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The Best!

1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino said a lot of interesting things while promoting this movie, including a threat that he would only be directing one more film after this (and he’s backing away from that being his R-rated Star Trek idea, to the surprise of absolutely no one). So … depending on what he does next, this could be the last “big” movie from QT. If so, I’d say it’s a fitting finish. It’s also the best movie of the year.

2. Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler goes full-throttle nuts in what is easily the best performance within the best film of his career.

3. Midsommar: The horror genre had a banner year thanks in part to Ari Aster, who took terror out of the night and put it in broad daylight for this warped breakup movie. Florence Pugh—who gets my vote for Performer of the Year thanks to this, Little Women and Fighting With My Family—has established herself as a sure bet.

4. The Lighthouse: While this is more of a psychological thriller, there’s plenty of horror in watching farty Willem Dafoe and squirmy Robert Pattinson driving each other crazy on a remote island during a lighthouse-watch stint.

5. Marriage Story: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver break hearts in Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date, courtesy of Netflix.

6. 1917: Director Sam Mendes delivers perhaps his best film yet, about two British World War I soldiers trying to save 1,600 men before they advance into a German trap. It’s done to look like one continuous shot … and done well. This won a couple of Golden Globes, and while the Golden Globes are idiotic, 1917 is definitely award-worthy.

7. Waves: Startling performances all around and a tremendous visual flair make Waves a solid step forward for director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night). Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also great in this year’s Luce) sparkle in this film.

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The year’s most heartwarming story, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, and director Marielle Heller creating sweet vibes.

9. Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf returned with a vengeance this year, supplying both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy. (The film was produced by Amazon and will be streaming soon.)

10. Us: As I said above, horror had a nice year, and Jordan Peele continues his march away from comedy toward scariness with this chilling doppelganger thriller.


The Worst!

1. Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker: The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. This one was co-written by J.J. Abrams and the meathead hack who penned Batman v Superman. That’s right: They handed the storytelling power for one of cinema’s all-time-great storylines to the man who crapped that monstrosity out of his computer. You thought the Return of the Jedi Ewok hoedown was a bad conclusion to the first trilogy? Well, say hello to Palpatine’s Hellraiser Disco Rave Extravaganza.

2. Rambo: Last Blood: It’s been fun seeing Rocky again in the Creed films. As for Sylvester Stallone’s other HGH-enhanced alter ego, the last two efforts in the series have seen … let’s say, diminishing returns, as his hair got shorter (just like Samson in the Bible!).

3. Glass: Just when M. Night Shyamalan was starting to restore my faith in his abilities, he unleashes this, a case study in how not to invent a movie franchise on the fly.

4. Cats: So I was watching this and just trying to survive. Suddenly, things picked up a bit when a song that actually contained a pretty melody sprang from the speakers. Turns out it was the song Taylor Swift wrote, a blossoming flower in the middle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sewage dump. Taylor came out of the sky later in the film as a CGI human-cat monster and tried to save the movie, but all was lost by then.

5. Yesterday: I just couldn’t get behind this movie. The central character is a plagiarist asshole, and I hated his renditions of Beatles music. Stay home, and listen to the reissue of Abbey Road.

6. Dumbo/The Lion King/Aladdin: While Aladdin was just slightly bad, Dumbo was terrible, and The Lion King was a complete waste of time. Disney, I love you, but you have to stop with this nonsense. Don’t worry; you will still make money. Hell, the amount of dough I drop on coffee mugs in your souvenir stores rivals what these stupid movies made.

7. Hellboy: Maybe they should’ve let David Harbour be funnier in the title role? He kicked comedy ass when he hosted Saturday Night Live. But here, he’s a total dud as Ron Perlman’s replacement.

8. Mary Magdalene: Jesus was a lot of things, but super-boring wasn’t one of them. This pretentious slog was just an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to hang out with girlfriend Rooney Mara and get paid.

9. The Dirt: The only thing cool about watching this shitshow was the knowledge that Mötley Crüe was over as a band. Now comes the news that those fucksticks will be touring again, which takes away any good vibe that could be experienced watching this.

10. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot: Some critics had the audacity to call this Sam Elliott film one of the year’s best. To those folks, I say: Mushrooms can apparently be a fun recreational drug sometimes, but you shouldn’t take them when you are writing your reviews or operating a band saw.

While they didn’t make the year’s Top 10 worst list, boos go out to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for being soul crushingly dull, and Joker, perhaps the year’s most overrated mediocre film. I was very excited for both … almost as excited as I was for the new Star Wars.

Screw you, J.J. Abrams!!!

Published in Previews and Features

After two feature-directing credits, it’s safe to declare writer-director Ari Aster a master of horror. Midsommar, the sophomore effort after his masterpiece Hereditary, is 2 1/2 hours of nerve-fraying terror, staged mostly in broad daylight—and it’s a thing of demented beauty.

Dani (Florence Pugh, who is dynamite) and Christian (Jack Reynor, who is excellent) are having relationship issues. Dani is super-dependent on Christian during a major time of need; her sister is constantly bombarding her with toxic emails. Christian halfheartedly provides what he tries to pass off as sage advice, but his heart isn’t in it—and he’s starting to think a break-up might make sense.

Tragedy then strikes Dani’s family, and it’s time for Christian to step up. His solution? Take Dani along on what was supposed to be a bro trip to Sweden for a traditional family summer festival. He sort of asks her to go; she sort of says yes; and before you know it, Dani is on a plane to Sweden with Christian and his friends.

Christian’s crew consists of Mark (the always-good Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and the resident Swede, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the smiley-faced dude who suggested the trip. His family is at the core of the festival, and he can’t wait to show his pals their idea of a good time.

Shortly after arriving, Dani and friends ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. The weirdness kicks in immediately—and the movie comes off as a really bad trip. Take note of the paintings on the walls throughout the film; they provide fun hints of the terrors to come. When two elderly members of the happy tribe show a sick form of commitment to the festival, it’s an act that would make reasonable people flee. However … Christian and Pelle are doing a thesis for school, so they write off the strange goings-on as “tribal” and stick around until the very end. Bad, bad call.

That end is a real scorcher, a final testament to lousy significant others. Pugh, so good in this year’s Fighting With My Family, makes a grand statement with this movie: She’s an acting force. She puts everything on the table, and it pays off in a performance that will surely be one of the year’s most memorable (as was Toni Collette’s lead performance in last year’s Hereditary). Chris Pratt-lookalike Reynor is a well-placed and sound counterpart, but this is Pugh’s show.

One of the pleasures of Midsommar is that it’s obvious where things are going. Lots of clues are put right in front of your face as the sun shines brightly. While the movie is a deliberately paced slow burn, the 2 1/2 hours go by pretty quickly. Aster never loses the sense of dread, so while you could call the movie predictable in some ways, it’s not anything resembling a letdown. It’s a movie that constantly delivers on the dread it promises in its every frame.

According to Aster, he was going through his own dark relationship issues when putting this film together. I feel very sorry for the person on the other side of that relationship. Aster’s dark soul runs very deep, and he’s a great writer. Some poor soul had their ass handed to them in the final email exchanges.

Midsommar stands as a nice companion piece to Hereditary. I see myself enduring a delightfully miserable double-feature in the near future and purposefully bumming myself out—because, you know, that’s why we watch horror films. Aster has a way of putting a lot of pain and nightmare fuel on the screen while somehow making it all very entertaining. As he did last year, he’s made one of 2019’s best films.

Midsommar is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews