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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Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Scarlett Johansson/Niall Horan

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Let’s take a moment to recognize how much Christmas cheer Saturday Night Live manages to regularly contain. On most seasons, there are three new episodes in December, and all three of those year-ender outings typically have a significant percentage of holiday-themed sketches. In the middle of that snowy sandwich in 2019 we’ve got Scarlett Johansson hosting for the sixth time, and Niall Horan is providing the tunes for the first time without his former bandmate bros.

Let me set the scene of my viewing for you: I made myself a couple of pancakes for breakfast that went down easy, the day after I ran a 5K race. Yum!

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‘Jojo Rabbit’ Never Met Any Tonal Disparity It Wouldn’t Embrace

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CREDIT: Fox Searchlight

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant

Director: Taika Waititi

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Children Getting in the Line of Fire and Witnessing Victims of Public Hanging

Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Limited)

If a ten-year-old boy declared that his best friend is Adolf Hitler, would his story be embraced by the masses? Apparently so, apparently especially if he hangs out with an imaginary version of the Fuhrer played by Taika Waititi, seeing as Jojo Rabbit won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. When I first heard the premise of Jojo, I thought, “Wow, really? Okay.” Now, that initial bit of shock is by no means a dismissal. I encourage all filmmakers (and indeed, all people in any profession) to embrace a challenge, and this is certainly A CHALLENGE. The potential pitfalls go beyond the difficulty of trying to make a mockery out of the Nazis. That really isn’t a problem, as there have been numerous memorable spoofs of Hitler over the decades, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks, and comedy can be one of our most potent weapons against hate. Ultimately, the possibility for trouble comes in the form of the whimsical tone, which does not promise to mix so easily with the deadliness of the wartime setting.

My verdict is that Jojo Rabbit does not fully overcome its inherent tonal disparity, though I appreciate its audacity. There is something to be said for the value of presenting a violent world through a child’s perspective. However, it’s a little harder to justify constantly placing preteen characters in the path of gunfire and explosions (while insisting on drawing out consistent guffaws), which Jojo Rabbit does a distressing number of times. And on top of that, the adult actors are so uniformly goofy. Their performances indicate that this is a straight-up parody, while the effects work counter that no, this is actually supposed to be harrowing and realistic.

I’m almost willing to forgive, or at least overlook, that tonal whiplash, because the inner conflicts at the heart of this film are actually rather affecting despite the tightrope they must walk. Young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) fully embraces Nazism, though he does not really grasp what that means. He buys into the nastiest stereotypes of Jews, believing that they are horned, scaly creatures who hang upside-down like bats. But it turns out that while his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has enthusiastically been sending him to a Hitler Youth camp, that’s all a ruse, as she’s secretly been working against the Nazis, even hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in her house. Jojo discovers her and naturally develops a crush, as he gradually realizes that his anti-Semitism is not sincere but rather based on some fanciful lies that were attractive to a kid with an active imagination. If Jojo Rabbit is trying to teach us that hate can be cured if the disease is detected early enough, and especially if the antidote is love, well, that’s true, but no great revelation. But if it’s trying to remind us that a childlike perspective of the world is chaotic, but also somehow fun, and weirdly revelatory, well, that’s a useful reminder. Although, maybe sometimes movies should be less messy than real life.

Jojo Rabbit is Recommended If You Like: Life is Beautiful, Monty Python crossed with Schindler’s List

Grade: 3 out of 5 Grenade Explosions

Avengers: Endgame First Thoughts

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Studios

Maybe some movies should be reviewed in parts over the course of months, or maybe even years. That’s how I’m feeling about Avengers: Endgame. So I’m going to go ahead and talk about what’s striking my fancy about it now and maybe talk about it some more later.

The closest comparison I can think of for the premise of Endgame is The Leftovers. The opening scenes for the two are eerily similar in terms of both tone and function. But of course they then head in very different directions. I didn’t stick with The Leftovers because I just wasn’t hooked by how its particular characters responded in their particular ways to the disappearances. But with Endgame, I already know the context, so I’m already in, baby. And no doubt about it, I am happy that the ultimate focus is on Tony Stark’s beating heart, and everyone keeping things right with their families. That emotional resonance is enough to buoy the whole affair along for three hours. And it’s also enough to prevent me from getting too angry about the characters who don’t have much meaningful to do or the moments that make me go, “But why?”

Also important: how about those end credits? It’s not very often 50-plus above-the-line cast members have to be assembled in some sort of appropriate order, so we must cherish it whenever it happens. And I’ve got to say, it appears that for the most part, there was no rhyme or reason to the assembly. But we shall, and must, investigate whether or not that is true for as long as we can. The cursive credits for the core Avengers are great, though.

I give Avengers: Endgame A Handful of Snaps to the Beat.

This Is a Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

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CREDIT: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Dog-on-Dog Violence and Dictatorial Tendencies

Release Date: March 23, 2018 (Limited)

“Whatever happened to man’s best friend?” Nothing, right? We human beings still love dogs, and that cannot possibly ever change! But what if something so terrible happened that it could make us turn on them? One of the functions of fiction is training ourselves to handle horrible hypotheticals. Thus, with the stop-motion animated Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson has delivered an invaluable how-to guide for if the world should ever turn so severely on our furry companions.

Twenty years in the future, Japan has banished its entire canine population to the bluntly literally named Trash Island, due to a widespread outbreak of snout fever and dog flu. The two conditions appear to be connected as how HIV can lead to AIDS. In this dystopia, the fear from those in charge that the disease could spread to humans is enough to override any bounty of puppy love, despite promising progress for a cure. So intrepid folks must step up on their own to save the dogs, like the young boy Atari (Koyu Rankin), an orphaned ward of the state adopted by his distant uncle, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). Atari ventures to Trash Island to save his canine protector Spots (Liev Schreiber), who also happens to be the outbreak’s Dog Zero. Joining up with him in his quest are a group of other cast-off dogs with variations on the same sort of name – Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – as well as Chief (Bryan Cranston), the fiercely independent stray who has always lived on his own.

An island entirely populated by dogs might sound like the pinnacle of Wes Anderson giving into his most indulgent instincts, but the darkness of the premise is enough to assuage any of those concerns. Plus, the animation does not hold back from the more aesthetically displeasing elements. These pups are mangy, with fur falling off and distorted pupils. They are also fairly irritable; one early standoff results in an ear getting bit off. Isle of Dogs works as an adventure film as well as it does because it does not back away from the danger, while still bringing plenty of fun to that peril. Fight scenes are portrayed in cartoon chaos clouds, while an accidental trip through a trash incinerator is met with droll acceptance. The set pieces are whimsical, but the stakes are life-or-death.

Isle of Dogs could easily be appreciated just for its surface level sensations, but like so many talking animal flicks, there is an allegory lurking not too far below. And considering current worldwide political trends, Wes Anderson’s anti-fascist storytelling is profoundly welcome. Quarantining a contagious population is an understandable disease control tactic, but what happens to these dogs is more banishment than quarantine. And when a solution appears to be possible, Mayor Kobayashi hides that development for the sake of retaining power, trotting out clearly fraudulent election results in the process. BoJack Horseman-style anthropomorphic dogspeak (“my brother from another litter”) helps it go down easy, but these are heavy ideas that deserve and are granted careful consideration.

A few more items worth noting: even though the setting is Japan, the dogs just about exclusively speak English, even when communicating with humans speaking Japanese. In fact, there is a good deal of American and Japanese cultural mixing. All the political machinations are translated by an interpreter (Frances McDormand), apparently for American and other English-speaking audiences, and an American exchange student (Greta Gerwig) leads a revolt against Kobayashi. The bilingual setup feels woven together mostly seamlessly, though I do wonder if Asian audiences might have a different take on the matter than I do. And I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention Alexandre Desplat’s excellent score, pounded along by unrelenting taiko drums, keeping the tension both constantly uneasy and delicious.

Isle of Dogs is Recommended If You Like: Wes Anderson Symmetry, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Animal Farm, Zootopia, The Goonies, BoJack Horseman

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Puppy Snaps

 

SNL Review March 11, 2017: Scarlett Johansson/Lorde

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2017.

Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Ace and Jake – The “Day Without a Woman” protest happened earlier this week, and – just as the people demanded – Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett have written a female-centric sketch in response! The joke here is obvious – the guys fight institutional sexism by passionately listing every example of it but neglect to actually give the women a chance to speak. These two are miracle workers, somehow making thoughtlessness totally adorable.

That canine actor in the Dog Translation sketch is not having that helmet on his head; the fact that he is also a Trump supporter is also kind of funny…The Olive Garden Commercial shoot has it all: fake orgasms, casual racism, and Kenan Thompson sticking his face flat in a bowl of pasta!

Keep It

Alien Invasion – I have mentioned a few times this season that SNL’s political sketches need to get weird if they want to distinguish themselves from the jokes that all the other late night shows and all the social media have already made. This is not just a matter of remaining unique, but also of avoiding boredom and/or depression. With each new unprecedented action the current administration takes, the comedy world could despair. Or instead, it could take a few minutes to wonder if we are adequately prepared for an extraterrestrial invasion.

For me, the most amusing thing about Logo’s new lesbian reality show Cherry Grove is that one of the types is “the dairy-intolerant one”…Complicit is not as astounding as some previous SNL fragrance commercials, but it does make a killer observation…Michael and Colin get their regular political digs in, and then they just get silly…Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon really have something here with their Al Franken and Jeff Sessions impressions, particularly Al’s matter-of-fact frustration over Jeff referring to lunch at a deli as “Jew stuff”…Pete Davidson stops by the desk for some “First Impressions,” and as befits this version of Weekend Update, the best part is his apparently improvised banter with Michael Che…There is really not much clever at all about Shanice Goodwin, Ninja, but Leslie Jones is clearly enjoying it, and the gunshot is worth a laugh…I could definitely dance the night away to those deep club tracks at the Funeral.

Leave It

Good Day Denver – I am all for some good, animal pornography-based humor, but I do take exception when comedy lacks internal consistency. Unless of course, that lack of consistency is the whole point – but that does not appear to be the case here. Mikey Day’s zoo photographer is misidentified as something more lascivious by a news anchor, who promptly admits her mistake. Then the caption team exacerbates the goof, so the news crew fights to fix it again, and yet it is the guy with the camera who ultimately loses his job. Come on, fam, let’s be fair. Or make the unfairness the point of the sketch so that we know how to track the humor.

Come on, Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue, just pick a concept and go with it! (Kenan taking over the spotlight could work well enough)…Regarding True Tales From the Sea, hurray to Kate McKinnon for reveling in her role of a blobfish mermaid (anglerfish ScarJo is having fun, too), but this outing lacks the unpredictability of the first edition. I do appreciate the Simpsons theme song gag, though.

Scarlett Johansson

On a scale of “Scarlett Johansson? Meh” to “Scarlett Johansson? I guess I like her,” this is now the second instance that 5-timer ScarJo has not played Lexi of Mike’s Marbleopolis and Busteria fame, as Fred Armisen is no longer in the cast. But Kenan Thompson still is! It is such a different era than it was 10 years ago, and yet in many ways it is still the same. One important difference: ScarJo is such an old pro, as she demonstrates when she re-straps the helmet back onto the doggie.

Lorde

On a scale of Haim to D’Angelo, Lorde is definitely one of those musical guests that I am super excited about because I already know how much I love the songs she is going to play. I have listened to “Green Light” about five times per day the past week. Ultimately, she falls a little on the side of “unable to live up to impossible expectations.” I think some more unbound dancing should have been in order. However, I am still getting to know here second song, “Liability,” so that rendition is satisfactorily intriguing.

My letter grades for each sketch and segment are below:

Alien Attack – B

Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue – C

Good Day Denver – C

Cherry Grove – C+

Dog Translator – B+

Olive Garden Commercial – B

Complicit – B

Lorde performs “Green Light” – B+

Weekend Update
Michael and Colin – B-
Al Franken and Jeff Sessions – B
Pete Davidson – B-

True Tales From the Sea – C

Shanice Goodwin, Ninja – C+

Lorde performs “Liability” – B+

A Sketch for the Women (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Funeral – B

SNL Recap May 2, 2015: Scarlett Johansson/Wiz Khalifa

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My full review of this episode can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/Jeffrey_Malone/2015/05/04/saturday-night-live-season-40-episode-

Mayweather/Pacquiao Fight – B

Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue – C

Right Side of the Bed – B-

Orioles Game – B-

Black Widow: Age of Me – B+

Girlfriends Talk Show – C+

Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth – “See You Again” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – B+
Samwell Tarly and Gilly – C-
Charles Barkley and Shaq – C+

Dinosaur Museum (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Blazer – A-

Bionic Flight Attendants – C+

Wiz Khalifa – “We Dem Boyz” – B

Elite Advertising Agency – B