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Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.
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This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…

Mind your business, turkey. I’m having a moment.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It says something regarding the misplaced confidence Illumination had in this would-be second franchise that they included Minions and Pets in the animated logo preceding The Secret Life of Pets 2. While this sequel took a not-to-be-sneezed-at $433m, it was rather shockingly (not least to Universal) less than half the original’s global gross. Tellingly, no third instalment has been announced. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as this movie, following a decent but unremarkable predecessor, is patchy at best. Or patchwork, more accurately, attempting to juggle three separate plotlines and rather rudely mash them together for a breakneck but unengaging finale.

I don't want to be in that bubble for my entire life.

The Souvenir (2019)
(SPOILERS) Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical drama has been appearing on many best of 2019 lists, but I found myself resolutely unpersuaded by The Souvenir and her low-key, interior approach to “herself” as a young woman and the dependant relationship she gets into with an older man.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Mr Denby, I'm not ignorant, and I'm not selling my land. And I'm not giving my children over to anyone else to raise.

Places in the Heart (1984)
(SPOILERS) The one that’s more famous for Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech than the film itself. Which is to say, despite its Best Picture Oscar nomination, I suspect few really loved Places in the Heart, they didn’t really love Places in the Heart. It’s a slight, pleasant American period (Great Depression era) picture that contrives to put forward an “It’ll be alright” homespun, righteous quality, despite the horrors going on at its fringes. Which can be affecting when done well (The Shawshank Redemption), but here, it tends to wither in the face of a lack of real backbone.

I like her. She talks about things.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)
(SPOILERS) It’s probably a coincidence that Sense and Sensibility arrived just as Merchant Ivory had peaked, with back-to-back Best Picture nominations for Howards End and The Remains of the Day; they’d never have it so good again, having successfully earmarked a regular awards slot for the sumptuous literary adaptation that Sense and Sensibility duly snapped up. On one level, its success is entirely understandable, screenwriter (and star) Emma Thompson taking pains to make the material accessible in a romcom vein while avoiding the indifference of treatment that characterised subsequent Austen Emma. On another, it’s still rather formal and reserved, despite the choice of Ang Lee as director; I’d argue that Joe Wright delivered a more engaging big screen Austen overall with Pride and Prejudice.

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

There is no rebellion. There's only me, earning a paycheque.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)
(SPOILERS) I was aware that David Robert Mitchell’s shaggy dog amateur detective stoned-out neo-noir conspiracy movie had received very mixed reviews, to say the least, so I embarked upon it with limited expectations. But I liked it a lot, with some reservations. In much the same way that I liked the oft-reviled Southland Tales, admiring Mitchell’s ambition but not always where it took him. I’m dubious that Under the Silver Lake is rich and rewarding enough to warrant a dedicated subreddit pouring over interpretations of its themes and subtexts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the dedication. And it’s surely the best reward Mitchell could have received. Well, aside from a hit movie.

It’s like ayahuasca but Asian. Asian-huasca.

Booksmart (2019)
(SPOILERS) Expectations were high for Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, but Booksmart ended up underperforming at the box office, for reasons post mortems couldn’t quite decide. Some have suggested a gender-reversed Superbad simply wasn’t going to find an audience, because the audience for those types of comedies is predominately male. Others that it was too “woke” for its own good (that cinemagoers generally aren’t interested in the progressive obsessions of the Twitterati). Whatever the reason, it deserved a wider audience, as Wilde takes an inventive screenplay and attacks it with style and humour. They should be throwing Charlie’s Angels projects at her, not Elizabeth Banks.

We need somebody to walk the clones.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
(SPOILERS) Not so much the banality of evil as of taking pot-shots at easy targets, Taika Waititi’s typically insubstantial, broad-brush, sketch-comedy approach isn’t the best of fits for the formulation of this self-styled “anti-hate satire”. The issue isn’t so much that it’s inappropriate or insensitive to broach material of Nazi persecution of the Jews comedically as that the manner in which it has been done here is so obvious as to be redundant. Waititi said his inspiration for making the movie was partly the statistics on those Americans who had never heard of Auschwitz; Jojo Rabbit is as cack-handed a way of going about informing them as Life is Beautiful.

You can have it. Make the edits.

Little Women (2019)
(SPOILERS) It could be argued, given Little Women’s evergreen popularity, not least as a go-to text for Hollywood adaptations, that Greta Gerwig isn’t exactly stretching herself or giving us a better idea of the kind of directorial career she envisages. Hers is a likeable, intelligent, well-rendered sophomore picture. As such, the awards plaudits are probably no more or less deserving than for your average prestige period piece. Which is to say that Little Women is handsomely mounted and consummately performed (at least, by some of the cast), but it doesn’t absolutely feel like this umpteenth version of Louise May Alcott’s novel demanded to be told, even with the Gerwig’s innovations of experimentation with time frame and metatextual use of its author.

We're talking about several billion dollars of Soviet state property. And they're going to want it back.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)
(SPOILERS) I’ve always wondered why The Hunt for Red October became such a big hit (sixth of the year in the US, eleventh worldwide), when it seems to function antithetically to the presumed goal of a tense, claustrophobic submarine thriller. Instead, it’s a highly glossy affair, courtesy of at-peak-cachet director John McTiernan and cinematographer Jan de Bont; not for them the gloomy, dank interiors associated with the sub subgenre. Perhaps audiences flocked to it because, with its 1984 setting (the year of Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name), it represented the first opportunity to be nostalgic about the Cold War, safe in the knowledge of who had “won”.