Category Archives: BEST/WORST LISTS

Sean’s 10 Worst Films Of 2019


by Sean Burns

Every year around this time the usual scolds chime in, tut-tutting and finger-wagging about the practice of making a Ten Worst List, claiming that film criticism should be about sharing enthusiasm and uplifting good work instead of dwelling on the bad. These days I’m lucky enough to be able to spend the majority of my time writing about stuff I enjoy and championing smaller films that don’t have the benefit of multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns. But I also have to watch a lot of crap. And since people were paid very handsomely to make this garbage, then turned around and asked you fork over the cost of a ticket, overpriced concessions, parking and a sitter to watch such dreck, I humbly submit that they should be able to handle a parting shot or two before we ring in the new year.

  1. JOKER

An empty simulacrum of feel-bad ‘70s-cinema signifiers, the year’s most bafflingly popular blockbuster mashes up and hollows out “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy” among other classics, carefully side-stepping any of the issues explored in the films it’s stripping for parts. This is a cowardly, tedious corporate product posing as quote-unquote dangerous art. I guess every era gets the Joker it deserves, so this one wallows in victimhood and self-pity while the movie feints at blaming “society” for his actions but is really more interested in setting up sequels.


Almost every year the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award goes to the movie I hated most. Picked up by Amazon Studios at the tail end of the fest for an obscene $14 million, this is one of those ghastly-looking lil’ indies thrown together with such indifference to aesthetic concerns they might as well have left the lens cap on. Jillian Bell stars as a flip, sardonic party girl who takes up jogging — losing weight along with any vestige of a personality. Self-help affirmations ensue. This is why people hate runners.


A reactionary crock even by Stallone standards, Sly’s boringly sadistic, molasses-paced finale to his ultra-violent adventures in ideological incoherence gets a MAGA makeover. With his long hair, headband and hunting bow, our disaffected Vietnam Vet was always visually coded as a Native American warrior, a man apart fighting alone. Now he’s all cleaned up with a cowboy hat and Winchester rifle, a rancher defending hearth and home from bad hombres and foreign hordes. It doesn’t even feel like a “Rambo” movie so much as an even more racist remake of “Taken.”


This year’s terrible John Travolta movie finds the wayward superstar giving an awfully committed (and committedly awful) performance as an imbalanced superfan obsessed with a horror movie has-been, charmlessly played by real-life horror movie has-been Devon Sawa. Ineptly directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, it’s a grindingly unpleasant little picture, wallowing in misery and running down the clock until the inevitable, ugly bloodshed. The only respite comes when two characters kick back and listen to some sweet Bizkit tunes on the car radio. (This is seriously something that happens.)


There were probably worse blockbusters this year but none so baseline incompetent at visual storytelling. This is a movie that kills off a major character but you can’t see it happen so they put a picture of her up on a computer screen with the word “DECEASED” over her face. I learned days later that Ziyi Zhang is actually supposed to be playing two separate roles here but the movie is edited so incoherently it’s impossible to tell. And what kind of director gets a bad performance out of Kyle Chandler?

  1. GLASS

In the curious case of M. Night Shyamalan, I find myself torn. On one hand you’ve gotta salute his heroic commitment to wrestling this singular, specific and often very strange creative vision through a studio system increasingly hostile to anything a shade off from homogenous anonymity. But on the other hand I think his movies are stupid and boring, with this ret-conned trilogy-capper prompting a particularly egregious round of logy eye-rolling. When I told my friends what happens to Bruce Willis at the end of this picture none of them believed me.


You could throw this summer’s “Aladdin” in here as well, in so far as Disney’s joyless, weaponized nostalgia re-enactments don’t work as movies in their own right, but rather exist as a depressing form of corporate brand extension, sucking all the life, wonder and color out of beloved cartoon classics. The whole concept of this one confuses me. No expense has been spared to painstakingly mimic the fur patterns and limited movements of actual jungle cats, who I guess are supposed to look like real animals while they’re singing Elton John songs.

  1. CATS

Tom Hooper’s gaudy, guileless big-screen blow-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s gibberish Broadway perennial is already being hailed as a disaster of legendary proportions. The un-kitty valley CGI turning these mugging performers into “Island of Dr. Moreau” half-feline hybrids is deeply disturbing, with their monkey tails and the not-to-scale, super-sized sets making you wonder if anyone involved has even seen a cat before. This may sound like a kitsch classic, except remember the show is just the same scene over and over again and feels like it’s never going to fucking end.


The most mystifying of this year’s massive flops starred Natalie Portman in a puzzling adaptation of that tawdry 2007 tabloid tale about a NASA Space Shuttle Commander who wore adult diapers while trying to kidnap a co-worker. Prestige TV auteur Noah Hawley leaves out all the interesting, pulpy parts in favor of doom-laden, metaphysical free-associations and annoyingly ever-changing aspect ratios. Leering, sexist and over-directed within an inch of its life, the film wastes an unhinged Portman going full “Hee-Haw” on a movie where the meaning seems to escape its maker.


No movie in years has made me angrier than this cutesy-wutsey take on the Holocaust from writer-director Taika Waititi, who had the unmitigated gall to make an Anne Frank story with a happy ending. It turns out fascism is just a phase you’ll grow out of if you’re lucky enough to find a cool Jewish girlfriend in the cupboard. Gross in so many ways, it’s a movie made by and for those of an insulated and intensely arrested sensibility, processing atrocity via anachronistic in-jokes and audience-flattering asides. Watch it win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Over the past 20 years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Dan’s 10 Best Films of 2019


by Daniel M. Kimmel

If you look at the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, which includes the reviews here, it is near impossible for even the most popular film to score 100% and even the worst reviewed to get 0%. There are almost always minority views that are just as valid because these are opinions, not pronouncements. 2019 was a middling year at the movies and so my 10 Best are the ones that stayed in the memory at year’s end.

YESTERDAY – Richard Curtis, who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually,” came up with this endlessly inventive comedy of an aspiring musician who emerges from a coma to discover he’s in a world that has never known the Beatles. Instead of taking the easy way out (“It’s all a dream!”), the movie follows that premise in surprising ways.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN – Edward Norton, wrote and directed, took film noir into 1950s New York as a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome trying to solve the murder of his boss. Harking back to movies like “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential,” it delves into the sins that created the modern city all the while evoking the era with stunning visuals and an evocative score by Daniel Pemberton.

THE IRISHMAN – Martin Scorsese presided over this gangster film reunion with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, with the actors doing some of their best work in years. This is a genre piece by people who helped define that genre over the past few decades and is as impressive in its way as what Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” did for the western.

LITTLE WOMEN – Did we really need yet another version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel? Writer/director Greta Gerwig showed that we did in this beautifully mounted and acted adaptation. Amidst the bombast of other holiday season offerings, this film quietly showed itself to be the class of the field.

JOJO RABBIT – Filmmaker Taika Waititi brings a unique comic sensibility to this story of a young German boy trying to make sense of Nazi Germany while his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish woman. It’s a delicate balancing act that won’t work for everyone but manages to evoke both laughter and horror in the right places, with the director playing the boy’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.

KNIVES OUT – The late film critic John Simon acerbically noted that movies ought to be art or else great entertainment. This comedy/mystery is very much in the latter category with a great ensemble cast involved in solving the murder of a wealthy writer (Christopher Plummer) tired of supporting his adult children. Oh, and Daniel Craig sings.

THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE – One of the year’s quirkiest films came and went quickly and isripe for discovery. Jesse Eisenberg plays a meek man who is viciously mugged and resolves to learn how to defend himself, falling under the sway of a charismatic martial arts teacher. As he progresses, he learns that not everything is as it seems. Like “JoJo Rabbit,” it’s not for every taste.

TOY STORY 4 – Pixar Animation has had some misfires, but they’re still in the forefront of American animation. After the perfection of the third film in the series, there was no reason to return to these characters, and yet they cleverly pulled it off with wit and the occasional tear along with Forky, easily the most unexpected animated hero of the year.

MIDSOMMAR – I was not taken by writer/director Ari Aster’s 2018 “Hereditary,” but his latest offering – while overlong and owing much to “The Wicker Man” – slowly draws the viewer into a world that is increasingly nightmarish, demonstrating that horror can take place in broad daylight. The cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski is dreamlike, beautiful to look at even while things spin out of control.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME – All right, there are too many superhero movies. There’s no gainsaying the achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, in building its storyline over 16 years and multiple films, before finally bringing everything and everyone together in an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Not every entry was a success, but this one – featuring a final cameo by the late comic book legend Stan Lee – was a fitting capstone.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.






Dan Kimmel’s 10 Best Films of 2018

In “Grand Illusion,” the 1937 classic film about prisoners of war during WWI, there’s a moment when two escapees are seen crossing a vast field of snow. The troops chasing them stop and let them go because they have crossed the border into neutral territory. The imaginary line is akin to the tradition of picking the best of the year in December. It’s a total arbitrary demarcation that works only because we all share in the “illusion” that calendar years are distinct time periods. As in past years, this is really my ten favorite films of 2018, the ones I was most apt to recommend when asked.

STAN & OLLIE – Steve Coogan and, especially, John C. Reilly give incredible performances as the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy at the end of their careers. Long-time partners on-screen, it was while touring England and Ireland in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s that the two became friends. As biography, as show business story, and – most subtly – as a look at taking stock of one’s life in later years, this is a film that has stuck with me.

BLACK PANTHER – Are you tired of superhero movies yet? They may have started to blur together, particularly as the “Marvel Universe” films all play into each other. This one was unique, with an incredible cast – headed up by Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Michael B. Jordan as a villain whose motives were pure – taking us to places we hadn’t seen. Director Ryan Coogler managed to make an Afro-centric film that spoke to everyone, even people who didn’t think they could sit through a superhero movie.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS – I came into this knowing nothing about it except its vaguely suspect title and came out utterly charmed. As a fan of romantic comedies (and the author of I’ll Have What She’s Having), it was a pleasure to come across a romantic comedy that actually worked. The first all-Asian cast Hollywood film since the early ‘90s, it managed to be both specific and universal as an American academic learns that her boyfriend is part of one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. Vivid, colorful, and a whole lot of fun.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – There were a number of good documentaries this year, but this look at the life and work of Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood,” was the film that was the perfect antidote to the ugly, divisive times we find ourselves in. Rogers was a special person, and his inherent decency is something that we could use now. A lovely tribute to a man who quietly made a difference.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – I couldn’t have told you much about the rock group Queen going in. The film hits the expected beats one expects in a Hollywood biopic. What makes this a standout, apart from the recreation of a landmark concert appearance, is Rami Malek’s star turn as the group’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. He burns up the screen in a performance that was one of the outstanding acting jobs of the year.

FIRST MAN – Ryan Gosling’s tendency to underplay his roles can sometimes be annoying as he seems to be sleepwalking through a movie. However, Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was taciturn and introverted, and Gosling’s portrayal showed us a man who did the job but wasn’t interested in the grandstanding. There are moments when he lets the mask slip and lets his interior feelings out, but for the most part it’s a portrait of a public man who let his actions speak for themselves, carrying his losses without demanding anyone’s sympathy, including his own family.

GREEN BOOK – This story of working class and somewhat racist white guy (Viggo Mortensen) hired to drive a brilliant pianist (Mahershala Ali), who happens to be black, through the South in the early ‘60s is about race, class, and male bonding. Both men (who, in real life, became lifelong friends) had to overcome their prejudices to connect with the other. It’s a feelgood movie that tells us something about ourselves and why we need to face the racial divides in this country.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 85, is a rock star. This is the second film about her this year, after the documentary “RBG.” This drama focuses on her tackling her first big sex discrimination case after having faced such discrimination herself at Harvard Law School and then out in the real world. It’s a movie that helps us understand why this is an issue for men as well as women, and why Ginsburg was marked for greatness right from the start.

THE HATE U GIVE – The dystopia in this adaptation of a YA novel was not set in the far future but in the present day, where a black teenage girl sees a friend pointlessly shot down by the police and has to decide what to do about it. If the ending is a bit pat, it’s still a film that confronts a number of painful truths. Black or white, this was a movie that told you something you needed to hear and left you with the idea that while one should not give up all hope, addressing matters won’t be easy.

OPERATION FINALE – What is it like to confront absolute evil? For the Israeli agent played by Oscar Isaac, it involves figuring out how to get Adolph Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, to cooperate in his removal from Argentina to stand trial for his crimes. Ben Kingsley is chilling as Eichmann. At a time when people on the far left and far right rationalize antisemitism, this is a timely film that reminds us that those who don’t learn from history may be doomed to repeat it.•••

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.






Dan Kimmel’s 10 Worst Movies of 2018

The ten worst films of 2018? With any luck I missed most of them. Instead, here are the ten most unpleasant experiences I had at the movies this year, even if a few were praised in other quarters.

A QUIET PLACE – Yes, actor/director John Krasinski pulled off an interesting idea: a post-apocalyptic world where one had to be silent lest one attract homicidal aliens. Unfortunately, no one bothered to fix loopholes in the script big enough to drive a Mack truck through. He gets his wife pregnant because babies are SO easy to keep quiet. No birth control? The movie’s first scene is in a drug store! And how did the world’s military and scientists miss discovering the aliens’ weakness prior to the beginning of the story?

A WRINKLE IN TIME – Maybe this beloved children’s book can’t be filmed. Certainly, this abomination from director Ava DuVernay, which made the witches played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling look like they should be floats in the Thanksgiving Day parade wasn’t the answer. Slow and leaden, one can only hope it doesn’t discourage young readers from discovering Madelyn L’Engle’s wonderful original.

THE DEATH OF STALIN – Widely praised as a satiric look at Soviet history, it was a dark, violent and not at all funny movie in which a talented cast flailed about in a fruitless search for punchlines. This might have worked better as a straight dramatic film where the ironic twists might have stood out. One of the year’s biggest disappointments.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE – My fellow Boston area critics in two groups heaped awards on this movie with both naming Lynne Ramsay best director and the Boston Online Film Critics Association naming it best picture. I need to find out what drugs they were on at the time since this bleak, incoherent and violent movie was as dull as it was pointless. Perhaps it was the lack of much dialogue that impressed as Joaquin Phoenix battled hallucinations while tracking down a missing girl.

HEREDITARY – A dysfunctional family story tarted up as a horror film, it featured the horrific death of a child in a situation no normal parent would ever have allowed and ended up going completely off the rails. Toni Collette’s performance as the mother trying to unlock the mystery was mistaken in some quarters as acting instead of just getting increasingly hysterical. (Collette has done fine work elsewhere. She did herself no favors here.)

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS – Jim Henson must be spinning in his grave as his son Brian directed this R-rated movie in which humans and puppets co-exist. In one scene Silly String is used as the equivalent of a bodily fluid usually only on camera in porn. The difference between this and “Team America: World Police” (2004), is while the latter mixed marionettes and raunch, only “Happytime” was utterly witless.

LIZZIE – Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny), a young Irish maid (Kristin Stewart), sexual shenanigans, and murder. What could possibly go wrong? How about turning the story into a listless mishmash that not only did not make history come alive but drove a stake through its heart to make sure it stayed dead. One was hard pressed to care if any of them lived or died.

THE OATH – There’s an old theatrical expression, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” Here’s a good example why. In an increasingly oppressive America, a family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner and fights over their differences. Moviegoers stayed away in droves, apparently thinking, “Been there, done that.” What they missed was the arrival of the secret police.

SUSPIRIA – Can’t anyone make a coherent horror movie anymore? This remake of the 1977 film about a Satanic dance academy took a story that ran 92 minutes and added another hour to it so that it made even less sense. The rule for artsy horror this year seemed to be it didn’t matter how bad the script was as long as the last half hour was completely over the top.

WELCOME TO MARWEN – Steve Carell has had a busy year, appearing in “Beautiful Boy” and “Vice.” He should have stopped there. In “Welcome to Marwen” he plays an artist with a brain injury who lives out his fantasies with dolls set in a village during World War II. Unfortunately director Bob Zemeckis paid more attention to the special effects than to the characters or story. ***

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Sean Burns’s 10 Worst Films Of 2018

For many years I had to go see pretty much every movie that came out, and only recently has my professional situation afforded me the opportunity to skip stuff in which I’m not particularly interested or that I am pretty sure I’m gonna hate. (For example, I stopped watching Mark Wahlberg films and “Transformers” sequels right around the time both began to overlap.) Perhaps there were worse films in 2018 than the ones on this list, but these are ten titles that cheesed me off most, the ones I couldn’t resist taking a few more shots at before calling it a year.


Steven Spielberg sings a song of himself in this lumbering nostalgia wank positing a nightmare dystopia of regurgitated 1980s pop culture references. Author Ernest Cline’s shameless Willy Wonka ripoff is the worst kind of fanboy fantasy, celebrating couch potato arcana and video game prowess as what will save the world. The endless action sequences are entirely without weight or consequence, while our heroes rail against corporate commercialism in a movie full of prominent product placement for Pizza Hut. 


Bearing the bad news that drug addiction is something that can also happen to those nice people from the Lands’ End catalog, this unbearably bourgeoisie melodrama stars Steve Carell and a vast collection of expensive flannels as the kindest and most understanding dad in the world whose wayward son (Timothée Chalamet) nonetheless gets hooked on crystal meth. The film exists inside a spectacularly unexamined bubble of moneyed privilege that makes Nancy Meyers look like the Safdie Brothers.


The noisiest and most overcrowded Marvel extravaganza yet pig-piles twenty-six characters from the past eighteen films into a numbingly repetitive 160 minutes of samey, unimaginative, intergalactic punch-outs during which Earth’s Mightiest Heroes take turns getting their asses kicked by Josh Brolin’s silly-looking Grape Ape. There are worse superhero movies, but none so light on story or this tediously inconsequential, ending with a cheap cliffhanger stunt sure to be instantly reversed in next summer’s sequel.


What if they remade “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” but with foul-mouthed Muppets that fuck? Honestly, not a terrible idea for a movie. Alas, Brian Henson’s breathtakingly unfunny noir spoof just sits there, visually inert and stuck on the single idea that nothing’s more inherently hilarious than saying swear-words. A dire, distended sequence in which our felt detective ejaculates an uncontrollable spray of silly string is the sort of joke that makes you feel sad for the teller.


Luca Guadagnino’s gobsmakingly misguided remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 Technicolor freakout tries to explain the inexplicable, dulling down the visual palate and tastelessly evoking the horrors of Theresienstadt and a ton of real-life terrorist attacks in this silly story about a dance school for sexy witches. Tilda Swinton gives several of her least interesting performances in multiple roles while Thom Yorke’s droney, energy-sapping score makes these two-and-a-half hours drag like five.


At a cultural moment when powerful men are finally being called upon to answer for their sexual improprieties, Jason Reitman’s hagiography of womanizing, failed former Presidential candidate Gary Hart couldn’t possibly be less in tune with the times. This banal, deeply incurious picture demonizes the press and exudes rich-kid entitlement, pining away for the good old days when the privileged and powerful closed ranks to protect their own. Reitman should make a Brett Kavanaugh biopic next.

4. THE 15:17 TO PARIS

In August of 2015, three young American men foiled a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train, an astonishing real-life rescue that takes up approximately five minutes of Clint Eastwood’s reverential reenactment. The rest of the time it’s mostly the boys wandering aimlessly around Europe, a dramatically deadening decision compounded by the bizarre choice of casting the real-life participants as themselves. The amateur acting and absence of incident are so stultifying it’s almost avant garde.


Any movie trying to draw suspense from silence shouldn’t have a blaring, wall-to-wall musical score. Anyhow, John Krasinski’s recent heel turn from adapting David Foster Wallace and writing an anti-fracking screenplay to becoming a bulked-up star of rightwing Tom Clancy fantasias and Michael Bay’s Benghazi picture strikes me as a mostly mercenary move. This film plays an NRA ad stoking Pro-Lifer paranoia while carefully not committing too hard to its own queasy subtext.


Writer-director Adam McKay’s cacophonous Dick Cheney biopic is the best thing that’s happened to Oliver Stone in decades. A dumbing-down of recent history that will feel insulting to anybody who actually lived through it, the film finger-wags in fulminating outrage without having anything new nor particularly interesting to say. Anchored by one of those “transformative” Christian Bale performances that’s all weight-gain and gimmicks while offering zero insight into he man himself, “Vice” doesn’t know Dick.


John Travolta’s laughably incompetent “Battlefield: Earth” of gangster epics proceeds from the outlandish and morally indefensible notion that the Teflon Don got a bum rap, depicting this murderous dirtbag as an aspirational figure of endangered masculine values in a fallen world of pussies and finks. It’s an astoundingly stupid, boring, and ugly-spirited picture, full of angry-old-man axe-grinding and clownish goombah posturing by a cast curiously short on actual Italians. Basta.

Over the past nineteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Ten Best of 2017


One of the privileges of being a film critic is getting to do a ten best list at the end of the year. For me, it’s an opportunity to tout the movies I most enjoyed and was most likely to recommend. There were other films I liked – and a few films that my colleagues swooned over that I detested – so this is a personal list, and gives you a chance to judge my take on the movies.

DUNKIRK – Christopher Nolan’s impressionistic take on one of the most dramatic moments of World War II, where the British were desperately trying to evacuate their troops from France, was a stunning achievement. It showed how the horrors of war could elicit the best of both soldiers and civilians in the direst of circumstances.

GET OUT – Comedian Jordan Peele’s debut as a director was a stunning achievement, a horror film that made a powerful statement about racism and modern culture. The dramatic payoff, where he pulled the rug out from under us and our expectations, demonstrated a filmmaker ready to take on the world. This was the directorial debut of the year.

THE SHAPE OF WATER – Guillermo del Toro gives us “Creature of the Black Lagoon” as a romance, and one of the most stylish films of the year. Set in the 1950s, it provides a snapshot of where we were while pointing to how much better the future might be. A top-notch cast and outstanding art direction and special effects made this the science fiction film of the year.

DETROIT – A dramatization of outrageous police brutality during 1967 protests, it is a movie that demands to be seen by viewers who think they can ignore it. This is not a “black film.” African-American viewers already know what it says. This is a film for white viewers (like this critic) who need to understand why “black lives matter” is not only an important movement, but is an understatement of the problem this country must address.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – There was a time Hollywood knew how to do movie musicals. You wouldn’t know it from last year’s “La La Land” or this year’s “The Greatest Showman.” Once again, Disney surprised us by successfully giving us a live-action version of one of their animated classics. This was a sheer delight and the proof was in “Be Our Guest.” When they pulled that off with a mixture of live action and CGI – and they did – it was a moment of triumph.

COLOSSAL – Anne Hathaway plays a misfit who discovers that when she goes to her childhood playground, a giant monster mimics her actions in Seoul, South Korea. And then the film gets weird. This was a movie that not only pulled off its bizarre premise but managed to do so while keeping us guessing where it was going. This was an inventive and provocative movie that never tipped its hand right through its final shot.

COCO – Pixar is no longer batting 1.000, but when they get it right, they are head of the class. In their best film since “Inside Out,” they use Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” celebration to tell a story about being true to yourself across generations. If you’re not shedding a tear by the end, you need to check your emotions.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE – I make no apologies for this. Having been one of the few critics to pan “The Lego Movie,” I was bowled over by this follow-up. It is easily the best superhero movie of the year, hilariously taking apart the givens of the Batman mythos. Whether it’s Batman in particular or superheroes in general, this was the must-see superhero movie of 2017.

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER – Angelina Jolie grabs our attention in her third outing as director, relating the horrors of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. We’ve seen this in “The Killing Fields” (1984) but this is different, showing us what occurred through the eyes of a child. We experience it as it happens and learn how this remarkable young girl managed to survive.

LAST FLAG FLYING – Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne are three Vietnam vets accompanying Carrell’s son’s remains from Iraq. This is not merely about war, but about men confronting the issues of reaching late-middle-age and reflecting on their lives. Younger critics may not have appreciated it, but director/co-writer Richard Linklater knew what he was doing.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, including Jar Jar Binks Must Die. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

2016: The Year’s Ten Best


I’ve long since given up claiming my choices–or that of any of my colleagues–constitutes the final word on what were the “best” movies of a given year are, since that is for posterity to decide. There are movies that were highly praised that, in hindsight, are embarrassing, and others–now considered classics–that were overlooked. For me this exercise is simply to note the films I most enjoyed this year, and were most likely to recommend if you asked me, “What’s worth seeing?”

    Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as Jacqueline Kennedy, capturing the breathy socialite and the sharp and strong-willed woman the public barely knew. The frame for the story is the interview she gave shortly after the funeral for President Kennedy, looking back on that horrible weekend and the experience of being First Lady. Portman moves into the front ranks of current actresses with this portrayal.
    Rachel Weisz has a great role in Deborah Lipstadt, the real-life Holocaust scholar who was sued in British courts by a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall) and has to trust that her lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) is employing the right strategy. In presenting the actual case the film raises the question of how best to confront and battle extremism, an issue that–sadly–is increasingly relevant.
    In a year with several strong science fiction movies, this was a standout: cerebral, reflective, and character driven. Amy Adams excelled as the linguist called upon to try to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible language of space aliens, where the fate of humanity might hang in the balance. This joins “Interstellar,” “Gravity,” “Inception,” “Moon,” and “Gattaca” as making it clear that modern SF films can be more than special effects and action figures.
    The Boston Online Film Critics Association, one of two critics groups of which I am a member, named this the best film of the year. While not my top pick, this is a worthy choice in telling the story of an African-American character at three stages of his life–child, adolescent, adult–and the tough choices he has to make. The choices are specific to the character but speaks volumes about contemporary life, with stellar performances by a largely unknown cast.
    While the Boston Society of Film Critics (my other group) named the supremely overrated critics’ darling “La La Land” as best picture, the Ryan Gosling film not to be missed was this one, in which he and Russell Crowe get involved in solving a noirish mystery. It’s dark, violent, and at times very funny, including a moment when Gosling–deliberately–quotes Lou Costello.
    Without a solid cast and good direction, a movie isn’t likely to succeed, but first it needs a great script. “Hell or High Water” had all three, but its knockout script is what made this memorable. Chris Pine and Ben Foster are bank-robbing brothers in the contemporary West with Jeff Bridges as the lawman laconically on their trail. It’s a thriller that takes you by surprise.
    Although this doesn’t open locally until January, this 2016 release about the African-American women who worked as “calculators” for NASA in the early 1960s is a history lesson that we should all cheer. These real-life women have largely remained unknown. This movie should change all that, with stellar performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.
    This was a great year for animation, with movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Sing,” but “Zootopia” managed a story involving ambition, being true to yourself, and not engaging in steretotyping, all the while being very funny and colorfully imaginative. The nice thing about the year’s best animation is that it wasn’t just for kids (and we’re not just talking about “Sausage Party”).
    The Coen Brothers were back with this zany look at classic Hollywood that featured musical numbers, Communist writers, scandals, gossip columnists, and Josh Brolin as a studio executive trying to hold everything together. For those who know their Hollywood history, this was dead-on and priceless.
    It’s no secret that Woody Allen is long past his prime, and that’s said sadly by a critic who counts “Annie Hall” as his favorite film. So when a new film of his works it’s a cause for celebration. This tale of star-crossed lovers who have to deal with the cards life has handed them turned out to be funny and moving, with some great period touches.

Now on to 2017.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.