On the first day of 2019, I realized something about my life during the previous year: it was the year new movies returned to my life.
About five years ago, I had a kid. Becoming a parent made my life rich and full and grew my heart in ways I never imagined were possible. But parenthood ruined me as a cinephile.
Where I once avidly consumed movies, junk and gourmet alike I suddenly lacked both the time and the inclination. I expected parenting to eat up a lot of time but I was surprised how it changed my tastes. It made my heart tender and my emotions vulnerable. I found violence distasteful and became so empathetic it ruined storytelling. For example, I turned off Creed five minutes in when Creed quit his white collar job because I was upset he wasn’t making good life choices.
Abstaining from visual entertainment reset how I watched movies. My mind doesn’t process computer generated imagery well. Since most big movies culminate in wall-to-wall CGI I habitually check out of them.
After watching less than five movies in total during 2017, I actually managed to see a healthy number of new movies in 2018. Here are my thoughts on all of them.
Phantom Thread (released Dec. 2017, so I’m counting it for 2018)
An immature person’s idea of a movie for grown-ups. It’s beautifully shot and scored but let down by awful dialogue and flat characters. Made me wish Paul Thomas Anderson would return to making movies that actively tried to hold on to their viewers’ attention, like Boogie Nights, Magnolia or Punch Drunk Love.
The Last Jedi (released Dec. 2017, so I’m counting it for 2018)
Total garbage. An ugly, jarring mess with no sense of pacing, coherence or style. The old Star Wars movies eased you into their space fantasies with long shots of lumbering spaceships, robots trekking through deserts or drones approaching frozen planets. I guess if you do that today you risk losing your audience to their cell phones. Empire Strikes Back isn’t exactly La Strada but it at least made skillful use of the medium and told a compelling story.
Avengers: Infinity War
A headache masquerading as a movie. Every time that big purple man was onscreen I only saw a team of Red Bull-chugging computer programmers racing to make a deadline. Like the early Star Wars movies, Marvel used to ease audiences into its whiz bang craperoo. Now they’ve gotten cocky and just pummel audiences with spectacle and bad quips.
A Quiet Place
Depressing, gimmicky trash that only seems worthwhile in comparison to the blaring noise of contemporary blockbusters.
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Pretty good! Paul Rudd shook off the shame of being a superhero that hampered the original and invests himself in all the superhero whoop-dee-doo. An overqualified cast (Yo! Walter Goggins!) and clever visuals made up for a muddled story.
Another overqualified superhero movie cast but since they were burdened by the need to make the Jackie Robinson of superhero movies, they were only fitfully allowed to have fun, with the exception of Michael B. Jordan. As a result, he ran away with the movie. Very wonky special effects and rote story: it felt like a bunch of video game cutscenes stitched together.
A masterpiece. One of the best films ever made. It sped through recent history with brutal efficiency and had a moral urgency that made other movies feel like pointless wastes of time. I was infuriated and deflated when it was over and couldn’t recommend it more. Disregard every critic who has a problem with it. They’ve been poisoned by over-familiarity with film and can’t process how great this movie is.
Another masterpiece. It tells a ruminative story with a deliberate approach, with static shots of cars parking cutting to people standing still in plainly dressed rooms. But then, towards the end, the camera finally moves and it’s liberating and terrifying. For its full throated articulation of the modern political horror of climate change, it’s an excellent companion piece to Vice.
Pretty good! Natalie Portman’s a terrible actress but, as in Black Swan, the filmmakers used her ethereal woodenness as a storytelling tool. The special effects are queasy and original. Evidently computers are perfect for making jarring and unpleasant imagery.
Mediocre, forgettable follow-up to a singular original. I remember almost nothing about watching it other than thinking it was nice to hear Bob Odenkirk’s voice and that the baby was funny.
Talented comedic actors give it their best but I just couldn’t buy into the premise. I hate how big budget comedies are dying. It would have been great to see the same people do something much lower concept.