Thursday, January 23, 2020

Not On the Best of 2019 List

Welcome to my annual series about the best movies of the previous year!  As usual, I’ll start with a list of the movies I didn’t get a chance to see. The big one is Jojo Rabbit. I was supposed to get a screener in the mail and it never arrived. Also unseen: Uncut Gems, The Farewell, The Lighthouse, Judy, Bombshell and several others I’m forgetting to mention.

Next, as has become a recent tradition, I will spotlight just some of the movies that are pointedly not on the list. If you have no wish for negativity, come back on Sunday when I will start celebrating the best!

Not on the List: The Irishman

  • The onscreen title of this movie is “I Heard You Paint Houses”, which is also the title of the book. Clearly, somebody changed the title at the last second, but why? And of all the thousands of titles they could have chosen, why that one? They cast an Italian-American in the lead role. He is in no way conveying the fact that he is playing an Irishman. That’s fine—I have Irish relatives that look enough like De Niro—but then why call it The Irishman? Why call attention to something they are not conveying in any way?
  • Not since WB hastily removed Superman’s mustache has a CGI job looked this bad. This movie might best be described as “Polar Express Meets Goodfellas”. As with Justice League, an unpaid fan has used free Deep Fake technology to improve the effects greatly and posted the results on YouTube. I realize that Hollywood is terrified of Deep Fake, but if you’re going to keep making movies like this, you have to embrace it. What really hurt is that it was released the same year as Captain Marvel, which became the first movie to flawlessly de-age a major character for the whole runtime. But, to be fair, Samuel L. Jackson wears his years a lot of lighter than Robert De Niro does.
  • At one point early on, buried in the avalanche of voiceover, De Niro casually mentions that, between scenes, he left his wife and family for another woman. This is in a 3 and a half hour movie! You can’t devote ten minutes to the everyday tragedy of that? Take a look at the first ten minutes of Up! You can pack a lot of emotion into ten minutes! I felt very gratified that De Niro did not get an Oscar nomination, because his character is utterly uncompelling. He gets 45 minutes of build-up before the real plot begins, and then another 45 minutes of wind-down after the plot ends, but all the non-Hoffa screentime is just inert, because De Niro is giving us almost nothing. I want my 3 ½ hours back.

Not on the List: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • I’ve always thought Leonardo DiCaprio is our most overrated actor. He was great in Titanic and Catch Me if You Can, but he’s only convincing in boy-ish roles, and any time he tries to play a grown man it feels like a middle-school production of “The Iceman Cometh”. Has he ever been more miscast than he is in this movie? Washed-up cowboy actor, reduced to playing TV villains, finds a second life as a Spaghetti Western star? Why would you cast someone who can’t grow a convincing beard in a Spaghetti Western? I didn’t buy it.
  • Pitt is fine, but he’s not digging deep. I’m not going to find anybody bad-ass when the movie is trying so hard to make him seem bad-ass, even having him beat up Bruce Lee! I hope the ghost of the real Bruce comes back and kicks the asses of both Pitt and Tarantino.
  • The most excited I got while watching this movie was when Maya Hawke from “Stranger Things” Season Three was on screen for two minutes. That season was great cinema. This was not. Great soundtrack though, as always.

Not on the List: Frozen II

  • I’ve just discovered that, when my father built that dam for the indigenous tribe north of us, he didn’t have their best interest at heart. And so, immediately upon hearing this, I will run over and destroy the dam without asking anyone in the tribe if that’s okay with them. Equity achieved!
  • I thought everything about this movie was pretty dreadful: The songs, the personal arcs, the character work… The massive new mythology was way too indebted to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” but it suffers mightily from that comparison.

Not on the List: Avengers: Endgame

  • Unlike the above 3, I adored this movie and I love that it beat out Avatar to become the most successful movie of all time. There’s just one thing keeping it out of the top 10: They should have just restored things back to the point of the snap! Yes, it would have felt odd for Tony to wipe his own kid out of existence, but refusing to erase five years of horrific trauma for everybody in the entire universe is worse, Tony! And I spent the whole movie distracted, thinking “This five year gap is gonna totally screw up every movie they try to make from this point forward!” And then the latest Spider-Man movie came out and yeah, it was totally screwed up by the five year gap. Just undo the snap! A terrible decision marring an otherwise-great film.


Ishmael said...

"They should have just restored things back to the point of the snap! Yes, it would have felt odd for Tony to wipe his own kid out of existence, but refusing to erase five years of horrific trauma for everybody in the entire universe is worse, Tony!"

Here's the catch in the context of the film:

If you mean undo history, they established clearly that that's not possible. Re-writing history only creates a new branch of reality and allows the current one to continue. (And I've been reading science textbooks since the 90's that explained this is how time travel would likely work, so good on them to stick to that, other than a little tacked-on Infinity Stone wonkiness.)

If you mean overwrite the state of the present with the state of the past, isn't that kind of horrifying on its own? Wiping out five years of memories and changing everyone to what they were before. I really don't see how leaving people with traumatic memories is "worse" than that?

And bear in mind you wouldn't just be removing Morgan Stark from existence. Over 5 years if the birth rate is half what it is now, nine million people would've been born. So that means "resetting" things would kill, again, *nine million people*. Again, how is leaving traumatic memories in place worse than that?

Matt Bird said...

They've got omnipotence and they can't do it? Everybody came out of that movie saying "What about all the people who were in airplanes?" and the filmmakers were put in the position of saying, "Well, the Hulk was omnipotent at the time, so he individually chose on a case-by-case basis where to set everybody down safely ON EVERY PLANET IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE" and that's easier than just finding some way to undo the snap?

Marie said...

I recently tried to watch The Irishman and watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the next day.

Your analysis makes me feel deeply vindicated for disliking both movies and for being stunned by the effusive praise being heaped on both of them.

I found The Irishman boring. Period. Turned it off after 25 minutes with zero regrets.

Hollywood was more watchable but I felt exactly as you regarding the performances. I felt the movie as a whole was lacking in substance. The "aging star" storylines seemed to get muddied with other stuff and I'm genuinely shocked that Pitt is receiving accolades for this performance. And like you, I liked the music, so much so that I bought the album.

IMHO, this is the problem: for a good 20 years, many American films have inadequately developed characters, relying instead on a single, sketchy moment to define the character entirely before getting on with the plot. These films may have interesting individual scenes but the films don't come together as a whole. Due to this absence of genuine character development, critics and audiences, who desperately want to enjoy their movie experience, are not seeing these films as they are but instead as they wished they'd be. It's the only explanation I have for review quotes like "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a loving homage to the final throws of the golden age of cinema and pre-Manson LA." There was some of that in the film but I was distracted by all of the shots of the back of people's heads as they drove down the street.

Matt Bird said...

Backs of heads and bottoms of feet!