The year born out of a biblical prophecy signaling the end times of Earth is almost over. It’s the first year on record that has lasted 10,000 days. What a wild year of almost uniformly bad times. But at least the cinema was good! We’ve been on a hell of a streak in recent years and this year was no different.
Some classics have been unleashed upon us (“Suspiria,” “The Night Comes For Us”). Some truly magnificent bombs have come for us too (“Gotti,” “Life Itself”). But what we are going to do here is look at some titles that have been given a little too much praise.
A good deal of these movies are still pretty damn good titles that have just been a little too overblown in their appraisals. But there are a few that are just not good at all and have hoodwinked people into going nuts for them. Let’s go through this list, shall we?
10. You Were Never Really Here
This is a great damn movie. Lynne Ramsay comes in and shows a lot of folk in genre cinema with this intellectual but no less grimy and brutal character study of a truly damaged soul in a world of true depravity, who is maybe finding some redemption in the eyes of a little girl. It could have been the “elevated” crime flick where nothing happens and it’s ashamed of its genre and everyone goes nuts, but it is a movie that is not ashamed of the grimy story its telling.
What makes it different is how artfully it tells its story. What does keep it from being the game-breaking, “Taxi Driver”-esque masterpiece is that it maybe falls a little too far into its oblique storytelling. Hand-holding clarity is not the fix, but maybe a little less obvious thumbing its nose at traditional storytelling could’ve helped land the climax of the piece. It ends up distancing itself from us in a way that detracts from the emotions and complexity of the arc. It’s a damn fine flick, but one that just misses the mark to truly hit masterpiece status.
Nic Cage has been on a pretty decent run recently in the DTV streak he’s in. Movies have been able to harness the rage Cage special into narratives and characters that justify it. It may not be the Cage that won an Oscar and charmed the world with his eccentric persona in the ‘90s, but it’s the closest in a long time to that era. “Mandy” is no different, except for one big difference.
This is a movie made clearly by an auteur working on another level than most. This is a gorgeous, sumptuously made movie with a visual palette that works wonders on the eyes. The artful look is matched by its emotional and physical brutality. This is a movie that goes for a good mixture of art and entertainment. It’s a beautiful movie and a metal as hell movie.
Something holds it back, though. And it’s the obscenely long run time. It spends too much time doing its thing that you’re just kind of exhausted by the end. The weird and somber first half of the movie is the best part, but it’s the one that runs way too long.
The second half has some great/weird as hell crowd-pleasing stuff that could’ve landed better if there wasn’t as much clock watching to get there. The thematic work is on point and the performances are great. But it just could’ve used a judicious hand in the edit bay.
8. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy is a clearly talented woman. But like many a talented comedian before her who gets an obscene amount of praise thrown at them, she became a bit one note while making some bad choices in the script picking department. And like many a comedian before her, she is making a bid to become a serious actor in-between obnoxiously broad bad comedies. And her attempt here to be serious? It’s good! She’s great at playing someone pretty loathsome but is still human enough to feel bad for. She gets inside this woman’s skin and makes her understandable.
In lesser hands, Lee Israel would have been insufferable on the screen. She’s balanced out by Richard E. Grant as a charismatic, drunken gay homeless man who befriends Lee. They are great.
The movie around them? It’s fine. Pretty simple boilerplate true crime storytelling that you could find on TNT late at night. The stakes are so low that it’s hard to really make any of it all that compelling or tense. It’s fine, but there are no real surprises or any specific sequence that you can say is a truly compelling. McCarthy and Grant make this more worthwhile than it is, but it’s still not up to the level of low-key greatness that its fans are claiming.
Nicole Kidman is ‘god’ level here. She seemingly disappeared for a while after her strong run in the early 2000s, probably because she hit that certain age where Hollywood is done with women. But in the last decade or so, she has been picking up steam and yet again showing what she can do, and that is basically anything. Her performance here is so amazing that it elevates a rather typical broken cop narrative. The script tries to elevate itself by futzing about with the timeline a bit, but it is ultimately a rote cop drama that doesn’t hit the highs it could have if it built up any other element besides Nicole.
We’re told she is madly in love with Sebastian Stan, but he is treated like Bucky again and is given no development. The bad guy we are told is this horrible guy, but isn’t really given much to do. It’s all on Nicole and she delivers, really showing the rot at the heart of this cop. Everything about her is broken and the physicality alone sells the reality of this woman. But you’re left wanting by the end. But her presence here goes to show how diversity in storytelling can help to elevate normally stereotypical storytelling.
The lead up to this movie hyped it up one as of the greatest horror movies ever made, a true stunner that calls back to the heyday of ‘70s horror where anything was possible and no line was too far to cross. And when the movie came out? You would be hard pressed to find a critic that didn’t fawn over this movie as if the very idea of cinematic horror was a groundbreaking idea to them. And within this movie, there are some truly amazing things here. Toni Collette is amazing. The ending is 99 percent perfection, a nightmare come to life in such a harrowing fashion.
But there is some digging that needs to be done to make the case that this is great. It’s really good. No doubt. Yet it’s a movie that tries to play the game of ambiguity, not really getting into the whos and whats of the narrative. Is this just a genetic mental issue, or is there a supernatural element? By the end, they answer that question but with still enough questions in the air as to leave some mystery to the thing.
The movie keeps going though and we have Ann Dowd literally tell us what happened and why and the whole backstory of this cult. Just absolute nonsense. It makes the whole proceeding juggling act feel absolutely worthless. The pacing is off and aside from one horrifying act about 20 minutes in, there is no horror. It’s just watching this family fall apart but it has the tone of horror. Just a lot of wheel spinning.
Maybe one or two more attempts to scare could’ve helped the pace here. Which is weird because the end of the movie contains some of the best horror moments of the year, so it’s not the typical elevated horror thing of being ashamed of its genre. There is a sense of smugness in it, as if Ari Aster thinks he’s crafted one of the greatest movies ever, that he’s mastered the horror code. He didn’t, but here’s hoping he can grow from here because there is some true talent on display in this film.