Random Movies: Best to Worst

The Lighthouse

WTF: A junior lighthouse keeper goes insane while working alongside what is either a mean senior lighthouse keeper, a magic octopus, or a figment of his imagination.

This is the movie I have most looked forward to all year and it didn’t disappoint. It’s funny, it’s creepy, it’s weird, and the people who did the sound should win an award. I have no idea what any of it means, but there’s a very unsettling juxtaposition between pain and pleasure and/or sex and violence that was somehow both unpleasant and impressive in how unpleasant it was.

Knives Out

WTF: A detective and a nurse work to solve a modern whodunit and accidentally expose white supremacism instead.

I thought this was going to be stupid, but it was so, so smart. It has all the fun and the big personalities of a classic murder mystery, coupled with challenging, socially-aware satire, and moments of sincerity that land really well. The structure also reveals important information much, much sooner than we’d typically get it, which means the action keeps changing directions in unpredictable ways. There are some thriller scenes that take place outside the murder mansion, and I wasn’t as into those parts, but this is still pretty much everything I’ve ever asked for in a whodunit, so I’m not going to complain.

The Farewell

WTF: A Chinese-American woman learns that her grandma has terminal cancer and that the family has decided not to tell her. Instead, they all travel back to China and hold a fake wedding so that they can say goodbye.

This is based on a true story, and it’s a tear-jerker, and I cried. It’s also a really good vehicle for Awkwafina to show that she can play dramatic roles, which she can.

The Art of Self-Defense

WTF: After suffering a violent assault, a man gets super into karate, but slowly discovers that he’s learning toxic masculinity instead.

The tone of this is “dark comedy” and some of the jokes are really funny, but the themes are all over the place. Without giving everything away, it’s got a confused write-yourself-out-of-this-corner ending where it feels like the director knew where he wanted the character to land philosophically, but not the actions that would communicate that change. So, what we’re told about the character’s belief system ends up being different from what we see, and it feels weird.

Jojo Rabbit

WTF: During the Holocaust, a German boy who worships Hitler meets a Jewish girl for the first time and starts to question his beliefs.

This is sold as being satire, but I’m not sure it is. It feels more to me like a Nazi-themed comedy with a serious message tacked on to make it socially responsible. And, while I think the film is right that 10-year-olds don’t understand what they’re saying when they espouse fascist ideology, I’m less convinced that 20, 40, or 60-year-olds are operating from simple ignorance.

Dark Phoenix

WTF: The X-Men movies try to turn Jean Grey evil again, and it doesn’t work again.

The early part of this film is about how Jean and Mystique have their friendship tested when they both realize that Professor X sucks. I liked that part a lot, and thought it seemed like a really promising basis for a story (both because of the friendship, and because Professor X does suck). Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is about punching people on a train. But how cool would it have been if it were about two female superheroes instead?

Image: The Lighthouse; A24 | December 6, 2019