The best movies of 2019

This piece was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

What to make of 2019 as a year in movies? How about what not to make of it?

It was an unexpected as Baby Yoda’s world domination, and as exhaustively satisfying as watching Rick Dalton let it rip on the set of “Lancer.” It provided an all-timer crop of sophomore features from the likes of Greta Gerwig, Robert Eggers and Ari Aster while also yielding one last group of mesmerizing, decade-ending debuts that includes Olivia Wilde, Joe Talbot and Lulu Wang. The bread and wine of “The Irishman” looked tasty, the ramdon of “Parasite” even more so, and the trophy for Movie Most Likely To Scare You Out of a Summer Trip to Europe is finally in the hands of something other than “Taken.” First-time director Lulu Wang let us in on a family secret, and institutional director Martin Scorsese let us into reflections of a career.

Tom Hooper’s “Cats” broke Twitter, and then broke its awards chances by not breaking the box office. Sagas ended (for now) with “Avengers: Endgame,” sagas ended definitively (or so they say) with “The Rise of Skywalker” and sagas received an epilogue with “Toy Story 4.” Adam Driver was in everything. Florence Pugh: hello. Joe Pesci, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Lopez: hello again. We couldn’t decide whether “The Lion King” was animated or live-action (it’s animated). We couldn’t decide whether “Under The Silver Lake” is problematic or in on the joke (it’s the latter). Robert Pattinson lost his mind in space, then in a lighthouse, then on a European battlefield—spanning about five centuries in the process.

Netflix quadrupled down on its bid to be taken seriously as a new kind of movie studio, while A24 and Neon continued churning out indie darlings with budgets the size of Thanos’s pinkie. The knives came out, the gems remained uncut and the popes came in sets of two. What to make of 2019 as a year in cinema? It may very well have been the decade’s best. Continue reading →

The 25 best movies of the decade

This article was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

It’s a maxim among cinephiles that movies don’t change—but people do. Our reaction to a new film is shaped by the experiences and perceptions we bring into it, even as the first words upon leaving the theater (or turning off Netflix) typically are about an actor’s performance, a screenplay’s effectiveness, a specific shot’s inventiveness. That we can revisit movies later and come away with new insights – new pieces of the cinematic fabric to grasp onto – says as much about the medium’s unspoken power as it says about our malleable connections to art. Who among us doesn’t have a movie we refuse to revisit for the first time since childhood, out of fear that adult sentiment will muddle our memory of it?

A decade that felt both historic in that the world has never been more connected by social media and fleeting in that we’ve never been more empowered to move on to the next viral story – or the next thing in our streaming queues – shaped the cinematic product, too. For one, movies have never felt so much like a reckoning with real-world forces that are continuing to mold what the 2020s will look like.

For another, it’s an increasingly rare thing for a film to be universal, in its ability to resonate not (or not only) through legions of audiences, but through time, beyond the moment it carved out for itself on a release schedule. These 25 films – the best of the 2010s – remain moviemaking triumphs as the curtain begins to close on this decade, and may very well endure as such into the next as well.  As a certain purple Mad Titan would say: They are inevitable. Continue reading →

Movies in the 2010s largely captured, and warned of, our moments of reckoning

This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

Spoiler alert for “Parasite” and other recent movies

In “Parasite,” Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s newest masterwork that identifies class warfare as as much a fact of 21st-century life as Twitter and streaming entertainment, there’s no telling where a plan will get you.

For a time, a plan gets the destitute Kims – who can’t afford wi-fi and resort to constructing pizza boxes around the dinner table for scant income – into the cavernous home of the wealthy Park clan. The plan then, cruelly, leaves them homeless, having not been there to salvage what was in their sewer of a home when a biblical flood overtakes it.

“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all,” Song Kang-ho’s Kim Ki-taek tells his son when asked what the plan is going forward.

The domino effect that results from another invasive element having thrown the Kims’ lives into an even higher state of disarray than before is a bloody series of unfortunate events, one that leaves the Kim patriarch virtually imprisoned, his daughter dead and his son vowing to one day free him. “I made a fundamental plan…” he tells him in a message, and even before we see the best case scenario played out on the screen, “Parasite” has betrayed our yearning for catharsis. Joon-ho, after all, has just shown us where plans get people hoping to break out of the confines of systemic capitalism. Art has confronted reality.

More than perhaps any other shared characteristic, this decade’s standout movies often reflected onto us the inevitability of a reckoning—of recognizing systems and histories whose massive consequences have started to be magnified through the communicative avenues of a world that has never been more connected. Movies have always been conversation starters, but the medium takes on a different might when the conversation is everywhere, as the bullhorns of Twitter, acute polarization and slow erosion of privacy standards have ensured is the case this decade. And take on that power cinema has, in ways sometime subtle, in ways sometime extravagant and in ways almost always irrefutable. The line between fiction and non-fiction has never felt nimbler when it comes to the movies. Continue reading →

How ‘It Chapter Two’ robs book-readers of Stephen King’s bittersweet finale

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “IT CHAPTER TWO” AND STEPHEN KING’S NOVEL FOLLOW. 

No one who’s read the behemoth that is Stephen King’s “It” was fooling themselves that Andy Muschietti’s 21st-century duology would have been completely faithful in its translation to the big screen. Fully fleshing out the Loser’s Club’s friendships and King’s trademark themes of childhood innocence lost is one thing; imbuing visual language into the cosmic origins of the extra-terrestrial being that is Pennywise and his eternal battle with a space turtle who vomited the universe is another ask altogether.

2017’s “It” realized this to a successful degree, subtly drawing on the aspects of King’s novel that would best cater to the attentive contours of mainstream horror audiences – the omnipresence of evil in Derry’s history, the emotional anchor of the young Losers, a malevolent force that could shapeshift into our worst fears – while mostly leaving to the page the bits that were too eccentric and narratively ambiguous for a studio movie to try to recreate. This is a buzzy Warner Bros. production, after all. Not an A24 joint. Continue reading →

In appreciation: ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ 10 years later

“Quite frankly, watching Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest thing we ever get to going to the movies.”

Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, the Tennessean harbinger of death and caustic quips in “Inglourious Basterds” – Quentin Tarantino’s best movie, and released 10 years ago this month – says that line in passing to a swastika-bearing Hitler footsoldier in the backwoods of France before the Bear Jew comes out, bat in hand, and, as advertised, proceeds to beat a Nazi to death.

The Basterds hoop and the Basterds holler like they’re at a movie where hooping and hollering goes unpunished, and so do we. It’s an explosion of catharsis, a bloody denouement to the suspense built on the words of Tarantino’s epic screenplay. The writer-director allows us to breath a guilty sigh of relief—the standoff has ended. And it ends for the better; the other Nazis in their capture don’t want their heads bashed off by an exuberant Eli Roth channeling his inner “Teddy Fuckin’ Ballgame” and wielding his bat with the might of an entire people behind it, and immediately provide the information Aldo was searching for. Continue reading →

Una poca de gracia: Lou Diamond Phillips on his breakout turn as Ritchie Valens

[This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.]

SAN ANTONIO — Search the internet for video evidence of Ritchie Valens’s iconic-but-all-too-brief career as a Latino rock pioneer, and you’d find yourself searching for hours.

In fact, there’s only one bit of footage that’s easily found on YouTube—a brief performance by Valens in the 1959 movie “Go, Johnny, Go” that sees him crooning to some club-goers. That film is only 75 minutes long, features the likes of Alan Freed, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and was released four months after Valens died in a tragic plane crash at just 17 years old.

The real-life story of Valens was over right as its second chapter was beginning. But its first has had such a profound impact on pop culture – specifically the timely infusion of Chicano influence into rock ‘n roll as the genre was beginning to blossom – that it’s easy to forget the California musician’s professional career lasted less than a full year.

That brevity also made things a bit difficult for the young actor who would portray Valens 28 years after his death in the film named after his biggest hit, “La Bamba.”

Continue reading →

Getting way too hype for the Oscar possibilities that await Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”…in 2021

We need to talk about the Oscars. No, not this year’s awards that will be presented in a few days’ time, the culmination of several months’ worth of head-scratching decisions, logistical retreadings and general affirmation that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are at a crossroads. That discourse has been beaten with the proverbial golden statuette through many an op-ed, Twitter thread and blog post.

So no, we’re not talking about the 2019 Academy Awards. Nor the 2020 ceremony. If you’ll indulge me, let’s skip ahead to early 2021, where – pending the existence of the human race – it feels increasingly likely that the revival of a certain sci-fi/fantasy property is poised to have the genre’s biggest night at the Oscars since the finale to Peter Jackson’s standard-bearing “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in 2004. Continue reading →

This is what the Oscars playing Russian roulette looks like

As it turns out, even at 91 years old you can still experience growing pains.

That’s the scenario the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finds itself in Tuesday, following its unveiling of nominations for this year’s Oscars, the culmination of which was a field of eight wildly varied Best Picture nominees which collectively confirm one thing: The Academy is as clueless as the rest of us about its identity in 2019.

Continue reading →

Top 10 movies of 2018

2018 was a gnarly f*cking year.

I think no matter what your political affiliation, how much time you spend on Twitter or whether you stan DC or Marvel films, we can all agree that that is fact now that it’s over.

Thankfully, we still had new cinema to turn to. To provide us solace, to help us make sense of it all, to provide context for changing times and to make us wish that we had a bucket hat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-munching expatriate helping us to get along with each other.

But perhaps even Paddington was too good for this world.

Continue reading →

What 2018’s films taught me

For as long as they’ve existed, movies have been synonymous with entertainment. We sit down in the theater, $6.00 Coke and $7.50 popcorn in hand, with the expectation that we’ll be awed by memorable performances, transcendent storytelling and the latest razzle-dazzle in what special effects have to offer.

But the cinema is also a classroom, a place where we learn things about ourselves and the world around us. Directors, screenwriters, production designers, cinematographers, special effects teams—they’re all artists, yes. They’re also philosophers, psychologists and theorists; people who seek to bring messages through their medium. Like all artists, they aren’t creating something for the sake of creating something. Continue reading →