My Top 20 Movies of 2019

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

2. Deadwood: The Movie

3. Dragged Across Concrete

4. The Irishman

5. Never Look Away

6. The Favourite

7. Mid 90s

8. Under the Silver Lake


9. Crawl

10. Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker

11. Apollo 11

12. Terminator: Dark Fate

13. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

14. Us

15. Midsommar

16. Long Shot

17. Green Book

18. Colette

19.  Ad Astra

20. Bait

Bubbling Under: Official Secrets, Sorry We Missed You, Hustlers, Alita: Battle Angel, Shazam!, The Nightingale, In Fabric

Still Need to Watch: Cats, Charlie’s Angels, One Cut of the Dead, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Eight Grade

Movie of the Week: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

J.J. Abrams directs Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issacs in the final chapter of the space battle saga where Rey learns her true origins while the Rebellion makes their last stand in the face of overwhelming odds.

This doesn’t feel like the end. The new trilogy characters threads are tied up but you feel there’s more potential in them. John Boyega’s Finn never really found his stride despite a fascinating starting point and a few unresolved hints. Rey is now on an uncertain path… where next for her? What will her galaxy look like in 5 years or 15 years time when we revisit her “A long time ago” again?

Very beautiful, is the answer. The one aspect of The Last Jedi that Abrams has truly embraced is the artful, huge canvas fantasy imagery that Rian Johnson ran wild with. The gothic horror of Exegol (a sublime mixture of Hellraiser and Prometheus). The desert party planet of Pasaana, where a showdown occurs where both Sergio Leone and David Lean are brilliantly ripped-off. The pastoral wreckage of Kef Bir… black tidal waves buttressing a fallen Death Star. This is cinematic painting, true art out of childish dreams. So the action that happens in these landscapes is good rather than outstanding. Solid thrills. This entry isn’t too reliant on its set-pieces. The kinetics nip along, not particularly memorable, but keep you focussed in the moment.

Interestingly, this is the first of the new films that feels fuelled by character arcs rather than fan service. There’s plenty of cheery callbacks and legacy reinforcement but not at the expense of giving the new kids their curtain call. Everyone significant has already been introduced. Their stories need closure. So we follow them growing. Rey decides what side of the balance of the force she is going fall to. Kylo Ren learns what life is like alone. Finn works through his past as an orphaned child soldier turned runaway. Poe Dameron considers a life after the rebellion. The whole thing is sewn together with an artefact scavenger hunt plot that feels like The Goonies goes Intergalactic (they spend a lot of time in tunnels, rainy cliff edges and in wrecks looking at clues). Abrams’ neat approach works crisply and unchallengingly, you follow the sweep, rarely bored or feeling superfluous to the plot.

Episode 9 settles together into a strong entertainment – eye candy, nostalgia and bit of well invested melodrama. Jedi fights now can take place over two locuses creating some elegant shifts of backdrop. C-3PO makes a heroic sacrifice. An old foe returns to fantastic results… hell, everyone returns. EVERYONE! Chewie gets his just desserts. We even finally see the Knights of Ren in action. A spy is revealed… a good hoodwink. More consistent than Solo, broader than The Last Jedi.

Rise of the Skywalker all feels, gloriously, like kids in the playground. “You’re the bad guy.” “Now I’m a good guy.” “Ah, you got me.” “You’re dead.” “I’m back from the dead.” “NO! I’M BACK FROM THE DEAD!”

It might look ridiculous to outsiders and casuals but this is always what Star Wars was for my generation. A leaping off point for play. We grew up on the toys and stickers. Afternoons in the park or garden were filled with who got to be Han Solo. Death means nothing in play. Ends mean nothing in imagination. Star Wars is no longer my favourite franchise but I doubt anything could ever replace it in my fondest movie memories. Christmas, seeing the Lucasfilm logo, then that pale blue thin font, the fanfare, the big yellow recap flying up the screen… IT BEGINS! Toxic fans or dodgy entries or playing things safe cannot kill what that means to someone like me.

Rise of the Skywalker fulfils the promise of that indoctrinated iconography and I can gloss over any flaws and fudges as I was thoroughly taken back to childhood by it. Happiness in one more adventure, the victory of a whole saga.


Dog Eat Dog (2016)

Paul Schrader directs Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook in this black crime comedy where three unhinged ex-cons move out of their low-level comfort zone and try you pull off a big score with fatal results.

Lurches between gonzo violence to solid character study to exploitation pulp to amateur scratch work to pure visual art. Essentially if you like Cage and Dafoe and you expect nothing of it, there’s nasty pleasures hidden among the randomness. Imagine a crime film told in the style of Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and you’ve got the milieu. Ends with loose ends all over the place, don’t expect plot resolution. Still, I’d watch this utter carnage again. Based on a Eddie Bunker book, with Schrader himself acting well in a key role.


Revolution (1985)

Hugh Hudson directs Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski and Sid Owen in this war movie where a father and son are dragged into the turmoil of the War of Independence between the British and Americans.

The film that pretty much destroyed the British film industry for a decade. It cost $28 million and in the States made only 300 grand. After that the city backed away from investing in British productions, pretty much only superior TV movies got cinema distribution until 1994. Eventually Shallow Grave and Four Weddings & A Funeral got commerce pumping again. As for the culprit / scapegoat itself, Revolution still isn’t very good. The kinda club footed production that cast Annie Lennox in a role but then dubs her singing voice with someone else’s. There are battles and scale and stars and period detail but no life. Everything that happens fails to connect with the restless, persevering viewer. Pacino is subdued, Kinski miscast, everyone else lost. Often compared to the notorious Heaven’s Gate, this displays the same levels of hubris and often boredom. Sometimes the film slips out of it own consciousness it so cack handedly edited down. But with Heaven’s Gate you could see a great, beautiful film fighting beneath a miasma of indulgence. This doesn’t have that soul, the dirty dullness is hollow inside.


The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Henry Koster directs Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven in this Christmas romance where a dashing angel falls for the wife of a Bishop he has been assigned to help.

A lovely festive matinee trip to the Filmhouse. The movie feels like a progenitor of Mary Poppins. Grant’s sharp suited angel fills the same role, his miracles are delivered with similar Hollywood trickery and his effect on people is exactly the same. Which puts Niven in a stuffy George Banks role – a little thankless apart from when a chair magics itself to his butt. There’s lots of brisk humour, wondrous flights of fancy and suave heartstring pulling. A pinnacle of studio system lightness.


The Chase (1966)

Arthur Penn directs Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in this lurid drama where a small town tears itself apart after a wayward hometown boy escapes the penitentiary and goes on the run.

A strange, histrionic film that actually won me over the more it jumped it’s own rails. It is an adaptation of a stage play but so expansive you could never guess. The ensemble is massive and Penn does a good job of marshalling all the faces so none get lost in the crowd. The on-the-run aspects with Redford are cinematic and compelling. The scenes of Brando snarkily policing a town swiftly disintegrating into pandemonium start in good, tart humour. He’s a pretty cool customer until the mob overwhelms him. The early satirical interactions between the various social stratas mix soap opera with an Altman-esque freewheeling energy. It is sultry (Fonda and Angie Dickinson are in it for God’s sake… And they are the good girls!) and it is subversive. Then in the last act all hell breaks loose. Things turn incredibly bleak – paranoia turns to drinking, turns to swinging, turns to racism, turns to lynching, turns to apocalyptic destruction, turns to two decent men being martyred. The Chase goes from being a broad political comedy to maybe the most nihilistic Hollywood product ever released. If you are a fan of Falling Down or Do The Right Thing then you’ll find lots to chew over here.


Prison (1949)

Ingmar Bergman directs Doris Svedlund, Birger Malmsten and Eva Henning in this experimental arthouse drama where a filmmaker recreates his friend’s desperate union with a prostitute.

An exploration in sin, misery, corruption and solace. Only really worth watching for some of the meta moments toying with subverting cinema. For example – the credits are read aloud over a tracking shot of a high street. A doodle scribble of movie, a grim one at that.


Jacquot de Nantes (1991)

Agnes Varda directs Jacques Demy, Philippe Maron and Edouard Joubaeud in this recreation of her husband’s childhood in Nazi occupied France exploring his burgeoning cinematic ambitions.

Flashes of Demy’s actual work echo throughout. You see the moment inspired recreated as it own portion of celluloid. This is a very sweet heartfelt, cinematic love letter and perfectly watchable coming-of-age drama.


Parasite (1982)

Charles Band directs Robert Glaudini, Demi Moore and Al Fann in this sci-fi horror where an infected scientist ends up in a small town at the end of the world.

My second Charles Band experience this week after the equally awful Arena. This is a mildly quirkier film but no less uninspired. It is a lot more bargain basement – a spaghetti Mad Max with none of the stunts, action or punk verve. The roving gangs are pretty harmless and aimless. A lot of the film is just folks bartering and chatting about their lot after a slow disintegration of civilisation. You almost get the feel everyone forgot there’s a monster brewing in our hero and his thermos. It is eventually unleashed to no great consequence.


Hidden / Caché (2005)

Michael Haneke directs Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche and Maurice Bénichou in this mystery film where a middle class couple of Parisian pseuds are stalked by someone sending them ominous videos of their lives.

Re-exploring Haneke this season, it is clear his bugbears are guilt, surveillance, secrets sins, the evil in children and the hypocrisy of society. He is cold and clinical, he plays with form deliberately making the camera an unreliable character within the story. This slow burner is probably his most accessible work featuring impactful acting and a puzzle plot that never loses its seductive uncertainty or unpredictable wallop.