Somewhere down the road, this last year will probably be seen as a turning point for how movies stopped being successful for a reason. I’m calling 2019 ‘The Year That Stopped Sequels’.
Bold statement, you’re probably thinking, but here’s my essay on why. I know, I know ... it starts off with a sequel being the highest grossing film of all time, but bear with me.
True, Disney – that lighthouse on the tepid, placid sea of uncreative filmmaking – made more bank and more cinematic impact than ever before. Take a look at Wikipedia’s 2019 in Film page and you’ll see that the Top Ten list of most successful movies attributes six titles to the House of Mouse, and that includes the #1 and #2 spots for Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King. Interestingly, the live-action Dumbo reboot by Tim Burton didn’t make the cut. Reportedly, this version seemed to criticize the Disney corporation itself. Connection? You be the judge.
Keep in mind that this list came out well before the release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, which I’m sure will also do well.
For those who weren’t otherwise aware, Disney owns Marvel, Star Wars, Winnie the Pooh, Pixar, Fox and Blue Sky Studios. It’s a big, successful company and it will do anything to stay that way if not get even bigger, and that means even sell out its former keystone animated works to be remade as bizarre, Frankensteinian ‘live’ action/CG mashups made without giving any due credit to the real people creators of the originals. Let’s not forget that Disney’s live action remake streak started 23 years ago with 101 Dalmatians and the incomparable Glenn Close as Cruella DeVil. Pretty soon, it will probably started remaking all of its live action remakes with new animated versions.
As an aside, Disney’s year already has Captain Marvel ($1.13 billion at #3), Toy Story 4 ($1.07B at #4), Aladdin ($1.05B at #7) and Frozen II ($937 million at #8) going for it as well. When are governments ever going to get into the movie business to save their economies, I wonder?
Regardless, at some point, there has to be a law of attrition in effect. People can only take so much of this mind-numbing and predictable banality before they stop caring for them and start demanding the exact opposite. There’s a natural balance to the world. There has to be. I predict the rise of blockbuster arthouse. Furthermore, I demand it.
Some of my faves from this year of cinema sitting include Cold Pursuit (partially filmed in Alberta), Knives Out, Bombshell, The Hummingbird Project and The Irishman. They weren’t exactly low-budget but they had great storytelling and filmmaking plus some unexpected and important resonance to the world at large. Take that, Mickey.
Now, let’s look at the high profile sequels that turned out to be masters of disaster. We in the #MeToo world should have had a much better Charlie’s Angels reboot. We who appreciate strong female actors in strong roles should have had a much better Terminator movie with the return of Linda Hamilton. We who have a sardonic, dry sense of humour should not have had Men in Black: International thrust upon us. We who can’t get enough CG creatures and cinematic universes did not need the abomination of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Granted, I did enjoy Hobbs and Shaw but that is only because I cannot resist the inner 16-year-old Scott sometimes. It was just as much of a stinker as the others, only bigger, louder and funnier. At least the male characters’ antagonistic relationship seemed to ring true.
One of my big budget indie faves of the year was Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It was a fairytale-esque retelling of Sharon Tate’s fate in 1969, and I get it. In actuality, Charles Manson and his cult took her life in brutal fashion. Tarantino, in his ‘revenge meets revisionist history’ glory, has a fictional TV cowboy whose star is on a decline and his stunt double intervene to change the course of history for her, for movies and for 20th century North American culture in general. Say what you will about the brutality but the story works for me, and it’s bittersweet.
I also greatly enjoyed The Irishman, though it had problems. I was looking forward to it for years but the realization of it left me displeased. Director Martin Scorsese can still call himself a master filmmaker but I wish he would have cast other actors to play the younger versions of the characters played by Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. To see these near-octogenarians pretending to be 40 made my bones ache, partially because the CG de-aging process ironed out the wrinkles much like a little heat smoothes out the bumps in a block of cheddar. Something about it just seemed unnatural.
Those films still on my 2019 viewing wish list include Stuber, Us, The Farewell, Wild Rose, After the Wedding, The Dead Don’t Die, High Life, Joker, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, Greener Grass, Motherless Brooklyn, The Good Liar, Dark Waters, Queen and Slim, Uncut Gems and Waves. I can’t always see the movies I want, nor always the movies I should. Instead, they go on an ever-growing list that I’ll get to someday, hopefully.
If you’re still feeling like catching a flick this holiday season, Parasite is in the middle of a ten-day run until Jan. 2 at Metro Cinema. Thankfully, it will even be open at its Garneau Theatre home on New Year’s Day. The Lighthouse, Joker and Waves have limited runs there too, so there’s that. Furthermore, The Good Liar and After the Wedding have their slots lined up for the Reel Mondays series coming to the Arden Theatre.
Whatever you do, avoid Cats at all costs, though. That’s Cats as in the exorbitantly budgeted all-star musical with nightmare-inducing special effects to make the actors look like crossbred felines from the planet Hairball. It must be the year’s biggest flop, which was released to an opening weekend of $6.6 million – aww ... poor kitties – and was immediately sent back to its production office to touch up the details. Reportedly, Dame Judi Dench’s real hand wasn’t computerized out to make it look a paw, leaving many audience members to doubt the film’s authenticity. Imagine that.If you’re stuck at the multiplexes or at home with endless choices of streaming video, however, then don’t forget that Jumanji: The Next Level (partially filmed in Kananaskis country in Alberta) and Willem Dafoe’s Disney+ movie Togo was shot in Calgary. There’s something really good and important about supporting local. I might even recommend Avengers: Endgame on one point, as it has St. Albert-raised Trent Opaloch as its director of photography.