In this installment: I Lost My Body, Atlantics, and Penguin Highway.
I LOST MY BODY I Lost My Body, always the most purely-theoretical of this year's five contenders for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, is indeed one of those cartoons—foreign, weird, comparatively modest—for which just being nominated really was an honor, the extra eyeballs drawn to it by an Academy Award nomination always the best-case scenario for its existence. I won't say it don't deserve them eyeballs, either. It's a fun and thrilling, even moving piece of work, driven by a nonsensical but novel premise that could probably only fully work in flat animation in the first place (Body is partly-rotoscoped, and highly CGI-boosted, albeit mostly only in terms of backgrounds). Arguably, that premise justifies the whole exercise, and it's certainly bizarre enough to get you to stop and at least think about watching it: I Lost My Body's title is to be taken literally, for it is about a body's part, specifically a right hand, that has been violently separated from its owner, and which has come magically back to life, absconding from the medical fridge it's being kept in so as to undertake an arduous journey across a tough urban landscape to reunite with the body it has, as noted, lost.
Okay, yes: I'm not really done with the 2010s yet. But, you know, I basically am, and am very ready to dispense with a little (actually, characteristically overlong) top ten for that departed decade. Now, I should still have such a list for 2019, too. And that's fair enough, considering there aren't any making it onto the list below. Anyway, while it might seem strange—though I think you'll agree it makes sense—I'm a lot more comfortable with my top ten of the 2010s than I am just my top ten of this past year. They've been a fairly stable bunch, particularly the top five. I could have made the same list four weeks ago when it was perfectly of the moment. I think I stuck it out in the hopes that something would muscle its way to the top of the heap; and, in defense of 2019, it made its most valiant efforts in its final weeks. Perhaps the year's single strongest gesture only arrived on American shores shortly after it died. But even if there were some close calls, there was nothing that truly changed my mind, and the odds against any of the films still remaining on my 2019 pile turning out to actually be mind-blowing masterpieces are so low I think it's pretty safe to disregard 'em.
So I should note the honorable mentions (which do include a couple of 2019 films). They're basically an unsorted nos. 11-30, and some of them could have been higher, and in some cases it would be better for my credibility if they had been. (Then again, in some cases, it would be even worse.) In any event, they are truly wonderful films, and I celebrate them each and every one. It's possible you may be able to guess from this when over the past
six years I think my reviews rose to the level of "not terrible." (If
not, well, it was in 2015.)
From 2010: Rupert Wyatt's The Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2011: Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life; Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
2012: Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained; Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom; Sam Fell & Chris Butler's ParaNorman; Scott Derrickson's Sinister
2013: Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby; Spike Jonze's Her; Michael Bay's Pain & Gain
2014: Eugenio Mira's (and Damien Chazelle's) Grand Piano; Chris Lord & Phil Miller's The LEGO Movie
2015: George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (oh, I know, I know)
2016: Martin Scorsese's Silence
2017: Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049
2018: Steven Caple Jr.'s Creed II; Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman's Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
2019: Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life; Makoto Shinkai's Weathering With You
Now here's where I say something that should never have to spoken aloud. As always, "the best" only means "my personal favorite." What the hell else could it mean? There is no such thing as objectivity in the evaluation of art: any argument that "best" and "favorite" are distinct categories is supremely arrogant, and any expression of the notion in practical terms is almost by necessity dishonest. If being honest means I also have to look a little stupid, that's certainly nothing new. If it also means that my top ten list, or anybody's top ten list, is only mental masturbation—well, of course it would be. And while everybody likes to masturbate, and some people like to watch, that doesn't mean anybody involved should pretend it's dignified. So let's begin.
In this installment: Knives Out,Ready Or Not, and Black Christmas.
I mean, yeah: 2019 was definitely the year of Me Not Getting It. But "not getting it" seems like an awfully weird sentiment to voice about Rian Johnson's Knives Out, which is mercilessly obvious in the "it" it intends you to get, while simultaneously committing (hell, if you listen to critics, you'd think Johnson had signed a pledge or something) to being the proverbial fun time at the movies. It's not even not a fun time. It's more like 130 minutes is a long span to spend having its particular brand of a fun time, much of which is dedicated to the overfreighting of a theme (singular) that still winds up slightly-incoherently expressed, and to a structure that spends the first half hour unproductively faking you out regarding the movie you're here to enjoy. I mean, at bottom, it's basically an episode of Monk, right? One of the ones where you know the broad shape of the crime but are left in the dark as to the rest? What's so hard about that? Heck, that would be great, I love Monk, except Knives Out is more than three times as long, still with roughly the same amount of content, and the Poirotish super-detective it showcases (I like Poirot too) is almost entirely uninteresting, just in and of himself. It must be said: that this may start a franchise, and may have been intended to start a franchise—a franchise revolving around Benoit "CSI KFC" Blanc (Daniel Craig, and yes, these are the jokes, folks)—remains the most insoluble puzzle of the tale.
Happy (belated) New Year! Before we get started with 2020, there's still a lot of debris to clear out from 2019. In this installment: In Fabric, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.
The Duke of Burgundy, Peter Strickland's second feature, was one of my ten favorite films of 2015. Hell, it was one of my eight favorite films. That's a lower bar than it would usually be—2015, as a cinematic year, has been exceeded in its lousy mediocrity only by the year that's just passed—but it's still a sign of some modest excellence to have cleared it, and I think it's a pretty great movie, an art-horror romance ribboned with surrealistic and absurdist touches that still has a real, genuinely emotional story of relationship dysfunction to tell beneath the opaque glaze of 70s-nostalgic Europastiche that represents its director's preferred, and only, mode of artistic expression. In Fabric, Strickland's follow-up to The Duke of Burgundy, is rather more the follow-up you might've expected from Berberian Sound Studio, his first film. That is, it's an ultimately-tiresome exercise in pursuing his various aesthetic interests which, in Strickland's conciliatory gesture toward his film being about something, or anything—and, in fairness, this does put it miles ahead of Sound Studio—winds up being about an absolute shitload of "somethings," which all add up to far less than the sum of their parts by the end.