Hi, my name is Travis Bean and I have…well. I have what some people say is “unique” taste in movies. Other people would use other adjectives: terrible, questionable, contrarian, etc. And hey, everybody is entitled to their opinions—including me. I like the movies I like and hate the movies I hate for a reason. You may not like it, but that’s the beauty of movie-loving: there’s always a new conversation to have. And I want to drive that discussion.
So Chris (co-founder of Film Colossus) and I decided to start these lists. This page will chronicle and rank every single movie I’ve watched starting January 1, 2022. I will be recording my thoughts about each and every movie along the way. And whatever your reaction—whether it’s anger or combativeness or delight—I want to hear about it. If you disagree with me, leave and comment and I’ll respond. If you think there’s more to love in a film, leave a comment and I’ll respond. If you want to join in and trash a movie I hated, leave a comment and I’ll respond. But don’t just write me off—I won’t have time for that. I don’t want to shy away from how I feel about movies, but embrace it. And I hope it inspire you to do the same.
If you don’t see a movie in these rankings, it either means I’ve never seen it or I haven’t seen it since starting this list (in reality I’ve seen thousands of movies). I watch new movies all the time, but I also greatly enjoy revisiting old favorites. So hopefully this list will become more comprehensive over time. If you’d like to see my ratings for every movie I’ve ever watched, then check out my Letterboxd.
This list was last updated on August 10, 2022.
Table of Contents:
- Mulholland Drive (2001)
- Superbad (2007)
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- Magic Mike XXL (2015)
- Flash Gordon (1980)
- The Red Shoes (1948)
- Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
- Inglourious Basterds (2009)
- There Will Be Blood (2007)
- Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)
- The Piano (1993)
- The Birds (1963)
- A Taxing Woman (1987)
- Malignant (2021)
- jeen-yuhs (2022)
- Batman & Robin (1997)
- Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & II (2013)
- Groundhog Day (1993)
- Bad Boys II (2003)
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
- Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2022)
- Bayan Ko (1984)
- Torn Curtain (1966)
- RoboCop (1987)
- The Holy Mountain (1973)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- Spider-Man 2 (2004)
- Basic Instinct (1992)
- West Side Story (2021)
- The Gunfighter (1950)
- Get Out (2017)
- Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
- Now You See Me (2013)
- Inception (2010)
- Don Jon (2013)
- Under the Silver Lake (2018)
- The Last Duel (2021)
- The Holy Mountain (1926)
- Underworld: Evolution (2006)
- Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
- Clash (1984)
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
- Prometheus (2012)
- Melancholia (2011)
- Cool as Ice (1991)
- Fargo (1996)
- Happy Gilmore (1996)
- Benedetta (2021)
- They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)
- Pain & Gain (2013)
- Johnny Guitar (1954)
- Underworld (2003)
- Dog (2022)
- Scarface (1983)
- Alien (1979)
- I Love You, Man (2009)
- Nightmare Alley (1947)
- 300 (2006)
- Ambulance (2022)
- Saboteur (1942)
- 21 Jump Street (2012)
- Ball of Fire (1941)
- Old (2021)
- Blade (1998)
- The Squid and the Whale (2005)
- The Man from Laramie (1955)
- Tenet (2020)
- The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967)
- Danzón (1991)
- Castle in the Sky (1986)
- Licorice Pizza (2021)
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
- Frenzy (1972)
- X (2022)
- Light Sleeper (1992)
- 22 Jump Street (2014)
- RRR (2022)
- Alien vs. Predator (2004)
- The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
- Misery (1990)
- France (2021)
- The Hurricane Heist (2018)
- Kimi (2022)
- Grease (1978)
- Akira (1988)
- Unforgiven (1992)
- Madman (1981)
- A Taxing Woman’s Return (1988)
- Day for Night (1973)
- Alien: Covenant (2017)
- Murder at the Mansion (2019)
- First Love (2019)
- SexWorld (1978)
- Odd Man Out (1947)
- I Am Legend (2007)
- The Card Counter (2021)
- The Swimming Pool (1969)
- Rubber (2010)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- Killing Spree (1987)
- Constantine (2005)
- Road to Salina (1970)
- Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
- History is Made at Night (1937)
- The Browning Version (1951)
- Aliens (1986)
- Heathers (1989)
- The Player (1992)
- And Soon the Darkness (1970)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
- Ministry of Fear (1944)
- The Green Man (1956)
- High Sierra (1941)
- House of Gucci (2021)
- Family Plot (1976)
- The Voyeurs (2021)
- A Star is Born (2018)
- Night Tide (1961)
- The Blue Lamp (1950)
- Topaz (1969)
- Flatliners (1990)
- Mean Girls (2004)
- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (1971)
- Baby Doll (1956)
- Magnificent Obsession (1954)
- The Funeral (1984)
- Deep Water (2022)
- Morbius (2022)
- The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
- Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
- Trouble in Paradise (1932)
- Spider-Man 3 (2007)
- Jackass Forever (2022)
- Now You See Me 2 (2016)
- Baby Blood (1990)
- The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)
- The Making of Psycho (1997)
- Spencer (2021)
- Automata (2014)
- Holiday (1938)
- The Gentlemen (2019)
- A Mighty Wind (2003)
- Pacific Heights (1990)
Misses The Mark
- Angel Face (1953)
- Batman (1989)
- The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)
- Big Fish (2003)
- Hud (1963)
- Alien 3 (1992)
- Bubble (2022)
- Prey (2022)
- The French Connection (1971)
- The Batman (2022)
- Wife of a Spy (2020)
- Friends and Strangers (2021)
- Crazy, Rich, and Deadly (2020)
- Wedding Crashers (2005)
- Jolt (2021)
- On the Rocks (2020)
- Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975)
- Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
- Parasite (2019)
- House by the River (1950)
- The Northman (2022)
- Ip Man (2008)
- Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
- Down to Earth (2001)
- Fresh (2022)
- Death on the Nile (2022)
- Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014)
Just Plain Bad
- The King’s Man (2021)
- The Daytrippers (1996)
- Reign of Fire (2002)
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
- Alien Resurrection (1997)
- Senior Year (2022)
- A Time to Kill (1996)
- Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)
- The Lost City (2022)
- Don’t Look Up (2021)
- Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
- Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)
- Closer (2004)
- Spotlight (2015)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
- Vivarium (2019)
- Scream (2022)
- The Gray Man (2022)
- Hereditary (2018)
It was interesting to watch both Prey and Alien vs. Predator this week. As two out-of-left-field additions to the Predator franchise, I was really intrigued by the inherent modern themes each addition would bring to such a rich, deep commentary. The first Predator movie was a masterful critique of toxic masculinity, with each character dying at the hands of an alien creature that constantly emasculates them in ironic fashion. As the men fight back, they flounder and squirm and agonize—an about-face from their earlier ruthless energy when they desecrated their opponents with superior weaponry.
Alien vs. Predator brought an interesting twist to that equation, pitting the Predator against the Alien, a symbol of demonized femininity that has been projected by society. Two opposing forces that come together to represent a giant social flaw? That’s what I pay good money for. And Paul W.S. Anderson delivered.
Seemingly, Prey also had a great concept to serve as its foundation. It’s no secret that women haven’t been afforded the same opportunities and rights as men in this world. It’s also no secret that the unconquerable male ego would be damaged if the playing field was leveled even a little bit. And you see both of those energies playing out as Naru tries to find her place in the Comanche tribe by pursuing a traditionally male path all while the Comanche men snarkily snort at her attempts to become anything but a housewife who cooks and cleans. What better way to overcome such an ostensibly insurmountable social barrier than to have Naru battle a Predator—perhaps cinema’s most striking representation of toxic masculinity? Yeah, it was written in the stars for Prey (which, by the way, is a perfect title for this feminine take on the franchise).
Yet…sigh. Doesn’t it feel like the movie fumbled this premise a bit? All of the pieces are in place for the aesthetic: the thematic meat is there; the characters all hit their marks; Naru is a great hero we can all root for; and the Predator character is as dominant as ever. But the movie also feels like it never goes far enough to truly become an arresting piece of social commentary. The violence feels spurious and sanitized when it should feel dangerous and undeniable. The dudes are all half-jerks who make nothing more than snide comments that feel rather weightless compared to the heinous acts committed by Dutch and Blain and Mac and Poncho in Predator. The Predator itself isn’t awarded the same level of characterization and empathy it innately inherited from the opposing forces of other franchise films. And worst of all, the technical aspects—the fighting and choreography and editing—just all feels a bit disorderly and lame.
Prey needs to fully embrace its premise to become a crucial element of this franchise’s societal examination. But the stylistic elements are so sterile that the movie almost starts to feel incapable at points. You can see what they’re trying to say (hell, they’re practically winking at the audience about the social commentary). But it just never comes to fruition. It doesn’t have the bite a modern update of Predator deserves.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2022)
The great critic Pauline Kael had one simple request for filmmakers: “Astonish us!” Make us feel something we’ve never felt before. Let the art become transformative and eye-opening and reflective. Take us to an entirely different realm that’s both completely foreign and achingly familiar. Art has the capacity to alter our DNA, to force us to take stock of the world around us and how we fit into it. The most exciting part of movies? There are endless ways to provoke such profundity.
All too often, movies resort to the spectacle. Making a spectacle out of life is a great idea—if the movie has enough pop and flair. To explore universal truths of life with expert rhythm, with interesting characters, with a realized aesthetic that combines imagery with evolution and philosophy—that’s not easy. And thus, movies often get lost in the high-powered spectacle on display. Movies become so engrossed with the plot and the appearance that they forget what truly makes movies profound and entertaining: that unshakable connection we form with a story.
All this build-up is to highlight just how effortlessly Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy navigates these waters. It’s a quiet independent film, yet it has the tenacity of a big-budget affair; people talk slowly and deliberately, yet it’s an extravaganza of human conflict; we never leave the city, yet it feels like we’ve navigated every throbbing emotion and burning struggle that can possibly infect someone on this planet earth. Regret, sorrow, joy, self-doubt, cognitive dissonance, sexual desire, hopefulness, optimism, pessimism, narcissism—and, ultimately, life-altering catharsis. It’s almost too much to handle in just one film.
Wheel of Fortune is most definitely a “spectacle” in every sense of the world. A spectacle that’s disguised by the quietness of life that slowly consumes us. We aren’t asked to accept a dystopian future where robots have taken over, or laugh at an absurd romantic comedy premise; or yearn for a superhero to save the day—all of that (and much more) exists in everyday life. And the fact that director Ryusuke Hamaguchi can place those same elements normally defamiliarized by movies into a contemplative drama? His ability to make elevated situations feel so intimate and recognizable? That’s astonishing. That’s why I go to the movies.
When I walked in (really I just sat down on my couch) to watch RRR, I was 90% convinced it would turn out to be the year’s most overrated film this side of Everything Everywhere All at Once (which truly is overrated) and leave me saddened about the state of cinema culture—nothing but a feeble-minded political statement, an overblown melodrama with cringe-worthy acting, a big expensive spectacle inspired by the Marvel (Un)Cinematic Universe.
But…holy heck was I impressed. As someone who has seen several classic Indian films from the likes of Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, and Bimal Roy and has never digested the modern films from Bollywood and its competitors, I felt unequipped to handle the cavalcade of stunts and colors that immediately came flying at me. While I admittedly needed a few minutes to find my footing, I quickly embraced the energy of RRR. Something strange has happened in pop culture where every other movie has a dour, dismal, debilitating tone—perhaps it’s the horrific state of the world? But RRR feels like the antidote. The movie replaces defeatism with impenetrable victory; its heroes smile instead of frown, strut instead of sulk, cooperate instead of sabotage; the message is one of hope and trust and humility. Its entire aesthetic is realized because it is true and honest and entirely committed. The movie doesn’t worry about cartoonizing its villains or embracing humanity because those very elements are stylistically woven into its form.
The earnestness of RRR reminded me of Old Hollywood films from the minds of masters like Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra or George Cukor. People these days complain when a movie’s intentions are obvious or when their characters speak candidly or when optimism is embraced…but what’s wrong with that? Movies were like that for a long time (before haughtiness and self-absorption became cool) and people loved it. We enjoyed going to the theater and rooting for somebody fighting for a better life. We smiled when Maurice Chevalier sang a song directly into the camera. We were mesmerized when color and intensity and dynamism were embraced. I’m not annoyed that so many people love RRR—I’m thrilled that we’ve chosen to champion a movie that values the lost art of earnestness. Let’s get Hollywood to make more movies like this.
Senior Year (2022)
There are movies I find offensively awful. Perhaps it’s a big-budget sci-fi flick like Dune that’s absolutely devoid of life or spectacle; maybe somebody has brutalized a franchise I love like Scream or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Spider-Man; there’s even a chance an arthouse movie like Hereditary or Vivarium or The Invitation horrifies my very being with its sickening ideology.
Then there are movies like Senior Year…which can’t really stir up any of those emotions in me. It’s a movie that’s neither here nor there (nor anywhere else) as it meanders between cringe-worthy bits and pussyfoots around an onslaught of themes and ideas, never really making a point or saying anything of significance. It’s a completely directionless movie that feels like its script was compiled by robots targeting Netflix’s Millennial audience. “The ‘90s were awesome and Gen Z’ers are weird, amirite?” Netflix must think all of us thirty-somethings said in unison, laughing contemptuously as Rebel Wilson, donned in heavily layered, brightly colored clothing, danced around her childhood bedroom adorned with NSYNC posters and Josh Hartnett photos and other memorabilia that fail to give her an ounce of unparalleled personality.
The entire aesthetic is so mind-numbingly obvious that, once again, it’s hard to get too mad because of how tedious and inoffensive it truly is. It’s a purely bland experience that never addresses generational differences with the weight or profundity of something like 21 Jump Street (a film that doesn’t even take itself too seriously in the first place) did an entire decade earlier. You’ve got great actors—like Wilson, Sam Richardson, Mary Holland (and let us not forget all the younger actors)—doing their best with humdrum schlock. It’s so strange to never once be challenged intellectually or emotionally during a film. It’s pretty sad when the only positive takeaway is that I wasn’t completely offended by the experience.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Part of me really wanted to give this movie a half-star. In many ways, it deserves it. Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything that’s wrong with franchise movies these days, as it (very candidly) aspires to be part of a cinematic universe rather than have its own story with interesting characters and themes and an aesthetic that separates Spider-Man from other superheroes. Each and every scene has the studio stamp on it, as the movie constantly reminds us of all the other great characters in the Avengers universe and how awesome it is that these superheroes exist, that we get three or four movies featuring these awesome dudes each year. Spider-Man: Homecoming constantly has a smug smile on its face, as Disney executives laugh quietly to themselves and think about their year-end bonuses as people fill the theater seats. The character doesn’t need to be interesting or unique (trust me: he isn’t) for this movie to be successful. It just needs to be part of a gigantic puzzle (which is apparently what was wrong with the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies) for it to be considered a success and be graced with two or three or seven sequels.
But I honestly can’t bring myself to give Spider-Man: Homecoming it the lowest rating possible for a movie because that would be a disservice to the worst movies I’ve ever seen. In reality, this is just another bland movie–one of dozens that I see each year. It’s not offensively awful because there’s nothing offensive about the movie other than just how inoffensive it is. It’s so clearly a studio film with a money-hungry agenda that it never even bothers trying to be a real, ambitious movie that could possibly stir up any sort of negative emotion in me. It’s a boring film with a boring lead and a boring villain; it farts out a couple funny scenes from Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau, who together were probably on set for a total of 180 minutes; and the themes are so eye-rolling obvious and forthrightly stated that it requires almost zero thinking on the viewer’s part for…2 hours and 13 minutes?! Oh my god that’s torture.
The central struggle of this movie is that a kid doesn’t want to be a kid anymore and would like to become an Avenger. OH SO LIKE EVERY KID THAT’S GOING TO FORCE HIS DEAD-EYED PARENTS INTO THE THEATER THAT SUMMER. It’s moments like these I’m thankful my daughter is just a few months old. I’m hoping she never falls prey to these dumb studio tactics and forces me to watch absolutely mindless schlock. In the end, the comic book nerds are happy (I still cannot fathom why that is important even in the slightest) that their hero is just a regular kid with regular problems and that the movie doesn’t propel the comic book aesthetic to cinematic proportions like Sam Raimi so beautifully did an entire 15 years earlier.
Edit: In the course of writing about this dumb movie, I convinced myself that Spider-Man: Homecoming deserves half a star. It’s the right thing to do.
Alien 3 (1992)
I just finished the Alien series (if you don’t count the Alien vs. Predator movies) and was reminded of how interesting its commentary is on motherhood and femininity in a patriarchal society. How the aliens and the world of the aliens comment on reproduction, nurturing, destruction, masculinity—it’s all quite brilliant in this defamiliarized setting where people are fighting for their lives. That goes double for Ripley (Sigourney Weaver’s character), who is constantly forced to destroy the aliens before they obliterate the human race.
Alien 3 is obviously a perfect entry into this grand storyline, as Ripley crashes her ship at a maximum-security correctional facility housed by men with a genetic predisposition for antisocial behavior. The commentary is a bit blunt, amirite? But that’s fine, as it presents another thread to the narrative spinning around Ripley as she battles against the patriarchal powers that be. A baby is literally forced upon her by the aliens, taking away any and all agency over her own body. And the film chronicles her journey to gain that power back.
But while the thematic foundation is strong, the execution is not. Historically, David Fincher does not enjoy this movie and believes it was butchered by the studio in the editing room. Plus, the movie went through so many rewrites and had so many issues on a technical level (most with special effects) that it never came to reflect Fincher’s true vision. And it shows. The movie’s editing feels stilted, never giving Ripley’s story the power and send-off it deserves. Beyond the core concept of the movie, Alien 3 never finds its footing with the patriarchal overtones and forms it into a defined universe like Alien and Aliens (as well as Prometheus and Alien: Covenant) were able to do. There are some great moments in this one. But it’s largely a missed opportunity.
People often make fun of my love for Magic Mike XXL. Which, honestly, I understand. After all, it’s a movie about dudes who take their clothes off. Could it possibly be deeper than that? What people don’t realize, though, is that Magic Mike XXL is also a loving tale about a bunch of people helping each other find the change they need in life. The narrative is less reliant on drama and plot, and more focused on characters and atmosphere. It’s an insanely optimistic film about the power of human nature that’s emboldened by an incredibly drawn design, mood, and feel from director Gregory Jacobs. The movie has no time for traditional storytelling methods and instead unfolds alongside its characters’ growth—which is reflective of the way life moves. Visually speaking, it’s beautiful to watch because it feels so relatable, so profound.
Channing Tatum must have taken a note from Jacobs’s playbook when he co-directed what is undoubtedly the most underrated movie of the year. Dog never stood a chance, mostly because of its bizarre marketing campaign targeted at moms around Valentine’s Day. But Dog is anything but a romance. It’s a full-on drama about somebody who is completely lost in life and needs to be pointed in the right direction. Jackson is a deeply flawed character who isn’t disguised by movie theatrics. He’s blockheaded, he’s dispassionate, he’s confused—a desolate human being in limbo psychologically. And he’s presented as such. As he moves through various settings and meets various people with his dog companion, his general apprehensiveness toward becoming a full-fledged person with his own unique path in life slowly whittles away.
The movie’s simple title becomes reflective of Noah’s sentiment that God can be found in anything or anyone—a plant, a parrot, your barber—that allows you to speak and examine yourself. Conveniently for this film, “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. And it’s beautiful to watch this intensely damaged character find the solace he needs in something that can’t even speak back. Their connection simply is. This is the pivot he needs to make the most of himself. It’s such a raw and visceral portrayal of the slow, gradual inner-workings of life that words can’t possibly justify.
The Gray Man
Over the years, movies have offended me for a variety of reasons: Argo with its faux-political, holier-than-thou pomp; Scream with its complete and utter bastardization of a franchise I adore; Hereditary with its cold and callous treatment of human life. But perhaps never before have I hated a movie so much for being so…lame? Pointless? Barren? The Gray Man has nothing interesting to say and nothing interesting to show me for two-plus hours. It is the most by-the-numbers action movie I’ve ever seen—and not just with its wannabe Jason Bourne storyline. Visually, the Russo brothers have crafted an aesthetic that is so free from flair and style that “The Gray Man” becomes a perfect title for their first of what I’m sure will be many boring Netflix-funded projects.
In 6 Underground, the characters choose to become ghosts to protect the living people they care about. But in The Gray Man, Sierra Six chooses to become a ghost…because? Because he was wrongfully convicted and now has a chance to go outside and do the CIA’s dirty work? Really, I think it’s because Netflix had $200 million lying around and wanted to hire the dudes who couldn’t even make Avengers: Endgame—perhaps the most intensely hyped movie of the 21st century—feel exciting. The movie has no thrust, no foundation, and only finds its heart when a terminally sick child comes along, or when it needs to quickly recall a past when Sierra Six was abused by his father, or when this sad thing happens or that sad thing is convenient to the plot. The Gray Man putters along and only asks us to care when it’s time to care. Otherwise, it’s a colorless fart of a movie that has no life and—much like a person with no personality—nothing much to say.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
I agree with the general opinion that Bob’s Burgers works better as a show than a movie. Simply put, there isn’t enough story here to sustain 90 minutes. But there is enough humor and heart to make up for it. The Bob’s Burgers Movie certainly isn’t the most challenging film in the world, but its light and breezy approach to character and drama makes it feel welcoming and soothing. The nadir of the movie (Bob’s restaurant might not be able to pay this month’s business loan payment) is so simple and familiar that it almost becomes background noise, making way instead for a bevy of everyday human struggles that are fixed by the simple power of family. The narrative unfolds in a rather lackadaisical manner, twisting and warping based on whatever Bob or Linda or Tina or Louise or Gene is dealing with in that moment. The movie’s warm and loving sentiments about family are only enriched by the eccentric characters that dart and dash around a family trying to save its restaurant. The stakes are small compared to most movies, but so high for the Belcher family. And I had fun rooting for them.
I’m already on the defense. Because people will wonder, “How could you possibly hate Everything Everywhere All at Once…but like Morbius?” Which saddens me. Because it makes me realize Morbius was never suited for this world. In this timeline, quality has been associated with high-octane movies with “depth” like Everything Everywhere All at Once that beat you over the head with an aesthetic so heavily that its rather humdrum musing about life becomes “philosophical poetry” that’s been deemed “important” by the increasingly unreliable critical landscape. And this timeline doesn’t have time for Morbius, which doesn’t follow the rules we’ve set up for narrative, for editing, for acting, for all-the-things-a-movie-must-do-to-be-taken-seriously. The world has self-serioused itself into a corner, to the point where a wacky conundrum of a superhero story that stylistically doesn’t feel anything like the barrage of Marvel and DC movies we’ve been forced to consume for over a decade is met with haughty snort. “This isn’t how we do movies, Morbius. So please, kindly see yourself out.”
I’ll choose to exist in a different timeline. I believe Morbius’s commentary about the power and ethics of science is interesting. I believe Jared Leto is giving a great, over-the-top, campy-as-hell performance. I don’t believe the narrative “rules” established by traditional methods of storytelling necessarily apply to movies (or any piece of art looking to rewrite the rules of narrative). I believe Morbius is elliptical with its narrative logic because the narrative logic isn’t nearly as important as the themes and characters at hand (and isn’t that important when it comes to movies in general). I believe the movie has a sense of humor about itself (a big no-no in the current movie zeitgeist) that allows it to feel light and playful without sacrificing thoughtfulness. I believe the editing is sound, the colors are vibrant, the direction communicates a mood and feel I find effortlessly enjoyable.
And most of all, I believe Morbius would have a chance in a different timeline where the rules for cinema weren’t so rigidly (and stodgily, I’d argue) defined. I’m more than happy to champion a movie like this.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Cinema is a beautiful medium that allows stories to visually explore universal truths of life, the struggles we all face as human beings. A lonely journey through space symbolizes the grieving process for Ryan as she copes with the loss of her daughter in Gravity. The alien invasion in The World’s End challenges Gary’s notion of life-fulfillment and forces him to grow up. The grand interweaving dream-within-a-dream of Mulholland Drive represents the pressures of Hollywood and the consequences it can have on people. These tales come to represent our desire to grow, to expand, to evolve in a world that feels like it’s increasingly working against us.
This is the exact reason people seem to love Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s also the reason why I think it falls way way way short of having the same impact as any of the above mentioned movies, which all explore their stories with care and nuance and subtlety. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the exact opposite of subtle, as it so candidly adopts this model to the degree where it loses any and all emotion about 45 minutes in. Life didn’t turn out the way Evelyn envisioned…and that’s about the extent of it. Aren’t we all dissatisfied with our lives from time to time? Don’t we all wonder what would have happened if we dated this person or took that job or made that other decision? You’d think something so simple and relatable would be a perfect fit for a defamiliarized tale. Yet Everything Everywhere All at Once just beats you over the head with the same point ad nauseam. If I could give movies a passing grade for effort, I would. But effort actually works in the opposite direction for this film, as nearly two-and-a-half hours of non-stop cuts and settings and colors and character beats does nearly nothing to advance the central theme of the film. It’s all for show, and it left me feeling nothing by the end.
I know I will get pushback on this, as Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to be everybody’s favorite movie of the year. People will say, “How can you hate on a movie that’s trying this hard and doing this much?” Look, I think there are great parts in this movie and people are giving it their all. The acting, the directing, the settings and costumes and sounds—it’s all great. But I profoundly reject the notion that Everything Everywhere All at Once simply “tries harder” than a movie like Kimi or Morbius or Dog. I refuse to be that narrow-minded and oblivious when it comes to the beautiful art of cinema. Even the simplest of movies that are missing the fast-paced editing and world building and character catalog of Everything Everywhere All at Once have just as much capability to explore the universal truths of life. Most people don’t even realize what movies like Gravity or The World’s End or Mulholland Drive are doing at a thematic level. But we know what Everything Everywhere All at Once is doing because…it tells us. Over. And over. And over. This movie has about seven monologues where a character philosophizes about life in several different settings cleanly edited together in the exact same way every single time—and I’m supposed to accept that this movie tries harder than other movies? No. No way.
Perhaps modern cinema isn’t the problem. Maybe everybody who makes a movie is giving their all and trying to say something. Maybe, instead, it’s the way we’ve chosen to watch movies and think about movies that’s the problem. I don’t think Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bad movie. But it sure as heck isn’t above and beyond everything else.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)
Of the many blockbusters to hit theaters this year, David Yates represents a beacon of hope. The vision this guy has is astounding—the fluidity of his scenes, the emotion he gives to important moments, the power he gives to characters. The first two scenes of this movie had me in absolute awe. Yates is showing all these wannabe genre directors how to construct an aesthetic and stay true to it throughout a picture. His biggest hurdle, unfortunately, is the money-hungry film studio looking to build yet another cinematic universe. Only the executives at Warner Bros. have the power to disrupt such impeccable flow and pacing—and trust me, they constantly due with throwbacks and foreshadows and wink-winks. It turns an otherwise breathtaking experience into a somewhat stilted story that, in the end, is just another piece in the Harry Potter Cinematic Universe. In the end, The Secrets of Dumbledore wins because of the artists involved. But it sure had to put up one hell of a fight.
In a world where independent horror felt like a lost art, Ti West was there with House of the Devil. Fast forward 13 years later, and West is back—this time to revive the slick flasher flick bankrolled by A24. While most of the horror movies that come from everyone’s new favorite film studio are cringe-worthy and pretentious and afraid to show us anything truly gnarly, X has the confidence and poise that only a master like West could devise. Maxine’s struggle to live her life to the fullest plays out so well in the horror arena. West is very adept at using the genre’s bloody offerings to give these internal battles color and texture. The story itself is so entertaining and the characters themselves are so interesting that you almost forget that we’re following one woman’s journey to achieve mental stability from the very beginning. But by the end, the film sure makes its mark. And in its wake, I’m amazed more movies can’t pull it off.
I accidentally watched three horror movies in a row. The first one, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was pretty torturous. It constantly beat me over the head with its social commentary and didn’t have satisfying kills. And the third, X, was awesome. It had a really riveting commentary on the human experience and interesting characters to boot.
Right in the middle of those two movies I watched Fresh—a decidedly different take on the horror genre. I appreciated the movie for going after toxic masculinity, for creating a world where women are literally butchered up and eaten alive by their male counterparts on the dating scene. That’s the sort of commentary that can thrive and come alive in the horror genre.
But…that’s also the problem with this movie. It never fully commits to inspecting this deeply depraved portion of society, to exploring how terrifying it must be to be a woman surrounded by such chaos. The aesthetic is all off—sometimes it’s horrifying, but sometimes it’s flippant (and often it’s flat-out uninspired). The movie often has a smirk on its face as it winks to the viewer and says, “See what we’re doing here?” Which brings the social commentary to a standstill as the characters become nothing more than an extension of gender politics. I never felt attached to anyone because the movie never fully committed to their story or the genre’s offerings.This experience was revealing of the state of modern horror movies.
Projects like X—a movie that’s subtle and effective and gory—are more of an anomaly these days. While movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fresh—which are obvious and clumsy and sanitized—are becoming part of the norm.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
Sitting in my dark basement at 5:00 a.m. this morning, nestled on my couch for an early-hours viewing of a horror movie, the depressing reality of our current film industry slowly but surely consumed and exhausted my slightly groggy brain. Trapped in front of my television, committed to finishing the kind of movie my wife would never watch (a gory one) and thankful for some quiet moments while my newborn baby slept, I was forced to look inward to determine whether I (a stingy-ass Millennial curmudgeon who hates all the new safe-for-TV politically correct scary movies made for kids these days) or this movie (which within minutes had already revealed itself to be an excruciatingly pathetic excuse for a horror reboot) was the problem. On a surface level, I felt I was being a bit unfair and thought I should give Texas Chainsaw Massacre more of a chance! But on a much deeper, darker, revealing level in which I found myself trapped (apparently it’s some dumping ground known as “Netflix” where I’m surrounded by hackneyed reboots that are doing an absolutely brilliant job of bastardizing treasured cinematic franchises), I spent the better part of 83 painstaking minutes slowly confronting the bleak reality of what the film industry has become.
And I gotta tell you: that’s a terrible way to start your day.
Forgive me for sounding bitter. Again, I don’t want to sound like some old dude who just complains that “movies aren’t as good as they used to be!” But…have you seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? The gruesome masterpiece with a piss-yellow palette that steeps you in the ugliest corner of the rural South and reeks of death and decay? Or the equally excellent and criminally underrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? The irreverent and relentless tour de force in pop art horror that’s brimming with personality and color and humor while at the same time soaked in blood and littered with ruin and destruction?
Needless to say, I don’t think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre deserves any such accolades or adjectives. It’s a film that only bears a resemblance to the franchise by name—and nothing else. Leatherface is there, but he’s not scary or sympathetic or dressed with any sort of interesting commentary. All of the soon-to-be-slaughtered kids are there, but they’re so stilted and weighed down by Gen Z stereotypes that you wonder if they even have beating hearts for the bad guy to rip out with his chainsaw. Heck, Sally from the first movie is even there, because apparently the producers who own the film rights (and who for some torturous reason intend to make four more of these god-awful films) saw the new Halloween movies and wanted their own version of Jamie Lee Curtis they think people will get excited about.
The only other resemblance that the 2022 version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which is one of 10,000 movies to be released on Netflix this year, if that helps any of this make a little bit more sense) bears to the original films is the “social commentary” portion of the movie—except this updated version of the franchise beats you over the head with its commentary within seconds of the opening credits as if you had no idea that social influencers from Austin had very little in common with podunk Texans who haven’t even heard of Wi-Fi. The original Massacre forced the audience to evaluate itself as industrial capitalism wiped away the paltry amount left for a starving population that already felt abandoned by a country overflowing with hostility (try the Vietnam War) and overrun by dirty politicians (try the Watergate scandal). And don’t even get me started on Tobe Hooper’s legendary sequel, which brought all that residual American strife into the Reagan era when that deserted portion of our country really started to fight back and gain some semblance of life.
Fast forward to 2022 when that American journey has reached a breaking point after decades of political turmoil, societal conflict, and mental struggles that have undoubtedly left millions shattered by existential crises…and we get this. We get a cash grab from Netflix. We get a bunch of kids recording Leatherface on their phone and telling him he’ll be “canceled” if he’s not careful with that chainsaw. We get a lifeless camera that’s more concerned with jump scares than exposing the dark underbelly of a country that after all these years can’t seem to fix itself.
Honestly, the sad image of me sitting on my couch in the early hours of the morning before the sun has even risen scrolling through Netflix and hoping whatever I watch this time won’t be complete trash is the perfect picture to pair with this profoundly incompetent movie. I should know better than to expect anything as profound as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacres. And for that, I was punished for wasting that precious alone time I rarely receive.
Friends and Strangers (2021)
It’s been years since I’ve covered a film festival, and these were the kinds of movies I’d always see. I loved meeting the filmmakers and interacting with them and learning more about their movies. It was a very intimate experience, a new way of experiencing a film. You weren’t just watching a movie on a screen and then walking away—you were enveloped by the story and the people who made it. The actors, the director, and the producers were all trying to reach a massive audience with their little story.
In the opening seconds of Friends and Strangers, I was transported back to those festival days. But this time around, there was an awkward tension in the air. Our website has always been dedicated to finding the deeper meaning of a film and exploring it so other people can appreciate it more. But these movie ranking lists represent a big shift for me, as they require me to be a bit more subjective and give my honest reaction to the film. While I’m open to all films of all genres and budgets, I also have my own particular tastes—tastes that were often hidden in my festival circuit days. The goal was always to find meaning and nuance, and never to indulge.
Alas, these rankings require me to indulge. While there are things I really love and enjoy about Friends and Strangers, the film also isn’t adventurous enough to make a profound impact on me. On one level I see myself in the main character Ray and can relate to him. But I couldn’t seem to forge a deeper connection with Ray and discover the emotional machinations of the film.
One thing I love is the meandering nature of the film. One of the biggest crutches movies have these days is an over-reliance on plot and drama. But director and writer James Vaughan is content with a directionless character maneuvering from one disconnected situation to the next. While most movies feel the need to focus on plot and build drama between events, Vaughan is smart to make his characters the connective tissue. Ray is challenged and undergoes change at a rather stable clip—which is very reminiscent of everyday life. Personal growth happens on a massive level, but is steadily doled out over time. And we exist with Ray as he slowly tries to move on from a heartbreaking relationship. In my experience, this is not an easy thing to accomplish in a movie.
I also love the ambiance of the Friends and Strangers. I’m not surprised to learn that Vaughan was the editor of the film, as he utilizes the gorgeous nature and cityscapes of Australia with the eye of a painter and the ear of a producer. The chirping bugs, the diegetic soundtrack, the crashing waves and passing traffic—it’s all an integral part of the movie’s clockwork. Along the way, I was consistently reminded of the legendary Picnic at Hanging Rock—and only halfway through did I remember that Peter Weir was an Australian filmmaker. The sonic elements of Friends and Strangers flux and bend alongside Ray’s awkward journey of self-discovery. These technical aspects really immerse you in the film and bring this coming-of-age tale to life. The intent, I assumed while watching, was to make me part of the Australian experience.
As I later learned from Vaughan’s notebook entry on Mubi, he created this movie to do just that. “This was a film about something more than just some of the individuals from a certain layer of Sydney,” he writes, “but about their relationship with Sydney itself, and Australia too. Not the celebrated Australia of post-WWII migrant success stories, but the ruthlessly extractive and genocidal colonial Australia that still lurks beneath.” Which, in theory, should make me connect with this film. As somebody who largely watches American films, I’m often able to see how a filmmaker is commenting on the American experience. I know enough about the history of my country to identify the emotional framework of the film and understand how a director is bringing his ideas and commentary to life.
So perhaps my inability to connect with Friends and Strangers on a deeper level has something to do with my ignorance of the Australian experience. Then again, some of my favorite movies were made by foreign filmmakers, and in the past I’ve had no problem connecting their experience with a character’s journey in a film. So what’s the problem here?
The truth is…there is no problem. Because of our intentions at Film Colossus, I’ve learned to open up and discover the core intentions of a film—that discussion is much more important to me than the Rotten Tomatoes attitude of “is it good or bad.” And because I know that Vaughan crafted an Australian tale that hits close to home, I can safely recommend this movie to anyone because I know many people will connect with it. But personally, I never quite found that connection.
Perhaps I was asking for too much. I wanted to become even more immersed in a film that was already taking some crucial steps that most movies aren’t adventurous enough to take. But I do love this movie for transporting me back to those festival days. It honestly made me really sad that I couldn’t speak with Vaughan, because then I might gain the true insight I need.
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Yesterday, I was fooled by a movie. And I’m just now coming to terms with it.
I chose to watch Leave Her to Heaven because it is, according to many, a film noir—which is possibly my favorite genre of film. But a noir in color? That sounded crazy. Noirs are known for their gritty black-and-white palettes, their heavy shadows, their abundance of dark and claustrophobic settings—none of which lends well to color. Especially technicolor. Nevertheless, I was interested in what Leave Her to Heaven had to offer.
But as the movie unfolded, I found myself continually and firmly holding the position that this was not film noir. It was, stylistically, too much of a departure to fit the genre mold. The characters were too happy and living too much of the “good life.” In a film noir, I expect people to be down on their luck, to feel discarded by the system, to be driven to upend the social structure.
Yet throughout my viewing, there was a nagging sense that something was different. That there was a lurking underbelly to this film that was darker than any film noir I’d ever seen. That something sick and sadistic was pulsing through the veins of my television—a dark truth I was trying my best to pretend it wasn’t there.
The beauty of Leave Her to Heaven is that it tricks you. You’re lured in by the deceptively charming color palette…only for it to jam a knife in your side. Gene Tierney’s crimson lipstick on the lake as a boy calls for help, her melding with the baby blue walls as she approaches the staircase with her unborn child, her fire-hydrant-red bathing suit as her husband mourns—you’re so taken by the beauty that you can’t see director John M. Stahl screaming in your face. Gene Tierney is either one with her environment or in a life-or-death battle to achieve dominance. And that tension has to eventually reach a breaking point.
When people are around, when she’s viewed as a “wife,” she puts on a smiling face and performs her motherly duties. But when she’s alone, she scowls and grimaces as the weight of society sits on her shoulders. Melancholy consumes her. This world—including her husband and her family—is not giving her what she needs. And in the face of her father’s death, it’s tearing her apart. Increasingly, she feels more and more alone as the people in her life continually fail to fill the emotional void.
And this reveals the true “film noir” aspect of the film. Seemingly, everything is great. Society gave her all that she needs. The people around Ellen love her and want the best for her. But…do they understand her? As sick and sadistic and unforgiving as she is, Ellen is ultimately misunderstood—and, thus, cast aside. Everyone sits around waiting for Ellen to pull herself together. She has to come around eventually…right? But she never does. And she punishes the world for it.
Once Leave Her to Heaven reaches its final moments, the movie reveals its final trick. The film has been solely focused on Ellen and her destructive narcissism. But…we never actually hear Ellen’s story, do we? We’ve heard this entire tale from an older gentleman sitting by the lake, who’s merely recounting Richard’s side of the story. So do we ever actually hear the truth? Or are we simply witnessing how society will remember this devilish, indecent woman.
What a twist. That deceiving color palette? Ellen’s shift in mood? Her unhealthy attachment to her father and her emotional stranglehold over her husband? That’s all hyperbolic in a way that’s fitting of a melodrama—but it’s also revealing in a way that makes this movie a true film noir. What’s hidden throughout is that the “truth” about Ellen is only society’s “truth.” Society sees her as a shameless, narcissistic creature, so that’s how she’s presented. But we also know that Ellen was lonely, was depressed, was hoping to rekindle something she’d lost when her father died. Is that so unforgiving? Isn’t that something we can all empathize with? That hidden truth is the black-and-white color palette, the heavy shadow, the claustrophobic environment of a film that has revealed itself to me to be an American classic.
Punch-Drunk Love (2022)
It’s funny to try and rank a movie like Punch-Drunk Love. Or any Paul Thomas Anderson movie for that matter. He was the guy who got me into the movies in the first place. Magnolia completely re-altered my DNA and introduced me to a wonderful new world that I’ve been obsessed with to this day. And early on, Punch-Drunk Love was one of those movies that felt of another world. So when I go to rank a movie like this, other movies don’t really stand a chance—it’s going near the top.
Today, I’ve slotted Punch-Drunk Love in the #6 position—the highest current ranking a movie that’s not part of my “All-Time Favorites” can achieve. I watched the film yesterday with my wife and was transported back to 2006 when I first watched it, yet I found a new appreciation for the film that could have only come with 34 years of living.
Anderson’s youthful, vigorous approach to filmmaking was something I’ve always recognized and loved, and Sandler’s darkly comic performance is one for the ages. But this time around, I was really invested in this man’s ability to break out of his shell, to find his voice in a world that feels chaotic and doesn’t make sense.
At times Punch-Drunk Love feels like a “movie within a movie” without being overwhelmingly obvious about it. Set in the more remote, less glamorous portions of L.A., there’s a striking difference between Barry Egan’s everyday life and his time in Hawaii with Lena. At home the world is gray and constricting and formidable; boxes fall and vehicles crash and blonde brothers chase him down alleyways; his sisters emasculate him and restaurant managers threaten to crack his head open. But when he travels away with Lena, the air becomes pure and unadulterated. The waves faintly flow in and out, the sun peeks through the palm trees, and silhouettes of people pass by like clouds in the sky as Barry and Lena absorb each other. But when they return home…the world threatens them once again. Which means it’s time for Barry to change the story.
Lena’s patience and interest in Barry is as loving as it is mysterious. She sees the broken man within and wants to help, undoubtedly because she sympathizes with and relates to his struggles. We are all fighting battles internally—some are just handling it worse than others. What she sees in Barry isn’t what the world sees or what his sisters see. Hell, it’s not even what Barry sees. Barry is trying to make sense of his life just like Lena, and they came together at just the right time for reasons that couldn’t possibly be put into words.
This is the part where my past self diverges from my current self. Yes, I could always appreciate the onslaught of colors and gorgeous lighting throughout the film. Of course the score has always mesmerized my senses. And obviously I’m overtaken by Sandler’s handling of such a dramatic role. But this time around the movie really crystallized. I saw myself in Barry Egan, who learned to open up to this woman, who became part of the movie’s score, who decided to become director of his own movie. He has enough pudding to travel anywhere in the world with Lena—but he can be happy here with the rest of us as well. The outside world won’t always make sense. But your inner world can.