My top 10 films of 2019 explained

The reasoning behind my top 10 films of the year.

There was only one real stinker in the films I saw in 2019; Ad Astra, which was appalling.

I continue to use these 4 criteria for this round up:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do?
2 – did it use its resources to its best ability? A £250,000 film is not going to have as good explosions as a £25,000,000 film, or it shouldn’t, and if it does, there’s something wrong with the £25,000,000 film. Basically, it’s a technical merit score.
3 – Intellectual satisfaction – does the film’s plot pull some really stupid move at the last moment? Does the plot rely on characters being more stupid than they are?
4 – Does this work as a whole? Did it work for me? I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

Ad Astra failed all 4 of these.

I’d say 8 and above of my top 10 pass one or more of these criteria.

My top 10 films of 2019 are:

1 – Blinded by the Light – It’s not perfect, it’s bit obvious, and heavy-handed in parts. But it’s made with love and it perfectly captures *that* feeling of being alone in the world and suddenly, there’s that band (or that singer) who is the only person who understands you.

2 – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – I liked the art work, and the way they told the story they aimed to. I love Toothless in all his ridiculousness, and it also gets points for F. Murray Abraham’s villain, who was excellent.

3 – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – L thought I’d love it, all well-choreographed violence surrounded by baroque nonsense and a delightfully morally ambiguous turn from Ian McShane. And I did. I am a woman of simple tastes.

4 – The Missing Link – I like Laika films. This just didn’t quite work for me. Not quite sure why. I did love the Elder of the Yetis.

5 – Captain Marvel – Another one that didn’t quite work for me. Probably for the same reason that Captain America didn’t work for me. Excellent soundtrack mind you.

6 – Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – In what’s getting to be a theme, this didn’t quite work for me. And while the stunt crew and the actors brought it, the continuity department and fact-checking teams really didn’t.

7 – Gemini Man – While this did work for me, I am more than aware that it wasn’t as good as the three films above it. I could have done without most of the technical tricks it used (except *that* one. *That* one was very good.) but there is a solid and interesting film somewhere under the top layer of too much SFX.

8 – Avengers: Endgame – This is the one where I am willing to accept that I am being mean when I rank it this low. Because the technical parts of this were excellent, and I cried when they wanted me to. I also respect that they had a story they wanted to tell and told that story. I like what they did with two of the main 6 Avengers, and I can live with what they did with another 2. But with one of Avenger, I have the same problem with the way they handle him as always, although this time they at least gave him a few scenes where he wasn’t impossible (the problem is, as always, the disconnect between what they want me to feel about the character and what I do feel). But for the remaining Avenger, I hated what they did with him. I think it could have been done, and done well, even if it went against his character arc in his own 3 films, but they also chose to make him a joke, and I don’t like that when he’s my favourite Avenger.

9 – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Again, it didn’t work for me (set design excepted, that worked) but it’s less well done than the other films that didn’t work for me. I’m not sure what story they were trying to tell. It’s probably a bad sign that the bits of the film I enjoyed all featured bad guys.

10 – X-Men: Dark Phoenix – I think this one might actually have been bad, but it was better than the remaining two films I saw in the cinema last year. It seemed like they threw in lots of characters and then gave them nothing to do. It was a lot of set pieces barely strung together. Worst of all, the character they handled the worst was Jean, which given that it was supposed to be *the* Phoenix film is a very bad thing indeed.

Fuller reviews of those 10 films and the others I saw in 2019 forthcoming, only I am terribly behind.

Top 10 Films of 2019

Yes, for the first time in ages I have actually seen enough films in a year to have a top 10. I saw 12 new films, but the top 10, in reasonably final order are:

1 – Blinded by the Light
2 – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
3 – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
4 – The Missing Link
5 – Captain Marvel
6 – Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
7 – Gemini Man
8 – Avengers: Endgame
9 – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
10 – X-Men: Dark Phoenix

No explanations yet, mostly just to annoy L.

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

(I do not care how Marvel spell Spiderman, they are wrong.)

I loved it. I loved the colour, the style, the music, the sheer vivid inventiveness. This is a film which used its medium to the fullest. Too many cartoons are content to be live action plus. This was cartoon maximus. It saw the freedom possible and used it.

I loved it, because I am a film fan and a comics fan. It’s an excellent film and it’s an excellent Spiderman story.

I loved that they took SpiderHam and Spiderman Noir and made them work. (Oh my heart, did it make them work.)

I loved the rolling “and this is how I became Spiderman” pages, and that horrible two ticks before the film told us who Gwen’s dead person was.

I loved Miles Morales, and his Dad and his Mum and how much they loved each other despite not always seeing eye-to-eye. I was so worried when Miles’s Dad turned up at the end fight.

Someone involved in the film seemed to have hated One More Day even more than the rest of us, and that vigour made them clever. The film showed that you can tell a story about a +30-year-old Spiderman and still make it interesting, without removing all the history between him and Mary Jane. Peter B. was just a glorious vision of what superhero-ing costs and doing it any way. He’s such an interesting contrast, not just to Miles, but to a lot of other superheroes.

I was hopeful that I wouldn’t have to see Uncle Ben die, again. Dear film, replacing uncles with other uncles does not help that problem!

I liked the film’s take on the seductiveness of doing bad things, and I thought that what they did with Kingpin was interesting. They made it very clear that nothing he did was justifiable, even if it was understandable.

I saw the film shortly after Stan Lee’s death and I just was not prepared for that scene. I was fine until “It always fits. Eventually.” It’s that mix of salesman, and the truth about superheroes, and then I cried.

I liked the film’s take on Aunt May. Maybe in this ‘verse, she’s the physicist. I also loved Liv Octavius, bound only by what she can achieve. Science never asks if it should!

I loved every marvellous minute and I am not alone. From comments at work, this is the superhero film for people who do not like superhero films, because it’s so different, because it’s bright, colourful and stylish.

Utterly recommended for everyone.

Venom

I was dubious about Venom, because I knew Spiderman/Peter Parker couldn’t even be mentioned because of Sony’s deal with Marvel. I felt that you could probably make a Venom film without Spiderman, but I couldn’t figure out how you’d make an Eddie Brock film without Peter Parker. Because it’s Brock’s obsession with Peter Parker that leads to his downfall. He fixates on Peter to try to hide his own shortcomings from himself. Hating Peter Parker becomes his raison d’etre.

The film worked round this in way that was quite clever. First, they have an unspecified New York incident move him away from Peter Parker, the Daily Bugle and events in New York, then they move his knee-jerk dislike to Carlton Drake (or I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Elon-Musk*), and finally, they actually have Eddie admit his faults. I actually liked Eddie Brock!

A good chunk of that was due to Tom Hardy, who appeared to be having all of the fun. He’s got charm enough to burn, and can do lovely but feckless so extremely well. And he’s good enough to sell you on Eddie Brock’s repentance. Which is just as well, because some serious repentance is required. And I like that. The film makes it clear that Ann is right to be angry with Eddie. It’s a film where actions have consequences, no matter if those actions come from good or bad intentions.

I also like that Doctor Dan is a good guy. The minute he sees that Eddie is ill, he immediately tries to help him. All hail Doctor Dan.

Other actors who seem to be having all the fun include … Tom Hardy as Venom. Venom’s alienness makes the occasional FX weakness easier to take, as does the way Tom Hardy makes Venom completely different to Eddie Brock (and I wonder if that challenge was how they got him to sign up for a minor superhero film). The other interesting thing about how they do Venom is the sound just before he appears, which is (probably deliberately) reduced as Eddie and Venom get more used to each other. The falling sensation some people experience as they’re drifting off to sleep that catapults them awake is called a hypnic jerk but some people get sounds as well/instead. Mine sound just like the noise of Venom’s appearance. Which led to an interesting if peculiar cinema experience. I know it’s coincidence but I’d love to know why that particular combination of sounds was chosen.

The end fight, although weak as tends to be the case in minor superhero films, had some enjoyable details in the lead up to it, like Venom using a dog as his way to get out of hospital, and then Ann letting him use her to bodysurf to Eddie. I also liked that Ann:

1 – remembered stuff
2 – did fight dirty. She got that Drake/Riot had to be stopped, by any means necessary.

Basically, I just liked Ann.

As well as finding the end fight underwhelming, I didn’t like one of the two end credit scenes. Not “Into the Spiderverse” which looked amazing, but the Carnage one. I think it’s because that’s not what Cletus Kasady sounds like. It’s not Woody Harrelson’s fault. He’d make an excellent Cletus Kasady given the opportunity, but they seem to have told him to play it that way.

So in short, Venom was good, stupid fun and far better than it had any right to be.

*I know Drake is a scientist in comics, and it’s not Elon Musk’s fault that a lot of his plans sound like supervillain schemes, but … it’s a remarkably close portrait.

Film Locations

Yes, this was supposed to be done at the start of August but everything this year is late. It covers all films mentioned on the blog up to March 2nd 2016.

All non-fictional locations:

All real locations 2019

UK and US located films make up more than half of the films, although the exact percentages have gone down since the last time.

Including fictional locations:

Including fictional locations

This trend of fewer films set in the US/UK or more films set elsewhere also occurs if you take fictional locations into account. Last time US and the UK locations made up more than half of those as well, but it’s now the US, UK and France make up half of locations.

It would be interesting to see if the locations change over time as more films need multiple production companies and those sometimes require non-US/non-UK locations as part of the agreement for funding. Not sure how I’d measure that since obviously the films I watch are a very small microcosm of all films.

UK-based films:

Where the UK films are set

Are still all England and Scotland and mostly England.

The three big Comic Con trailers have not sparked joy!

The two of the three big trailers from Comic Con have left me underwhelmed. I was worried that I was being impossible or nostalgia was blinding me, because the one I quite enjoyed is the one where I don’t know anything about the source material but I don’t think that’s the case.

Let’s start with that one I enjoyed. The Witcher looks like perfectly serviceable nonsense. And let’s be honest, they had me at “people with swords”. I am a simple creature.

Cats does not look like perfectly serviceable nonsense. I did wonder whether I felt that way because it didn’t live up to my expectations but no, I think even a completely disinterested observer would go, “nah, that looks terrible.”

It looks like someone has spent a lot of money on SFX that are not up to the job.* I know that the only way we will ever get SFX that are up to the job is through failures like this, but I’d much rather they’d fail on something I am not fond of.

Because I am fond of Cats. I went to see it for a birthday party when I was little, and will still happily belt out random bits of songs for no good reason. As someone who does like it, this looks godawful. None of the characters look right and I do not even want to know WTF they have done to my beloved magical Mr. Mistoffelees. He is supposed to look magical and mysterious, not like Charlie Chaplin Cat! I am sure Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench will be having all the fun in their roles so it does at least have that going for it.

I am somehow even less impressed by the new Watchmen trailer than I am by the Cats trailer.

It’s not like Watchmen is my favourite Alan Moore comic. Promethea is (yes, I know). But I have long since given up on ever getting any film or TV version of Promethea (mostly because of the yes, I know).

But there is already an Alan Moore comic about a violent police state with people running around in masks. It’s called V for Vendetta. But I can imagine it is hard to raise funds for a TV show where a fascist is brought to power with help from the religious right, and then puts people in cages. Obvs. too far-fetched (and yes, I know it’s set in the UK).

Either which way, I have no interest in watching Damon Lindelhof’s dark future AU fic of the Watchmen! Mostly OCs with a few canon characters appearing.

Not least of all because he suffers from JJ Abrams problem of “dude, I have seen the same films as you, that is not anything new!” For instance, I suspect we’re supposed to be shocked, shocked I tell you that FBI lady is Laurie when we find out somewhere in episode 13-17.

If they do decide to give him any depth, Jeremy Irons will knock (possibly spoilery character) out of the park. Plus, he gets to practise his German again. I am intrigued, just a little, by how they will handle (spoilery character) because, yeah, I had problems with how the film did him. I have no idea if that’s because I read the character differently to everyone else, or because the film decided to simplify his character, which ruined a lot of the glorious ambiguity of (spoiler) but either which way, (spoiler) is the only thing that interests me about it.

I would prefer to be thrilled by Comic Con trailers!

* There is a reason why everyone is posting that image from What We Do In The Shadows.

Some thoughts about the Keeper, having only seen the trailer.

I should be happy.

There is a German main character, played by a German actor.
This German is the hero of the film, yet he’s not played by a Dane or a Swede.

The actor they have chosen actually looks, more than slightly, like the real life person he is portraying.

I *should* be happy.

Unfortunately, this time it’s the English half that’s causing the problem. Bert Trautmann was associated my English home town. And I’ve made my peace with them not using the two-up two-downs that are still there to film in. What I can’t make peace with is the accents. We don’t sound like that!

St. Helens’s accent is somewhat peculiar (an example – our beloved rugby league club captain who is born and bred) and varied, but it is very much ours and is significantly less Mancunian/East Lancashire than John Henshaw’s. I wouldn’t make such a fuss, but my Grandmother, who was around at the time, said that you could narrow down where someone lived to within 3 streets, just from the way they talked – and she could, which was terrifying.

Mostly I worry that my home town is going to be portrayed as the place with the bad people who are mean to our lead character, which it really isn’t and wasn’t. Read any interview with Bert Trautmann for evidence of that. He would always say how open and welcoming St Helens was, especially given the circumstances.

It’s a truth that matters to me, because I think biopics should reflect reality, and because it’ll be my home town that gets it in the neck!

Mission Impossible: Fallout is solid, but the fight scenes are exceptional

Because I am going to focus on the fight choreography, there will be heavy spoilers throughout.

As I said in the first part, the fight scenes in Mission Impossible: Fallout are exceptional, and fight choreography is clever. I don’t just mean how crisp it all looks, and the pleasing sense of barely controlled chaos, but the characters all fight the way someone with training and with their physical attributes should fight.

I’m going to use the John Lark fight as the example of this:

Right, now, if you could all tear your eyes away from Henry Cavill and instead focus on John Lark as embodied by Liang Yang.

You’ll note that he is the smallest guy in this fight. Normally films will have everyone in a fight scene fight in the same way. You might occasionally get one of them doing something cool and different to normal, particularly if the film is a film about fighting (e.g. Bloodsport). Most of the time though, you get guy A fights in style A, guy B fights in the same style and the same way, no matter what differences in height/weight/strength. This is particularly annoying when it’s clear that if B does that, B is going to lose, and lose painfully, but we’re still supposed to believe B knows how to fight.

This fight is different!

There is a smaller, shorter guy who fights like someone who has spent his life being the smaller, shorter guy. You’ll see how every time Lark gets a chance to get a hit in, he goes for throat or ribs (including one of the best uses of piping in a fight you’ll ever see). In the immortal words of my jiu-jitsu sensei, “everyone’s got to breathe”. It’s the sensible thing to do if you’re in a fight where people are bigger than you.

The other thing Lark does is that, every chance he gets, he shoves away one of the two people attacking him. That’s also what you’re supposed to do, because it means you have fewer people to deal with at any one time. It’s so nice to see in a film.

It’s interesting to contrast how Lark fights with how Ethan Hunt fights. Now, while, in real life Tom Cruise is of average height, if not slightly below, we accept that Ethan Hunt is taller than him and stronger than him because he’s the lead character. And so he fights more like a lead character. But, as another sign of the thought has gone into the staging of the fight sequences, they deliberately never have him face off mano-a-mano against August Walker so that we don’t ever have to question that. They let August Walker be obviously bigger and taller, because Cavill is enough bigger than Tom Cruise that it’s hard to hide. And then in the big end fight, they make it clear that Ethan Hunt wins by being sneaky, clever and lucky. Which are always better than being bigger and stronger!

The other character with an interesting fight style is Ilsa Faust. The interesting thing about her fight style is that it’s that of someone whose been taught to fight. Too often female characters who get to fight do so in a very flippy-flippy, kicky-kicky style, which leaves you open to counter-attacks. Ilsa doesn’t. She fights like someone who’s been taught how to hurt someone without being hurt yourself. It’s very simple, very direct, very effective. In the last fight against Solomon Lane, the way she slices through his hamstring is poetry because it’s so simple. It doesn’t matter if you’re the weaker person in the fight if the other person can’t reach you to cause more damage.

Everyone in this film fights with superhuman strength, power and resistance to damage, but it works because they fight in a way which is plausible within their characters. We still feel the tension and the danger because there is a desperation in the way our heroes fight. There’s risk and being worn down till only the things beaten into you during training are left. It makes it a very different film in feel to a lot of blockbusters.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is a good, solid film

This is very much a review of two halves so I have split it into two parts. The first is a more general review of Mission Impossible: Fallout, and the second is me raving about the fight choreography in the film.

The plot of the film is significantly baroque, with lots of frills and twists and twiddly-bits. I think they realised that they had a lot of set pieces and not a lot of plot and back-filled from that to try to link them together.

The bit with Wolf Blitzer is very like the series in a way the films often aren’t, but it’s an example of how the film is very bitty. There’s a cool bit, tenuous link, another cool bit and so on. Every bit works, but I’m not sure they all hang together.

One thing I liked was the sense of place. Yes, there is no way there is that little traffic in that part of Paris at any time of day or night but it’s still recognisably Paris and not just tourist Paris. It’s something they did well in the last one too. Although I know you can’t actually run that quickly along the route in London (or drive across part of the race through Paris), I acknowledge their attempts at realism with joy, especially as they choose some of the less obvious bits of London and Paris (and Vienna in Rogue Nation).

What I also liked about the Paris bit is how many of Ethan Hunt’s problems were brought about by aspects of his character that were established all the way back in Mission Impossible 2.

The acting was uniformly solid, even if Wes Bentley playing nice but dull husbands makes me feel old. Very old. The film-makers make good use of their solid cast. I think having Tom Cruise helps, if you’ve got him, you know the anchor of your film will be sorted so you can concentrate on giving other people stuff to do. When those other people include Sean Harris, good things ensue.

SPOILERS START HERE AND ARE VERY, VERY SPOILERY

An example of how the film-makers give every character their own thing to do, is the ending in Pakistan.

The tech boys were so happy to see Julia, while recognising how awkward it is going to be for Ethan, referencing their shared history. Meanwhile, Ethan and Julia were all “hi, I still love you but we’ve both moved on and it’s kinda awkward and kinda great at the same time,” which reinforces what the rest of the film has said about Julia being important to Ethan. There’s a reason his subconscious has Solomon Lane threatening her as his worst nightmare. The other characters also got nice touches such as Erik knowing Julia is lying about something and more or less guessing correctly what it is. Then you have Julia and Ilsa both recognising who the other is or was to Ethan immediately. Although really, Ethan Hunt has a type and he has a type hard, because I can’t tell the actresses apart without a few clues. If she’s kicking someone, it’s probably Ilsa.

On team bad guy meanwhile, you get August Walker and his determination to see his plan through while thinking enough of his accomplice to ask if he’s sure about being left behind. It’s a nice touch, he’s a professional genocidal maniac. He likes to work with good people. He sees someone with whom he shares goals and methodology. There’s also that lovely bit of business earlier with August Walker, when he talks about Hunt’s motivation for turning traitor in the particular direction of the Apostles. It’s really his reason and there’s enough of a frisson that it’s obvious to us what is really going on, while it might not be to other characters.

Solomon Lane gets the moment of zen calm that is normally associated with heroes. He really doesn’t care what comes next as long as everything Ethan Hunt loves dies with him. It’s disconcerting in its totality. From this, we know that there’s is nothing the bad guys won’t do to win, and that if our heroes don’t succeed, they will be the first to be vaporized.

I was able to watch this in the cinema, so I got to see audience reactions. This time, watching this in the cinema gave me a better understanding of the whole “we all watch different films” thing. It was the bit the start where the bad guys are threatening Luther. My reaction was “oh no, they’re going to kill off a secondary character I am fond of to make the hero feel bad.” I was a bit miffed, because I think it’s a cheap ploy in films and I’m quite fond of Luther. In front of me were a bunch of enjoyably rowdy black teenagers who were, justifiably, more pissed off, because once again, it was going to be the black guy that got killed. They were very pleased when Luther did not get killed off. Pleased and amazed. Dear Hollywood, note the amazed there and maybe do something about it.
In short, most of Mission Impossible: Fallout is enjoyable and solid.

But the fight scenes are exceptional.