Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides
The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.
Looking for relevance in the upcoming slate is less a lost cause than one of sifting through subtext. We can’t expect a direct address of the unfolding global agenda, because that would be antithetical to the function of all mainstream media. You can find a few crumbs here or there – The Matrix Resurrections’ nods to a broader perspective – and you can bathe in the dunderheaded misdirection of Adam McKay and his bathtub full of what isn’t. Cinema, is to a greater or lesser extent burying one’s head in the sand, after all, which is why it makes such a useful programming tool. That’s especially so with a McKay clarion call like Don’t Wake Up (keep paying attention to the wrong message, sold under the pretext that no one is paying attention to it).
Generally, though, finding mainstream fare that offers relevance other than preformed progressivism is in short supply. The rapturous response to No Way Home can be readily compared to the limp performance of Disney efforts last year (coof or no coof), which surely has something to do with giving an audience what they want rather than force-feeding them the all-new MCU agenda and hoping they won’t notice. If that was down to Sony’s reticence of such matters – as in, they’d much rather make some, any money, than flush it down the wokehole – that wouldn’t be such a surprise. Disney can afford to haemorrhage funds, to an extent, Sony much less so.
So there are forlorn attempts at business as usual – always provided an onslaught of additional letters of the Greek alphabet fails to impede business in hitherto foreseen ways, accompanied by additional measures to institute societal reform/ shutdown/ reboot/ interment – some of them intent on finally releasing pictures destined for several years ago. Doubtless, further cancellations/ shuffles will be announced as the grand plan, one studios have to go along with but were – obviously – not consulted on, careers onwards.
Scream (Jan 14), so bereft, it’s unable to find a new name for itself (see also Halloween), appears to promise even less than the time Harvey Scissorhands desperately unveiled Scream 4. The appeal of prior instalments, to the extent they appealed, was down to genre playfulness, but this one doesn’t look like it’s having nearly enough fun, if the trailer’s representative. Plus, the decidedly dishevelled state of David Arquette is only a relief when compared to the rictus visages of fellow returnees Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell. Horror’s a genre that can prove disproportionately popular when it comes to reboots/ retreads (Halloween again), but the general disinterest in Scream 4 suggests a ship that has sailed.
Moonfall (Feb 4) sounds like everything you want from a NASA-designated paradigm. As with Don’t Wake Up, there’s a certain logic to forwarding an absurd scenario, so there’s no question about the truth of the underlying (quite feasibly also absurd) one. Is the Moon not, in fact, made of cheese, less still anything substantial at all? Can we not, in fact land on it? Banish such doubts in the face of the enormity of it barrelling down on us, in the fine tradition of disaster flicks of yore. Or failing that, have a big CGI snake thing attack (I’m not sure that was part of Who Built the Moon? Or even Noel Gallagher’s album of the same name).
Roland Emmerich’s a past master at this kind of fare, ingraining the imminent apocalypse scenario, be it via invading aliens – Independence Day – or disasters environmental – The Day After Tomorrow – or cosmic – 2012. He’s had a rough decade, not least Independence Day: Resurgence, but as Greenland proved, these doomsayer scenarios tend to be evergreens, even when doom actually appears to be upon us (no, not the McKay metaphor version, nor the dread coof). Emmerich has also dabbled in ancient astronauts (Stargate), ancient civilisations (10,000 BC), and medieval conspiracy theories (Anonymous), all of which may be, to a greater or lesser extent, misdirection. He’s assembled a typically budget-conscious cast, announcing clearly the premise is the thing.
Notably, in this take, “the moon is not what it seems” is pretty much announcing we’re lied to, just as a conspiracy theorist (played by John Bradley, cos he’s a silly fat bloke) being right is going against the grain (but he’s a silly fat, loveable conspiracy theorist, and besides, it isn’t like he’s coming out against the medical establishment). Emmerich’s running with the “hollow moon” theory (so nothing as “crazy” as suggesting space isn’t real; just the idea that scientists, thanks to seismometers installed by the, er, Apollo missions, suggested it was ringing like a bell).
Death on the Nile (Feb 11) finds Sir Ken going Poirot again – will he walk on the roof of a paddle steamer this time? Murder on the Orient Express was fairly wretched, and I don’t hold out much hope of this being half watchable (Ken’s directing, natch). Visually, it seems quite ghastly, reeking of CG and digital sheen. The cast includes limited hangout Russell Brand and real-life vampire Armie Hammer. And controversial Gal Gadot. And still it will bore the pants of you. Watch the Ustinov one instead.
Uncharted (Feb 18) does the typical Hollywood thing of almost scornfully adulterating source material yet expecting fans thereof to maintain an interest. The long-gestating game adaption arrives with B-at-best director Ruben Fleischer calling the shots, no-one’s idea of a Nathan Fillion Tom Holland as the pint-sized, junior edition Nathan Drake – think Michael J Fox as Nick Lang in Smoking Gun III – and Mark frickin’ Wahlberg as Sully, just to underline how prodigiously it’s underpowered. Banderas is in it too, curious since he’s in both the wannabee (this) and no-longer (Indy 5) examples of the genre. Sure, it might surprise us all. No, I don’t think it will.
The Batman (Mar 4) appears to be as grimdark as Bats gets, and appears to posit the noble holier-than-holy Wayne pater as a bit dodge (because corrupting the good and rehabilitating the bad – see Disney villains – is now the Hollywood modus). Matt Reeves was venerated for his wearily literal, humourless Planet of the Apes reboot sequels (to Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot prequel). Which leaves Cloverfield as his biggest claim to directorial fame. I’m expecting The Batman to be interesting both in spite and because of its casting decisions – Robert Pattison and Paul Dano not least – but I suspect the danger will be that it gets stuck in one gear, the way those damn dirty CGI apes did.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre (Mar 18) finds Guy Ritchie having fun in The Gentlemen mode (but possibly with slightly less cussing and more Bond-ian world-threatening incident). This is a larkier reteaming with the Stath after Wrath of Man put them together in earnest thriller mode. It also has Hugh Grant doing hilariously sleazy and Ritchie still determined to rehabilitate Josh Hartnett’s career (good luck there). More in the vein of former producer Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen, then. Whether or not its “deadly new weapons technology that threatens to disrupt the world order” includes any truth bombs remains to be seen.
The Lost City (Mar 25), I’m mentioning only because it resembles an insultingly bad all-star Romancing the Stone variant, with Sandra Bullock attempting, through strange potions and procedures, to look twenty years younger than she is. And Channing Tatum, attempting through no great stretch to his talents, to pass himself off as an idiot. There’s also Brad Pitt, who knows what possessed him, and Daniel Radcliffe, still masquerading under the illusion he can act, but God bless him. The story is from Seth Gordon – responsible for such previous masterpieces as Identity Thief and Baywatch – who, Wiki tells us, has worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (perhaps they were the inspiration for Horrible Bosses). Again, we have the buried-past motif – in this case, seemingly borne from the mind of a novelist or pointedly blurred with reality, as perceived by her kidnapper – but mostly, The Lost City looks like wretchedly plastic programming, filmed on location yet boasting the sheen of Unreal Engine.
Morbius (Apr 1) arrives with Sony on something of a Spidey high (both their last movies doing boffo BO without China, thus far), although it looks to be more efficiently anonymous than either their studio solo efforts (Venom, Into the Spider-Verse) or Disney collaborations. It’s also been moved from back a few months (from wherever it had been moved back from previously), on account of No Way Home’s success, rather than coof-terror. A good guy who feeds on blood? Predictive programming? Jared Leto, decent actor but possibly not such a decent human being, generally needs something showy to bring out his chops, and I’m not sure this is it. Also featuring Michael Keaton as Vulture, Jared Harris and eternally unlucky-on-the-big-screen Matt Smith.
Ambulance (Apr 8), not The Ambulance, alas. Michael Bay reduces his scale from Netflix’s 6 Underground, but not his frenetic editing style. Perhaps a bid for the critical “acclaim” that greeted Pain & Gain? A remake of the 2005 Danish film, Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II become involved in a heist to pay for an operation and end up commandeering the titular vehicle with a critically-wounded officer on board. Doubtless a plea for the kind of affordable healthcare available to all when Agenda 2030 is in full swing and we own nothing and are happy.
I liked Robert Eggers’ The Witch quite a bit, but was more charitable than I probably should have been towards his indulgent two-header freakfest The Lighthouse, both exercises in the machinations of the subjective mind when allowed to trip untrammelled. Now, his fondness for definite articles gives us The Northman (Apr 8), wall to wall with bloody Vikings. And Nicole Kidman (of course, she’s ubiquitous) and Ethan Hawke (as a brave king? Stretch casting). Vaguely Hamlet-ish in premise – you can smell the incest text rather than subtext a mile off – this displays the kind of visual acumen you’d expect. But beyond that?
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (April 8) also gets a mention because (a) the original was surprisingly okay and (b) Jim Carrey’s rehabilitation/reprogramming/replacement is clearly complete.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (Apr 15) singularly fails to make itself seem remotely essential, despite the greater gap between instalments and dropping Depp. Miles Mathis has it that JK Rowling was actually an author by committee, so presumably her going off message on trans-issues was also decided similarly (gotta stir that witches’ brew). If nothing else, the concern that the Harry Potter series was a gateway drug to actual black arts, not least through including actual spells, ought to be thoroughly defused by the terminal boredom this prequel series has induced even in devotees.
I’d like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Apr 22) to live up to its meta premise of Nic Cage as himself, but I have a feeling it will be burdened by a significant lack thereof on the parts of its makers (massive talent).
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6) has undergone some extensive reshoots, purportedly so Disney can cash in on the huge popularity of the call backs in No Way Home. Whether that’s a good thing – as in adding to the movie, preferably Bruce Campbell as the once-mooted Mysterio, or overloading it – we’ll have to see, but the trailer already struck me as a bit too… bridled, short changing the anarchy you want from a movie with Sam Raimi’s name on it as director.
Top Gun: Maverick (May 27) has been delayed and delayed and delayed some more. It might be Tom’s West Side Story, something very expensive a once-popular face has made to abject indifference. Will the emblem of ’80s vacuity, now “matured”, strike a chord? It might be the wrong sort of nostalgia at the wrong time. And while I’m interested to see it, as a Joseph Kosinski defender, the original was dreadful cobblers in the first place (and I say that as a Tony Scott defender).
Jurassic World: Dominion (Jun 10) will be ripe for allusive interpretation, with its global threat unleashed due to man’s hubris (or some such). And doubtless coming back round to a Don’t Wake Up conclusion. Colin Trevorrow has taken a lot of heat as no-talent who got lucky. Until he didn’t, with the third Star Wars and reviled (but actually quite interesting) The Book of Henry. I’m not expecting much from Dominion, certainly no more than the punch-pulling previous Worlds. And I also expect the return of original trilogy players (including Goldblum, again) to be underwhelming in the Independence Day: Resurgence sense. Big business for dinosaurs, regardless. Didn’t they do well? Starting out as nothing about two hundred years ago and becoming a global brand in no time.
I haven’t earmarked much in the way of animations on this list, which is perhaps a mistake, as they’re the ideal fodder for indoctrinating bright young minds. Lightyear (Jun 17) gets a mention for the oddity of itself, though, an animation based on an animation of a toy that became an actual toy as a consequence. And not now voiced by its politically undesirable originator. It looks crummy, but it might be a successful “origin” story.
Baz Luhrmann’s first movie in nine years, Elvis (Jun 24) is sure to be less a slavish biopic and more the kind of Class A-inspired pop fantasy he’s inclined towards. I’ve disliked his movies (Moulin Rouge! Australia) probably as much as I’ve enjoyed them (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby), and I see Elvis as no sacred cow, or sausage. But the combination of unimpressively featured lead (Austin Butler) and Guantanamo Hanks gives me some pause.
How Taika Waititi hasn’t been hauled over the coals, not just for his personal life, but also wretched auteurish projects (Jojo Rabbit) and performances (The Suicide Squad, Free Guy) is beyond me. But here he is again, giving us more of that Thor: Ragnarok we loved with Thor: Love and Thunder (Jul 8). Ragnarok was funny despite Waititi’s worst urges, and this is likely to be more of the same, doubling down with its Thor players and also meshing with Feige’s super-woke agenda (Jane Foster becomes Thor). The biggest challenge here will surely be dead-air Portman delivering the laughs expected of Waititi joint.
Bullet Train (Jul 15) finds David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw) working an intriguing concept – five assassins on a bullet train discover their missions are connected – and starring Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock (again!) Hopefully more Atomic Blonde than Hobbs & Shaw. Leitch has chops, but so far, the bigger his movies have got, the less captivating they’ve become.
Nope (Jul 22) finds Jordan Peele, the new M Night Shyamalan – as in “Just what could his new movie be all about?” followed swiftly by “Could I be less overwhelmed by the reveal?” – offering a teaser poster of a cloud with bunting (suggesting thought bubble) hanging over a town. Get Out was effectively unnerving, with a slightly garbled metaphor. Us failed to catch fire the same way and offered a seriously peculiar exposition dump by way of a conclusion that managed to drag in disparate conspiracy subjects like cloning and underground bases. Obviously, all in the name of another dissertation on race and privilege (Peele suddenly went from comedy guy to spokesperson like it was planned out that way…) I expect more of the same here. The only question being whether this is his Signs or The Village… Or The Happening… or Lady in the Water.
If anyone’s movies doing at least a modicum of business right now seems guaranteed – even on Netflix – it’s Dwayne Johnson. So Black Adam (Jul 29) may well stink, reteaming him as it does with Jungle Cruise director Jaume Collet-Serra, or more probably, it will just sit there slightly inconsequentially. But it ought to be popular, if only on HBO Max. DC Villain Black Adam is now an antihero, but don’t expect any extra acting from The Rock to explore this nuance.
Salem’s Lot (Sep 9) gets a remake. At least its having previously been a (well-regarded) mini-series (that also got a cinema release in some countries), and another disregarded 2004 one, made another serialised adaptation less likely. And given how indulgent they tend to be, that’s likely a blessing.
Don’t Worry, Darling (Sep 23) comes from Olivia Wilde, who delivered the super-woke graduation comedy Booksmart, which I have to admit to enjoying despite myself. I don’t necessarily think I’ll super-enjoy this one, but since its watchwords are sure to be toxic masculinity, it will keep Wilder on the map. Specifically occupying 15 Credibility Street.
Mission: Impossible 7 (Sep 30) Tom is making about a thousand back-to-back M:Is at present, so I say advisedly that I only think this is the one where he delivered a staged rant about his crew failing to observe coof restrictions and getting an infection stuck in his craw, or up his backside. 7 is the third of four Chris McQuarrie helmed series entries. Which is fine and all; the ones we’ve seen from him have both been very good. And yet, there’s a samey serviceability involved, where once the series boasted “Who’s next?” auteurish legs. Anyway, this comes out when Tom’s sixty. An impressive career, all in all, and a testament to the wonder of handlers, the odd couch-jumping incident aside.
The first of these is undoubtedly the best cinematic webslinger outing, which is why I sigh a little and wonder if Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – Part One (Oct 7) is absolutely necessary. I don’t see how it can be remotely as fresh and funny, and think it might even run the risk of creating fatigue by association (see the slew of Shreks concealing the immaculate value of the first one). Besides, we now have a live-action Spider-verse. Minus Spider-Pig, of course.
The Bee Gees (Nov 4) get the Freddie Mercury treatment. Scheduled but untitled and uncast, and whether it lands this year is anyone’s guess. With Branagh helming, though, it’s sure to be horrid.
The Flash (Nov 4) flies into the DC multiverse, which means Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, along with Michael Shannon’s Zod – now, if it had been Terence Stamp’s, I’d have been impressed – and Batffleck. Supergirl’s in it too, but Sasha Calle, not Helen Slater (they’re missing fan service opportunities everywhere here, and both Spidey and Strange will have stolen the concept’s thunder, no matter how many flock to see Keaton). Andy Muschietti gave us one pretty good It and one rubbish one, so chances are at least some of the elements in The Flash will work.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov 11) is the sequel to the hugely popular but hugely average MCU mover, now without a title character and with a new lead (the lead?) expressing less-than-on-message sentiments about the jab. Letitia Wright has since gone into damage limitation for giving a platform to such “hot garbage” (© Don Cheadle). It’s all quite a mess, and one has to laugh at Disney continuing to wade deeper and deeper into a swamp of their own making.
Why didn’t Spielberg have done with the “nuance” of The Fabelmans (Nov 23) title and call his autobiographical family The Moviemans? Or even Tha’’s Entertainmans? Steven, who has made a hot mess (or MK stew) of raising his own kids, resorts instead to a nostalgic paean to his upbringing. And who better to feature than two of the most resistible actors going, Seth Rogen and Paul Dano? For more on the ‘berg’s career antics, check out Crazy Days and Nights.
I was an enthusiast for David O Russell projects at one point, mostly due to the likes of Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. Less so more lately. Even Joy was watchable, but the sense he has anything remotely leftfield left in his silver linings playbook has long since departed the station. Canterbury Glass (Nov 4) boasts the kind of cast a five-times nominated writer/director can put together in their sleep (but no former wonder-darling Jennifer Lawrence). It’s a period movie with Christian Bale and John David Washington (I’m guessing one is the doctor and one is the lawyer) along with Margot Robbie, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Bob De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy. And Mike Myers.
Quite possibly the coof and reset are playing into Jimbo’s hands with Avatar 2 (Dec 16), offering the kind of virtual escapism viewers will want to lap up again and again. The Way Spidey has done. I wouldn’t be surprised, providing of course, one can account for the social landscape in twelve months’ time (there are schedules to maintain, and the clock is ticking). Jimbo’s always been big on transhumanism, environmentalism and military hardware, because he’s got a bit of screw loose. Quite why he’s bringing back Stephen Lang, I don’t know, since it smacks of Agent Smith and less being more. Some will say trust the Jimbo, but I don’t think he’s earned that in more than thirty years.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (Dec 16) is the sequel to the surprisingly sparky first Aquabro movie. More of the same, I’m sure, but James Wan will likely make it fly by. Which it may need to, given Momoa has a story credit.
Babylon (Dec 25) could be interesting. Damien Chazelle is arguably a forerunner among auteurish nippers (he’s only in his mid-thirties) and has Oscar noms for Whiplash and La La Land, both undeniably well made and with enough foibles that he has earned his share of critiques to boot (some deserved, others not so much). His last was subdued NASA propaganda pic First Man (although one’s tempted to suggest Armstrong’s pensive state throughout is based on it ALL Being a Lie!) Babylon’s another historical, set in the Hollywood of the ’20s and featuring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Tobey Maguire (who he?) Nostalgic piece, exposé, or a bit of both?
Also Maybe Out
Will Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon be released in 2022 (as an Apple TV+ co-production ditto Argylle, getting anyone to see it may be a hurdle in itself)? On the evidence of The Irishman, should we care, other than an interest in quite where all the money – $200m of it – goes in Scorsese pictures?
The care part also applies to David Fincher (The Killer), whose Mank was a devastating snore. Here, he has Michael Fassbender as a contract killer. Fincher was once a must-see, but he’s settled into a pattern of applying his meticulous gaze to middling material (Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Will this be any different?
Wes Andersons Asteroid City: the title puts me in mind of Steve Ziskou. Which isn’t a positive.
Ari Aster’s Disappointment Blvd is a horror comedy featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a successful entrepreneur. For some reason, I cringe reading that.
Sir Ridders gives us Kitbag, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as Bonny. For Apple TV+. I’m sure it will be expensively mounted, meticulously yet efficiently crafted and entirely indifferent, not least in its historical insights (read: a very literal approach), like nearly everything he’s done over the past twenty years.
Crimes of the Future from David Cronenberg is a different Crimes of the Future to his 1970 movie. Viggo’s in it. Cronenberg’s ’80s movies are still relevant; I’ll give him that.
The Whale sees Darren Aronofsky doubling down on his difficult cred. mother! was a lousy pseud's indulgence, Noah a biblical trudge drudge. The Whale casts Brendan Fraser as a morbidly obese man. Maybe the director will find some humour in there – what, Aronofsky? – but I’m having visions of Requiem for a Dream.
Can Terrence Malick string anything coherent together with The Way of the Wind, his life of Christ through parables? I’d like to think so. At least he’s a Christian tackling biblical subject matter (unlike, say, Sir Ridders or Aronofsky). I haven’t gone near his movies since Knight of Cups, though, at which point he appeared to have become a self-parody.
Martin McDonagh reteams with In Bruges leads Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin, concerning a dispute between former friends; even not-quite-at-full-power (Seven Psychopaths), his films are must-sees, even more so with the seeming retirement of the Coens.
Alex Garland’s Men is his first since Annihilation, another faux-existential meander (most of his big ideas tend to stiff the payoff). I suspect there’s a “toxic” adjective missing from the title.
Three Thousand Years of Longing sounds intriguing (Idris Elba’s djinn offers Tilda Swinton’s scholar three wishes in return for his freedom), but George Miller isn’t necessarily on his firmest foot when foregrounding theme (Lorenzo’s Oil, Happy Feet).
And Finally, Netflix
The Gray Man has the Russos attempting to get past their Cherry misfire (already forgotten – it was on Apple TV+) with this action thriller starring Gosling (CIA fugitive) and Evans (CIA fugitive hunter) and Ana de Amaras. I’d be more interested were it not for the Russos, whose clout far exceeds their skillset thanks to Avengers (this cost an absurd $200m and you can be sure it will display zero stylistic virtuosity).
Knives Out 2 finds reliably woke Rian Johnson – so woke, he sensitively deleted his Twitter history when James Gunn was copping flack – revisiting Detective Benoit Blanc for another mystery that doubtless doesn’t quite deliver. But what does that matter as long as you virtue signal like crazy?
Gareth Evans’ last Neflix movie Apostle didn’t really deliver, so it’s front and centre a concern that he also wrote Havoc. On the plus side, Tom Hardy’s the star, as a detective descending into the criminal underworld (Cardiff, in other words).
Another Joseph Kosinski movie, Escape from Spiderhead is based on George Saunders’ dystopian short story concerning convicts (Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett) volunteering for experiments using emotion-altering drugs in order to earn sentence reduction. Chris Hemsworth is the warden type. Kosinski’s at his best as a futurist-visualist (Tron Legacy, Oblivion), so hopefully, that will be enough to see him through.
We may not see Matthew Vaughn’s “ode to 1980s action thrillers” Argylle starring Henry Cavill and Sam Rockwell in 2022, but given its on Apple TV+, neither will anyone else whenever it’s released (I know, but it’s a good line).
Also from Netflix: Pinocchio has Gullermo Del Toro proving Nightmare Alley’s failure was no flash-in-the pan, but it doesn’t matter because it’s on Netflix. Richard Linklater digs into the space-fable(man) with Apollo 10 ½ : A Space Adventure. Sure to be twee but with a Linklater edge. Jeremy Saulnier has some ground to win back after his last Netflix; hopefully, Rebel Ridge will be it. Shawn Levy gives us Ryan Reynolds in sci-fi The Adam Project. Sure to be a big hit, as these things go on Netflix. Francis Lawrence is back after the not-bad-but-not-dynamite Red Sparrow with Slumberland. Sounds a bit Labyrinth/Oz.
The Five Picks
1. The Banshees of Inisherin
3. Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre
4. Bullet Train
5. The Batman
Top Ten New Movies
2021 offered little in the way of treats. I’ve yet to see two of my five picks from last year (Macbeth and The Forgiven), thought one stank (Last Night in Soho), and two (positions 7 and 4) make it to my ten below.
Likeably optimistic apocalypse fare, with freemasonic science (asteroid hit!), isolationist predictive programming (its deadly to go out), and gender re-optimisations (girlfriend Jessica Henwick is super capable). A boy (Dylan O’Brien) and his dog picture, this 2021 UK release is charmingly put together by director Michael Matthews.
Yes, Nobody rather goes south in the third act when former assassin Bob Odernkirk calls on fam to help him. But prior to this, when the average, retiring family man is considered a bit of a joke by all and sundry, until he kicks some ass, it’s very much in the David Leitch pictures (he produced) wheelhouse. Odenkirk, of course, proudly announced his jabbed status before suffering an unconnected heart attack a few months later.
8. The Father
While Ant proudly had his on camera, showing he’s not nearly the actor his performance in The Father suggests. Easily the best of a rather fizzling bunch of nominees at the most recent Oscars, there’s a subjective quality to Florian Zeller’s film, a 2021 UK release, that may not quite overcome its stage origins, but frequently proves compelling to its protagonist’s situation.
In no way vintage Wes Anderson, and saddled with some regrettable casting (Chalamet!) and the odd vignette that doesn’t quite play, The French Dispatch is still frequently mesmerising in its rhythms, framing and scoring. The Concrete Masterpiece is the best “article” but Jeffrey Wright gives the winning performance.
A surprise, as Disney’s favouring of rehabilitating villains is inherently dodgy, and Craig Gillespie’s filmography has been patchy at best. Cruella very much follows the witty, playful line of his previous I, Tonya, though, blessed with a sharp screenplay, great performances from Emma Stone and Paul Walter Hauser and style to spare in every department. The greatest-hits soundtrack occasionally gets in the way of itself, though.
5. Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie follows his hugely enjoyable, most Guy Ritchie of movies The Gentlemen with a much straighter affair, but one that nevertheless utilises his flair for tricksy plotting and love of hard nut types. And, of course: the Stath.
Lana came back, if you’re to believe the movie’s meta, because WB would have gone ahead without her. The result is a disappointment in terms of effects, action and – to some degree – storytelling. It’s also saddled with vanilla reduxes of earlier characters (Smith, Morpheus). But The Matrix Resurrections is also fascinating, a verbose deliberation on the trilogy’s themes and disparate readings, with a resulting directive to heed the bigger picture. Which is salient indeed.
3. Palm Springs
Time loop comedy – again, a 2021 release in the UK – that offers consistent, if occasionally too-crude, laughs and a sweet if limited take on the meaning of life (two people being together, with no greater import to the cosmos). JK Simmons scores in a ferocious supporting turn.
The Spidey backlash will likely get into full swing when it notches up a Best Picture nomination. No, it isn’t as good as Into the Spider-Verse, and John Watts isn’t nearly as versatile as Sam Raimi, but there’s undeniable gratification in seeing these “classic” players – and Andrew Garfield, and Jamie Foxx – assembled on screen.
Frequently funny, thrilling and affecting meditation on causality and chaos from director Anders Thomas Jensen, as the aftermath of a train crash finds the survivors and those closest dealing with the event in very different ways, one of which involves tracking down those Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass) believes responsible. Mads Mikkelsen gives a riveting performance as widower and lone parent Markus, but everyone in this 2021 UK release deserves commendation.
And the Worst
Empty-skulled, socially-conscious, rehearsed-documentary-making masquerading as drama, and winning Best Picture for its pains. You will own nothing and be happy. Frances McDormand will take a shit in a bucket.
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt win the case against turning Disney rides into movies.
Adam McKay takes a shit in a bucket and calls it a devastating satire about environmental devastation. Entirely hollow and blunt-edged, but then, it was devised as a piece of unadulterated climate change propaganda, so that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Mark Wahlberg makes reincarnation seem dull, incoherent and tiresome. And cheap. But Mary Mark gotta eat.
Michael B Jordan makes it remorselessly clear that he is no movie star, and maybe not much of an actor either, in this dire Clancy adaptation.
Top 10 Five-Star Movies Viewed
5. The Prestige (2006)
Nolan’s sleight of hand reveals a magic trick that… Well, no. So is this an early example of his historical perception/reality play via the inclusion of Tesla? As if to say, “This my version of the impossible genius; an impossible genius who could not exist without the permission of TPTB” (Hegelianism in process). Next stop: Oppenheimer.
4. Green For Danger (1946)
Alastair Sim investigates murder most cunning in a wartime hospital, and does so with due disrespect.
3. I’m All Right Jack (1959)
Peter Sellers’ best performance? His union rep is entirely seamless in the Boulting Brothers’ merciless classic.
2 Casablanca (1942)
Now in full colour, with a happier ending…
1. North by Northwest (1959)
The template for the modern blockbuster? Well, that or The 39-Steps. Or The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) …
Top Five Underrated Movies Viewed
5. Meet Joe Black (1998)
Pitt’s not so assured at times here, but Anthony Hopkins absolutely lifts this indulgent yet transportive meditation from Martin Brest.
4. How to Murder Your Wife (1965)
Cartoonist Jack Lemmon disposes of his troublesome new bride in the Gloppitta-Gloppitta machine. Or does he?
3. The Hard Way (1991)
Michael J Fox gets on James Woods’ tits in John Badham’s comedy thriller.
2. The Night My Number Came Up (1955)
When portends of doom foretold get a little too comfort for the passengers on a long-haul flight.
1. A Perfect World (1993)
Clint’s Unforgiven follow-up yield’s one of Costner’s finest performances.
Top New TV: Squid Game
Squid Game is by no means a piece of the stature that deserved such attention, but it does have something to say, however trite that may sometimes be. It’s also going to yield endless sequels, most likely, despite its creator’s initial assurances to the contrary. Money, money, money.
Top Old TV
5. Day Break (2006)
Groundhog Day meets 24? Taye Diggs in a self-contained season that occasionally goes astray but largely leaves you satisfied with a story well told. Best that it was a one-off, though.
4. Day of the Triffids (1981)
BBC’s bleak vision of John Wyndham largely holds up, and its rendition of urban breakdown is especially chilling.
3. The Goodies: The End (1975)
BBC’s bleak vision of what to do when you’re sealed into your office under concrete.
2. The X-Files: Duane Barry (1994)
As myth-arc episodes go, this one is hard to beat (other notables include 731, E.B.E., Anasazi and Deep Throat, all from the first three seasons), where Chris Carter nails compelling character drama via the trappings of uncanny visitations.
1. Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks (1985)
A rare peak ’80s moment for the show, as script editor Eric Saward mashes up Evelyn Waugh with Skaro’s less-than-desirables and, thanks to Graeme Harper’s direction, comes up with a classic.