Set It Up (2018)

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Two overworked and underpaid assistants come up with a plan to get their bosses off their backs by setting them up with each other. (Letterboxd)
Kinda wish it was just about Deutch’s aspiring journalist eating popcorn hands-free out of her hoodie while trying to write inspiring sports articles that “make people cry” but fine, this is okay too. The set up hijinks and boss-assistant dynamics both offer their fair share of quirky humour, and the central relationship has plenty of charm, though the film really starts to drag when the former starts to fade in favour of the latter and you’re left waiting for the inevitable generic conclusion.
6.5/10 (Alright)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

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In a time when monsters walk the Earth, humanity’s fight for its future sets Godzilla and Kong on a collision course that will see the two most powerful forces of nature on the planet collide in a spectacular battle for the ages. (Letterboxd)
The titular relationship has more dramatic nuance than any of the human ones (mom and daughter was sweet though), which speaks both to the poor writing (needed more self-aware moments like Walter’s cut-off speech) but also to the pretty satisfying way the God vs. King arc comes to a (ripped off and oozing) head (yes, the real enemy here is indeed the nonsensical sci-fi schlock that destroys us humans who make it). Fantastic monster action (the colours and camera angles and VFX are on point).
6.5/10 (Alright)

JWM’s Best of 2020

Ahead of the upcoming Academy Awards, the culminating awards event of the movie season, I wanted to throw out my official “Best of 2020” picks for the movie year that was. I’ll stick with the adjusted release-date eligibility of the Oscars of February 28, 2021, so a few of the earlier releases of 2021 will be eligible in my rankings too.
BEST VISUALS (Cinematography, Visual Effects, Production/Costume Design, Hair/Make-up)
1. First Cow
2. Nomadland
3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
4. The Father
5. Nadie Sabe Que Estoy Aqui [Nobody Knows I’m Here]
BEST AUDIO (Sound Editing/Mixing, Music)
1. First Cow
2. Minari
3. Sound of Metal
4. Judas and the Black Messiah
5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Honourable Mentions: Nomadland; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Promising Young Woman
BEST SCREENPLAY
1. Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
2. Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller – The Father
3. Darius Marder, Abraham Marder – Sound of Metal
4. Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
5. Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
6. Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
7. Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
8. James Sweeney – Straight Up
9. Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
10. Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos – The Devil All the Time
Honourable Mentions: Eleanor Catton – Emma.; Alice Wu – The Half of It; Marinda July – Kajillionaire; Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin – Onward
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE
1. Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
2. Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
4. Mark Rylance – The Trial of the Chicago 7
5. Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
6. Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
7. Olivia Colman –The Father
8. Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami…
9. Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
10. Gina Rodriguez – Kajillionaire
Honourable Mentions: Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods; Jason Clarke – The Devil All the Time; Elizabeth Debicki – Tenet; Dominique Fishback – Judas and the Black Messiah; Johnny Flynn – Emma.; Richard Jenkins – Kajillionaire; Will Patton – Minari; Amanda Seyfried – Mank
BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE
1. Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
2. Anthony Hopkins – The Father
3. Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
4. Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
5. Frances McDormand – Nomadland
6. Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
7. Zoey Duetch – Buffaloed
8. Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
9. Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah
10. Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami…
Honourable Mentions: Adarsh Gourav – The White Tiger; Yeri Han – Minari; Tom Holland The Devil All the Time; Delroy Lindo Da 5 Bloods; John Magaro – First Cow; Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma.Evan Rachel Wood – Kajillionaire; Steven Yeun – Minari
BEST CRAFT (Directing, Editing)
1. Eliza Hittman, Scott Cummings – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
2. Florian Zeller, Yorgos Lamprinos – The Father
3. Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
4. Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
5. Aaron Sorkin, Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Honourable Mentions: George C. Wolfe, Andrew Mondshein – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Lee Isaac Chung, Harry Yoon – Minari; Emerald Fennell, Frédéric Thoraval – Promising Young Woman; Darius Marder, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen – Sound of Metal; James Sweeney, Keith Funkhouser – Straight Up
BEST FILM
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
2. Sound of Metal     
3. The Father                                 
4. Minari
5. Nomadland
6. First Cow
7. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Honourable Mentions: Kajillionaire; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Straight Up

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

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The story of Fred Hampton, deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was assassinated in 1969 by a Cook County tactical unit on the orders of the FBI and Chicago Police Department. (Letterboxd)
In the way it captures the injustice, high stakes, and high-running emotions of the revolution it triumphs, and loudly–the music, the sounds, the turns all scream for your attention (see especially Hampton’s welcome home speech). As a whole it feels a bit scattered though, with biopic-obligatory-feeling side plots (see Jake’s revenge), teased but discarded character dynamics (see Roy’s discomfort with Hoover), and a titular relationship that doesn’t quite live up to its dramatic potential.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

The Father (2020)

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A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality. (Letterboxd)
It’s slow and subtle psychological horror (the poignant production design parallels are powerful here, as is the intentionally convoluted time/place/person-jumping script) that ditches easy “losing mind” thrills in favour of a meaty, beating-heart character drama core which Hopkins masterfully drives home to the homelessness of the crushing final scene (“I have nowhere to put my head down anymore”) with the many emotions of the journey (confusion, anger, and bittersweet charm and ignorance).
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Night Moves (2013)

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The story about three radical environmentalists coming together to execute the most intense protest of their lives: the explosion of a hydroelectric dam. (Letterboxd)
For the most part, it’s an understated and masterfully crafted thriller; with gorgeous nature shots and slick guitar-led score in tow, the pre-event procedural plays out each scene to slow-burn perfection, with the uneasy aftermath adding further sweaty tension. It’s the character writing that has a few missteps; namely, the film showing’s awkward attempt at explaining their motivations when the plan was already in place, and more significantly, the extreme climax of Josh’s arc in the third act.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Minari (2020)

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A Korean family starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas. (IMDb)
Never digs that deep into its themes or characters but from the first touches of its gorgeous score and cinematography, it’s clear that its soil is rich with life. Comedy and drama (see David and Grandma’s volatile relationship), spirit and mind and body (see the various farming tasks), giving and taking (see the offering plate), hope and despair (see the city visit), destruction and reconciliation (see the fire)–it all intermingles in the poignantly simple story about a family building a home.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

One Night in Miami… (2020)

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In the aftermath of Cassius Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964, the boxer meets with Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown to change the course of history in the segregated South. (Letterboxd)
A snappy film (filler character intros aside) with a unique historical/thematic approach to the plight of Black people in the 60s. It’s well-acted (Ben-Adir’s multi-faceted turn is a highlight) and looks good, but while Clay’s youthful energy and Brown’s quiet wisdom each pair nicely with the main sparring partners X and Cooke to create some more interesting interplay, they ultimately feel like spectators to the film’s dramatic centre, so a tighter focus in the script would’ve been good.
7/10 (Good)

Rush Hour 2 (2001)

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Carter and Lee head to Hong Kong for a vacation, but become embroiled in a counterfeit money scam. (IMDb)
Casual racism and sexism aren’t funny (oh look, two grown men excitedly spying on a woman undressing.. hilarious), and a few scenes aside (see Carter’s commotion at the craps table) that accounts for all the humour of the film, tainting the otherwise charming odd-couple dynamic of 7-11 Carter and “student doing all the work on the group project” Lee. Elsewhere, the plot is fairly forgettable detective fodder but populated by lots of fun action sequences (highlighted by Chan’s incredible skills).
6/10 (Mediocre)

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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In a universe where human genetic material is the most precious commodity, an impoverished young Earth woman becomes the key to strategic maneuvers and internal strife within a powerful dynasty. (Letterboxd)
The self-discovery journey has a passive and bland protagonist, the space politics plot is interesting but confusing, and the shallow romantic arc feels purely obligatory. Nothing works, and the serious tone, poor dialogue (“I love dogs”), and mediocre turns and VFX don’t help. With the ending repeat of Jupiter’s life on earth I almost forgave it all as a weird character growth metaphor, but then wolf-man boyfriend comes zooming in again on his sky skates and he’s grown wings now and.. yeah.
4/10 (Bad)