Reviewing 30 Films I Watched During the Pandemic (#20–11)
Part 2 of 3 (#20–11)
Welcome back friends. For those who aren’t aware, I decided to review and rank 30 films I watched over my quarantine. This is part 2 so if you haven’t had a chance to read the first 10 I reviewed you can check part 1 out here. If you did, I know I sound so repetitive but thank you and it means the world to me.
Before we begin, I wanted to share another realization I had in the midst of this binge. At first I sort of treated these pretty casually. However, around the 10/30 movie mark I reached the point where I had begun making a schedule, I was pulling out chips and drinks, and dimmed lighting was a thing. Usually I can just sit and watch but I realized at this point how serious I was about doing this and so here I am talking to you. Thank you sweet chilli heat and all dressed chips for getting me to this point (totally not sponsored).
It’s probably common knowledge to this point that I really enjoyed all the films from here on out. When coming up with this ranking, ordering films #6–15 was almost impossible. So much so that I was pacing in my basement for about thirty minutes trying to decipher between them all. Yes I am a nerd. Despite all the attention it got in part one, no there will not be a review on a Dora the Explorer movie in this part. If part one was the appetizer, now we get to the meat and potatoes. What I’m trying to say is, movies here are just as good as the ones coming up in the next part! Let’s show you those movies shall we?
#20. Zodiac (2007) — 4/5 | Directed by: David Fincher
Synopsis: Based on a true story, a cartoonist becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the Zodiac killer; a serial killer in the bay area who gives puzzles leading to his crimes.
I really liked Zodiac. Not the killer obviously, the film. There were a lot of things that are done well in this I want to highlight; the acting, the pacing, editing and surprisingly the music.
Because the story is told over many years they use musical queues from each era to highlight the time shift to the audience. It’s not something done often but it works well in this.
Each actor is also great in their own role in this. Robert Downey Jr. is basically Tony Stark turned journalist, while Mark Ruffalo is less hulk more detective, and Jake Gyllenhaal is awesome. I continue to believe that Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most under-appreciated actors working today (just watch Nightcrawler if you don’t believe me).
I highlight the pacing because at first I put this movie off given it’s 2.5-hour+ runtime. However, I was glued to the screen the whole time and afterwards it felt like the movie was half as long.
What makes the editing so good is how it brings a seemingly boring scene to life. For example, this is done in a scene searching though boxes in a storage room by cutting super quickly between file openings. Normally theres little movement going on and the character is just moving boxes around but in this scene it almost made me more glued to the screen somehow.
Without spoiling the ending — though you could just google the zodiac killer, I felt it wraps up with enough closure to satisfy you but not too much where it feels like an unrealistic happy ending.
Available on Netflix
#19. Into the Wild (2007) — 4/5 | Directed by: Sean Penn
Synopsis: Based on a true story, a recent college graduate abandons all his possessions and follows his dreams of a simpler life by hitchhiking across America.
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
I knew this movie was going to strike a nerve with me. Well, yeah, it did.
Directed by Sean Penn, Into The Wild does a lot well in telling the true story of Christopher McCandless. Emile Hirsch is fantastic in this as McCandless and really commits to his role. Without Hirsch’s great acting in this, the movie would be half as good since he’s such a huge focal point. The music by Eddie Vedder elevates a lot of the emotional moments in this movie.
The cinematography is spectacular with a lot of amazing landscape shots. It’s kind of a slam dunk given the movie’s subject matter. I mean, it’s a movie set in nature so it’s kind of a fail if it isn’t stunning.
The film is clear with its themes and they are powerful. It was important to point out that Chris’ decisions may be inspiring but are also extremely naive. He comes across as a know-it-all at times but I think this is intentional to show his inexperience and how unprepared he is. In a current state of experiencing life through an online scope this movie is a breath of fresh air.
While at times it feels like there isn’t a purpose to some of the scenes on the surface, what it’s really showing are moments of humanity and raw happiness. The message of this film is so strong and so relatable that it’s hard not to have a soft spot for it. I think this movie has something everyone could appreciate.
Available on Netflix
Spoiler Alert*** I warned you, so skip to #18 if you want to see this
Of course, if you do decide to watch or have seen this film, you might learn that the actual bus 142 was transported from its location in Alaska in fear of public safety just weeks prior to this review. This added another layer to its impact on me, upon learning that many tourists had actually journeyed to visit the bus to find peace and happiness honouring Chris’ memory. It’s pretty touching and something I could totally see people doing. They’d also read through some of the chilling journals and artifacts left behind inside the bus by the McCandless family for the purpose of sharing with travellers.
#18. Booksmart (2019) — 4/5 | Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Synopsis: Two girls about to graduate high school try to change their anti-social ways at an end-of-the-year party.
Booksmart often gets dubbed “the female Superbad”. While I believe this movie comparison is fair, I also think it carries something special of its own. Both movies are eerily similar in terms of the main characters and the overall plot like in most coming-of-age films. However, when comparing the two, Superbad’s Seth and Evan are chasing after crushes they’ve carried for all of high school. While in Booksmart, they subvert the audience with this aspect of the story. I liked this more because I think this more accurately depicts high school in terms of how relationships are unpredictable and rapidly changing, while doing this in a realistic way.
I like how this movie refrains from pushing social media interaction into the movie. Too many coming-of-age movies today get caught up incorporating the social media experience and spend too much time showing the characters text and talk on their phone. As much as it may happen in real life, it doesn’t really make for good entertainment. Incorporating this, would have slowed the movie down and made it less funny.
The characters interact very genuinely with their peers giving off a believable sense like they’ve actually known each other for years. This is a really key element to capture in teen comedies and I felt some scenes were more funny because of how much it nailed this aspect. This is a nod to a great script with good dialogue. I honestly loved this from start to finish. I know comedy is subjective, but Beanie Feldstein is great, Billie Lourde is also great in her doses, and there are some scenes I can’t erase from my memory, including that memorable “Lyft ride” (iykyk).
This is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and I think she did a fantastic job with this. I think Booksmart will stand tall as an outstanding coming-of-age comedy for this generation and I hope it does.
Available on Prime Video
#17. Midsommar (2019) — 4/5 | Directed by: Ari Aster
Synopsis: A couple and their friends travel to Sweden to celebrate a small village’s midsummer festival. Only after getting there do they realize they’ve walked into a much different scenario.
For a movie that takes place in pure daylight, this one sure is dark. Ari Aster continues to make me worry about him, in the same kind of way you’d worry about Stephen King and his…creativity. I’ve never seen Aster’s first major film Hereditary from start to finish, so I promised to do so with Midsommar.
Aspects I love that have been consistent about his style in both films are his unsettling scores, unsettling imagery, and his incredible unsettling visual storytelling. Yes, it’s all unsettling. There are some shots in this that made my eyes excited but also made me want to vomit at the same time. That rotating shot of the car driving was goddamn breathtaking.
While most of the supporting characters are pretty underdeveloped, I wanted to hug Dani at least twenty times throughout this. This shows that perhaps they were the expense of building her character and creating her as an extremely realistic example of the effect that mental illness has. I’m not an expert on the subject, but it has this raw unglamorous depiction of it. But man, WHAT AN ARC. If I had to describe Ari Aster’s style in two words: hauntingly beautiful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. However, the plot moved a little slow at times. This was also a tradeoff in order to showcase the incredible set design and establish the environment of the film. I picked up on a few great foreshadows, but I’m certain I missed a few because of how much I was being shown visually. Either way I’m still looking forward to Ari Aster’s future projects, no matter how much I wish to unsee them afterwards.
Available on Prime Video
#16. Fargo (1996) — 4/5 | Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Synopsis: Based on true events, a Minnesota salesman attempts a dirty plan to receive money from his father-in-law while a pregnant detective investigates a murder.
This movie wins my made-up award for “Movie that reminds me the most about Canada”. All they had to do was add the word ‘eh’ to a good portion of the lines and it would’ve passed as Canadian.
Marge Gunderson is easily one of my favourite protagonists on this list. Frances McDormand is terrific as her, and she genuinely warmed my heart every time she was on the screen. Despite the fact she doesn’t enter until about a third of the way through the movie, The Coen brothers do a great job establishing her character quickly and effectively. After spending five minutes with her you can already rhyme off a ton of her traits and you also know she’s an experienced detective.
The story is well-paced, the rest of the cast is terrific, and the cinematography from Roger Deakins is great. He does a great job of highlighting the remote setting the characters are in while also making it look stunning at the same time.
I also loved the ending to this movie. Despite the subject matter I found myself so happy when it was over. Marge’s closing lines while driving are particularly touching. It plays out like a mother lecturing a son. It’s something that totally seems fitting for her character to say but it also wraps up the story beautifully.
#15. Knives Out (2019) — 4/5 | Directed by: Rian Johnson
Synopsis: In a modern who-done-it, The Thrombey family is under investigation after the head of the family is murdered, and everyone is a suspect.
Rian Johnson. Now, for those who know me, I thought that Star Wars: The Last Jedi sucked. It’s poor execution of subverting expectations dragged the film down. However, Knives Out is a perfect example of when it is executed, and in doing so, elevates the narrative from good to great.
This film is so aware of what it is that I kinda loved it. The murder-mystery genre is so oversaturated that it’s hard to be original anymore. Johnson is aware of this by exaggerating aspects of the story tropes because it’s so obvious we’ve seen it before. This story was sown together seamlessly and every subversion was done so in a satisfying way.
Daniel Craig’s accent is so outrageous it took me halfway through watching this to adjust to it. Craig and the rest of the loaded ensemble cast are all terrific as you’d expect and this is manifested by Johnson with a lot of hilarious but also dramatic group exchanges.
There’s also some fucking incredible shots in this and impressive imagery. Some of this is credited to the production and costume design. The sets in this are so detailed and beautiful that really creates such a rich environment. I mean that chair with the knives, goddamn (also be proud, I didn’t make a pun). Also, what the characters wear is subtle but display important details about their personality without a ton of exposition about each of them. No, I’m not just talking about the infamous knitted sweater Chris Evans wears.
I did find it rather easy to tell “who did it”. However, after talking to others who had seen it, they developed a variety of initial theories, showing it wasn’t obvious to most audiences.
This is definitely a movie I think anyone can enjoy, and it’s definitely worth the watch!
Available on Prime Video
#14. No Country for Old Men (2007) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Synopsis: A hunter runs from a psychopathic killer after he discovers a load of cash from a failed drug deal.
No Country for Old Men instantly provides one of my favourite movie villains ever. Javier Bardem is terrifying and while his great performance plays a huge part, the Coen brothers deserve a lot of credit. Yes the same brothers who did Fargo down at #16. They know a thing or two about character development apparently. Bardem doesn’t have a lot of dialogue throughout the film, but they’re visual storytelling informs you from the very first scene that nobody should fuck with this guy.
Life is an important theme in this and the Coen bros. go against a lot of norms you’d expect in a movie that tackles this subject matter. Life is expressed as insignificant and fragile rather than what we’re used to being told which is how dramatic it is and that it has a greater purpose.
I’m also a sucker for great cinematography. This movie has no shortage of that. Roger Deakins — yes that same guy who shot Fargo and will be mentioned again in the future, continues to give me eye boners with more breathtaking visuals. Every shot of the first twenty minutes or so is incredible while again serving the purpose of telling the audience visually so much with so little being said. I was smiling so wide, which in context wouldn’t make sense given some of the events of the first thirty minutes lol. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to treat a simple coin toss the same way anymore.
Without spoilers I did find the ending hard to grasp at first. After a re-watch of Tommy Lee Jones’ closing lines and interpreting its meaning a little more you do get a better sense of the overall meaning of its conclusion. However, it’s definitely really hard to pick up on an initial viewing. I get the sense that the more I watch this movie, the more I will love it over time.
Available on Prime Video
#13. Inception (2010) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Synopsis: In order to steal valuable information, a group of spies attempt a dangerous form of psychological espionage.
I mean, what is there to say. There’s nothing original I can share about Inception because so many people have already dissected this film. The writing, cinematography, editing, pacing, acting, the SCORE, and the beautiful goddamn hotel hallway fight. Also the scene in the hotel bar and then you find out later that they had built an entire set and TILTED THE WHOLE ROOM FOR REAL and that all the actors had to physically try not to fall over because THE ROOM WAS ACTUALLY TILTED.
There really isn’t a bad thing to say about this film, so I won’t. While this probably isn’t my favourite Nolan film, it’s still great. Ya, if you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s breathtaking.
Available on Netflix
#12. Chef (2014) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Jon Favreau
Synopsis: A chef opens up a food truck in hopes of saving his career and family relationships from falling out of balance.
I know what you’re thinking. Why the fuck is Inception lower than this? Let me explain. This movie probably speaks more to me than to others, but I love it so much. Jon Favreau does so many things well in Chef. On the surface, it seems like such a simple concept. But to me, it’s a passionate love letter to gourmet food and the restaurant industry. It also gives so much respect to the hard work, dedication and camaraderie that go in to working in food shown through his son learning the ropes on the truck.
He also makes you hungry as fuck watching this and part of that comes from the close up shot compositions during many cooking montages. However, Favreau doesn’t just do this to show off. He’s communicating through food. A lot these scenes aren’t just showing food porn, it’s symbolizing to the audience Carl’s passion, focus and attention to detail he puts into anything from a dish for a critic or a grilled cheese for his son. All are done with equal amount of care and suggests that Carl’s doing what he loves and that it’s his best form of communicating. It may just be a grilled cheese to most people, but to Carl he’s nurturing his son and wants to show him that cooking is more than just about food.
Not only does Favreau do all of this but he does it in a way that makes it easy to consume, never taking itself too seriously (just like how you shouldn’t take my puns seriously). Having worked in a restaurant for years, this movie made me appreciate cooking a hell of a lot more. I owe a lot of my passion for food to this movie. Seriously, it had that much of an impact on me. This makes me happy every time I watch it. I think it can make others happy too.
Available on Netflix
#11. Good Time (2017) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: The Safdie Brothers
Synopsis: After an attempted bank robbery, Connie (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a wild night in New York City as he tries to break his brother out of jail.
Totally pun intended, but Good Time was honestly a good time. I’ll never be done with the puns, deal with it. As someone who loved Uncut Gems, I wanted to take a look at other work done by the Safdie brothers.
After seeing both of these, one constant that stands out is that they seemed to be mastering their own style. A synth-like score mixed with a gritty tone, and anxiety-inducing narratives that are meant to give you these 2-hour panic attacks. I know their cinematography style isn’t very flashy with a lot handheld close-up shots with the occasional aerial shot, but this has to be an intentional choice in order to add to their stressful style of storytelling. It puts you in the face of every emotional outburst and gives you this claustrophobic feeling in every scene. Call me crazy but I fucking love it. At the very least, it’s extremely consistent.
I also really like their use of neon lighting and colour in their films, particularly in this one. The performances are also fantastic. Robert Pattinson is honestly so good in this and I pray for the day his name isn’t attached to Twilight’s cringe so heavily because he’s becoming an incredibly underrated actor. Co-director Benny Safdie is also really great in this. So good it kind of blew me away.
The pacing does slow down briefly in the second act but only as a setup for a head rush of a climax.
I absolutely loved the ending to this film given its unexpected emotional impact. It’s not what you expect but in a great way. I’ve quickly become a fan of the Safdie brothers and I’m excited for what they do next.
Available on Netflix
If you’re reading this…I love you. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed part 2. You can read about part 3 right here. You just had the meat and potatoes but the top 10 will be the dessert. If you’re enjoying these give me a social distanced clap and let me know your thoughts! I will never apologize for my puns I’m sorry. You’re just gonna have to get used to it.