The Self-Isolated Monthly Review of March 2020

I hope you’ve got time for a long read (I know you do — you’re stuck at home too, right?) because there’s a tonne of stuff to witter about in this month’s update.

So, settle down with some of the stuff you’ve stockpiled (well, okay, you shouldn’t really need pasta or loo roll to get through this post… I hope…) and while away your isolation with my self-centred lists and stats.


#31 The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
#32 Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
#33 The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part 3D (2019)
#34 Harakiri (1962), aka Seppuku
#35 Showman: The Life of John Nathan-Turner (2019)
#36 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#37 The Invisible Guest (2016), aka Contratiempo
#38 Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3D (2019)
#39 Hustlers (2019)
#40 Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
#41 Last Chance Harvey (2008)
#42 Red Joan (2018)
#43 Late Night (2019)
#44 Quartet (2012)
#45 The Lady Vanishes (1938)
#46 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D (2009)
#47 The Platform (2019), aka El hoyo
#48 The Battle of Algiers (1966), aka La battaglia di Algeri
#49 Spider-Man: Far from Home 3D (2019)
#49a Peter’s To-Do List (2019)
#50 The Mad Magician 3D (1954)
#50a Spooks! 3D (1953)
#50b Pardon My Backfire 3D (1953)
#51 A Man for All Seasons (1966)
#52 The Viking Queen (1967)
#53 Aladdin 3D (2019)
#54 One Cut of the Dead, aka Kamera wo tomeruna! (2017)
#55 Knives Out (2019)
#56 The Breakfast Club (1985)
#57 So Dark the Night (1946)
#58 Missing Link (2019)
Harakiri

The Invisible Guest

The Lady Vanishes

Knives Out

.


  • I watched 28 new feature films in March. Boy, does that give me a lot to talk about…

So, let’s break it up a bit. First, some stats…

  • That’s my biggest month since July 2018, which also had 28 films. They’re now tied as my 4th best months ever.
  • Talking of all-time numbers, it’s my best March ever, with a total that’s double the month’s previous average of 14.4. In fact, it single-handedly pulls that average up by over one whole film, to 15.5.
  • Talking of averages, it also surpasses and increases both my rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 12.75, now 13.3) and my average for 2020 to date (previously 15.0, now 19.3).
  • Talking of numbers that are almost 20, it’s my 20th month ever to have 20+ films, and my first 20+ month since last May.
  • Talking of months with 20+ films, March is the month where I have the greatest consistency at reaching a total of 20+. I’ve done it every year since 2016 — that’s five years in a row now. It means March makes up fully 25% of all months with 20+ films. For comparison, there’s no other month where I’ve done it for more than two years in a row.
  • Another milestone: I reached (and passed) #50, i.e. halfway. Except I’m aiming for at least 120 nowadays, so halfway is another couple of films away yet.
  • Nonetheless, this is the second-furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of March, just ahead of #57 in 2018, but reasonably far behind 2016’s #67. What does this tell us about how the rest of the year might pan out? Bugger all. In 2018 I ended up reaching #261, whereas in 2016 I ‘only’ got to #195. And for another point of reference, March 2015 ended at #44, over 20 behind 2016, but ended the year five ahead, at #200. So, y’know, it’s all meaningless.
  • I also had a really good month for my Rewatchathon (see further down this post for more about that). I really should go back and produce a full set of numbers for every month so I can include that in comparisons too…

Talking of my Rewatchathon, what of my other viewing challenges…

  • This month’s Blindspot films: influential guerrilla war movie The Battle of Algiers; plus, I watched the first of what I’m calling my ‘overflow’ films (unseen leftovers from previous Blindspot challenges), seminal ’80s teen comedy The Breakfast Club. Also Harakiri, which merited a mention in my Blindspot post this year about why it wasn’t included (I’d forgotten about that when I randomly chose to watch it anyway!)
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, Hustlers, The Karate Kid Part II, and Late Night.

Finally, some observations about the other films…

  • It’s fundamentally meaningless, but this month I watched my first feature films of the years whose titles begin with nine letters of the alphabet: F, G, H, I, K, O, Q, V, and W. That’s 35% of the alphabet covered in one month — only slightly more than the seven / 27% in January and eight / 31% in February, but then this task gets harder as the year goes on (January has a massive advantage, for hopefully-obvious reasons, whereas the most any of the remaining nine months would now be able to manage is two / 8%).
  • Another first: The Viking Queen was the first film I’ve watched on DVD this year.
  • Talking of DVDs, I watched Judgment at Nuremberg on the BFI’s recent Blu-ray release, which I bought even though I’d only bought the DVD a little while ago. Well, when I fished out that DVD to put on my “to sell” pile, I found it still had the dispatch receipt inside, which showed I bought it in… 2010. A whole decade ago! Sometimes I worry about my sense of the passage of time…
  • As you can tell (as if you didn’t already know), picture quality is important to me. So I could probably write an entire post about the weirdness I’ve been experiencing with Netflix’s PQ of late. I started streaming The Platform, but after it maintained a speed of just 0.57 Mbps — and looked terrible because of it — I gave up and, er, sourced it elsewhere. I’ve tried it again several times since, at different times of the day and night, and it’s always 0.57 Mbps. The same thing happened with Missing Link, although that was 1.21 Mbps so was somewhat more watchable (I still went and got a better copy from somewhere else, though). That led me to try about a dozen more titles, all of which came through at completely different rates, some reasonable, some not. It doesn’t seem to be connected to them needing different amounts of data or needing some time to get up to speed, either — it appears to be totally random. And it doesn’t seem to waver. I had decided to just cancel my Netflix subscription until all this is over (because I presume it’s connected to the speed-limiting they’re reported to be doing in Europe) — after all, it’s not as if I don’t have enough else to watch… but there’s loads of stuff I really do want to see on Netflix, and some of it is still streaming at a reasonable quality. So, I’m undecided.
  • As you can tell from the lack of blue text in the listing above, I haven’t reviewed a single film from this month’s viewing. I thought this might be the first time that’s happened, so I trawled back through all 118 monthly updates to check, and I can confirm… it’s not. In fact, it last happened less than a year ago, in July 2019. You have to go back over five more years, to May 2014, to find the time it happened previous to that; but it happened once in 2013 and three times in 2012, too. So, yeah, not really news.
  • I feel like the only person in the world who hasn’t (re)watched Contagion this month. If you’re interested, my quickie review from when I did watch it is here.



The 58th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I saw quite a few great films this month, and usually that would make this choice very hard, but I fell head over heels for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. I don’t think it comes up too often as one of his very best, but it’s definitely one of my favourites from his whole filmography.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I know it’s an acclaimed classic, but the film I least enjoyed actually watching this month was The Battle of Algiers.

Best 3D of the Month
I watched six new feature films and two shorts in 3D this month (plus four more features in the Rewatchathon), which I expect is a personal best. Setting aside the quality of the film itself, the one with the very best 3D was The Mad Magician. It’s in black & white, which was a bit weird at first (not sure I’ve ever seen a black & white film in 3D before), but because it’s from the ’50s it was actually shot in 3D, not post-converted, and while post-conversions are often very good nowadays, there’s so much extra subtle detail you get when something’s been shot in stereo for real.

Best Twist of the Month
Who doesn’t enjoy a twist? Filmmakers certainly do, and so they abound this month — even The LEGO Movie 2 has one (kinda). Prime examples include Harakiri (which keeps you on your toes with constantly shifting information), Knives Out (which has more up its sleeve than simply whodunnit), and So Dark the Night (that is a whodunnit, but if you watch it, try to read as little as possible first). But the winner this month is The Invisible Guest, because it managed to get almost as far as the reveal before I guessed what was really going on, in part by peppering plenty of about-turns along the way. Nicely done.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s a long-standing observations that TV-related posts do well in this category, especially when they’re given plenty of time to amass hits. So, as I posted my 56th TV column way back on the 8th, it’s no surprise to see it win out easily. (The highest film post was The Lion King.)



As I mentioned in this month’s viewing notes, I didn’t rewatch Contagion; but that aside, my Rewatchathon is going rather well this year, racing ahead of target. Mainly, I’ve been revisiting in 3D films I’d previously only seen in 2D.

#9 The LEGO Movie 3D (2014)
#10 The Lion King 3D (2019)
#11 Godzilla 3D (2014)
#12 Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)
#13 Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
#14 Mission: Impossible – Fallout 3D (2018)

Starting with the 3D, then, that Fallout link takes you to my full review of it in 3D, so no need to repeat myself. My Lion King review isn’t expressly about the 3D, but, as I do discuss in the review, I was impressed by it, and it led me to even enjoy the film a little more. As with most computer animated films, The LEGO Movie looks awesome in 3D. Indeed, the skilful way the filmmakers emulated the scale of LEGO is only emphasised by the use of depth here. Despite the fact I already owned the (2D-only) Special Special Edition, I bought another copy in 3D on the strength of the 3D presentations of the LEGO Batman and Ninjago movies, and I wasn’t disappointed. (Now I just ought to watch some of the SSE-exclusive bonus features to justify that purchase…)

Godzilla‘s 3D didn’t generate much comment from me, which is a shame because you’d think the scale would lend itself. It’s not bad, just not special. The film itself is not perfect either, but it’s a darn sight better than most people give it credit for. One thing that’s often criticised is how sparingly Godzilla is actually in it, but I think writer-director Gareth Edwards paced it just right — when the big guy finally turns up, it’s an electric moment.

I totally forgot that I’d randomly rewatched Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon in December 2017, but colourised. This time was the original black & white version, as part of my rewatch of the whole Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series on Blu-ray. I more or less stand by my original review, which I also stood by in 2017 (though I’m back to being less keen on Lionel Atwill’s Moriarty again), so I guess my opinion on this one is fairly certain. However, I liked Sherlock Holmes in Washington more than I’d remembered; though my original review (linked above, obv) isn’t that damning, so clearly its poorness had self-inflated in my memory. That said, I do still think it’s one of the series’ weakest outings.


I normally begin this section by looking at the stuff I failed to see on the big screen last month, but, well, that’s dried up, hasn’t it? However, though it may feel like Coronavirus has been denying us social experiences for, like, ever, it’s actually only been a couple of weeks — before everything went completely self-isolating-tastic, cinemas were full of Onward, Military Wives, Misbehaviour, Bloodshot, Fantasy Island, and Dark Waters. Even My Spy actually came out over here (in the US it was pushed back into Bond’s vacated release slot. Presumably they’ll be abandoning that now too).

Now, of course, you have these “direct from the cinema” rentals popping up, including Emma (which I’ve seen), The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, plus Bloodshot and Military Wives from the previous list (no Onward this side of the pond). They mostly cost £15.99 for a 48-hour rental (though Bloodshot has gone straight to £13.99 to own, suggesting they don’t expect anyone will want to). At that price, it isn’t worth it to me. For comparison, a ticket at my local cinema is £5.75 — I’m interested in seeing most of those films, but not almost-three-times-what-it-would’ve-cost-me-at-the-cinema interested. I’ll wait ’til they drop to a sensible price and/or hit disc.

Some digital rentals have drawn me in, though — the cut-price ones Amazon offer as a perk of being a Prime member. For either 99p or £1.99 a pop I’ve got Aniara, End of the Century, It: Chapter Two, Rambo: Last Blood, and Ready or Not all ticking down to expiry dates throughout April.

I have less compunction about splurging money on disc purchases. Last month I mentioned that “I got a bit carried away with Blu-ray purchases”, with 16 films on disc among my failures. This month puts that in the shade, with a ridiculous 40 films added to my Blu-ray collection (and I actually watched some new stuff I bought, so the true total acquired this month is even higher). Specific splurges include an Arrow sale (mostly noirs, like The Big Clock, Nightfall, and Phantom Lady, plus the Sister Street Fighter collection); an Indicator sale (their seven-film Samuel Fuller box set, plus A Dandy in Aspic, Footsteps in the Fog, The Legacy, and No Orchids for Miss Blandish — none of which I’d even heard of before Indicator released them, but they do make things sound so good); and a bunch of 3D discs of films I’d already seen and enjoyed to some degree (Bolt, Tangled, Pan, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Noah, which is available from Germany in a well-reviewed 3D conversion). Talking of Germany, I also just discovered they’ve had Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris on Blu-ray for a couple of years, so I imported that too (for a very reasonable price, I must say, from Amazon UK). I also bought Criterion’s release of The Blob at an offer price from them, and Bong Joon Ho’s The Host at an offer price from HMV. While trying to fill out a different multi-buy offer I upgraded my old DVD of the X Files movie to Blu, which I knew would put me on track to upgrade the whole series eventually… and it did, just a week or two later, getting it for a good price secondhand on eBay… and then I upgraded I Want to Believe, just to complete the set. I also upgraded The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — yeah, I know, but I actually quite liked it back in the day, and I saw this article on Twitter that swayed me. And that’s not even everything, but dear God, it’ll do.

Back to streaming, then, and the big names have been trotting out plenty of content this month, only spurred on by everyone being stuck at home right now — and by the launch of a major new competitor in Disney+. I haven’t subscribed, nor taken the free trial (yet), so I don’t really know what’s on there besides what everyone’s been talking about, i.e. a months-late release of Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian (which they’re sticking to releasing weekly, even though it’s all been out in the US — and on piracy sites — for months), and the live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp.

Over at the usual suspects, Netflix had their second back of Studio Ghibli films, which for me means Arrietty (though I own it on Blu-ray), The Cat Returns, and My Neighbours the Yamadas. I also want to rewatch Spirited Away, and as I only own it on DVD, HD on Netflix is tempting. Most of their original additions this month seemed to be TV series, although there was Mark Wahlberg in Spenser Confidential, but it was so poorly reviewed that I don’t intend to bother. From the back catalogue, they just recently added The Death of Mr Lazarescu. I remember that getting recommended a lot back when it came out. I never really knew what it was about, but the Netflix blurb begins: “Amid a pandemic”, so I can see why they’ve acquired it now.

As for Amazon, they could offer up recent stuff like The Aeronauts (one of their own, so I think it even bypassed disc), Blinded by the Light, and Midsommar. Other additions catching my eye included sci-fi drama Marjorie Prime (I heard about this somewhere only recently, but I forget the context other than it was a recommendation); The Immigrant (Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner in a film from the director of Ad Astra); Antiviral (a sci-fi-horror-thriller written & directed by Brandon “son of David” Cronenberg); and Intacto (a film I’d completely forgotten all about, but the poster image struck a deep memory of something that had once been highly recommended and I really wanted to see, probably right back when it first came out, 18 years ago(!) Well, now it’s on my watchlist again).

Both of those added a lot more than I’m bothering to list here, so if you’re a subscriber to either, do be sure to keep an eye on sites like New on Netflix UK or this Amazon equivalent.

Finally, I went to cancel my Now TV Sky Cinema subscription at the start of the month, but they offered me a great deal: three monthscompletely free. You can’t turn that down, can you? Even if I only watched one film on there during those three months, the cost-benefit ratio would be fine. They add a new premiere every day, plus a handful of other titles now and then, but, despite that, only a couple of newcomers were worthy of note to me: The Goonies (yep, never seen that), Her Smell (people seem to keep recommending it), Robert the Bruce (the unofficial sort-of-sequel to Braveheart), and The Secret Life of Pets 2 (the first one was alright, so why not?)

(Whew, this section is getting damn long nowadays — and that’s without the further 50 films I had on my long-list but decided not to mention. Maybe I should start doing it as a standalone post — this month it’s over 1,000 words, which is about the same length as one of my longer film reviews!)


Right now who knows what next week will bring, never mind next month? Though if things carry on as they are (and it looks like the will for a good while yet), perhaps it’ll be a record-breaking month. Or perhaps not. Who knows!

The Past Month on TV #56

This TV column is over a week later than I intended it to be, meaning there’s loads to talk about — half a season of Doctor Who; two new ITV dramas; more Picard and Twilight Zone; I finally watched Good Omens, and got back to The Good Place; there’s even the Oscars; plus a bunch of other stuff. It’s an epic — over 5,500 words if you read the whole thing — so let’s crack on…

Doctor Who  Series 12 Episodes 6-10
PraxeusMost of the Doctor Who chatter of late revolves around what happened in the finale — no surprise there, given major revelations were teased in previous episodes this series. But before I natter about that, there’s a handful of other episodes to cover.

After a rocky opening to this 38th run of Doctor Who, with episodes varying wildly in quality, I think it settled down pretty well in the middle. That doesn’t mean it was a classic series by any means, though. Praxeus is a perfect case in point: it’s a solid episode, with a decent storyline, a few nice scenes, a handful of broadly well-drawn characters, and a reasonable amount of important-message delivery. As the second environmentally-themed plot in as many months, it suffers somewhat from the repetition, but how this handles its messaging about plastic pollution vs how Orphan 55 battered us around the head about climate change is a good example of how to do such things fairly well instead of very, very poorly. But there are also a handful of plot holes and character inconsistencies to niggle away at you. It’s as if they didn’t bother to employ script editors or continuity checkers this series — though the oversights are so glaring, anyone should’ve spotted them. So if all of this sounds like damning with faint praise… well, it is. In any other recent era of Who, this would be a middling-to-poor midseason filler; in the current era, it’s one of the better episodes.

There were more Issues on hand the next week in Can You Hear Me?, to the extent the BBC even put up their Action Line phone number at the end. It’s clear showrunner Chris Chibnall wants to Say Something with at least a couple of episodes every season, but he’s once again clashing with the past: Vincent and the Doctor already did mental health better. In itself, how Can You Hear Me handled the issues it raised was a mixed bag. Yaz’s backstory came out of the blue — it’s not even been vaguely alluded to before, and how it’s depicted in the episode left a lot up in the air. The consensus on social media is we were meant to think she was intending to commit suicide, but the episode soft-balls this in order to avoid triggering terms or visuals — a commendable aim, especially in a family drama, but it left the point entirely unclear. And the end of the episode, where the Doctor seems dismissive of Graham trying to open up about his cancer, drew actual complaints and the BBC having to issue a statement. If you have to explain the intent of your drama in a statement released afterwards… well. But ‘Issues’ aside, as a sci-fi adventure it was another solid attempt.

The Haunting of Villa DiodatiAll of which means that the series’ penultimate story, The Haunting of Villa Diodati, was on a whole ‘nother level. For me, this might be the first genuine classic of this era. (If you’ve not seen it, spoilers ahead.) The first half is like a proper horror movie, complete with jump scares and other creepy effects (the dead-eyed little girl behind the door, but only when the lightning flashes… brr!) Naturally there’s a sci-fi explanation for it all, but even that was thrilling and chilling in its own way. It was the best use of the Cybermen since… er, their last story, because that was really good too. But the Cybermen are sometimes underserved by Who, wheeled out and disregarded as second-tier baddies after the Daleks, so I delight in seeing them used so well more often. Throw in a well-researched and depicted historical atmosphere, some good comedic asides (I thought the butler was superb), and a genuine sense of jeopardy (the Doctor stuck between a rock and a hard place with the decisions she has to make, and the lone Cyberman a towering presence), and you’ve got an all-round great episode.

Which leads us to the two-part finale. The first half, Ascension of the Cybermen, went down well with many, but I thought it was no great shakes. Like most episodes this seasons, it was solid mid-range Who, which ticks certain boxes whilst never in any way excelling. As epic finales go, seven humans vs three Cybermen is hardly a grand setup. And why do three Cybermen require two (quite large) spaceships, anyway? Was one full of those Cyberdrones — which looked thoroughly daft, so maybe they should’ve left that ship at home. The rest of the plot is a lot of faffing about to get us to the real point: the cliffhanger. Only, it’s not much of a cliffhanger, because it’s just the Master popping back up (which was inevitable) to say “now I’m going to tell you that thing I wouldn’t tell you earlier!” Wow. J.J. Abrams, you have a lot to answer for.

The Timeless ChildrenSo the real point of it all comes in The Timeless Children, where the Masters finds some new sources to rewrite the Doctor’s Wikipedia entry, then reads that revised version to her. I’m only half joking. Chibnall has managed to rewrite Doctor Who mythology in a way that both angers fans with its radical changes, and fundamentally makes no difference whatsoever. The Doctor used to be a mysterious alien from another planet who travelled the universe helping people. Now, she’s a mystery alien from another dimension who travels the universe helping people. Instead of being “just another Time Lord” who rejected the rules of their society and ran away to interfere, the Doctor is now a Special / Chosen One — the originator of the Time Lords’ ability to regenerate; her DNA copied and pasted into every other Time Lord… and then her memory wiped, so she grew up as just another Time Lord who rejected the rules of their society and ran away to interfere… but, y’know, was secretly special. I feel I should hate it, but, honestly, it was so guessable and so fundamentally immaterial that I just can’t muster the energy to care enough to hate it. It may yet go the way of “half-human” anyway, i.e. we’ll all just ignore and/or rewrite it as soon as someone other than Chibnall gets in charge.

As for the story of the episode itself — because it did kind of have one, away from the Doctor getting that massive info dump — it was, predictably, an adequate middle-of-the-road knockabout, with an underwhelming finale. When someone on Twitter can knock up an infinitely better resolution in comic strip form within hours of the episode ending (which is exactly what this is), you’re once again left questioning he actual ability of the current showrunner. They can’t even do a very good copy of a Russell T Davies-style cliffhanger/Xmas special tease. The Judoon imprison the Doctor… as a tease for a special starring the Daleks? “What?!” indeed.

Star Trek: Picard  Season 1 Episodes 2-3
Picard: engagingI’m a good few episodes behind on Picard now (episode 7 arrived this week), which is not because I’ve given up on it, but because it hasn’t engaged me quite enough to especially make time for it. It seems to have garnered quite the mixed reaction: the critics’ scores on Rotten Tomatoes are very strong; the user ratings on IMDb aren’t bad at all; but every time I see someone write about the show, on Twitter or another blog or what have you, it seems to be in criticism. I fall in between all these stools. There are things the show is doing well, or at least passably, but other bits that are awful; that feel like the worst of cheap made-for-syndication ’90s sci-fi, rather than the peak TV ‘prestige series’ it clearly wants to be.

I read one of the execs or writers or someone say that they consider the first three episodes to be their pilot, and that’s indicative of one of the show’s major problems. It’s not unique in that regard — it’s an attitude that’s become ubiquitous in this “we’ve really made an X-hour movie” era of TV making. Netflix series get away with it a bit because of their all-at-once model — if the makers say “the first three episodes are the pilot”, you can find two or three hours to sit down and watch all three as your first chunk. But Picard is coming out the old fashioned way, i.e. weekly, and so it takes three weeks to get through what should be the first hour or so. Even within the episodes, it’s paced like treacle. I don’t necessarily expect them to get through all the necessary setup in just 45 minutes — because it does establish a fair bit across these three episodes — but the same material in a double-length opener, instead of spread thin across three weeks? I think that would’ve been fine. Plenty of shows before now have had double-length pilot episodes — including, pertinently, TNG.

I’m currently wondering if Patrick Stewart regrets signing up to this. It took a lot to lure him back, and presumably it was the general shape of what they were aiming to do (rather than the specific qualities of the individual scripts) that got him there. And he’s committed to multiple seasons too, with a second already commissioned and strong rumours of at least a third. Perhaps the grand plan will become clearer as things go on. Or perhaps it is just another paced-for-streaming modern TV show, which obviously works for some people.

Flesh and Blood  Series 1
Flesh and BloodBetween its short length (four parts), quality cast (Imelda Staunton, Stephen Rea, Russell Tovey), and condensed broadcast schedule (it was on four consecutive nights), this looked like a miniseries… until a last-second cliffhanger (plus some dangling plot threads) suggested there’ll be more to come. I watched it on that back of that cast and some strong reviews, which it only somewhat merited. It’s a decent family drama, about a 60-something widow getting into a relationship with a man her three grown-up children think might be conning her, with the added spice of a friendly/nosey next-door neighbour who might be a proper weirdo herself; but decent is about the extent of it — the cast elevate the material, which is fine but didn’t excite me otherwise. I expect I’ll keep watching if it comes back.

McDonald & Dodds  Series 1 Episode 1
McDonald & DoddsNormally I’d give a new ITV crime drama a miss, but this one is set and filmed in Bath (they got in my way one day by filming in the park I wanted to sit in for lunch, the bastards), so I had to see. It was… adequate. It’s about a hot-shot London detective who relocates to Bath, and lines like “that may be how things are done in London, but you’re in Bath now” were repeated to the point of absurdity. And don’t get me started on the accents (one local review derided the programme for thinking we all speak like Hobbits). Yet, inexplicably, it seems to have gone down quite well with viewers, which just goes to show you can’t trust the general public to judge anything. It’s only two episodes, so I’ll watch the second (if only to see what other recognisable locations they trot out — it makes a real point of showing off where it was filmed), but that might be my limit.

Good Omens
Good OmensThis six-part adaptation of the beloved fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman debuted on Amazon last May, and by rights I should’ve been all over it from day one — I read the book as a kid, and loved it enough that I used to cite it as my favourite novel (the only thing that changed that was the fact it’s been decades since I last read it). But, as regular readers will know, life has got in the way of my viewing choices over the past year or so, and it was in fact that level of attachment that stopped me watching it — it needed my full attention. Obviously, that time has come.

The downside of all the waiting is that I perhaps built up expectations the series couldn’t hope to match. To say it was a disappointment would be going too far, but it didn’t blow me away in the manner the book did when I was ten-ish. It couldn’t, shouldn’t have been expected to, really. But there’s an awful lot to like here. In the lead roles of an angel and demon, respectively, Michael Sheen and David Tennant are fantastic, both individually and as a double act. There is much quirkiness and craziness to revel in, and while it’s not often laugh-out-loud funny, it regularly tickles your amusement centres with its absurdity. There are some bravura touches as well, like the 30-minute pre-titles to episode three. On the downside, at six hours it seems a little long, and there’s way too much voiceover narration — Gaiman’s true calling as a novelist rather than screenwriter showing through, I feel.

Maybe it’s a case of “the book is better” (as I say, I haven’t read it for yonks), but there’s still an awful lot to like about the adaptation. Those without a preexisting attachment to the novel may get more out of it than I did thanks to not bringing baggage. Personally speaking, someday I’ll watch it again, and hopefully having watched it once will mean it’s less weighed down by my expectations and I’ll enjoy it even more.

The Good Place  Season 3
The Good Place season 3“Holy fork,” I said to myself when I saw that the series finale of this had aired at the end of January — I’d forgotten how much time had passed since I last watched it. If you’ve still not seen any of the show yourself, look away now — it’s the kind of series you want to experience knowing as little as possible, and if you read about later seasons before you’ve seen earlier ones it’s just gonna ruin stuff. (I know that sounds self-evident, but it applies to some shows more than others, and this is very much one it applies to.)

So, the third season picks up where the second left off (duh), with the gang back in their lives on Earth trying to prove they’re good people at heart. As I found with season two (which also started with a new status quo), these early episodes are okay — during this phase I like the show, but I don’t necessarily love it; I feel “it’s not as good as it used to be”, but it still entertains me, even while it seems to tread water a bit. But then, halfway-or-so through, the plot kicks into gear, and the season’s second half is a run to the finish line through an array of surprising and hilarious situations. The “back on Earth” premise robs something special from the show, I think — it’s only once they’re on course back into the afterlife that things pick up. Not that the early part of the seasons is a washout — like most of the best sitcoms, the joy is more in the characters than the exact situation they’re in, and the characters are still around — but something didn’t quite work for me (as I said, it’s not bad, just less good), and it’s only once they’re getting stuck back into the fantastical side of things that it really comes to life. It all builds to a finale that hits a surprisingly emotional note. And, knowing the next season is the final one, I’m looking forward to seeing where this crazy journey is going to end up.

Lucifer  Season 3 Episodes 16-24
Lucifer season 3So, I’ve finally caught up on the Fox years of Lucifer — it was here that its original network cancelled the show (Netflix picked it up for a fourth season, recommissioned it for a fifth and supposedly final season, added more episodes to that fifth season, and now are reportedly lining up a sixth season too). I can see why fans were particularly enraged — the season ends on a massive change of circumstance that would’ve been a terrible place to leave it forever. Indeed, the most intriguing thing here is where it will go next, especially given the network change: Lucifer is an old-fashioned network procedural, as much concerned with case-of-the-week crime stories as it is with arc plots and the supernatural goings-on of its angels-and-demons universe; and that was to be expected when it was on an old-fashioned network, but now that it’s on Netflix, the home of bingeing, will it shift its emphasis?

That’s a question for next season, anyway. As for season three, it suffered a different fault familiar from network series of old: struggling to pace an arc plot across a mammoth 24 episodes. It actually went rather well at first (even if certain revelations were glaringly obvious), but by this final stretch it’s spinning its wheels a bit, trying to delay the finale-sized events for, well, the finale. I mean, one minute Chloe and Pierce are on course to get married, then he’s calling it off, then it’s back on, then she’s calling it off… pinging back and forth, one episode to the next; swinging from one major-life-choice extreme to the other from week to week. That’s something else the more concentrated Netflix runs (season four is ten episodes, season five will be two halves of eight each) will hopefully improve upon.

The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
The DummyJordan Peele’s new version of The Twilight Zone belatedly made it to UK screens a week or two back, almost 11 months after its US airing. I still haven’t watched any of it, but I am still going with cherrypicking the best of the original series.

I started my exploration of The Twilight Zone by watching the top ten episodes according to a couple of different websites. After that, I found more lists to create an average ranking (see last month), but I didn’t complete those new lists’ top tens — so that’s what I’ve done for this month’s selection. There were four new lists and, interestingly, all but one of their top tens contain episodes I hadn’t seen — you’d think that, between completing three top tens and a consensus ranking up to #16, I’d’ve seen every top-ten-worthy episode. That’s where personal preferences come in, of course, but it also shows how many great episodes of The Twilight Zone there are. Across the seven top tens there are 29 different episodes, and the only two that are included in every one are The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and Time Enough at Last. 15 episodes appear on just one list, including all six I’m reviewing today.

Anyway, enough of my statistics preoccupation — some episodes! The highest ranked among these is The Dummy, which is #2 on Buzzfeed’s list. It’s about a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is talking to him — is it, or is it his inner demons? A sentient ventriloquist’s dummy is a none-more-creepy idea, and the episode does an interesting line in “is it real or is it in his head?”, but it didn’t quite come together in a satisfying enough way for me. Sure, there’s a somewhat chilling final beat, but I didn’t feel like the rest of the story quite got there, more jumped to it. The second best episode of the entire show? Not even close. Though it does have one of host Rod Serling’s coolest on-screen intros.

Next up is also from Buzzfeed: their 6th place choice, Long Distance Call. Five-year-old Billy loves his grandma, and she loves him, somewhat to the chagrin of his mother. But then grandma dies, her parting wish that Billy could come with her. He starts to spend a lot of time playing with a toy telephone she gave him… and who’s he talking to? Grandma, of course. It seems like it’s just a child’s way of dealing with grief… until Billy runs in front of a car, saying someone told him to do it. It’s a strong idea for an episode, with some neat developments along the way, but it feels in need of a closing act — a final plot beat to resolve Billy and his telephone. We can extrapolate one from what happens (spoiler: by the end, grandma isn’t on the line any more), but it would be nice to see Billy realise this. And it would be effectively Twilight Zone-y as well, helping to underscore the magical realism with a final question: has Billy finished grieving and is ready to move on, or were the father’s pleas answered and grandma stopped calling? Add that final scene and this would probably be one of my most favourite episodes. As it is, it’s a very strong almost-but-not-quite.

The Big Tall WishMoving on to TV Guide’s 50 Essential Episodes now for three picks. First, their #4, The Big Tall Wish. It’s a significant episode in the history of television because it features a nearly all-black cast in a story that isn’t predicated on their race; consequently, it was awarded the Unity Award for Outstanding Contributions to Better Race Relations. Critics rank this one fairly well — it’s also 18th on Screen Crush, 32nd on Paste, and 33rd on Buzzfeed — but on audience-ranked lists it’s much lower: 127th on IMDb; 119th on Ranker. The racism of audience rankings, so regularly visible on new releases, truly knows no bounds. Anyway, it’s about a beat-up ageing boxer hoping for one last shot at glory, and the young kid who believes in him — and who also believes his wishes come true, so he uses one to help the boxer win his fight. I really liked the setup, which plays as thoughtful and groundedly dramatic, with the suggestion of magical realism as opposed to outright fantasy. It’s well directed by Ronald Winston (one of three contributions he made to the series, including The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street), from an interesting use of a mirror in the opening, which helps to enliven what would otherwise just be a scene of two people chatting, to a striking way of visualising the fight sequence. At first I was unimpressed about where the episode eventually goes story-wise, but after a bit of thought I’ve come round to it more. It is, of course, metaphorical, rather than merely following some made-up rules of magic, and therefore has something to say about belief.

Right after that in 5th is Deaths-Head Revisited, the story of a former Nazi captain going for a nice little holiday to Dachau, where a nostalgic wander around the old concentration camp turns into something he didn’t anticipate. It’s easy to forget nowadays, but this was made just 17 years after the end of the war. That sounds like quite a long time, but it isn’t really — it’s like something now relating to events from 2003. In fact, just look to a recent cinema release: that exact period of time gets you from Bad Boys II to Bad Boys for Life. I know that’s an insanely trivial comparison, but hopefully it makes my point: 17 years can be no time at all. Indeed, on the audio commentary by author and TZ expert Marc Scott Zicree and his mate Neil Gaiman (yes, that Neil Gaiman), they note how contemporary this issue was at the time: Judgment at Nuremberg had just been in cinemas; Eichmann had been tried but not yet sentenced. And this bit of trivia from IMDb: “due to religiously-inspired antisemitism that existed in the US at the time, none of the prisoners are shown wearing the yellow Star of David, which the Nazis made Jewish prisoners wear at Dachau.” Just 17 years after the Holocaust, and antisemitism was that present again. Chilling, isn’t it? And, today, we have our own problems with the resurgence of the Far Right, rendering these kinds of stories timely once again. This is as strong an example as any. As Gaiman says on the commentary, “it has real content. It’s something that leaves you with an emotion. It leaves you feeling something. It leaves you thinking.” Gaiman rationalises the events of the episode as being that “on some deep level he [the Nazi] had enough of a soul that he went back to the place of his crimes, realised what he’d done, and went mad.” Perhaps, but I think it’s more about the Nazis’ unending hubris: he thinks he can revisit the camp with impunity, to revel in the glorious memory of his deeds; but instead he is punished, and he’s not been hunted down for this punishment — it only happens because he has the gall to return.

Twenty TwoOn a lighter note, in 9th place at TV Guide is Twenty Two. I say “lighter” — the subject matter isn’t as heavy, but this is a creepy episode. It’s about a woman in hospital who has a recurring nightmare about visiting the morgue, but she’s convinced it’s not a nightmare, it’s happening. It’s the enactment of her nightmare that is genuinely creepy (just imagining having to ‘live’ it gives me chills), and the idea of not being sure what’s dreams and what’s reality is a very Twilight Zone concept. Unfortunately, some of the specifics are weak. Whether it’s a nightmare or not would be easy to disprove, considering it includes details like her breaking a glass every night, or that the morgue is room number 22 — if it is, how does she know that? (Her doctor does eventually realise this… after days of hearing about it.) And as there’s nothing else wrong with her, why not discharge her — the nightmare is so location-specific that it couldn’t happen at home. Eventually there’s a twist, and it’s a good’un, pushing the concept somewhere logical (within the bounds of paranormal ‘logic’, anyhow) and retaining the creepiness. (There’s also a question about whether it inspired a much later film series, with which it shares many notable similarities, but to say more would be a whopping spoiler.)

Another point about Twenty Two is that it’s one of a handful of episodes they shot on video to save money. Well, it may’ve saved some dough, but it looks like crap, even by the standards of video productions — it looks like it was transferred from a VHS copy. Maybe tape was really crummy back then (I swear other ’60s taped productions, like Doctor Who for example, don’t look this bad), or maybe it’s been poorly preserved, or maybe it’s just a shoddy transfer on the Blu-ray. In the end, only half-a-dozen episodes were made this way because they weren’t happy with the results — understandably! Sometimes money isn’t everything. But it’s interesting how much it’s shot like a video production. The shot choices aren’t like a normal film episode but on videotape; instead, it’s got all the kinds of camera moves and slight adjustments and whatnot you almost subconsciously recognise from live / minimally-edited TV. (Incidentally, Long Distance Call is another videotaped episode, but I watched that after this one so had fewer thoughts on the technical presentation.) And yet, the underlying episode is so good that it overcomes the technical limitations. No, the problem is the logic gaps. They may seem minor quibbles, but if they were ironed out it would improve the whole episode. For me, fixing them would make this a 10-out-of-10, but as-is it’s more of an 8.

A Game of PoolFinally for now, the one outstanding top-ten-er from Thrillist’s ranking — their 8th pick, A Game of Pool. It’s about a pool shark who thinks he’s better than the player everyone else considers to be the greatest, but that guy’s dead so he can’t prove it… except, of course, he’s in the Twilight Zone. Some episodes save their Twilight Zone-ness for midway or final-minute reveals, but others put it front and centre, and this is one of them: a game of pool with a dead man! But it still has one of the show’s trademark ironic twists at the end, to teach us a lesson. That said, I didn’t think it landed as well as some other episodes, because it’s a bit of a fantastical warning rather than a pure morality play. There’s an alternate ending (included on the Blu-ray as both a narrated screenplay and a clip from the ’80s remake, which used that ending instead), which was screenwriter George Clayton Johnson’s original and preferred conclusion, and it’s that alternative conclusion that’s stuck with me more. Of course, the advantage of things like special features is we kind of get to have both versions; we can pick our favourite, or even consider both, like alternate timelines — how very The Twilight Zone.

The 92nd Academy Awards  and
The British Academy Film Awards 2020
The 92nd Academy AwardsOn Twitter in the run-up to the ceremony itself, there was a general acceptance that (a) Parasite was the best picture of the year, and (b) Parasite was not going to win Best Picture. As far as I could see, there was a sort of genial acceptance of these facts, which made a nice change from Film Twitter’s usual condemnation of everything. But then, blow us all down, Parasite did actually win! It’s noteworthy for all sorts of reasons — primarily because it’s the first ever non-English-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It was also only the third time that the Palme d’Or and Oscar have gone to the same film. And director Bong Joon Ho became only the second individual to win four awards at one ceremony (after Walt Disney, and he did it across four different films). As for the rest of the ceremony, most of the other gongs went where expected, leaving 1917 the major victim of Parasite‘s surprise success. But it still took home three well-deserved technical trophies, whereas Netflix’s The Irishman (which had the same number of nominations, ten) was shut out entirely.

There were even fewer surprises at this year’s BAFTAs. Maybe Klaus winning Best Animated Film, but then the British Academy are always more resistant to the dominance of Disney/Pixar in this category than our American cousins (I think of Kubo deservedly winning a couple of years ago, for example). Of course 1917 won Best Picture — it was the favourite anyway, but it was also British, and that does sometimes sway the local vote. Not so in the acting categories, which went to the expected sources. I thought Graham Norton was a good host, too. He’s a natural fit for this kind of thing, and so while not every line quite landed, his hit rate was much higher than other recent hosts. I hope he returns next year.

Also watched…
  • Death in Paradise Series 9 Episode 3-8 — The back half of this run introduced a new lead detective (the show’s fourth), played by Ralf Little. His quirk is that the island’s heat / animals / etc cause him all sorts of irritations and rashes. I can relate. Other than that, it’s business as usual for the sunny, silly murder mystery.
  • The Goes Wrong Show Series 1 Episode 6 — A final recommendation for this most excellent comedy, which went out on a high with one of its best episodes: 90 Degrees, which refers to the heatwave occurring during the story, but was “misinterpreted by the set builders” so one of the main sets is on its side. Hilarity ensues. The whole magnificent series is still available on iPlayer, it’s also out on DVD, and a second series has been confirmed. Hurrah!
  • My Dad Wrote a Porno — A one-off HBO comedy special spun off from the popular podcast. I’d vaguely heard of said podcast (I don’t really do podcasts), and apparently it’s very funny, so this seemed worth a punt. And I did enjoy it, overall. I’ve read that it’s not as good as the real thing, though, so maybe I should get onto that.
  • The Rookie Season 1 Episodes 1-6 — I remember being interested in this when it was first announced, because it starred Nathan Fillion (so enjoyable in both Firefly and Castle) and had an interesting-enough premise (middle-aged man joins LAPD as their oldest ever rookie), but then I kind of forgot to keep an eye out for it — it’s on season two now and I’m just getting started. It’s an above average police drama, I’d say, and it’s a nice change that it’s not about detectives solving a murder of the week.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Noughts + CrossesThis month, I have mostly been missing Noughts + Crosses, the BBC’s high-profile adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s beloved alternate-world young adult novels. It seemed to go down very well on Twitter when the first episode aired, and the whole series is already available on iPlayer, so I’ve no excuse not to make time for it next month (other than all those Picards I have to catch up…)

    Next month… Disney+ finally comes to the UK on March 24th, and with it The Baby Yoda Show The Mandalorian. Plus, a different tack in my viewing of both The Twilight Zone and Doctor Who.

  • The So Metaphorical Monthly Review of February 2020

    A busy weekend means this post is later than normal. As for the title, yeah, I saw Parasite. (I highlight that just so you don’t go expecting any actual metaphors later in this post.)

    Also, as I write this I’ve realised Parasite is the first Best Picture winner I’ve actually seen at the cinema since, of all things, Crash. And the only other one is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. What an elite club to be a member of…


    #13 Booksmart (2019)
    #14 The Nightingale (2018)
    #15 Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)
    #16 Tag (2018)
    #17 Shoplifters (2018), aka Manbiki kazoku
    #18 A Star Is Born (2018)
    #19 Blockers (2018)
    #20 Emma. (2020)
    #21 Yesterday (2019)
    #21a The Crimson Permanent Assurance (1983)
    #22 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
    #23 Us (2019)
    #24 Escape Room (2019)
    #25 The Equalizer 2 (2018)
    #26 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
    #27 Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
    #28 Parasite (2019), aka Gisaengchung
    #29 Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
    #30 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
    Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

    All Quiet on the Western Front

    Parasite

    .


    • So, I watched 18 new feature films in February.
    • That makes it the best month of 2020 so far. Okay, it only had one to beat, so, looking further afield, it’s the best month since last August.
    • It also surpasses February’s average (previously 12.83, now 13.2) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 12.75, now… 12.75, because I also watched 18 films last February. Fancy that).
    • Passing #25 means I’ve passed the quarter-way point already. But the last time I didn’t get there in February was 2014 (when it took until April), so it’s not that noteworthy an achievement. Especially as, since last year, I’m meant to be aiming for 120+ films in year.
    • But, good news, I’ve reached the quarter-way mark for 120, too! Ending February at #30 means so far I’m behind 2016 and 2018, but marginally ahead of 2015, 2017, and 2019.
    • Lots of 2018 films this month — to be precise, nine of them, or 50% of my viewing. That’s because I’m making use of my annual month of Now TV / Sky Cinema to catch up on some misses, and as they get a lot of recent stuff first, currently that means it’s mainly 2018 misses with a smattering from 2019 (overall, 61% of this month’s viewing was via Now TV).
    • Monty Python aficionados may have observed that I’ve chosen to list The Crimson Permanent Assurance separately from The Meaning of Life. It’s commonly presented as part of the film these days, but even then it’s still separated from the main feature. It was independently nominated for a BAFTA back in the day, too, so it sort of is part of the film and sort of isn’t. And anyway, while we can argue whether it counts as a standalone work or not, the fact it’s a short means I don’t give it a full number, so even if you do disapprove of listing it separately, at least it doesn’t affect my count for the year.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: anti-war WW1 classic, and early Best Picture Oscar winner (so an apt choice for this month), All Quiet on the Western Front.
    • As best I can tell, All Quiet on the Western Front is the only film I’ve ever seen from 1930. That’s noteworthy because the only other year since talkies came along for which this is true is 1932. Quite how I’ve ‘missed’ those two years, who knows. (If we go back into the silent era, there’s still only a few more years I’ve missed; but, as we’re talking about years with feature films, it gets a little more complicated for that period.)
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Booksmart, The Nightingale, and Yesterday.



    The 57th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    This month’s viewing includes the most recent winner of the Palme d’Or, the first-ever non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the movie Letterboxd users have rated the #1 of all time… all of which epithets describe the same film, of course: Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. It’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a film the first time you watch it. I thought it was great, but how great I’m not sure. So a clearer pick here is All Quiet on the Western Front, another Best Picture winner that has stood the test of time — 90 years and counting.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    In contrast to such greatness, there was plenty of choice for the weakest movie this month. On balance, I think the dishonour belongs to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — even by the lowly standards set by the first movie, this follow-up is a mess.

    Big Name Star Popping In Near the End of a Crummy Musical for a Couple of Minutes to Sing Part of a Song or Two …of the Month
    By coincidence and the vagaries of fate, I saw Meryl Streep do this twice this month. Both were in films released in 2018, so this recognition only comes 14 months late.

    Best Musical Number of the Month
    They may’ve lavished A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins Returns and Mamma Mia 2 with money and star power and all the tricks of modern moviemaking, but the best song-and-dance number I saw this month remains Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    No doubt bolstered by its BAFTA wins and predicted (but unmaterialising) Oscar glory, this month’s top new post was 1917.



    With an end goal of 50 in mind, my Rewatchathon stays on course this month…

    #6 Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
    #7 Christopher Robin (2018)
    #8 The Karate Kid (1984)

    I still quite like Christopher Robin. Yeah, it’s just the plot of Mary Poppins remade with Winnie the Pooh, but I like Pooh bear a lot so that doesn’t bother me too much.

    Some thoughts on The Karate Kid on Letterboxd, and I intend to do a ‘Guide To’ post for it some day — mainly because I enjoyed it enough that I’m intending to watch the sequels, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, so I’ll number and review them as new films.


    Normally I start this section with all the films I missed on the big screen, but the big news nowadays is surely Netflix’s rollout of Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue (seven last month, seven today, the final seven on April 1st). The ones I hadn’t already seen, and still haven’t, from their February lot are Kiki’s Delivery Service (which I own on Blu-ray anyway), Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, and Tales from Earthsea. Also new to Netflix and on my radar last month were Lady Bird, Hostiles, Proud Mary, and Year One (which I only notice because it was on my ‘50 unseen’ in 2009). One of their originals caught my eye, too: The Coldest Game. Sounded like a genre that’s up my street, but that’s literally all I know about it. Considering the variable quality of Netflix originals, the fact no one seems to be talking about it probably doesn’t bode well.

    Over on Amazon Prime, higher profile additions this month include Emma Thompson comedy Late Night and Luc Besson actioner Anna. Also drawing my attention was Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, returning to the streamer after five years away (that’s another from an old ‘50 unseen’ list); Super Size Me 2, the much-less-talked about sequel to the much-talked-about documentary; Anthony Hopkins / Ryan Gosling thriller Fracture (a film I was just about aware existed but had ignored; but, in the sea of mediocrity that’s added to Amazon, that recognition was enough to make me read the blurb and note the decent score it holds on IMDb); and Spy Game, which I’ve seen (it’s in my 100 Favourites, even), but only own on DVD, so here’s my chance to rewatch it in HD.

    And, as I mentioned, I’ve currently got Now TV for a little bit yet, so some of the stuff I’d particularly like to catch on there includes Burning, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Wedding Guest, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Crazy Rich Asians, and Mary Queen of Scots. Plus, all the Karate Kid sequels. And, drawing my attention away from that limited-time offering to something else I’ve paid for, I’ve got rentals of Hustlers and Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw that expire in March (both of those were on my most recent ‘50 unseen’, incidentally).

    Away from the internet, I got a bit carried away with Blu-ray purchases this month — there are 16 I could list here. Top of the pops is Joker. Also, Criterion’s release of Roma, which I got more for the special features than the film itself (because I can watch the latter on Netflix in UHD). Also on the rewatch list were Gods of Egypt in 3D (like I said would happen); one of my favourites from last year, Searching, which I got new for just a couple of quid; and Phantom Thread, which I also mentioned last month when it came to Netflix, but I finally got on UHD disc (in a two-for-one with Angel Heart). But the biggest single chunk belongs to 88 Films release of Jackie Chan titles, of which I picked up six this month, including four in a sale (Battle Creek Brawl, Dragon Fist, Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, and To Kill with Intrigue) and two newer releases (Crime Story and The Protector).

    Finally, ending where I normally begin, the stuff I missed on the big screen. I nearly went to see Birds of Prey, but I’ll surely buy it for my disc collection eventually so I decided to save the money and wait. I’ve already pre-ordered The Lighthouse, which didn’t come to my local at all. I was never likely to bother with Dolittle or Sonic the Hedgehog, though I’m sure I’ll catch them on streaming sometime. I’m less sure about The Call of the Wild, thanks to that terrible looking CG dog. I’m all for using effects for stunts and stuff, but when it’s also in regular scenes interacting with humans, it just looks fake. Finally, The Invisible Man just came out to strong reviews. I don’t normally bother with horror on the big screen (I prefer to get scared in the secrecy of my own home, thanks), but I’m tempted to make an exception.


    More ticking off misses from 2018/19 courtesy of Sky Cinema. Cinema trips seem unlikely (maybe for Mulan), with my attention on the month after and the return of Britain’s best-known secret agent.

    The Random Mid-Monthly Review for Valentine’s Day 2020

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    I’m a blogger not a poet,
    Though I did do a Creative Writing degree with a poetry component, which I don’t think I was the greatest at, but, you know, not all poetry has to rhyme…
    But it’s better when it do.

    Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since my last post, but I don’t have any reviews banked ready to go, so here’s a random mid-month update. (Normally the 14th would be right smack in the middle of February, but of course I would end up doing this on a leap year. Still, it’s near enough.)

    How you doing? You good? Awesome.

    Me? Well, after the back half of last year was sent into relative disarray by house moves and whatnot (just look at this graph from my 2019 statistics to see how up-and-down the year was from June onwards), 2020 is off to a similarly bumpy beginning as I spend my time hunting around for a new job. Also, more directly related to film viewing, much of my DVD/Blu-ray collection remains in boxes as we shelve out The Library. Oh yes, I’m going to have a DVD/Blu-ray library. (Photos when it’s done, I’m sure.) Not that there’s a shortage of stuff I could be watching, what with Netflix and Amazon Prime; plus I currently have Now TV (for the Oscars); and there’s always new releases, both at home and at the cinema (my local is finally screening Parasite from today (hurrah for its Oscar win!), so I really ought to make the effort to see that).

    A normal monthly review would have a list of things I’d been watching, of course, but I’ll save that for the proper one. But, talking of Oscar-y recent films I still haven’t seen, the Joker Blu-ray has been sat right next to me all week, waiting (I’ve been focusing on trying to get value for money out of that month of Now TV. I don’t think I have, yet). But, as mooted in my last TV review, I have finally got round to Good Omens. Gotta be honest, I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought I would. I think that might be a case of too high expectations on my part, though. It’s still good, mind — I’d recommend it. Anyway, there’ll be more about that in the next TV column.

    Overall, my film viewing tally currently places this February as my worst month since April 2010. That’s very nearly an entire decade ago, people! Fortunately, there’s still half (and a bit) of the month to go yet…

    The Personal History of January 2020

    We’re a whole month in — 2020 is properly underway!

    The less said about yesterday’s biggest news the better, so I’m just gonna plow on into some films…


    #1 Crooked House (2017)
    #2 Evil Under the Sun (1982)
    #3 Rocketman (2019)
    #4 Little Women (2019)
    #5 Dial M for Murder 3D (1954)
    #6 1917 (2019)
    #7 The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
    #8 Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
    #8a What Did Jack Do? (2017)
    #9 Bait (2019)
    #10 Ad Astra (2019)
    #11 (1963)
    #12 Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), aka Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta
    Rocketman

    Laputa: Castle in the Sky

    .


    • As should be self-evident, I watched 12 new feature films in January.
    • I watched my first film on New Year’s Day — the first time that’s happened since 2016.
    • I watched my second film on January 2nd — the first time that’s happened since 2012.
    • I watched my third film on January 3rd — the first time that’s ever happened.
    • I watched my fourth film on January 8th — which doesn’t sound as remarkable, but it’s earlier than I watched last year’s #1.
    • By #8, I was ahead of every previous year. By #12, I was ahead of just 54% of them.
    • In terms of averages, 12 slightly beats the January average (previously 11.42, now 11.46), but is slightly behind the average for 2019 (12.6).
    • Dial M for Murder is the first 3D film I’ve watched since last May, eight months ago.
    • This month’s Blindspot film was Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical search engine / hashtag nightmare of a title, .
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched just Little Women.



    The 56th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I’m always wary of picking the last film I watched as my favourite of the month — I worry it’s just recency bias giving it a boost. And there are certainly other films I liked a lot this month — when I’ve settled on my final ratings, up to 50% of them will be getting full marks. But, eh, it’s just an opinion. So, for now, this month’s victor is a Miyazaki classic (of which there are so many!), Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    This is a very straightforward choice, though. I’d heard only terrible things about The Dead Don’t Die, but the trailer had looked such fun that I went ahead and rented it anyway. Sadly, it was the word of mouth that was accurate — it’s a dud.

    Most Quotable Film of the Month
    You might not expect a black-and-white hand-developed art-house-y drama about the plight of locals in a Cornish fishing village to be full of zingers, but there are loads of such memorable bits in Bait. My favourite? A barmaid watching a local bloke chat up a bit of posh totty from out of town: “He’s wasting his time with her… ‘ow’s she gonna suck his dick with that plum in ‘er mouth?

    Least Hashtag-Friendly Film of the Month
    Continuing the theme of “recycling stuff I already put on Instagram”, you try and come up with a workable hashtag for .

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    This month’s winner slayed all before it to become, not just my most-read new post, but my most read post overall for last month (that happens quite rarely — just thrice last year, or 25% of the time). The post in question was my Christmas TV review. It received more than double the number of views as the post in second place (which was the previous TV review), a lot of that powered by referrals from IMDb for people wanting to read about Dracula. I hope I switched them on to The Goes Wrong Show while they were here… (The highest new film-related post was my review of The Personal History of David Copperfield.)



    Last year’s Rewatchathon limped to an ignominious end (only just over half of my 50-film goal), but 2020’s is off to a solid start…

    #1 Zatoichi at Large (1972)
    #2 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
    #3 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
    #4 Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
    #5 Twin Peaks (1990), aka Twin Peaks: Pilot

    Starting at the end, Twin Peaks — the original pilot, which I watched in UHD courtesy of the From Z to A box set. I was counting it as a film as part of a long-term setup for eventually including it on a list of my favourite films (oops, given the game away!)… but I feel less sure after watching it again. Not of its greatness — I still reckon it’s one of the very best episodes of TV ever made, with at least one sequence that’s among my favourites in the entire history of visual storytelling — but it’s so obviously a pilot; so made to set wheels in motion for a series to run with them over many more hours. Yeah, there’s the close-ended International Version, but that’s a bit of a mess. This is something I’ll continue to ponder on.

    As for the picture quality of this UHD version, it’s unfortunately a mixed bag. Lynch chose not to use HDR here, apparently… though I don’t know if that’s been confirmed or if it’s accepted wisdom from the disc not playing with HDR. I say that because when I turned Dolby Vision on, it kicked in. So is the disc encoded for Dolby Vision but not normal HDR? Is that possible? Or was my player ‘faking it’? I don’t know enough about how HDR/DV works to answer that. Normally I have Dolby Vision switched off because I don’t like it (I don’t know if I just consider it inaccurate or if it’s my TV’s fault, not displaying it properly for some reason), and Twin Peaks did nothing to convince me I should change that. Mainly it just seemed to make things too dark, erasing detail in the shadows (I tried fiddling with my settings in case I’d set it up poorly, but that didn’t help). With or without DV, the pilot doesn’t look right. The resolution is good, with improved fine detail compared to the Blu-ray, so that’s nice; but the colours look far too pale. Considering classic Twin Peaks is renowned for its warm look, this is especially jarring. Some scenes — outdoor ones, mainly, where the colours are cooler anyway — look just fine, but others look thoroughly wrong. What’s really baffling is that Lynch supposedly supervised this new version, so it should be bang on; but I’m pretty sure he supervised the previous one too, so what’s gone awry? Whenever I next watch the pilot, I’m going to have a difficult choice on my hands: 4K for the base-level image quality, or 1080p for (what I think is) the correct colour balance. Argh!

    As anyone au fait with the news has likely guessed, I watched Life of Brian in honour of Terry Jones. Plus, I’d been meaning to rewatch it ever since I watched Holy Grail last September. Like that film, it’s now down to get the “Guide To” treatment at some point.

    Rather than regurgitate comments about my other rewatches, I’ll point you towards Letterboxd for my thoughts on The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and why I rewatched Zatoichi at Large when there are still several original Zatoichi films I’ve not seen.


    2020 got off to a solid start, but there were still plenty of things I failed to see. On the big screen, I saw most of the stuff I really intended to — I’m happy to leave both Guy Ritchie’s latest, The Gentlemen, and belated trilogy-maker Bad Boys for Life until they reach rental. Speaking of which, I’ve got both Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale and Danny Boyle’s Yesterday sitting on my Amazon Prime Video account with the days ticking down — definites for next month, those.

    In terms of new disc acquisitions, I watched a few as soon as they landed on my mat, but I went on a bit of a spending spree this month — a mix of new releases, random bargains, and having some vouchers to use up. In the former camp, the BFI’s new Blu-ray of Judgment at Nuremberg rubs shoulders with Arrow’s release of Black Angel, a film noir directed by Roy William “director of 11 Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films” Neill (which was recommended to me almost eight years ago by an esteemed fellow blogger, so it’s about time I got round to it).

    The random bargains pile, meanwhile, is mostly made up of horror: the 101 Films Black Label edition of David Cronenberg’s Rabid; 88 Films’ box set of Hollow Man and Hollow Man II; and an import of Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, which is meant to be absolutely terrible but, eh, I’m curious (it’s also only available in the UK on DVD or digital, neither of which are 3D, so I got the German one. The extras aren’t English-friendly, but I don’t reckon I’m ever likely to watch an hour-long making-of on this particular film). And in the “I had a voucher” camp, Don’t Look Now in its 4K limited edition form. Frankly, I’d’ve snaffled that up even without the voucher — it’s sold out online and so the price is beginning to rise on eBay and the like, but I happened across a single copy in a branch of HMV, where they were still charging the original price. The voucher comes into play because I wouldn’t even have been looking were it not for having an HMV voucher that expired the next day. So, that was nice.

    And finally, the ever-burgeoning ranks of what’s available on streaming. Headliners this past month include In the Mood for Love cropping up on Prime Video — it’s one of the most acclaimed films of this century, but it never seems to be available in the UK, apart from an old DVD. It’s on my Blindspot list this year too, but I’d already got hold of it by, er, other means for that purpose. Other additions that drew my attention on Prime included Booksmart (particularly as I previously rented it but accidentally let the clock run out), Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, The Boondock Saints (one of those films I’ve heard of but don’t know much more about), and Jason Statham vehicle Wild Card — it’s been a while since I watched a run-of-the-mill Stath flick, so I feel overdue. Also overdue is a rewatch for Brokeback Mountain, which is also now on Prime here. Back in 2006 I was one of that rare breed who thought Crash was better. I didn’t hate Brokeback, but I didn’t like it much either. So, it’s long overdue that I revisit it and form a new opinion, now that I’m older and wiser.

    Over on Netflix, the biggest hitter is probably Uncut Gems, which is one of this year’s many “should’ve had Oscar noms” films. But that only came out yesterday, so it’s not much of a “failure”… yet. Also catching my eye were Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (not to be confused with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is only just reaching UK cinemas) and Zhang Yimou’s Shadow. Plus they now have Phantom Thread, which I personally don’t intend to rewatch in anything less than 4K, but I mention its presence nonetheless because I highly recommend it.


    Ghibli comes to Netflix! Well, not if you’re in North America, but for the rest of us: hooray!

    …although I own Blu-rays of most of the ones I’m interested in seeing, I’ve just not got round to watching them yet, so their presence on Netflix isn’t likely to affect my viewing much at all. Hey-ho.

    The Past Month on TV #55

    It’s SF/F-agogo in this month’s TV update, with new Star Trek, new Doctor Who, old Twilight Zone, and I’ve finally finished His Dark Materials too.

    Doctor Who  Series 12 Episodes 3-5
    Doctor Who series 12Well, it certainly has been an eventful first half to this series of Doctor Who! Never mind bringing back the Master and destroying Gallifrey (again) in the opening two-parter — showrunner Chris Chibnall has much bigger continuity-bothering ideas on his mind. But before that, two standalone episodes.

    The first, Orphan 55, is currently the worst-rated episode of modern Who according to IMDb voters, with a score almost as low as the much-maligned Game of Thrones finale. But whereas I defended that episode, unfortunately I have no love for Orphan 55. I know a lot of people’s issue with it is that it’s a bit of a climate change polemic — some people just hate Who engaging with contemporary ‘political’ issues. Sorry, but it’s been doing that since at least the Pertwee era. It’s normally a mite more subtle than this, though. I mean, The Happiness Patrol is a blatant analogy for Thatcher, but at least it’s an analogy. So Orphan 55’s problem isn’t the content, it’s the delivery: an on-the-nose lecture, practically delivered straight to camera, stapled on the end like an afterthought. But it doesn’t exactly ruin the episode, because the rest of it isn’t much cop either: a logically-dubious runaround with a shopworn twist (one that Doctor Who itself has done before, in fact). But is it actually worse than previous “most despised” editions, like Fear Her and Sleep No More? Um, actually, I think it might be.

    Thankfully, the week after things swung back in the right direction. In previous years Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror would probably have been regarded as a solid midseason bit of fun, but in the current era it virtually amounts to a classic. There were undeniable overtones of the Racnoss in the creature design, and Vincent and the Doctor in its depiction of an unappreciated-in-his-time historical genius (I half expected them to take Tesla into the future to show him there was a car named after him), but plenty of Who is like other parts of Who (it is 57 years and 879 episodes old, after all, not to mention the uncountable spinoff novels, audio dramas, comic strips, etc). All in all, it was fun enough.

    But the real belter was the most recent episode, Fugitive of the Judoon. It’s most impressive as a bit of show-running stagecraft: foregrounding a popular returning monster in the title and publicity (the Judoon, obv) in order to hide the long-awaited return of a popular character (Captain Jack), which was a big surprise that in itself is designed to distract you from the real twist: another incarnation of the Doctor, played by Jo Martin.The two Doctors Social media and fan forums and whatnot have debated and analysed that revelation to death, so I won’t bother digging too much into all the possibilities of what it means — only time can tell. I will stake out this opinion, though: I am not a fan of the theory that she’s a pre-Hartnell version of the Doctor. The idea there were incarnations before the one we know as the first has always seemed disrespectful to me, somehow. Yeah, the Daleks ‘made’ Doctor Who, but Hartnell gave it his all too — without him week to week, and the effort he put into public appearances and the like, would the series have survived those early years? He’s not the only thing responsible for its success, and certainly not for its longevity, but he was The First — leave that be, thanks.

    But, as I say, we’ll find out in time. More interesting to me, for now, is how showrunner Chris Chibnall is going about his job nowadays. Comparing his two seasons so far, Chibnall’s attitude to reusing stuff from Who’s past seems to be — very literally — all or nothing. Last season, he made a point of not using any continuity — no returning characters or villains, no significant references to the Doctor’s past or previous adventures. This season, he seems to be using all the continuity. I can’t remember a Doctor Who story so loaded with references to not-recent previous adventures as this one. Even the Chameleon Arch gets an outing, a thing that mattered in two stories that aired 13 years ago. It feels like Chibnall is an RTD-era fanboy revelling in bringing back stuff from a time when the show was at its peak of popularity. Maybe that’s what it needs right now. Though, in a broader sense, I feel like last season was Chibnall trying to copy RTD-in-2005 (fresh! new! start watching here!), while this time he’s doing his best to be Moffat-in-2011 (complicated mysteries! revisionist continuity! wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey explanations!)

    Whether these additions to the mythology are interesting and productive, or whether it’ll be like “half-human” and fans ignore it ASAP, will depend on what’s to come. Either way, it’s the most exciting the show’s been in a good few years, and that’s something in itself.

    Star Trek: Picard  Season 1 Episode 1
    Star Trek: Picard season 1The Star Trek series boldly goes where it’s never gone before: into the Prestige TV market. (Despite initial appearances, based on things like the reviews I’ve read and variably-sized season orders, I’m not sure Discovery was really “prestige TV” in the end.) Is it up to competing with the big boys of this peak TV era?

    Well, after just the first episode, I’m going to hang fire on answering that — on the evidence of this one instalment, it could go either way. It can certainly walk the walk: it looks very nice, with plenty of lush cinematography and expensive visuals (both globe-hopping locations and swish CGI), and it certainly wants to appear weighty, with themes of ageing and decay (not only of people but also institutions). But can it talk the talk? Does it actually have things to say beyond “Picard is old now, and Starfleet’s a bit shit”? Once upon a time I’d’ve said the fact it’s heavily (heavily) embedded in existing Trek continuity was a barrier, both to entry (“only fans will know enough to follow the plot”) and quality (“it’s so busy looking to the past it doesn’t do anything new”) and acclaim (“I’m not a Trekkie so I didn’t care”) — but that’s not necessarily the case anymore, as HBO’s Watchmen only just proved: you can reuse and remix and lean hard on previous texts, and still produce a high-quality work. That said, while Picard does invest energy in making sure newbies have all the continuity stuff explained, I feel like the show already shows signs of wavering towards Trek’s usual habits, for good or ill. But there’s an interesting enough set of mysteries just getting underway, and it’s always great to see Patrick Stewart, so I remain optimistic it’s going to go somewhere good.

    His Dark Materials  Series 1
    His Dark Materials series 1I reviewed the first three episodes of His Dark Materials in my previous regular update, just over a month ago, but I’d actually watched them much earlier, so when I returned to the series in the new year I decided to restart from the beginning. That improved my opinion of them considerably, I must say, but then a second viewing always has the ability to help clarify things you were unclear of before. Still, I got much more invested this time, and was swept along for the ride and the mysteries the show unfurled. Like the two series I’ve reviewed above, there’s plenty of mystery and intrigue here — some of it answered, much of it left hanging for future seasons (there’s two whole books to come, intended to be adapted across four more seasons). But even in this first salvo, events and characters move in interesting directions. It’s a very dark show at times, especially for something adapted from what are ostensibly children’s books, but that at least creates a genuine sense of jeopardy and unpredictability. So too the way it handles its characters — there’s not just simplistic twists of “hero turns out to be villain” or vice versa, but definite shades of grey. With the promise of whole new worlds to come, I’m definitely excited to see what’s next.

    Also, I bloody love the theme music now.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    The Midnight SunIt’s been six months since I did one of my “best of The Twilight Zone” roundups, but I always intended to continue them, so here we are again.

    Having already reviewed the top ten episodes as ranked by several different sources (IMDb voters, ScreenCrush, and Paste), I decided to resume my journey through the original Twilight Zone by producing an average of various different lists to identify which instalments are acclaimed by consensus (because that’s the kind of thing I do). To help broaden the range of opinions, I added a bunch of new lists to my calculations — namely, Ranker’s The Best Twilight Zone Episodes of All Time as sorted by voters; Buzzfeed’s Ranking Every Episode by Arianna Rebolini; TV Guide’s 50 Essential Episodes Ranked by Joal Ryan: and Thrillist’s The 50 Best Episodes by Scott Beggs.

    This new average ranking gave me a fresh top ten with a couple of episodes I’d not seen. The first of those was in 9th place (also, for what it’s worth, it’s now in IMDb’s top ten too, having moved up from 11th to 8th since I last looked). That’s The Masks, which I think is one of the series’ best-paced episodes. I’ve found that even some of the greatest episodes can feel a little thin, with a singular concept that only just fills 25 minutes, but this one doesn’t overstay its welcome by a second — and yet it’s as simple and clear a concept as any. That’s perhaps when TZ is at its best: simple but effective concepts, cleanly executed. And there’s a moral lesson too, of course.

    I was slightly less impressed by The After Hours, which finishes off the consensus top ten. It’s an effectively creepy edition for the most part, with some genuine scares, but for me it was slightly undermined by the final explanation, which I don’t think quite hangs together with what’s gone before. A definite case of “it’s about the journey not the destination”, then, because up ’til that point it’s superb.

    Number 12 Looks Just Like YouMoving beyond the top ten to complete the top 10% (i.e. the 16 best episodes), next is Number 12 Looks Just Like You (which, by-the-by, comes 10th on Thrillist). This is what some people might call “proper sci-fi” — an idea of the future spun out of what’s possible in the present, using it to present an analogy for the times we live in. And what is the analogy? In this case, there’s a few things you can read into it: mental health; conformism; the transition from childhood to adulthood; maybe all of the above; maybe something else. The only real downside is the episode hints at a wider world that isn’t explored. It’s mentioned in passing that the writing of Shakespeare, Keats, and others has been banned. Why? By whom? And while a bunch of middle-class white people are choosing which generic model they want to look like, what about other races? Class is less of an immediate issue because it seems this is a government-backed thing that everyone must undergo — but then, why do the lower classes get to look just the same as their ‘betters’? Surely there’d be different models depending on your social station? Never mind a 25-minute episode, someone could spin an entire series out of this… Still, having so much to ponder is one mark of a very good episode.

    The Midnight Sun is the penultimate episode in the top 16, and also is another one that’s 10th on one list, this time Ranker’s. I’d probably put it even higher — this is definitely one of my favourite episodes so far. It takes a massive world-altering event and shows it to us from the point of view of two ordinary women; and not even from when the event happens or is discovered, but from a month into the new status quo, when it’s become a fact of life rather than some revelation. It’s a different way to approach such a story even today, and it works all the more for it. And, of course, there’s a twist (spoiler to come!) — one of the very, very few times “it was just a dream” works.

    Robert Redford invites you to The Twilight ZoneFinally for now, the last episode in the top 16 (and the only one of today’s episodes not in anyone’s top ten), Nothing in the Dark. Probably best known for staring a young Robert Redford, it’s about an old woman who’s paranoid and agoraphobic due to her fear of meeting Death; but when Redford’s cop is shot right outside her door, she has to let him in to save his life. It’s a nice idea for a story, but (to loop back to what I was saying about The Masks) it feels a little slight in the execution. Half of the second act is taken up in a diversion with a demolition guy which is just that, a diversion. Still, there are very good performances from the two leads, and it comes with a well-meant little message by the end.

    Also watched…
  • The Goes Wrong Show Series 1 Episodes 3-5 — I love this show with all my heart. Episode 3 was perhaps the best yet (even the title, A Trial to Watch, is a gag). So this is a friendly reminder that the series so far is available on iPlayer and the sixth (and final, *sob*) episode is on tonight.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 1 Episodes 1-3 — I joined Bake Off before it was an all-encompassing phenomenon, with series two. So I’ve always meant to go back and see the one season I’d missed, especially since the whole lot became available on Netflix. It’s funny watching it now, though, because so much of it is familiar as Bake Off, but it’s early days and it’s unrefined. It’s a bit like watching a version of the show made by someone who pretty much remembers how it works but not exactly.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation — I’ve never seen all of TNG (far from it), so as Picard is expected to be heavily indebted to existing continuity, I sought out a few likely-to-be-relevant episodes. The first was season 5 episode 23, I Borg, which is regarded as one of the series’ very best, and deservedly so. The other was the season 6 finale / season 7 premiere, a two-parter called Descent, which I guess was decent. There’s some good stuff in the first half about Data dealing with the possibility of experiencing emotion, but the second half is a bit too pulpy in a way I’m not sure fits Trek (or at least my idea of it). If any Trekkies reading this have other episodes they’d recommend (for relevance to Picard, not just because they’re good), I’m open to suggestions.
  • Twin Peaks in UHD — The recently-released Twin Peaks: From Z to A box set includes a bonus disc with two episodes in 4K Ultra HD. Yeah, just two. Why they didn’t do the full series, who knows. Expense, I guess. Some people reckon this is testing the waters for a full-series UHD release, but I dunno — considering they’ve already released the whole series on individual season DVDs, then a complete box set DVD, then Blu-ray, now a collector’s edition Blu-ray, do they think they’ll manage to sell it to people again? Sure, there’ll be some customers, but enough? Anyway, the two episodes here are the original pilot and season 3 / A Limited Event Series / The Return (whatever you want to call it) Part 8. The latter looked pretty great, even without HDR enhancement; the former… I’m counting as a movie, so will write about in January’s Rewatchathon segment.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Good OmensThis month, I have mostly been missing Good Omens… again! I didn’t get round to it on Prime Video when it premiered last May, and now it’s airing weekly on BBC Two but I still haven’t started it. I read the book as a kid and absolutely loved it (for a very long time I would’ve said it was my favourite novel), so when they announced a miniseries adaptation I was excited — especially as it was being managed by Neil Gaiman himself and starred a bunch of my favourite actors, not least Michael Sheen and David Tennant in the lead roles. That’s almost the problem: I want to watch it properly; I can’t just bung it on. Maybe I’ll get to it before next month’s column.

    Also missed: The Trial of Christine Keeler (I hear it got pretty good, but only after a couple of episodes); White House Farm (I’m interested in the case, but apparently the series is overly slow and long-winded); Deadwater Fell (David Tennant again); and probably a tonne of other stuff that’s slipped my mind for the moment…

    Next month… more Doctor Who, more Picard, more Twilight Zone. As for new stuff, Locke & Key finally makes it to the screen via Netflix… but that’s about all I can foresee for now. Maybe I will finally do Good Omens

    P.S. If you’re an attentive regular reader who’s thinking, “hold on, did I miss #53 and #54?”, the answer is no, you didn’t — the mistake is mine. A whole year ago, I forgot to count the 2018 Christmas post towards the numbering, which is the way I’d previously done things, so I am belatedly correcting for it by ‘hiding’ the jump alongside the one for 2019’s Christmas post. If you think that’s terribly confusing, just remember: it doesn’t really matter anyway.

  • Blindspot 2020: What do you mean you haven’t seen…?

    The Blindspot challenge (for the benefit of those still unfamiliar with it) is where you pick 12 films you feel you should’ve seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. I started doing this in 2013, calling it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” (WDYMYHS for short), but then someone else came up with the same notion independently and gave it a much snappier moniker, and that caught on.

    My fortunes with the Blindspot / WDYMYHS challenge have been up and down over the years. I’ll spare you a full potted history, but last year I set myself two lists of 12 films each and didn’t complete either — although between them I did watch 17 movies. I braved 24 films because for two years before that I’d done 22 and completed it with relative ease. So maybe I should aim for 24 again this year…

    …but I’m not going to. In the same way that the second half of 2019 was a bit unpredictable (leading to my failures), I’m not wholly sure what the future holds, so I’m going to rein it back to the original 12 and see how it goes. And besides, if I find 12 unchallenging then I’ve got the seven remaining films from last year I could move on to; plus one from 2015 that I never got round to. That’s a pretty big ‘buffer’ to work on.

    Now, I’ll jump ahead to the main event: the 12 films I must watch, in alphabetical order. Afterwards, I’ll explain how they were chosen.


    8½


    All Quiet on
    the Western Front
    All Quiet on the Western Front


    An American Werewolf
    in London
    An American Werewolf in London


    Andrei Rublev
    Andrei Rublev


    The Battle of Algiers
    The Battle of Algiers


    Do the Right Thing
    Do the Right Thing


    Fanny and Alexander
    Fanny and Alexander


    The French Connection
    The French Connection


    In the Mood for Love
    In the Mood for Love


    Ordet
    Ordet


    Ugetsu Monogatari
    Ugetsu Monogatari


    Under the Skin
    Under the Skin

    So, some people just pick their 12 films. When I did two lists, that’s what I did for one of them. But the rest of the time I’ve let consensus decide, by compiling “great film” lists in various different combinations to suggest the films other people feel I should’ve seen. I quite like both methods, so for 2020 I’ve picked six with one and half-a-dozen with the other. That said, my ‘free choice’ six were influenced by some of the films that didn’t quite make it into the ‘preselected’ six. (Feel free to guess which films belong in which six. Fun and games! Answers in a mo.)

    This year, the selection process involved the following lists:

  • Letterboxd’s Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films
  • IMDb’s Top Rated Movies (aka the IMDb Top 250)
  • The 1,000 Greatest Films by They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (aka TSPDT)
  • the Reddit Top 250
  • Empire’s The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (aka the Empire 500)
  • Sight & Sound’s The 100 Greatest Films of All Time (2012 edition)

    Because TSPDT takes Sight & Sound’s voter ballots as its foundation, I counted the Letterboxd scores twice as a way of evening it out a bit and not letting S&S be too dominant. It only worked up to a point. For example, Harakiri is ranked 4th on the Letterboxd list and 33rd on IMDb, but it’s a lowly 647th on TSPDT and nowhere on the other lists. So as I started adding the lists together (in the order I’ve credited them above), Harakiri was right at the top, then gradually fell right back. But that’s kinda the point of counting multiple lists: it’s getting a consensus of consensuses. Letterboxd users clearly think Harakiri is one of the very greatest films of all time; IMDb voters aren’t quite as enthusiastic, but it’s up there; everyone else… not so much.

    But it’s not just about the raw numbers of which films top the list: I have some rules. Chief among them, I’ve previously only selected films I already own on DVD/Blu-ray or have access to on Netflix/Prime/etc. This year, I let the door open to anything, though I did first make sure I could reasonably source a copy. So, top of the list was Andrei Rublev, followed by Federico Fellini’s . Next, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, my new “open door” policy actually led to some high-scoring films being eliminated. While sourcing copies of Come and See and Sátántangó, I discovered that both have recently been restored and are expected to get Blu-ray releases in 2020. You might think that’s perfect timing, but what if one or both slipped to 2021, or were insanely overpriced? So I decided to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Maybe they’ll be on 2021’s list.

    Next in the running was In the Mood for Love, followed by Ordet. Then my only still-standing regular rule came into play: one film per director. That meant the next film — La Dolce Vita, which shares Fellini with — was cut. After that is actually where Sátántangó was ranked (keeping up? I don’t blame you if you’re not), followed by Mirror — but Mirror is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, the same as Andrei Rublev, so out it went too. But now we do finally reach the end: the next two high-scorers were Fanny and Alexander and The Battle of Algiers, which (as you’ll know from their inclusion in the list above) were fine.

    And with those six settled upon, I turned to picking six more from my DVD/Blu-ray collection. There’s less to say about these: I made a long-list of 127 ‘maybe’s; narrowed it down to 38 ‘very possibly’s; and then picked six, based on a mix of intuition about what I ‘should’ have seen and things I’ve personally been wanting to see for a while. I did also try to keep some variety in terms of the films’ ages, genres, countries, and languages… but almost all the ones that made my short-list were in English, so, er, oops. It meant Ugetsu Monogatari was an easy choice, anyway; and I was sure to include some British films (or British co-productions, at least); and Do the Right Thing may be American, but it’s also the only one of the 12 from a black filmmaker. (No female directors, though, which is an unfortunate oversight.) Still, on balance there are more films not in English (seven vs five), and the B&W/colour split is exactly 50/50.

    Four of my six ‘free choices’ do appear further down the rankings I’d compiled. That’s coincidence rather than design, although I suppose seeing them on the list might’ve helped push them to the forefront of my mind. Those four were Do the Right Thing (18th), Ugetsu Monogatari (23rd), An American Werewolf in London (127th), and The French Connection (162nd). I don’t know about you, but I was a little surprised All Quiet on the Western Front didn’t make it. Well, of the lists I’ve used this year the only one it’s on is TSPDT, at a lowly 742nd. (I’m not surprised Under the Skin wasn’t on any, what with it being so recent. For one thing, it hadn’t even been released when the Empire and Sight & Sound polls were conducted.)

    And that’s all that thoroughly over-explained.

    (Did anyone read all this?) (Hello future-me, who surely will re-read all this at some point, sad egocentric that I am.)

    Finally, if I manage those 12 and want more, the eight left outstanding from 2015 and 2019 are…

  • All About Eve
  • All the President’s Men
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Ikiru
  • The Ipcress File
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Thin Red Line
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

    This is hardly a chore — there are some great-looking movies there — so hopefully I’ll find time for all 20. It would only be fitting, given the year…

  • The Past Christmas on TV

    Continuing the spirit of publishing things about ten days late, here’s my Christmas TV review, about ten days after the season ended. (And if you’re thinking, “um, Christmas was 18 days ago,” well, the TV ‘Christmas’ season goes on until at least January 1st here, so there.)

    Santa Goes Wrong
    Here’s Santa to rekindle your festive spirit.
    With alcohol.

    This is now my fourth annual Christmas TV post, would you believe. I still feel like TV reviews are a fairly recent addition to this blog, but nope, it’s been four years. And this is, in a way, a vintage year, what with the Gavin & Stacey revival becoming the most-watched Christmas Day broadcast in something like 17 years; and, even more impressively, it was the only scripted programme to make the top ten TV broadcasts of the decade (the rest going to sporting events and one random episode of The X Factor).

    As for whether it was any good, and what I thought of other stuff that was on… well, read on…

    Doctor Who  Spyfall
    Doctor Who: SpyfallFor the first time in 14 years, since the series returned, there was no Doctor Who Christmas/New Year special. Gasp! At least we got the first episodes of a new series, though — two slightly-longer-than-normal instalments (at 60 minutes each, which doesn’t feel that special when regular episodes are 50 minutes now). And a two-parter, too — the first of those since 2017. And a big two-parter at that, with big-name guest stars and big action sequences and big overseas locations.

    Yep, this is Doctor Who with a bang — a marked contrast to last series, which mostly went for understated. Well, as understated as modern Doctor Who gets, anyway. But whereas series 11 had no two parters and no returning monsters and, as I say, a markedly calmer pace and tone, series 12 begins with the antithesis of all of that. In case you’ve not seen it I shan’t spoil the end-of-part-one reveal, which was a massive delight that I did not see coming (I guess someone learnt a lesson from last time that villain returned, when the production team basically spoiled it themselves before anyone else could). That was the highlight of an episode that moved at a mile a minute, not pausing to let you consider the logic of what was going on (which, yeah, was not faultless). But while it may not have been perfect, I’m glad to see a return for this fun, exciting version of the show. I didn’t find series 11 a total washout (I think my reviews as it was airing were mostly positive, even), but overall I felt like something wasn’t quite working.

    Well, let’s be honest, what wasn’t working is showrunner Chris Chibnall. His episodes under previous showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat were never the very best (and I say that as someone who likes them more than most), but without their oversight to guide him, he seemed a bit lost. He’s a long-time fanboy of the show (somewhat famously, he appeared on a viewer feedback show in the ’80s to slag off the quality of the writing), and at times last series it felt like he was writing for the show as he’d loved it as a kid (that is to say, a bit slow-paced and old-fashioned). Now, possibly taking some of the criticism on board (or possibly just trying to mix it up), he’s attempting to emulate the whoosh-bang blockbuster-but-quirky style of RTD and Moffat. What he can’t grasp is their effortless-seeming slickness — when they rushed over something it was usually because “it makes sense if you think about it”, whereas Chibnall is trying to cover a logic gap; conversely, when there’s no gap to be hidden, he has characters mercilessly over-explain everything, I guess for the sake of anyone who’s just walked in.

    So, not perfect, but I thought Part 1 was a blast nonetheless. Sadly, I was much less enamoured with Part 2 — a virtually nonsensical runaround through time, which didn’t seem to know what to do with everything that had been put in play, just throwing “more” at us until the Doctor basically said “time for the story to end now”, and so the baddies disappeared and that was that. Apart from an epilogue, which was quite intriguing — and dove head first into full-on mythology territory, something the series studiously avoided last year. Whether Chibnall’s got anywhere good to go with what he’s teasing, God only knows (I fear not, based on the evidence), but it’s a welcome bit of business that will hopefully jazz up the season to come.

    Gavin & Stacey  A Special Christmas
    Gavin & Stacey: A Special ChristmasI won’t recap Gavin & Stacey’s ratings success (what with already having mentioned it at the start), nor will I touch on the controversy around its use of Fairytale of New York (I kind of get why people complained, but also, the song is the song). As for the episode itself, well, I thought it was masterful. It may be nine years since the last episode, but it was like they hadn’t been away. Not that they tried to ignore the passage of time — clearly, the best part of a decade had passed in the characters’ lives, and naturally changes had come with that — but the characters and performances felt true to their old selves, as if they’d never stopped playing them, with the rhythms and comedic style of the show fully intact. Some decade-later revivals feel like new shows — the writers have forgotten how to write it properly; the cast have forgotten how to play it right — but not this one. This was bang on what it should be. Tidy.

    Dracula
    Dracula“From the makers of Sherlock”, declared the publicity for this new adaptation of the Victorian novel — so you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a present-day reimagining. But it wasn’t. Well, until it was.

    This new Dracula is very much a tale of three parts, and not just because it was in three 90-minute episodes. While undoubtedly a serial, each episode was almost a standalone instalment, which was a structural trick I quite liked — it doesn’t feel like you’re watching one four-and-a-half-hour work broken into three by the necessities of the schedule, but rather three separate-but-connected works. And I really, really liked the first two.

    The Rules of the Beast is what you most expect of Dracula: a spooky Transylvanian castle; “I don’t drink… wine”; mild little Englishman Jonathan Harker discovering terrible secrets… Of course, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss didn’t shy away from bringing a few affectations and twists to the piece, but I thought they all worked well. Claes Bang makes for a fantastic Dracula (a comment that holds true throughout the series), the rest of the cast were very good as well, and there were some proper horror bits — this adaptation was not, ahem, toothless.

    The second instalment, Blood Vessel, dealt with Dracula’s voyage to England aboard the Demeter — a part usually more or less glossed over in other adaptations, as far as I know. But here Moffat and Gatiss spin it out into a full 90-minutes, kind of like a slasher movie set in a confined location, albeit we know whodunnit — so, naturally, there are other twists to be found. Again, I liked this a lot — the way it felt respectful to the source while also expanding and refreshing it; the interesting supporting cast; some very impressive production work (they built the entire ship on a soundstage!)

    Then we get to episode three, The Dark Compass. There’s no way to talk about what happens here without spoiling it, so if you haven’t watched the series yet and are intending to, look away now. If you have watched it, you’ll know this episode jumps the action forward 123 years to 2020. And you also probably hated it, because it seems almost everyone did. My feelings were slightly more nuanced. In my opinion, its biggest mistake is that it’s a completely different show. Sure, we still have Claes Bang playing Dracula (and he’s still excellent), and we still have Moffat and Gatiss’s recognisable stylings in the dialogue and whatnot, but the entire setup has shifted. Judged in isolation, as a present-day-set reworking of the Dracula story as told in the novel, I don’t think it’s that bad. Maybe it’s a tad too cheesy (the scenes in nightclubs and whatnot do have a feel of “how do you do, fellow kids”), but it’s workable as a modern-day adaptation of the character and plot. The problem, as I say, comes from placing it as part of a whole alongside the reenvisioned-but-fundamentally-faithful adaptation we got in the first two episodes. In doing so, Moffat and Gatiss undermine the whole enterprise — it robs the first two-thirds of a fitting finale; and, by being so radically different to the style we’ve spent three hours getting used to, it doesn’t give itself a fair shake either.

    And so many have judged the overall result to be a failure. Personally, I enjoyed enough of it that I was still entertained, but if they’d given us a ‘proper’ third episode to round it out then I think I may’ve loved it.

    The Goes Wrong Show  Series 1 Episodes 1-2
    The Goes Wrong Show - The Pilot (Not the Pilot)Oh my, what a treat! Regular readers will remember how much I loved Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Christmas 2016 (“the best thing that was on TV during the festive season”) and its 2017 followup, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. When the gang missed Christmas 2018 I feared we wouldn’t be getting any more, possibly thanks to the negative-nelly reception in some quarters. But oh no, for 2019 they’re back with a vengeance: not a one-off hour, but a whole series of half-hour Plays Gone Wrong. Reader, I am cock-a-hoop with delight!

    The first episode was another Christmas special; the second a historically-inaccurate WW2 thriller (set in 1961); the third aired on Friday but I’m currently saving it. It’s a half-hour parade of utter silliness — slapstick, wordplay, entirely predictable tomfoolery… but sometimes the total predictability of what’s about to go wrong is part of the fun (episode one begins with a blatant setup for a joke that isn’t paid off until the very end of the episode). And it’s exactly the kind of thing the whole family can watch and enjoy, whether you’re 6 or 66. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was driven to tears of laughter. Actually, I can — it was Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Long live the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society!

    Also watched…

    A mix of Christmas scheduling and non-Christmas stuff we just happened to catch up on.

  • Criminal: United Kingdom Season 1 — Netflix’s high-concept cop show wasn’t quite as classy as the publicity would have you believe (it still indulged in the old staples of office politics, breaking from the tension of the interrogation to faff around with romance subplots and whatnot), but the guest stars still gave it their all — I don’t think I’ve ever seen Hayley Atwell like that before, and David Tennant was superb as always. Good enough that I’ll check out some of the international versions.
  • In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss — This felt like it was planned as a promo for the BBC’s new Dracula, but aired after it. Weird. Anyway, Gatiss has fronted several great documentaries on horror before, and while this wasn’t quite in their league (the others are exceptionally good) it was still a solid and interesting look at the history of the Count. And it made me want to see a load of previous Dracula films, which I always think is the mark of a good movie documentary.
  • Miranda My Such Fun Celebration — I know the sitcom Miranda wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it, as did lots of others, hence this one-off special to mark its tenth anniversary. It’s a bit of an oddity — a mix of cast reunions, sketches, clip montages, and song and dance. Yes, song and dance. It was well-meaning but, well, I found it a little strange. But for those people whose lives have been positively impacted by the series (and, genuinely, hurrah to it and them for that), I’m sure it was a delight.
  • Vienna Blood Series 1 — A new crime series from “that other guy who wrote some episodes of Sherlock”, this adaptation of a series of novels set in Vienna c.1907 did feel a bit like Sherlock Lite, with its Freud-influenced genius consulting detective and some stylish visuals. But it lacked the innovation that marked out Sherlock, especially in its early days. You can tell this has half an eye on being an easy sell to international markets, able to sit comfortably alongside all the other 90-minute crime dramas the UK TV industry churns out. So, it was a bit predictable and formulaic, but decently done and reasonably entertaining. This Guardian article echoes my feelings on it pretty well.

    Things to Catch Up On
    A Christmas CarolThis month, I have mostly been missing the BBC’s new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. I know it went down with some degree of controversy, but its revisionist, horror-tinged style looked right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was stripped over three nights, and because I knew I was going to be away for the third evening I didn’t start it. By the point I had enough time to make room for it, it was so long enough after Christmas that I wasn’t sure it was appropriate. Now, it’s January 12th and it’s definitely too late. Guess I’ll have to try to remember to watch it next year, then.

    Next month… it’s a new year, so I’m sure there must be plenty of new TV. Although I kind of hope not, because I’ve still got tonnes and tonnes from last year to catch up on.

  • The Best & Worst of 2019

    As it’s January 10th, what better date to post my top 10 from last year’s viewing? (Yes, I know: “an earlier one.”)

    As well as my favourite films I saw during 2019, this final review-of-the-year post also includes my least favourite films, as well as a list of 2019’s most noteworthy releases that I missed.

    Before we begin, a quick reminder that these lists are not selected from films released in 2019, but from all 151 movies I saw for the first time during 2019.



    The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019

    “Worst of” lists are very unpopular on Twitter nowadays (there was a whole to-do about them when the pro ones started popping up last month). I do kind of agree that they’re of dubious value, but it remains an unavoidable fact that some films are poor or disappointing and therefore, as part of an overall review of the year, it seems only fair to remember the weaker side of it too. (Especially as I’ve been so tardy with reviews this year, and therefore haven’t shared my negative opinion of all of these elsewise.)

    So, in alphabetical order…

    Cosmopolis
    With Robert Pattinson being cast as Batman, there was a lot of commentary about how he’d done so much good work since Twilight — and I realised I hadn’t seen any of it. Someone described this David Cronenberg film as basically being a Bruce Wayne movie, so that seemed as good a place to start. Sadly, it proved nothing about Pattinson’s acting ability, nor Cronenberg’s enduring ability to make good movies. I found it confusing, cheap-looking, and boring.

    Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
    Talking of boring, here’s the most recent work from director Ben Wheatley. I’ve had mixed feelings about his previous films, but they were all at least interesting in some way. Colin Burstead is not. In the review I’ve written but never got round to posting, I describe it as “like an art house EastEnders” and say “it’s really slow and frequently abstruse.” Over a year after it first aired it’s still available on iPlayer, but I wouldn’t recommend you seek it out.

    Holmes & Watson
    I don’t rank these, but if I did Holmes & Watson would come last. A movie so shockingly inept it’s a wonder that it’s a studio movie made by seasoned professionals — I’m no fan of Will Ferrell, but you’d think at this point he’d be in movies that are at least competently produced. Weak filmmaking wouldn’t really matter if it was funny, because that’s the sole and defining purpose of a comedy, but there are no laughs here either. A total disaster. [Full review]

    The Saint
    Made as a pilot for a TV series, then retrofitted into being a movie after that failed to get picked up, it might seem like I’m kicking this when it’s down to name it a “bad movie”. The thing is, it would’ve been a bad TV show too. Its biggest problem is that, stylistically, it feels 25 years older than it is — like mid-’90s syndication filler, rather than the slick, contemporary, spy-actioner I think it wanted to be. The Saint is an IP with potential, but this does not utilise it.

    Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
    Okay, Episode IX probably isn’t one of the five worst films I saw in 2019 (I gave it 3 stars after all, though I was being generous), but it was certainly the most disappointing. Maybe I shouldn’t’ve had hope, but I enjoyed both Episodes VII and VIII, so I thought there was a reasonable chance they could stick the landing. I was wrong. And it makes the preceding Sequel Trilogy films lesser with it, because it exposes the lack of overarching point to any of it. [Full review]



    The 15 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019

    Where others may do a top ten, or twenty, or fifty, nowadays I do a top 10%. This year I watched 151 films, so my ‘top ten’ has 15 films.

    Although this list is selected from all the movies I watched for the first time in 2019, I did watch 34 films that had their UK release in 2019… plus four that will have their UK release in 2020, which is a first. So I’ve lumped those in with the 2019 lot and noted their ‘2019 rank’ in case you’re interested.

    15
    Brigsby Bear

    Moviemakers like to make movies about people who set out by themselves to make movies — think Son of Rambow, Be Kind Rewind, or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Brigsby Bear follows in their tonal vein, as a quirky story about a young man freed from a lifetime of imprisonment who’s determined to complete the story of the TV show his captors used to make just for him. Think Room written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry.

    A very much overlooked, nigh-on forgotten minor Western, which I’m sure I never would’ve seen were it not for Quentin Tarantino including it in his pre-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood movie marathon (as an example of the kind of Western programmers that film’s actor hero would’ve starred in). But I’m glad he brought it to my attention, because I found it be a well-told, well-performed study of toxic masculinity and parental influence, with a splash of gun control rhetoric to boot. This may’ve been made in 1958, but it has a heckuva lot of accurate stuff to say about our society six decades later. [Full review.]

    This is the kind of movie I’m not sure I’ll ever watch again, because living through its terror once was enough. I watched it back in February but there are images that still pop into my head to chill me. A masterful work of horror. [Full review.]

    12
    The Report

    2019 #4 This is a movie not to everyone’s taste, as some middle-of-the-road reviews, and Amazon’s lack of backing for it in awards season, attest. It’s easy to dismiss it as a filmed Wikipedia article, because it’s obsessively accurate and methodical in the way it lays out the facts of its case — about the CIA’s ineffective use of torture post-9/11 — but, in fact, that fits both the style of its lead character-cum-hero, and the purpose of its existence, which I think is to help expose the truth more widely. After all, we know what went on, but who’s actually had to face any consequences for it? In apportioning blame, writer-director Scott Z. Burns is strikingly nonpartisan, refusing to let the Obama administration off the hook for their part. So it’s a shame it hasn’t connected more widely, because its message is important; and even besides that, it’s an absorbing thriller… and someone doing paperwork.

    I probably saw better films than Mandy during 2019, but I saw few that were as aesthetically striking — and certainly none with a header pic that could equal this shot of star Nic Cage. It’s a nightmarishly surreal journey of revenge, with plot points and visuals that can’t be described, they just have to be experienced. And oh my, what an experience. [Full review.]

    10
    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

    This overlooked ’30s-set rom-com boasts a starry cast and a likeable bounce, and I guess that’s where many people’s assessment of it stops — if they’ve even bothered to assess it at all. But what really worked for me was the way it feels like an actual movie from its era, with the quick-talking wit of screwball comedies, the slight earnestness of a simpler age, and the confidence to throw in some more serious undercurrents without the fear it will ruin the fun. Instead, they elevate it. As a throwback to classic cinema, it’s delightful.

    9
    Eighth Grade

    2019 #3 On Letterboxd I simply stated this was “the most truthful movie about what it’s actually like to be a teenager I think I’ve ever seen,” and that just about sums up why its here. The milieu of its story is very Now — teenagers locked to their phones, living their lives through Instagram and YouTube — but look past the ultra-current specificity and there’s a universality in the experience of shy, insecure thirteen-year-old Kayla. Most of us have been there, and Eighth Grade captures just what it was like. (Before anyone asks/complains: this counts as a 2019 film because its UK release wasn’t until April ’19.)

    The premise of Spike Lee’s detective movie sounds like a joke — “what if a black man joined the KKK?” — but it’s a true story. With that in mind, you may expect a deadly serious, heavy-going movie. Instead, Lee mixes in a lively humour that keeps the movie entertaining even as it hits you with serious points. And very timely ones, as the controversial (but, in my opinion, merited) closing moments make clear. [Full review.]

    7
    La Belle Époque

    2019 #2 Reading reviews, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this French romantic comedy-drama — it looked like it might be nice, and that’s about all. A pleasant surprise, then, to find there’s so much more to it than just a pleasantly diverting couple of hours. The story of a man who attempts to relive the day he met the wife who no longer loves him, it’s sharply witty, surprisingly beautiful in places, and genuinely emotional by the end. Surely it’s destined for an inferior American remake.

    6
    Searching

    There are several true-story crime thrillers close-by on this top ten — if you watched them back-to-back with Searching, they might show it up a little bit, because it does get a little Movie Logic in its final act. But that’s worth letting slide because of the very particular way it tells its engrossing story. The entire movie takes place from the POV of a computer screen, as a desperate father tries to work out what’s happened to his missing teenage daughter. Pleasingly, the film doesn’t break its own rules, but uses the limitations to its advantage to create a new, timely way of viewing a narrative. And while the final act may be a bit grandiose compared to real life, its array of twists are satisfying.

    5
    Memories of Murder

    Director Bong Joon Ho is attracting a lot of attention this awards season (heck, this year) for his latest, Parasite, and made my top ten last year with his long-delayed-in-the-UK sci-fi parable Snowpiercer. This surprisingly-hard-to-come-by (someone do a good Western Blu-ray release, please!) film wasn’t his first, but was what initially garnered him some attention outside Korea. A true-story-inspired crime thriller, it invites comparisons to David Fincher’s Zodiac in the way it follows obsessed investigators as they try to uncover the truth behind an unsolved wave of murders. Zodiac is one of my favourite films, but Memories of Murder is strong enough to withstand the comparison. (Also, yes, it predates Fincher’s film. I’m not claiming one copied the other, they just approach the same genre from a similar headspace.)

    4
    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    If I’m honest, I was prepared to dislike Scott Pilgrim — I mean, there’s a reason it took me almost a decade to get round to it. It always looked Too Cool; kind of too hipster-ish, though I guess in a geeky way. (Well, “hipster” and “geek” have been more closely linked than ever this decade, haven’t they?) I remember distinctly when it went down a storm at Comic-Con and so everyone believed it was The Next Big Thing, only for it to flop hard at the box office (providing a much-needed course correction on everyone’s view of the power of Comic-Con). But here’s the thing: it’s directed by Edgar Wright, and I should have trusted that. And so the film is everything you’d expect from the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver — deep-cut references (this time to video games), piles of humour, but also a dose of genuine emotion. Best of all is how it’s ceaselessly, fearlessly, creatively inventive with its cinematic tricks. No other film on this list is so overtly Directed, but in a good way.

    3
    Sherlock Jr.

    Sherlock Jr. is almost 100 years old now, but it still plays as fresh as a daisy. That’s the wonder of Buster Keaton, who mixes daredevil antics with genuine movie magic to produce an unforgettable farce with more laughs per minute than [insert your comedian of choice here] and more I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that stunts than one of Tom Cruise’s impossible missions. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Heck, they probably wouldn’t let ’em.

    2
    Rififi

    This methodical French crime thriller is famed for its centrepiece — a half-hour heist that takes place in virtual silence — and that is indeed an unforgettably effective, edge-of-your-seat piece of cinema. But the film around it is so good, too: the events and plans that lead up to the heist; and the fallout of what occurs after. If you want to be a pedant then film noir “can’t be made outside America” — but even if that’s true, well, tough, because this is noir at its absolute best.

    2019 #1 If my end-of-year #1s had a reputation, it would probably be for choosing recent movies. Every year I theoretically have the entirety of film history to choose from, but only once have I given my #1 slot to a film that was more than 18 months old. But this year takes that to extremes: I’ve given #1 to a film that isn’t even out yet (in the UK). Never mind Skyfall or Blade Runner 2049 only being 2 months old when I picked them — here, Portrait of Lady on Fire is currently -2 months old (its UK release is scheduled for 28th February). Still, it’s screened at plenty of festivals and had a few international releases, and received plenty of acclaim — well deserved, I think (obviously). It’s the kind of film that casts a spell, with its remote setting that isolates us with its characters, absorbing us into this vital moment in their lives; its thoroughly gorgeous photography, which is appropriately painterly; and a very particular pace, which some would dismiss as “slow” but I thought was just right. It also has a healthy, perhaps surprising dash of Gothic in how its narrative plays out, which particularly appealed to me. Basically, it’s an all-round stunning work. [Full review.]


    As usual, I’d just like to highlight a few other films.

    I’m always loathe to mention “films that almost made my list”, because that feels like cheating (I may as well just make the list longer and include them). However, because I only included four films released in 2019, I thought I’d flag up a few more of my favourites from the year itself. These aren’t #16–19, then, but they are 2019’s #5–8, because they’re the four 2019 releases that came closest to getting in. But I’ll leave their exact ranking to your imagination and just list them alphabetically: Deadwood: The Movie, Jojo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and The Personal History of David Copperfield. Of course, there were dozens of acclaimed and/or popular 2019 films that I didn’t see, so take this ranking with a large pinch of salt — if I revisited yearly rankings after I’d caught up on more movies, they’d change entirely.

    Another honorary mention I want to make is more for a person than a film: Thomasin McKenzie, who almost single handedly earnt Leave No Trace a place in my top 15. I mean that as no disservice to everyone else involved — their combined work put it in contention, but it was McKenzie’s superb performance that almost tipped it in. (So, I guess that is #16.) And the other reason I’m mentioning her rather rather than just the film is because she was also excellent in Jojo Rabbit — easy to overlook among that film’s showy cast, but a pivotal and well-played part nonetheless. She’s definitely one to watch.

    Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, some of which have already been mentioned in this post and some of which haven’t. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update), they were The Player, Memories of Murder, Isle of Dogs, Searching, The Meg, Deadwood: The Movie, Sherlock Jr., Rififi, The Red Shoes, For Sama, La Belle Époque, and Eighth Grade.

    Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned themselves 5-star ratings throughout the year — especially as I haven’t reviewed most of them yet, so they merit their moment in the spotlight. During 2019 there were 25. 13 made it into my best list, so rather than name them again I’ll let you have fun guessing which were the two to only get 4-stars (hint: only one of them is in the actual top 10; and the other has a review, so you can easily find it out). The remaining twelve were Les diaboliques, The Favourite, For Sama, Isle of Dogs, Jojo Rabbit, The Killer, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Player, The Red Shoes, Roma, Rope, and Waltz with Bashir. Finally, I also gave full marks to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which will be the subject of a “Guide To” at some point) and three short films, Pleased to Eat You!, Hey You, and Facing It (all reviewed in this roundup).


    I watched 34 films from 2019 during 2019, which means there are plenty of noteworthy releases I didn’t see — so here’s an alphabetical list of 50 I missed. (Why it’s 50, I’m not quite sure; but I’ve been doing it for 13 years, I’m not changing it now.) They’ve been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety; plus I’ve made an attempt to include a spread of styles and genres, successes and failures.

    As usual, I’ve followed IMDb’s dating in my selection process, which means there are movies listed here that haven’t actually come out in the UK yet. And some films have likely fallen through the cracks because they’re listed as 2018 but I wasn’t aware of them in time for last year’s list (though I’ve made one exception in that regard). But there are always more films worth noting than can be included, anyway. I mean, this year my starting list was 119 films long (maybe I should increase how many I include…)

    1917
    Doctor Sleep
    It: Chapter Two
    Le Mans '66
    Parasite
    Spider-Man: Far from Home
    Aladdin
    Godzilla: King of the Monsters
    Joker
    The Lighthouse
    Us
    X-Men: Dark Phoenix
    1917
    Ad Astra
    Aladdin
    Alita: Battle Angel
    Apollo 11
    Bait
    A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
    Booksmart
    Cats
    Doctor Sleep
    Dolemite is My Name
    The Farewell
    Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
    Frozen II
    Gemini Man
    Godzilla: King of the Monsters
    Hellboy
    How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
    Hustlers
    It: Chapter Two
    Joker
    Jumanji: The Next Level
    The Kid Who Would Be King
    Klaus
    Knives Out
    Last Christmas
    Le Mans ’66
    The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
    The Lighthouse
    Little Women
    Marriage Story
    Men in Black: International
    Midsommar
    Parasite
    The Peanut Butter Falcon
    Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
    Rambo: Last Blood
    Rocketman
    A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
    Shazam!
    The Souvenir
    Spider-Man: Far from Home
    Terminator: Dark Fate
    The Two Popes
    Us
    The Wandering Earth
    Wild Rose
    X-Men: Dark Phoenix
    Yesterday
    Zombieland: Double Tap


    Whew, another year over!

    Time to do it all over again…

    2019 Statistics

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas — that’s well and truly over now, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not even really the new year anymore, it’s just the year now. This post is kinda late.

    No, by “most wonderful time of the year” I mean this — the day I publish my annual statistics post! As the guy who does the introductions to films at Odeon might say, “ooh, yeah, the statistics. I love the statistics. Specially chosen for this post, actually.” Except they’re not really specially chosen, I do the same ones every year. But then the trailers aren’t really specially chosen for the film, are they? That Odeon guy’s just a liar.

    Anyway, it’s time for the main event. So, turn off your phones, finish your conversations, and get ready — it’s about to begin…

    I watched 151 new feature films in 2019. That ranks 5th in the history of 100 Films — it’s the lowest of the past five years, but beats every one from 2007 to 2014. It’s 11% beyond 6th place (2014) and 15% short of 4th place (2017). And it’s down a massive 110 films (42%) on last year.

    I also watched one extended or altered cut of a feature I’d seen before — namely, Deadpool 2’s Super Duper $@%!#& Cut. (I know it’s only my own rules I’m butting up against, but I haven’t settled on a way to count alternate cuts like this now that I have my Rewatchathon. I mean, it’s not strictly a rewatch because it’s a different cut, but it’s also not a new film because it’s not that different to the version I’d already seen. Anyway, it’s included in the following graph, but I haven’t counted it towards the other stats.)

    As just alluded to, in 2019 I also undertook my Rewatchathon for the third year. My target was 50 films, but I only made it to 29. Still, that’s 29 more than I might’ve managed otherwise. Add all of those together and my overall total is 181 films. I’d love to tell you how that compares to previous years, but I’ve still not put together a proper history of rewatches for that comparison. Maybe I’ll finally get it sorted for 2020’s stats.

    I also watched 20 short films in 2019, which more than doubles the next nearest — second place is a tie between 2007 and 2018 with just eight each. As with the alternate cut, these only count towards one stat, which I’ll mention in a moment.

    So, the total running time of the 151 new films was 271 hours and 56 minutes. That’s down a whopping 41% on last year… but then the number of films I watched was down 42%, so fair enough. Add in the Deadpool 2 alternate cut and all those shorts and the total running time of my new 2019 viewing was 277 hours and 47 minutes — that’s just over 3½ hours of shorts, FYI. (Last year I said “maybe next year I’ll start counting my Rewatchathon here too”. I haven’t, obviously. Maybe next year…)

    Here’s how that viewing played out across the year, month by month. It’s a particularly interesting year to have this graph (I only added it for the first time in 2018’s stats), because my viewing patterns have been so variable. I imagine if a lot of people bothered to plot a graph like this they’d end up with a broadly flat line, because I’d presume they watch roughly the same amount of stuff (whether that’s a lot or a little) month in, month out. Or maybe they’d all be as variable as mine, I dunno. Either way, my one is anything but flat…

    Now, how I watched those films. Most people may be pivoting to streaming, and dedicated cinephiles of course see a lot on the big screen, but I still love my physical media. Nonetheless, for the fifth year in a row this year’s most prolific viewing format was streaming. I guess I’m one of those people too. Or not — I buy more than my fair share of Blu-rays, I just don’t get round to watching as many as I should. Anyway, streaming accounted for 49 films, or 32.5% of my viewing. The raw number is less than half what it was last year (109), but then I did watch 110 fewer films overall too. More interestingly, the percentage is also down significantly, continuing a trend that’s been going on for a few years now — it was 57% in 2016, 43.2% in 2017, 41.8% in 2018, and now just 32.5%. Maybe I’m bucking the trend after all.

    Those streaming numbers can be broken down across five services: Netflix, Amazon (a mix of Prime and paid-for rentals), Now TV (aka Sky Cinema), BBC iPlayer, and Rakuten. This year, it was Netflix in first place (it’s been Amazon the last two years) with 21 films (42.9% of streams). Mind, Amazon were close behind on 19 (38.8%). Way down in third was Now TV, with just five films (10.2%) — I only subscribe for a month so I can watch the Oscars, but I clearly didn’t get very good value for money this year (for comparison, last year I used it to watch 25 films). That said, keep reading to downloads for more on this… Rounding out the streamers were iPlayer with three (6.1%) and Rakuten with just one (2%).

    In second place was Blu-ray, represented by 34 films (22.5%). Sadly, that is also a much reduced percentage from last year (when it was 31.4%). As I said, I buy loads of the darn things, so I should do better here.

    So, where are those percentage points going? Well, in third we find downloads, with 22 films (14.6%). In real terms that’s a drop from last year (when it was 25), but if we compare percentages it’s up by around 50%. See, statistics are fun, aren’t they? (Although Now TV only gets credited with five films, a few download viewings were, shall we say, morally justified by their presence on Now TV… by which I mean I acquired better-quality copies than Now TV’s outdated 720p and watched those instead, but it’s okay because I’d paid for those films via a Now TV subscription.)

    Close behind is TV, on 20 films (13.2%) — again, a drop in real terms but a rise in percentage. Still, nowhere near where it once was — check out the drop since 2010 in this graph.

    In fifth place is cinema, whose lowly position masks something of an achievement: it’s the most cinema visits I’ve made in one year since this blog began. My total was 19 films (12.6%), besting 2017’s tally by just one. It’s also the only format number that’s bigger than last year. Mostly it’s thanks to FilmBath Festival — without that, it’d only be eight (mind you, that would still be more than most years of this blog’s life — only 4 out of 12 other years would be higher.)

    Finally, in sixth and last place, is DVD. Oh, poor DVD. Some people still love you, but the industry’s failure to get Blu-ray to catch on is a rant for another day. Anyway, this year I watched seven films (4.6%) on digital versatile disc, which is its lowest number since 2012. It’s impressive it’s still toddling on at all, really, but sometimes it’s easier just to watch the DVD I already have than source an HD copy.

    In amongst all that, I watched seven films in 3D (4.6%), down 11 from last year (which was up 11 from the year before!), and 15 in 4K UHD (9.9%), up just one from last year. Considering I own a 3D-capable 4K TV, their combined percentage of 14.6% is a bit disappointing — especially as I didn’t have a UHD Blu-ray player last year, so that new bit of kit has made very little net impact. Though, again, it depends how you do your comparison: going from 14 to 15 may not be much, but as a percentage of my viewing UHD has increased from 5.4% to that 9.9%.

    So, with that said, how did my viewing split up in terms of UHD vs. HD vs. SD? Contributing to the UHD number is a cocktail of Blu-ray discs, streams, and downloads. For HD, it’s the same mix, plus cinema trips (you’d think big cinema screens would be keen to go for 4K instead of 2K, but nope — apparently there are shockingly few 4K cinemas out there). And in SD, well, it’s of course a similar blend again, but with DVDs instead of BDs. The final result is 112 films in HD (74.2%). Add the aforementioned 15 (9.9%) in UHD and I’ve got a total of 84.1% in HD formats. That’s down a bit from last year, which nearly hit 90% HD, but hey-ho.

    Picture quality shouldn’t really be an indicator of the age of films I watched — old films can be HD too, of course (is everyone aware of this by now? I had to explain to someone once how even silent films could be HD. But, in fairness, they weren’t the kind of person who’s likely to be reading a film blog). Nonetheless, my viewing did skew newer, as usual: the most popular decade was the 2010s, with 90 films. That’s 59.6% of my viewing, a higher percentage than last year, but not as high as the year before that. The 2010s have been my highest decade ever year since 2012 — now it’ll be interesting to see how soon the 2020s take over.

    The 2000s have come second since 2012 too… but not this year! Thanks primarily to Quentin Tarantino’s Swinging Sixties Move Marathon, in 2019 second place went to the 1960s (obviously). It’s a distant second, mind, with just 13 films (8.6%). In fact, only seven of the ten films in QT’s marathon were from the ’60s themselves, but without those it would be much lower in the rankings.

    So, the 2000s are pushed into third, with 11 films (7.3%). In fourth we find the 1970s with nine (5.96%), also helped slightly by the Tarantino marathon (though, in this case, only by one extra film). It’s back to the ’90s for fifth, with eight (5.3%), followed closely by the ’50s on seven (4.6%), including the final two films from the “sixties” marathon.

    Rounding things out, the 1920s and ’40s had four (2.6%) apiece; the ’80s is uncommonly low on just three (1.99%); and finally there’s the oldest decade for this year, the 1920s, with two (1.3%).

    From “when” to “where” — countries of production. And it’s another “business as usual” situation, because once again the USA dominated with a hand in 113 films (74.8%, which is up a couple of points from last year). Also as usual, second place belongs to the UK, with 35 films (23.2%, also an increase from last year). Also in double figures were France (16 films, 10.6%), Japan (14 films, 9.3%), and Germany (10 films, 6.6%). In all, 28 countries were involved in the production of at least one film. That’s a marginally lower number than it’s been the last few years, but I also watched a much lower total of films, so it’s not too bad overall.

    You might think less variety in countries would mean less variety in languages spoken, but not so. Now, English was still thoroughly dominant, being spoken in 128 films — but that works out as 84.8%, the lowest it’s ever been. In second place for the third year in a row was Japanese, its tally of 13 films being the only other language to make double figures this year. Although it totals fewer films than last year, its percentage of 8.6% is similar. In total, there were 24 languages, plus four silent films. American Sign Language cropped up in one film, as it seems to every year, while other more unusual (for my viewing) languages included Burmese, Mixtec, and Punjabi.

    A total of 134 directors plus 10 directing partnerships appear on 2019’s main list. Only six of those were responsible for multiple films, the lowest that figure’s been since 2012. Most prolific of these was Kenji Misumi with three, all Zatoichi films. The other five directors, with two apiece, were Bill Condon, Alfred Hitchcock, Phil Karlson (both from Tarantino’s sixties marathon), Fritz Lang (arguably — some would say Dr Mabuse, der Spieler is a single film), and Kimiyoshi Yasuda (also both Zatoichi films).

    For the past few years I’ve charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. There were ten female directors represented among 2019’s feature film viewing — seven as sole director, three as part of a directing partnership with a bloke. Counting the co-directors as half a film each, this represents 5.63% of my viewing — better than last year (which was better than the two years before it), but, as this graph ably demonstrates, still a disappointingly low figure. I mean, I watched more films directing by someone called “John”.

    At the time of writing, 12 films from 2019’s list appear on the IMDb Top 250 (or “Top Rated Movies: Top 250 as rated by IMDb Users”, as it’s less-catchily technically known nowadays). However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by four, to 45. The current positions of this year’s checks range from 22nd (Life is Beautiful) to 225th (The Red Shoes).

    At the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. For the past few years I’ve managed to watch some more from every one of these lists, but I let that slip in 2019. The overall number I watched dropped too, totalling 37 (the lowest it’s been since 2014, when obviously there were fewer films to choose from). Well, that’s the kind of year it’s been. Anyway, the ones I did watch included two each from 2008, 2012, and 2016; and one each from 2010, 2011, and 2017.

    Finally, in the first year of watching 2018’s 50, I saw 28 of them. That’s no record, but it’s still over 50% (to be precise, 56%), so I can’t complain.

    In total, I’ve now seen 422 out of 600 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s 70.3%, up a teeny tiny amount from last year’s 70.0%. If I don’t pick up the pace again next year, I may be looking at a percentage drop. (As ever, the 50 for 2019 will be listed in my “best & worst” post.)

    And lo, just like that, we’re coming to the end. To conclude 2019’s statistics, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

    As always, this includes every film, meaning some don’t have published reviews yet — and, therefore, some I was still mulling over my exact score for; the kind of films I’d happily award 3.5 or 4.5 on Letterboxd, but which here I always round up or down to a whole star. Maybe I should start giving half stars. (I feel like I say that every year…) Anyway, I’ve had to go ahead and pick a rating for everything to get this part of the stats done, and maybe I’ve been too generous in places, or too harsh in others. We shouldn’t really take such a simplistic rating system too seriously, anyway (he says, as he goes on to make it the final thing in this post as if it’s a definitive statement on the quality of the films I saw this year…)

    Barrelling on regardless: at the top end of the spectrum, this year I awarded 25 five-star ratings, which means I have 16.6% of films full marks. That’s a slightly higher percentage than last year, but lower than the year before that, but higher than the year before that, but lower than the year before that… and so on. In other words, I’ve not suddenly got harsher or more generous, or suddenly watched a lot more or lot fewer good films.

    Indeed, it was also business as usual with the score I handed out most often: four-stars, which I awarded to 62 films. Out of 13 years of this blog, four-stars has been my highest-scoring score 12 times (the exception is 2012, which saw more three-star films). That said, at 41.1% it’s the lowest percentage of four-stars-ers since 2013. That loss was spread out across the rest of the board, with slightly higher than normal percentages for the remaining three ratings. For example, there were 46 three-star films, which at 30.5% is its third highest ever percentage.

    Fortunately, the “bad” end of the scores continue to bring up the rear, with 15 two-star films (9.9%) and three films meriting just one-star (1.99%). That’s technically the highest percentage of one-star films since 2012, but as the other intervening years range between 0.7% and 1.5%, I don’t think it’s a cause for concern. It’s barely even cause for comment.

    Finally, that brings us to the average score — the single figure that arguably asserts 2019’s quality compared to other years. The short version is 3.6 out of 5, the first time it’s been below 3.7 since 2013. In fact, if we go to three decimal places, it comes out as 3.604, which is the second lowest ever (beaten by 2012’s exceptionally poor 3.352). Now, it doesn’t feel like I’ve had particularly poor viewing this year — indeed, I was worried I was handing out five-star ratings too easily at one point — so it’s something of a surprise to find it so low. But maybe I’m just getting more discerning. I mean, it’s not a sharp drop (unlike that 2012 anomaly), more a slight decline.

    And that’s the statistics over for another year, I’m afraid. But if you’re a junkie like me and still after more, check out my Letterboxd 2019 stats — that site tracks different stuff (like directors and actors), and includes different films (i.e. my Rewatchathon viewing, plus a few TV things), so it’s a bit different. That’s exciting, eh?


    If you thought it was getting a bit far into 2020 to still be thinking about 2019, oh ho ho, no! Still to come: my picks for the best and worst of my viewing from last year.