And yes, I'm aware that that does mean that I've very likely missed some key releases in a given year. But, you know, I'm okay with that. I don't have nearly as much free time these days to watch nearly as many movies as I once did, and even then, I've also grown quite burned by the sheer number of underwhelming releases in more recent years as well, which contributes to why I've been less willing to make the time to see more stuff. So with that out of the way, of the movies that genuinely caught my eye and intrigued me enough to give them a chance, here is what I consider to be my favorites from the past year.
Last Night In Soho
Edgar Wright's first foray into horror is largely a success. We follow a girl as she's able to slip into the mind of someone from the past and essentially experience life through their eyes in her sleep. I love how this movie really takes its time, and isn't afraid to let us get sucked into this world and the glamour of this fantastical situation before it even begins to introduce the true horror lying underneath. But once that happens, this movie gets seriously intense, and there are scenes where I was left with my eyes bulging and my breath caught in my chest at the sheer intensity on display. This movie offers a phenomenal concept with effective execution that has stayed with me long after I've awakened from its trance.
This Princess Diana biopic starring Kristen Stewart was more than I honestly expected. I really only saw the film because of Kristen Stewart, and she turns out yet another outstanding performance, and a charismatic and transformative one that possibly stands among her best in a film yet. And as we followed along in a single weekend in the life of Princess Diana, we're taken on a psychological journey that often leaves us feeling just as trapped as our lead does in her own life. Certainly not what I was expecting going in, but I love what this film turned out to be, and it's one that left me feeling inspired by its craftsmanship.
The Green Knight
I'll be honest, I really wasn't a big fan of this film immediately. But even so, I found this movie refusing to leave my head afterwards, and it left me pondering its deeper themes and meanings. Almost as if the film presented a puzzle to the viewer, but one that it didn't expect you to completely put all together by the time the credits roll. The pieces are all there though, you just had to toy with it a little, and figure it out on your own. And the more I thought about this film, and started connecting those pieces in my head, the more I grew to love it, and what it was trying to say.
And I especially appreciate how it's not just we the viewer who are left pondering over the greater messages at hand, but the main lead himself, played by Dev Patel, is often asking himself these same questions, almost as if we're in the same boat as he. But in the end, I loved this movie's message, and feel it's an important one, especially in these more dire times we live in. At its core, it's about honor, and living true to your word. And it's about the dark path that leads should you decide instead to live your life in fear and shame. And I think there's something profound in these themes and how they're explored all throughout this film.
Zack Snyder's Justice League
As someone who was campaigning for the Snyder Cut since before #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was even a movement yet, words cannot truly express just how thrilled I am that this film actually got released. And sure enough, the difference between this film and the theatrical version from 2017 are night and day. In fact, it's almost incredible just how severely different the two cuts of the movie are, despite telling more or less the exact same story. And it's baffling to ever think that anyone thought it was a good idea to release the Joss Whedon cut of the film in theaters at all, especially given that they had this magnificent monster of a movie available for them to put out there instead.
Simply put, Zack Snyder's Justice League is god damn cinema. A grand sweeping epic of a motion picture, and essentially DC's equivalent to a Lord of the Rings film. Why anyone would ever want to shelve this beautiful picture is anyone's guess, especially when the version they originally threw out there is just forgettable, throw-away nonsense in comparison. This version has a certain gravitas that's totally absent in the other cut, and as such, this story and these characters truly feel larger than life on the screen. Granted, I wish I could say the big screen, but sadly, this one wasn't released theatrically, though I would love to see this film on a huge IMAX screen one day, as it was clearly intended.
And at four hours in length, this film is an absolute breeze, and doesn't feel a second longer than three hours, so I would definitely include it along the likes of Interstellar and Blue is the Warmest Color as one of the champions of pacing in longer films.
I love that this film finally got released. And I love even more that it not only met the hype, it far exceeded it. It's an all around outstanding film, and certainly one of the very best that the genre has ever seen.
Raya and the Last Dragon
(Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada)
I not only feel this is the best of the year, I'd also easily consider it the most underrated movie of the year at that, because this movie that was otherwise met with a collective "meh" from everyone else just completely and absolutely floored me.
I actually started writing a full review for this movie shortly after it released, but I was never quite able to get all of my thoughts on it written down, as just my notes for the review alone was becoming even longer than some of the bigger reviews from the past. But I just have so many feelings about this movie, which I'll only be able to briefly cover in this short write up, but feelings which really started after I was driving home after my first viewing, and I found myself struggling to hold back tears just thinking about it. I've since seen the movie two more times in the theater, and in those subsequent viewings, I totally failed at being able to hold back those tears while I watched.
I was just so touched by its message of bringing society together. Of being able to find it within yourself to open up and trust one another again. And even at the admitted naivety of such a concept, as shown throughout the movie. But even so, without that human connection, and without that trust, all that lies ahead is dark times for everyone. And I think it was a telling choice to cast Kelly Marie Tran in the title role, who not only did an outstanding job bringing Raya to life with her voice work, but who can also seemingly relate to such a journey as Raya is traveling, having endured a campaign of harassment after her portrayal in some of the newer Star Wars films. So someone like her would absolutely have every reason to cut people off and keep her head down. Yet here she is putting out a message to do the opposite, and to find it within you to be able to reach out and connect with people again, all without even remotely diminishing just how hard that may be for some.
But even beyond its messaging, I loved this vibrant world that was presented to us, and I loved the unique take on the dragons in general as well. In stark contrast to something like How to Train Your Dragon, in which the dragons there are basically flying cat lizards, here, dragons are closer to something like a fluffy water dog, which I thought was an interesting change from what we usually see, and also added to the naive appeal of our last dragon in question, Sisu.
All in all, I thought this was a beautiful movie that told a beautiful story, and put out a message that I feel the world absolutely needs to hear right now. But while I might personally struggle with the idea that that message will actually connect with the people of the present generation, I also keep in mind that these Disney animated films are primarily targeted at kids, who may well latch onto such a positive message and keep that with them as they grow up into this messed up world that we've all found ourselves in. Maybe. It's a nice thought at least, and one that maybe gives me a little bit of hope for the world of tomorrow.