Bests-of, Worsts-of and Everything Else Besides
As one, year-end lists and retrospectives are keen to see the back of 2020, doubtless under the blithe illusion – or brazen fabrication – that what’s coming next will be any kind of improvement. The good news is, if you’re into ramped-up New World Orders, you’re in clover. Otherwise, the outlook is far less rosy. My take on such matters comes via an ostensibly filmic blog, which may at least temper the veneer of doom mongering beneath a slick, or sick, auteurish sheen. Or perhaps not.
I did manage to see a few movies at the cinema in 2020 – although, the last one I saw projected was made in 1955 – but generally, I’ve been less ambivalent than previously, less willing to give pictures a look just because they’re big or acclaimed. Thus, I’ve seen markedly fewer even as more have been streamed directly into the home. Can I be bothered with yet another over-long, indulgent Spike Lee joint? Maybe… eventually. Perhaps if it gets nominated in the new-improved Virtual-Woke Oscars along with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Prom. Even pictures I looked forward to (Mank) have been, if not stinkers then tragically empty.
Of course, I could expand my access to subscriber services. Disney Plus is doubtless breathing a sigh of relief that they managed to avoid the ignominy of Mulan outright bombing – except in China, where it outright bombed – and Soul underwhelming by premiering them on their native network. Fortunate – suspiciously so, one might suggest – that their lifeline to customers cocooned within their homes should hit pay dirt just as their theme parks tank and cinema dies a torrid death. Anyone would think someone tipped Rupert Murdoch a wink in advance, what with his eagerness to rid himself of Fox and Disney’s eagerness to plunder a ready-and-waiting library of goodies.
This is when you may begin to question the nature/nurture of business models, providing you’ve been innocently ambling along with the official state of play in the first place. Netflix’s transformation into a world-dominating brand to rival Amazon – also but not quite as indispensable as media provider, but no odds since it has become the indispensable goods supplier, media and otherwise, bye-bye small businesses – perhaps only looks as if it was leading the way for Disney and Warner Bros. Although, the latter now appears to have been very slow on the uptake, if we’re to nod towards overarching media-conglomerate conspiracy. Not least because they really need those once-cinema bound titans to boost potential-subscriber antipathy. Silly public, probably more concerned about the gathering apocalypse. They also failed to plan for a global rollout, such that their home service will be intrinsically linked to Sky in the UK for the foreseeable.
Warner/HBO has certainly been capitalising on their product less skilfully than Disney, although one might argue the near-simultaneous release of Wonder Woman 1984 to HBO Max was actually canny given its quality deficit (the cynic among us might suggest the plandemic has been a godsend to a slew of chick-led, I mean, female-empowering, progressive blockbusters, that now do not to have to come up with reasons – such as rampant misogyny – for their duff product; Mulan, WW84, Black Widow). This may be the clarion call for the next six-to-nine months as subscribers as one observe “Glad I didn’t pay to see that at the cinema” about the likes of Widow, Jungle Cruise, West Side Story, Godzilla vs. Kong and even Dune (even if Disney hasn’t announced a Warners-type move, who are they trying to kid, right?) Where does that leave Paramount? Universal? Good question. Coming 2 America is going straight to Amazon in the US. If there’s a positive to all this, the egg’s on Box Office Mojo for paywalling swathes of a site few now have much use for.
Such is Disney’s acumen, they’ve effectively eliminated the need for big-screen brands, either through destroying them or retooling their appeal (although, we should note the steadily diminishing numbers of big screen releases by all studios in favour of oxygen-sucking blockbuster sequels, almost as if this death knell had been entirely strategised in advance). So Star Wars under Kathleen “The Force is Female” Kennedy is dead-in-the-water, but The Mandalorian – by virtue, it seems, of not being quite as woke or ill-conceived and being massively fan-servicing, rather than being truly great or inspired – under Jon Favreau flies the Lucasfilm flag anew. And does anyone really much care about fates of The Eternals and Black Widow when Marvel event series like Wandavision and Loki look to be offering much more inventive material (okay, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, not so much)?
There are movies on the slow train I’m still interested in seeing of course. I don’t doubt Top Gun: Maverick needs to be seen in a cinema (just because, whatever their narrative quality, no one can say Oblivion and TRON: Legacy don’t look stunning). The Cruiser – screaming from the NWO script til his pint-sized lungs burst, and if you don’t think that was an intentional “leak”, well… – also has M:I 7 coming out. Very little else Paramount holds lustre. Chris Pratt playing straight didn’t work so well in Passengers (to prove it: The Tomorrow War). A Quiet Place Part II will simply confirm one was enough. Snake Eyes? Well, I guess previous instalments of G.I. Joe approximated something of the truth as they presented evil facsimile leaders in key positions of global power…
Universal has the much-vaunted return of chunderkind Colin Trevorrow for Jurassic World: Dominion. Let’s hope it’s every bit as good as JJ’s middle-instalment-skipping return to Star Wars for The Rise of Skywalker, right? Halloween Kills? F9? Another Purge? The Forever Purge. There’s a title for the conspiratorial. A Purge isn’t just for Christmas… The Minions: The Rise of Gru. Candyman holdover. The Addams Family 2. Yes, there’s No Time to Die, looking exactly as essential as every Daniel Craig outing hasn’t been since Casino Royale. How long before Eon reconsiders that streaming offer from Apple? There’s also Focus Features with Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven (with Jessica Chastain and Ralph Fiennes).
Sony barely has any movies that aren’t Spider-Man. And less still that aren’t Tom Holland (Tom Holland appears in every movie release of 2021, incidentally). So there’s the untitled Marvel pic that may or may not feature every Spider-Man and Spider-Man villain from every iteration, barring Nicholas Hammond (but you never do know). There’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage. And there’s Morbius. And some animations.
The Fox/Disney slate has a few interesting nuggets amid the usual Pixar (Luca), Marvel (Eternals, Black Widow, Shang Chi) and Disney animation and live action (Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon). Mostly, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. Less interesting are The King’s Man (Matthew Vaughn under the illusion he has a thoroughbred franchise there), Free Guy (Ready Player Reynolds), Death on the Nile (Branagh blands out Agatha Christie, again) and The Last Duel (Ridley returns to the territory of his debut; can he squeeze in a transhumanist android somewhere?) And, of course, West Side Story. Spielberg’s last movie? Let’s ask his adoptive daughter, shall we?
Netflix? I haven’t yet persuaded myself to try let-me-make-this-blander-than-you-ever-expected Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy. I suspect eternal juvenile Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead will allow him to be as unpleasantly gross as he was in the latter half of his Dawn of the Dead remake. Andrew Dominick’s Blonde should still be worth a look (but also: B&W Hollywood Mank alert). There’s Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio for evergreen sinister children’s fare. To be honest, I was thinking of cancelling my subscription after Mank anyway. Everything Netflix releases should now be prefaced by “From the Studio that Brought you Cuties…”
Warner Bros, who think creative programming amounts to a Game of Thrones prequel – to be fair, they’re only taking their cues from creatively-bereft Star Wars – doesn’t have a whole lot to excite. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is sure to be more engaging than the first one, and since it’s R-rated, Gunn may get to throw in some off-colour paedo jokes. They’re sure to go down well. Denis Villeneuve has gone on record with his dismay at Warner’s Dune/HBO Max decision, but I’m doubtful, given how anaemically spartan the trailer visuals are, that his cerebral event sci-fi would have drawn the crowds (as for the prequel spin-off TV show…)
Clint is back starring again (Cry Macho), ninety-years old and still directing. What’s he taking? But since his directorial efforts tend to look like TV movies, losing the chance to see it in theatres shouldn’t be a great deprivation. There are more James Wans (Malignant, Conjuring 3), a Sopranos prequel (yeah, we all love prequels) and Mortal Kombats, Space Jams and Tom and Jerrys. There’s also The Matrix 4, which coming from one of the last two decades’ queens of predictive programming (Lana Wachowski), I can’t say I’m not a little intrigued by (and that’s having given up on the woke-til-you-choke of Sense 8 and been alarmed at the missed opportunity of Jupiter Ascending for a coherent take on Archonic system… although, The Matrix Trilogy already was that, of course).
So here are Five to See:
1 The Forgiven
John Michael McDonagh’s latest thriller (although doubtless with some humour thrown in). JM isn’t as illustrious as his brother, but at least one of his films – The Guard – is perfectly judged. Also on the cards is brother Martin, reuniting Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for a movie set on a remote Irish island. I’d put that first, but who knows if it will even enter production, let alone get released.
2 The Matrix 4
Another Matrix go round. In which Lana gets to indulge the Matrix-within-a-Matrix-within-a… of The Thirteenth Floor. Keanu’s sporting a beardy neo-Messiah look. Or perhaps he just forgot to shave. Let’s see if he proffers a life-expunging red pill. Robotic probes willingly taken by all.
3 The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson quirk. Should be fun, if you can get past the Chalamet factor. No small feat.
4 Last Night in Solo
Yes, Edgar Wright rides the woke-train as only a former nerd-out geek can, but there’s no doubting his filmmaking chops. Here, he seeks to show he can do horror. He’s being Sam Raimi by way of Roman Polanski, basically. But less Republican and rapist respectively.
I’m not convinced this will be great – I haven’t found a big-screen Macbeth wholly satisfying so far – but just the involvement of Joel Coen flying solo has me intrigued. Then there’s the age-inappropriate casting of Denzel and Frances.
Further Fuel to the Future Fire
There’s a view that everything coming out of Hollywood amounts to predictive programming, expressly designed to elicit a range of expectancy/fear/affirmation/acceptance of whatever is subsequently thrown our way in the real world. While I don’t doubt this occurs, I simply don’t think it’s necessary to impress such edicts upon the media makers in each and every case; merely employing creatives nurtured in the self-same system in which we all percolate will inevitably produce ideas and material attuned to and promoting the overall aim/ethos/agenda/plan.
Still, you do wonder… Very-likely freemason and ageless if increasingly senile Sir Ridders loads his early movies – particularly Blade Runner – with symbolism. Further still, he lays the terrain for the last forty years of transhumanism with his androids and replicants in Alien and Blade Runner. Whether or not Rick Deckard is one is less important than Scott succeeding in blurring the lines between man and machine. Lest you had any doubt, he then retcons the entire Alien series – in a retcon that posits an android as the sole ongoing protagonist/antagonist – as sourcing the biomechanical xenomorphs from the same creator pool as humanity itself. Namely, albino giants who view mankind as entirely lesser and essentially valueless experiments. So, rather like the “legends” of Nephilim, or those stories of giant bones in the Smithsonian (which of course, will be fact-checked out of any legitimate conversation). And elongated skulls. The ones where there are even accounts of modern-day encounters, ones that keep the Tartaria conversation alive.
And curious too that Sir Ridders elected to return to his franchise in 2012, bringing humanity’s prospects down to Earth with a causative bump in a year rife with New Age expectancy of transformation and/or apocalypse (the latter studiously exploited by Roland Emmerich, one of Hollywood’s most successful predictive programmers). Ridley’s current big project – but on TV – concerns the remnants of humanity being raised by AI. I’m sure such a scenario is nothing to worry about, though. Not at all.
In the less-than-decade since Prometheus, the cinematic firmament has been largely overseen by Kevin Feige, culminating in his plundering of 1991’s Marvel comic strip The Infinity Gauntlet. Except that there, arch-villain Thanos wipes out half the universe for the rather prosaic reason of proving his love to the embodiment of Death. As opposed to the “nobler” one of the very eugenics-driven, very-Gates-ian and Fauci-ian and their masters’ one of over-population. The result? The biggest – unadjusted for inflation, natch – global movie ever in 2019. One that took over the world just before cinema was decimated for good. Endgame? Coincidence? Yeah, sure. Have it your way.
One can extend such unwholesome suspicion further, pursuing it down a slew of avenues, depending on where one figures the intent is supposed to show out. The Walking Dead and all those post-Romero zombie movies just happened to seize the zeitgeist? Or they’re an image of a starvation-straddled humanity resorting to cannibalism and just begging to be moved into megacities and nurtured by a benign overseer?
Further yet, there are those who posit the classical Grey alien as a signifier for the ultimate devolved state of humanity in a (potential) future, one shorn of gender and dependent on technology to persist (see number one on my best-of list of 2020 movies). There doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual potential future/time-travel element for that kernel to hold up; you just need some architect of fear holding the reins of predictive programming, intent on engineering it as an end result. And then there’s the fake alien invasion, courtesy of Project Blue Beam, which some are insisting is waiting in the wings (proof including the Vatican’s bizarrely Giger-esque 2020 nativity crib). Emmerich and Chris Carter et al diligently prepped us for that one, not-too-many-questions asked, although there’s been nada for a few years now… Perhaps that’s necessary so people don’t resort to an instant point of comparison).
But that’s all ahead. Something to look forward to. If we’re really lucky and we play our cards wrong. Which we seem to be doing with great concentration and diligence. What of the year just passed? I don’t think I can legitimately list ten – even five is pushing it. Of those in my 20 to See in 2020, even more than usual were held over this time, for obvious reasons: The Woman in the Window, Macbeth, Kate, The Eternals, Morbius, The Last Duel, Paul Thomas Anderson Untitled, No Time to Die, Blonde, Dune, The French Dispatch, One Night in Soho. Of the remainder, Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Old Guard and WW84 were all disappointments. The other four, one almost by default, finished up in my top five.
Top Five New Movies
I sat down to revisit this one over the last couple of days. If one didn’t know better, amid the intentionally plotted misdirections about nuclear threat*, Christopher Nolan is presenting us with a piece warning/prescribing a doomed future, in much the manner as the time-travelling Grey prognosticators mentioned above. Nolan throws in gobbledegook to justify his conceit – inverse radiation triggered by nuclear fission enabled such temporal malleability – but mostly, this is a movie telling us that, in order to secure a hopeful future, we all need to wear masks. Except that, in contrast to the real world, here one needs to don such headgear in order to navigate a back-to-front, topsy-turvy environment, one antithetical to logic or common sense. Nolan presents his movie amid signposts of “green” energy – wind farms – and warnings of climate disaster – “their oceans rose and their rivers ran dry” – all proof, were it needed, that he is an auteur reading from a script.
Of which, while the ideas are striking, there’s little doubt a director with a stronger sense of action geography and cause and effect (particularly in a movie where this is everything) could have made more of the material. Sometimes, the incoherence is intentional. At others, it’s just confused editing and demarcation of character. Indeed, I came away the second time convinced Nolan’s greatest strength is as an inspiration to musicians, since his composers produce far better, much more striking scores in his employ than anywhere else. I was also struck here – in a kind of inverted way, ahem – by the explanation for our heroes’ actions. That “The world will never know what could have happened and even if they did, they wouldn’t care”. Loosely, this was the reasoning given by trust-the-planners that the events of the past year had to transpire as they did. Alas, it appears there are no people “saving the world from what might have been”.
I won’t be doing a box-office breakdown of my predictions for 2020, since there really isn’t much point. Cinema has crashed and burned, with the curious exception of China – who’d have thunk it? – taking the first, third, seventh, eighth and tenth spots at the global box office. That leaves first-quarter contenders Bad Boys for Life, Sonic the Hedgehog, Dolittle and – yes, really – Birds of Prey mopping up. Oh, and one Tenet, in at number four with $354m. Nolan has been duly waving the bastion of cinema-going flag the way he previously denied digital, but one has to fill all positions if one wants to simulate a canvas of perspective. Anyway, Tenet’s performance has been seen to justify HBO Max’s streaming decision. Which it might not have done, had Nolan’s films not been so damn expensive. Never mind, I’m sure Chris can segue to the small screen. His brother’s done quite well for himself there.
*Addendum 24/06/23: I’ve been chasing the wrong conspiracy with that one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response). The concomitant threat of mutually assured destruction is another matter, however, since one does not necessarily follow on from the other.
2 The Gentlemen
Guy Ritchie’s politically incorrect lads ’n’ gangsters fest is the zenith of his playing at cinematic tough guy, in a deliriously bouncing-around screenplay that has fun with the format and narrators both reliable and unreliable. It also evidences both his keen eye for casting – Hugh Grant has never been better; Charlie Hunnam is actually well used for a change; Colin Farrell is as good as he is when working with Martin McDonagh – and boundless visual energy. I revisited The Gentlemen a few days ago, and it’s as much fun second time. Although Ritchie, like fellow lad and ex-producer Matthew Vaughn, just can’t resist going too far (the pig scene). Ritchie does, after all, make mistakes – he not only married Madge, he directed her in a vanity vehicle. He does, however, appear to be sticking to his rough-cut crime vehicles for a bit. Next up is cash truck heist Wrath of Man, in which he reunites with the Stath.
3 Bill and Ted Face the Music
A far more satisfying and enjoyable trilogy capper than could reasonably have been expected. Alex Winter is the MVP, and Keanu is jolly good when he isn’t playing Ted straight. Fun, playful and quite quite clever.
Massively overrated, as these things tend to be, but an effective infiltration picture from Bong Joon Hoo with a dash of social satire (so vastly superior to previous English-language efforts Okja and Snowpiercer). It rather falls apart in the OTT climax, but Bong made something distinct and memorable here. They say nothing happens in a vacuum, and the mere fact of it winning both Best International Feature and Best Motion Picture Oscar with that title in a plandemic year is surely not coincidental. Particularly since we’ll all be equally free of property and possessions soon enough, per the WEF. Bong just may not have conceived of quite the level playing field they have envisioned.
5 The Invisible Man
Gaping logic holes aside, Leigh Whannell delivered a tight, effective update of the Universal property. Even if the title is more allusive to Jaws than HG Wells, as played out.
Not as bad as all that:
The latter, a tight little if highly derivative thriller. The former an overblown mess of reshoots and talking animals. Incoherent but not unwatchably so.
And the worst:
At the Cinema: Birds of Prey
It was either this or Jojo Rabbit. They’re both staggeringly inept pieces that like to think they’re cleverer and more daring – and progressive – than they actually are. Birds of Prey I also found visually repellent in parts, though. Which counts on the big screen. The worst you can say about Taika Waititi’s style is that he’s a Wes Anderson wannabe.
The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two
Kurt Russell would have Santa as his sign-off role? I guess there are worse parts. Not so many worse movies, though.
Welcome to the acclaimed suck:
Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Mank, Jojo Rabbit, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Color Out of Space
Top Five Five-Star Movies Viewed
1 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Forget Brazil. This is Terry Gilliam’s peak expression of his abundant imagination. Few films have ever been so awesomely realised.
2 The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s apocalyptic remake never grows old. And has never been more pertinent.
3 Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Kubrick warns of mutual nuclear destruction. Or should that be of the elite’s propensity for resets?
4 The Hill (1965)
Sean Connery takes a break from Bond and proves what an extraordinarily powerful actor he could be. It’s probably a toss-up between this and his later Sidney Lumet reunion The Offence for his strongest performance.
5 Rear Window (1954)
Hitchcock’s most honest projection of himself via his protagonist in one of his most purely distilled pictures.
Top Five Underrated Movies Viewed
1 The Internecine Project (1974)
James Coburn engineers’ the self-destruction of his ring of informants with a view to his political promotion. Not so much criss-cross, criss-cross, as an unsuspecting tag team.
2 The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
The 1999 VR movie that wasn’t The Matrix. The bland lead is a drawback, but there are potent ideas in here, particularly one The Matrix didn’t explore… yet.
3 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Yeah, it was a fool’s game to follow Kubrick, but Peter Hyams’ only really stumbles in his Cold War entrenchment of the narrative. Otherwise, this is perfectly serviceable cerebral sci-fi with several first-rate set-piece sequences.
4 Stage Fright (1950)
Hitchcock falls victim to the unreliable narrator trope, but if you can get past that, there’s much to enjoy in one of his rare later Britain-set pictures. Alastair Sim in particular.
5 The Last Valley(1971)
Unlikely Thirty Years War oddity from James Clavell depicting an uneasy truce in a hidden valley as its occupants old and new shield themselves from the ravages of conflict and disease. Michael Caine’s a German mercenary and Omar Shariff the somewhat ineffectual protagonist. The John Barry score is probably better known than the film itself.
Top New TV: Queen’s Gambit
I’ve yet to catch up on The Boys Season Two or The Expanse Season Five, and the truth is, I’m much less likely to dive into these binge shows than I once was, due to the time invested for typically meagre rewards. Dark Season Three had its moments, but couldn’t stick the landing. Queen’s Gambit was good, though. Not as good as Scott Frank’s earlier Godless, and as the woke-addled Empire magazine was right to point out, he succumbs to a crippling dose of the “Magic Negro” in the final episode, but it represented the rare new show – let alone Netflix show – that exerted instantly more-ish appeal, along with a subject less travelled (even if the tropes touched upon were readily recognisable).
Top Old TV
1 The X-Files 3.20: Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (1996)
Darin Morgan’s peak treatise on what it all is, or may be, pointing the way for later revisits (11.4’s The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat and its Mandela Effect musings). What’s very evident is that while other X-Files writers were perfectly solid and occasionally inspired purveyors of genre TV, Morgan had the capacity and quick-firing neurons to examine outré subject matter and feed it through his sausage grinder of a brain. If you thought the alien question was mystifying before Jose Chung, you’ll see it as impenetrable after it.
2 Doctor Who: The Robots of Death (1977)
Chris Boucher’s techno dystopia finds humans dependent on robots and humans who want to be robots. It’s AI gone mad. It’s tomorrow now. Get those corpse markers ready. Or if you can’t get corpse markers, bicycle reflector discs will do.
3 World on a Wire (1973)
A simulation within a simulation from Rainer Werner Fassbender. Ahead of its time and all the more effective for being set in a very drab, everyday ’70s milieu.