I take pleasure in contradictions. Example: I would happily read all of the best lists, especially the year-end ones, and especially the best movie lists, but coming up with a top ten list seems ridiculous to me. I have friends at Florida Film Critics Circle who say things like ‘oh, this is my number three movie of the year, but it might even go to number two’ or ‘liked it a lot, but this ‘s just outside my top ten. Organizing the things you love in such regulated spaces seems strange to me. Reducer. I’m probably just jealous. My mind is mostly applesauce, so I don’t even know how to compartmentalize the movies I love. But I was asked to prepare something for The Jitney, so I found that compromise: five movies in no particular order that I really liked this year. If you’re that inclined, I recommend giving them a look.
go! Go on
A black and white film that speaks a lot. I know, typical movie critic food. But it’s also warm, honest and overflowing with empathy. Joaquin Phoenix is wonderfully overpowered, but exudes benevolence and patience, which is put to the test as he takes care of his young nephew (a naturally crafty newcomer, Woody Norman) who may suffer from bipolar disorder. The crisp cinematography impresses with its linen whites and battleship grays. Think of Ansel Adams if he had focused on urban environments. Top it all off with a top-notch soundtrack from half the darlings of indie rock The National and you’ve got special drama that will hit you straight in the sensations.
The green knight
Super weird head trip. Dev Patel makes a striking figure as aspiring knight, Sir Gawain. A nice pivot of its geek turns in the past. But it’s all about director David Lowery. It delivers an extremely earthy take on the classic Arthurian tale, all in ominous fog and darkness, punctuated with trippy moments like weird bald giants emerging from mystery, overtaking our protagonist, or a wordless 5 minute cut at the end of the film. Admit, it’s so out there, I didn’t quite get the movie at first, but it stuck with me. The day after seeing him, something kept pestering me. I felt like I had experienced something. Turns out I was; I went through a journey called The Green Knight. This one will stay with you for a while.
The French dispatch
Wes Anderson is awesome. I took this for granted. I saw the trailer for The French dispatch and sort of rejected it. Yep, it looks like another Wes Anderson movie, I thought and continued. The point is, another movie by this guy is something to treasure. I immediately remembered that once Mail has begun. Infinitely witty, perfectly structured with incredibly crisp editing, this is yet another expertly constructed journey through the director’s diorama-like worlds. And how lucky we are to be able to take another trip with Anderson, who honed his skills to perfection. Hilarious and touching in equal parts, I solemnly swear that I will never let Anderson’s boredom get the better of him again.
They were finally right. Director Denis Villeneuve gave us an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s great science fiction novel (well, half, at least) that actually, you know, makes sense. It uses the two and a half hours of execution to effectively bring us that distant future story that has always been more of a political drama than a straightforward adventure and kept it interesting and logical from start to finish. Add to this perfect cast, Timothée Chalamet is Paul Atreides and Aquaman as badass Duncan Idaho? Get out of there! Stunning special effects and production design complete this Hollywood extravaganza. That’s why big budget movies exist.
The power of the dog
Jane Campion is back and better than ever with this patient western. It’s one of those movies that takes a while to reveal what it’s really about and where it’s going, but once it’s there, be careful. It’s a punch you’re happy to receive. And the journey to get there also offers a lot of riches. Benedict Cumberbatch embodies toxic masculinity. Kodi Smit-McPhee as a very goofy teenager you don’t want to underestimate and, of course, gorgeous cinematography that oddly and successfully replaced New Zealand for Montana. We, the FFCC, gave him the best shot of the year, and it’s a really good choice.