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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

If movies had faces, I would have wanted to punch Yesterday in its stupid, stupid face for nearly its entire running time. It takes an interesting premise—a world in which the music of the Beatles doesn’t exist—and totally squanders it.

Danny Boyle (127 Hours, 28 Days Later …) directs the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a wannabe musician working part-time in a grocery store while also busking on street corners and playing small gigs with his trusty guitar. Jack’s burgeoning music career is managed by Ellie (Lily James), who is fostering a decades-old crush on Jack.

While riding his bike home from a gig, the world suffers some sort of momentary power loss, and Jack gets hit by a bus, knocking out a couple of teeth and sending him to the hospital. Just before his accident, Jack swore to end his music career—a good idea, because he totally sucks.

After the accident, Ellie and some friends give Jack a new guitar and suggest that he bust out a song for them. He goes with “Yesterday” by the Beatles—and the group is moved as if hearing the song for the first time. Well, that’s because they are hearing it for the first time. A quick Google check by Jack confirms the impossible: Somehow, Jack now lives in a parallel world where John, Paul, George and Ringo never came together to make music.

So what does Jack do? Why he plagiarizes the entire Beatles catalog, of course. He plasters notes with their songs all over his room, and starts re-creating their tracks. He struggles with the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby,” but he gets enough right to catch the eyes and ears of agents and producers everywhere. Jack doesn’t really seem like a rock star, but no matter: With the music of the Beatles propelling him, this kid is going places.

This act—stealing the music of the best group in rock history—is a grievous action, is it not? Only a true prick would steal music and try to pass it off as his own, right? Well, this is where the movie goes terribly wrong: Rather than exploring the dark side of plagiarism in a comedic way, Boyle’s movie begs you to love Jack, and to sympathize with him while he tries to figure out his romantic interest in Ellie. This results in a movie that is uncomfortable to watch, because Jack is nothing short of a total dick. Rather than crafting a film that seriously addresses a world without the Beatles, the movie becomes nothing but a lame rom-com. An opportunity for some mind-bending dark comedy becomes nothing but an exercise in whether he will kiss her or not.

The movie does take a stab at something profound with a special appearance by an historical figure late in the film. Beatles fans will cry blasphemy, because the movie simply doesn’t earn this moment. Furthermore, the moment is treated with a strange kind of casual bemusement that struck me as offensive. As for the appearance of Ed Sheeran … I was actually OK with a scene in which the pop star got put in his place because, you know, fuck that guy.

Movies that feature Beatles music can be a great thing. Beyond the films the actual Fab Four participated in, Across the Universe stands as a fine exercise on how to use Beatles music in the modern film era. In contrast, Yesterday is a vapid, unimaginative mess. It has no real reason to exist other than trying to find a way to roll out Beatles music for a new generation of moviegoers.

The film actually had me wincing at the sound of their music, given the film around it. You have to really screw up to make the Beatles boring.

Yesterday is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews