21
Jan 20

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2019: #30 – #21

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Here’s the next batch of ten films. Some big studio productions and some tiny indie films too. Again it is notable how many of these films centre on women’s stories (perhaps with the exception of the big studio hits  – though even our number 30 has more interesting female characters than the rest of its series). 

30: Toy Story 4
I really liked Toy Story 4, despite its seeming redundancy. But people didn’t see a throughline from the previous three, which were seen to be surrogate stories about parenting, about moving on and the transiency of affection (letting people grow up). Toy Story 4 however is about retirement, its about letting yourself live for yourself after living for your child or others after so long. And so while it may not have hit a never for the now young adults who grew up with the lessons of the previous films (who aren’t close to retiring, if ever), it hit my sweet spot perfectly. Woody learns to be there for himself, to trust his successors – no matter how terrible or made of pipecleaner they are. And in the meantime it has great jokes, is still extremely creepy and yet evocative too.

29: Woman At War
A clever Icelandic character piece which eventually bites off a wee bit more than it can chew, but has a lot of fun getting there. A single woman in her fifties wages a lone war against the power companies in Iceland, whilst slowly being tracked by the police. This cat and mouse is complicated by her being in the final process of adopting an orphan from Ukraine. Played straight (though not deadpan), it has moments of extreme beauty competence and whimsy (the soundtrack band pop up on screen occasionally interacting). It falters with its immigration subplot, and the final act gets overly complex (twins feature), but as a picture of a powerful lone activist it was exactly the kind of clear unusual vision I was pleased to see.

28: Us
Jordan Peele attempts something on a much bigger canvas here than he did in Get Out, and that there are a few conceptual fumbles near the end is merely due to ambition, which is a little hard to begrudge. While the film stays within the home invasion segment of its doppelganger horror, it is as eerily effective as the predecessor – not in small part due to the terrific dual acting turns Lupita Nyong’o nails. It is still full of extremely effective shots, and memorable moments, and certainly cements Peele as the terrific writer/director Get Out suggested.

27: Transit
What Transit does extremely effectively is place a realistic fascist society into its France / Europe and make it seem absolutely real and modern. That this modern day Vichy is so convincing is sadly part of politics these days, but also because the story of papers, and getting in and out of various zones is so well drawn. I felt the last third, when the love story took over and put us at the mercy of some not great plot twists undid the power of the scenario, but this may be due to the source novel. Christian Petzold continues an excellent run of films, and perhaps the song choice at the end of this suggests a sense of humour about the whole affair.

26: Rocketman
If ever a film could be used to show how release dates, timing and the ineffability of cool matters in culture, it is Rocketman. A superior film in almost every regard to Bohemian Rhapsody, even sharing a villain, it is a proper musical over that films reverence for live (dubbed reproduction). Featuring decent choreography shot well, singing and vital redubs of the Elton John songbook and an honest appraisal of his own manifold personality flaws, Rocketman falters only when it gets to the end because – well – Elton is still alive. And never was or is that cool. That kind of rubs off on the film (which is fun but never cool).

25: High Life
I’ve never been a big Clare Denis fan, her films have not connected with me the way they do with others (its me not her), but the slippery, dreamy nature of High Life’s big idea science fiction lulled me in to its orbit – despite me thoroughly misunderstanding the narrative! Perhaps I was tired, I can usually decode non-linear narratives, but I completely missed a key piece of information. But I liked my near incoherent version with its blast of violence, ice-sex queen Juliette Binoche and the Frenchness of the fuckbox. Once I understood it, it got even better. So watch, pay more attention than I did, but if it doesn’t make much sense still fall under its spell and yet another ace Robert Pattinson performance.

24: Maiden
My favourite documentary of last year is probably the most conventional of the documentaries which made this list. Nevertheless, its mixture of 80’s TV footage, interviews of the team and a few still wrongheaded commentators make this fascinating story pop on screen. A telling of the first all female Whitbread Round the World Race team from ‘89-90 it centres on Tracy Edwardes who put it all together, and tells an extremely warts and all journey to – well that is history – but what I loved about this was how well the story is told. The narrative drive is great, it might be the best pure yarn I saw in the cinema last year.

23: If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight is another love story shot through with insight about the black experience, with a similar energy and anger though here pointed out at a corrupt white American criminal justice system. Based on the James Baldwin novel it manages to find a visual counterpart to Baldwin’s language, and there were complaints that a film about such injustice shouldn’t be quite this beautiful. But I liked the way it juxtaposed that beauty with the ugliness of the story, even down to its anti-climactic and therefore convincing finale. I think it will stand up very well in the future and was under-rated.

22: Madeline’s Madeline
I found Madeline’s Madeline really affecting when I saw it back in June, it could be seen to be a very precious coming of age film about acting, and perception, but the lead performances – particularly from Helena Hunt* as Madeline just about ground it. But it is a film that starts with an acting workshop where people pretend to be pigs quite aggressively for a while,being led by Miranda July which will probably tell you enough to know if it is for you or not. Its a slippery beast, as the title suggests memory and perception are up for grabs. But another, weirdly trippy take on teenage girl coming into her own, it was very impressive.

21: Under The Silver Lake
This is the only film on the list I didn’t see. Because the reviews were terrible suggesting a self indulgent aimless drift through LA subcultures with a toxic,or at least obsessively narcissistic male lead and solidly male gaze. For 140 minutes (little did I know that would make it seem sprightly next to some of last years movies). Of the second films by lauded horror directors, it was the one that became the punching bag, but people who liked it, clearly really liked it. I do have to get round to seeing it.

And there you go – off to the top twenty next week….

*Helena Howard – see comments…

Comments

  1. 1
    Mark M on 21 Jan 2020 #

    Blimey, there’s a lot of films I know nothing/almost nothing about…

    Voted for:
    Maiden, which I wouldn’t have seen but for Pete’s recommendation. Thanks, Pete – that was a good call.

    Under The Silver Lake: Somebody else actually voted for this! I was leaning towards the theory that I was the only person who liked it. It’s definitely a tough sell: a really, really long shaggy-dog story neo-noir whose central character is a spoilt slacker asshole played by Andrew Garfield. Nonetheless, I found it massively enjoyable. (The only film this year that reminded me of Remington Steele).

    Saw, but didn’t vote for: If Beale Street Could Talk. I had huge expectations – Moonlight was great, I love Baldwin’s writing – and came away distinctly underwhelmed. But a film I’ll definitely revisit.

    Spent a lot of time debating whether I should see Us, but it just never seemed that appealing, and it turns out I’m still grumpy about Get Out, which seemed to me an OKish film treated like a masterpiece.

  2. 2
    dollymix on 22 Jan 2020 #

    Voted for:

    Transit. Pete’s writeup is good, but I’ll add that there’s a lot of great performances, both from the main actors and some small parts (e.g. the woman with the dogs).

    Under the Silver Lake. The protagonist is clearly a “spoilt slacker asshole” as comment #1 says, but the film makes no attempt to hide it, and Garfield plays him well. The challenge of this sort of postmodern neo-noir is to find the balance between giving the audience solutions to mysteries, as they reasonably demand, and conveying the fact that trying to find order and meaning in the proliferation of signs and the random indifference of the universe is a fool’s errand. I think this did that well, and found an ending that was surprisingly poignant.

    If Beale Street Could Talk, High Life. Nothing to add on these – both were pretty good but not great.

    Forgot to vote for it since I thought it was from last year:
    Madeline’s Madeline – I think the writeup captures it well, except that it’s Molly Parker who leads the acting ensemble (Miranda July is the main character’s mother) and the main actor is named Helena Howard (who was indeed great). It’s a bit messy but it took me to interesting places and made me feel things, which is all I can really ask for from a movie.

  3. 3
    Shucks Mahoney on 29 Jan 2020 #

    The only one I’d seen was Us, but this entry inspired me to watch Women At War which I thoroughly enjoyed. Will try to get Maiden under my belt soon.

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