Film & TV

2019 Mid-Year Movie Reckoning

Keanu Reeves in John Wick 3: Parabellum (Niko Tavernise/Lionsgate)
Where movie culture stands in the summer of debate, disinformation, and sequelitis

Box-office figures don’t enlighten. Thanks to inflation, they’re no longer an index of popularity. Aggregate website figures are only a consensus of the cultural fringe meeting the media elite. And that’s the reality we face at Mid-Year Reckoning. The situation is made even more dire by the cablecast of CNN’s disinformation series The Movies. This is what happens when a lesser form cannibalizes a higher form — the non-symbiotic relationship of film and television is disguised as a celebration.

But there are a few movies worth the attention of readers who reject mainstream media hype. Here’s the year’s best so far, alphabetically.

The Best of Enemies is a civil-rights drama that would have been extolled for Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell’s outsized characterizations demonstrating U.S. divergence and convergence (not “diversity”) if critics had not given up on the promise of national unity.

Domino, Brian De Palma’s B-movie dreamscape about global distress, is uncomplicatedly political and the best kind of comeback: driven by compassion.

Dragged across Concrete is S. Craig Zahler’s ultra-genre flick — a carthartic, emotional epic in which Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, and Toby Kittles movingly personify modern American anxieties.

Fast Color is sci-fi about female independence. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and director Julia Hart evoke personal and political principles (as articulated by pop icons X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene and Lauryn Hill) that #MeToo have forgotten.

Greta is a chick-flick nightmare about the spectre haunting Millennials; Neil Jordan’s modern folktale could also be called “Socialism and the Snowflake.”

The Image Book is an essay on the spiritual and political loss of film culture’s decline, by Jean-Luc Godard, the last genius standing. It’s “The Movies” for movie lovers who think.

John Wick 3: Parabellum simultaneously spoofs sequelitis, video-game anarchy, and politicians’ “gun-violence” hypocrisy.

Legend of the Demon Cat’s period epic connects Asian tradition to morality through Chen Kaige’s dazzling history lesson.

Mapplethorpe is a surprisingly intense bio-pic about the now-forgotten sex and self-destruction behind now-rewritten ’80s cultural wars.

The New King of Comedy laughs past film-industry cynicism thanks to Stephen Chow’s rich, humane view of China’s cinematic aspiration.

Pasolini combines a filmmaker’s political beliefs with personal risks — a rare tribute made worthy by Abel Ferrara’s sympathetic artistry.

Peterloo is Mike Leigh’s near-great mess, a historical film that satirizes British political rhetoric but then falls for it.

Ruben Brandt, Collector is an animated lark challenging Pixar and Toy Story 4 with a caper plot devoted to art, psychoanalysis, and movie history.

Sauvage/Wild challenges Pete Buttigieg’s buttoned-down makeover through Félix Maritaud’s unforgettable lead performance as a libertarian libertine.

Shadow is a martial film of Shakespearean depth; Zhang Yimou’s mix of action, passion, and historical ethics wins the cinematic trade war.

Sorry, Angel’s intergenerational love story mixes desire, regret, and history such as the French value but that Hollywood has forsaken. It features the single most breathtaking moment of the movie decade. 

The White Crow is not just a Rudolf Nureyev bio-pic but a study of the privilege and individuality now lost to the confusion of immigration politics.

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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