Time for the movie critic’s annual exercise in self-importance (as opposed to all those weekly exercises in self-importance): The Top Ten List. Here are the ten films from the past year that seem like the best to me, at least at the moment:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—As with Inglourious Basterds, tolerance for Quentin Tarantino’s provocative do-over of 1969 in general and the Manson murders in particular will be a matter of personal taste; I loved it for its period atmosphere, its characterizations and performances, and its joyous obsessiveness.
The Irishman—Martin Scorsese’s epic about the demise of Jimmy Hoffa as told by his bodyguard is stately, sad, subtly funny, convincing and beautifully acted by Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and others. Al Pacino’s grandly clownish take on Hoffa counterbalances the general solemnity.
The Farewell—Lulu Wang’s Chinese-American family drama, based on a story told on This American Life, manages to be warm and heartfelt with zero schmaltz. Awkwafina is a revelation in the lead, and Zhao Shuzhen is superb as her authoritative grandmother.
One Child Nation—This quietly jaw-dropping documentary, directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, offers a startlingly personal take on China’s one-child policy. It’s not always easy to watch, but you aren’t likely to forget it. It may be the most Marcel Ophuls-ish documentary since The Sorrow and the Pity or Hotel Terminus.
The Report—This blood-boiler about the Senate Select Committee’s “Torture Report” isn’t a barrel of laughs either, but Adam Driver’s performance in the lead is a slow-burn masterpiece, and Annette Bening has an amusing turn as Dianne Feinstein.
Ruben Brandt, Collector—Not enough people saw this bizarre, deliriously sexy animated noir thriller from Hungary about art theft in an alternate universe in which humans resemble classic artworks. I found myself wanting to live in that world, or at least visit it.
Knives Out—A stylistic throwback to tongue-in-cheek old-house mysteries of the Murder by Death and Sleuth ilk, Rian Johnson’s ensemble piece is quite contemporary in its underlying concerns. Ana de Armas is a delight as the hapless heroine.
Dolemite is My Name—Eddie Murphy’s best vehicle in years in this biopic of comedian and Blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, written by the same guys who penned Ed Wood. Like that film, this one’s a little longer than it needs to be, but otherwise a treat.
The Two Popes—This joust between Pope Benedict and future Pope Francis is way more sly fun than it sounds like it would be, thanks to Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in the respective title roles. Director Fernando Meirelles puts on as good an Ecclesiastical pageant as The Shoes of the Fisherman back in 1968.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice—There aren’t many subjects of celebrity bios that come across as likably as Ronstadt does in this documentary. A sweet-sounding movie, too.
I should also note that there are any number of highly acclaimed and promising-sounding movies that, shamefully, I simply haven’t caught up with, like Uncut Gems, The Peanut Butter Falcon and the great Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, to name only three. Any of these or many others might easily have changed my list.
Happy New Year from Friday Flicks!
January 8, at the Saguaro Theatre in Wickenburg:
El Dorado—The 1966 Howard Hawks classic starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 8, at the lovely old-school single-screen venue in downtown Wickenburg. It kicks off a series of monthly Western faves including The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (February 12); Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (March 11); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (April 8); The Outlaw Josie Wales (May 13); and Jeremiah Johnson (June 10). The chance to see some of these on the big screen, and for just five bucks, could be worth the drive.