Jojo Rabbit

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There’s a very poetic scene near the end of Jojo Rabbit in which men, women and children are charging blindly towards certain doom. The camera slows down time, capturing these figures in all their pitiful foolishness. Here they are, the self proclaimed master race, dying for a cause that’s not only evil, but stupid. Perhaps they deserved it. Jojo Rabbit makes fun of Nazis by painting them as buffoons, but it also humanizes them as creatures to feel sorry for.

The friendship that Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) eventually build is based off an understanding of one another as God’s fellow creatures, united not as much in what they have but in what they’ve lost. There’s a beautiful scene in which the two kids stare out the window, the night sky tinted by explosions, and discuss their pain. It has taken time and effort to arrive at this point; Jojo and Elsa had to go through many misunderstandings, but finally, in their darkest hour, they found the solace of each other’s company.

The message “we’re all human, so be kind to one another” is far too simplistic, reducing people’s experiences to mere hurdles that can be easily overcome with enough love. Thankfully that’s not what Jojo Rabbit does. While certainly both human beings, Jojo and Elsa are quite different from each other. By the end of the film their differences haven’t vanished, and they’re both their own person. They did not learn to look past each other’s backgrounds, but came to love them.

Jesus Christ famously cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’ve done” as Romans drove nails through his limbs. It’s a nonsensical response to a heinous act until you realize it was based on love. Jojo Rabbit invites us to look at our enemies, yes, even the Nazis, with love. For they know not what they do. But what if they do know exactly what they do, and just don’t care? Dear reader, I dare say we love still.

Jojo Rabbit had me sobbing my eyes out because I remembered how tough it is to love our neighbor, and what a rotten, dirty, unjust world we live in. It also filled my heart with so much joy because there are things that can make everything so much bearable. Small things, like looking into the eyes of the ones you love and dancing.

A+

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

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Birds of Prey is a catastrophe.

It employs violence not only to speak in place of characters, but of the movie itself. “Look how gritty I am”, it begs the audience. “I’m not like those other DC movies you hated it”. You’re right, because you’re even worse. The violence here reminded me of Hobo with a Shotguna cheap 80s looking B- movie in which everybody but the titular hobo was a sadist. There the buckets of gore at least made sense, keeping up with the sensibilities of a grindhouse picture. In Birds of Prey they just seem desperate, as if DC is just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and finally make them as successful as Marvel. Hint: it’s less garbage like this, and more stuff like Joker

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a collection of mannerisms and occasional outbursts of madness, instead of a fully fleshed out character. Her motivations seems to be “I don’t want people to kill me”, so the performance is mostly reactionary. It’s a horrible way to gain engagement.

The constant narration, in addition of breaking any momentum, reminds one of better movies in the same vein, particularly the Deadpool ones. It is so painfully obvious, from the breaking of the fourth wall to the edgy jokes, that Birds of Prey wants to be the next Deadpool. The problem is that Deadpool was never trying to emulate anybody else; rather, it’s astounding success was because there was nothing else quite like it on the market. Now, a few years removed from it, using profanity like currency will only get you so far.

Birds of Prey tries so hard to copy other better movies, while at the same time popping out for being so unique, so colorful. It aims at being a successful hybrid of anti-hero shenanigans and girl power, but it utterly and completely fails. This is a Frankenstein of a flick, a mishmash of horrible ideas and terrible execution all together forming one of the most absolutely unfunny, cringe and pathetic movies I have ever, ever seen.

Parasite

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While applause is usually reserved for when the credits begin to roll, I broke tradition with this one. 40 minutes into Parasite I had no choice but to burst into applause, gathering a few glances from the people sitting nearby in the process. Those who’ve already seen Parasite know the moment I am talking about, and those who haven’t should really get on it.

Parasite features one of cinema’s most exquisite montages. It is filmmaking at its finest, a perfect distillation of every facet of the art making process collaborating in seamless harmony to produce a sequence that’s magnificent.

Also, Park So-dam is the world’s most beautiful actress!!

1917

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Jude Law, in one of the best performances of his career, says that he is weary of war and the way fools get sent off to it with a flag and a lie. The line is uttered in Cold Mountain, a decent movie that I somehow keep remembering. Maybe because of that quote.

What compels me is not that 1917 is a bravura feat of filmmaking, or how entirely suspenseful and engaging it is. What compels me is how it understands how the dead are the only who ever get to see an end to war. Our protagonist runs, jumps and hides. The people he meets along the way wish him luck before they too must carry on with their mission. Too often war movies make it a point to say “this was the most important battle of the war”, or something along those lines. Like what we are seeing was vital for the course of history.

1917 has no such pretenses. It just presents a soldier’s journey from point A to point B, and how he’ll have to do it all over again the next day, and the next day. It elucidates the futility of combat, and shines a light on what a sorry species we are.

A

Up in the Air

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George Clooney delivers one of the finest performances of his career as Ryan Bingham. Initially coming across as a vainglorious douche, Clooney slowly reveals more layers of his humanity until we’re left feeling melancholic over his eventual fate.

This is a smart picture, the textbook definition of a movie for adults. The dialogue is sharp, the banter is witty, but best of all is the combination of sadness and wisdom which informs the conversation between characters. They talk with the certainty that only being alive for a long time can bring. This is paired brilliantly with the idealism and naivete of young Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who views the world through an alternate lens than Bingham does. It’s a juxtaposition that many movies try, but few succeed. Up in the Air does not side with either protagonist’s life philosophy, rather inviting the viewer to partake in the conversation and realize they’re both just trying to do what we are as well. Make sense out of our lives. This is a phenomenal picture, and already one of my favorites.

Uncut Gems

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Making movies requires talent, but so does watching them. As of this writing, Uncut Gems holds a C+ Cinemascore. For the uninitiated, Cinemascore is the holy grail of movie ratings. Beyond IMDB, beyond Letterboxd or Rotten Tomatoes audience score, Cinemascore adheres a letter grading to every wide release weekly. It does this by polling the most average joes and janes they can find the minute they walk out of the cinema, providing the most honest insight I’ve ever seen about what regular people like and dislike. It’s actually a bit amazing, and you should check out their screening process and everything. It’s also super disheartening.

Cats, that diabolical abomination that’s more joke than actual movie, also holds a C+ Cinemascore. I should not be so upset, as this happens every other week, but by God, Uncut Gems is terrific. Filmmaking of the highest order, the camera frenetically swooping around, the throbbing score getting into your system, Uncut Gems is a nightmare inducing frenzy of a picture.

A+

Best Films 2019

My mom watches movies in segments. She divides her attention between her phone, the screen, the kitchen, the weather and the neighbor’s dog. It takes her literal days to finish watching movies sometimes. My dad watches one movie every month, sometimes every two months. I joke with them by asking how I can possibly be related to them when our movie watching habits are so dissimilar. But sometimes I don’t joke. Rather, I look Godwards in gratitude. Surely I’ve done nothing radically different from my parents that would cause me to live cinema in a way that breathes vigor to my bones. Yet here I am again with the yearly list of the best films watched in 2019. 160 they were, a surprisingly high number considering I spent many months traveling. There must have been some nights in which I watched more than one, more than two. I recall these moments very, very fondly. And the following films even more so. 

 

HARRY POTTER SAGA

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Simultaneously a tender look at being a teenager and a parable of the biblical story of Jesus and Satan, the Harry Potter series is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Watched over the course of four spellbinding days, the level of engagement it stirred within me is unparalleled. Unmatched too are the echoes of the Gospel story present throughout, from the Messiah-like Harry to the astute ways the evil one assails our commitment to the cause. I won’t soon forget the night in which, after finishing my dinner, I rushed to my bedroom to watch Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. I sat in bed for five hours, bewitched by every little thing. The next day I told my mom that I was going to finish watching Harry Potter that night, and she apologized for not allowing me to watch them years before. I told her there was no need for an apology because it had turned out to be for the best. I discovered Harry Potter at just the right moment in life. 

THE FOUNTAIN

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Here’s something I’d never done before. Once the credits started to roll, I hit play and watched The Fountain all over again. A feast for the senses, The Fountain is a tragedy of lost love. It is also a triumphant reminder that one need not be crippled by the fear of death, for together we will live forever.

THE IRISHMAN

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The most elegiac film of Martin Scorsese’s storied career, The Irishman mourns the lives that are lived in service of all that is ultimately inconsequential. Subverting the expectations created three decades ago with his masterpiece Goodfellas, in which crime was glamorized and life was fast paced, The Irishman is a film only an old man could make. Rueful, wise, patient. Scorsese, pushing 80, has never shied away from his faith. The confession scene is not only for his protagonists, not only for his audience, but also for himself.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

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“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved.”

MARRIAGE STORY

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2019 delivered some of the best acting by men I’ve seen in a while. You couldn’t take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Robert DeNiro was phenomenal in The Irishman. And Adam Driver was absolutely superb, the best he has ever been, in Marriage Story. You watch him slowly disintegrate as the film progresses. The scene in which he pretends he’s fine after cutting himself by accident is a marvel. 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

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Ten months ago, reviewing this documentary for the first time, I wrote that “Brando’s story is our story, the small details varying but the overall picture looking the same: a life in a world with pain as its principal currency, with every soul aching for a more permanent release than wealth, or family, or sex”. No more needs to be said.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

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His films tend to be fun and easy to watch, but Tarantino outdid himself with this one.

COLUMBUS

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It happens, almost imperceptibly and not to everybody, but it happens. The moment you discover your parents, the people who were meant to nourish and see you thrive, are suffocating you. They don’t do it out of any ill will; they love you, after all. And you love them, and now you’re compelled to see them thrive, compelled to nourish them. It’s a reversal of the natural order, and it hurts your little heart. But it cannot be this way forever for you are young and you must leave them behind. This hurts your little heart some more. Columbus is a perfect distillation of this. 

SET IT UP

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In an age in which the rom-com is all but dead, here comes Zooey Deutsch to breathe new life into it and make it soar, soar, soar. 

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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To call this the best superhero movie I’ve seen might be faint praise, considering my slight indifference towards most movies of its ilk. But it is anything but. Into the Spider-Verse is a colorful, hilarious, inventive and strangely moving picture about the hero’s journey. One, it turns out, we’re all in. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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The word “fan”, short for “fanatic”, is derived from the Latin “fanaticus”, meaning insanely but divinely inspired. No wonder then, that the most common use of the word is associated with religion. Indeed, “fanaticus” originally pertained to a place of worship, a temple, places marked by intense, uncritical devotion.

To be a fan is no bad thing. We should all be so lucky to have something or someone we deem worthy of our loyalty. History shows certain fans’s troubling behavior towards others, albeit usually in a small scale. Fandoms, general wisdom goes, are pretty harmless. It is not until the advent of the internet when cracks begin to crumble the facade.

I’ve written elsewhere how the internet has exacerbated virulent behavior in our species, but I now wish to revise that statement. By itself, the internet is a wonderful tool. Bullying, harassment, threats and violence are the result of our own failings, not some coding problem within the system. There’s a quote that goes something like, if you give a man enough power to do whatever he wants, and he ends up using that power for evil, then you’ll know evil is what he’s always wanted to do.

At this point you might be wondering, what does Latin, the internet and moral failings have to do with Star Wars?

Reddit and Twitter run the world. Perhaps one of the most baffling turn of events in this young century has been the capitulation of corporate America to the tumult of the internet. No sooner has a user lifted a complaint about anything, and there go multi billion dollar companies vowing to do better next time, swearing to make them happy in just the exact way they demand. There is no accountability in this process, just an endless litany of requests. This reveals corporations as spineless and amoral, breathing just to make a buck, and users as grandstanding self-appointed arbiters of good taste.

The Rise of Skywalker illustrates just how pathetic this new order we inhabit really is. Disney has destroyed every good thing that was built by The Last Jedi, not because it was bad but because some people kept making Reddit threads about how their immaculate childhood had been obliterated by a movie. Film insiders chose to appeal to angry people rather than continuing the threads of a good story. This movie means nothing, it stands for nothing, it is vacuous and soulless, a monument to cowardice. Any redeeming value it might have comes in the form of a warning. Today it was a movie that was dictated by the whims of social media. What’s it going to be tomorrow?

C

Marriage Story

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To call Marriage Story the most accomplished work in Noah Baumbach’s career risks implying that his filmography wasn’t already stacked with successes. Frances Ha remains one of the sharpest comedies of the decade, Mistress America possesses so much quirk it borders the genius, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is as perceptive of human behavior as I’ve seen in years. So what elevates Baumbach’s latest above his previous films?

Like Tarantino and Scorsese before him, Baumbach has slowed down. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood looks back at the passage of time and reflects upon it, simultaneously wishing for a better future. In The IrishmanScorsese employs the expectations that his classic Goodfellas set upon us and subverts them by delivering a picture tinged with regret, without any of the frenetic rush that was found in Goodfellas. Similarly, Noah Baumbach attempts something different. His characters still possess his trademark wit, but they’re not exchanging fast paced barbs with one another.

For the first time in his career, Baumbach allows his camera to rest on his protagonists without them saying anything at all. When they do speak, almost every word is painful, funny, real, yours. The script is phenomenal, and it makes me jealous that I’ll never be able to write something as stirring and true as this. Like with Tarantino and Scorsese, you realize that the unforgiving passage of time has taught Baumbach that everything dies. Thank God for cinema then, for reminding us of this utmost truth and spurring us on towards the only reasonable way to live.

A+ 

Honey Boy

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I don’t know much about my father’s father, but I do know this. He cheated on his wife. Could that be the reason my own dad cheated on my mom? Are children incapable of escaping the cycle begun by their forebears, the sins of the father becoming those of the son?

There’s a scene in which James (Shia LaBeouf) is attending AA, and he tells the story of his upbringing. A nasty, evil woman raised him. She was violent with him. James cries during the story. A few hours later, James slaps his own son, Otis (Noah Jupe), hard across the face. Twice.

A decade later Otis (Lucas Hedges) is behind bars.

Honey Boy is a compassionate movie, showing father and son not as perpetrator nor victim, but as humans trying their best to love and forgive each other in a world that went astray a long, long time ago.

B+