First of my annual end of year posts – my thoughts on the films that have come out this year. I should note I haven’t seen as many as I’d hoped – Shazam and Toy Story 4 being the main omissions – but here’s my take on the rest of the years best – and worst – offerings in cinema.
No Major Spoilers. Some minor ones.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: If this was just any old Star Wars film, both me and other reviewers may have been kinder to it. In many ways it suffered because of bad decisions Disney made during Force Awakens production (i.e. not setting out a clear plan of where the series was going or focusing on innovation and decent world-building). As a result this overstuffed mess tries to do far too much in 2h 30, with leads to the first hour being a confusing garble of ideas and set-up likely to leave its audience with whiplash, so quickly does it jump from scene to scene and planet to planet. It jettisons most of what Last Jedi accomplished and will doubtless annoy most fans of that film (particularly its needless marginalisation of Rose and its dull revelations/retcons of Snoke and Rey’s origins). The score by John Williams is surprisingly lacklustre, and while several of the new and returning characters shine, none get the kind of screen time they deserve. The film emerges with some credit for Leia and Kylo Ren’s arcs, but ultimately fails on too many levels. Too generic by far, it plays out like a limp rehash of Episode VI, with boring fetch-quest taking up much of the first half, silly death fake outs punctuating the second and a conclusion which is a insult to both any audience goers with intelligence and the character and gravitas of Emperor Palpatine, who’s return goes unexplained. As the end of a trilogy and something meant to cap off the entire Skywalker Saga, this needed to be good. It isn’t even close. Come back George, all is forgiven… even the prequels had far more cohesion, imagination and spectacle than this mess.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Spiderman: Far from Home: The seconding most disappointing film of the year, Far from Home has echoes of Iron Man 3 – i.e. good first half, misguided plot twist, terrible second half. Like the Mandarin twist, Mysterio’s predictable (to literally anyone who knows 1 thing about the character) mid-film revelation derails things and they never recover. Some things are positive – Jon Favreau is at his best here as Happy, Peter and MJ’s relationship is nicely done and Ned’s romance with Betty is hilarious. But the problems are far more numerous – first off, you should never make the villain’s real plot less interesting than their fake plan the heroes expect to deal with. Samuel L. Jackson puts in one of the worst performances of his career here, but that’s due to how badly the script writes Nick Fury. The main problem is this film completely misses what Spiderman should be about – he isn’t an Avenger, he’s his own hero protecting his own city, who works with the Avengers when needed to stop cataclysmic threats. He’s certainly not Tony Stark mark 2, so please stop trying to make him so. Great final scene though – its about time that a certain character returned to the Spiderman films – and what a way to do it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Zombieland 2: Double Tap: On a more positive note, Zombieland 2 was a fun, amusing follow-up to its predecessor. The cast, including Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and — are as good as ever, and the interplay between them is once again, the core of the movie. The best jokes involve Columbus’ new love interest Zoey Deutch, the categories of zombies (ranging from fast, smart killing machines to the dumb, virtually harmless Homers) and various hilarious zombie kill methods – most memorably involving a monster truck. Not as good as its predecessor, some jokes don’t land and the finale isn’t as memorable, but still a good effort and something you’ll enjoy.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
How to train your Dragon: The Hidden World: The only animated film I’ve seen in cinema this year, The Hidden World capped off a very consistent trilogy of HTTYD movies. All have been entertaining, heartfelt and lovingly designed, and while they aren’t a patch on stuff like the Incredibles or Toy Story, they’re very enjoyable. The story of this one is less dark than film 2 and feels like a good way to end things. Given how other, far more important, films have shown how easy it is to muck up the third film in a trilogy, The Hidden World should be commended for providing a satisfying conclusion to Hiccup and Toothless’ story. It’s probably my favourite of the three.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Captain Marvel: Samuel L. Jackson gets his best role in an MCU film here – as a digitally de-aged version of him plays sidekick/guide to Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel – one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Her powers make for some great action sequences, Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is a superb supporting character and the story is one of Marvel’s better origin stories (only Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are better). The humour is on point throughout, with some laugh out loud moments, mainly involving Nick Fury and the Flerkin. There’s a good soundtrack and a touching tribute to Stan Lee too. The only drawbacks are some 2 dimensional alien characters, lack of development for lead Carol Danvers and predictable plot lines. Its a very fun Marvel film, but isn’t quite up there with their best.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Avengers Endgame: Now this is how you conclude a saga. Avengers Endgame gives its characters room to breath and commits a lot of screen time to its set pieces and key events, and comes out all the better for it. The special effects, direction and acting come together to form an epic conclusion to the third phase of the MCU, and gives central characters like Iron Man and Captain America fitting ends to their arcs. There’s lashings of humour but its far more restrained than normal, to the films credit (though a few crap jokes – i.e. America’s ass – probably should have been cut). It succeeds in its quieter moments, such as Cap’s regret over a missed life with Peggy or Tony spending some time with his father. It has a few flaws – Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack and Thanos reduced screentime among them – but frankly who cares – the film nails its final act and produces one of the best onscreen battles in cinematic history – its up there with Pelennor Fields in Lord of the Rings. Any other year, this might have topped my list… but not this year…
Rating: 5 out of 5!
Joker: Joker has to come out on top. With interesting themes, an intelligent, focused script, no CGI or effects to distract you, its a full-blooded character exploration of one of the most interesting DC comics characters, as you’ve never seen him before. With a heavy, almost oppressively intense soundtrack and masterful direction by Todd Philips, everything comes together to form one of the best films I can remember in a long time – if not one you’ll what to watch too frequently – its too damn draining. While there’s sterling work from the likes of Robert de Niro and Zazie Beetz in the supporting cast, the film hinges on its lead: Joaquin Phoenix. If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this then its a serious miscarriage of justice. The man owns and inhabits the role in a way even Heath Ledger didn’t, and is possibly the only live action portrayal that can hold a candle to Ledger’s take on the character. To say too much would spoil it, but this film will have you gripped, horrified and delighted throughout its entire runtime. Its that good. Even the spectacle infused Avengers Endgame isn’t on this level of film making – if anyone wants to argue that film is a medium of art… Joker is exhibit A. You may not like it, it may not be your kind of film – but you need to see it and decide for yourself.
Rating: 5 out of 5!
My film awards 2019:
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Best Actress: Scarlet Johannson (Avengers: Endgame)
Best Supporting Actor: Robert de Niro (Joker)
Best Supporting Actress: Zoey Deutch (Zombieland 2)
Best Director: Todd Phillips (Joker)
Best Script: Joker
Best Soundtrack: Joker
Best Special Effects: Avenger Endgame
And the less deserving..
Worst Actor: Oscar Isaac (The Rise of Skywalker)
Worst Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson (Spiderman Far from Home)
Worst Director: JJ Abrams (The Rise of Skywalker)
Worst Script: The Rise of Skywalker
Worst Soundtrack: The Rise of Skywalker (even John Williams didn’t bring his best)
There you have it, my view on some of the year’s biggest releases. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that’s the good thing about cinema – there’s something for everyone.
Next Up: My Top Video Games of 2019