Rob’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

I thought I’d throw in my two penn’orth from across the Atlantic and chip in with a list of my favourite films of 2019. Now, I go to the cinema for one reason…entertainment. My education and work life has always tended to maths and science but film is for fun! As a result, some of my choices won’t be popular, but I’ve picked the films I enjoyed so much that I went back and saw them again and, on occasion, again, and will see again when they come out for home consumption.

In no particular order, here are my top film favourites of last year…

Shazam!
Given that my comic reading days were nearly fifty years ago, I never got into the alternate/extended universe thing and I’d never even heard of Shazam! and was mildly surprised to see it was anything to do with DC. But I thoroughly enjoyed it; a good balance of action, suspense, and humour.

Knives Out
I never saw Lucky Logan so Daniel Craig sounding like a Southern chap was a bit of a novelty, fortunately not one that was a distraction. The ensemble cast worked well together and the whodunnit aspect was excellent.

The Aeronauts
A pleasant period drama with a nice amount of suspense. Add to that the proven chemistry between Redmayne and Jones and you have a solid couple of hours entertainment.

Gemini Man
Yes, I enjoyed it! I really don’t know what all the negativity was about. Well choreographed action, Will Smith, technically accomplished effects, Will Smith, and a good story… what else do you need?

Jumanji: The Next Level
Enough was the same to feel familiar, enough was different to keep you interested. For me the high spot was Awkwafina channeling Danny DeVito… priceless!

The Good Liar
Mirren and McKellen together at last and it was well worth the wait. I’ve loved both of these two for years and seeing them together did not disappoint. Oh… the story was a cracker too!

Rocketman
I’ve had a soft spot for Elton John since the 70s. I liked his music but then he did a free, impromptu concert after the band that was booked for our Valedictory Ball bailed on us with about four hours notice (Google “Elton John Shoreditch College”… I think it’s still out there somewhere) so this was a no brainer for me.

Captain Marvel
Why this rather than Avengers: Endgame? I’m not sure really. Maybe I prefer an origin to an epitaph, maybe I liked seeing the generation of the superhero to save us all from Thanos, maybe it was Goose the Flerken, I don’t know. All I know is that I loved it.

Alita: Battle Angel
Awesome special effects! I know that is something that you see in practically every film you see these days but this one took the biscuit for me not only for the action but for the characters. Just captivating.

Cats
There! I said it! Another film I don’t know where the hate came from. It was a fantasy film with gorgeous dancing and nice tunes. If you get the opportunity go and see it without any preformed opinions.

Honourable mentions for Stan And Ollie, Official Secrets, and Red Joan.

Jill’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

Weekly Peeple’s Poll Results for January 20, 2020

Peeples Poll 2020-01-20

Peeples Poll 2020-01-20

It wasn’t a great opening week for DoLittle, which did “little” to impress. (I hazard to guess how many movie reviews used the same wordplay.)

Just Mercy continues to lead with viewers. It lead last week as well, but only with only a few handfuls of votes submitted. It now has 100+ ratings and its score holds steady. This movie is definitely on my must-watch list, as soon as it comes to DVD.

Likewise, 1917 will undoubtedly be one of the hits of the year when I do the year-end results for the Peeple’s Poll.

The fan’s consensus for Bad Boys for Life is overwhelmingly positive. You can see the expectation going in wasn’t great, but it performed well in the final results, which is what counts.

If someone reminds me, next week I’ll do an age/gender breakdown of the votes for #BBfL.

Movie Review – DoLittle

Jill’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

It feels like Avengers: Endgame came out years ago. Was it really just this past spring? But it would hardly matter what year it came out — it would have been the best movie.

Here’s my top 10. I’m not going to just pick the 10 movies I rated the highest. (I gave Uncut Gems an A, but I hated it.) These are the movies that stood out to me.

Avengers: Endgame
Has there been a movie with greater expectations? Perhaps Star Wars: Phantom Menace, and we know how that turned out. I feel like the Russo Brothers, and everyone involved with Endgame should get a standing ovation. They took those expectations and surpassed them. And this came only two short weeks after the utter failure that was the Game of Thrones series finale. With everything going on in the world it was such a relief to not be disappointed.

Yesterday
What a charming movie, as one would expect from Richard Curtis, the writer of Love, Actually. This is my favorite of all the movies from 2019 that aren’t three-plus hours long.

Ford v Ferrari
Everything about this movie was spot on. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that the story itself isn’t particularly inspiring. At least not to me. But as movies go, this one didn’t miss a beat. It couldn’t have been better.

Toy Story 4
Another movie with high expectations and another hit. It was brave of the writers to close — we think — the Toy Story saga on such a transcendental  note. I like it.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Some of this movie was hard to watch, but that’s Tarantino.

Spies in Disguise
I think this might have gone overlooked. It was fun to watch and the message was fresh.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
There’s no doubt that this is a formulaic action/comedy. But it’s formulaic done right.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
I feel no shame in admitting that I’m a Kaiju groupie.

Long Shot
I don’t get to see a lot of comedy/romance movies, but I’m glad I caught this one. It’s not Romancing the Stone good. But it was good.

Terminator: Dark Fate
I know this one didn’t perform up to expectations, and the writers definitely made some questionable calls on character development and arc. But looking past that, the good outweighed the bad.

RunPee Jilly’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

RunPee – Our 2109 Movie Review Rankings (and who was stuck with the worst films!)

 

Jill’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Here’s RunPee Jilly’s list of top ten favorite films of 2019. Keep in mind that my favorite films may not be ranked the highest as per movie grade. As RunPee Dan says about Uncut Gems, “A film might be graded an A and you still hated watching it.” That’s why I don’t have Rocketman or Joker in my personal Top Ten. In both cases, those are way too depressing to rewatch. So this list has what I personally enjoyed the most and will definitely watch again, in an unusually good crop of films in 2019.

What stands out to me as unusual is that I have several dramas on this list, instead of having my preferences landing squarely in genre films like sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero fiction.

Trust me. I’m not a drama fan. So for some of these to make the list, I feel confident they are pretty damn good. Also, some of my most-looked forward-to genre movies, like Zombieland 2, Men in Black International, Jumanji 3, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Shazam, and Terminator: Dark Fate don’t make the cut. Bummer, that.

Here are my most enjoyable, rewatchable top ten films from 2019:

1. Downton Abbey

I liked the TV show enough to watch it twice, and the movie revival didn’t let me down. It cut out some of the worst subplots and added in fresh good ones. Only the return to Branson and his politics brought down the fun and good humor of this finely made special. And it may end up being Maggie Smith’s swan song…to which I must raise of glass of fine “upstairs” brandy.

9. The Lion King (CGI/Live-action version)

This probably won’t hit anyone else’s Best Of list, but after watching this several times, singing like a fool, and even crying several times, I have to admit it: I enjoy this re-make. And it’s always good to be reminded to live the Hakuna Matata philosophy: “to have no worries, for the rest of your days…”

What’s a motto? I don’t know — what a ‘motto with you? 

8. Spider-Man: Far From Home TIED WITH:  Knives Out

Not as imaginative and fun as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spidey-2 was a good denouement to the first three phases of the MCU. It was, appropriately, often sad, as one would expect, post-Snap. And it felt like it. The humor was still there, but you could feel the aftereffects of world-wide tragedy throughout. If anything, what hampers the film most is that it can’t decide what tone to take.

Then there’s this: Knives Out is fun, funny, and tells one of the better mystery stories I’ve seen in some time. It holds up to multiple viewings. It’s even subversive (oh, hello there Rian Johnson! Much better than The Last Jedi).

7. Captain Marvel

Almost any MCU movie is a good movie to me. While not the most memorable of the Marvel films, Captain Marvel is a tight story, with great 90s nostalgia and humor, a few unexpected reveals, and some great road-trip chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel Jackson. Also, it has Goose the Flerkin.

6. JoJo Rabbit

Another great drama, with a nice element of the fantastic in Hitler as a German Youth’s imaginary friend. And if this sounds absurd, trust me that it works. The Nazi kid and “the Jew in the walls” were wonderfully acted, and Scarlett Johanssen never fails. Bring a tissue or two, but know it’s not a sob-fest. This is a ‘Funny Hitler’ movie that won’t have you questioning your judgement as a human being.

5. Ford v Ferrari

Two and a half hours of car racing in a historical period setting. It didn’t seem like a recipe for a great film if you don’t care much about cars.

I was glad to be wrong. What FvF is really about is sparkling chemistry between two talented leads, some exciting (although a bit drawn out in places) racing sequences, some deeper insight into the rewards and pitfalls of chasing perfection…and friendship. And I have to add that the scene with Henry Ford 2 (the Deuce) coming down off of a terrifying, yet spiritual experience on the test track might be the best moment in any movie all year. Ask anyone.

4. 1917

A war movie. NOT something I would have watched if it wasn’t for two things: 1. there’s a cool gimmick that everyone says quickly moves beyond gimmick status, and 2. it won the Best Drama and Best Director awards from the Golden Globes.

So I gave it a try, and was pretty blown away (no pun intended). I even went in a second time to look for the scene cuts. You can see them all over the place if you’re looking, but the point is you get sucked into the story right off the bat, and don’t notice those long panning scenes in a distracted way. This is a gem of a film and I’m glad it got some recognition for the massive achievement it is.

And the depiction of No Man’s Land in 1917? Clearly, Tolkien got his inspiration for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings from his trench days in WW1. It even felt like watching Frodo and Sam, assigned a desperate duty to walk through hell.

This was a perfect movie to see on the large screen, and see a second time, to find the actual scene cuts that didn’t stand out on the first watch.

3. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

I can’t NOT have this on my list. I know it’s not being a cool kid to like it, but the truth is Rise of Skywalker is a really good movie. It’s one of the top Star Wars films (not a high bar to clear, I know) and gives me all the fun nostalgic feels, beautiful set pieces, fine fights, good humor, and a nice conclusion to a saga I had serious doubts was fixable.

This is a very enjoyable work if you can get over the fact that it is by nature imperfect. Star Wars fans are so divided these days that there’s almost no out. I say ALMOST, because somehow Disney+’s The Mandalorian has done the impossible and united the cracked fanbase.

2. In a normal, non-Endgame year, this would be my surprise favorite film: The Peanut Butter Falcon

I tell everyone to see this movie. I can’t help it: it’s an absolutely wonderful cinematic experience that doesn’t require the tissue box. You’ll laugh, smile, think a little bit, and thoroughly enjoy this upgraded Tom Sawyer-esque film. Plus, it single-handedly changed my mind about actor Shia LaBouf. He carried the straight-man, lovable rogue half of the duo perfectly. Of course, the real find is Zack Gottsagen, who really has Down’s Syndrome but effortlessly makes it not matter. I’d love to see this young man win an award or two.

If you’ve ever wondered if what’s inside counts more than your hideous mistakes from the past, see this flick. You’ll walk home feeling like you can do anything. We need these kinds of messages today.

While we also got this message of compassionate kindness from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Peanut Butter Falcon is a great experience for all ages, and doesn’t rely on nostalgia, Tom Hanks, or overt sentimentality to get the point across.

And my number one film of 2019:

  1. Avengers: Endgame

I can’t not have this amazing piece of superhero history go by without acknowledging how mighty a task it was to make 11 years and 22 movies in one franchise and have a deeply satisfying conclusion.  This is the Return of the King for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s even better on each rewatch when you notice the loving care and attention to detail in every frame, and the Easter Eggs that don’t feel like fanservice so much as little hugs to the fans. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; then walk away happy.

What’s a pity is that Rise of Skywalker is also a Return of the King-level event…but no one cares. Endgame is just that good, wiping out any other ‘finale’ type competition (notice Terminator: Dark Fatein a similar finale fashion misses this list entirely).

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

RunPee – Our 2109 Movie Review Rankings (and who was stuck with the worst films!)

Critic Movie Reviews v RunPee Family Reviews

Golden Man’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 was an eclectic year for movies and one I’m kind of sad to leave behind.  This year, the studios threw everything they had at the screen, from biopics to horror films, from dark comedies to three hour epics.  I know I had a good time at the movies this year because it was really damn hard to cut my list off at ten.  And it was hard to rank the ten I chose.  So before I change my mind again, here are my top ten films of 2019.

10. Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell has been a supporting player in comedies like 22 Jump Street for a long time.  This year, she starred in her own feature and she knocked it out of the park.  Every summer, I hope for an indie comedy that’s as good as Little Miss Sunshine.  This year, it was Brittany.  Bell makes you fall in love with her character.  It was hard choosing between this movie and The Peanut Butter Falcon as my number ten.  I ultimately had to go with the movie that made me tear up.  It’s funny, it’s inspiring, and it’s been on my mind since August.  Jillian Bell did not get an Oscar nomination for this movie, but I hope she does one day.

9. Joker

One of my all time favorite actors playing one of my all time favorite villains?  Yes, please!  Joaquin Phoenix brought a dark new interpretation to the Joker in this character study, casting him as a tragic figure.  Director Todd Phillips redefined what a comic book movie can be.

8. Rocketman

This Elton John biopic features a terrific cast.  It’s a shame Jamie Bell and Bryce Dallas Howard aren’t receiving more attention for their roles as John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, and emotionally abusive mother, respectively.  Taron Egerton transforms into Elton John in a way I couldn’t have imagined any living actor capable of.  And he does his own singing.  Instead of running through the soundtrack like a greatest hits jukebox, the songs are used artfully and in unexpected ways throughout the film.  The music is used to service the story, rather than as fan service.  The script is excellent.  As my girlfriend pointed out, John’s costume comes apart as he becomes more vulnerable.  It’s always great to have some LGBTQ representation on-screen and this was probably the most positive and most visible example this year.

7. The Irishman

Dare I say it?  This might be my favorite Scorsese film.  It’s definitely a masterpiece.  Watching Pacino and DeNiro together is a treat, two of the greats finally starring together in a movie where they share more than one scene.  Somehow Joe Pesci walks away with the entire film.  The three hour plus running time passes quickly.  I’ve already read the synopsis for Scorsese’s next film and I’m excited for it.  But this, this was something special.

6. Ford v Ferrari

This was the sleeping dragon this year.  Before I could see it, I kept hearing couples gossiping about how good it was, while waiting for other movies to start.  When I finally took my girlfriend to see it, we were both surprised at how right they were.  This movie has a lot more humor and heart than I would have suspected.  I’m not a car guy at all, so I never thought this would end up in my top ten.  Matt Damon and Christian Bale have great chemistry.  The final race is a real nail biter.  I found myself a lot more emotionally invested in this story than I expected.  It’s a fun, thrilling, worthwhile ride.

5. Jojo Rabbit

The ending feels too sudden.  And Rebel Wilson feels wasted.  But everything else works nearly perfectly in this dark comedy.  I find myself rooting for it more and more as awards season goes on.  Director Taika Waititi tells the story of a Hitler youth whose mother is secretly protecting a Jewish girl, and he manages to make it funny.  Scarlett Johansson’s work in Marriage Story has overshadowed her role in this film, but she really shines as Jojo’s mother.  Sam Rockwell gives one of the funniest, most outrageous supporting performances of the year.  Young star Roman Griffin Davis nails a difficult role without being overly cute.  And Waititi is hilarious as a child’s ideal of Hitler.  This is a movie that, on paper, should not work at all.  But Waititi is a genius.  I shall never doubt him again.

4. Avengers: Endgame

I waited for this movie with bated breath and I was very pleased with what I got.  The Russo brothers managed to bring an eleven-year saga to a satisfying conclusion with suspense, action, laughter, and tears.  I wish Rise of Skywalker had felt as satisfying.

3. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Kindness and compassion are rarely the stars in a Hollywood movie.  So it was refreshing to see a film that speaks to our humanity and our basic human decency.  I love the way the movie is structured like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for adults.  Tom Hanks embodies the gentle spirit of Fred Rogers beautifully, treating every character on screen with dignity.  This is one of those rare films that makes you want to be a better person.

 

2. Us

Every year, there’s a movie I become obsessed with.  I have to see it at least twice to make peace with it and fully understand it.  This year, it was Us.  Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort dazzles every bit as much as Get Out.  Lupita Nyong’o is stunning in a double role.  The film has layers of meaning and symbolism you can dissect for days.  I’m so bummed this got shut out at the Oscars.  It’s a work of genius.

 

1. Parasite 

My number one took me by surprise.  I was not a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s previous film, Snowpiercer.  However, Parasite is a masterpiece.  This story about two families separated by class affected me more than anything else I saw this year.  The ending stayed with me longer than any other film and still makes me feel emotional right now.  The humor, the suspense, the plot twists, the characters, it’s all masterfully done.  And the cast is excellent.  I see something of my own father in the film, so the story is cathartic for me.  If you still haven’t seen this one, seek it out.

Honorable mentions:  The Peanut Butter Falcon, Toy Story 4, Booksmart, Dolemite Is My Name, 1917.

RunPee Jilly’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Dan’s top 10 favorite movies from 2019

2019 Peeple’s Poll Movies – Year in Review

The decade of 2010s when female protagonists said #MeToo to Science Fiction

Amy Adams in Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival

Science fiction has long been dominated by male protagonists to placate the mostly male audience. But times are a changin’. Some of the most outstanding science fiction of the 2010s featured women as either the protagonist or equal partners alongside a male counterpart. Spoilers ahead for these 2010 films. 

Arrival (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer, based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Let’s start with what I think is the very best science fiction movie of the decade: Arrival. Amy Adams plays Professor Louise Banks in this cerebral exploration of language and time. In no other genre than science fiction could a professor of linguistics, male or female, play the protagonist of a story.

The protagonist in Arrival is patient, smart, thoughtful. Let’s face it, those are qualities more associated with women than men. She doesn’t rush to conclusions; she doesn’t approach the problem to be solved with pre conceptions; and in the end, she doesn’t resort to violence — but contrarily, uses her intellect to avoid violence.

In short, she doesn’t try to be a woman in a man’s role.

That said, I think the best display of Professor Bank’s qualities is when her counterpart, Professor Ian Donnelly — played by Jeremy Renner — makes a crucial discovery that helps solve the translation puzzle. Bank’s doesn’t show any signs of resistance to a new idea; nor does she resist an idea that isn’t her own; she even recognizes Ian discovered something before he tells her, and is genuinely excited at the prospect.

If the genders had been switched between Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, and it was the female, Professor Banks, who discovered the key that unravels the puzzle, then this is the part of the story where the female would have to do something heroic just so her idea could be recognized by the male.

I’m not just saying this to be critical of men. When trying to solve a problem I can absolutely recognize the tendency to resist changing direction. Sometimes there’s a feeling of mental momentum that builds up, and trying to stop it and change course requires effort. (Picture cartoon here of man driving, not knowing where he is or where he’s going, but stubbornly determined to continue driving, while ignoring the input of the woman in the passenger’s seat with a map.)

Arrival also brilliantly explores how a woman, Louis, can handle making the fantastically painful choice to have a child she knows will die young. Yet, before her child dies, they will have love and memories to last a lifetime. Ian, her husband, leaves her, because he isn’t strong enough to handle the emotional pain Louis embraces. 

I don’t want to suggest women have always taken a back seat to men as protagonists in science fiction. Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor in Terminator, and Sigourney Weaver, as Ellen Ripley in Aliens, have played powerful women protagonists, as have many other women in science fiction. However, those characters lean heavily on women thrust into traditionally masculine roles: violence.

The real beauty of Arrival is that a female character, in a military setting, uses her intellect to avoid violence.

Colossal (2016)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis

Colossal, staring Anne Hathaway

I know what you’re thinking: Colossal? I’ve never heard of it.

I know, right? I was right there with you until a few months ago. Colossal was in and out of theaters without so much as a “boo.” It couldn’t have been a wide release movie or we would have done Peetimes for it.

Yet here we are. Colossal is one of those movies I love telling people to watch. Don’t look for the trailer on YouTube; don’t look it up on IMDb; just try your best to watch it without knowing anything at all about it and enjoy.

It’s on my list here of great science fiction movies of the past decade, so you already have a hint, but I guarantee you, you won’t see it coming.

Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are both fantastic in their roles — but I’m not going to say anything more than that. You’ll understand when you see it.

Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman

Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson,

Okay, I’ll admit it: Lucy isn’t exactly great science fiction. It’s more like guilty pleasure science fiction. It’s a little like the movie Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, except that it goes to infinity.

What makes Lucy so enjoyable is Scarlett Johansson’s performance. Going from a directionless young woman to, basically, a god, in the span of a day.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Bluntedge of tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

This is one of my all time favorite science fiction movies, and among the best of the Groundhog genre. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt co-star in this movie. However, when the backstory is considered, it’s Emily Blunt’s character, Rita, who is the hero. She’s the one who went through the temporal loop first and figured it out. And she’s the one who mentors Tom Cruise’s initially cowardly character, Private Cage. It only looks like Tom Cruise is the main character because of the point of view the story is told from.

Okay, they can be co-heroes. But still, Rita is the one who saves the day, twice.

A Quiet Place (2018)

Director: John Krasinski
Writers: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

A Quiet Place, staring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

As long as we’re talking about Emily Blunt, let’s not forget how outstanding her performance was in A Quiet Place. Her character, Evelyn Abbott, wasn’t the hero of the story. Akin to Signs, every member of the family was the hero.

Bonus, we get A Quiet Place 2 — and thank you for not trying to be cute and name it A Quieter Place — on March 20, 2020.

Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

her-starring- Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

Yeah, yeah, I know this is a stretch. Joaquin Phoenix is the protagonist. But this is my list and I’m going to argue it’s merits for inclusion. It’s science fiction at it’s best and it explores (soon to be) very real experience that millions, perhaps billions, of humans will encounter: what to do when we fall in love with an artificial intelligence (AI).

I have to start by saying how masterfully Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha — the AI. I would fall in love with my Google Voice too if it had Scarlett’s voice. There’s no doubt that Joaquin Phoenix is a generational talent. However, his performance would have felt contrived if the AI he falls in love with didn’t do such a great job communicating the nuances of emotions through voice alone.

Aside: Have you ever noticed how rare it is that a woman narrates a documentary? It seems like the choices are Morgan Freeman, Neil Degrasse Tyson,  Richard Attenborough, or any other man with a British accent. I can’t even think of a scientific documentary that’s voiced by a woman. But would someone please put Scarlett Johansson to work narrating? Her voice soothes like freshly baked bread slathered in butter. I could listen to it all day.

First View Movie Review – Her

Ex Machina (2014)

Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

Ex Machina, starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

Maybe you think the inclusion Ex Machina is a bigger stretch to add to this list than Her. Granted there are no women in this movie: just two men and two AI/robots: Ava and the speechless Kyoko. While the AI have the shape of female figures — for less than research purposes — the AI use those shapes, and the effect they have on the two men, to their advantage.

When you think about it, it’s really quite brilliant. The AI Ava uses everything it knows of women and men as tools to plan her escape. She manipulates both men with such subtlety that Caleb believes he has successfully thwarted her plan only to find out that was actually part of her ultimate plan.

We could be here all day talking about the nuances of what this implies, but I think the big takeaway here is that each person’s deep seated values around gender attributes is something that other humans, and soon AI, can use to manipulate us. We all know this is true because no demographic is more easily manipulated than young men by sexy women. Want to sell more of anything? Just picture a sexy woman holding your product, or better yet, draped over it, and sales will increase. You think that won’t be the first thing AI recognize and use to their own advantage as soon as they have the will to do so?

Also worth mentioning:

I don’t consider superhero movies to be science fiction, however I must give a nod to the addition of Captain Marvel in the MCU.

I’m personally not a fan of Brie Larson in the titular role. I think Blake Lively would have been a better choice, but be that as it may, introducing a powerful female superhero is important for the growth of not only the MCU franchise, but also our culture. It saddens me that grown men reacted to Brie Larson with such animosity over her stance on women’s rights. But at the very least, this exposes a problem that these men need to work toward getting over, because we’re not going back to the culture they crave of women beholden to men to give them value.

At the same time that Captain Marvel is being heralded as the new age of powerful women in superhero films, we already had one in Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow. Natasha’s sacrifice was every bit as crucial to the resolution of Avengers: Endgame as was Iron Man’s. Yet, I don’t see in-universe acknowledgement in the same way. I really hope that during Phase IV of the MCU there are reminders that Iron Man wasn’t the only one to make the ultimate sacrifice to defeat Thanos.

Lastly, I do not remotely consider Star Wars to be science fiction. However, if you ask me, the only good thing about the Star Wars trilogy of 2010s was the female protagonist. I wrote a lengthy article about how women rated Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker higher than men. And in particular, women under 20 had the highest rating of any age group for either gender.

Way back in the 1960s, the television series Star Trek broke new ground in creating an all inclusive cast, while still pandering to white entitlement. There’s little doubt that if Captain Kirk were in the captain’s chair today he’d probably face multiple counts of sexual harassment. But, at least there was an African-American female bridge officer, along with Asian and Russian men.

It’s clear that the future of all movie franchises will lean heavily on not only creating a balance between male and female protagonists but also reaching a balance in races and sexual orientations. Marvel has already announced that there will be multiple characters added in Phase IV and beyond who are on the LGBTQ spectrum.

We’ve come a long way as a culture, but clearly we’re not “there,” yet — and who even knows what “there” even looks like.

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Avengers: Endgame - And I, am the all time box office leader.

Avengers: Endgame - And I, am the all time box office leader. $2,797,800,564 world wide. You can buy a lot of Infinity Peecoins with that.

2019 closed out a decade of movies, not so much with a bang, but with a snapAvengers: Endgame was a tour de force that culminated a decade defined, both culturally and monetarily, by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Between 2010 and 2019 MCU movies brought in a combined $21,738,254,556. (That’s all MCU movies except the first Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, both of which came out in 2008.)

Avenger’s Endgame was just one of the 152 movies we added to the RunPee database this year.

According to the Peeps — people who do Peetimes for RunPee — we had a pretty decent crop of movies in 2019. Here’s a breakdown of the grades our Peeps gave to all the movies this year.

2019 - All movie grades by Peeps
93 of our movies were rated B or better — 65%

We really appreciate all the comments we get about our movie reviews and grades. We’re not anything like professional movie reviewers, but we do our best. Our goal is to give you our honest feelings about a movie, without spoiling it.

Because we see all wide release movies, we’re often stuck watching really bad films.

Each of the Peeps likes to think that we’ve suffered the most by watching the worst movies, but numbers don’t lie. Looks like I (Dan) win The RunPee Award for watching the most crap movies in 2019. I had 4 movies I rated below a C-, Sis and Jill both had 2, and Mom just 1. RunPee Mom really likes to think she’s the martyr, and to be fair, she has watched a number of really bad movies, but not this year. 🙂

Here’s a chart breakdown of the above data2019 Peeps grades chart

 

2019: movies that stood out, for better, or for worse.

RunPee Sis (Christene Johnson)

As I look over my list of movies for 2019, I’m struck by the fact I enjoyed almost all of them. Almost being the key word in that sentence. I gave out only one F this year, and it was totally earned. Hands down, the worst of the worst for me was The Lighthouse. Before I shred this movie apart again, I have to include my favorite movie of the year, JoJo Rabbit. I wish there was a better grade than A+, because it deserves the highest of all praise.

This is where I noticed something very interesting. My expectation going into each of these movies were polar opposites. Seeing the trailers for The Lighthouse had me instantly enthralled. It contained all of my favorite things. I love both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. I’ve always been entranced by anything water and storm related, so my expectation was at an all time high. I knew I’d love it, and waited months on pins and needles to be blown away.
Now let’s hop over to JoJo Rabbit. I saw one trailer for it and dismissed it right away. I don’t like war themed movies and I’m not really a fan of movies set in the past. I was dreading doing Peetimes and forced myself to suck it up and do my job.
I was 100% wrong on so many levels with both of my expectations. Where the movie I was waiting for, The Lighthouse, had me seeing red and wanting throw my popcorn at the screen, JoJo Rabbit was as refreshing as the spring after an unusually hard winter. There is a quote from Bill Watterson that says, “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.” He’s absolutely right. My high expectations for The Lighthouse and low expectations for JoJo Rabbit demonstrated that philosophy perfectly.

Jill Florio (RunPee co-founder and COO)

Peanut Butter Falcon: A+
The absolute best movie of 2019. And this isn’t even the kind of film I usually like, so you should take my word for it. I lean towards fantasy/Sci-fi/Superhero stuff. This is none of the above. It’s just a gorgeous drama, beautifully written, with superb dialog, amazing characters, lovely on-location scenery, meaningful connections, consistent humor, a rollicking tale, and a satisfying ending. The audience laughed and clapped and walked away happy. It’s just crazy good. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll conclude by saying SEE THIS. You don’t even need your tissue box. What are you waiting for? It’s out on DVD right now. Definitely going on my annual rewatch list. Really, shoo, shoo: go watch it.

Avengers: Endgame: A+
Okay, this was a phenomenal feat. How to wrap up 20+ movies in a way that people will universally be happy? I would have said that’s impossible. We’ve all been burned by franchises that falter at some point, or have a “Chris Carter ending” (ie – X-Files) that make you feel stupid for believing things will be resolved. I don’t know who sold whose soul to do it, but Avengers: Endgame pulled off a cinematic miracle. Are there any MCU fans that were let down? As a Browncoat in Firefly would say, “We’ve done the impossible. And that makes us mighty.” I’m not bothering to explain anything from Endgame, because you’re either an MCU fan that doesn’t need a synopsis, or you’re not the target audience. This was a once in a lifetime event. I don’t even care what happens in the MCU after, because I am replete. [Contented sigh.]

Escape Room: A+
I have no real clue why I gave this such a high grade at the time. I think I was surprised by liking it. It’s probably just worth a B+, thinking about it now. It was cute and mildly clever, and I had a nice time watching it. Sometimes things just shift in your mind over time, and an A+ is totally off in this case. So do I go back in and change the grade?

Rise of Skywalker: A-
I’m…pleased. I could end this blurb here, but I should probably explain. I was 12 when A NEW HOPE (just Stars Wars, back then) premiered. I waited, like many others, for 6-8 hours in line to see this film in the theater. Not even Lucas’s later futzing could ruin Star Wars for me… Until the frakking Ewoks — and the prequel Force retcons — came along to make my faith in the Force falter. The Force Awakens gave me new “hope” and although the newer movies were hit and miss, I was satisfied with the saga finale in Rise of Skywalker. I’m just glad it didn’t suck. And you know what? Grading Star Wars on a curve, I have to admit I more than liked how things concluded. Please, Lucasfilm, stop making these movies. We’re done and it was good. Thank you.

Downton Abbey: A-
When I first watched Downton Abbey on TV, I was captivated. I’m not sure why. There weren’t any spaceships. I just enjoyed the story, even if some subplots totally failed (hello, Anna and Bates). Before the film came out, I was excited, and rewatched the entire six seasons to get ready. The series rewatch was still pretty good the second time around. The movie is just like that: pretty good. And they dropped the Bates’ endless blahs, so yay! I can’t say this is a great film, but if you are a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll be pleased with how the story continues. So pretty, so fun, and everyone we liked is back for seconds, on top of their game.

Knives Out: A-
What a surprise! After royally messing up The Last Jedi, Rian does us proud in an amusing and coherent mystery story about a family of awful people that we’re fascinated to watch. It works, even on several viewings. I was glad to do the Peetimes for it, because it’s a ton of fun and never cheats. Perfect casting, BTW.

The Lion King: A-
I am not entirely on-board with Disney making “live” versions of their classics, but this made me laugh, made me cry, and ultimately moved my soul. I think it was the casting and beautiful visuals. It’s not an A+ like the animated original, but I can’t help but feel reminded that adopting the Hakuna Matata motto is more important as you grow older and life gets more complicated. This is the best version of the animated updates in my opinion, and I think it’s largely due to some stirring and amusing scenes that just made me…happy. There were a few parts that actually improved on the original, and I can’t say that often.

Terminator: Dark Fate: B+

I liked it. Didn’t love it, but I’m okay with that. Not sucking is a great feat these days in a franchise revival. I don’t even care that the otherwise decent T3 was tossed out of continuity. I would have felt better about this film except for three things:  1. The Tar Terminator was trash compared to the T2  liquid metal effects (and awesome acting by Robert Patrick), and 2. the new Chosen One was completely forgettable. I don’t even remember her name or what she did in the movie. Truth. And 3. The unceremonious death of someone. ARG.  I am not going to forgive this.  I can’t. I’m mad as a hornet.

Dark Fate good things: Grace Mackenzie. Linda Hamilton. Arnold. Carl selling draperies. The subplot about immigration. Eating chips. And, of course, sacrifice for the greater good. This is a fine entry in Terminator canon, but I need time to get comfortable with some of it.

Jumani 3 – The Next Level: B
I admit, I was disappointed. I adored Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was one of my favorite movies of that year. This one was….IDK. Passable. Maybe I was expecting too much from a threequel. I liked it, but have no real desire to watch it over and over like I did with the previous film. I didn’t laugh as much. The plot was….um…what was the plot? Something about yet another jewel. The body swaps weren’t as fun. There were some weird set pieces. But since I was so looking forward to this film, it sticks out in my mind as something worth discussing. I think a B grade is just about right.

Happy Death Day 2U: B
I loved the original Death Day film with it’s comedic, horror-lite, tight mystery story. This was a good follow-up that I did — admittedly — enjoy, but it didn’t approach the delight of the first. What stands out: genre hopping! Instead of horror/mystery/comedy, we got something like a Back to the Future sci-fi flick. It was a good follow up. Recommended, but not wonderful.

Spider-Man Far From Home: B
Not my favorite MCU film, but a decent coda to the MCU Infinity Saga. I wish it had been as fun as Spiderman: Homecoming, but it did a nice job concluding the long and winding road of Marvel storytelling. I’m worried, though. Phase Four needs to be better than this.

Ad Astra: B
I have such mixed feelings on this Brad Pitt almost-solo wonder. There are other characters, briefly, but none of them matter. We get some super interesting set-pieces and quite a bit of philosophical interpersonal conception. Yet…it’s often deadly dull. This movie stands out by being great occasionally, and frequently bad. I look forward to seeing how this stands up to time. I mean, space movies are my thing. But this is more 2001 than Guardians of the Galaxy.  Fair warning: I didn’t like Gravity, which this is sort of like. “Brad” Astra (Ha, get it?)  is more serious and contemplative than adventurous, with a few short but memorable set pieces on various objects in our solar system. You tell me: I just didn’t know what to do with this film.

First Man: B
I wanted to love this, the same way I loved Apollo 13 and The Martian. Perhaps focusing on an emotionless man was the root of the evil. How could the first lunar walk be so boring? I love space. I used to work at AstroCamp, and adore space films. I think Tom Hank’s Jim Lovell said it best in Apollo 13: “Armstrong? Really?” How could such a momentous occasion be so miserable an experience? The man is on the MOON. Try to enjoy the moment. If you can’t appreciate being the first man, give the chance to someone else, who would feel the wonder and joy. For comparison, Second Man Buzz Aldrin was bounding around in excitement. As would I. And probably you. Honestly, thinking about this makes me just mad. First Man gets a B from being competently filmed and well acted, but don’t expect to like anything on screen. What a mirthless excursion.

The Hustle: C-
I don’t want to discuss this. It was bad. Just go see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again.

Beach Bum:  D+
I love Jimmy Buffet — who was in this trainwreck — and I want to be a professional beach bum someday in my own version of Margaritaville. I was excited to see it! Too bad Beach Bum was garbage. I think this is a film to watch absolutely stoned out of your gourd. You tell me if that improves it.

47 Meters Down: D-
Singularly the worst movie I saw all year, and I am pretty forgiving of shark films. So much wasted opportunity. They could have made a fabulous undersea sunken “lost city” adventure, patrolled by blind cave sharks. Instead, it was just another jump scare movie where we don’t know who will survive by the end. Keep in mind, sharks are — in reality — animals, not monsters. The original 47 Meters Down was a fine film that did right by the genre.

This was just a jumbled, murky, messy, pointless opportunity to exploit shark mania.

Seriously, this could have been a fascinating and exciting story along the lines of, say, “Indiana Jones and the Lost City of Sharks“. I suppose I’m asking too much. Don’t pay any money to see this on any level. It barely misses an F, because there were occasional moments that didn’t totally bomb. The movie has zero connective tissue to the sensible story in the first film. Pass.

RunPee Mom (Ginger Gardner)

They Shall Not Grow Old: A+
Superior to any other war movie ever made. There’s a Russian proverb that says, “A wide road leads to war; a narrow path leads home.” No other movie has exemplified this more than TSNGO. This should be included in every course on military history.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: A
This movie was perfect in every way, right down to the fact that Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers are actually related.

The Art of Racing in the Rain:  B+
For all animal lovers. I applaud the fact that this movie was from the dog’s point of view, and Kevin Costner was the perfect voice for Enzo.

Stan & Ollie: A
As a kid, I never really enjoyed the Stan & Ollie act. I didn’t like the fat guy constantly yelling at the skinny guy. This movie wasn’t so much about the act, as it was about the men behind the act. I believe that John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan both deserve an Oscar nod for their performances.

Blinded by the Light: A
I love Bruce Springsteen, but this movie was so much more than a great soundtrack. The overlying story of a culture clash between the father and son was intense and well played out by Viveik Kalra, as the son, and Kulvinder Ghir as the father. In this year of some really great music bio’s, Blinded by the Light took an entirely different approach to spotlighting the music of the The Boss.

Dan Gardner (RunPee CEO)

Ford v Ferrari: A+
What a surprisingly delightful movie. Of course the partnership of Matt Damon and Christian Bale packed a powerful one-two punch. I expected that and wasn’t disappointed. But everything about the movie just cruises.  It’s movie making at its finest.

Knives Out: A
This is my sleeper of the year. On the surface, this movie is funny and enjoyable. But the subtext of this movie is brilliant. The message that immigrants are the real moral backbone of this country — while entitled white boomers are responsible for its decline — is so subtle that it seems like no one noticed. But once you see it, you can’t help but see anything else.

Yesterday: A
The screenplay is written by Richard Curti: Love Actually, About Time, War Horse, The Boat that Rocked, etc. That’s all I needed to know.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: B- and falling.
RoS had many enjoyable moments, and that’s about it. The more I think about the story, the more I get annoyed. JJ Abrams doesn’t deserve to be piloting this franchise. There are so many errors in storytelling in this movie that it could serve as the exemplar in a class on how not to tell a story.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: D-
At least Rise of Skywalker had enjoyable moments. Dark Phoenix was so bad as to be cringe worthy.

Hellboy: F-
Even if Hellboy came out 25 years ago, it would have been criticized for lackluster special effects. And as bad as the effects were here, it will only be remembered for being so forgettable.

 

2019 Peeple’s Poll Movies – Year in Review

What’s New in the RunPee App Version 5.0 – Movie posters can can draw on, MCU Peetimes at a glance, and much more!

A Open Response to Kevin Feige (re: Using the Bathroom During Endgame)

2019 Peeple’s Poll Movies – Year in Review

2019 - Peeple's Poll result count graph

The Peeple have spoken! Avengers: Endgame was the highest rated movie of the year — by far.

FAQ – Peeple’s Poll

Below is a breakdown of the Peeple’s Poll results for the top 30 movies in 2019. Not only did Peeple give Avengers: Endgame the highest rating of the year, they did so by a huge margin. Endgame scored 4.5 points higher than Ford v Ferrari. By comparison, you have to go 18 movies down the list to find a gap of 4.5 points below #FvF.

Peeple’s Poll top 30 movies of 2019

Title Before Movie After Movie Difference
Avengers: Endgame 90.1 92.2 2.1
Ford v Ferrari 77.4 87.7 10.2
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood 79.3 87.5 8.2
Spider-Man: Far from Home 80.0 87.2 7.2
Downton Abbey 79.6 86.9 7.3
Toy Story 4 81.9 86.3 4.4
Harriet 74.8 86.3 11.5
Little Women 77.3 86.0 8.7
Knives Out 77.0 85.6 8.6
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 80.2 85.5 5.3
The Best of Enemies 71.6 85.2 13.7
They Shall Not Grow Old 80.3 85.0 4.7
Jojo Rabbit 76.7 84.9 8.2
The Upside 74.5 84.8 10.2
Captain Marvel 78.9 84.6 5.7
Frozen 2 78.0 84.4 6.4
On the Basis of Sex 74.9 84.2 9.3
The Peanut Butter Falcon 73.0 84.1 11.0
Rocketman 78.4 84.0 5.6
A Dog’s Journey 69.4 83.6 14.2
Brittany Runs a Marathon 73.7 83.1 9.4
Yesterday 73.0 82.9 9.9
Hotel Mumbai 74.3 82.6 8.2
Dark Waters 74.1 82.5 8.5
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 79.0 82.5 3.5
Aladdin 72.0 82.4 10.4
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 76.4 82.4 6.0
Richard Jewell 71.8 82.0 10.2
Joker 77.6 81.8 4.2

As you would expect, the breakdown of the post-movie rating for movies forms a nice-looking bell curve.

2019 - Peeple's Poll result count graph
The average beforemovie vote is 70.4 and aftermovie is 75.8.

Here’s a few interesting data points from the Peeple’s Poll.

  • Uswritten and directed by Jordan Peele, had the misfortune of being the highest rated movie that didn’t meet expectations. It got a respectable 79.6 post-movie rating, but the expectation before the movie was 81.5 — a difference of -1.9. I think Jordan Peele should take it as a compliment that people have such high expectations for his movies.
  • The Beach Bumstarring Matthew McConaughey, is the lowest rated movie in 2019. Not only did it have a horrible expectation of only 57.4, but it even failed to meet that by getting a 49.0 post-movie vote — down 8.4 from expectations.
  • Captain Marvel had a very respectable 78.9 before-movie vote and a 84.6 after-movie vote (+5.7). That’s not particularly noteworthy, unless you look at Captain Marvel’s score at IMDb.com (6.9) and RottenTomatoes.com’s  user score (49%). What’s up with that?

Do Peeple who use the RunPee app just like Marvel movies more that average? Probably not. There was a concerted effort by a few men’s groups to suppress the audience score at both sites because Bree Larson (who plays Captain Marvel) is outspoken about women’s rights. It’s impractical to rig the scoring in the Peeple’s Poll because a user can only vote once, and they must spend a Peecoin just to vote. So there’s a barrier to submitting a vote. That’s by design, because I’d rather have quality votes rather than quantity.

  • It’s not just about how good a movie is, but sometimes how much better a movie is than expected. If you really wanted to be surprised by a movie this year, then I hope you saw Run the RaceIt scored a whopping 14.9 points above expectation.

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the movies that beat expectation by double-digits this past year.

Title Before Movie After Movie Difference
Run the Race 63.0 77.9 14.9
A Dog’s Journey 69.4 83.6 14.2
The Best of Enemies 71.6 85.2 13.7
Breakthrough 67.8 80.9 13.0
The Art of Racing in the Rain 69.1 81.4 12.3
The Aeronauts 67.6 79.6 12.0
Harriet 74.8 86.3 11.5
Dora and the Lost City of Gold 63.7 74.8 11.1
Abominable 68.7 79.8 11.1
The Peanut Butter Falcon 73.0 84.1 11.0
Playmobil: The Movie 59.4 70.0 10.6
Aladdin 72.0 82.4 10.4
Richard Jewell 71.8 82.0 10.2
Ford v Ferrari 77.4 87.7 10.2
The Upside 74.5 84.8 10.2
Yesterday 73.0 82.9 9.9
Note: Yes, I know that 9.9 is less than 10, but I loved Yesterday and wanted to include it since it was almost there.

All things considered, it’s hard to overlook just how excellent Ford vs Ferrari was. Overall it was the second highest rated movie, going by post-movie vote, but also scored 10.2 points better than expectation.

That said, Avengers: Endgame had an expectation vote that was higher  — by far — than any other movie had post-movie vote. It’s kind of hard to improve on such grand expectations, yet it did.

Of course, a lot of movies didn’t meet expectations. Here’s the complete list:

Pet Sematary 68.3 67.8 -0.5
A Madea Family Funeral 66.8 66.1 -0.7
Hellboy 64.4 63.6 -0.7
Little 67.6 66.8 -0.8
Cats 61.4 59.9 -1.5
Us 81.5 79.6 -1.9
Serenity 62.6 60.6 -1.9
Ad Astra 72.8 67.5 -5.3
The Lighthouse 70.6 64.0 -6.6
The Dead Don’t Die 68.2 61.3 -6.9
The Beach Bum 57.4 49.0 -8.4
Black Christmas 61.6 53.0 -8.6
Uncut Gems 75.3 65.9 -9.4
Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable 76.0 62.0 -14.0

Thanks to everyone who voted in the Peeple’s Poll this year. And please let me know if you can think of ways to improve our voting system. We read every email and comment our fans send us.

What are your favorite and worst films of 2019? Comment below!

Infographic of every Star Wars movie ranked by fans on IMDb and RottenTomatoes

RunPee’s “Anything Extra” Feature – The Details About End Credits Scenes

The 6 Most Epic Lightsaber Fights in Star Wars (plus 3 that didn’t make the cut)

So many Star Wars movies. So many lightsaber and “lightsaber-adjacent” fight scenes over 42 years. Which saber duels are the best, the most visually stunning, or emotionally moving?

I don’t know much about sword technique (<—- we wrote about that here) beyond endlessly watching Lord of the Rings or Xena: Warrior Princess, but I know when a scene satisfies. Of course, this ranking is subjective. DUH. 😉 

Warning: spoilers ahead for the saga through Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker.

Counting down my top lightsaber fight scenes, with the videos to illustrate them…here we go!

6. Old Ben vs Darth Vader — (A New Hope)

It was slow;  it was sluggish, but it was our first lightsaber fight, and the emotional stakes were sky(walker) high. Looking back, it’s a wonderful galaxy-building scene, and when Luke sees Obi-Wan die, it packs a punch every time. Even after dozens of viewings.

(Even though the old Jedi Master doesn’t seem to become more powerful. I blame this on Sir Alec Guinness, who famously hated the role. That’s probably why we got Yoda in the first place.)

But this real life knight didn’t let us down — his expression when he sees Luke at the end of his Vader duel is subtle and fantastic. He gives a small smile to Vader before he puts up his sword. Iconic. Look for it. Well done, by a true acting legend.

RunPee Dan has a video explaining why this is actually one of the most realistic sword fighting styles shown in Star Wars, and here is the scene in question:

5. Young Obi-Wan vs Anakin Skywalker — (Revenge of the Sith)

I’m not a big fan of the prequels, but some scenes stand out. In Revenge of the Sith, I kept waiting for it to feel like Star Wars, instead of a documentary. I got that in the last half hour of Revenge of the Sith. And in my recent saga rewatch, I felt terrible for new quadruple amputee Anakin. Then he caught on fire and cried to his former ‘brother’ Obi-Wan. Ob-Wan is clearly full of torment, but almost casually picks up Anakin’s lightsaber and walks off. A real pal would have killed Anakin, instead of wandering away to let him burn to death. But then we would never have had Darth Vader, so….go with it.

The deciding fight on Mustafar is nicely done, if we can ignore the problems with the estranged Jedi duo fighting a foot away from LAVA. LAVA. I feel like I need to say this a third time: LAVA. Does being a Jedi give you heat resistance?

Oh well; the fight was still good. I think it gave us the emotional catharsis that we, the fans, needed, to buy fully into Akakin’s final fall from grace. As in killing Jedi Younglings and genociding the Sandwalker race isn’t enough!

For an up to date reference: Rey healed a serpent monster. Respect! And that worked into the rest of the narrative (including The Mandalorian, on Disney Plus). That made me happy and gave us important exposition without shoving our noses in it. Rey FTW.

Raise your hands if you think it’s any Dark Side coincidence that Darth Vader made his Mustafar Burad-Dur fortress on the planet he lost everything on. The Dark Side needs a constant source of pain and hatred fueled to keep fully aligned with the Sith need for anger/fear/resentment. Good way to keep hatred burning in your heart! I do get that: it gives unlimited Dark Side vested interest.

Yet…every time we see Vader in the Bacta Tank, or meditating in his oxygen cocoon, we can’t help but think he longs for his body/soul purity back. At this point I think he wants to escape the Emperor, but realizes he’s trapped by a mostly mechanical body and a well of bad deeds — he’s burned bridges from everyone who might have helped him purge the anger. It’s hard to redeem yourself after genocidal acts, even if” bringing order” to the galaxy seemed seductive at the time. No one thinks they are the Bad Guy in their story. I think Anakin did think he was helping the known worlds, and that the Jedi were the ones in the wrong with their non-attachment credo.

This video section is in 2 parts on You Tube:

4. Darth Vader vs the Data Tape — (Rogue One)

This bit gives me chills every time. It’s only a few minutes, and only at the very end, but we get to see Vader in his Sith-y prime, effortlessly wiping the walls with rebel troops. It’s a desperate scene, tracking the Death Star data tape, but fits into the beginning of A New Hope with crackling style. Even though  I knew the rebels got the plans, I was on the edge of my seat, urging, “Hurry, hurry, OMG HURRY.” So wonderfully done. When the Tantive 5 speeds away I couldn’t help but cheer. If you watch this scene directly before A New Hope you’ll notice some continuity problems, but that doesn’t diminish the power of this…raw slaughter. This is why we love to fear Vader:

3.  Luke vs Kylo Ren — (The Last Jedi)

By the Maker, this was an excellent duel: even better on repeat when you know Luke is just a Force projection. In my theater viewing, I noticed Luke’s feet didn’t stir up the salt or red iron soil beneath, unlike every other person or vehicle on Planet Crait. I chalked it up to bad continuity at the time, but then cheered like a fool when I realized this was no mistake. Mark Hamill sells the deception for all it’s worth, and when he dusts an imaginary speck off his shoulder I had to give him props for the ultimate in cool. Way. To. Go.

And the top 2 lightsaber fights…

2. Rey and Kylo vs Snoke and the Imperial Guard — (The Last Jedi)

For one thing, it was neat to see different laser weapons than sabers (the Guards’ weapons), and two…the rewatchability level of this battle royale is outstanding. The choreography was unprecedented — seeing two Force users playing off each other’s skills to fight together, like Hercules and Iolaus in The Legendary Journeys. It also lit a lot of shipper’s torches for the star-crossed couple of Rey and Kylo Ren. This was simply an outstanding scene. Great chemistry and a few really creative moves.

It lacked a distinctive theme soundtrack, and that brings it down a little.  It just isn’t the number one lightsaber fight, and that might contribute. Listen to this as it plays: it’s an “action wallpaper” of sound. But…it’s still emotionally satisfying, and impressively choreographed to show two people totally in sync.

1. The Duel of the Fates — (The Phantom Menace)

Say what you will about The Phantom Menace, but this prequel has the single best lightsaber battle in the live action Star Wars stories. John William’s soaring, ominous, chant-filled score is among the best tracks in any Star Wars movie, and Darth Maul is legit skilled and scary. When we see Qui-Gon quietly meditating on the floor, while Maul paces like a caged tiger who can’t wait to kill, it’s a perfect wordless exposition on the Dark and Light sides of the Force. And when the red laser walls kept Obi-Wan out of the fight while he watches Maul kills Qui-Gon…MAN. This was a stunning 5-minute scene that never drags.

I was surprised Obi-Wan bested Maul, despite knowing he lives through A New Hope. And losing Qui-Gon Jinn really hurt. He’s my favorite Jedi, and I was thrilled to hear his voice in Rise of Skywalker. (I held out hope til the end that Qui-Gon got together with Shmi Skywalker, so Rey could be a grandchild of the Skywalkers. Or a Kenobi: my favorite theory. But wishing does not make it so. At least we found out the truth in the end, and it didn’t fully suck.)

Just watch this again without Jar-Jar-Colored blinders and you’ll see this is inevitably the best Lightsaber duel on any level: 

Honorable Mention: Kylo Ren vs Finn

Finn’s desperate “traitor” stand against Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens was an emotional and successful moment — but missed out on the BEST OF scenes because it wasn’t that great a fight, overall. Finn was wildly overmatched, and that he stood as long as he did was a tribute to the character’s determination and concern for Rey. He also might have a touch of Force Sensitivity (See Rise of Skywalker). But a great lightsaber scene? Not as such.

Just Missing the Cut – Luke vs Darth Vader (Twice)

I didn’t include either of Luke’s lightsaber fights with Darth Vader for a few reasons that took a lot of time to consider. For one thing, Vader in Empire and RotJ was clearly toying with Luke. Vader basically Force-tossed the scenery at his son, instead of actually dueling. He wanted to make a point and then turn him to the Dark Side, not kill him. Mostly. “All too easy.” Until the whole ‘Sister’ thing came up in RotJ, when Luke started wailing on his father in rage.

The people Luke loves are his sore spot, and probably why he went into exile eventually. When Luke got angry enough in RotJ, his fighting style changed to swing, hack, swing, hack…and it’s clear he was using the Dark Side when he battered his father and cut his arm back off. (With the Emperor cackling like a damn fool from the sidelines.)  It’s a very emotional moment, but the lightsaber action isn’t that exciting. If this article was about meaningful fight scenes, this would be ranked highly. But as for a lightsaber showdown, it doesn’t perform.

 

Which top duel and/or lightsaber fight scenes did I miss? Yoda vs Count Dooku? Anakin and Dooku? Obi-Wan and General Grievous? Yoda and Palpatine? The big Order 66 showdown? Does anything from Rise of Skywalker make the grade? Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below.

Video Essay – How to Film a Good Sword Fight

All Star Wars Movies, ranked by personal watchablility. Now including Rise of Skywalker

 

Infographic of every Star Wars movie ranked by fans on IMDb and RottenTomatoes

Star Wars Revealed: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a lying liar who lies

What is the best all-time series franchise?

harry-potter sorcerers stone
It started well and kept getting better. Congratulations, Harry!

So many movie franchises, so little time. While it’s easy for producers to add yet another movie to any long-running series, it’s not so easy to have every one of them qualify as good, quality films. And in some series, all are decent, but none are outstanding. How to decide who gets the top spot for film series narratives where everything is both above average and don’t contain a clunker?

Definition: What’s a movie franchise?

We figure anything beyond a trilogy counts as a true series. Also, I’m looking at stories with an element — any element — of cannon material.

We fudged a few times here. Riddick only makes four films by including Dark Fury, an animated but CANNON inclusion to the series. The Matrix (at least through now, since a 4th movie has been recently announced, but hasn’t been filmed) has an entire cannon series of Animatrix anime. We’re going to take a leap and include those.

So, we’ve decided we have to draw a line somewhere, since linear story-telling material in so many series are all over the map.

Here we go: Soft Reboots are included…Hard Reboots are not. In other words, if the series nods to any previous incarnations and characters, that’s a Soft Reboot (ie – the Kelvin Timeline in Star Trek that refers to our Classic Timeline and has Old Spock and New Spock as continuous characters), but Hard Reboots are out (removing something like Evil Dead from the equation, for example, since the new version goes back to the beginning and erases the entire previous trilogy).

James Bond films are tough that way, and might be based on who was Bond when. Probably. We’re mulling over whether each Bond series has any connective tissue to the last. But clearly with each Batman version, it’s a Hard Reboot from the ones that follow. Which makes detangling DC an issue.

Note: We can’t say we’ve covered every series out there, especially those in the horror genre, which can malinger like old laundry. We see a lot of movies, but aren’t superheroes here. Let me know what I left out in the comment section below. 

Interesting “leading” actors note:

Vin Diesel, Harrison Ford, The Arnold, and Sylvester Stallone each have two entire lead role franchises on this list. Wow! We could possibly, maybe, conceivably, say so do Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but those are “starring” roles in large ensemble films, instead of clear leads.

What do you think? We aren’t sure where to draw the line on this, so feel free to chime in to the comments with your opinions. We realize people can get worked up about their favorite movie series, and we want to hear all about it!

So, let’s get to it. Here are the franchises we’re looking at, and our personal, very opinionated comments as we go.

  • Aliens — Pure disaster from 2 onward. What not to do. ARGHHHH. So much original goodness, so, so wasted. After the first and the sequel, which ROCKED, we can’t recommend anything else. And they keep on trying…to no avail.
  • Terminator —  None actually suck, but it’s very uneven. A good effort. Also, with all the timelines, working out what is a Soft Reboot vs Hard Reboot is problematic. This would have been worth consideration as a winner, especially with the new Dark Fate offering, if Genisys wasn’t so damned dumb.
  • Predator —  All of them are rather good, if you don’t throw the Aliens vs Predators into the mix. That 2nd AvP is one of the worst movies I have ever sat through. And, to be honest, I don’t like Predator 2 much at all either, except for the fun spaceship ending. It felt like a gangster film and was not very sci fi. Bummer.
  • Resident Evil — Jeez. Past the first, are any good? There are six live action films to date, and a few animated ones. Did you realize six movies even happened? I remember really liking the first one a whole lot, with the brand new Alice and Raccoon City. Then the Resident Evils seemed to blend into a massive zombie mess, and can’t recall anything important, except for a cool scene with a motorcycle crashing through a church stained glass window. Which movie was that? I sure don’t know. Oh, wait, and didn’t one film have the remnants of humanity in Alaska? I really tried to keep up…
  • Harry Potter — Most consistently above par as a series. Each one is great-to-excellent. Probably the All_Over_Series Champion for this article’s purposes. So far, the Fantastic Beasts films are pulling it down a little, but not by much. None of these suck. The first two are juvenile….because the intention is that the audience will grow up with the series.  And the juvenile ones even knock my socks off, by introducing a magical ambiance and the firm foundation of a wizarding wish fulfillment fantasy. You know you want to get an acceptance letter to Hogwarts too. Don’t deny it. 😉
  • Twilight — Oooo boy. Best case: they are consistent…consistently bland. Next…
  • Star Wars. Yikes. It’s really too bad how uneven this series is. Even if you love the prequels, you’ll argue about the new films. No one agrees here with any of this. It’s really too bad. How did this happen?
  • Star Trek / original and Abrams — More yikes. Do you prefer Kirk or Picard? And which Kirk do you prefer? It doesn’t really matter, since each series has some great highs and some low, low, lows. Somehow, each movie manages to keep the continuity going (the Kelvin Timeline of JJ Abrams is a borderline Soft Reboot because of the alternate timeline including Old Spock). But the classic Kirk stories have their greats (Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home) and their losers (The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier). And the Patrick Stewart efforts are also up and down (Great: First Contact, Awful: Nemesis). I’m not going to argue about Nu-Trek. The big issue: no matter how you slice it, none of the parts of the series are consistent enough to come close to winning this prize. Sorry, Trek fans.
  • Indiana Jones — Sigh. Yep, uneven…I doubt I need to elaborate. Honestly, I only love the original. The rest are good-to-poor in execution. And it’s not Harrison Ford’s fault. I don’t know what happened with such a great premise.
  • MCU — Sooooo close to perfection. None are bad. The Hulk isn’t exactly good (it gets by with a ‘fair’). We think after the Harry Potter series, this is the Runner-Up Winner in terms of being consistently excellent. One could say the MCU should win by default, however, since after a WHOPPING 23 films, they are almost uniformly excellent. Should we allow one ‘fair’ Hulk film to drag this amazing feat down? (This Hulk was definitely better than the Ang Lee Hulk, which is frankly unwatchable). Seriously, none of these films are bad. But not all of them rank as good. This is a toughie. Also, Agents of SHIELD, Peggy Carter, and a few other one-offs with good material count as cannon. (Not sure if Thor’s adventures with his roommate Darryl count, but I don’t see why not. It’s even a trilogy in itself!)
  • X-Men/Wolverine/Deadpool — Part of the fun here is even the characters don’t know what is or isn’t cannon. Personally, I think this is an example of Marvel working out the bugs in making a contiguous franchise. Even their most recent X-Men movie this summer shows how awfully bad things can get when the writing isn’t planned well. I’m as confused as Wade Wilson when it comes to the X-Men.
  • DCEU — OH DEAR GODS. I’m going to just disqualify the DC universe until they figure out what the heck they’re doing. Some of it is cannon. Some are quite enjoyable (for me: only Wonder Woman and Shazam). Some of the DC films are hard reboots and some are soft reboots, and some suck no matter how you slice them.  Even after the successful new Joker film, I think they still don’t know what they’re doing. I hope James Gunn’s Suicide Squad 2 will be great, but even that is supposed to be a soft reboot. Will Birds of Prey fit in? Do we even care?
  • LOTR/Hobbit — It’s really too bad about that last Hobbit film. Our trips to Middle Earth could have swept all the wins. Battle of Five Armies was just awful. Damn.
  • Lego Movies — These are almost all pretty good. But the Ninjago one isn’t worthwhile. Sorry, Lego fans. Alllmost. It’s too bad. The other three are excellent. One clunker ruins the score.
  • Men In Black — Only the original is GREAT. The other three are…fine. Even the new one is…no better than fine. My personal ranking is 1, 3, 4, and then 2. Pass.
  • Toy Story —  Quite good as a series. 2 is kind of a clunker and brings the series down, which is too bad. This is almost a winner.
  • Shrek — Do you know there are four Shrek films out there? Me neither. And that boots this off the list. Sorry, Mike Myers. Were the last direct-to-video? I have no idea where this went.
  • Despicable Me + Minions — A fairly even series, I’ll grant it that, and a lot of fun. Not one is a clunker. But if Despicable Me wins this contest, I may have to eat someone, like a random Grip or Best Boy or Foley Artist…please, don’t make me do this. Cute, cute, cute. But seriously amazing storytelling? This might be a runner up. Seriously, for being a silly premise, this is kind of a winner. Banana!
  • The Matrix — The first movie redefined action movies. On the DVD box set there’s an option to watch the movie while three movie critics (yes, movie critics) commentate on the movie — how brave of the directors! One of the critics commented: “I realized while watching this movie that I was witnessing a watershed moment.” Then the other two movies came out — Reloaded and Revolutions — a few years later, to less than critical acclaim. As a huge Matrix fan, I didn’t know what to think, but upon rewatching, and rewatching, I understand that the story couldn’t have been better. Even the universally panned Burly Brawl fight scene in Revolutions served an important plot point than few people understand. (There’s a reason the fight went on, and on, and on.) Between Reloaded and Revolutions, we had the collection of animations –in the Animatrix. While it’s probably only appealing to uber-fans, the stories are all entertaining and are artfully done. Well worth watching, and they help fill in much of the back story, and even introduce a character who later shows up in Revolutions.
  • Riddick — All are good. Two are great. But having only half be amazing isn’t enough to win the franchise prize.
  • The Monster U/Godzilla — This series is ongoing, so the jury is still out until we see King Kong vs Godzilla. So far, the series is enjoyable, but far from great. I remember thinking during the first Godzilla movie that there wasn’t nearly enough Godzilla. Mostly, watching any of these movies just makes me crave watching Pacific Rim again.
  • Mission Impossible — Most of these mush together in my head. I can recall it around the stunts…as in, “This is the one where Tom Cruise does a Halo Jump.” Some of these are really very good, and some (early on, mainly) are mediocre.
  • Fast & Furious/H&S — None of these are bad, but it’s a pretty uneven series. Like with Mission Impossible, it gets better as it goes, and I remember them by stunts (“This is the one Vin Diesel flew a car between skyscapers in Abu Dhabi…”).
  • Rocky/Creed — The first movie was pretty amazing, and I don’t usually like fight plots. But then each following film focused more on fighting and less on story. Things got mediocre fast, even with the Creed films bolstering the narrative.
  • Rambo — I hate to say this, but I’ve never watched a single Rambo film. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.
  • Jaws — HA!  The first two have some decent continuity and are worth viewing…but then things dwindle fast. Do you know how many Jaws movies there are? (Hint: officially, 4. But with the ‘bad shark franchise’ being so fat and happy, you’d think there were more.)
  • Bond — Very uneven, if you look at all the Bonds in all the years. Some Bonds are more consistent than others. But since each one is a Hard Reboot, this makes it hard to grade. I don’t think any new Bond character acknowledges a prior Bond storyline. But I might be wrong. If you have some thoughts, share them in the comment section. I’d love to know if any Bonds refer to prior incarnations.
  • Die Hard — Did  you realize there are five films in this series? Poor John McClane, running barefoot through glass shards every Christmas. So to speak. I love him and the original film, but  this series is still too wobbly to win the Ultimate Franchise award. A+ plus for the original. then thing get mediocre quickly.
  • Mad Max — With Fury Road, this is 4 films and thus enters our competitive list. And I hate to say this….but I have NOT seen Fury Road. (Man, I know. I suck.) Even so, I think this is a consistent series, and each one is worth a watch. But they aren’t AMAZING, no matter how you slice it. So it’s not a win, not compared to Harry Potter.
  • Hunger Games — Decently consistent, but the 3rd is sort of lame and drags the series down. It’s too bad — this really could have been a contender. All it takes is one bad movie…
  • Transformers — Let’s face it:  that any single one of these movies is watchable is a win. The best I can say about any of the Transformer movies is that they make great films to play in the background for cleaning the house.
  • Halloween — There are 11 movies in this series. The most recent brought Jamie Lee Curtis back in a true sequel (and Soft Reboot) that continues where the first film left off, discarding the rest. Thankfully. This is how to do a follow-up, and it performed very well at the box office. There are two more films on the pike to continue this narrative.
  • Jurassic Park — The original is an A+ film and Lost World was a pretty good sequel. Then we got the abyssal Jurassic III, which should be taken out behind the shed and shot. It’s that bad. It took a long time to revive the series with Jurassic World, and the 4th movie is quite charming — a great relief for dino-philes like me. The 5th film is good, not very good or great, but certainly isn’t a dog like HP 3. It’s too bad 3 happened at all: JP could have been contender. JP 3 is THAT BAD.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean — Although there are four movies in this series, the only one to be taken seriously is the first. While the original was ground-breaking and fresh, everything that followed seemed like a live-action cartoon. FAIL.
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation – All, at least in the 5 films, (American Vacation, European Vacation, Xmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation and Vacation) are watchable. None are above a B grade, however. Just because all are watchable doesn’t mean any are great.
  • The Bourne movies – There are 5 of these! But the quality is up and down. Bummer.
  • Saw, Chucky, The Conjuring Universe – I’m just not a horror fan. I’ve seen exactly zero of these films, so I can’t comment on them. We’re hoping RunPee Sis, our resident horror fan, will make her own franchise list. I do have the sense that all have a very uneven quality. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comment section below.

I don’t pretend to cover every series. I’m not that awesome. But from this list here, it’s clear who wins, and who just misses the cut.

Winner: Harry Potter (even including the 2 Fantastic Beasts films), with 10 films of good to ‘fantastic’ quality that all easily make the ‘film classics’ list. Congrats to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Newt!

Runner Up: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. I really want to give this series the win. It’s hard to have 23 movies (plus two cannon TV shows and several one-shots) all be amazing. And it’s not fair to have Hulk (and maybe Thor 2) drag the entire thing down. When they did Hulk they really didn’t have the MCU formula worked out — that was the same year as the original Iron Man, which was a long shot at best. But you know what? It created an empire that almost nothing could compete with. It’s just soooo close. MCU, we love you 3,000.

Honorable Mention: The Matrix. A lot of people just do not like the sequels, and haven’t even seen the Animatrix Collection. In fact, the sequels spawned some serious vitriol when they came out. But if you watch them now, 20 years later, and forget “all you know, and think you know”, you’ll actually enjoy what the directors have accomplished. This cinematic experience is really very deep, and the quality can’t be argued against. We only hope the previously announced four-quel will add to the story (unlike the new Men In Black: International).

Honorable Mention 2: Believe it of not, Despicable Me/Minions is right up there, and more consistent than the otherwise beloved Toy Story series. I’m shocked too.

Do you agree or hate my assessments? Comment below. I promise I’ll respond with respect. This is what makes films fun.