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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.