72. Ravenous (Les affames)
This movie feels like it was released several years too late. Seriously, 8 or 9 years ago, this might have been an interesting take on the zombie genre with a few genuinely tense and well-directed sequences and some interesting ideas. But as it is now, with the zombie craze already having looong hit peak saturation, this just feels like another generic zombie movie with not enough new to really set it apart from the pack.
I will say though, it’s not like it’s badly made. The characters were decent, the direction was solid and, like I said, there were some genuinely tense sequences here and there. But the whole thing is just so permeated with this feeling of ‘Been there, done that’ in regards to the zombie genre that it loses most of its impact. Asshole survivor humans? Been there done that. Slow collapse of civilisation? Been there done that. Innocent kid caught up in the middle that the survivors have to protect. Definitely been there done that. It doesn’t have all that much new and what little it does have (like the zombies building creepy structures) doesn’t have enough plot relevance to make all that much difference.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I think it’s impossible to make a good zombie movie these days, just look at 2016’s Train to Busan (seriously, go look at Train to Busan, it’s great.) Heck, including this film, I ‘technically’ saw 4 zombie movies this year and genuinely really enjoyed two of them (the third was just kinda eh and will probably turn up soonish on this list). But all of those films placed higher than this because they all felt like they had at least some new twist for the genre to make it fresh. If you want your zombie movie to stand out nowadays, then you’re going to have to do a lot more interesting things with it. And this film doesn’t feel like it does that, for all the decent direction it has.
71. Green Book
Okay, I’m aware I’m probably going to get a little bit ranty in regards to this film, but I feel it’s at least somewhat justified because fuuuuuck this movie!
Seriously, in my opinion it’s an enormous indictment on the state of the Academy that, in a year filled with so many amazing movies that intelligently explore complex themes of race with nuance and purpose, that this is one of the ones currently ahead in the Oscar race. This safe Oscar-baity drivel that ignores real history and modern day race-relations in favour of making up crap and presenting racism in a safe marketable way so the nice white audience doesn’t feel too uncomfortable.
Now, I will confess that a lot of my anger towards this movie does come from its subtext and from outside context. Taken completely on its own at face value, it’s actually a fairly entertaining and well-made film, so I can understand why some people like it. Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali both do great jobs with the material given and the movie never feels like it’s boring or dragging. It’s a lot like last year’s Three Billboards in that, if you remove it from all outside context and ignore the problematic themes and messaging, it’s honestly a fairly enjoyable movie, so I’m not too surprised to see a lot of positive reception towards it and don’t particularly judge other people for enjoying it.
But take that context into account and this movie just comes off looking irresponsible at best and, at worst, outright disgusting. The film was made without permission from Doc Shirley’s family and, judging from their interviews, it’s fairly easy to see why. Ignoring the rather major fact that Doc Shirley was really never that close a friend with Tony Lip and their relationship was strictly professional, Shirley was close friends with numerous civil rights heroes and important black figures and all but raised his three brothers. Yet in this movie, Doc Shirley is suddenly a cold figure out of touch with regular black folk and popular black music and is distant to everyone including his family, a sole brother he lost contact with years ago. And why all this sudden change, you might ask? So the filmmakers can justify a subplot in which Tony Lip (the white guy in this scenario) can teach Doc Shirley to be black.
To say again, this movie, directed by a white guy and written by three white guys, has a subplot where Viggo Mortensen, the white guy in this partnership teaches Mahershala Ali’s uptight black character how to be black. Including a scene where they eat fried chicken together.
Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
Seriously, there’s being unintentionally ignorant and then there’s just… this. It’s especially galling because the movie tries to have it both ways with Tony Lip. Apparently he’s somehow more in touch with the black community than Doc Shirley, but the movie has a subplot of him getting over his own prejudices (albeit without that much in the way of actual self-reflection or realisation, he just kinda does) and somehow the movie still has him shocked, surprised and appalled by the racist ways Doc is treated in the Deep South.
Bitch, if you seemingly ‘know common black people and culture better’ than Doc Shirley then why the fuck are you so surprised about this shit?!
Especially irritating to me is that they did include some ways in which the movie genuinely could’ve worked or been interesting or nuanced in terms of exploring race. There’s a scene in which Tony and Doc are stopped by a racist policeman (and I’ll get back to that more later), Tony tries to talk to the guy and admits that he’s Italian, to which the cop states that makes him ‘practically half n—r’. Now that’s a genuinely interesting topic to potentially explore. Look at the ways in which various white subcultures like the Italians or the Irish also received prejudice during that time and contrast Tony Lip’s various experiences to Doc Shirley’s. But nope, Tony just punches the cop for the insult (like I said, I’ll get back to it) and it’s never brought up again.
Now, I will confess, part of me does wonder whether I’m simply being so harsh on this movie because I’ve already seen so many significantly better movies this year dealing with race from the perspective of black writers and filmmakers. Widows, The Hate U Give, BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You and ones I haven’t even seen yet like Blindspotting and If Beale Street Could Talk, that I’ve heard raves about. But I feel like this tame sanitized portrayal of racism in the Deep South simply does not hold up any more. I mean, I mentioned in the last paragraph that there’s a scene involving the main characters being pulled over by a policeman and that’s been a recurring theme in a lot of race-based movies these last couple of years. Widows, Blackkklansman, The Hate U Give and last year’s Get Out all have similar scenes, obvious as a reflection of a lot of tragic real life events involving police shootings.
But you know what the big difference is between those four black-directed films and this white-directed one? Tension. Suspense. Genuine fear for their lives. The Hate U Give opens with the main character receiving ‘the Talk’ on how to act around police officers so they don’t fucking shoot you, something that is apparently based pretty heavily in real things that some black families do to protect themselves. Meanwhile, in Green Book, the characters get stopped by an openly racist policeman in the Deep South and you know what the worst thing he does is? Gosh gollee gee, he makes Doc Shirley stand out in the rain unnecessarily! What a scoundrel, am I right fellas? There’s no genuine fear or tension as there probably should be in such a situation, just annoyance at this comparatively minor injustice. Fuck, Tony Lip punches the same cop in the face and the worst thing that happens is that they get locked up for a few hours. All this in spite of the fact that the Deep South in 60’s was a million times worse than modern day race relations between black people and the police and that Doc Shirley would have far more reason to fear for his life there than the movie lets on. But obviously we can’t draw parallels to real modern day racial struggles or the nice white audience might feel uncomfortable and question whether we or not we actually solved racism forever. [/sarcasm mode]
In fact, that level of underplaying the sheer amount of danger black people were in in the Deep South back then is active through the entire movie. The film is named after the Green Book, a book specifically written so that black people would know where/how they could travel and stay in the Deep South without getting fucking murdered, yet the movie never really seems willing to grapple with the true consequences of that. There are scenes of Doc facing racism and a beating once or twice, sure, but the movie often treats it more like a mild nuisance and injustice rather than the systematic, potentially life-threatening thing it really was. Like Tony Lip, the movie doesn’t seem to get how bad it was for black people back then and is unwilling to engage with anything beyond its safe dollar store portrayal of racism and message of ‘thank god that doesn’t happen any more, right?’.
Honestly, I feel like I could talk about how badly this movie bungled its subtext all day. There are hundreds of small ridiculous, painfully bad moments that I barely even touched on (Tony even makes a fucking ‘Not All White People’ argument successfully). But, to sum up, when people ask me ‘why do we need more diversity in the filmmaking world?’ I’m going to point to the dozens of excellent nuanced black-written/directed movies that explore racial problems and strife in an intelligent and meaningful way that came out this year…… and then I’m going to point to this movie. A film that, while technically solid and with a pair of excellent performances to enjoy, is almost embarrassing with its clearly white-centric sanitized view of a genuinely horrible period of history.
To sum up my thoughts, seriously, fuck this movie. If you enjoyed it, fine, more power to you, it’s honestly not a badly made flick, but I just can’t get over how fucking willfully blind it is to the very subject it’s claiming to explore.
70. Early Man
Siiiiiiigh. Is it just me or have Aardman kind of been losing their edge with their last few films? I mean, I loved Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit and Arthur Christmas (and even consider Flushed Away a bit of a guilty pleasure) but their last couple of films have been somewhat… underwhelming. I didn’t care all that much for Pirates and I honestly forgot that the Shaun the Sheep movie was a thing a few times. And considering how slow a schedule Aardman usually works to, that means it’s been a long long time since I really loved an Aardman film.
Needless to say, Early Man didn’t do much to change that.
I will say though, at least part of that blame feels like it ought to go to the advertising. Specifically that the trailers did their utmost to avoid mentioning that this was a fucking sports movie of all things! So going into what I thought would be a fun Aardman caveman comedy-adventure and learning that it’s all about football of all things wasn’t exactly a pleasant surprise. Especially since, as far as sports movies go, it’s fairly generic and by-the-book. ‘Protagonist’s Team need to win game to save their valley, problem is they suck. They train to get better, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough in time, protagonist gets his darkest hour moment, then they fight anyway and barely win by the power of plucky wit.’ And all played almost completely straight.
Honestly, it’s disappointing because there’s really a lot I feel like Aardman could’ve done with this premise. They have a great quirky sort of humour and an inventive way of recreating modern idioms in different environments (see the underground city in Flushed Away). But this just felt like it lacked a lot of their usual spark and wit. Don’t get me wrong, there was still some of it there in bits and pieces and there were more than a few things that I did enjoy about the movie. It did feel like it had actual effort and passion put into it, some of the gags were fun and Tom Hiddlestone and his outraaageous francais accent was particularly fantastic. But overall, it just wasn’t enough to make it a good movie
Ah well, maybe the next Aardman will be better. When it comes out. Eventually.
69. Hunter Killer
You know, from all the terrible reviews I heard about it, I was honestly expecting this movie to be absolute trash on the same level as A Good Day to Die Hard. It looked fairly shite from the trailers and the whole general premise was quite hilariously tone deaf to the actual current relations between the US and Russia.
Yet when I put it on… honestly, it was fine. It wasn’t particular good either but, as far as generic action movies/simple background noise went, I didn’t have any complaints. Like Skyscraper, I expect to have fully forgotten it by week’s end, but as far as generic action timewasters go, you could do worse.
…You could also probably do better, but I digress.