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I haven’t seen nearly as many films throughout 2019 as I might have liked, but what I have seen has left me largely uninspired — nothing awful, but also nothing to get me all that excited. The sole exception so far has been Lulu Wang’s phenomenal “The Farewell.” So color me both astonished and elated that “Doctor Sleep” has become only the second film this year that I really, truly love.
“Joker” is not the most boring film I’ve seen all year. Nor is it the most poorly made. Nevertheless, “Joker” is probably the worst film I’ve seen in 2019, or at least the one I despised the most.
Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of “The Matrix” this year, Warner Brothers recently announced that Lana Wachowski — the elder of the Wachowski siblings behind the original classic — would be reuniting with actors Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss to direct a fourth “Matrix” film.
At this point, it’s no secret that the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” was extremely polarizing. The mileage of fans and critics varied, but the general consensus seems to be that the final three episodes torched what has quite possibly become the most popular TV series of all time. Showrunners David Benioff ’92 and D.B. Weiss resolved the show’s two major plot threads by essentially splitting these last six episodes into two mini-seasons; whereas episodes one through three feature the long-awaited confrontation with the White Walkers, episodes four through six cover the subsequent power struggle over the Iron Throne, the seat of power in the story’s fictional Seven Kingdoms. While the first arc was generally well received, it’s the baffling storytelling in the second that will haunt “Game of Thrones” forever.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is without a doubt one of the most bizarre ideas for a mainstream, Hollywood family film that I’ve encountered in recent memory. To be clear, I’m not referring to the basic notion of adapting the hugely popular Japanese multi-media franchise into a live-action American film. “Pokémon” is so ubiquitous at this point that even if you’ve never really experienced it –— as is the case with me — you’ve almost certainly at least heard about it through cultural osmosis. Moreover, that ubiquity practically transformed into notoriety with the 2016 release of the augmented reality game “Pokémon Go,” of which, again, you’ve almost definitely heard.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the film “Avengers: Endgame.”
“Avengers: Endgame” is one of those odd films that everyone wants to talk about, but, in a sense, no one does. Fans fear that critics will spoil the experience for them, and critics fear the wrath of these fans, resulting in a cycle that does its very best to curtail any actual conversation about the film or its content. Thus, while I will certainly strive to avoid spoilers throughout this review, I always want to talk about some of the thematic and narrative implications of the film. To paraphrase video essayist Dan Olson, if you don’t want spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame,” don’t go see “Avengers: Endgame” because it is wall to wall with spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.”
Everyone loves bad films. We may pretend not to or try to justify this preference, but at the end of the day, we all have at least one guilty pleasure film. Of course, the very notion of a “bad film” is contentious because no method of film criticism has the capacity to be purely objective. That being said, I still contend that everyone has the tendency to love films that we personally deem to be “bad” but elicit a distinct sense of enjoyment in us nonetheless.
In his essay “What is Digital Cinema?” media theorist Lev Manovich notes that cinema ultimately began with animation. Magic lanterns, phenakistoscopes, zootropes. They all relied, in a sense, on a form of hand-drawn animation. Whereas many of his fellow theorists posit that cinema is the “art of the index,” defined by its ability to record reality, Manovich contends that its very origins position cinema as “the art of motion.” Thus, for Manovich, the dominance of computer-generated imagery animation in “live-action” films in recent years is not some existential threat to the very essence of film but rather the medium returning to its roots.
As “Game of Thrones” begins its eighth and final season this Sunday, a retrospective examining of the show’s legacy feels inevitable. After all, “Game of Thrones” was never just a popular TV show; its astonishing critical and commercial success has only been matched by the countless think pieces about the show’s impact on the television industry, its approach to adapting George R. R. Martin’s nigh-unadaptable “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and its many, many controversies. Indeed, considering the immense cultural ripple effect of “Game of Thrones,” it’s not shocking that both the show and its legacy are a bundle of interwoven contradictions and paradoxes. Just as the show has been praised for its nuanced female characters, critique of fascist despotism and perceived allegory about the dangers of climate change, it has also rightfully received vociferous criticism, particularly for its often-reckless depiction of sexual violence.
At this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered a reputation for tenacity when it comes to selecting unique directors whose prior work doesn’t always make them obvious candidates for mega-budget superhero extravaganzas. This strategy is noteworthy because it has paid off time and time again; the fact that Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler have recently managed to reinvigorate the franchise with “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther,” respectively, suggests that this strategy is extremely viable.
You may have heard that the 91st Academy Awards ceremony took place a little over a week ago, and you may have also heard that the results were … controversial. But as much as I disapprove of “Green Book” as the Best Picture winner, I don’t really have the desire to explore that any further in this article. Instead, I’d like to discuss “Black Panther,” another Best Picture nominee and one whose failure to win the top prize reflects a series of ongoing problems with the Academy Awards.
The Oscars may have come and gone, but I’m still not quite ready to embrace the new cinematic year. So, as a final send-off, it seems fitting to reflect on the best and worst films that 2018 had to offer. A couple of caveats before I begin, though: 1) Rather than organizing these films into a meaningless ranking, I’ve arranged them alphabetically. However, I have bolded the titles of the best film and the worst film of 2018 (in my humble opinion). 2) There are plenty of films from 2018 that I would have loved to see but haven’t gotten a chance to, largely due to accessibility issues. If you don’t see one of your favorite films from last year on this list, assume that I wanted to see it, didn’t get the chance to and would have included it on this list if I had. That last part is total wishful thinking, but it will keep everyone marginally happy. As a disclaimer, I did see all the Best Picture nominees.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an elated review of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning juggernaut “Moonlight,” extolling it as one of the century’s very best films. Looking back on that review, I wince a little at its naïveté and ignorance — an ignorance which I know can only be born out of the immensely privileged position I occupy. Nevertheless, my fundamental feelings about the film have not changed in the intervening time. Indeed, I’ve watched the film at least half-a-dozen times since I first saw it in theaters; it remains a masterful work, a revelation of astonishing filmmaking fused to a perfectly crafted narrative. As we enter the final year of the 2010s, I’m hard-pressed to imagine that there will be a better film released before this decade officially closes out.
As we find ourselves hurtling toward the already contentious 91st Academy Awards ceremony, I think it might be time to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming and tackle a seemingly unrelated question: Why do we like cult films?
In light of the 91st Academy Awards coming up this month, a few of our film reviewers are looking at the Best Picture nominees to see what might be the best pick for the film industry’s most prestigious award. Today, Sebastian Wurzrainer looks at “The Favourite.”
Let’s begin this review with the following two statements: 1. Spider-Man was the first superhero to whom I was introduced. 2. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is hands down the best Spider-Man film ever made. Full stop. No qualifications. I mention these two things in conjunction because even though they initially appear to be unrelated, they are, in fact, intrinsically linked. I never read comics as a child, and when I finally did find myself immersed in the world of superheroes, my favorite was always Batman thanks to Tim Burton’s bizarre, stylish 1989 film adaptation. Nevertheless, my first proper experience with anything superhero related was watching Tomo Moriwaki’s “Spider-Man 2” at the impressionable age of 7 or 8. Thus, even to this day, I have a special fondness for everyone’s favorite web-slinger.
“Aquaman” is the sixth film in the DC Extended Universe, following on the heels of four films that range from mediocre to atrocious (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Suicide Squad,” “Justice League”) and one of the best superhero films not just of the last decade but of all time (“Wonder Woman”). Unsurprisingly, the overall abysmal quality of the franchise has led countless think pieces to ponder how it might be fixed. While I profess to be no authority, I’ve always found that solutions demanding the original director’s cut of “Justice League” or advocating for an alternate-universe reboot both miss precisely what made Wonder Woman” exceptional.
In my review for the second season of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I commented that the Netflix adaptation for the beloved, darkly comic 13-book children’s series by Lemony Snicket (pen name for Daniel Handler), was unique for its remarkable consistency if nothing else. While it might be true that each season is an improvement from the last, the margins of quality difference are slim throughout. As a show, it began excellently and has yet to falter. As an adaptation, director Barry Sonnenfeld and his team of writers and co-directors have managed to not merely be faithful but also complementary to their source material. To paraphrase Mikey Neumann from his video “The Story of Harry Potter Part 3," the books make the [show] better and the [show] make[s] the books better.
In his video “Ludonarrative Dissonance,” film essayist Dan Olson advocates the use of the term “Cinemanarrative Dissonance.” The term describes when an aspect of a film flounders because two or more creative departments did competent work that was nevertheless contradictory due to the lack of a strong, unified vision for the overall product. “Mary Queen of Scots” is full of competent, occasionally even inspired, moments that nonetheless collapse because the film is the new poster child for cinemanarrative dissonance. The film is never truly terrible because everyone in front of and behind the camera is trying; they just never seem to be on the same page.