-A list of films that I liked, but won’t be appearing on my year end list.
The following 25 films are movies I really liked, but will not be making my year-end top films list. Even though I try to limit myself to 25 and some honorable mentions, I look back at the end of every year and want to give a shout-out to some additional movies that captured my interest or contained a really good performance or two. In alphabetical order, here are those shout-outs:
This is an unconventional heist movie, edited wonderfully to depict interviews with the real adults this is based on, while cutting into a fictionalized, dramatized version of their attempted crime. It concerns a group of rowdy teenagers who decide to try to rob expensive books and artwork from the local university’s special collections room. The planning and lead-up are this zany, fast-paced look at how youth would totally underestimate the consequences of their crime, while the fallout shows how the choices they made affects their adult lives. Occasionally, these indie movies come out which invert the genre, and this one takes the traditional heist movie and completely turns it on its head.
AT ETERNITY’S GATE
This biopic shows the last few years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life, as his painting style changed and he went in and out of various asylums due to his undiagnosed mental illnesses. It’s filed and shot in a way to convey madness, and puts the camera in his eyes to try to capture the way Van Gogh viewed the world. It has nice settings, interesting camerawork, and was never boring despite not really having a narrative structure. Dafoe, also, slides into this role immensely well. It’s one of the best lead actor performances of the year.
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
The Coen Brothers are among my favorite directors, and have made a few of my absolute favorite films of all time, including No Country for Old Men, which may be one of the best films ever. Set at the turn of the old south, the movie gives us six vignettes that detail different parts of the aging process and death, starting with a top-of-the-line singing cowboy who never loses a duel and ends with a group of very different individuals traversing purgatory. Inherently, when a film has a ton of different settings and pieces like this one, you’re bound to enjoy some more than others. Although I liked this movie, I continued craving what the first few segments were like, and as we got further into the gloomy underbelly of this movie’s motif, it became a little bit of a drag. Perhaps on repeat viewings I will be more excited about this one, but I found it an inconsistent outing from the Coens despite having scenes I absolutely love.
Beautiful Boy traverses fatherhood and drug addiction very intently, and works really hard to make us emotionally invested. Despite some really good performances, capped by Timothe Chalamet who is fantastic here, I left Beautiful Boy not sure about how to feel. Some of the flashbacks used make the pacing pretty odd, and there are massive leaps in time that go largely unexplained and unnoticed. The pacing and direction of this movie holds back a good central story with really good central performances. So, by the end, I still view this movie positively despite its faults, and want to recognize how excellent Chalamet is.
This movie will certainly be in many people’s Best of the Year lists, and for good reason. It was a cultural phenomenon that gave a new voice to the superhero genre. The background parts of this movie, like the Wakanda culture and the message about globalism at its core are both really interesting, and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best Marvel villains. However, when you look past the veil of excitement, there are some flaws with this movie, including some occasionally unsteady pacing and a third act that really sags under the weight of the Marvel formula. This movie is really good, but it’s just not great.
This was actually my favorite out of all the Netflix originals that I saw this year, and you will see some more creeping up on this list as well. It’s a slow burn, taking its time with our characters and the series of choices that leads them further and further down the path of criminality after a hunting accident occurs on their planned vacation. It’s suspenseful and interesting, relying on small town politics and relationships more than a traditional investigatory thriller, and we remain conflicted about our lead characters throughout the run time and the choices that they’re making. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of a back-woods thriller, but it’s tight and is executed really well.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
A movie that is getting some awards attention, and for good reason. It has a really good script worked on by Nicole Holofcener and contains perhaps my favorite Supporting Actor performance of the year by Richard E. Grant. The actual plot, of biographer Lee Israel forging letters by accomplished literary figures, is interesting enough to hold your attention, but this does often feel like a regular biopic. Melissa McCarthy’s performance is a little bit one-note, and it’s a bit formulaic at its core. However, the average parts are usually outweighed by the good script writing and good performances.
Colette is a multi-decade tale that shows an upcoming writer expressing non-traditional desires of gender and sexuality as she attempts to get credit for stories her husband was taking credit for as a publisher. While this movie is not quite the same as The Wife, in terms of being tightly directed and moving along at a good pace, Colette does have a ton of ambition in the way it’s filmed. It doesn’t always connect scene-to-scene, but the framework sets up a good story and the performances by Keira Knightley and Dominic West are really good. Its inconsistency becomes almost charming by the end of it.
I like a good mystery film, and this movie, started by the intriguing relationship of down-on-her-luck movie star and her personal assistant, quickly plunges into intrigue and tragedy. It’s filmed beautifully, keeps the questions coming, and outside of a third act payoff that doesn’t really ever find its footing, the journey to the end is really stylish and fun. This is the perfect movie to rent and watch when you want something substantive but still a little trashy.
I was really critical of this movie after seeing it, and I think my criticisms of some unnecessary plot points and lame characters which only exist to move the story along are still valid. But, there’s a few moments in the film, one where we get this continuous shot of Michael going from house to house and one where we get Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode going from room to room in her home trying to locate him that stand out to me as these perfectly executed suspense scenes. There are better, more deserving, horror films that will end up on my Top 25 list, but there’s a reason I watched all of the Halloween films and saw this movie twice in theaters. It holds a nostalgic place for me, and this was good enough to satisfy that itch.
HOLD THE DARK
This is available on Netflix, a cold, Northern thriller in the vein of Wind River, directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who knows how to make a good suspense picture. This movie is odd, and the plot isn’t always cohesive, but the random bursts of terror and violence beneath this slow atmosphere were really compelling, and there’s a place in the film cycle for movies like this to come out. It may not be the best of its kind, but slow-burning violent thrillers are always welcome in my book.
ISLE OF DOGS
While I haven’t seen Into the Spider-Verse as of writing this, Isle of Dogs currently sits as my favorite animated film of the year. It has the Wes Anderson charm and style, and good voice work by reputable actors. It made me laugh multiple times and has a compelling enough story with interesting subtext that it keeps your mind working. I’m not sure it all comes together at the end though, and it still seems like one of Anderson’s weaker outings.
THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS
This is a drama that has not left my head since watching it, and is one of the best mid-life crisis movies I’ve seen in awhile. It has us look at this person who has left part of his life in search of happiness, and ends up even more miserable than before due to the choices he’s made. In that sense, it takes a normal drama like this and flips it on its head. The script, also written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, is perfect to convey what Ben Mendelsohn does well as an actor after he’s turned in some inconsistent blockbuster performances recently. This is one that just barely misses my Top 25.
LEAN ON PETE
My fiancee and I called this Horse Movie #2 when we watched it, because we watched this and The Rider in the same week. This one is about a teenage boy who escapes his situation of rural poverty and loss by stealing a lame horse named Pete and trekking cross-country to find an Aunt who lives on the west coast. It’s a harrowing journey, and the film is extremely sad as we watch this young kid struggle just to survive. It’s a road movie not for the faint-hearted.
Love, Simon is the mainstream attempt at making at LGBT romantic comedy accessible to everyone. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it remains heart-warming and well-executed enough to fit into the pantheon of successful teen rom-coms, while also tackling the issue to trying to make stories like this worthwhile for larger studios and distributors to get behind. There are some really touching and effective scenes in this movie, and deserves the recognition of being included in the year-end discussion.
Normally, I’m against cherry-picking dead franchises and stuffing them with all-female casts because I think that studios should be ready to produce female-centric cinema on their own volition without relying on the name of older franchises, but this movie totally captures the good things about the original Oceans film. It’s fast-paced, well-edited, fun, and occasionally implausible in a really good way, and the performances are all solid from a ridiculous Anne Hathaway performance all the way down to Awkwafina as a pick-pocket.
I read somewhere that this was the best video-game movie not based on an actual video game, and I have to concur. From the landing in France and dangerous mine-filled trek into WWII combat territory to the church complex filled with horrific Naxi-zombie experiments, Overlord came straight out of the PS2 horror-games collection. It completely scratches the zombie itch while being interesting and action-filled enough to remain watchable when our characters weren’t going through the various laboratories.
Perhaps the saddest film of the year, Private Life premiered out of Sundance and hit Netflix a few months ago. It’s about a city couple who is struggling with fertility issues and ask their niece if she’d be willing to become a surrogate for them. It’s a tough ride, but it’s well acted and captures perfectly the sadness but still strong love between these people. The only downside is that they are such intellectuals that you wonder if you’d ever want to spend any more time with them, so the end of the movie really comes as a relief.
A PRIVATE WAR
I was happy when Rosamund Pike picked up a Golden Globe nomination for this performance as Marie Colvin because I was worried this was going to fly under the radar. Although the pacing in this movie starts inconsistently, once we get into the action of her stories with Jamie Dornan as her photographer, we really understand her addiction of being near the action. There are scenes with pretty intense war-style action, and then we get these private moments with such a nuanced performance by Rosamund Pike. It’s a movie I look back on very fondly as the year goes on.
Horse Movie #1 concerns a competitive rider who is thrown from his horse and suffers a brain injury, preventing him from doing the only thing he was ever good at. He’s short on money and his family is struggling, and the movie concerns him attempting to rediscover his self-worth after losing his livelihood. It’s such a small movie, but it’s beautifully acted and deserves the vast amount of independent accolades it’s been getting.
While the Unfriended movies have largely made the “all-on-a-screen” cinematography seem like a real gimmick, this movie really uses it to it advantage, bringing solid suspense and an interesting story to the forefront. As our main character/father tries to uncover what happened to his daughter, the movie splices in video files from their past and we watch him try to text and call anyone who could potentially be pertinent. The audience is almost like the data analyzers as we process what has been on screen. This was one of the better thrillers of the year.
SET IT UP
This movie could secretly be the best Netflix movie of the year (behind Roma of course), but it totally captures the modern workforce and stressers contained within its structure very easily. Sure, most of the movie is sarcastic, but it essentially stands for the principle of “what if even the most acute and motivated business minds were also family and relationship oriented?” Its point struck true for me, and although it may sometimes be too silly or slightly uninformed about its subject matter, it’s a rom-com with a heart, and contains really solid performances throughout.
Probably my favorite film here to not actually get into my final list, Tully is yet another introspective and interesting Jason Reitman film, and features a fabulous Charlize Theron in the lead role of a woman struggling with motherhood. A lot of people are a bit aghast and critical of the twist at the end, but it worked for me, and I actually really recommend this film as an exploration of the both the virtues and drawbacks of such a monstrous life commitment as parenting. All of the performances and presentation are on point.
Sure, it’s really hard to criticize this movie considering the talent involved and its progressive nature, but although there are fabulous shots which totally detail the neighborhood politics and wealth-distribution of Chicago, and although there are some good performances hidden beneath the surface here, I felt that the overall product of Widows occasionally felt over-stuffed and muddled. Not every twist really holds water, and by the end, I respect the idea of this movie showing what it’d be like for normal non-criminals to do these acts, there’s a ton of stuff which moves behind the scenes that ends up being unsuccessful. The screenplay is really good, as is the presentation, so it’s a well beyond average film, but it’s very flawed, and I can’t put it up with the year’s best.
I want this movie to get all of the awards recognition it can, especially for Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, but when I left this movie, I still had so many questions. It concerns a wife of a writer who begins bettering and eventually writing his awards-winning work, with the husband showing his thanks by eating poorly and having various affairs. It’s a movie partially about the way marriages work behind-the-scenes, but there’s also this commentary on taking responsibility and recognizing how ideas play out in real life. The central performances are phenomenal, but I wish the movie had been more clear about what amount of credit each of the parties deserved. Is it as blurred as I think it is? Or should we just defer to “The Wife” because of the title?