The 2019 movie year has been, to this point, absolutely dire. Here’s how dire: so, to the surprise of nobody, I keep a running Top 30 list as the year unfolds, so that I’m in good shape to start working on year-end lists. At this point, nine months into the year, that top 30 doesn’t even have 30 films in it yet. And if I wasn’t including 3.5/5 movies, it wouldn’t even have 20. I think this is a record since I started keeping such a list over a decade ago.
The good news, then, is that it looks like things are about to change fast. Prestige movie season is upon us, and it looks especially good this year, and indeed, especially good this very next month (the most heavily represented on our collective list of the most-anticipate releases of the fall), at least once you get past the wide releases.
Speaking of getting past a movie: I have been completely broken by the cultural discourse surrounding Joker. It’s not even a movie anymore, and that’s for a movie I was somewhat looking forward to. At this point, I’m looking forward to Friday almost exclusively because that means we’ll be headed to the point of not having to talk about it anymore. May God damn Film Twitter for all its sins.
Also, Judy is going wide, and I’ll probably have even seen it by that point.
But anyway, as promised, the big action is all happening in limited release. I am led to understand that Lucy in the Sky isn’t at all the dreamy space-art that its trailer suggested, so I’m writing that one off, but we also have the looming presence of Pain and Glory to consider: any new Pedro Almodóvar film is obviously reason to be excited, and this one comes with the most critical acclaim of anything he’s made since his second golden age in the 2000s. My solitary concern is that people I trust have said (as a compliment!) that it’s more earnest and sober-minded than his early stuff, and I have a much easier time getting excited for the deranged, dangerous Almodóvar of the ’80s – even when his films were bad, as a couple were – than the more polished, muted Almodóvar of the 2010s. We’ll find out soon enough.
Fans of movies by A-list directors that had hugely acclaimed Cannes bows have a good couple of weeks lined up: after Almodóvar lands, Bong Joon-ho follows with Palme d’Or winner Parasite, about which I’ve heard literally the same (complimentary!) shortcoming: that it’s more accessible and less gonzo than a lot of his work. But still pretty wild, and Bong has, for my tastes, one of the strongest filmographies of any director now working, so I’m pretty much already in the bag for this one even without having seen it.
Thank God, because the wide releases look especially wretched this time around. Gemini Man at least might be a glorious disaster, coming from for-real artist Ang Lee, but it’s increasingly looking like it won’t be any better than that. And that all these years after The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey humiliated itself, early word is that high-frame rate still isn’t ready for prime-time. Still, better an ambitious shit show than either of the other wide releases: Jexi, which I have at this point seen, is a dreadfully mediocre romcom with only a lot of vulgarity and the vocal presence of Rose Byrne to give it any kind of personality at all, and The Addams Family has, I say in all solemnity and with all due reflection, the least-appealing trailers of any animated feature since Norm of the North.
I can drum up no enthusiasm at all for either of the new releases, a pair of “really? A sequel to that?” franchise films, though at least Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has Disney’s swaggering arrogance to explain why it exists in the world. I am at a total loss to explain why, in 2019, we’re being graced with Zombieland: Double Tap, or why Jesse Eisenberg’s agent felt that this was anything other than a suicidal move. But I can, at least, explain why I know with complete confidence that it will be bad. The full trailer ends with a bit where the protagonist zombie fighters cross paths with a team of zombie fighters who dress the same way they do, and have the same personality traits. And Emma Stone (for whom this feels more like an indulgence than career suicide, though it is a bizarre indulgence) looks at Fake Woody Harrelson and Fake Jesse Eisenberg, and says out loud to nobody in particular, “why, what a weird thing! Better flag it as a joke! Isn’t it strange and funny that the protagonists meet their mirror images?” Which is already an insulting thing to do, and part of why modern comedy is so damn bad right now, but it’s even worse, because this is exactly the same joke as one in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, and that movie doesn’t flag it at all: it just lets the bit play out in front of us, for our quiet delight. So basically, all the way to hell with Zombieland: Double Tap.
But down in the limited releases, we have Jojo Rabbit, the new film by Taika Waititi, and while the middling reviews have me nervous (though it should be pointed out that the middling reviews mostly seem a bit confused as to what, exactly, is middling), Waititi has fully earned my trust by this point, even if he’s apparently made a soppy crowd-pleaser. All the way on the opposite end from crowd-pleasers, Robert “The Witch” Eggers has at last made a second feature, The Lighthouse, which is presently giving me major Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 8 vibes. And I will absolutely take those vibes all day long, every day.
And just like that, the month fizzles out and collapses. I suppose I’m obligated to be primarily enthusiastic about Countdown: it somehow manages to be the first and only horror film released this October, but its hook (“what if Final Destination was an app?” inspires absolutely no confidence. Still, what else are we going to try to deal with? Black and Blue is a little message-movie/thriller that barely looks like it exists at all, and the most interesting thing about Tesla/Edison biopic The Current War – beg your pardon, The Current War: Director’s Cut, as if there was some other cut we’ve ever had an opportunity to watch – will surely be it has somehow managed to finally claw its way into the light, two years after being taken down in the disintegration of The Weinstein Company. So even shitty horror will have to do.