher, whose final film performance both melts your heart and warms it at the same time). Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally found Luke Skywalker, but getting him to join the fight is no easy feat.
That is all I will say of the plot, because I would never dream of dropping any spoilers. I can say that this film does seem to be in a class of its own in the Star Wars franchise. It has shown us parts of the force we have not experienced before. Yet where it differs, the similarities are still there (there are vibes you get of The Empire Strikes Back as well as Return of the Jedi). There are twists we do not see coming, and I was shocked many a time during the film. That is a positive thing.
Obviously, the film is a technical marvel. It is so wondrous to see that, even after all these years, the Star Wars films can still give us imagery that we have not yet seen (the same goes for the music, done, once again, by the legend that is John Williams.) The credit of taking a risk with going in a different direction has got to go to director Rian Johnson (who also helped write the screenplay). This even includes some unexpected, yet delightful humorous moments.
The Last Jedi does have some faults that keep it from the likes of Episodes 4 and 5. The movie is long (the longest, in fact, of the franchise, at 2 1/2 hours). There is also a character played by Benecio Del Toro (undoubtedly an amazing actor) who, I feel, was totally redundant to the film. His character, DJ (which really seems a little odd for a Star Wars film, somehow) is in a situation to help the rebels, but that situation alone was awkward writing in the first place. One of the main arguments of the film (and there are too many to count from Star Wars fans) is that the subplot with the Casino does not work, and I agree.
Still, we get some fresh new faces that add to the franchise that are more than welcome. The two stand out characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a rebel fighter helping Poe and Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (the always wonderful Laura Dern). All these characters (and others) get at least one moment in the film to shine (some of which will have you applauding).
The one main scene involving Dern’s character has been debated constantly, with haters of the film saying that her decision would not work at all in the vast scheme of things. My response to that would be to simply ask, “Do we really go to a Star Wars film to be informed or entertained?” Let’s not forget, this is Science Fiction.
Parents, if your kids have seen at least one other film in this franchise (and if they haven’t and are old enough, what are you waiting for?!?!), they will be fine here. There is no nudity or sex, just some mild swearing and (obviously) action.
As of this review, there is a vast difference in opinion between critics and the public (as is normally the case). It is strange, however, that the critics seem to like it a lot more (at the moment, 93% of critics liked it, while only 63% of the audience liked it*). Upon reading the reviews from the latter, I realize a lot of people are upset that certain questions are not answered. Personally, I feel not all questions need to be answered in a movie. It is up for interpretation, meaning The Last Jedi will require many a viewing.
Something I will gladly do.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
*As of 2019, the critics rating is 91%, while the audience is 43%. The ultra Star Wars fanboys/girls have given this film the treatment equivalent to throwing it to the almighty Sarlac.
In the history of film, no aspect of the movie making process is easier to see how far we have come than that of special effects. From 1903’s A Trip to the Moon to King Kong to Star Wars to James Cameron to the MCU, it is no secret that CGI is a key factor (if not the key factor) to a box office smash.
Back in 2008, the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button told the story of how the title character (played by Brad Pitt) lives a life in reverse: being born old then gradually getting younger. Since then, we have seen more examples of Hollywood using technology to either bring back actors to life, such as in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with the character of General Tarkin being brought back despite the fact that the actor, Peter Cushing, died in 1994. The same movie used the same trick with Princess Leia, played by the late great Carrie Fisher (from what I have read, this will not be the case for the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). Actors are also now able to look younger, most recently with Will Smith in Gemini Man and with characters in Martin Scoresese’s newest film, The Irishman (unseen by me at this writing, though I have been waiting for this more than any other 2019 film).
However, this technology has taken a big hit of criticism last week, when it was revealed that a film would be made using this form of CGI to bring back James Dean to star in a movie.
If this is the first time you are hearing about this, I assure you it is not a joke.
James Dean, who died over half a century ago, will be “brought back” to star in a movie. This ranks up with the “colorizing” of old movies (in which Ted Turner made Black and White classics look like trashy coloring books) as the most ludicrous of Hollywood ideas.
Anyone even remotely interested in film history will have heard of James Dean. Born in Indiana in 1931, he starred in only three films: East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, and Giant (the only one of which I have yet to see).
Though he lived to see East of Eden released, he died in a car crash at the age of 24 nearly a month before the release of Rebel (for which he is probably most famous for). He was the first actor nominated posthumously for an Oscar, then received another posthumous Oscar the next year (for East of Eden and Giant, respectively). The true legend of Dean was now born.
In the 1950s, he grew up when it was cool to rebel, and became one of the symbols of the term (the others would be Elvis Presley and Dean’s own idol, Marlon Brando). Like Brando, he brought a new type of acting to the screen (most commonly known as “the method”), making Dean seem more visceral and raw than others before him. Who knows what kind of career he would have had if it weren’t for his fatal car crash (he was a notorious fan of high speed racing).
His influence is clearly felt to this day (even The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau is a fan, hence “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”), or else directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh would not have had the idea to use him (well, his image) in their upcoming movie Finding Jack. Based off of a book of the same name by author Gareth Crocker, the film is about a Vietnam soldier named Fletcher Carson (Dean) who is recovering from a recent tragedy. Despite wishing to die in the war, he befriends a dog that brings his life new meaning.
According to the filmmakers, they did plenty of auditions for the role of Carson, but decided that Dean would be the only actor who could play him, despite the fact that another actor will have to voice the character.
There are a few instances where this has been used are far back as commercials in the 1990s, such as soda commercials involving Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. During the 84th Academy Awards (the one that was sadly hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway), there was a segment when Billy Crystal came out to talk about the legendary Bob Hope as a projection of Hope was on stage cracking jokes. Though there was no real reason for this other than to show the technology (the image of Hope basically introduced the next presenters), I still found it cool (I mean, Bob Hope was arguably the greatest Oscar host of all time. Even Billy Crystal would say the same.) The difference is that was the performer representing themselves, not used to serve a work of fiction as some sort of puppet.
God gave us Artistic freedom, but I would argue that this is robbing others of their freedom. Not just the living actors who could perform these parts (the filmmakers said they auditioned many before they determined only James Dean could play the part, but since the Screen Actors Guild has roughly 160,000 members, I have some doubts), but also the director. Film director/icon Alfred Hitchcock said, “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director”.
Thankfully, the idea of digitally “reanimating” deceased stars is being shot down in the media. Captain America himself Chris Evans has called it “shameful”, as have others such as Dylan Sprouse and Elijah (“Frodo Baggins”) Wood. Perhaps the biggest opponent of the idea is Zelda Williams, daughter of the late great comic Robin Williams, pointing out how her father would not let anyone use his likeness of this sort for 25 years after his death (and if there is ANYONE you can not replicate, it is Robin Williams).
It gets even worse. A licensing specialist CMG Worldwide has combined with a creation studio named Observe Media to form Worldwide XR. According to their website, James Dean is just the beginning (they do plan on using his image more, using the shameless phrase “Think of it as James Dean 2.0”). They have plans for other celebrities, not just film stars like James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Dorothy Dandridge, Rock Hudson, and Christopher Reeve. From what I have seen, this would include people such as wrestler Andre the Giant, baseball legends “Shoeless” Joe Jackson & Lou Gehrig, jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and aviation icon Amelia Earhardt.
The idea of this is not only foolish, but borderline dangerous. I don’t just mean from a financial aspect (the cost of The Irishman was mainly related to the technology). It is bringing people back to life who more than likely did not know about this advanced tech in the first place (let alone any tech, for that matter. It is almost like necromancy for the 21st century.
Imagine if Jordan Peterson had his image taken, and someone was able to have him talk (or someone imitate his voice) about the wonders of atheism. It would be like me, someone who is five foot, made to look like I can out dunk Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It is as if the people in charge failed to remember the advice given from Jurassic Park in which Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) argues about why bring dinosaurs back to life is a bad idea.
“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.
I went back and forth as to whether make the traditional top ten, or go with twenty. I decided on the latter for a few reasons. First, in a great year for movies, there were too many to ignore (and even at twenty, films such as Wonder Woman, Detroit, Mudbound, and Darkest Hour did not make it). Second, so what if I added more than ten? If you really want see just the top ten, here is a trick: skip down to number ten, and go from there (though you will be missing a lot of great films along the way).
A passion project for director/actor James Franco, The Disaster Artist tells the tale of another passion project (and cult favorite), The Room. Franco is so wonderful in the role of the aloof Tommy Wiseau that it goes beyond comedy and becomes very human. It truly tears you apart!
Renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, is full of electricity. As always, his dialogue snaps like fire crackers, no doubt due to the wonderful casting of greats such as Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.
The most recent film I have seen as of this writing, Faces Places is the unique documentary about legendary french film maker Agnes Varda and her friend JR (whose eyes she has never seen). They go around meeting people as they post big pictures of their subjects on vast walls. As in all great films, it goes far beyond that. It reminded me a lot about Errol Morris’s masterpiece, Gates of Heaven.
Even with an all-star cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Hillary Swank, Seth Macfarlane, and (especially) Daniel Craig, a film like Logan Lucky could have gone wrong on so many levels. Thankfully, the script is so tight that every moment is real, authentic, and down right ludicrously hilarious.
A prime example of a movie you either love or hate, I am on the former when it comes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No, we did not get any “answers” to questions we may have had, but so what? It was a Star Wars film that gave us new twists and turns we had not seen before, plus was much better than the overrated Rogue One.
From one sci-fi sequel to another, Blade Runner 2049 is full of a lot of questions that are also unanswered. What no one will question is the gorgeous scope of the film, thanks in part to cinematographer Roger Deakins (who may finally get his Oscar now).
In one of the best years for superhero films, my pick still goes to Logan. A swan song of epic proportions, Hugh Jackman truly goes out swinging. Or clawing.
Even if the film was rushed, Steven Spielberg’s The Post has a fire burning in the soul, which shows in the cast led by Hollywood giants Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It is a movie that, had it not been made, I would not be reminded of the right I have to be typing these words in the first place.
How wickedly devilish is the film I, Tonya! So fun, and self-aware of itself, it gives a stellar Margot Robbie performance, and heaven knows how wonderful Allison Janney is as one of the worst mom’s in recent cinema history.
As Miguel tugs at the guitar strings, so does Coco tug at our heart-strings. Which, by now, is totally the standard Disney/Pixar films have set for all animated films (and others in general).
One of the most original scripts in recent memory, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is full of outstanding wit and charm. It is also more proof why Saoirse Ronan is truly one of the best actors of her generation.
Of all the movies I saw this year, I fought the hardest (okay, fought myself) for Wonder to be in the top ten. Based of the book of the same name (which I highly recommend), this wonderful fable of why it is important to #choosekind is something I cannot imagine parents not taking their kids to.
Very few, if any, director has a current positive track record than Christopher Nolan, and Dunkirk is no exception. Packed with more than enough tension and grit, it is as fitting a war film as they come.
At only around an hour and a half, few films of this (or any) year have given me more questions than that of A Ghost Story. Like a pool, you soak in it, look at the reflection, and see all the questions you want answered. Multiple viewings are needed, and are something I plan to do in the time I have left on earth.
Another one of the most original scripts in years, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tough sit through at many times. Yet it has so much dark peppered humor and spot on performances (mainly McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and especially Sam Rockwell) it is hard to turn away.
The true story of how one man met his wife, The Big Sick is still the best rom com I have seen in nearly a decade. All the actors are hilarious and convincing, and the writing is top-notch. I still can’t get over that 9/11 joke.
I had never thought of what could be outside the walls of Disney World before I saw The Florida Project. I doubt I am alone. With some of the best acting from children you will see, and a sublime Willem Dafoe, the movie takes us to a place that has been under the shadows of Disney for far too long.
Like most, I had to wait nearly a month before I could see Phantom Thread, but it was far worth the wait. Daniel Day-Lewis gives (no surprise) a perfectly majestic performance as a dress-maker in 1950s London, whose new muse (Vicky Krieps) must put up with him. Director Paul Thomas Anderson treats the film as gentle as the fabric that Woodcock works with in his shop.
Of all the love stories of this year, my favorite still goes to that of a mute help worker and a sea creature in The Shape of Water. Guillermo Del Toro gives us a world of endless possibilities, filled with memorable characters (don’t get me started on how much we love to hate Michael Shannon here), astounding visuals, and a love that is not easy to forget.
I can imagine a lot of people being surprised at my number one pick, but after more than one viewing, I just could not deny IT. Undoubtably one of the top four or five adaptations of Stephen King, the film is far more than a horror masterpiece. It is also about coming of age (I have yet to meet anyone who though negatively of the kid performances, all of whom are perfect in their roles), young love, bullying, and, of course, clowns.
Floating has never been so terrifying. Or enjoyable.
Fantastic Beasts and where to find them does what it is meant to do: introduce us to characters that are magical in a magical world. It does not do much more than that, but what it does do is done pretty dog gone well.