Tag Archives: Joker

Best of 2019 – Film

3 Jan

For eight or so months it seemed 2019 was going to be a mediocre year for movies. Sure there was the occasional surprise (Shazam! – Zachary Levi, my goodness), a couple of much better than average Stephen King adaptations (Pet Sematary, It 2 – both very effective) and even a grump like me had to admit Marvel somehow pulled off a very satisfying end to their multi-year experiment with Avengers: Endgame. But otherwise… meh. Around September, however, some switch went off! Fall and winter have been terrific. It’s been a while since I’ve been this jazzed about a string of such strong films. My best of the best:



I did a full post on my favorite movie of 2019 shortly after Joker’s release so I won’t belabor it here. Here’s a link to the piece if you’re interested:

Jokers, Parasites and Fear

This post on Joker also discussed another big favorite:



Already an extremely accomplished director (see Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, etc) Bong Joon-ho somehow stepped up his game with this savage black comedy about class and family. Brilliant.



There’s an aspect to Marriage Story, a modern day Kramer Vs Kramer/Scenes from a Marriage, that usually causes me to dislike a movie: a story about people who exists in a 1% Westside Bubble. (Marriage Story manages to be double Westside… Westside LA and Upper Westside NYC… yes I know the Manhattan section occurs mostly in a borough but it’s the same rarified arena.) Life is this bubble has little relation to life anywhere else in the rest of the world; movies taking place in the bubble tend to be pretentious and also, well, who cares about people with ridiculous problems? Hollywood loves to bash the 1% but the world of the 1% is the only life many in Hollywood know. Hollywood adores and celebrates this world. (I understand. I saw Downton Abbey The Movie… twice. That’s my kind of 1%!)

And yet…

Marriage Story blew me away. The movie is performed so perfectly (by literally every member of the cast), so confidently directed and written by Noah Baumbach, my jaw hung open much of the time. There are scenes in Marriage Story so excruciatingly honest and painful I had to look away, yet the movie is also riotously funny.  I laughed often and loudly. There’s enough truth in the movie that anyone who watches can relate. Baumbach somehow bursts through the bubble. I didn’t think any movie could topple Joker as my favorite of the year… Marriage Story very well may have done it.

You can watch this on Netflix right now!



I had no desire to see Ford v Ferrari. Racing. Yawn. Thankfully a buddy dragged me to see it and I fell in love. Yes, it involves racing but the movie is about so much more: a complex friendship as well as a marvelous character study of Ken Miles. There is also a lovely look at Miles’ marriage. Ford v Ferrari ranks with Marriage Story as the best acted movie of the year. The entire cast is incredible, not just the two marvelous leads.  (Special note to Tracy Letts and his scene in the car… what he did in that scene ain’t easy, folks. Wow. May I reveal how envious I am of a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning writer who is also a great actor? Talk about a dream career… Loser!) James Mangold once again proves himself a master at crafting movies with great depth that are still wildly entertaining (see also Logan and Walk The Line.) You won’t have a better time in the movie theatre all year.



In 2005, I saw the trailer for the new Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice and thought, “What? Why?? Done already and done perfectly. Not gonna bother.” Then I saw it… and saw it another five times in the theatre, and numerous times since, and I teach it in my class on Adaptation.

I felt the same way when I heard Greta Gerwig was doing yet another adaptation of Little Women. “Really? Do we need this?” Gerwig gets the last laugh. I cried my way through Little Women, one of the most deliriously romantic and beautiful movies I’ve seen since, well, Joe Wright’s Pride And Prejudice. I loved the time jumping, which made the story hit even harder for me this time. The innovation made the story feel fresh and new. Little Women also sports another impeccable cast. What great acting! (And Tracy Letts again! Loser!) 

Little Women is glorious.


POPE 03.jpg

Forgive me, but I have to say something very cheeseball. The Two Popes, alternately very funny and deeply moving, is “a movie for our time.” It’s the true story of two good men with wildly different views of the world and culture who somehow find a way to discuss and debate their differences without foaming at the mouth. Neither likes the other. But forced to spend time together by external circumstances, they begin listen to one another. Eventually each is changed by the other. Remarkable. Two of our finest actors, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, are better than you could imagine which, given the two actors, is saying a lot. Gorgeously shot, The Two Popes is a quiet, subtle stunner of enormous power.

You can also find The Two Popes on Netflix. Oh, and don’t turn it off when “it’s over”… the end credit sequence is pure joy.



No one saw Doctor Sleep, which is such a shame. Easily one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King book ever, writer/director Mike Flanagan, who created the dazzling Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix, took King’s most personal novel, a sequel to The Shining, and gave us one of the year’s best and most wrenching movies. King, of course, hated the Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, which threw out the incredible ending of the novel and replaced it with a big fat nothing burger. Flanagan, however, knew Doctor Sleep had to at least use Kubrick’s iconic imagery, given the belated popularity of Kubrick’s film, a flop when it was first released. Without given much away, Flanagan brilliantly restores King’s original ending of the novel by using Kubrick’s hotel. It’s incredible.

I also must mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as Rose The Hat, Doctor Sleep’s villain. Ferguson somehow makes Rose as sexy and attractive as she is evil. Her performance is a stunner. So is Doctor Sleep.



Yes, I’m including this terrific “Jaws-like” thriller. It may not be an Oscar-worthy movie but when something is this well crafted and gripping, with surprisingly good character depth, it ranks as “Best Of” for me. Crawl is an absolute blast.

Note: I have a feeling both The Farewell and 1917 will end up here. They are the last two movies on my big list I haven’t seen. 

Other noteworthy mentions:

I must commend Brad Pitt’s remarkable work in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. He’s so good in this movie his work seems effortless. It’s not. And while my favorite, QT, didn’t hit this year end list, the extended sequence in OUATIH at The Ranch is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen in years. Margot Robbie was also wonderful… the whole cast, really.

There’s Renee Zellweger’s performance in Judy. I didn’t think anyone could match Judy Davis’s genius in the 2001 TV version of Garland’s life but Zellweger certainly did. Such a pleasure to watch. And a very good film!

It’s scandalous that Paul Walter Hauser isn’t getting every acting nomination in the world for his phenomenal performance in Richard Jewell, another terrific movie Warner Bros mis-marketed. (Someone in the Warner’s marketing department is in a lot of trouble right now…)

Robert Pattison and Willem Defoe were both stunning in The Lighthouse. 

It was a divine pleasure to see Joe Pesci back on screen in The Irishman. He was so damn good. Al Pacino really captured Hoffa well, his best performance in a long time. I found The Irishman at times very good but often interminable. I realize a lot of people who love it are watching it in pieces on Netflix. That’s a TV show, not a movie. And I do think this would be a great TV show. I had to watch it all at once in the theatre, without even an intermission. It felt like 10 hours, not 3.5.

Let me know your favorites!


Jokers, Parasites and Fear

17 Oct

Why are people so afraid of Joker?


In the September 25th issue of The New Yorker, Pauline Kael asked “Are people becoming afraid of American movies?” 

This was, of course, 1978, not 2019. Yet it seems likely the great film critic would have asked the same question forty-one years later, given the critical hysteria over Todd Phillip’s Joker.

Kael continued: 

When acquaintances ask me what they should see and I say The Last Waltz or Convoy or Eyes of Laura Mars, I can see the recoil. It’s the same look of distrust I encountered when I suggested Carrie or The Fury or Jaws or Taxi Driver or the two Godfathers before that… They don’t see why they should subject themselves to experiences that will tie up their guts or give them nightmares….Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art—of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theatre. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism… and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress, and a new film by Peckinpah is greeted with derision…

The parallels to today should be obvious to anyone following much of the critical reaction to Phillip’s brilliant and deeply unsettling masterpiece.

I’m a fan, obviously. Joker is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. If left me shaken, disturbed and in need of a double shot of Bulleit. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the troubled man at the center of the movie, delivers one of the great cinematic performances of all time. Brimming with dozens of cinematic references, the movie is gorgeously crafted: this was a crew that working overtime on every single frame. Joker resonates on a deep emotional level, particularly for those of us who have struggled personally or dealt socially with madness. Joker is upsetting for many reasons, not the least of which is that although it’s set in fictional Gotham of 1981, the movie thrusts many troubling aspects of our present society in our face, forcing us to bear witness.

The movie certainly has many fellow defenders. Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival where it received an eight minute standing ovation. And the public is supporting the movie with wild abandon: the film is a smash hit worldwide, already earning over half a billion dollars.  In the US alone it had the biggest October opening weekend ever and broke even more records this past weekend, its second. Hitting #1 the second weekend is telling: films can have a big opening but then fall off once word of mouth spreads a movie is a stinker. Joker is not falling off. People are continuing to go see it. 

Yet many critics are assaulting the movie. I don’t mean the typical “I didn’t like this and here’s why” type of reviews. Before Joker’s release two weeks ago these critics were clearly trying to hurt the film, cripple its box office and wipe it from memory before it could get going.

Here’s a quick look at what some of these critics had to say:  “a viewing experience of a rare, numbing emptiness.” “ punishingly dull”, “pompous, grim, relentlessly one-note”, “Dangerous”, “pernicious garbage” , “grim, shallow, distractingly derivative”, a dangerous manifesto that could inspire incels to commit acts of violence” and “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting”, which, if you’ve seen the movie, even if you hated it, has to appear ridiculous given what happens in Joker. To call this particular movie dull and uninteresting is in itself “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting.”

Clearly the movie is getting under these critics’ skin. They are attempting to render Joker immoral, often wildly misrepresenting the movie and its contents in order to do so.

One frequent attack is that the movie is hero worshipping a killer, that it’s a how-to manifesto for incel violence, and that the movie turns the hero “into an angry guy with a gun and violent disregard for everyone.”

But this isn’t true in the slightest. Joker doesn’t go rampaging through the city shooting at any or everyone (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). Key here are two sequences: one in which Arthur lets a co-worker go free after killing another co-worker: “You were the only one who was nice to me.”  The other is Arthur’s TV appearance. He easily could have been depicted as going on a rampage, shooting into the audience, yet he only kills one man, the man who made fun of him. The violence in the movie, while shocking and horrifying, is nothing compared to normal screen violence (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). In fact, compared to such movies the body count in Joker is quite low.

Something interesting is going on. Continue reading