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You’re a regular little CIA all on your own, aren’t you?

The Internecine Project (1974)
(SPOILERS) I underrated Ken Hughes’ sharp little spy thriller last time I saw it; probably, the quality of the battered, pan-and-scanned print didn’t help any. In pristine form, The Internecine Project – I think it’s a great title, in contrast to Glenn Erickson’s appraisal – reveals itself as commendably oddball and unlikely, but also politically shrewd picture, if in a manner that is anything but heavy-handed. Plus, it has James Coburn, being magnificently James Coburn about everything.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

God and the Serpent have joined hands, and we are all kicked out of Eden.

The Last Valley (1971)
(SPOILERS) The received wisdom on this more obscure Michael Caine film is pretty much “unusual setting but dull”. I didn’t find The Last Valley so. Dull that is. But then, I didn’t think the highlight was Caine’s studious German accent (per biographer Christopher Bray in A Class Act), which sounds to me exactly what you’d expect of Sir Michael attempting a German accent.

You are, by your own admission, a vagabond.

Doctor Who Season 10 - Worst to Best
Season 10 has the cachet of an anniversary year, one in which two of its stories actively trade on the past and another utilises significant elements. As such, it’s the first indication of the series’ capacity for slavishly indulging the two-edged sword that is nostalgia, rather than simply bringing back ratings winners (the Daleks). It also finds the show at its cosiest, a vibe that had set in during the previous season, which often seemed to be taking things a little too comfortably. Season 10 is rather more cohesive, even as it signals the end of an era (with Jo’s departure). As a collection of stories, you perhaps wouldn’t call it a classic year, but as a whole, an example of the Pertwee UNIT era operating at its most confident, it more than qualifies.

I’ve seen detergents that leave a better film than this.

The Muppet Movie (1979)
(SPOILERS) I like The Muppets – love some of the individual ones – but I’m not sure the movie format has ever entirely suited them. Their best puppeteered foot forward in this regard may actually be the spoof/pastiche format adopted by The Muppet Christmas Carol and Treasure Island in the 90s, since it ensures a robust frame for whatever mayhem and gags they wish to hang on it. Here, in their first big screen outing, events are strung together in a freewheeling “genesis of The Muppet Show” narrated prequel format that only fitfully offers inspiration (and laughs).

He says the Sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
(SPOILERS) Interviewed on the set of Saving Private Ryan for Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s twentieth anniversary, Steven Spielberg expressed the view that it was the only film of his he looked back at that “dates me”, that falls victim to the “privileges of youth”. He alluded in part to this being down to his then passion for the UFO subject and possible interpretations thereof (“Now, I grew up”), but chiefly because of the fate of protagonist Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who leaves his family for a flight across the universe with little grey men. As a father of seven, Spielberg found this unconscionable. And you’ll get no arguments that it may not be most mature or responsible thing to do, but it’s telling that this is the most interesting choice he has given one of his characters in any of his films, and a marker of his decline as a vital filmmaking force that the one project reeking of personal investment is now one he wouldn’t go nea…

You are physically close to him. He’s in that urn over there.

The Invisible Man (2020)
(SPOILERS) Incredible how you can see right through him. As a fan of Leigh Whannell’s sophomore film Upgrade, I was willing to give this latest telling of The Invisible Man a chance, even though I was doubtful of its repurposing, seemingly falling prey to the kind of unrefined stalker antics that largely did for Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, the last major studio take on the premise (okay, excepting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). And while it’s certainly the case that Whannell does rather limit his canvas in that regard, he has nevertheless made an undeniably effective stalker picture, one that features a number of quite satisfying plot turns.

Do I look like anybody’s bloody comrade?

The Jigsaw Man (1983)
(SPOILERS) Michael Caine’s 80s career increasingly looks much more respectable when set against the “really will do any old shit” latter-day approaches of John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis and John Cusack. In particular, his recourse to Cold War thrillers when all else failed and he was at a loose end for more than five minutes is now surrounded by a rather nostalgic, muggy grey hue. That doesn’t make The Jigsaw Man remotely any good, occupying as it does the bargain bin of even that spy thriller sub-genre, but it does have its incidental pleasures.

I know enough to know that that great big, dumb cowboy crap of yours don't appeal to nobody except every jockey on 42nd Street.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
(SPOILERS) Midnight Cowboy waltzed off with a Best Picture Oscar and John Schlesinger and Waldo Salt with Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay respectively, but this is a film that was and remains mystifyingly overvalued (there have been plenty of bad choices for Best Picture since, but often with a degree of groundswell surrounding their lack of merit). That’s likely because it does suggest an end-of-an-era starkness – misery porn, one might call it – that, with Easy Rider (rightly) not in the running for the main award, made it an easy pick. Previously, I’d been more charitable towards the film, while nevertheless acknowledging that I didn’t see in it what the cognoscenti appeared to, but on this occasion, I simply found it a patience-testing ordeal.

I know, I know, we are the chosen people. But once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
(SPOILERS) When I say the appeal of Fiddler on the Roof is all about Topol’s performance, that’s not to suggest I might not have similarly rated Zero Mostel had I first seen him as Tevye (although I’m guessing that’s unlikely). And it’s not a slight on Joseph Stein’s adaptation of his stage play, or the clutch of great songs peppering the picture, or Norman Jewison’s unobtrusive direction and Oswald Morris’ fine earthy cinematography. But Topol makes the film, in the same way F Murray Abraham is the pulse of Amadeus.

This is about one thing: dominion. It’s not their planet any more.

Ghosts of Mars (2001)
(SPOILERS) I might have more sympathy for John Carpenter’s protests that Ghosts of Mars was misunderstood if the content did more to support the idea that it was intentionally over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek. Such as silly/amusing plotting and characters and campiness instead of scares. It does rather come across, as per his defence of Escape from L.A. as better than the original, as trying to cover the ineptitude of the production with the old “It was meant to be ‘so bad it was good’; it was self-consciously, post-modernly bad” excuse.

Gerard. Did you know your pops had a mushroom belt on?

Boomerang (1992)
(SPOILERS) Eddie Murphy was trying to recover his footing in 1992. He’d experienced a couple of missteps, most notably the underwhelming reception of his self-penned, self-directed vanity project Harlem Nights and tired, desperate and unwanted sequel Another 48 Hrs (which one imagines Murphy must have agreed to do as an easy hit maker, but he even came up with the story). Neither came close to his run of 80s hits. Boomerang represented a reinvention, with Murphy as a romantic lead and essaying an actual character arc. But it only half works.

Let's have two Tom Jones.

Greed (2019)
(SPOILERS) Michael Winterbottom’s relationship with Steve Coogan extends to nearly two decades and has seen them essay biographical subjects Tony Wilson and Paul Raymond amid semi-regular Trips, although their best collaboration probably remains Tristam Shandy adaptation A Cock and Bull Story. Winterbottom’s nothing if not prolific – I count fifteen dramatic features since 2000 – which guarantees that occasionally he hits a bullseye, but more frequently’ his work is merely reliably, diligently “okay”. He’s also a singularly political filmmaker and the problem with Greed, a satirical biography of Sir Philip Green by another name, is that he just has too many targets he wants to throw a light on. With the result that, as with the lion at the climax, the beast ends up devouring him.

I got poodles comin' out of my ass.

Spenser Confidential (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve expressly avoided the previous string of jingoistic Peter Berg/ Mark Wahlberg collaborations, and probably would have skipped Spenser Confidential too, if not for the possibility that, besides it going straight to Netflix, it was offering a worthwhile take on Robert B Parker’s private eye – also the source of 1980s series Spenser: For Hire – and an entertaining role for Wahlberg, always better when he isn’t playing the straight-edge hero. It does neither.

I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough to listen to it again to find out why.

Yesterday (2019)
(SPOILERS) Danny Boyle’s paean to The Beatles via a scenario where they – as a band, rather than the individuals themselves – have been winked out of existence during a power surge is a cute enough Mandela Effect conceit; only Himesh Patel, and eventually two others, have any recall of their existence. But the result, scripted by self-professed muso Richard Curtis – see The Boat That Rocked, or rather don’t – from a story by Jack Barth, is weak swill. Apparently $10m of Yesterday's $26m budget was spent securing rights to use the Fab Four’s songs, but you have to ask, was it really worth it to hear a bunch of bad covers?

It isn't a matter of hate. It is a biological obligation.

Village of the Damned (1995)
(SPOILERS) It’s probably easiest to point to Village of the Damned as the beginning of the end of John Carpenter as an estimable director. He was only 47 when it came out, but watching it, you’d be hard-pressed taking away any notion that he cared anymore. I tend to place the beginning of the rot earlier, post-Big Trouble in Little China, when he stopped working with Dean Cundey as DP and hooked up with Gary B Kibbe. Sure, they made In the Mouth of Madness together, and They Live! but the effect isn’t so dissimilar to Spielberg relying on Janusz Kaminski, even when the latter has been utterly unsuited to a picture (the biggest reason the announcement of the Berg vacating the director’s chair for Indy V is no bad thing).

Demon, eh? Well, it's no more far-fetched than your gillman.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
(SPOILERS) Jack Arnold’s classic Universal horror isn’t especially impressive in the cold light of day (or absent the thrills, frills and gills of 3D). In terms of characterisation and atmosphere, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a bit of a cold fish. Indeed, it’s only that cold fish (man) who evokes much of a response at all.

Now you’ll sing for me. And I’ll play, and we’ll be together, forever.

Phantom of the Opera (1943)
(SPOILERS) I can’t say I’ve ever been especially au fair with Phantom of the Opera lore, such that I wasn’t even aware this version (included on the Universal Monsters Box Set) was the remake of the original featuring Lon Chaney’s deliriously unsettling visage. Arthur Lubin’s colour production is an altogether lusher affair, one that backpedals on the horror in favour of melodrama and extended musical – well, operatic – interludes. And, surely rather defeating the point of the exercise, it’s a more engrossing picture before Claude Rains’ Erique Claudin suffers an excruciating facial disfigurement.

Because every mother wants their son to grow up and eat a doctor.

Dolittle (2020)
(SPOILERS) Roundly slated, as if its troubled production and rejigged release dates condemn it to purgatory without due consideration, Dolittle isn’t nearly the abomination critics would have you believe. It makes an affable, inoffensively watchable family entertainment, lacking the bloat of the Rex Harrison version or the shamelessness of Eddie Murphy’s and one never quite at ease with itself or sure of what it wants to be, but largely underserving of being hung out to dry as the latest example of Hollywood excess; there are other, far more deserving recipients, usually found in any given calendar quarter of any given studio’s roster of releases.

I might just hang myself by my underpants.

Doctor Dolittle (1998)
(SPOILERS) By several miles the least ambitious Doctor Dolittle adaptation, but possibly for that reason, probably the most agreeable. No one here is trying very hard – although the Jim Henson Creature Workshop creations are mostly pretty good – from the screenplay credited to Nat Maudlin and Larry Levin to director Betty Thomas (who managed a couple of decent, sharpish comedies prior to this, The Brady Bunch Movie and Private Parts), to star Eddie Murphy, sinking into the family comedy morass that would preoccupy him for the best part of twenty years.

Good heavens! I speak pig!

Doctor Dolittle (1967)
(SPOILERS) If there’s an obvious and immediate contender for the crown of least justified Best Picture Oscar nominee, it’s surely Doctor Dolittle. Infamous for the campaigning this box office bomb received, leading to nine nominations and two wins, the ignominy is understandable and deserved, even if it’s simply a worst-case and highest-profile example of the kind of behaviour that’s par for the course in the Oscar business. As for the film itself? It isn’t terrible, but it’s so sedate as to be almost inert, a killer for a two-and-a-half-hour family musical.

I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason you folks shouldn’t go out in the lobby until this is over.

The Marx Brothers  Worst to Best
Thirteen features over twenty years, the general consensus is that Paramount = the Marx Brothers’ golden era, before drifting into gradual decline after back-to-back hits on moving to MGM. That’s at least partly true, but… read on.

Leave it open, we'll get free fumigation.

Parasite (2019)
(SPOILERS) I had the ending of Parasite spoiled for me before seeing the film – it was difficult to avoid, given the time that has passed since its US release. Albeit, more in terms of the manner in which violence suddenly erupts than the specifics of who perpetrates it. Some of these mentions alluded to it coming out of nowhere, and thus being tonally inconsistent with the picture. It’s a view I can’t really get on board with, except in so much as there’s nothing so graphic hitherto. Otherwise, though, there’s an air of foreboding and dread running through at least the latter half of the film, however leavened it as points by Bong Joon-ho’s satirical swipes.

Nice porthole, though. Very nautical.

Bait (2019)
(SPOILERS) Deserving winner of the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer – well, despite it not being Mark Jenkin’s debut feature, that is – Bait’s originality comes less from its storyline, the very recognisable subject matter of impoverished locals’ charged relationship with the affluent class descending on their Cornish fishing village, buying their properties and pints but failing to put anything of substance into the community, than the way in which Jenkin approaches the material, shooting on 16mm with a Bolex, with all the handmade imperfections that entails. Added to which, he has no compunction in experimenting in the edit, sometimes to mesmerising effect.

Oh no, I’m not going to follow you and get shot. If I was half-shot, I’d follow you

Love Happy  (1949)
(SPOILERS) And so the Marx Brothers’ (collective) screen career ends with a decrepit whimper. It’s very obvious that Love Happy was initially developed as solo project for Harpo – he falls in love! – since he gets the lion’s share of the scenes. More surprising is that Groucho wasn’t in fact a late-stage addition; he provides the narration, but only really intrudes on the proceedings at the very end. And Chico? He mentions tootsie-frutsie ice cream.

This food doesn’t look any more poisoned than any other hotel food.

A Night in Casablanca (1946)
(SPOILERS) After a run of films of waning quality – and a five-year gap – the Marx Brothers delivered a very pleasant surprise with this remarkably respectable bounce back, so good, it can happily be mentioned in the same breath as their first two MGM pictures. True, this isn’t on a par with the unbridled anarchy we saw in the Paramount pictures, but there are enough proficient set pieces and sustained routines to confirm A Night in Casablanca’s status as seriously underrated.

Shall we bind the deal with a kiss? Or, five dollars in cash? You lose either way.

The Big Store (1941)
(SPOILERS) Three go mad in a department store. The results are undoubtedly more diverting than low point Go West, but it feels as if there is even more flotsam to wade through to get to the good stuff in The Big Store, which is almost exclusively delivered by Groucho as private detective and bodyguard Wolf J Flywheel. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the climax is one of the better ones, an extended chase sequence through the store that is frequently quite inventive.

Time wounds all heels.

Go West (1940)
(SPOILERS) Comedy westerns were nothing new when the Marx Brothers succumbed – Buster Keaton had made one with the same title fifteen years earlier – but theirs served to underline how variable the results could be. For every Bob Hope (Son of Paleface) there’s a Seth McFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West). In theory, the brothers riding roughshod over such genre conventions ought to have been uproarious, but they’d rather run out of gas by this point, and the results are, for the most part, sadly pedestrian. Even Go West's big train-chase climax fails to elicit the once accustomed anarchy that was their stock in trade.

Goodbye, Mr Chimps.

At the Circus (1939)
(SPOILERS) This is where the brothers sink into their stretch of middling MGM movies, now absent the presence of their major supporter Irving Thalberg; it’s probably for the best this wasn’t called A Day at the Circus, as it would instantly have drawn unflattering comparisons with the earlier MGM pair that gave them their biggest hits. Nevertheless, there’s enough decent material to keep At the Circus fairly sprightly (rather than “fairly ponderous”, as Pauline Kael put it).

This better not be some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shit, man.

Underwater (2020)
(SPOILERS) There’s no shame in a quality B-movie, or in an Alien rip-off done well. But it’s nevertheless going to need that something extra to make it truly memorable in its own right. Underwater, despite being scuppered at the box office, is an entirely respectable entry in both those arenas from director William Eubank, but like the recent Life (which, in fairness, had an ending that very nearly elevated it to the truly memorable), it can’t quite go that extra mile, or summon that much needed sliver of inspiration to set it apart.

I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.

Room Service (1938)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers step away from MGM for a solitary RKO outing, and a scarcely disguised adaption of a play to boot. Room Service lacks the requisite sense of anarchy and inventiveness of their better (earlier) pictures – even Groucho’s name, Gordon Miller, is disappointingly everyday – but it’s nevertheless an inoffensive time passer.

The last time I saw a head like that was in a bottle of formaldehyde.

A Day at the Races (1937)
(SPOILERS) Very much of a piece with its predecessor, right down to the title, A Day at the Races lacks the highs of A Night at the Opera (there’s nothing here to compare to the State Room sequence), but it’s probably more even overall. Certainly, while it’s fifteen minutes longer (and there are about twenty minutes of music), overall it has a better sense of flow, and just the fact of Groucho’s false pretences (Dr Hugo Z Hackenbush, a horse doctor posing as the human kind) gives it a certain distinction.

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

We three would make an ideal couple. Why, you've got beauty, charm, money! You have got money, haven't you? Because if you haven't, we can quit right now.

Animal Crackers  (1930)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ second feature, and like The Cocoanuts, adapted from their stage musical. Like its predecessor, Animal Crackers very much wears its origins, unadorned, on its sleeve, but that barely matters when the japes, wit and reigning anarchy are as unfettered and firing on all cylinders as they are here.

This hotel not only has running water, it has running guests.

The Cocoanuts (1929)
The first Marx Brothers movie proper – Humour Risk appears to be forever lost – and an adaptation of their 1925 Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by no less than Irving Berlin. The Cocoanuts is serviced with a fairly no-frills approach by directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley (their only work with the brothers: “One of them didn’t understand English and the other didn’t understand comedy” quipped Groucho). Groucho, Harpo and Chico arrive on the big screen fully formed, as does Margaret Dumont’s Mrs Potter (Groucho would no doubt make a gag there), while Zeppo’s Jamison is as shapeless as ever (I’m being unkind, actually; in other films, he’s actually quite a welcome presence).

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood… Ain’t that the truth.

Oscar Winners 2020
The Best Picture upset (most had it as a serious contender, but a long shot as a winner due to the dual nomination with Best International Feature and that one being in the bag) can only be a good thing for the ceremony, a further strike against predictability (whether or not it was a response to Green Book and the ongoing campaigning over representation among nominees). While some are grumbling about dual Best Picture category wins, anyone familiar with the BAFTAs is more than used to that sort of thing. Most of the rest of the biggies, director aside (although, not unexpected), were widely expected, so it also means that, in an era where the race is scrutinised to death, that it hasn’t exhausted itself long before the ceremony.

What is this, the sequel to The Notebook?

Men in Black: International (2019)
(SPOILERS) The failure, both critically and commercially, of Sony’s limpid attempt to reignite (soft reboot) the Men in Black franchise has confirmed how desperate they are, scrabbling about for anything that might turn their fortunes around but without a scintilla of the inspiration or acumen to achieve it. They’re now on their second attempt with Ghostbusters, resuscitating Bad Boys – perhaps surprisingly, a big hit – and not making as much hay with their one smartly reinvented property (Jumanji) as they should have. And yes, they have their Spider-verse, but having all their eggs in one basket led to the downfall of the Amy Pascal regime. Despite the sad fate that befell Men in Black: International, though – the once mooted 21 Jump Street mashup would surely have been more in line with the tone of the original – it’s actually a fairly agreeable, if determinedly unremarkable movie.

Infernal hipsters with their irony.

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
(SPOILERS) For the majority of The Dead Don’t Die, you’re not only nursing the feeling that Jim Jarmusch has no interest in making a conventional horror movie, or even a conventional zomcom – it would have been a surprise if he did – but any kind of horror movie, so disengaged is he with such elements as pace, threat, momentum or escalation. As such, when he detonates the proceedings with a megaton meta device, it isn’t so much a smart and witty move as a simple relief, confirmation that, if it felt like he couldn’t be bothered, it’s because he really couldn’t.

It’s not a letter if it doesn’t have postage, right?

Klaus (2019)
(SPOILERS) I guess Netflix’s negligible quality control, movie-wise, has to score a positive occasionally, and this Christmas – but fairly loosely so, ironically, in that the trappings are in scant supply for the most part – animation is an unlikely delight. A Santa Clause origins tale doesn’t sound like the stuff of a great movie – origins stories so rarely are – but Sergio Pablos’ feature debut Klaus is stylistically distinct, emotionally compelling, and frequently very funny.

It's a simple story that I complicated.

I Lost My Body (J’ai perdu mon corps) (2019)
(SPOILERS) A real oddity, so nice to see it garnering Oscar attention, this animation from Jérémy Clapin might sound, on first brush with the premise, like the ghoulish offspring of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn and Oliver Stone “classic” The Hand. I Lost My Body concerns a severed appendage attempting to reunite with its owner, but really, it’s a low-key affair, one part fever dream of the hand’s eventful journeying, the other the tale of Naoufel (Hakim Faris, but Dev Patel in the dubbed version, which I didn’t watch), a pizza delivery boy who takes up carpentry in an attempt to get close to librarian Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois).

The people we don’t want here are leaving! Force them to stay!

Missing Link (2019)
(SPOILERS) Laika’s mixed animation fortunes continue, to the extent that it’s difficult to see how they’re going to be able to sustain themselves for much longer. Kubo and the Two Strings was their best feature (closely followed by Coraline), but entirely failed to justify its budget at the box office. Now Missing Link arrives, at a significantly more expensive $100m estimate, and completely flops (a paltry $26m worldwide). The reason? It isn’t a bad movie – certainly more appealing than either ParaNorman or The Boxtrolls, both of which fared much better – so perhaps there’s an aesthetic issue above and beyond their favoured stop-motion medium. It isn’t for nothing that Pixar’s designs are of a ruthlessly audience-friendly ilk.

These potatoes could be my last.

The Personal History of David Copperfield  (2019)
(SPOILERS) To go by Mark Kermode’s Twitter rant a few weeks back, anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with him on Armando Iannucci’s decision to adopt a “colour-blind” approach in casting his David Copperfield adaptation is a closet racist (or a not-so-closet one). Actually, no. They’re “whingebagging closet-racist asshats” (guaranteed to get the Twitterati upvotes, that one). Now, some of those objecting to Iannucci’s approach may well fit that description, but Kermode’s stance is as excessive as slapping five stars on what is, at best, a fitfully enjoyable adaptation of Dickens’ favourite of his novels.

I kind of hope Al gets it.

Prediction  2020 Oscars
So many of this year’s Oscar winners seem a sure thing – certainly in the major categories – that I was in two minds whether to offer any predictions. But there’s always chance of a wild card with the Best Picture these days, given the preferential voting system, even if it does seem that 1917 has that one sewn up; it’s far from my favourite, but it does represent a nice, safe “what-do-you-expect-from-the-Oscars-anyway?” pick. I wasn’t blown away by any of the year’s nominees, with the caveat that I haven’t had a chance to see Parasite yet (and sacrilegious as it may be, I’m not totally sold on Bong Joon-ho’s oeuvre, so while it seems to be most “discerning” viewers’ choice, it will still have to convince me it’s worthy of the hype).

I made a crazy risk, a gamble, and it’s about to pay off.

Uncut Gems (2019)
(SPOILERS) Time for another ADD-addled exercise in nihilism from the Safdie brothers. Only this time, it’s anchored not so much by a head-turning as an in-your-face, yelling, kicking, screaming, fully-committed, fully-caffeinated, dazzling but utterly exhausting performance from Adam Sandler. Uncut Gems has received many plaudits, and those for Sandler are entirely deserved – it’s a highly convincing piece of acting, one that ought to have merited an Oscar nod – but the film as a whole merely reconfirmed my takeaway from the also-acclaimed Good Time; that the Safdies’ sensibility, if you can call it that, since it suggests something with some degree of restraint or sensitivity, is probably not for me.

Clovis, it don't do no good runnin' from a tornado.

The Sugarland Express (1974)
(SPOILERS) The Sugarland Express is caught between two stools: the kind of movie Steven Spielberg wanted to make, one that was informed by his sensibilities, and the kind of movie his “New Hollywood” peer group were turning out. In some respect, you might see it as an attempt to replicate the human drama of George Lucas’ American Graffiti from the previous year, but that picture had nostalgia on its side. All Spielberg really had was Goldie Hawn.