Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

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Movie Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ Plays It Way Too Safe by Both X-Men and General Movie Standards

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 114 Minute

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Suddenly Violently Tossed About by Telekinesis

Release Date: June 7, 2019

I love the X-Men. They’re my favorite superhero team, and still, through it all, my favorite superhero movie franchise. They’ve delivered some dizzying cinematic heights but also some flicks that have driven me batty. So it pains me to say that Dark Phoenix did not make me feel much in the way of any strong emotions.

Some say that the X-Men series is burdened by tangled, contradictory continuity. I say it’s bolstered by it. Whereas other cinematic universes are careful to keep every little thread in line for the health of a sturdy timeline, the Merry Mutants traverse decades willy-nilly, tossing off whatever plotlines just aren’t working and cruising along with whatever’s exciting and vibrant, paradoxes be damned! Dark Phoenix doesn’t reject that approach, but it doesn’t embrace it either. It’s mostly content to tell a straightforward story, while occasionally throwing out some half-baked ideas. It’s a movie unstuck in time, instead of proudly giving the middle finger to any temporal concepts.

Dark Phoenix is clearly a labor of love. It’s the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who’s been with the franchise for over a decade, and it’s based on one of the most beloved comics storylines, in which telepathic telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a super-hot cosmic force to become the most powerful creature on the planet, perhaps the whole universe. It’s a huge climactic big screen culmination that’s been promised to us for quite some time, but after seeing how it’s turned out, I mainly want to say: we would have been okay without this movie. Or maybe now just wasn’t the right time for it. It’s arriving hot on the heels of an X-Men movie whose title literally referred to the end of the world and another that said a fitting goodbye to a pair of iconic X-characters.

But it shouldn’t have been impossible for Dark Phoenix to be another rousing, revolutionary statement so soon after those conclusive paradigm changes. In fact, it would have totally been in keeping with this franchise’s always-moving-forward ethos. But that’s not going to happen when a climactic battle scene takes place in some random New York hotel or when Professor X and Magneto run through the same old rigamarole of bickering and then making a temporary peace. When the stakes are this high, you have to go for broke.

Dark Phoenix is Recommended If You Like: X-Men completism, if you gotta

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Firebirds

This Is a Movie Review: Bucking Concerns That It Would Be Derivative, ‘The Snowman’ Barely Even Qualifies as Storytelling

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CREDIT: Jack English/Universal Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rachel Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Snowman-Human Hybrid Tableaux

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The best part of The Snowman happens a few minutes when someone refers to Michael Fassbender’s lead character, “Detective Harry Hole,” by his full name. Shockingly, that is the only time we hear anybody say “Harry Hole” in its entirety. True, my enjoyment of that moment might be the most prurient form of punnery, and I probably won’t be able to convince who looks down upon crudeness and wordplay of its hilarity. But at least that name has personality, something which the rest of the film lacks entirely.

The Snowman’s poster reads, “MISTER POLICE. YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HER I GAVE YOU ALL THE CLUES.” The film itself acts upon the same instinct, essentially giving away the identity of the killer in the first scene. So clearly, the mystery is not the point of this ostensible mystery film. What then is it all about? Perhaps a deep (or at least shallow) dive into a murderer’s psychology? I imagine a fascinating dissertation could be written about a killer who carefully slices up his victims, builds a snowman after each kill, occasionally affixes parts of the victims into the snowmen, and always calls in a missing person report to alert the same detective to arrive on the scene just a little too late. But as for how it plays as narrative, well, the harsh Scandinavian winter must have made everyone too sleepy to craft any plot turns anywhere near compelling.

The Snowman is based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s novel of the same name, one of the many bestselling Scandinavian crime thrillers riding the coattails of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One might imagine that a potential problem here would be falling into a trap of derivativeness, but The Snowman isn’t really a knockoff of anything, whether literary, cinematic, or otherwise. Instead, it is just a hodgepodge of elements that I cannot understand would be a part of any movie whatsoever. The cinematography is plain ugly, almost like specks of snow are constantly stuck to the camera lens. Then there is a whole subplot about Oslo’s bid to host the “Winter Sports World Cup,” which apparently exists because any press about the Snowman Killer cannot be allowed to distract from that bid. Maybe there is supposed to be a point here about government corruption, but it just comes off as narrative padding.

The Snowman’s greatest sin is stranding some very talented actors with absolutely nothing to do. It also calls into question the bona fides of its director, Tomas Alfredson, who had previously pulled off two solid adaptations (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Maybe this is just a hiccup, though if so, it is a big one. On the other hand, I have not read the novel, so maybe the problem is with source material that managed to be inexplicably successful. But at least we have Val Kilmer as a suicidal investigator, who is strangely compelling, with a freakish appearance that can only be described as “Haggard Vampire.” After watching The Snowman, you’ll certainly be able to relate to his fatalistic outlook.

The Snowman is Recommended If You Like: Despairing About the Pointlessness of Life

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Daddy Issues

 

This Is a Movie Review: Sequel-Prequel ‘Alien: Covenant’ Follows the ‘Prometheus’ Template and Adds a Few Bizarre Details of Its Own

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for the Usual Chest-Bursting Shenanigans

Release Date: May 19, 2017

When horror movies are successful enough to merit sequels, the follow-ups can either repeat the same scares or expand the mythology. They usually do both, with the latter generally growing in prominence as the series drags on, with the diminishing returns on the former become clearer and clearer. (They can also try to summon entirely new scares, but that is one of the most difficult tasks in all of moviemaking.) Ridley Scott’s Alien is pure horror, despite its sci-fi setting. When other directors took over for the first batch of sequels, their genres may have tended more towards action, but the mythology certainly blew out as well, what with cloning Ripley and hurtling hundreds of year into the future.

Now that Scott has taken back the reins, he has apparently decided that if crazy ideas are going to be the name of the day, he might as well underpin the franchise with his own peculiar philosophizing. Because otherwise, this would just be a rehash of intrepid spacefarers treading too far on the edge and getting ripped apart by lethally invasive extraterrestrials. That approach is not necessarily terrible, and Alien: Covenant does not avoid it entirely. Chest-bursting can no longer be as iconic as it was the first time, but it still packs a sickening kick, and there are other body parts to slice off and wear away with acid blood. And there are also some larger-scale action sequences, demonstrating Scott’s still vibrant eye for scale and knack for properly calibrating tension.

But Covenant truly excels when it gets weird. It bridges the gap, both temporally and thematically, between the original Alien and 2012 prequel Prometheus. The latter film started to answer the question of what made the original attack on the Nostromo possible, a question that nobody really ever asked. Covenant continues to answer the question, and while it is still unnecessary, the backstory on display is fascinating enough to justify itself.

The actors playing the human crew of the Covenant fulfill their duties, but it is android Michael Fassbender who is pulling the strings. Prometheus and Covenant are explicitly about creation myths and the limits of human ambition, and these fundamental themes of existence are represented and mercilessly toyed with by humanoid beings created by humans. Certain revelations come out squarely tsk-tsking against hubris, while other moments are more impenetrable with their messages. But that is no criticism. Traversing across the universe should be stunning, humbling, and mysterious, perhaps even to the point of incomprehensibility. What is the purpose, for example, of Fassbender teaching himself to play the flute? I cannot genuinely say that I know, except that it makes Alien: Covenant unforgettable.

Alien: Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Prometheus But Wish It Had Been Better, Even If You Thought It Was Good

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fingers

This Is a Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed

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assassins-creed-movie

In Assassin’s Creed the Movie, Marion Cotillard sends Michael Fassbender into the past by having him inhabit an ancestor of his. In premise and execution, it’s a lot like Wolverine being transported to his younger self in X-Men: Days of Future Past. So watching this movie gives me a sense of “Been there, done that” but also “This can be done well.” Also encouraging: the intricacies implied by the secret societies and the prison-like facility that is supposedly not really a prison. There are some sci-fi mystery concepts worth exploring here.

Unfortunately about halfway through, Assassin’s Creed confirms that it will not buck the trend of unimpressive video game adaptations. Plot developments, pieces of mythology, and new characters are introduced with little, if any, explanation. I suppose if you play the games you might have some semblance of understanding, but I have my doubts that such comprehension would actually improve anything.

I give Assassin’s Creed 200 “Why Are They in This’s?” out of 500 Shadowy Figures.