Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 is coming to a close and what a wonderful year of movies we’ve had to wrap up the decade. This year I saw 175 new films, 26 of which were documentaries. Finding room in my Top 20 (much less my Top 10) for every film that I want to sing the praises of is always incredibly difficult and this year is no different. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. The ranking you see here changed constantly right up until I hit “post”, but now what’s done is done and I have to live with it. Since it’s impossible for me to just settle on ten, you will see some of my favorites of the year in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see my nominations here and our award winners here). But on Feelin’ Film we focus more on matters of the heart, so my Top 10 films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2019 – those movies that provided me an incredibly emotional or memorable experience of some sort. Another thing that factors strongly into my ranking is rewatchability, so think of this list as my favorites of the best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. It feels like every year is a great one for non-fiction filmmaking and 2019 was no different. At least two of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined; I had to make some very hard cuts in limiting this list to just a Top 5. But as they say… “it’s what it is.”


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. UNTOUCHABLE (not the 2019 documentary about Harvey Weinstein) The first documentary I saw in 2019 was this film by David Feige that started making festival rounds in 2016 and finally got its release this year. The film follows Ron Book, a Florida lobbyist and father to a daughter who has been sexually abused, on his campaign that leads to some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. The film is special because of the way it gives equal space to the stories of both victims and offenders, as well as their respective loved ones. It is an incredible example of what documentaries at their best can be – not just informative, but balanced and thought-provoking despite covering very difficult to watch & complicated subject matter. While never losing sight of the pain these crimes can cause, it challenges our long-held perception of sex offenders, forces us to see the effects of our strict justice system on them and their families, and offers statistics that question whether our laws are even making a dent in rehabilitation or prevention. (Hear our discussion about “Untouchable” in FF+ here.)

4. LOVE, ANTOSHA – Get ready to cry your eyes out and then embark on a (surprisingly long) quest to watch all of the late actor Anton Yelchin’s films. This film is so well-constructed as a documentary that tells the story of Anton’s life, but its power is in sharing the stories of what he meant to so many people, who could see in him what he maybe never could. It is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist and wonderful human being gone far too soon.

3. SEA OF SHADOWS – I was blown away by the incredible access to both the bad guys and Mexican governmental agencies that this filmmaking team was able to have. “Sea of Shadows” is a documentary (which feels like an intense geopolitical thriller about cartels and other international criminal groups) that follows journalists teaming with activists and military to expose and take down powerful black-market fish bladder traffickers. The film is engaging and riveting in the way it brings this story of gross human exploitation and the destruction of our planet’s environment/animal kingdom to the forefront of public minds.

2. FOR SAMA – Many films have been made about the Battle of Aleppo, a 4.5 year conflict during the Syrian Civil War, but none like this. Told entirely from a young woman’s perspective, Waad al-Kateab becomes a journalist and documents her life in a sort of video log time capsule dedicated to her daughter Sama. It is an intimate, ground-level perspective otherwise unseen that captures the struggles of Waad’s life as she transitions through falling in love, becoming part of the resistance alongside her doctor husband, and eventually motherhood. It is visceral and painful in a way that caused me to have tears welled inside my eyes for almost its entire runtime. But though it is a horror film, it is also a love story, one that shows the cost yes, but also the deep devotion to justice and freedom that drives the resistance to protect one another and strive to reclaim their homeland from tyranny. It was unforgettable, and I hope that for the sake of retaining our humanity in this world as many people as possible will see it. Tough to get through? Absolutely. But worth it in every way for the beautiful relationships that exist within the chaos, and the inspiring hope these parents bring to not just their own child but the next generation as a whole.

1. APOLLO 11 – For the second year in a row, a documentary provided my most incredible IMAX theater viewing of the year. Composed entirely of newly discovered raw archival footage from the actual launch, mission, and landing, “Apollo 11” is an editing marvel that shares with the world an immersive experience from the past. Presented entirely free of any commentary and backed by one of the best musical scores of the year, this is technical filmmaking mastery at its finest. I held my breath, cried tears of pride and awe, and felt my bones rattle and my seat shake – all part of a spectacular experience that was one of my most memorable ones this decade. (Hear our discussion about “Apollo 11” in FF+ here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART(Hear our discussion about “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in Episode 149 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (Hear our discussion about “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in Episode 174 here.)

18. BATMAN: HUSH(Hear our discussion about “Batman: Hush” in FF+ here.)

17. THE FAREWELL(Hear our discussion about “The Farewell” in FF+ here.)

16. A HIDDEN LIFE

15. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

14. FORD V FERRARI(Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

13. TOLKIEN(Hear our discussion about “Tolkien” in FF+ here.)

12. MISSING LINK(Hear our discussion about “Missing Link” in Episode 160 here.)


  • I broke this into a Top 11 because I couldn’t bear to cut (heh) “Uncut Gems” from my Top 10. It’s that great. #SorryNotSorry

11. UNCUT GEMS – Remember. To. Breathe. “Uncut Gems” is an E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E. This is a one-of-a-kind stylish anxiety attack that captures the highs and lows of compulsive gambling like I’ve never seen before. It often feels like complete chaos and manic screaming of dialogue throughout, but that is actually the Safdie Brothers in complete control of a career-best performance from Adam Sandler. It’s terrifying to watch unfold – like a horror movie without the slashing or supernatural – and the gigantic breath I finally took at the end is like the greatest gasp of air I’d ever had. Bonus points for a huge sub-plot involving Kevin Garnett and one of the year’s best scenes where said NBA superstar caresses a rock lovingly.

 

10. BOMBSHELL – There’s always room for a stellar biopic with Oscar-worthy performances and a biting script in my Top 10, and this year it was director Jay Roach’s riveting story of how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO and a culture of toxic sexism. It is a slick, entertaining, and highly uncomfortable film that is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It tells this very important story from a perspective that audience members may never experience otherwise, opening my eyes via dramatization in a way that mundane and cheesy workplace sexual harassment videos never have. I feel empowered to look for, notice, and stand up against sexual harassment of any form anywhere it exists. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)

 

9. TOY STORY 4 –  Shame on me for doubting Pixar and one of the most perfect trilogies of all-time. It took me two viewings, but once I took in the film detached from my expectations of what a Toy Story film “should” be, I fell in love. Not only is it heady and thoughtful in ways the series has never quite tried, it still packs the emotional punch I expect and crave. I laughed my ass off. I cried hard. I became obsessed with Forky. New characters won me over and this fourth entry manages to somehow create a new conclusion that makes perfect sense. (Hear our discussion about “Toy Story 4” in Episode 172 here.)

 

8. JOKER – Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is exceptional, elevating the type of stories we are accustomed to from our comic book characters into previously uncharted artistic territory. As Phillips’ muse, Joaquin Phoenix carries the film with a phenomenal physical performance that imbues the titular villain’s tormented soul with both a growing madness and a painfully affecting pathos. It took a lot of nerve for Phillips to depict a “beloved” villain in this way and style,  knowing that many fans would not approve, but his approach allows for a powerful conversation to be had about mental illness and violence. I was completely enthralled throughout the film, both with its narrative and its artistic elements. I left the theater floored and impressed beyond belief. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. PARASITE – What hasn’t already been said about director Bong Joon-Ho’s delightfully dark social satire? It’s a commentary on class warfare and capitalism that plays out in a funny yet thrilling story that crosses several different genres and surprises at every turn. Worthy of every bit of praise and all of the awards that it is winning this year, “Parasite” is one of the best live-action foreign films of the decade and should be seen knowing as little as possible.

 

6. 1917 – “1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that left me utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. Featuring my favorite score of the year and the best cinematography, as well, the film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience. (Episode coming in January 2020)

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – A simple, moving adventure story of friendship and family. Never condescending. My eyes were hardly dry throughout. I love this movie. Every single moment. The cinematography, the score, the acting, but of course the story most of all. And for me, the depiction of people on the fringes – a care center runaway with Down Syndrome and a troubled thief –  who come together and become a non-traditional family is one of the sweetest I’ve ever seen. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. WEATHERING WITH YOU – It’s no secret how much I adore Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name.” This film also features a central teenage romance with fantastical elements and natural disasters on the horizon but is a much more serious and dramatic work that takes its time moving the story along and has Shinkai exploring the very real issue of climate change (and humanity’s conflicting response to it) through the decisions that its romantically inclined protagonists face. In what has become the norm, Shinkai delivers breathtaking visuals yet again and they perfectly synchronize with another beautiful RADWIMP’s score. There is just something about how Shinkai consistently tells stories that move me deeply and affect my soul in ways that very few filmmakers do. “Weathering With You” is an incredibly layered animated dream and I can’t stop thinking about its characters, their relationships, and the challenging situations they must deal with, but also what my own feelings about those things ultimately say about me.

 

3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD –  Where Quentin Tarantino’s storytelling shines the most in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is in the relationship between movie star Rick Dalton & his stuntman/best friend Cliff Booth. Their friendship is touching and hilarious, and their stories are compelling enough on their own to carry a nearly 3-hour long movie. In addition, the satisfying and respectful retelling of Sharon Tate’s tragic murder within this alternate history grounds this film in the time period that QT is clearly making a love letter to. I could watch these characters in this world for hours upon end and never tire of it. Exceptional production value and acting all around plus great messages about friendship and how we remember people make this a slamdunk top film of the year for me. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

2. MARRIAGE STORY “Getting divorced with a kid can be one of the hardest things you can ever do – it’s like a death without a body.” I relate very deeply with much of what’s depicted in this story, and from personal experience, I agree that divorce *is* like death without a body. What makes “Marriage Story” brilliant to me, is that Baumbach captures the waves of changing emotions and challenges that many, many couples face perfectly, despite the setting being that of two celebrities parting ways. “Marriage Story” is a reflection of this beautifully flawed couple that gives insight into the awful process of divorce, and it hurts like hell to experience but can also serve as a cautionary tale for those in relationships now. It is the rare film that comes along that has impeccable filmmaking artistry, is entertaining, and has a huge personal relevance, making it an easy choice for this spot on my list. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

1. LITTLE WOMEN – When was the last time a pure drama, period piece, with Hollywood star power, contending for awards had a PG rating? Greta Gerwig’s masterful retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is a love letter to the source material that is as delightful as it is artistically terrific. Updated with a fun new meta twist that could have gone terribly awry, instead, Gerwig’s storytelling device highlights the theme of owning your own story and hammers home Jo’s arc in an impactful new way, while also portraying Amy’s important story quite powerfully, like we haven’t seen before. The acting is just as brilliant as you’d expect from this supremely talented group of young actors, and supporting roles by such veterans as Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, and Chris Cooper are every bit as perfectly cast. Each and every element of the film adds to its delight – from the production design to the score – and it’s likely Gerwig’s film will go down as the best telling of this famous story for many a viewer, and may just inspire a whole new generation of little women too. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Aaron’s 2019 SFCS Award Nominations

Having the honor of participating in an annual film awards voting group is one of the greatest joys in my life. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and sacrifice too. After watching 166 films released in 2019, some of which I greatly did not enjoy and others which I cannot wait to watch again, I’ve finally narrowed down my favorites or best or whatever you want to label them as. Presented below are my nominations for the 2019 Seattle Film Critic Society Awards. In the past, I have attempted to use strategy by not making nominations that I believed would have plenty of support elsewhere. This year, I decided to avoid getting that tricky, and instead have made my choices that I can fully stand behind and proudly champion. Many categories were extremely difficult and caused me great heartache. Where possible, I’ve listed my “Sixth Man” award for that nominee who just narrowly missed my field.

* A note about eligibility – Due to our voting deadline, access to films, and/or personal time constraints, the following late releasing films were not screened by me prior to these nominations: “Dark Waters”, “A Hidden Life”, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, “Cats”, “Jumanji: The Next Level”, and (to make my daughter happy) “Spies in Disguise”.

* Additionally, I have chosen to remove Animation and Documentaries from my Best Picture lineup in order to allow more room for live-action feature film nominees.

(All nominees in alphabetical order)

BEST ACTION CHOREOGRAPHY

1917
Ford v Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Shadow
Triple Threat

VILLAIN OF THE YEAR

Divorce – Marriage Story
Joker – Joker
Mysterio – Spider-Man: Far From Home
Red Dress – In Fabric
Swiper – Dora and the Lost City of Gold

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (under 18 at time of filming)

Anna Pniowsky – Light of my Life
Isabela Moner – Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Julia Butters – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Noah Jupe – Honey Boy
Paola Lara – Tigers Are Not Afraid

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1917
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Spider-Man: Far From Home

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1917
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

I Lost My Body (Dan Levy)
Uncut Gems (Daniel Lopatin)
Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)

BEST FILM EDITING

1917
Apollo 11
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Marriage Story

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Bombshell
Dolemite is My Name
Little Women
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Rocketman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917
Joker
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Shadow
The Lighthouse
*Sixth Man* – Monos

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE

The Farewell
Monos
Parasite
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – Promare

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Apollo 11
For Sama
Love, Antosha
Maiden
Sea of Shadows
*Sixth Man* – American Factory

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Missing Link
Promare
This Magnificent Cake!
Toy Story 4
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – The Lego Movie 2

BEST SCREENPLAY

Bombshell (Charles Randolph)
Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz)
*Sixth Man* – Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Avengers: Endgame
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Marriage Story

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell
*Sixth Woman* – Taylor Russell – Waves

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Song Kang Ho – Parasite
Sterling K. Brown – Waves
Zack Gottsagen – The Peanut Butter Falcon
*Sixth Man* – John Lithgow – Bombshell

BEST ACTRESS

Awkwafina – The Farewell
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Scarlett Johanson – Marriage Story
*Sixth Woman* – Lupita Nyong’o – Us

BEST ACTOR

Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems
Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes

BEST DIRECTOR

Jay Roach – Bombshell
Josh & Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Sam Mendes – 1917
Todd Phillips – Joker
*Sixth Man* – Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST PICTURE

1917
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Uncut Gems
*Sixth Man* – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Total Count by Movie: Bombshell (9), Marriage Story (9), 1917 (8), Joker (8), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (7), Little Women (5), Parasite (4), Ford v Ferrari (4), Uncut Gems (4), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (3), The Peanut Butter Falcon (3)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 172: Toy Story 4

We approached TOY STORY 4 with apprehension, counting ourselves among those that considered Pixar’s trilogy to be one of the best ever made and already “perfect”. In this episode, Caless Davis joins us to discuss the new end of the TOY STORY franchise. We talk through our concerns and share what impacted us about Woody and the gang’s latest chapter.

Toy Story 4 Review – 0:01:38

The Connecting Point – 1:13:22

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What We Learned This Week: “Toy Story 4” Special

THE LESSONS I LEARNED WRITING ONE OF THE FIRST AND FEW NEGATIVE REVIEWS OF “TOY STORY 4”

A week and a half ago, I watched Toy Story 4 during an advance screening for press and I really wrestled with what I watched. I slept on it, researched it, and went back and forth with my paragraphs. In the end, I gave it a two-star review which quantifies to a “Rotten” green splatter on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew vitriol and many questions would come. I sure didn’t know how much, even with the saying of any press being good press (Thanks, ComicBook.com). Let me tell you, I had quite the learning experience that is fitting for a special and personal “What We Learned This Week” editorial. 

LESSON #1: IT WASN’T ABOUT THE ATTENTION— Those of you who know me and follow my work know my snark level is not very high. I’m not a purposeful contrarian and I don’t go about this with a mean spirit. I’m not out to burn anything to the ground, even if it’s Terrence Malick. Sure, I may write about lofty and nice film often, but I am far from a film snob too. Higher cinephiles than me have said worse things about more universally acclaimed movies than Toy Story 4. I gave Toy Story 3 the highest of acclaim possible in a review nine years ago and included the franchise in the top five of the best trilogies ever (for which it has now departed). I’m a regular guy, father of two, and a school teacher. Those are my informed anchors and lenses. 4500+ review views later, I will still assert that didn’t do this to get page clicks or to get noticed. I don’t get paid to write reviews. The ad revenue is pennies in a piggy bank and does not constitute a making a living on this stuff. 

LESSON #2: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF— Again without contrarian snark, I wrote what I did with honesty in mind. Believe me, it would have been way easier to give the movie a pass or follow the pack mentality. I couldn’t with honesty and personal integrity do that, no matter the movie. I don’t give passes to anyone. Because of that, I knew to be careful next. 

LESSON #3: BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS— I go into each review, positive for negative, mindful of the words I use, especially the hyperbole. I have loved and championed this list of movie critic cliches from Letterboxd user Erik Bajzert and I actively avoid them at all costs. They have become my rules and style guide. 

LESSON #4: IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO SEE A MOVIE’S FAULTS AND STILL RECOMMEND IT AND ENCOURAGE AN AUDIENCE— At no point was I shouting from any mountaintop that people shouldn’t see Toy Story 4. With Lesson #3 in mind, my review was not about “love” or “hate” or “like” or “dislike.” I didn’t and wouldn’t use those words and I dare you to find one in my piece. Kyle Smith of the National Review was far less kind than me.  Reviewing a movie for me is more than the emotional takeaways. I go deeper. I don’t hate Toy Story 4. I even don’t dislike Toy Story 4. I’ll recommend people see it and form their own opinion until the cows come home. I’ll use Lesson #5 to explain my review points. 

LESSON #5: IT’S ABOUT EFFECTIVE VERSUS INEFFECTIVE— For all the people who ask about a part or point of my review, my answer has been talking about effectiveness instead of hate or dislike. That’s me trying to apply objectives to the subjective and maintaining the mindfulness from Lesson #3. There are more narrative choices, plot points, character moments, repetitive tropes and more than I flatly found ineffective rather than effective for several reasons. I spell them out in detail in one of the longest reviews I’ve written this year because I knew the need to explain carefully. I’d write even longer if I stepped further into spoilers. Again, see Lesson #3. 

LESSON #6: I’M NOT WRONG AND NEITHER ARE YOU— I’ll partially throw one of our Feelin’ Film hosts under the bus with the use of the word “wrong.”

It’s not about right or wrong. I didn’t write anything wrong. I just wrote something different and carried an opposing opinion. We’re all allowed that and I know I’ve come a long way around here (Dunkirk and “masterpiece,” anyone?) to be better myself about labels and being receptive. I knew what Aaron White meant (though a few others gave him a slice of shade). and he’s always going to be respected and cool in my book. I thank him for supporting my work, including the space to rant like this every week. 

LESSON #7: INTERNET COMMENTS ARE THE WORST— Boy, oh boy, is the troll side of the internet alive and well. OK. Fine. You disagree with an opinion. Like we all say, it’s just a movie.  What does writing hate do? What does wishing bodily harm to a person and his family do? Does it make your feel better or tough? Does Disney thank you for needlessly defending its honor? Some comments are truly sickening. I’m willing to bet 80% or more of the people who wrote one of the 50+ comments on my review didn’t even watch Toy Story 4. See the movie first then come and really talk. It was quite telling to me how the comments virtually stopped after its Friday debut, where maybe the realization of what I wrote wasn’t all that contrarian and spiteful. Luckily, I’m the type of person that doesn’t absorb that kind of garbage. I know all of it is fake internet courage. 

LESSON #8: NO REGRETS— Cue Scottie. P. from We’re the Millers.  I guested on Ian Simmons’s “Kicking the Seat” podcast talking about Toy Story 4 that week and fellow dais participant (and friend of the Feelin’ Film page) Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews and The Movie Blog offered an on-air intervention session. He pleaded a little to reconsider my rating and review and to watch the movie again. I’ll certainly be seeing the sequel again with my wife and kids at some point. Maybe I do come around to more like and love, but I remain confident about my review speaking on worthwhile effectiveness. I don’t regret a word I wrote because I did it with honesty, clarity, and integrity. Toy Story 4 loses zero its standing and reputation from me and the other “Rotten” reviews.  The film will do just fine and not a real thing in the world is burnt.  The comments are horrible, but I don’t regret leaving the comment section open. I take all comers and customers. The many rational discussions with critic peers and general friends alike since in real spaces have been wonderful across the board. Shout out to Mike Crowley of “You’ll Probably Agree” for another solid and civil podcast discussion like Ian’s.  If anything, the challenge going forward is to maintain my consistency as a critic, especially on the Rotten Tomatoes platform.  There is a responsibility to that, which I completely understood even before this experience. This review, in a way, can count as a baseline or cornerstone. I must be wary of that and the comparisons possible going forward. This all only makes me want to work harder. Thanks for reading and your support!


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#105)

What We Learned This Week: June 2-22

LESSON #1: PERCEIVED RECORDS AND DISTINCTIONS MAKE PEOPLE GREEDY— The corporate greed monster of Disney strikes again with a blatant turnaround re-release of Avengers: Endgame. The goal of tacking on “new footage,” a tribute reel, and an end credits scene is to get the blockbuster over the final $50 million hump between its gross and the Avatar’s cumulative worldwide record of $2.788 billion. Apparently, there’s shame for being in second place so bad they have to employ cheap double-dip tactics. It will work, but it will also take screens away from other smaller movies that deserve more attention and chances. In my eyes, and I’ve taken this stump in this column before, this remains a hollow and fake victory fueled by inflation and high ticket prices. Avengers: Endgame remains outside of the Top 15 in both inflation-adjusted gross and, the best and most universal indicator of all, total ticket sales. Wake me up when it catches anything in that Top 5 or even the Top 10.

LESSON #2: DON’T TAKE A MOVIE AWAY FROM A CAPABLE DIRECTOR— A week after its disappointing debut at the box office, word on creative strife behind the scenes of Men in Black: International is coming to light. Clashes of story direction and final cut between veteran producer Walter Parkes and hired and extremely capable director F. Gary Gray nearly caused Gray to leave the project. Gray touted something edgier and Parkes’ sillier affair won final cut. This is explains a great deal as to why this movie looks way off and feels discombobulated, even by MiB standards. Sony, you’ve made these screwups before (and it sounds like you’re doing them again with Bond 25).  Trust the talent you hire and let them do their thing.

LESSON #3: DON’T PAY THE SAME GUY TO SCREW UP TWICE— There are many things wrong with Fox’s X-Men “culmination” movie Dark Phoenix, and just about every one of them can leveled to the writer/director Simon Kinburg, who was respectful enough to take responsibility. Once the powers-that-be announced that the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel was going to tackle the “Phoenix/Dark Phoenix” for a second time after Brett Ratner’s reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, they had to know the scrutiny was coming.  If you’re actually trying for renewed success, you don’t hire the same writer who made the first dumpster fire and then also give him the power to direct.  I get familiarity and I get that Bryan Singer is radioactive to employ, but go find an actual upgrade for your $200 million tentpole and franchise swan song.

LESSON #4: THE FEELINGS OF FATIGUE AND BLANDNESS FOR BLOCKBUSTERS ARE REAL— I know Toy Story 4 is fail-proof this weekend from this lesson, but, other than April’s Avengers: Endgame, this has been a rough spring and summer for blockbusters. I read two articles this week that tackled this issue in different ways. Medium.com writer Samuel Lenz poses the question of franchise fatigue of bland blockbusters. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann went deeper into the collapse to cite size, frequency, the loss of MoviePass, streaming preferences, and higher quality TV options. I think both together encapsulate the majority of the factors we’re seeing. The top reason to me is quality. These have been bland movie offerings. Better movies get better audiences and returns. Better movies with verified must-see buzz climb over other entertainment options an open wallets. It will always start with quality.

LESSON #5: IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT PRICE POINT— The posturing of the streaming wars continue with WarnerMedia announcing the proposed price of its upcoming streaming service. The sticker of $16-17 monthly would include HBO (which is $15 by itself currently), Cinemax, and the sizable WB library of content. That may be a fair price on paper, but in the eyes of customers, that’s more than double Disney Plus and higher than Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple. Other than hardcore HBO fans and folks that miss the WB bulk that used to be backbone of the closing Turner Classic Movies, people aren’t going to bite for this. Now, if that $16 included Warner’s current standalone DC Entertainment as a match to all the Marvel stuff under the Disney Plus umbrella, the temptation and value would be closer.

LESSON #6: APPLE WANTS TO BE AN OSCAR PLAYER—Many in the industry watched with impressiveness at Netflix’s Oscar campaigns for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. They have broken the glass ceiling and Apple is looking to follow. News broke this week of their strategy to produce and back six modestly-budgeted films a year as sponsored Oscar hopefuls. This plan is independent from a recent multi-year agreement between Apple and indie darling A24 to make multiple features together, but you have to think that collaboration is a perfect source for this goal.  Watch out, folks. Fine apple wine is coming.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#104)

FF+ Toy Story 4, Black Mirror S5, and When They See Us

In this extra long episode of FF+ we have spoiler-free thoughts on Pixar’s latest, Toy Story 4, as well as conversations about Season 5 of Black Mirror and Ava DuVernay’s powerful miniseries When They See Us.

New For You 

Toy Story 4 – 0:02:01

Black Mirror S5 – 0:10:34

When They See Us – 0:41:27

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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MOVIE REVIEW: Toy Story 4


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: May 12-18

LESSON #1: SCARY BUSINESS DEALS ARE ALSO SMART ONES— Just as there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to every business deal.  On the surface, Walt Disney, which acquired controlling stake in Hulu as part of the Fox deal, looks like the corporate greed monster or the Borg from Star Trek lore many fear in buying the rest of the Hulu pie from Comcast.  Honestly, though, this was inevitable and necessary. Split between two opposing controllers, Hulu was going to die a slow death of futility and stagnation.  Comcast squeezed Disney for $5.8 billion (far more than it paid years ago for LucasFilm or Marvel) for something the Mouse House was likely going to dissolve anyway with their Disney+ service.  That’s like the movie business equivalent of an NBA trade for an expiring contract that will never play a game in his new uniform. Comcast laughs all the way to the bank and the marketplace loses something that would have become clutter.

LESSON #2: EVEN “NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING” MIGHT NEED LIMITS— Now that Avengers: Endgame has cleared the Marvel end of self-imposed radio silence, have you seen the release date reservations of Disney’s calendar for the next five years?  Look below:

That, my friends, is insane.  Welcome to “market saturation.” I get that they are too big to fail and I get that they still make successful and positive products, but, good golly, space a few things out.  I’ll tip my hat that no new Star Wars films are coming for three years after The Rise of Skywalker.  That’s a nice pause.  That’s only one slow pause on a much bigger machine of cycles.  Other studios see this calendar and avoid these dates in order to not get squashed as the feeble competition.  Still, with a calendar that thick, where can the others hope to go at some point? Yowzers!

LESSON #3: START YOUR RESURRECTION CLOCKS NOW— Gazing into that future of release dates, one could wonder two things.  First, when will inevitable character turnover occur and, second, how long will the dead really stay dead.  I say that second one because anyone who knows the parent medium of comic book films (the graphic novels themselves) knows that no one ever really stays dead.  Even Christopher Nolan couldn’t really “kill” Batman. At this big level, when you put profit-minded and impatient studio execs in charge, I have to think the turnover or resurrection window narrows.  Contributor Jonah Koslofsky over on The Spool did a nice editorial piece this week on this underlying angle.  Sure, Hugh Jackman is supposed to be done with Wolverine after Logan, but what happens if the MCU fame comes calling (especially after/if Dark Phoenix bombs)?  Do we really think Robert Downey Jr. wouldn’t at least be tempted to consider another monster paycheck to return?  If their integrity holds (and I hope it does so as to not cheapen their phenomenal on-screen sacrifices and exits), wonderful, but when do the reboots and recastings start to come (Henry Cavill?! No, dude), especially with Logan’s new MCU home under the Disney roof?  Rub that chin and begin to wonder.

LESSON #4: THERE IS AT LEAST ONE PLACE WHERE DISNEY IS STRIVING AGAINST CREATIVE BANKRUPTCY— Speaking of that lengthy release calendar and recurring characters, the repetitive trends are a little maddening.  Call it whatever kind of adjective-assisted fatigue you want, this steady-yet-successful pattern of franchises, sequels, re-imaginings, and reboots from Disney (and other studios too, let’s be fair) have led many observers to bring out the “creatively bankrupt” label.  A sliver of less of that came to light this week when Pixar producer Mark Nielsen confirmed that Pixar has no other sequels on their planning board after this summer’s Toy Story 4.  Expect, fresh ideas, new faces, and big ideas which are, namely, all the reasons Pixar became successful in the first place.  This counts as promising news!

LESSON #5: THE ARTHOUSE HAS AN INTERNATIONAL LIFELINE— We in the United States are living in big screen blockbuster era.  It’s rare to see little films blow up anymore. If they do, they still have a genre bend to them for cross-demographic appeal matching today’s moviegoers.  The decline of the arthouse scene of independent film has been very apparent for a long time. We’re seeing a market transition where streaming and VOD platforms become their best profit options with multiplexes full of the big cheese.  So, it’s really encouraging to see one more place where arthouse films are gaining audiences: OVERSEAS. Eric Kohn of IndieWire wrote a nice analysis piece that shows a movie like Capernaum opening #2 and early $12 million behind Avengers: Endgame in China.  Here in the states last year, the same movie earned a little over $1.6 million in its entire run.  Opportunity like this for Capernaum and Shoplifters is great news for this class of filmmaking and for the global industry in general.  Slowly but surely, good films will find an audience and tastes can evolve along the way.

LESSON #6: FEAST YOUR EYES ON PRODUCTION DESIGN— In the final lesson suggestion spot, allow me to re-share a YouTube essay from the fine folks at CineFix ranking (with several ties) the ten best production designs of all-time.  This stellar list covers all genres and periods with fairness and there’s not a dud in the bunch. If you don’t notice and appreciate production design when you watch a film, let a little study like this be a primer and have a discerning eye into that craft ingredient when you watch movies going forward.  Production design is absolutely vital, both visible and invisible.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#102)