The Lighthouse Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% Available on Disc and Streaming From Robert Eggers, the writer/director of 2016’s wildly disturbing horror pic The Witch, comes this very different, but still disturbing tale about two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) on a remote island in New England in the late 1800s. While not nearly as frightening as it is sold, it makes up for that in pure oddity. Artistically, the film is in a beautiful and hypnotic black and white that doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling but rather enhances the ambience the director was going for. And since it is essentially a two-man show, it’s nice to have such talented actors in the mix. Willem Dafoe is especially great as the veteran old lighthouse master. Unfortunately, the film takes on such a strange personality that you feel like you are witnessing something from a Ripley’s museum rather than a narrative feature. For shear creativity and its unique vibe, I have to say this is a weird tale worth watching but be prepared that what you will experience is anything but ordinary. B
Joker Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69% Available on Disc and Streaming Certainly the most polarizing film of the year, Joker has managed to make a lot of people angry while at the same time exciting audiences enough to become the highest-grossing R rated film ever. I’m solidly in the first camp. The story follows the genesis of the infamous DC villain as he struggles with mental illness and discovers his life’s purpose in creating chaos. It brushes up with Batman but never solidly enters his universe. I have to fully admit that it is a well-made film with a tremendous performance by Joaquin Phoenix. But the material is sick and depraved, and in my opinion, potentially dangerous. I felt ill while watching it, and at the same time extremely paranoid at every little movement seen out of the corner of my eye in the theater. Watching at home will make you feel safer, but I just can’t help but fear that this movie will serve as inspiration, rather than entertainment, for a small section of its audience. I just don’t think there’s any place for a movie like this in today’s world. F
2019, in my opinion, was a rather mediocre year for cinema. Sure we had some mega hits like Endgame and Rise of Skywalker, but many of the films that should have been good let us down and the end-of-year quality we are used to turned out to be a lot of buzz without the substance to back it up. I was fortunate in that I managed to skip a lot of the true stinkers. If you ask why Cats and The Fanatic aren’t on the worst list – the answer is simple: I played hooky from those screenings. Sometimes I actually do make good choices it turns out. I did manage to see a few great films, and lots of good ones. My favorite this year just happens to be:
1) Rocketman (On Disc and Streaming). It’s one thing to make a Bohemian Rhapsody-like biopic about an iconic rock star, but to turn it into an all-out dance-in-the-streets musical that works is kind of a miracle. This very Rated R take on the life of Elton John looks and feels like the truth. And quite honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this fantasia is exactly how he remembers it. If I had to guess, the underrated Taron Egerton has been positioning himself for this project for years, and he was right to do so as he is perfect here in every way. As is the the moving story and the exceptional way it is presented here. Perhaps it could have made a few more bucks had it been a little less graphic and real, but its authenticity and vulnerability are what makes the movie truly special.
2) 1917 (In Theaters). This WWI picture follows two young British soldiers as they are given an impossible mission: deliver a message as fast as you can, deep into enemy territory, to your brother, in order to prevent 1600 soldiers from walking straight into a German trap. The story doesn’t exactly feel original here, but the storytelling most definitely does. And to make it more exciting and authentic – the film is shot in real-time, by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, to give the appearance of being filmed in one continuous shot with not cuts. It is a spectacular and unique experience and likely to give American Beauty director Sam Mendes his second Oscar win.
3) Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (On Disc and Streaming). If anyone will be competing with Mendes for awards this season, it will be Quentin Tarantino with his masterpiece about Hollywood in the summer of 69. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a mediocre actor and his stuntman, the film takes us on a weird and wonderful exploration of an infamous time, providing the most fun you’ll ever have watching a movie about the Manson murders. QT’s writing and story-crafting give the audience a journey they probably wouldn’t normally want to go on only to find themselves joyous that they went in the end. And while it has a dark and scary side to it, it is the closest thing to a comedy we’ve ever seen from him with a healthy mix of uncomfortable laughs and pure comedic genius.
4) Knives Out (In Theaters). Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, along with an incredible iconic cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Christopher Plumber take on this murder mystery which follows the death of a famous writer and the chaos that ensues amongst his greedy and contentious family. While the thought of James Bond taking on Captain America sounded interesting to me, the trailer didn’t exactly have me excited. But once I started watching, I grew a big goofy grin on my face that didn’t go away until the credits. This is a smart and fun nail-biter with terrific chemistry from one heck of a great ensemble.
5) The Irishman (On Netflix). Netflix had a spectacular year and they could very easily walk away with some major hardware come awards time. In their highest-profile movie, Robert DeNiro stars as Frank Sheeran, the fixer to Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa in this epic gangster drama. Yes the film is long at 209 minutes, but director Martin Scorsese takes his time in a way he’s never been able to do with other studios, creating the rich tapestry that is this little-known side to a much bigger story. What Netflix was able to provide for us here was not just a masterclass in acting and filmmaking, but also a really important film within the mafia genre.
6) The Two Popes (On Netflix). Based on a true story, but in no way associated with the Catholic church, this film follows the succession of Popes from Benedict to Francis (played here by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce) as they both try to do what is right in light of scandal and self-doubt within the complex political system that is the Vatican. While I’m not a Catholic, I have admired Pope Francis, as well as the church itself, since he took his post in 2013. I thought it was a brave choice given the struggles the church has gone through for the past two decades. I was quite surprised to learn that this beautiful and complicated story from City of God director Fernando Meirelles and The Theory of Everything writer Anthony McCarten had no backing or even acknowledgement from the church, and while many of the filmmakers behind it are non-Christians, the film is not full of the expected negativity and cynicism, but rather progress and hope. It’s a softer and more gentle film than you might expect, but it is nonetheless powerful in its delivery.
7) Bombshell (In Theaters). Truly one of the biggest scandals of our time was when the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, was brought down by a large group of credible and brave women who decided it was time for the bad behavior of the men in the industry to stop. This film stars Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, all told from the minds of director Jay Roach (Austin Powers) and writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) who creatively tell us how they think it all went down. Sure – part of the reason I loved this film was a beautiful feeling of schadenfreude – where I admit I drew pleasure in Ailes’s pain as he is largely responsible for much of the mess and division our country is in today. It’s also nice to see a real-life villain lose his power in such a shameful way. But more importantly, it is a great thing to remember the victims and see them come out of the fire with a huge counter victory, setting the stage for a world where women have less of these issues in the future and hoping for the day that they go away entirely.
8) Dolemite is My Name (on Netflix). Yes another Netflix film. They made a commitment to produce awards-worthy films in 2019 and this one is just terrific. Eddie Murphy stars as the real-life Rudy Ray Moore, who in the 1970’s changed comedy forever with his underground character Dolemite, only to later to independently create one of the most treasured films of the Blaxploitation era: 1975’s Dolemite. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Murphy grace the screen, but he is back in a big way with this surprisingly heartwarming comedy from such an unlikely source. Once the kids have gone to sleep, you should do yourself the favor of watching this not-so-hidden gem that is sure to make you lose your breath in hysterics many times while at the same time gaining a lesson in the history of black comedy and cinema.
9) Uncut Gems (In Theaters). Adam Sandler puts on the performance of his career in this crime thriller about a charismatic New York jeweler whose constant need for the next big score finds him in an uncomfortable mix of precarious situations, mostly due to his bad instincts, poor choice of business partners and his unattainable ambitions. The frenetic energy and perpetual discomfort make this a tough one to sit through and impossible to look away. I wouldn’t call it fun, but it certainly is memorable experience worth taking.
10) Yesterday (On Disc and Streaming). My last pick here is a just simply a great feel-good movie from one of my favorite directors (Danny Boyle) and one of my favorite screenwriters (Richard Curtis) making a movie about my favorite band (The Beatles). In this fantasy, a down-on-his-luck singer songwriter (Himesh Patel) is hit by a bus during a blackout, only to wake up from his concussion to discover the Beatles never existed and he feels compelled to be the person to introduce the world to their music. Yes it is cheesy, but the cheese is glorious throughout and it is still one of the most entertaining films I went to see in 2019.
Aladdin, Avengers: Endgame, Crawl, Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, The King, Midsommar, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Queen & Slim, Toy Story 4
1) Wonder Park. A little girl creates a massive and crazy amusement park in her head, proving that you can do anything with creativity. Except this isn’t creative – it’s chaotic – and we are not amused.
2) Glass. This unwanted and unneeded sequel for both Split and Unbreakable sets a hero and his villains against each other in one of the dumbest final battles in the history of final battles.
3) Dumbo. Most of Disney’s live-action remakes have been really well-done, but this one about the infamous flying elephant never makes it off the ground, mostly due to completely ignoring its source material.
4) What Men Want. In it’s attempt to role reverse Mel Gibson’s 2001 one note comedy “What Women Want”, “What Men Want” places Taraji P. Henson as a woman who can hear men’s inner thoughts. But instead of becoming funny and relevant, the film becomes sexist and desperate for laughs it can’t get.
5) Dark Phoenix. It’s a shame that a franchise like X-Men that started with such promise has been torn to pieces by this dark and heavy sequel which should have never been made. If only they could have dreamed up a mutant with the ability to zap this film out of existence.