First Man (Damien Chazele – 2018) A-

A nuanced and personal story of Neil Armstrong and the race to get to the moon. It is wonderfully told and acted. We all understand that getting men in a rocket, firing them into space and managing to get them on the actual moon is a difficult project. Do we really though? Do we know how much work and sacrifice that whole endeavor is? How terribly crazy and difficult? Damien Chazele manages to carefully illustrate all that centering primarily on Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) who shows us many facets of that American hero we think we know. I love well made films about human beings performing to the best of their abilities. Excelling. This delivers on that and it’s about a topic I am very much interested in.

Joker (Todd Phillips – 2019) B-

It hinges almost 100% on the performance of whoever plays Joker. Good thing that Joaquin Phoenix is an excellent actor and he carries the film. Really another less capable actor and this film would have not been nearly as compelling. As it stands it is a good portrait of an unstable character and it is a film that is well made and looks great in addition to Phoenix’s great performance. That being said, not sure why this is a “Joker” movie? Can this character of Arthur Fleck really become THE Joker…I did not believe that.

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi – 2018) A-

Ah those secrets people hide. They have a knack of coming out under stressful situations. Everybody Knows is a film about such secrets. In a small town in Spain, Laura (Penelope Cruz) is there to attend her sister’s wedding. It’s her hometown, but she lives in Buenos Aires now with her wealthy husband, daughter and son. The happy event in the pretty town is interrupted by the kidnapping of Laura’s daughter for ransom. The kidnapping might seem like the main plot here but really it is a catalyst that starts peeling away the layers that time and distance have piled on Laura’s life and her secrets. Her family still lives in that small town where everybody knows everyone else. Her ex-boyfriend, Paco (Javier Bardem), and his wife are still there too. There’s a lot of history across a few generations bubbling up. The pitch perfect performances and deft direction spin an emotional and raw tale that I loved.

IT: Chapter 2 (Andy Muschietti – 2019) C-

They took out almost everything that made Chapter one a solid book adaptation and made a bloated confused big sort of mess. Even the talented cast is going through the motions here (maybe except for Bill Hader) in a movie that really looks great and has some awesome sequences. In the end though it is more concerned in moving from plot beat to plot beat than in making a movie with characters that are real and interesting. Even Bill Skarsgard is not given nearly as much non-CGI screen time to play Pennywise as well as he did in the first chapter. Too bad.

AD Astra (James Gray – 2019) A

Set in the “near” future where space travel is much more advanced and safe. People can go to the moon on spring break. Of course there’s an Applebees there and a Subway. It’s all fascinating and the movie is quiet wonderful when it shows all that. The world building and everything on the periphery of the camera and main plot is just incredible. There’s even a cool chase and shoot out of sorts with moon pirates! It veers very successfully into horror territory at one point as well. After all that cool stuff though, I really enjoyed this film because it is an intimate and grand story at the same time. It’s like a mash up of 2001 and Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now. It is another outstanding performance by Brad Pitt playing Roy McBride and we are with him the whole time as he goes on a journey from earth to the Moon, Mars and beyond. He is a skilled and sharp astronaut whose father lead a mission to the far reaches of our solar system looking for intelligent life. Apparently his father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is still alive and he’s messing with antimatter that can destroy all life on earth. Roy needs to reach out to him and get him to stop. He has not seen him in 16 years and there is no doubt part of him that needs closure. It’s a familiar story that is well executed. There is more here though. It’s a movie that asks big questions about our place in the universe. What if we are all alone? What if we are not? What does really matter?

Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino – 1997) A-

I went back and re-watched this one. I had not seen it since it came out probably. Everyone and their mother are making lists of and ordering QT movies from most to least favorite. It’s like the ultimate compliment to anyone’s work, you compare them to themselves. All his films range from good to excellent so the rankings are really a compliment…but if you had to order them. Many critics seem to think this one is both underrated and possibly Tarantino’s best movie. Huh? well I agree with the first sentiment. It is an excellent underrated movie, but not his best IMHO. It is a tight thriller, expertly made with multiple points of view for various sequences and it involves -from beginning to end- a smart heist of sorts. It’s almost like a French heist movie mixed with a Marlow noir flick. On top of all that we get very good performances from Pam Grier, Sam Jackson and a very cool Robert Forster.

So, what would my Quentin Tarantino ranking look like? Well, here goes (for today at least)

  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Pulp Fiction
  3. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood
  4. The Hateful Eight
  5. Kill Bill
  6. Jackie Brown
  7. Reservoir Dogs
  8. Django: Unchained
  9. Death Proof