The Films of 2019, Ranked

by twilliamdavis | created - 8 months ago | updated - 4 days ago | Public

A ranking of all the films I saw in 2019, from best to worst, according to personal preference.

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1. Booksmart (2019)

R | 102 min | Comedy

84 Metascore

On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.

Director: Olivia Wilde | Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

Votes: 37,000 | Gross: $22.68M

There's no single identifiable thing about "Booksmart" that makes it as good as it is. Like "The Edge of Seventeen", it is one of the few teen movies, I think, to truly capture the experience of being a teenager. Most of the credit goes to an extremely robust screenplay, but what makes that screenplay is the quality acting, especially that of Kaitlyn Dever, and the unique vision and style that first-time director Olivia Wilde brings to the production.

What "Booksmart" is, essentially, is a raunchy teens-gone-wild comedy a la "Superbad". But while it does engage in the sex-and-drugs behaviour that "Superbad" does, it's never crass or vulgar in its approach to the subject matter. It's always a very funny picture, but it has a great deal of emotional depth, and it knows when to play its beats for drama. Altogether it ends up being an enormously emotionally charged and evocative experienced, funny and raunchy but also careful, nuanced and controlled, and for that it strikes a perfect balance between the two.

2. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)

R | 161 min | Comedy, Drama

83 Metascore

A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.

Director: Quentin Tarantino | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch

Votes: 184,759 | Gross: $135.37M

There were so many ways "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" could have gone terribly wrong, but it doesn't. Often, particularly as we get close to the end, it's an outrageous picture with a silly sort of narrative that doesn't have much of a purpose. It's structured around the characters rather than any real plot, and much of the film is composed of a loosely-connected series of vignettes. But the characters, while ridiculous, are nuanced, and backed up by great performances (DiCaprio is a particular highlight), and that this film is able to tie its fragmentary structure together in a way that's still compelling and engaging is a testament to the skill and craft of the filmmakers.

3. Triple Frontier (2019)

R | 125 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

61 Metascore

Loyalties are tested when five friends and former special forces operatives reunite to take down a South American drug lord, unleashing a chain of unintended consequences.

Director: J.C. Chandor | Stars: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund

Votes: 80,934

There's nothing ostensibly unique about "Triple Frontier". On the surface, it's the latest in many movies about elite units of corrupt or mercenary characters, men being men, pulling one last job. As a premise there's not much to separate it from something like "Den of Thieves", vile and obnoxious as it is.

What distinguishes "Triple Frontier" is the way it deconstructs that archetype. Its characters are the same, "men being men", but their masculinity and that of their profession is undercut immediately and consistently - their years of elite service has left them bitter and washed-up, physically and psychologically broken and unable to form meaningful relationships or reintegrate into society.

In the course of their "one last job", they lose their composure in small but significant ways as they succumb to greed and, as the job goes south, they struggle to adjust to the consequences. The complex morality of the film's characters, and how it manifests, is what elevates "Triple Frontier" above others of its kind.

The only issue I have is that, in the final half-hour, it gets a little confused thematically as things are being wrapped up. Meanwhile, the performances, particularly those of Oscar Isaac and Ben Affleck, are subtle, nuanced and effective. Add to that the gorgeous photography and director J.C. Chandor's mastery of pace and tension, and you have a complex, character-driven film with kinetic momentum that offers an interesting, intelligent and mature take on a tired premise and an overcrowded genre.

4. Toy Story 4 (2019)

G | 100 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

84 Metascore

When a new toy called "Forky" joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.

Director: Josh Cooley | Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale

Votes: 89,646 | Gross: $431.96M

The theater I saw "Toy Story 4" in was packed to the rafters, with all of about five kids - the rest of them were generations of "Toy Story" fans of ages fifteen to thirty-five. It's not for nothing that the series can bring in a crowd like that, and running as long as it has, it's one of those few things that you could call timeless and mean it.

"Toy Story 4" is a weaker film than the others, if only because the standard is set so high. That being said, everything people loved about the other movies are here as well. It's funny, it's well-acted, it's well-written and surprisingly complex in the way it examines its themes and characters, and it's got a wholesome, heart-warming feeling to it.

The issues I have with it are minor ones. A lot of the side-characters aren't given very much attention - a consequence of cast-deaths in the case of old favourites, but the new characters introduced at the end of the last film are largely ignored, most likely in favour of narrative streamlining, and some of the new side-characters have very simple arcs and are only really there as brand-recognition jokes for the adults (Key & Peele, Keanu Reeves).

Altogether, though, "Toy Story 4" continues in the tradition of its predecessors. It's a great kids film, the best Pixar movie in years, and like "Toy Story 3" it's willing to make big moves, to upend its narrative to the core, in the name of making a story that says something meaningful and worthwhile.

5. High Flying Bird (2019)

TV-MA | 90 min | Drama, Sport

78 Metascore

During a pro basketball lockout, a sports agent pitches a rookie basketball client on an intriguing and controversial business proposition.

Director: Steven Soderbergh | Stars: André Holland, Melvin Gregg, Eddie Tavares, Farah Bala

Votes: 5,355

While not as stylish or intriguing as "Unsane", "High Flying Bird" is not only an interesting filmmaking experiment, but also a compelling and immensely engaging sports drama loaded with great performances, particularly from Andre Holland.

6. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

PG-13 | 181 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

78 Metascore

After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to reverse Thanos' actions and restore balance to the universe.

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Votes: 554,798 | Gross: $858.37M

There's good and there's bad in "Endgame" - even over three hours, difficulty in doing justice to each character, finding the right balance between each character and each plot thread, between the wildly disparate tones and styles of the movies of the MCU, was inevitable.

Because of that, corners are cut here and there - some characters, for example, are fleshed out as best they can be, others are throwaway walk-on parts defined by single character traits, while plot points from their respective movies, previously of enormous importance, are ignored - and some people are bound to be dissatisfied.

To others, like me, the spectacle of the thing was enough. Without any significant, overriding investment in any one character, I found "Endgame" to be a far more poignant and concise picture than "Infinity War" was, with greater focus and deeper purpose, and a fitting, suitably epic conclusion to the ten years of pictures that came before.

7. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

PG-13 | 129 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

69 Metascore

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Spider-Man must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever.

Director: Jon Watts | Stars: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei

Votes: 169,588 | Gross: $388.53M

With each Marvel movie we run the risk of having less and less to say that's unique or original. In that sense, no, there's nothing really unique or original about "Spider-Man: Far From Home", so a discussion about it has less to do with what it's doing that's different and new, and more to do with how it plays with the elements of its formula.

"Far From Home", in that sense, manages to be quite compelling and entertaining throughout. Like "Homecoming", it devotes a lot of attention to the unique relationship between its hero and its villain, and it does a good job of it. Certain twists may have been predictable, but others were not, and the narrative proves perfectly satisfying in that way. As for what's new, Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent in the film, and the surreal psychedelic sequences add an interesting dimension of uncertainty to much of the action that leaves you on your toes.

8. Crawl (2019)

R | 87 min | Action, Drama, Horror

60 Metascore

A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.

Director: Alexandre Aja | Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson

Votes: 15,209 | Gross: $39.01M

"Crawl" is a movie that pissed a lot of people off, I think, principally because of the ending. Not to spoil anything, the film ends ambiguously, which, for a killer alligator movie, is inherently unsatisfying because it doesn't resolve the central conflict of the picture. After giving it some thought, I came to the (maybe crackpot) conclusion that "Crawl" isn't about killer hurricane alligators, not really. Instead, it's about an estranged father and daughter overcoming their estrangement in a time of crisis.

The thing about "Crawl", the reason it ends ambiguously, is because whether or not they survive the alligators is not pertinent information, in the same way we don't need to know what happens to the characters after a romantic comedy ends. What's important is that the actual central conflict, "will they or won't they?", is resolved. The thematic takes precedence over the literal to the exclusion of any resolution to the literal narrative.

Again, that's just an interpretation. In my head it works a lot better, but in that reading the movie you're left with still has its problems. It's not quite as smooth in its character development as perhaps it could be, with that relegated to the sometimes on-the-nose chats our two leads have every fifteen minutes or so. As a killer alligator thriller it works, it's well-paced and tense when it needs to be, but it ends with an irresolution that will leave many unsatisfied. Altogether, though, it's an interesting, entertaining thriller that doesn't fall into genre traps, bolstered by two great performances, that barrels towards what is maybe an unsatisfying conclusion.

9. It Chapter Two (2019)

R | 169 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

58 Metascore

Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.

Director: Andy Muschietti | Stars: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa

Votes: 57,696 | Gross: $113.07M

10. Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

PG | 104 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

53 Metascore

In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.

Director: Rob Letterman | Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy

Votes: 93,757 | Gross: $144.11M

"Detective Pikachu" was a surprise. With no interest in Pokemon and only the slightest bit more in any Pokemon movie, I found this picture very enjoyable. It's narratively weak, but it gets by on the strength of the chemistry between Reynolds and Justice Smith, between Smith and Kathryn Newton.

Next to that are these fun little interludes with the Pokemon characters, jokes showcasing their abilities in some way or another that work for an uninitiated audience without offending the fans, and enjoyable pulp-detective bits peppered throughout. It's a wholesome bit of family entertainment that's not too taxing (especially where plot is concerned), but which has appeal for adults, kids and fans alike.

11. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

PG | 107 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

65 Metascore

It's been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are facing a huge new threat: Lego Duplo invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than they can rebuild.

Director: Mike Mitchell | Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish

Votes: 37,714 | Gross: $105.81M

"The Lego Movie 2"'s approach is much the same as, say, the second "Guardians of the Galaxy". People like the first one, and the lesson the filmmakers take from that is, "If we do the same thing, but do it bigger and do it more, then people will like it better". On its own, this is not true. A movie works because the filmmakers strike a fine balance between different elements of plot, of character, of tone, of technique, and simply taking the bits people liked the most and doing more of that, unless properly handled, throws off that fine balance.

"The Lego Movie 2" is a good film, but one that is quite a bit inferior to the original. There's more characters, more jokes, more singing (quite a bit more singing, actually - the first one had a catchy song, this one is more in the way of a musical), and altogether the narrative at the centre of it all is weaker, more predictable. That's not to say it's bad - it's actually quite clever, in parts, though in others it's very poor - but one great success of the original was its spontaneity. This film is a little less spontaneous, less funny, less well-written, less imaginative.

12. The Perfect Date (I) (2019)

TV-14 | 89 min | Comedy, Romance

To save up for college, Brooks Rattigan creates an app where anyone can pay him to play the perfect stand-in boyfriend for any occasion.

Director: Chris Nelson | Stars: Noah Centineo, Laura Marano, Odiseas Georgiadis, Camila Mendes

Votes: 23,477

"The Perfect Date" is a movie that sticks quite close to the formula. It doesn't do anything all that creative or original, so it's only about as good as you'd expect it to be. That said, it's one of the most well-executed rom-coms out right now. The movie does some interesting things within the confines its genre conventions, and the two leads have incredible chemistry.

13. Late Night (2019)

R | 102 min | Comedy, Drama

71 Metascore

A late night talk show host suspects that she may soon lose her long-running show.

Director: Nisha Ganatra | Stars: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy

Votes: 7,823 | Gross: $15.50M

14. Captain Marvel (2019)

PG-13 | 123 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

64 Metascore

Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe's most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck | Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law

Votes: 357,149 | Gross: $426.83M

You could make the argument that "Captain Marvel" was never going to be one of the great MCU movies - doomed from the start. Just by nature of its premise and its setting, "Captain Marvel" has to be an origin story, and one in a style that's become something of a relic simply because it's not done anymore, as, narratively, there are just better ways of doing things now.

When they did "Spider-Man: Homecoming", we'd already been introduced to Spider-Man in a crossover film, and everyone is familiar with how the character works, so there was no need to tell the same story again. Same goes for, say, "Black Panther". Even "Ant-Man", which was a comedy, got around the origin-story issue by being very deliberately flippant about the whole thing. They could not take any of those approaches with "Captain Marvel", firmly set in the before-times.

It ends up feeling distinctly like "Aquaman" - not a very good picture, with many of the same issues. The space-alien parts feel a little ridiculous, and not at all self-aware where it counts. The jokes about the nineties work sometimes, but sometimes they don't. The real star here is Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury character, who, twenty-some years pre-MCU, is allowed to have fun with the character's situational incompetence, certain behaviours and bits of backstory - his interactions with the cat, for example, or how he lost his eye.

The great disappointment of the picture is Brie Larson, a very talented actress who really isn't cut out to star in a Marvel movie. Her one-liners sound forced and rarely land, and (I suspect in a deliberate effort to be in the spirit of the nineties) the character's personality is very much that of an unphased, quip-spouting super-powered demigod. Larson's talents, it seems, lie elsewhere. That, together with the familiar narrative, predictable and rather unimaginative, leaves this film struggling to be anything better than a tick above average.

15. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

TV-PG | 113 min | Drama

68 Metascore

Against all the odds, a thirteen year old boy in Malawi invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine.

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor | Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Felix Lemburo, Robert Agengo

Votes: 13,434

Much of the first half of "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" is meandering, and lacks focus. Set against a backdrop of famine and social upheaval, it struggles at times to find a balance between its ambitions and the personal story at its core. Sometimes it feels like it aims to be something greater in scope, but it's contained by a story that isn't enough to justify that treatment. Other times, its human center is lost in gorgeous, but impersonal cinematography and its own ambitious vision.

That said, around the eighty-minute mark, the picture really picks up. The A and B plots come together in earnest, and you begin to feel the weight and presence of the famine narrative on the characters. The human drama that comes out of the second half of the movie is really something - the performances are uniformly quite good, and it finds something of a balance. Altogether its narrative is nothing special, and it takes some time to get going, but once it does it's a perfectly good film with real dramatic weight.

16. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

PG-13 | 101 min | Comedy, Romance

64 Metascore

Everyone assumed Sasha and Marcus would wind up together except for Sasha and Marcus. Reconnecting after 15 years, the two start to wonder - maybe?

Director: Nahnatchka Khan | Stars: Ali Wong, Randall Park, James Saito, Michelle Buteau

Votes: 33,379

There's nothing especially original or inventive about "Always Be My Maybe". It's a perfectly enjoyable picture, but the formula for this kind of film has been worked out down to a science, so anything less than that would be an abject failure. It's well-structured and written in that Neflix style which their audience undoubtedly finds appealing, and Ali Wong's very good in it, but it goes with a stock-standard class divide plot, so there's not much to make the narrative or the romance all that unique.

17. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

PG-13 | 137 min | Action, Adventure

60 Metascore

Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity.

Director: David Leitch | Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Votes: 63,817 | Gross: $165.55M

"Hobbs & Shaw" is nonsense, a celebration of style over substance, full of ludicrous stunts and thin characters and plot contrivances with flimsy justifications, and that's exactly what it's supposed to be. It's a hell of a spectacle, with David Leitch at the helm proving himself, again, a capable action director. The three leads have great chemistry and they play off each other well, even if, sometimes, character interactions are awkward or distracting.

18. Unicorn Store (2017)

TV-PG | 92 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

44 Metascore

Kit, a twenty-something dreamer, receives an invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams.

Director: Brie Larson | Stars: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford

Votes: 14,125

If you can get on board with the whimsical, schmaltzy tone of the thing, "Unicorn Store" is an imperfect, inconsistent and sometimes scattered film, not always as solidly constructed as it ought to be, but one that's entertaining, funny and well-acted, and one that suggests at great things from Brie Larson as a director.

19. The Last Laugh (I) (2019)

TV-MA | 98 min | Comedy

31 Metascore

When retired talent manager Al Hart is reunited with his first client, Buddy Green, a comic who quit show business 50 years ago, he convinces Buddy to escape their retirement community and hit the road for a cross-country comedy tour.

Director: Greg Pritikin | Stars: Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfuss, Andie MacDowell, Kate Micucci

Votes: 3,828

"The Last Laugh" is a movie I really want to like. Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss are both excellent, and they have great chemistry. The film around them, though, feels unfocused and often amateurish, and was obviously made quickly and cheaply. It's not just another dumb old-people comedy - it has higher aspirations than that, and its humour is rarely low-brow or tasteless - but it doesn't live up to those ambitions.

20. Yesterday (III) (2019)

PG-13 | 116 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Music

56 Metascore

A struggling musician realizes he's the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.

Director: Danny Boyle | Stars: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Ellise Chappell

Votes: 35,565 | Gross: $73.29M

"Yesterday" is a movie that annoys me more and more the longer I think about it. The premise - guy hits his head and when he wakes up he's the only person who remembers The Beatles - is a perfectly good one, and even as the basis for a romantic comedy it's fine, so long as you do something with it. But they don't - The Beatles are a means to an end, and that end isn't a very good one.

First off, "Yesterday" isn't actually a very good romantic comedy, which is what it is when you break it down. The leads have their chemistry, it's funny where it needs to be, and it hits all the emotional beats. But it does it in a weird sort of way - either they were trying to break formula and didn't know what to put there instead, or there was too much movie and the romance plot got lost in the fray.

But if you look at it as a Beatles tribute, well, it isn't very good at that either. Our main character records what is, in essence, an album of mediocre Beatles covers, and becomes the biggest star in the world. The implication is that Beatles music is so transformative that, without The Beatles, some guy Jack's shitty cover of "I Saw Her Standing There" that he recorded in a basement is enough to change the world.

As an honest-to-goodness tribute, it's lazy and kind of hollow. It plays into the moral quandary of the main character, too, and the way Boyle and Curtis go about that particular plotline is jut as lazy and ham-fisted. It's still a perfectly fine movie, in the sense that there's nothing awful about it, but there's nothing in it that isn't done better in other Richard Curtis movies - except the music, which isn't very good.

21. Aladdin (2019)

PG | 128 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

53 Metascore

A kind-hearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

Director: Guy Ritchie | Stars: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari

Votes: 127,641 | Gross: $354.87M

I have no special love for the cartoon "Aladdin". Perhaps if I had I might have come out of this picture with wildly different opinions. As it stands, I find "Aladdin" an unnecessary film, one which, like "Beauty and the Beast" before it, has an uncomfortable obsession with the failures, real or imagined, of its source material, and when it takes pieces of the original verbatim is when it's at its worst.

Naomi Scott and Will Smith do the best they can with what they have, but Mena Massoud is underwhelming, as is much of the cast, because, I expect, they are mimicking the lines, the actions and the expressions of characters from a cartoon. There are scenes which are unnecessary, entire sequences which could be cut without consequence. But it is an enjoyable film, albeit one not without a great number of very apparent flaws.

22. Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

R | 113 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

61 Metascore

A satire set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce.

Director: Dan Gilroy | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge

Votes: 43,793

"Velvet Buzzsaw" is a film of two minds - one wants to be a biting satire of the art scene, cynical and edgy, and the other wants to be an artsy supernatural horror flick. The two threads never really tie together, nor does either come to a satisfying conclusion. The result is a film that never quite overcomes its pretensions, and which is wildly inconsistent, but which, for those very same reasons, for its creativity and its aspirations, is still quite compulsively engaging.

23. Child's Play (2019)

R | 90 min | Horror

48 Metascore

A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature, he also kills people who disobeyed Andy.

Director: Lars Klevberg | Stars: Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Tim Matheson, Brian Tyree Henry

Votes: 16,492 | Gross: $29.21M

At a time when a satire of demonic doll possession might actually have been quite relevant, "Child's Play" takes a different route, satirizing, of all things, the Amazon culture. Chucky is not a demonic doll, but a defective one. An interesting turn, and the filmmakers have fun with it, but in a time where studios feel the need to explain things to their audience, to "fix" the "problems" of the past, it raises more questions than it answers.

That said, "Child's Play" isn't about the logic of it all. It's a ridiculous concept, and the picture's suitably goofy. There's silly lines and ridiculous setups, and a whole lot of carnage, but they never take it into self-parody. It hits a good balance of horror and comedy, though it's atmosphere never gets all that tense - I'd call it a romp, something goofy that teenagers can have fun with.

24. Isn't It Romantic (2019)

PG-13 | 89 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Romance

60 Metascore

A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson | Stars: Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra

Votes: 47,907 | Gross: $48.79M

"Isn't It Romantic" isn't without its problems - you can question just how relevant it is, given the movies its satirizing are all twenty or thirty years old, and its treatment of the source material is sometimes shallow. But for what it is, it's a surprisingly enjoyable film.

25. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

R | 110 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

52 Metascore

A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of Liz, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years.

Director: Joe Berlinger | Stars: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Angela Sarafyan, Sydney Vollmer

Votes: 53,051

The great strength of "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" is Zac Efron. Perfectly cast, he's deceptively charming and persuasive, and as, within the narrative logic of the film, we don't know for certain whether Bundy is guilty, it's often difficult not to be sucked into the guy. The unfortunate thing is, the film around Efron isn't especially well constructed.

Joe Berlinger's a veteran documentary filmmaker who, early in the year, put out a documentary miniseries on Bundy to preface this picture. Berlinger's sensibilities lie in documentary, and he doesn't seem altogether comfortable with narrative film. Many scenes aren't given time to play out, especially early on in the picture, which plays more like montage. Berlinger's unable to settle on a style - sometimes it's shot in a documentary style, but it lapses quite frequently into a very polished thriller look. That goes to the casting, too. They look to recreate the Bundy trial, complete with reenactments of specific events (particular Bundy theatrics, like the wedding, for instance), but in the room are Jim Parsons, prosecutor, with John Malkovich as the Judge. Turning a cerebral low-budget courtroom picture into a star-studded who's who makes it all seem rather produced, and artificial, and breaks the immersion.

Outside the trial portion, it amounts to a humdrum pile of setup. There are two ways a less artistically scrupulous filmmaker might go about this story, and they are a) to focus on the mystery - is Ted Bundy the killer? What will Lily Collins do?; or b) Ted Bundy is the killer, we know this, and here's the story of how Lily Collins comes to realize that. Both approaches are schlocky, with strong stalker-thriller vibes, but both of them have a clear form. This picture's approach is somewhere in the middle - we, the audience, know that Ted Bundy is the killer, but this information is obscured so that Bundy's betrayal of Liz Kendall's trust can mean something within the logic of the narrative. It's a confused approach, the first half of the movie feels confused for it, and the way the whole thing is resolved feels unearned.

26. The Lion King (2019)

PG | 118 min | Animation, Adventure, Drama

55 Metascore

After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.

Director: Jon Favreau | Stars: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Votes: 99,277 | Gross: $530.44M

This remake of "The Lion King" has fascinated me for months. To my mind, yeah, a live-action "Beauty and the Beast" or "Jungle Book" or "Aladdin" are at least justifiable - a live-action "Lion King" is a nature documentary with cartoon animals drawn over the top. The fact of James Earl Jones being recast in the same role is a testament to how unnecessary the film is - the filmmakers had nothing to "fix", and went into it with a basic reluctance to do anything new. The end result isn't a bad movie per se, but its problems are immediately obvious and constant.

Since it's live-action, it's more "realistic" - which means, no more dance numbers. Fair enough, but the photorealistic cartoon animals still sing and run around and act goofy, so any attempt at "realism" was a lost cause from the start. What it ends up as is a movie whose content is at odds with its aesthetic style. Characters still sing songs and tell goofy jokes, only they have the vacant, expressionless faces of, y'know, animals.

The way the film's constructed is also a bit of an oddity. Maybe it's because they handed off shooting to a documentary unit or something, I can't say for sure, but the camera moves in a way that suggests they were unsure of where characters would be, how they would move around the frame, and so it's shot in a series of wide shots that kind of float smoothly around without any real sense of focus. The dialogue just kind of happens, with the same space between each line, in the way that some cheaper animated films run, which makes for a weird pace.

There's also the matter of the extra half-hour of movie. "The Lion King", the original animated film, is very well-paced. The filmmakers behind the remake are reluctant to change anything significant, and stick to the same narrative beats, which means a lot of that extra half-hour is spent meandering, or else wasted on plot threads that come out of the blue and are resolved as quickly, or go nowhere, because to make them go somewhere would be to change the narrative. Because of that, there's no real flow to the picture - it hits its narrative beats, and the it's over.

That's not to say there aren't good things about the film. The music is good, as are the voice performances (I especially liked Chiwetel Ejiofor's Scar), and it is rather a gorgeous film. Altogether, though, it's a movie crippled by its predecessor - they were restricted in what they could change, so the things they did change were peripheral to the main action, or meandering, or meaningless, or plain counter-intuitive.

27. Lionheart (2018)

TV-PG | 95 min | Comedy

Running a company can be challenging, especially if you are a female in a male-dominated industry. Looking to prove her worth, Adaeze steps up to the challenge when her father is forced to take a step back due to health issues.

Director: Genevieve Nnaji | Stars: Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu

Votes: 938

There's not much to say about "Lionheart". It's Nigerian! And it's okay! And all it is is okay. Most of the enjoyment one could find or interest one could have in this film comes from the fact that it is Nigerian, because it's narrative is so familiar and its characters are so typical, and beyond that there's just not much to say.

28. Rocketman (2019)

R | 121 min | Biography, Drama, Music

69 Metascore

A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John's breakthrough years.

Director: Dexter Fletcher | Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

Votes: 64,334 | Gross: $96.37M

There's not much to "Rocketman" after you strip away all the garish bits, the glitz and glamour. There's clear imagination in the musical numbers, but they're only sometimes exceptional, and often mediocre. The narrative behind them is nothing special - it hits the beats that this sort of picture tends to hit without much deviation, and, while it's being sold as a warts-and-all telling of Elton John's life and all the debauchery that entails, there's never a point where Fletcher dares tell us anything we don't already know.

Elton John, who is very much alive, is an executive producer on "Rocketman". It's for that reason, I think, that Fletcher & Co. decided to play it safe, stick quite rigidly to a simple redemption story with cardboard caricatures for its characters, and be sure to let us know that Elton John's got an AIDS charity and, oh, how he loves shopping, in the credits. A general mindset of "but not to far, we wouldn't want to offend Elton" plagues the film, lest the grim realities distract from the spectacle of it all.

That being said, Taron Egerton's quite good here. He invokes Elton John rather than imitating him, which was very much the right course, and while he's no great actor he's more than able to handle himself in a role with as much emotional scope as this. Richard Madden and Jamie Bell also turn in some solid work, though they do so in spite of the characters they're playing.

The rest of the characters are bizarre caricatures of sex-drugs-rock'n'roll tropes - the parents spout troubled-childhood-parental-neglect lines, Madden's John Reid is the evils of the music industry, Stephen Graham's Dick James (the same kind of ridiculous executive-type as Mike Myers played in "Bohemian Rhapsody") is the-industry-is-exploitative, and so on.

Rami Malek was able to elevate his own picture above its shortcomings, and Egerton, Madden and Bell together try, but if only the failings weren't so much greater, and more numerous.

29. Pet Sematary (2019)

R | 101 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

57 Metascore

Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.

Directors: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer | Stars: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence

Votes: 56,629 | Gross: $54.72M

"Pet Sematary" is a bit stupid, the kind of movie that, on closer inspection, reveals itself as more amusing and clumsy than anything else. It takes on an extremely slow pace which, in a better film, would build the tension slowly as they move toward a trilling conclusion. The thing is, "Pet Sematary" isn't actually that tense. This is largely because the filmmakers, perhaps not confident in audiences or even their own abilities, pepper jump-scares throughout with inane frequency. They end up not committing to either approach, so the jump-scares are hollow and half-hearted, but the tension is never given any time to build.

The movie around the horror story isn't that good either. "Pet Sematary" has this strange quality where it devotes enormous chunks of time to backstory that plays no real role in the events, while at the same time skimming over the pertinent information - what's the deal with the Pet Sematary, say? There's one scene where somebody says "Wendigo", but for the most part the mystery itself is ignored, the only information we get being that there is, indeed, a mystery that we will not discuss.

The characters are altogether bland horror movie stock-characters. John Lithgow brings some charm to his kindly-old-man performance, but aside from that it's really a wasteland of character. None of them are given much real development (inane backstory notwithstanding), and things that are set up as major conflicts (science vs. religion, for example) disappear once the plot gets rolling. It's a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be, a slow, tense horror-thriller with mystery, rich lore and an exploration of its themes, or a fun, fast-paced jump-scare movie - and for that, it ends up being neither.

30. The Aftermath (II) (2019)

R | 108 min | Drama, Romance, War

43 Metascore

Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.

Director: James Kent | Stars: Keira Knightley, Ned Wills, Pandora Colin, Jason Clarke

Votes: 8,561 | Gross: $1.62M

If ever there was a movie that I won't remember in a year, it's "The Aftermath". There's nothing overtly wrong about the picture, but it never feels like anything better than a quota quickie, made to finish up an actor's contract or to pull some mediocre director out of the pit of obscurity.

The narrative has potential - occupied post-war Germany is an interesting period that can be done well - but it never goes anywhere. Kiera Knightley's married to Jason Clarke, an English officer, and their son died in the blitz. They move into the house of a former architect, Alexander Skarsgard, and his daughter, and the wife died in the bombing of Hamburg.

Clarke's officer is distant and withdrawn, and Knightley's bored society wife hates the Germans, but she's drawn to kind, sexy Skarsgard, and the two have an affair. The daughter's a Hitlerite, though, and she and her Nazi boyfriend plot against the Allied occupiers. Nothing ever really comes of it. The daughter's subplot concludes without any real impact, while the love triangle leaves everyone quite miserable for a time, and then is wound up in a perfectly reasonable but not at all interesting way.

The screenplay is without nuance, something you could sum up in dot-points on the back of a napkin, and there's no mastery of technique on the part of director James Kent to distinguish this from any other picture. The style isn't saucy and debauched, erotic, or pornographic, forbidden or tragic, or much anything at all. Just bland, sanitary, like this is a subplot in an episode of some half-rate British WWII show.

31. Dark Phoenix (2019)

PG-13 | 113 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

43 Metascore

Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all of humanity.

Director: Simon Kinberg | Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult

Votes: 82,318 | Gross: $65.85M

32. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

PG-13 | 132 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy

48 Metascore

The crypto-zoological agency Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.

Director: Michael Dougherty | Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe

Votes: 83,838 | Gross: $110.50M

"Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is an idiotic picture. The plot is nonexistent and the dialogue's repetitive, expository and inane, the characters are bare, and very little thought's put into making sure the audience is aware of what's going on or why it's happening. Much of the film's first act is consumed by a mystery surrounding the actions, and the loyalties, of one of the central characters, but poor directing, or else poor editing, turns mystery into confusion.

This would be alright if the core of it all, the action, was any good, but it's not. While the first film was all buildup and no climax, "King of the Monsters" swings in the other direction - fight, fight, fight all the time, chaos and carnage in ugly shades of grey and brown until chaos and carnage lose all meaning.

33. Angel Has Fallen (2019)

R | 121 min | Action, Thriller

45 Metascore

Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of the President and must evade his own agency and the FBI as he tries to uncover the real threat.

Director: Ric Roman Waugh | Stars: Gerard Butler, Frederick Schmidt, Danny Huston, Rocci Williams

Votes: 13,853 | Gross: $55.98M

"Angel Has Fallen" is a big, dumb, laborious thing. For whatever reason the filmmakers decided to shoot every scene either with absurdly tight close-ups or from behind the bushes, so it's variously claustrophobic and voyeuristic, rarely with motivation. Sometimes the scene calls for the camerawork to be claustrophobic, or voyeuristic, and the film succeeds at that, but only because that's what it was already doing. Stopped clock, see. It makes it an uncomfortable sit, and distracts from a lot of the action. It's also a movie that seems uncertain as to what it's supposed to be. The plot is silly and predictable, but it doesn't revel in its lunacy, nor is it good enough to justify its grim tone. Parts of it are enjoyable, especially nearing the end, and Nick Nolte's quite good in the scenes that he's in, but overall it's a thoroughly forgettable experience.

34. Falling Inn Love (2019)

TV-PG | 98 min | Comedy, Romance

When city girl Gabriela spontaneously enters a contest and wins a rustic New Zealand inn, she teams up with bighearted contractor Jake Taylor to fix and flip it.

Director: Roger Kumble | Stars: Christina Milian, Adam Demos, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Anna Jullienne

Votes: 6,410

"Falling Inn Love" is very cheap-looking, and it's so blatantly formulaic it's almost surreal. But it's not a movie that inspires any hate in me--because it's so earnest, you're able to kind of switch your brain off and take the thing in. It's schmaltzy and some of the jokes and the characters went out of style decades ago, but the cast sells it. It isn't a good movie, not by any means, but it's exactly what it says on the tin.

35. Walk. Ride. Rodeo. (2019)

TV-PG | 100 min | Drama

A courageous teenager is determined to resume competitive rodeo months after her paralyzing spinal cord injury.

Director: Conor Allyn | Stars: Spencer Locke, Missi Pyle, Bailey Chase, Alyvia Alyn Lind

Votes: 1,274

I feel like trying to talk about the quality and merits of something like "Walk. Ride. Rodeo." is counter-intuitive. It looks, feels and plays like a a television film, and it's generically inspirational in the way TV biopics tend to be. In that sense, I guess it's a success, and I can't imagine the people who go in for these sorts of movies wouldn't like it. But for someone who isn't terribly taken by the premise, it is what it is, and it just kind of blows inoffensively by.

36. Stuber (2019)

R | 93 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

42 Metascore

A detective recruits his Uber driver into an unexpected night of adventure.

Director: Michael Dowse | Stars: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Mira Sorvino, Natalie Morales

Votes: 9,107 | Gross: $22.37M

37. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)

TV-MA | 129 min | Drama, History, Thriller

Israel's Mossad agents attempt to rescue Ethiopian Jewish refugees in Sudan in 1979.

Director: Gideon Raff | Stars: Mbulelo Grootboom, Sizo Mahlangu, Michael Kenneth Williams, Masasa Mbangeni

Votes: 13,674

What "The Red Sea Diving Resort" amounts to is a compilation of scenes and narrative beats lifted from other, better espionage thrillers. Nothing is ever explored with any depth or pursued to its conclusion--the movie is so derivative and lazy and lacking in momentum that it ends up being a dull and pointless waste.

38. The Kitchen (2019)

R | 102 min | Action, Crime, Drama

36 Metascore

The wives of New York gangsters in Hell's Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands' rackets after they're locked up in prison.

Director: Andrea Berloff | Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson

Votes: 2,801 | Gross: $12.05M

I feel like there's a story to "The Kitchen". It's a very incoherent film, and I can't help but wonder if there's a two-and-a-half hour version of it sitting around somewhere in the Warner Bros. vault that they hacked enormous chunks out of for general release. Scenes begin and end at random, without purpose or motivation; characters overhaul their personalities off-screen between scenes, and sequential lines of dialogue often feel disconnected from one another. It's a jumbled, jagged, fascinating experience, but not much else -- stylistically and dramatically it's quite dull, and the whole cast sleepwalks through it.

39. Men in Black: International (2019)

PG-13 | 114 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

38 Metascore

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Director: F. Gary Gray | Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson

Votes: 57,747 | Gross: $79.80M

"Men In Black: International" is a strange movie to watch. It feels like something that might have come out ten years ago, something mediocre that would have bombed. At the core of the movie, I suspect, was the idea that the Chris Hemsworth-Tessa Thompson pairing that worked so well in "Avengers" was what "Men in Black" needed to drag itself into the modern age.

It has all the qualities of a fun blockbuster - solid cast, talented and proven director, potentially a very interesting premise. But something happened between then and now which set this whole damn silly thing off the rails. I suspect the person to blame for this mess is Walter F. Parkes, one of the producers, the guy who had final cut, and the common denominator of all the stories I've heard of this picture's notorious production.

What it feels like is a heavily edited, extensively focus-grouped mess made by lopsided consensus on a strict deadline. The editing is all over the place - some conversations are rushed through like the filmmakers were pressed for time, others are plagued by long, unnecessary pauses between lines of dialogue which kill all the flow and humour that might have come of it. The action sequences are unmemorable, and large chunks of the movie are taken up with aimless set-pieces through exotic locales. "Pawny", Kumail Nanjiani's character, is an insufferable comic relief bit with childish, inane lines about nothing who, if not for the role he plays in the climax, I would readily believe was added in post.

The acting is uniformly mediocre. It's difficult to assign blame on this one - more of a team effort. This movie's very likely torpedoed any chance Chris Hemsworth ever had of playing James Bond - the accent he's using, and the quality of the lines, makes everything he says stilted and strained. Tessa Thompson barely has a character, and her lines are just lines - "Get him!", "It's over there!", things any competent actor could say.

Neither have a lot of charisma here, and their chemistry suffers for it. Their pairing really relied on that chemistry, because Hemsworth-Thompson is not a great buddy-cop team-up. He's arrogant and impulsive, she's arrogant and impulsive, only he's a hedonist while she's logical and eschews emotional attachments. I know this because she tells the audience - otherwise she's quite personable, and in the brief gilmpse we get of her life pre-MIB she seems to have at least one friend at the office. Together they're two arrogant, impulsive people, only one's a hedonist guy, and the other's a logical gal. Chemistry, like fireworks.

Altogether it's an ugly, tedious Frankenstein's-monster of a picture, plagued by bad editing and boring action scenes rounding out a predictable, paper-thin plot, carried by mismatched leads and unlikable characters.

40. The Last Summer (2019)

TV-14 | 109 min | Comedy

Standing on the precipice of adulthood, a group of friends navigate new relationships, while reexamining others, during their final summer before college.

Director: William Bindley | Stars: K.J. Apa, Maia Mitchell, Norman Johnson Jr., Jacob Latimore

Votes: 7,693

"The Last Summer" is what "American Graffiti" would look like if the characters were all repulsive, obnoxious and paper-thin. K.J. Apa really isn't cut out to headline a movie, and while his subplot - the romance between his character and that of Maia Mitchell - is one of the better ones, they have no chemistry between them. The best subplot, the Halston Sage-Jacob Latimore arc, is perfectly watchable, but, again, nothing special. The rest of the subplots are the sort you'd find in thirty-year-old sex comedies, and large chunks of the film end up feeling outdated, gross and uncomfortable. There's no coherent sense that what we're seeing is the bittersweet end of an era, but it's not upbeat and mischievous either. It's mostly just a bland, unpleasant experience, to be avoided and ignored.

41. The Silence (II) (2019)

PG-13 | 90 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

25 Metascore

When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.

Director: John R. Leonetti | Stars: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto, Kate Trotter

Votes: 26,294

Leaving aside the fact that, like "Bird Box" before it, it's a clear knock-off of "A Quiet Place", "The Silence" is a profoundly stupid movie. There's a lot of ideas here that probably sounded good on paper, but which were so poorly executed that large chunks of the movie become funny, and the rest is never scary. They eschewed jump-scares, because they've been told the best horror movies don't rely on them, without realizing that the best horror movies don't have so many jump-scares because they don't need them. The monsters, the Vesps, look silly and act stupidly, but their obvious weaknesses are never exploited because the characters fighting them are just as obtuse. The filmmakers, for whatever reason, had a great deal of misguided confidence in this movie, but the thing they created was an absolute failure in almost every way. At least it isn't boring?

42. Overcomer (2019)

PG | 119 min | Drama, Sport

17 Metascore

A high-school basketball coach volunteers to coach a troubled teen in long-distance running.

Director: Alex Kendrick | Stars: Shari Rigby, Alex Kendrick, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Cameron Arnett

Votes: 1,189 | Gross: $26.25M

"Overcomer" is a movie that, if it was more competently made, would probably be offensive. It's a movie made for American Christians and seemingly no-one else, so it doesn't feel the need to try at quality or nuance, settling instead on a weird message--which I'm sure has a lot of resonance with its audience--wrapped in an absurd indoctrination narrative. That said, it's cheap and it's silly, and it isn't good enough to attract an audience outside of the demographic or outrageous enough to incense them, so it's basically harmless.

43. Polar (2019)

TV-MA | 118 min | Action, Crime, Drama

19 Metascore

A retiring assassin suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of a hit, contracted by none other than his own employer seeking to cash in on the pensions of aging employees.

Director: Jonas Åkerlund | Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick, Fei Ren

Votes: 59,935

"Polar" is a baffling picture. Roughly half of the film feels like an honest attempt at a quirky dark comedy about a retired hitman bonding with his troubled neighbour. The other half is a grotesque mess, an ugly, childish attempt at being an outrageous and transgressive movie-length music video. These two chunks of the movie run parallel to one another but don't really converge until the mid-point, and transitioning between their styles is very jarring--you would assume the movie was made by two different directors, given half a script to shoot in isolation, but that's not the case.

Once these two halves of the movie do run into each other, something resembling a coherent movie does start to take shape, but what it amounts to is a kidnapping scene, a torture scene, then maybe three action scenes. I suspect this movie was conceived as a send-up of "John Wick". That would explain the color palette, at least, and one particular scene--the only clever one in the movie--involving a dog. But somewhere between conception and completion, something went terribly wrong with that idea.

See, there isn't a whole lot to parody about "John Wick", aside from a basic premise and a few little things. So, probably to fill time, lots of little things are added, ideas thrown at the wall, until the final product took shape. We're introduced to a team of international super-assassins--the boss, Matt Lucas, is fat and disgusting; his girlfriend, Fei Ren, is badass; there is also a black guy, a ginger, and Sindy, played by Ruby O. Fee. Sindy is a sexual object, whose characterization has no consistency from scene to scene, but who in all her scenes either has sex or is molested, and who is always shot provocatively.

This need not necessarily be a problem--all these characters are outrageous caricatures, so Sindy being a skimpy sex-toy is justifiable, but the further along you go into the movie the more you come to realize, they're not doing anything clever with Sindy. She isn't a sexual object for a reason; she just is, because whoever made this movie was going for "outrageous" without thinking about why. Her sexuality isn't commented on, the fact that she has no consistency isn't a joke, it's just bad writing, an adolescent idea thrown at the wall.

Sindy isn't the worst example of this in the movie. Vanessa Hudgens' character is given her rape as a child as backstory--again, this need not necessarily be a bad thing, it just needs to be handled right. Only, she was raped by a Santa Claus, and her rape is never commented on again, nor does it come to anything. It's there to explain her psychological damage, but then, later in the film, we're given another explanation for that damage which renders the rape story meaningless.

The problematic character stuff is the reason "Polar"'s getting the enormous critical drubbing it has, I suspect, but even if you can overlook that, the rest of the movie fails too. There's no tonal consistency, and most of the movie feels adolescent, like it was included to be cool and outrageous rather than clever and motivated transgression. Some of the acting is hammy and some of it isn't, some of the movie is garish and colorful and some of it's bland and washed-out, some of the characters are caricatures and some of them are serious. What "Polar" is, is a badly-structured, uncomfortable, childish failure of form.

44. Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan (2019)

118 min | Action, Drama, War

In August 1966, in a Vietnamese rubber plantation called Long Tan, 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers are fighting for their lives against 2500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

Director: Kriv Stenders | Stars: Travis Fimmel, Nicholas Hamilton, Richard Roxburgh, Luke Bracey

Votes: 756

Never have I been more bored in a theatre than I was at "Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan". The movie "Danger Close" is most closely modeled after is, of all things, "Zulu". This need not be a problem--if you're going to steal from something for your 'Nam movie, you can steal from a lot worse than "Zulu". So "Danger Close" takes the basic premise--a ragtag bunch of soldiers, grossly outnumbered, in a heroic last stand against an insurmountable enemy. "Danger Close" lifts that premise, some narrative beats, a few character types, and at least one scene verbatim.

The problem is that "Danger Close", with that material and the better part of fifty years of Vietnam movies to work from, doesn't DO anything. We follow a group of characters who're justified by only the most flaccid attempts at character arcs, if they're not just "the funny Irishman", holding a position that has no value for no discernible reason. Long Tan isn't a significant position, not in the movie, but it's one they're ordered to defend, and they'll fight to the death for it. They were ordered to by an evil CO, more concerned with his career than the lives of his men--but this isn't ever commented on. Long Tan is not a tragic waste, like the titular battle in "Gallipoli" is; instead, it's played like a triumph of human determination and gumption that they held this meaningless position.

You have characters violate orders in order to relieve the men--but there's no build up to it. The pilot captain who violates his orders to fly out there doesn't appear in the movie until that scene; the officer who puts his career on the line to send out the APCs, a scene meant to be the big "triumph of compassion" moment, is given a line at the end of the movie explicitly painting him as one of the clueless, heartless officer class. Our main character is Travis Fimmel--he's a Major, a real hard-ass, who wants to get out of this dead-end assignment leading a bunch of greenhorns at Long Tan and go off to join the Special Forces. He remains this way until two dialogue scenes near the end of the movie--in the first, he asks one of his men (Daniel Webber) about his life in Australia; the guy tells him he's getting married; in the second, the Private joke-invites the Major to his wedding, and the Major only half-joke accepts. It's like a father-to-his-men thing.

This is part of a wider problem in the movie, where, instead of building to anything, it jumps directly from point A to point B and expects us to fill in the blanks, and that's only on the rare occasions where it bothers to put that much effort in. Oftentimes there are point As that have no Bs, or point Bs that were never given point As to begin with, or, in the case of that Lieutenant who damns the orders, he's doing what's right with those APCs, a funny sort of A-B-A shaped arc. Travis Fimmel is a bad actor in his native accent; the only two in the movie who are genuinely likable are Daniel Webber and his buddy Nicholas Hamilton, who plays Private Noel Grimes. Grimes has a thing for Little Pattie, a singer who comes to entertain the troops. Webber knows Little Pattie, and the two sneak off to meet her when the arrives. She gives Grimes a kiss. Grimes functionally disappears from the movie until the very end, while Little Pattie gives her performance and then flies off once the battle starts, never to be seen again.

There is a common problem in war movies, particularly Vietnam movies, where, since filmmakers are forced to have a large and diverse group of soldiers (usually in the name of scope), and most twenty-something dudes who were hired to fill space look about the same, you end up with a cast where only the two or three leads are distinguishable from the others, and the rest turns into this blob of war movie tropes and character types. Some movies handle this better than others--"Saving Private Ryan" is a shining example of a war movie that DOES manage to have distinct characters--and others, like "Zulu", get around it by having their side-characters fit into identifiable stereotypes--the Welshman, the convict, the cook, and so on. "Danger Close" internalizes neither of these lessons, and ends up with a strange mish-mash of both. Most of the characters form a gelatinous mass of bodies. Travis Fimmel is identifiable because of his funny jawline, Daniel Webber because of his red hair, and Nicholas Hamilton because he's always standing next to him. Then, occasionally, character types will just appear--the Irish guy (whose name is Paddy), who appears to be best friends with the Aboriginal guy, is a shining example of this. He's in maybe three scenes, but is played as a major character.

In spite of all this, "Danger Close" COULD have worked. If the battle itself was intense, was compelling, had momentum, all this is forgivable. The thing is, "Danger Close" has two things working against it. First, the Battle of Long Tan, the real battle, isn't actually very important to history--only 18 Australians died, and Long Tan wasn't a very important position anyway. If not for the enemy casualties, it'd be lost to history as little more than a skirmish. It's more important because of the aftermath--there was a lot of controversy surrounding the battle, with officers allegedly fudging casualty numbers and the like--so a story that's all battle and no aftermath isn't a very compelling one to begin with. Second, the battle took place in dense jungle, which means any depiction of the battle would be hampered by the same confusion and lack of visibility that the real battle was. Because of these two things, any depiction of the battle would require an enormous level of skill on the part of the director and the editor to effectively recreate the visceral experience of what was ultimately an unimportant battle that juggles tension, action and a sense of the geography and course of the battle.

But "Danger Close" was made by incompetent people. It tries to recreate the "visceral" experience of something like "Dunkirk", a movie that did an excellent job of being a compelling depiction of a confused and chaotic battle waged against a largely-unseen enemy that in particular used sound design to great effect. In "Danger Close" the sound design amounts to a dull "tktktktktktktktk", the drone of gunfire overhead, and some shouting. It's a movie without tension or suspense--in one scene, a soldier enters a hut. It could be an ambush. To put our minds at ease, we are shown the inside of the hut before the soldier comes in. Maybe worst of all, we are given no sense of the geography and course of the battle. Once the battle starts, the Aussies lie on the ground while gunfire happens. One of them yells "we're almost out of ammo". Another radios HQ, and tells them "there's more of them than we thought". The Sergeant tells one of his men, "get on the right flank", and the man picks up his machine gun, runs ten feet to his right, then gets down again.

Them running out of ammo doesn't represent any change in the stakes of the battle, because after about a minute the Viet Cong retreat their first wave. HQ finding out that they're more outnumbered than they thought doesn't mean anything, because we never found out how outnumbered they thought they were to begin with, and what preparations they made. When the Sergeant tells his gunner "get on the right flank", we never find out why, because there's no indication of what's happening on the right flank, or where the right flank is. This cycle, where a wave of VC hit, then they get low on ammo, then the wave recedes, happens about three times altogether in the movie. The movie doesn't really have a pace, or a narrative arc, because we never know where we are in the battle, so that arc is more of a straight line with bumps along the way. Because we never know the stakes, what it amounts to is a bunch of men laying in the mud for ninety minutes while gunfire happens, occasionally cutting away to HQ or the gang of Chippendales manning the heavy guns, signifying nothing.

And that "signifying nothing" is right. "Danger Close" isn't really about anything. Usually a Vietnam War movie will have a brutal commentary on the harsh realities of war or a surreal fever-dream examining the psychological cost or man's inhumanity to man or whatever. "Danger Close" doesn't have a position on war, or humanity, or anything. There's a vague conflict that comes out of officers' lack of compassion, and "I Was Only 19", a song about the physical and psychological cost of the war, plays over the credits. But it isn't about lions led by donkeys, or the cost of the war, and it doesn't end on that note of mutual respect and human determination that "Zulu" does, either. I've heard this movie accused of being too patriotic about 'Nam, but I think that just comes by process of elimination--"Danger Close" is about nothing, and the fact that it is about nothing means that it's not anti-war, and with a war as contentious as Vietnam, "not opposed" is effectively an endorsement. I don't think this movie knows enough about itself to be patriotic, because it's too much of an incompetent mess, a failure of craft, to be anything at all.

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