2019 Top 10: Movies

As we close out 2019, it’s time to put together a few Top 10 lists based on my key entertainment passions – film, TV and film scores.

I’ve gone back and forth on decade lists but I suspect I’m just going to keep to 2019 releases on the blog, and maybe do something more with the decade on my Twitter or FB, so stay tuned in that regard.

Next up – movies! I’ve done quite well this year, managing to watch a good 50 movies from the calendar year, which is more than I sometimes manage. So I feel placed to at least come up with a reasonable Top 10, even though I know I have a few blind spots & certain films will probably push out the lower films on this list eventually. But that’s for the future, so here goes…

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New Podcast: MOTION PICTURES #6 – ‘Scorsese & Marvel: Civil War’ (The Irishman)

The latest episode of my podcast about cinema with my friend and podcast buddy, Carl Sweeney.

Motion Pictures is designed to be more of an informal, free-flowing chat about movies, geared around a topic of the week. There will also be choice episodes around an idea, whatever takes our fancy really! It’s an exciting project.

As The Irishman arrives on the scene, we’re this week discussing Martin Scorsese, Marvel and ask the question…

What exactly is cinema?

In the last few months, Scorsese and Marvel have, via Film Twitter, been at war, after Scorsese described the Marvel cinematic juggernaut as “not cinema”. Is he right? Is he wrong? Does it matter? Is the answer less important than people’s reaction to it?

It seems to have triggered a debate over the direction of modern cinema. Blockbuster franchises vs smaller fare. Distribution models with Netflix bankrolling The Irishman when major studios wouldn’t. Are we facing cinematic hegemony? Or is the market simply evolving & adapting?

And crucially, is there art or craft in Black Panther to the same degree as The Irishman or Goodfellas? Worlds apart in tone and texture, do they all apply as pure cinema?

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From the Vault #10: GOODFELLAS (1990)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from April 26th, 2014, revisited with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman having landed…

David Chase, creator of hit HBO series The Sopranos, once described Goodfellas as ‘my Koran’ and it’s very easy to see why. Martin Scorsese’s epic crime drama about the rise & fall of Henry Hill, and through him the mythology of the ‘gangster’, truly is a remarkable piece of cinema from start to finish.

What Scorsese does is paint a vivid, kinetic portrait of a descent into fame & fortune, glamorising the so called ‘wise guy’ without oddly enough ever making it appealing. In adapting Nicholas Pileggi’s book about Hill, Wiseguy, Scorsese manages in many respects to tell a cautionary tale about the perils of, as Henry himself puts it from his very first line of a continuous narration, ‘always wanting to be a gangster’. Goodfellas shows that while it may in some respects be a charmed life, it’s also a hollow existence fraught with unexpected danger, paranoia & viciousness that can destroy the souls of men.

Scorsese shows that in magnificently entertaining fashion, both visually, through a sublime screenplay, and some peerless acting.

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New Podcast: Motion Pictures – ‘Anti-Hero Ethics (Joker)’

An all new podcast about cinema I’ve just launched with my friend and podcast buddy, Carl Sweeney.

Motion Pictures is designed to be more of an informal, free-flowing chat about movies, geared around a topic of the week. There will also be choice episodes around an idea, whatever takes our fancy really! It’s an exciting project.

In this third episode, Carl and I discuss Todd Phillips’ controversial Joker as part of a broader topic regarding the ethics of Anti-Heroes in cinema, via films such as Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy or Fight Club, and whether they are irresponsible in their approach. We also wade into the Martin Scorsese ‘Marvel films are not cinema’ fracas…

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JOKER: A male rage manifesto with ugly societal truths

Even for a film devoted to perhaps the most iconic comic book villain in history, Joker has arrived front loaded with a measure of positive and negative hype mixed in with a significant level of anxiety and paranoia.

In that sense, Todd Phillips’ deconstruction of DC Comics villain The Joker, Batman’s eternal primary nemesis from almost a century of comic book lore, befits the approach taken by this detailed, Bat-free examination of the character. Phillips’ film takes a major cue from the work of Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker at the core of the American New Wave movement that defined 1970’s cinema, whose work has particularly concentrated on New York City. Were Joaquin Phoenix’s failed stand up comedian Arthur Fleck not a resident of the fictional, legendary Gotham City, Phillips’ film could easily be set in NYC. His Gotham has the same feel and texture, the same nihilistic cruelty and dystopian economic social and political divide. The early 80’s of Joker is Scorsese’s 70’s, riven through Phillips’ key inspirations such as Mean Streets or particularly Taxi Driver, not to mention the early 80’s showmanship of The King of Comedy.

It would therefore be easy to cast Joker off as a pure Scorsese-homage, or even rip off. Joker wears its inspirations very clearly on its sleeve, lifting Travis Bickle’s righteous fury at society’s decay or Rupert Pupkin’s delusional fantasy of fame and recognition, and porting them into Arthur’s descent into madness. Yet there is a case to be made that Phillips’ film and Arthur’s transformation are one and the same thing. Joker presents an origin story in which a murderous psychopath is created as a product of his environment, of his experiences, and of society’s evolution into the shape it is today. Joker, similarly, is an echo of a cinematic 70’s filled with pictures—such as Sidney Lumet’s Network or Serpico, or Alan J. Pakula’s conspiracy thrillers—that raged at the system, the inequality, and the corruption at the heart of American society. Joker, too, is a product of its own cinematic heritage. It feels like an evolution of the form.

The question is whether Joker, as a depiction of white male rage, is an irresponsible manifesto or a remarkable moment for comic book cinema.

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The Last Jedi: from Space Fantasy to Space Equality

Only a week old and Star Wars: The Last Jedi already feels like it’s been dripped dry of critique and analysis. The much-anticipated follow up to The Force Awakens, 2015’s bombastic revival of the Star Wars saga, has been polarising to say the least. For every fan who loved it, you’ll find another two who feel it has destroyed, in one picture, the entire legacy of the tale long long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

As well as my initial analysis of the film, I wrote about the toxicity of this level of fandom who seek to target The Last Jedi for daring to experiment with the established tropes and concepts that have existed for forty years, and have made Star Wars what it is. Whether you liked or disliked The Last Jedi no longer seems to be the point – it’s the consequences of Rian Johnson’s film that have stoked the most controversy. Star Wars, surely, will never be quite the same after this movie? That’s the ultimate question cascading across Star Wars fandom as The Last Jedi settles in their mind. Too much has changed. Yet few seem to be talking about what this change directly is, or ultimately what it means.

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