This film came out early in the year and was forgotten by the the big Oscar-contenders were released, the usual fate of a Winter or Spring movie. And yet to people who remember the Beatles (and who doesn't remember them a little bit?), this film was a great sentimental favorite. What would happen if the Beatles music had never been written until now, and people were discovering it for the first time? This is the film that gives the obvious answer: the music would be the source of huge #1 hits. Nonetheless, it's fun to see that premise realized on screen, as the protagonist, Jack (Himesh Patel) bumps his head during some kind of magical power outage… which erases the memory of everyone in the world of certain things… and top of the list is all the music of the Beatles.
The premise is worked out logically and nicely. Jack, awakening and finding that no one recognizes the song "Yesterday," finds that everyone believes he wrote it. The first thing he does is run to the Internet and type in "Beatles," after which pictures of insects and Volkswagen cars show up. An obvious premise, but it's fun to see it unwind. A touch of realism is that Jack doesn't shoot to the top of the charts all at once, but his success is, of course, inevitable.
10. Ad Astra
Freudian psychology in space. Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who has to find out went wrong with a mission to one of the outer planets, which now threatens the safety of the Earth. Pitt goes on an odyssey that ultimately leads to his having to confront his own astronaut father. A thoughtful science fiction story, not quite like any you’ve ever seen.
A film for anyone who’s ever considered a career in criminal law. It shows how an over-zealous FBI agent (Jon Hamm) can, with all sincerity, convince himself that someone is guilty of mass murder. The suspect is Richard Jewell, a shmuck of a loser of a security guard… the only problem is that the man is totally innocent; not only that, he’s the hero who found the bomb in the 1996 Olympics. Sam Rockwell is winning as Richard Jewell’s only friend—the one man who can keep him out of prison or worse. Kathy Bates is first-rate as Jewell’s long-suffering mother.
If there was ever a movie that explained the #metoo movement in a way for people of all stripes—including men—this is the film. It doesn’t demonize men in general but shows us what it is like to be a woman in the office of a man like Roger Ailes. It’s not fun to be stripped of all your dignity as you’re told to twirl around to show off your body… even if that's the price for getting on camera. With John Lighgow eerily channeling the spirit of sleaz-meister Roger Ailes. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie all give convincing performances of the much put-upon women of Fox News. It's the dark side of “fair and balanced,” as if it weren't scary enough.
Although not really much more than a traditional Who Done It, Daniel Craig is just having too much fun as a kind of Hercule Poirot with a Southern accent, to resist this film. Fans of the genre will think this is one of the best entertainments in years. I found the final revelation a bit too convoluted and obscure for my tastes, but hey, that never stopped Columbo, did it? With fine supporting performances by Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and others.
6.The Two Popes
It might be My Dinner with Benedict or Two Guys Jawing Over Theology. But this is a film for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It shows the two most recent popes—Benedict and Francis—not as hypocritical hierarchs or saints (although Francis sometimes comes close), but rather as two men with a lot of responsibilities, struggling to do the right thing in a complex world. There’s a lot of sitting around talking, but the stakes manage to be weighty: the future direction of Christianity is at stake. It works because its two stars (Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce) are among the best actors on the planet. And it’s interesting to see Pryce do this role after his amazing performance as an ambitious cleric in “Game of Thrones.”
5. Ford Vs. Ferrari
This is he real-world story of the Ford Motor Company taking on Ferrari and beating it at its own game. But here it’s told as a kind of allegory for art-versus-commerce. The “artists” here are Mat Damon and Christian Bale, as race car engineers who are also world class drivers. But the “suits” at Ford don’t like their maverick style, even though these guys and their teams are the only hope of winning the coveted Lemann’s Race and showing the Italians you can’t keep a good American (or an Englishman) down. Spectacular race footage helps put this well-acted, well-written story place high in the list of this year’s contenders.
4. The Irishman
Did we really need another Scorsese mob film starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci? Maybe not, but this film does add some new things. First, it has Al Pacino, no less, as legendary union-boss Jimmy Hoffa. Second, De Niro plays something more than just another mob character; the pain on his face he shows later in the film is something new, and it’s a revelation when you finally get there. Much was made of the digital “youthenizing” in this film, but the best thing you can say about it is that it’s not that noticeable.
Assuming you don’t live in New York or LA, the only way to see this film was at home, on Netflix. But with the film at more than four hours, you’ll be glad you can pause for bathroom breaks.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Here is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood in the late 1960s, the twilight of the old studio system and a time of transition, when spaghetti Westerns were replacing John Wayne. Leo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt are first rate as an aging actor and his stuntman, the latter being like a kind of doppelganger; you see, Pitt’s stuntman is everything in real life that Leo’s TV-show actor pretends to be on the screen. This could have been a bitter relationship in which the stuntman resents the star… but these two guys really LIKE each other, in a “bro-mance” kind of way, and that’s what makes this film appealing. With Margot Robbie charming as Sharon Tate. Semi-spoiler alert: Don’t judge this film until you see how it actually turns out. But this is Tarantino, so one way or another, there will be blood.
Back In the 1980s, Jack Nicholson’s Joker was such a tour de force, we thought no one could ever top it. Then later, Heath Ledger’s Joker really DID top it. Then we thought no one could ever top that—Heath even won an Oscar for a comic book villain. And now, has someone done the impossible and topped that?
Maybe. Joaquin Phoenix’s “joker” is, as far as you can tell, THAT Joker, the nemesis of Batman. Even though we never meet Bruce Wayne in this story except as a little boy. It’s truly Joker’s story (or rather, the story of an out of work clown named Arthur Fleck). Rumors circulated about this film suggesting it was going to inspire violence… but actually it’s the opposite, as Arthur the Clown’s story shows us that random acts of unkindness might someday make someone reach the breaking point. So watch whom you’re cruel to.
1. Jojo Rabbit
Who would have thought that a film about a young German boy in 1944, whose imaginary friend is Hitler, could be the most emotionally moving of the year? To being with, this was the film for which Scarlett Johansen gave an immortal performance, as Jojo’s idealistic mother, trying to give her son a semblance of a family life while somehow trying to make ethical choices while living in a society (Hitler’s Germany) gone mad. She’s so idealistic, that at great risk to herself and her son, she hides a young Jewish girl in the attic. When the boy, Jojo, finds the Jewish girl, he doesn’t know what to do. His imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler himself, tells him to watch out; Jews aren’t quite human. But by the end of the film, he learns to think differently and tells the Fuhrer to shove off.
Perhaps Jojo Rabbit didn’t garner higher critical acclaim because critics are so jaded; haven’t we learned this lesson before? But no. The new lesson here is how susceptible the young and naïve are to movement’s like Hitler’s. Its why this kind of insanity can happen in any society, anywhere people are looking for simplistic answers. With Sam Rockwell in another fine performance, as a German officer who’s just waiting for the Third Reich will lose so the nightmare of Nazism will finally be over.