1. My annual film round-up, in which I pick out 20 films I saw during 2019 that I think are worth talking about.

  2. 2018 was an odd year in film for me, as, while I watched more films than ever -- 333 according to Letterboxd -- I found slightly fewer than usual that I felt enthusiastic enough to write about, with only 16 highlighted below rather than my usual 20, and many of 2018's biggest hits leaving me, not cold as such, but just...not significantly moved. It's perhaps a sign I need to change my approach to how I watch things; we'll see how 2019 goes.

  3. Ten years and 18 films later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is approaching an ending of sorts, as a burgeoning cast and converging narrative meet the real-world realities of contract expiry and expanding budgets. Avengers: Infinity War may not be the final film of the MCU, but it definitely feels like, and is being marketed discreetly as, a culmination. It may not be the end, but it could be the beginning of the end.

  4. It’s starting to feel that Duncan Jones has an issue with timing. After the instant classic Moon and the brisk and punchy Source Code, Jones disappeared off into the wilderness to return five years later with Warcraft, a decent fantasy action piece that unfortunately arrived after the cultural phenomenon of World of Warcraft had long since peaked. Mute, described by Jones as far back as 2009 as his “love letter to Blade Runner” arrives now on a platform that heavily promoted its own Blade Runner-influenced production — the TV series Altered Carbon — just weeks before, and also just a few months after an actual Blade Runner sequel has been and gone. In this context, the impact of Mute is, well, muted.

  5. My annual film round-up, in which, as usual, I pick out 20 films to highlight, the only requirement being that I saw the film during 2017, regardless of when it was released.

  6. To be clear upfront, Street Fighter is a mediocre film and you absolutely should not waste any time on it. If you have an opportunity to watch it then there is almost certainly something better and more worthwhile you could be watching instead. Director Steven de Souza was a successful screenwriter (48 Hrs., Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard), but he definitely didn’t become a successful director. Street Fighter fails as an action film, a fighting film, and as a videogame adaptation. This isn’t a “Street Fighter is actually good” piece. And yet.

  7. Thor as a character has worked best on screen when he’s been allowed to be funny; that’s not to say he isn’t good when serious as well, but there’s a balance that needs to be struck to get the best out of him. The original Thor found that balance, contrasting the serious Asgardian family drama with Thor’s fish out of water antics on Earth, and the film became one of my unexpected favourites from the Marvel stable. Thor: The Dark World on the other hand is an uneven, gloomy film that only sparks to life when Loki is around, and while I’ve grown more forgiving of the film after multiple viewings, I still find it a damp and dreary piece.

  8. I’ve written a few times before about my gaming ability but to recap: I’m terrible-to-average at games generally, and even worse at games that involve playing against real people. Splatoon, first on the Wii U and now on the Switch, is ostensibly a team-based online shooter, which is so many of my least-favourite words it’s amazing I even typed them all together like that. Despite this I’ve found myself sinking hours into Splatoon without complaint, enjoying the game and willingly returning for more.

  9. I saw Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element on release in 1997, and immediately hated it. Being a cynical, sneering teenager, I had no time for the bright and colourful visuals, the self-consciously wacky characters, the broad, slapstick comedy, the baffling Lee Evans cameo. Eventually though, as the real world grew progressively duller and my hair increasingly greyer, I came to appreciate the film for what it was rather than what it wasn’t, and it’s now a film I check on every few years. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a lot in common with The Fifth Element, and having trained myself to appreciate the former, I found it easy to appreciate the latter.

From the archives

In brief

  1. For Ellen: Not sure if this film about absentee father Paul Dano intentionally made him as repellant and unsympathetic a lead as it did, but either way it’s a tough sell
  1. The Quiet Earth: One of the great ‘last man alive’ films that checks a lot of boxes: man’s hubris, inexplicable science, slow descent into madness montages and most importantly of all, conversations with shop dummies
  1. Nightbreed: Fantastic creature effects aside, this all feels like a rough first draft for the longer, deeper and more complicated fantasy horror series we’d never see. David Cronenberg as a knife-wielding serial killer is a nice touch though
  1. Mortal Kombat: Objectively it’s pretty weak but you can tell everybody involved is doing their best and that counts for a lot. The soundtrack does a lot of heavy lifting and an animatronic Goro makes it all worthwhile
  1. Down to the Bone: While there’s an undeniably-brilliant performance by Vera Farmiga as a cocaine-addicted single mother, a sluggish pace and a two hour running length had me wishing I’d done a couple of lines myself
  1. Out of Sight: Soderbergh’s crime comedy may be light on complicated heist hijinks and heavy on Clooney and Lopez’s perpetual eye-fucking each other, but it’s so intensely romantic and sweetly performed, I won’t complain
  1. Demolition Man: As absurdly fun now as it ever was, though any society that forces Dennis Leary to live underground is actually ok in my book
  1. Orca: The Killer Whale: What could have been a bad JAWS ripoff is something more along the lines of Moby Dick; surprisingly thoughtful, a little downbeat, impressively performed
  1. Black Panther: One of Marvel’s best; thematically rich and tonally varied with solid action scenes and compelling characterisation
  1. White Men Can’t Jump: I’m a little torn because the cast is excellent and the first 45 minutes or so is an exhilarating character drama, but the film circles aimlessly after a while and eventually goes off in explicable directions
  1. The Dark Mirror: Twin-based 40s noir that grinds its promising setup away under endless cod-psychotherapy scenes, all ink blots and lie detectors. Had me rooting for the bad twin by the end
  1. Sleeping Dogs: A solid political action thriller that sees New Zealand descending into fascism while Sam Neill grows the most luxuriant beard I’ve ever seen on film
  1. The Lawnmower Man: Almost worthwhile from a special effects history perspective, but not “you should watch this whole film” worthwhile
  1. Blue Ruin: A short, sharp, shock of a revenge flick; violent, tense, and darkly comic. Macon Blair is outstanding in the lead, sweet and gentle and pushed far too far
  1. Blade: A bit more ponderous than its sequel, and the pocket-sized Stephen Dorff is never believable as Blade’s opponent; it’s a solid-enough watch, but del Toro’s Blade 2 is better all round
  1. Gladiator: The extended version of the film that runs for about three hours, and I could happily have watched a further three. Everyone involved is at the absolute top of their game
  1. Griff the Invisible: An Australian take on the “unpowered superhero” genre, this is sweet and funny and a little soppy
  1. Space Truckers: Objectively dreadful but Dennis Hopper and Charles Dance are both so clearly enjoying themselves against their better judgement it’s hard not to like. A bright, chunky, colourful aesthetic also helps a lot
  1. Red Hill: A solid Australian western that hides its simplicity with some great character work and a robust script. Well worth seeking out
  1. Solo: A disposable prequel that doesn’t tell us anything we needed to know, but it’s generally fun with some solid action and well-drawn heroes and villains. You don’t need to see it, but it wouldn’t hurt if you did
  1. Spawn: A remarkably-loathsome piece with no redeeming qualities; nonsensical story, horrible characters, rough special effects, and Nicol Williamson’s last film. What a waste of talent
  1. The Death of Louis XIV: I think a rewarding watch if you have the patience for it, but there’s no escaping the fact that this really is just two hours of watching an old king die, so be prepared
  1. Alien³: The occasional CGI Alien is the only thing that dates this film; it’s otherwise a beautifully moody, bleak, hauntingly-scored piece that only improves with multiple viewings
  1. Sahara (1943): A pretty straightforward wartime drama that’s made more notable by the presence of Humphrey Bogart, who gives the film a gritty classiness it might otherwise have lacked
  1. Tomorrowland: A turgid slog through a meandering story and increasingly-overwhelming spectacle, I generally love Brad Bird but this all felt like a misstep