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Who would want to be stuck in a dream for ten years?

Top 10 Films 2010-19
Now, you may glance down the following and blanche at its apparent Yankophile and populist tendencies. I wouldn’t seek to claim, however, that my tastes are particularly prone to treading on the coat tails of the highbrow. And there’s always the cahiers du cinema list if you want an appreciation of that ilk. As such, near misses for the decade, a decade that didn’t feature all that many features I’d rank as unqualified classics, included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tron: Legacy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and Edge of Tomorrow.

I created so many of the things that you care about. The songs that give your life purpose and joy.

Top 10 Films  2019
As I suggested last year, I rarely see enough of the year’s offerings within that timeframe to offer anything approaching a definitive list, so the ten that follow should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. They represent pictures that received a release in the UK during 2019, be it via cinemas or streaming giants. I will add that of the year’s critical raves I have seen, I’ve been mostly underwhelmed, or at best skewed positive with significant reservations. If some are claiming 2019 was a great year for cinema, I’m still waiting to happen upon that instant classic. Just missing from this list were Doctor Sleep, Avengers: Endgame and Rocketman.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

You know, in some ways, you’re far superior to my cocker spaniel.

White Christmas (1954)
(SPOILERS) White Christmas is one of those beloved Christmas “classics” that gets its prescribed seasonal screening(s) but I doubt most people have watched all the way through. I certainly hadn’t. Having remedied that, I’m very doubtful you’ll have gained anything by giving it your full attention rather than having it on the background while you put your decorations up. And then wondering, when you do occasionally give it your attention, why it’s still on and nothing of consequence whatsoever appears to have happened.

Open holidays only? How many of those are there?

Holiday Inn (1942)
(SPOILERS) A slender premise that sustains itself surprisingly well, most obviously because, unlike the later White Christmas, which reuses Bing Crosby and the famous song first sung here and that more-dependable-than-the-real-stuff asbestos snow, there’s a degree of conflict ensuring Holiday Inn isn’t just a collection ineffectual interludes between Irving Berlin numbers.

Christmas, huh? I’ll give him a Christmas present he’ll never forget.

Trading Places (1983)
(SPOILERS) It’s incredible to recall that Eddie Murphy was in his early twenties during his first flush of success (48Hrs,Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop). And not, like contemporary Tom Cruise, playing teenagers but rather adult roles, roles where age wasn’t an identifier. Here he co-stars with the decade-senior Dan Aykroyd, but let’s not pretend Eddie isn’t the lead and main attraction. Director John Landis’ retro treatment of Trading Places, which Pauline Kael unflattering described as “a time warp... with its stodgy look, suggesting no period of the past or the present”, adds to the sense that the sky was the limit for Murphy and that, despite porting over his patented sense of humour unneutered, he wasn’t restricted by genre or period.

Funnily enough, we never lose our luggage.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
(SPOILERS) Chris Columbus’s sequel to his surprise 1990 box office sensation, again produced and scripted by John Hughes, offers more of everything. More ultra-violence, more Macauley – rather than Maclunkey – Culkin precociousness as Kevin, more desperate attempts by his parents to locate their lost son, more sentiment ladled on with shovel. And more minutes – you really feel the entirely uncalled extra twenty dead weight. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York does, then, a case of diminishing returns for what is a virtual remake, give or take relocating to New York for a run around and attendant antics in a then Donald Trump owned hotel (the Plaza).

Oh, tell me about it. I have 33,000 offspring, all in private schooling.

The Santa Clause 2 (2002)
(SPOILERS) A definite surprise in this foray into Christmas movies – admittedly, most of them are revisits – is that Tim Allen’s Santa Clauses are actually okay (well, I can’t speak to the third one yet). The general aesthetic isn’t pretty – Allen in a fat suit and a nauseating North Pole that would have any legitimate Kris Kringle pulling his snow-white hair out in despair – but Allen’s intrinsic lack of cosiness ensures the sentimentality on display can only soil the proceedings so much. The Santa Clause 2 might even be more palatable than its predecessor.

So let me get this straight, Santa. You mean, when I grow up, if I want to be Santa Claus, all I gotta do is push you off a roof?

The Santa Clause (1994)
(SPOILERS) Tim Allen’s status as a big screen star really starts and ends with The Santa Clause, in which he’s frequently buried under prosthetics. After all, you can only hear him as Buzz Lightyear and the rest of his hits are fairly random (Wild Hogs), with only one bona fide, much loved critical darling among them (Galaxy Quest). Maybe that’s because, much like say Jerry Seinfeld (albeit not so much politically), he always comes across as a TV guy. Which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, as it’s only his deadpan Home Improvement persona that keeps this movie’s more sickly-sweet, cotton candy impulses in check.

Oh, the Who-manity!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
(SPOILERS) Or How Little Ronnie Howard Committed a Celluloid Atrocity. Away from the inescapable horror of witnessing it on the big screen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas isn’t quite as relentlessly nightmarish, but it remains a hideous monstrosity of a production on almost every level, starting with the direction and then moving on to performances, costumes, music, prosthetics and art direction. The oddest thing about it is how it manages to be simultaneously grotesque and saccharine, but in neither regard with anything approaching flair or sincerity.

All right. Snow-dad’s better than no-dad. Let’s go.

Jack Frost (1998)
(SPOILERS) Horrifying variant on The Santa Clause, in which no one believes a kid, Charlie (Joseph Cross), when he claims his dad has transformed into a hallmark of Christmas. Horrifying because, while Tim Allen probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a perfect Santa, Michael Keaton definitely does not make a good snowman, even as rendered by ILM and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. There’s also the small detail that Troy Miller, a TV comedy director drafted in at short notice, appears to have zero aptitude for the material. Or movies generally.

You know why the Emperor always wanted you dead? I’ll come tell you.

Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So JJ Abrams takes on the monumental task of satisfyingly completing a trilogy he failed to ensure had firm foundations in the first place, while ignoring whichever elements his divisive predecessor introduced that didn’t take his fancy. The result is as unwieldy as you might expect, with Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio trying to please too many masters, juggle too many elements, introduce too many characters while paying off too many other characters, and underline Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker as the end of a nine-episode saga. At least they’ve managed that last bit, unless there are some unaccounted-for illegitimate offspring somewhere. After all, when we discover Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), of all people, has got ‘em… Mercifully, we were spared an explanation – and further still, a flashback – of just how he fathered that son.

Remarks like that will not get you invited to Christmas dinner.

Lethal Weapon (1987)
(SPOILERS) The first of Shane Black’s Christmas-set screenplays – “It’s just a thing of beauty” he told Entertainment Weekly of the season to be jolly – isn’t perhaps his most essentially so. But then, the most essentially Shane Black Christmas-set movie is one where his sole contribution was furnishing the title (producer Joel Silver added a Christmas setting to Die Hard when he saw how it added a certain something to Lethal Weapon). Thematically, however, with forgiveness and family foregrounded, through the cathartic infliction of ultra-violence, nothing could be more festive.

Yeah, terrorists. Maybe they traded their suicide vests for rabid snow dogs.

Krampus (2015)
(SPOILERS) On the evidence of Krampus, you can see why Legendary Pictures might have considered it a bright idea to enlist Michael Dougherty to direct a Godzilla movie. Much less so why they’d also ask him to write one. This horror tale, based on the anti-Saint Nick, posits the title character as the punisher of those who have lost that Christmas feeling (rather than, per se, children who have misbehaved): “It’s not what you do. It’s what you believe”. Dougherty does a solid job with the setup, but unfortunately, he then lets it all go to waste.

Is it filled with a pox?

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1994)
(SPOILERS) The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the steadily dwindling number of Tim Burton films – yes, I know it’s really directed by Henry Selick, but it’s Burton’s story and sensibility, and he’s always taken all the credit, probably quite rudely – that are upheld as unalloyed classics. And yet, I’ve never felt all that partial to it. Like Edward Scissorhands, also scripted by Caroline Thompson, it’s a tonally one-note affair: fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t actually go that far.

Okay, dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.

Love Actually (2003)
(SPOILERS) The movement to denounce Love Actually, presenting all the reasons you shouldn’t like it in a doomed and self-righteous attempt to counteract its alleged status as a (the?) new Christmas classic, rewarded by essential viewing at that time of the year, appears to have eclipsed the film itself. Going by Google, at any rate (and Google never lies). I wouldn’t seek to take an axe to Richard Curtis’ confection on the basis of its regressive qualities however – how many romcoms are truly praiseworthy in that regard? – but because, for the most part, it’s too offputtingly calculated, in writing, in performance and in its resort to studied sentimentality, to take away many positives. It’s like eating an entire tin of low-grade chocolates and feeling very queasy afterwards; Love Actually’s a Quality Street experience.

I have a cow in the backyard.

The Holiday (2006)
(SPOILERS) The Holiday is a half-decent festive romcom. Which is to say, one of the two romantic plotlines are decent, and the other is a mostly turgid bust. Nancy Meyers’ typically anonymous – think sub-Nora Ephron – lighter-than-lighter confection is entirely reliant on its cast for effectiveness, and as such, she gets things half right.

In your defence, it was probably the dump salad. There’s a reason it’s called that.

Christmas with the Coopers aka Love the Coopers (2015)
(SPOILERS) Presumably the UK title change to Christmas with the Coopers was spurred by the thought of commercial cachet, rather than the concern that Love the Coopers would elicit a response of “No, I really don’t”. Because the charms of Jessie Nelson’s Yule dog are highly resistible.

A penguin. It doesn’t have to be alive.

Bad Santa 2 (2016)
(SPOILERS) Unasked for and uninspired attempt to milk a franchise that didn’t need milking, the only surprise with Bad Santa 2 is that it occasionally does manage to raise a smile amid the rather tired attempts to replicate the first movie’s laughs, which entails looking everywhere for ways to shock and be transgressive. You’d be forgiven for thinking the movie was on the former Weinsten Company’s slate for dusting off properties with the vaguest potential, but no, the brothers weren’t involved this time. Which puts Billy Bob Thornton squarely in the frame for its eventual materialisation.

Well, I heard you. Fraggle-Stick car. Fine.

Bad Santa (2003)
(SPOILERS) Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Bad Santa: The Director’s Cut. I suppose I should, in a show of solidarity for unsullied visions, regard it as the definitive version, particularly considering the wanton meddling, interference and upset Harvey Weinstein has caused filmmakers over the years. But the sad fact is, director’s cuts aren’t always the best version, and producer power sometimes – sometimes – can be a positive rather than negative influence. I’d doubtless watch the Director’s Cut if it was on hand, but I’ve been very happy with both versions of Bad Santa I have seen, and feel no urgent need for an additional take tipping more towards Terry Zwigoff’s favoured misanthropy over the life-affirming strains imposed on the original release.

She Home Alone’d me!

The Night Before (2015)
(SPOILERS) It’s pretty much a given that any film featuring boorish oaf Seth Rogen will feature the consumption of copious quantities of weed – off screen and on – but here he goes all in, with a spouse-gifted pharmaceuticals bag (“It’s every single drug in the whole world”) and the chance to act off his moobs for most of the movie. And much as I have an allergic response to Rogen in all his hirsute glory, he does at times extract a mirthful response. The problem with The Night Before isn’t its potential – After Hours with a dose of Yule log – so much as the tendency to excess and never knowing when less is more. But then, Rogen buddy and screenwriter Even Goldberg also co-scripted This Is the End, which fell prey to exactly the same issues.

Tell me, in all your calls has anybody ever impaled themselves?

Mixed Nuts (1994)
(SPOILERS) The faintly desperate title says it all. Farces are deceptively difficult to get right, which is probably why so few writers try them anymore. That Nora Ephron should have deep-dived into this Christmas black comedy immediately after one of her most celebrated romcoms (and certainly the most celebrated she directed herself) only makes her errors of judgement look that much worse. Indeed, the only bits of Mixed Nuts that vaguely land are the ones with romantic twinge.

Oh, you’re not a chubby bunny anymore!

Just Friends (2005)
(SPOILERS) By virtue of setting – icy New Jersey – Just Friends features more bona fide Christmas trappings than many fellow Yuletide yarns. And yet, they simultaneously feel more incidental than the festive fare in many of those yarns. Essentially, this is a late-period There’s Something About Mary variant, in which the protagonist’s high school humiliations – in particular, romantically – are revisited a decade on, and he discovers, for slapstick’s sake, that he hasn’t outgrown that period nearly as much as he’d hoped.

I said undercover. Not coked-up Borg and McEnroe.

6 Underground  (2019)
(SPOILERS) 6 Underground’s opening sequence is as pure – if that’s remotely an appropriate word, given the content – and unexpurgated a slice of Bayhem as you ever did see, a visual tour de force of colours, sound, insane stunts, pulverised pedestrians and exploding entrails up there with anything in Bad Boys II. One can go back and forth on whether or not that’s a good or bad thing – at his best, which is increasingly rarely, I think Michael Bay’s a purveyor of “big” cinema par excellence – but the director’s undeniably in his element. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the movie is pretty unpersuasive.

Yes, it appears that I speak camel.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
(SPOILERS) A sequel that, for the most part, repeats the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. Which means there’s a lot of fun to be had during the early stages of Jumanji: The Next Level and the “getting to know your avatar”, but an inevitable petering out as the straighter-playing action questing progressively takes over. And as before, it’s the natural comedians who come out best, Kevin Hart taking home the lion’s share of the laughs. Although, a mid-stage appearance from Awkwafina nearly passes him on the inside on the home straight.

When I think of all the energy I spent visualising you as a radiant spirit.

Jumanji (1995)
(SPOILERS) My main recollection of this original Jumanji-verse outing was that it was overly reliant on shoddy CGI. There is a hefty wodge of that, in particular the monkeys, but there’s also a significant physical effects element in Joe Johnston’s characteristically serviceable-but-nothing-more-than-that movie. Otherwise, while the actual environment is very different to the recent computer game-ised incarnations, it’s structurally fairly similar, in that the best of Jumanji is in the set-up, faltering somewhat once all hell breaks loose.

When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.

Field of Dreams (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s a near-Frank Darabont quality to Phil Alden Robinson producing such a beloved feature and then subsequently offering not all that much of note. But Darabont, at least, was in the same ballpark as The Shawshank Redemption with The Green MileSneakers is good fun, The Sum of All Our Fears was a decent-sized success, but nothing since has come close to his sophomore directorial effort in terms of quality. You might put that down to the source material, WP Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, but the captivating magical-realist balance hit by Field of Dreams is a deceptively difficult one to strike, and the biggest compliment you can play Robinson is that he makes it look easy.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

He's a talented, pretentious enigma.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
(SPOILERS) I find there’s a take-it-or-leave-it with Noah Baumbach’s films, such that this has been sitting on Netflix for two years without my feeling much urgency to visit it; only the arrival of Marriage Story and the attention it’s been receiving finally nudged me. The berth I gave turns out to have been warranted, since it’s a mainly tiresome, laboured piece of work, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’s structure seemingly arrived at by whatever bright idea came into Baumbach’s head at that moment regarding the titular family.

I thought our job was to provide oversight and accountability. Not middle ground.

The Report (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s a recurring problem for today’s politically-inclined movies, and even more so for politically-inclined movies dealing with coverups and unconscionable establishment acts, that you can no longer surprise or shock the audience, let alone elicit anger. Which means they tend to function as mutual pats on the back of the privileged but cause-conscious Hollywood in-crowd, a vouching of just how decent and concerned for the welfare of us all they are, despite being safely ensconced in their ivory towers. The end products are usually the kind of ineffectual fare George Clooney puts his name to, and despite no one having any interest in seeing them, they continue to get greenlit to keep the stars and creatives sweet. Short of a Truther account of 9/11, which you would never get – you wouldn’t even get a Capricorn One-style retelling, and no, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t count – it takes the irreverence of The Big Short to muster wider interest (and when that’…

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

Those were not just ordinary people there.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
(SPOILERS) Eyes Wide Shut’s afterlife in the conspirasphere has become so legendary, even a recent BFI retrospective article had to acknowledge the “outlandish” suggestions that this was Kubrick’s all-out exposé of the Illuminati, an exposé so all-out it got him murdered, 24 all-important minutes excised into the bargain. At the time of its release, even as a conspiracy buff, I didn’t think the film was suggestive of anything exactly earthshattering in that regard. I was more taken with the hypnotic pace, which even more than the unsympathetic leads, made the picture stand out from its 1999 stablemates. I’m not enough of a Kubrick devotee to rewatch his oeuvre on a loop, but that initial response still largely holds true; I can quite respect those who consider Eyes Wide Shut a (or the) masterpiece from the director, but it can’t quite reach such heights for me.

The guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

Do forgive me for butting in, but I have a bet with my daughter that you are Hercules Porridge, the famous French sleuth.

Death on the Nile (1978)
(SPOILERS) Peak movie Poirot, as the peerless Peter Ustinov takes over duties from Albert Finney, who variously was unavailable for Death on the Nile, didn’t want to repeat himself or didn’t fancy suffering through all that make up in the desert heat. Ustinov, like Rutherford, is never the professional Christie fan’s favourite incarnation, but he’s surely the most approachable and engaging. Because, well, he’s Peter Ustinov. And if some of his later appearances were of the budget-conscious, TV movie variety (or of the Michael Winner variety), here we get to luxuriate in a sumptuously cast, glossy extravaganza.

I have brought you here to charge you with the following crimes.

Ten Little Indians aka And Then There Were None (1974)
(SPOILERS) In respect of the novel, the latter title, And Then There Were None, didn’t become the UK standard until the mid-1980s, having been taken off the bat by the US in preference to the original UK title, Ten Little N*****s; Ten Little Indians was used for the US paperback, making it curious that a title changed due to its racist language was replaced by one also likely to cause offence (the novel’s original title was also used for the film in some territories, per some of posters viewable on IMDB). It’s both Agatha Christie’s best-selling novel and the best-selling crime novel of all time (and the sixth best-selling novel of all time). Impressive credentials, and Ten Little Indians has duly been adapted many times and with various degrees of fidelity (commonly bearing the more upbeat ending of the stage play version). This is the film version I’m most familiar with, and commonly the most derided, it seems. Perhaps because I cam…

I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
(SPOILERS) Was Joe Eszterhas a big fan of Witness for the Prosecution? He was surely a big fan of any courtroom drama turning on a “Did the accused actually do it?” only for it to turn out they did, since he repeatedly used it as a template. Interviewed about his Agatha Christie adaptation (of the 1925 play), writer-director Billy Wilder said of the author that “She constructs like an angel, but her language is flat; no dialogue, no people”. It’s not an uncommon charge, one her devotees may take issue with, that her characters are mere pieces to be moved around a chess board, rather than offering any emotional or empathetic interest to the viewer. It’s curious then that, while Wilder is able to remedy the people and dialogue, doing so rather draws attention to a plot that, on this occasion, turns on a rather too daft ruse.

If I was going to kill my wife, that’s the way I’d do it.

Jagged Edge (1985)
(SPOILERS) You might argue the only necessary tester of the Joel Eszterhas “Did-they-do-it?” is the immediate response. Once you know, it’s never going to have the same impact again. Obviously, such a reasoning would, in theory, negate rereading Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. There, however, the pleasure is as much from a well-thumbed mystery well told. In contrast, Jagged Edge’s merits and failings are very much those of Eszterhas’ milieu; he provides enough slickness to attract a good cast, but they’re the ones who have to carry it through its more OTT and showy theatrics and plot extravagances.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

That’s courtesy of Philology 101.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)
(SPOILERS) Critically lauded but curiously unaffecting endeavour on the parts of director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory. Call Me by Your Name, an '80s Italy-set summer romance was surely intended to captivate through making us privy to the passions between Timothee Chalamet’s seventeen-year-old Elio and Armie Hammer’s 24-year-old Oliver, a grad student working with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). But the relationship is singularly devoid of chemistry and intensity, leaving actors going through the motions of infatuation.

Well, he hasn’t actually written a word of it yet. But he says, it’s the non-fiction book of the decade.

Capote (2005)
(SPOILERS) Another (relatively) recent Best Picture Oscar nominee I missed first time round, and then subsequently didn’t really feel very compelled to chase up. Perhaps it was the vying Truman Capote pics (I’ve also yet to see Infamous) putting me off, or possibly just being underwhelmed by everything Oscar that year (which hasn’t changed). I can certainly see why the late Philip Seymour Hoffman received the Best Actor award for Capote, though, since the eccentrically mannered title character is precisely the kind of studied, showy performance the Academy laps up.

Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.

The Blind Side (2009)
(SPOILERS) I’ve found my way to seeing most Best Picture Oscar nominees of the last four decades or so, but failing to get round to see The Blind Side never seemed like a particularly glaring blind spot. Nominated during the first year of the Academy’s (re-)expanded slate, this aspirational sports drama was commonly seen as filler to make up numbers for the ten slots (and commonly cited a couple of years later as a reason ten was then pegged as a maximum rather than a quota). If I say it’s a John Lee Hancock film, that should tell you all you need to know about how essential it is, provided you even know who John Lee Hancock is.

You must be new to the world, sir.

Doctor Who Season 19 – Worst to Best
Christopher Bidmead’s guiding hand as a script editor – and Barry Letts looking over producer John Nathan-Turner’s shoulder – had ensured the final Tom Baker season was high on distinctiveness and quality, even if only about half the previous year’s audience had shown up to witness it. But salvation was at hand, ever so briefly. Peter Davison and a twice-weekly slot garnered a burst of publicity and renewed interest in the show. Ratings soared. Unfortunately, the content was less spectacular, with temporary script editor Anthony Root and then permanent replacement Eric Saward scrabbling about in their attempts to knock Bidmead offcuts and rejects into shape until a firmer footing was established. The consequence is that Season 19 rather yoyos in quality, tone and style, not helped any by a frequently burdensome complement of fresh-faced companions. It’s a year that finds its footing sporadically, but not enough to convince viewers, two million of wh…

That calls for a nice cup of tea.

Le Mans '66 aka Ford v Ferrari (2019)
(SPOILERS) I didn’t have any great expectations for this one, partly because motor-related movies tend to be merely serviceable, by dint of marrying the grinding metal to elementary melodrama (to frequent audience apathy). Partly because James Mangold has never truly risen above the status of a competent journeyman. Yes, I know he gets all those raves for Logan, but Wolverine’s last round struck me as both overly derivative and in need of a couple more rewrites. Or maybe a couple less. Le Mans '66 might be his most satisfying movie, however, which isn’t to say it’s some kind of automotive miracle, but it successfully flourishes the biographical movie card in never less than immersive, kinetic fashion – even when it’s all talk – and at times even musters a veneer of the visually poetic, of the sort that brings to mind the best of Michael Mann (who gets a producer credit, and had been scheduled to direct a version of the film, inspired by AJ B…

I don’t think I could list all my objections in four hours. I think I'd need more like eight hours.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)
(SPOILERS) The Best Picture Oscar nominee of 1967 dealing with racial tensions and starring Sidney Poitier that didn’t win, but had enough impact on the cultural lexicon that its title has taken on meaning beyond the film itself (and indeed, informed the recent Get Out). Most conversations regarding Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? are compelled to address that it hasn’t aged all that well, which in many respects it hasn’t, but it’s debatable that it appeared especially boundary pushing at the time; compared to fellow nominees Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, it seems like the product of a different era.

Not only am I ain’t building no shapel, I’m taking off.

Lilies of the Field (1963)
(SPOILERS) Watching a string of Best Picture nominees in succession, the proportion of sweetly good-natured films, ones designed to appeal to the Academy’s sentimental and nostalgic side (even if not necessarily nostalgic for a prior time period, but rather for an impossible-to-realise state of being), can be striking. You couldn’t exactly accuse Lilies of the Field of being custom fitted for such a purpose, since director Ralph Nelson was forced to put up his house as collateral to get it made, but taken on face value, it would be easy to assume otherwise.

Man, I didn’t pull you out. I kept you from pulling me in.

The Defiant Ones (1958)
(SPOILERS) The progenitor of the buddy movie – most notably, 48Hrs took the template and freshened it up, with laughs rather than social commentary emphasising the racial divide – The Defiant Ones certainly couldn’t be called subtle in its conceit. But that upfront quality is key to its success… and Best Picture Oscar nomination; the Academy still loves to be led by the nose with regard to issue-based material.

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

The sooner we are seamen again, the better.

The Bounty (1984)
(SPOILERS) How different might David Lean’s late career have been if Ryan’s Daughter hadn’t been so eviscerated, and his confidence with it? Certainly, we know about his post-A Passage to India projects (Empire of the Sun, Nostromo), but there were fourteen intervening years during which he surely might have squeezed out two or three additional features. The notable one that got away was, like Empire of the Sun, actually made: The Bounty. But by Roger Donaldson, after Lean eventually dropped out. And the resulting picture is, as you might expect, merely okay, notable for a fine Anthony Hopkins performance as Bligh (Lean’s choice), but lacking any of the visual poetry that comes from a master of the craft.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).