Random Movies: Best to Worst


Yeah, so, without getting into a big, long argument about what a producing award should honour, I think relevant, urgent, deftly political films like this are good candidates for Best Picture, and I probably would have given that award to BlacKkKlansman this year, if it had been up to me. But it’s not up to me!

With that out of the way, the main thing to know about this movie is that it’s not nearly as goofy as the advertising makes it look. It’s a thoughtful, heartfelt attempt to contextualize modern white supremacist movements in history, examine how racist ideology is spread through mainstream culture, and model how white people – especially white police officers – can be allies in the fight against anti-black racism.

I get why some reviewers think the movie’s too soft on police, but I also think it’s doing really necessary, delicate work by trying to both be truthful about how horrible the present situation is and hopeful about the potential to change things for the better. It’s a very smart, emotionally affecting movie, and I’m really glad I pushed past “that looks goofy” so I could watch it.

Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon)

So, this is a super long, super interesting movie about a bunch of random people living in a fictional German village right before World War I. It’s two and a half hours long, and it’s hard to summarize what happens because it’s deliberately ambiguous, but the main idea is that the villagers assault each other when they think they can get away with it, and some of the assaults are treated as acceptable (a father beating his own children) while others are treated as aberrant crimes (an unknown assailant beating someone else’s child).

The reasons why any of these assaults happen are not directly explained but, in almost every case, the villagers are really good at judging when it’s safe to hurt someone – who they can hurt, and how, and when, without facing negative consequences. The victims aren’t selected randomly; the timing isn’t selected randomly – the violence isn’t wild and uncontrolled; it’s just the opposite.

The film doesn’t draw a clear, bright, one-to-one connection between what’s happening in the creepy village and what happened in Germany during the decades that followed, and it doesn’t directly answer the question of whether what we’ve seen is human nature or the effect of culture, but it does defamiliarize something that most of us take for granted about the way power dynamics work and challenge the idea that these kinds of situations just “get out of control.”

It’s a really, really interesting movie and it’s notably not sadistic in how it’s shot. It’s really about psychological and sociological questions and not about watching people get hurt.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

So everybody says that the animation in this movie is beautiful, and, if you’re like me, your reaction is, “How beautiful can it actually be? It is a cartoon about Spiderman.” Turns out it’s really fucking beautiful. It’s so different and creative and weird, and such a mash-up of conflicting styles that I can’t even describe it to you. I normally play games on my tablet while I’m catching up on backlog movies, and I put my tablet down to look at this. It’s stunning.

The other thing that’s beautiful is the film’s philosophy that culture belongs to everyone and not just angry white dudes. Spider-Verse is about the (black-Latino) Miles Morales Spiderman and his encounter with a device that opens a door between alternate universes, causing a bunch of different spider-people to converge in one story. The characters are sometimes pretty blunt in spelling out the message that more than one kind of person can be a hero, and that the Spiderman mantle, specifically, can belong to more people than just Peter Parker – but it’s a good message, and it’s one that speaks back directly to the people who got mad when Marvel introduced a non-white Spiderman.

Also, because movie rights are weird, it’s interesting to see Sony produce its own Spiderman movie while Marvel’s still borrowing the character for the Avengers franchise. Because, once again, there can be more than one.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

The part where Vanellope meets the Disney princesses – which we saw in all the trailers – is really cool. There are a lot of funny, self-referential jokes in that sequence, but it also pokes some leftover seven-year-old-girl desire in me to collect the whole set and make them friends.

The other Vanellope plot line, where she wants to abandon her G-rated Mario Kart-like game join a Grand Theft Auto-like game called Slaughter Race, is also kind of cool.

The message about how you can’t depend on one single friend to meet all of your emotional needs is cool.

As a package, though, it kind of blew past me and I feel like I won’t remember a lot of it later.

If Beale Street Could Talk

This is a well-made movie, and a well-acted movie, and it has a beautiful score. I feel like the story will hit you differently depending on how much you already understand about the criminal justice system and how helpless ordinary people are against its inertia. Also, how much you already understand about the way that sending young black men to jail can hurt entire families.

The voice-over narration is a little bit mannered, and there aren’t a lot of surprises in the narrative, but one thing the movie really excels at is capturing how oppression interrupts the parts of life that are supposed to be beautiful, and the ways that people try to be happy in spite of that, with varying degrees of success.

Córki dancingu (The Lure)

This is a Polish musical about mermaids who work as burlesque dancers and eat people. The concept and the choreography are amazing, and it understands some fucked-up things about The Little Mermaid that I hadn’t really thought about before, but it’s also so, so gross.

I’m biased, because the handheld camera was already making me nauseas, but it’s gory and kind of vulgar in a way that feels like a throwback to the 70s (the story is set in the early 80s). It’s a style of filmmaking similar to The Love Witch or Phantom of the Paradise that hits my senses in the wrong way and makes me feel barfy and menaced.

That said, I respect that my stomach and I might be having an atypical reaction and that other people could possibly enjoy this film. I just really, really wish I hadn’t watched it.

Happy Death Day

This is horror/comedy about a mean sorority sister who’s trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario where she keeps getting murdered by a serial killer and she needs to survive in order to make the time loop end. That idea is kind of cool, but the character’s really unlikable, and the thing where getting killed over and over again turns her into a nicer person doesn’t sit well with me.

Image: BlacKkKlansman; Focus Features | March 30, 2019