In 2019, Martin Scorsese stated that Marvel superhero movies aren’t cinema, compared them to an amusement parks and lamented the kind of films young audiences have now, in contrast to the kind of films he grew up with. Well, everyone lost their minds over this, particularly those on the internet who were furious that Scorsese would go after the most popular genre of film being made right now.
The filmmakers and actors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe even spoke out, giving unconvincing, weak-wristed defenses of their work. To dig into Mr. Scorsese just a bit- he’s generalizing, as he admitted he hasn’t been able to sit through an entire Marvel movie. However, as much as Scorsese may seem to the younger generation as a grumpy old man, he’s actually hip, radical and well attuned to the zeitgeist (he is, after all the man who made “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Departed”). Scorsese famously has taken on projects that are character-driven (hence, his out-of-nowhere helming of the out-of-character “The Age of Innocence,” which is still thematically consistent with his other work). I suspect that, were Scorsese to try watching the character-oriented and cleverly directed “Black Panther,” “Iron Man” parts 1 and 3 and both “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he’d probably like them. However, outside of the few Marvel movies that bear genuine filmmaker identity and have a semblance of personality, Scorsese has a point.
Of course, it’s the safest argument to make. Scorsese isn’t going after “Parasite” or “Motherless Brooklyn,” after all. He’s criticizing the most popular brand of movie at the moment, brought to you by a company that, this year alone, made a record amount of money recycling, remaking and rehashing prior movies and pre-existing franchises. It’s like saying that cotton candy isn’t good for you. We know.
Yet, when the man who is regularly addressed as our Greatest Living Filmmaker has a point to make, particularly about the state of what we define as “cinema” and whether what we love is actually any good for us (or, you know, just cotton candy), we should consider what he has to say…and that he’s probably right (spoiler: he is).
Despite all the cinematic cotton candy being annually spooled out, some of our greatest filmmakers, old and new (Mr. Scorsese included), gave us a year of cinema worth remembering.
- Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood– Quentin Tarantino’s films are many things-, brazenly ultra-violent, absurdly quotable, fiendishly hilarious, distinctly personal and an amalgam of 20th century pop culture. Most importantly, they’re explorations of our relationship with cinema, how movies shape our personal history and how our memories over time resemble the movies we love. Tarantino’s depiction of a brotherly pact is contrasted with a vision of lost Hollywood and a revenge fantasy against the Manson family. It’s a fearless work and one of the filmmaker’s greatest achievements.
- A Hidden Life– Terrence Malick’s most harrowing work since “The Thin Red Line.”
- The Irishman– Martin Scorsese’s master class on late 20th century gangsterism.
- Midsommar– The Horror genre at its most unsettling, intimate and immersive.
- Ad Astra– Among the year’s most adventurous studio films, pure and complex sci-fi.
- The Lighthouse– A work of art that deserves the giant cult following it will inspire.
- Parasite– Gloriously turns on its characters (and audience), a savage modern-day satire.
- The Farewell– Lulu Wang’s gorgeous family tribute and exploration of cultural identity.
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco- A staggering debut and a haunting work.
- Glass– Absurdly underestimated, a stylish plea for individualism in a sea of conformity.
Runner-Ups: Apollo 11, Us, IT: Chapter Two, The Nightingale and Dolemite is My Name.
- Cats– Not so-bad-its-good, just painful. A bad concept gone awry from the first scene.
- The Dead Don’t Die- Great cast, no laughs, a waste of time for all involved.
- Rocketman– Wildly self-congratulatory and insufferable. Love Elton John, not this movie.
- The Hustle- Distressing to watch Anne Hathaway in such a terrible movie
- Serenity- Distressing to watch Anne Hathaway in such a terrible movie, again.
- What Men Want- Will someone please get Taraji P. Henson a movie that deserves her?
- Dumbo- Hollow, devoid of magic, we didn’t need this story from the human POV.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters- Charmless and brainless, an insult to the legacy.
- Aladdin– The worst of Disney’s crushing year of artistic mediocrity.
- Isn’t It Romantic– A 4-minute “SNL” sketch made into an awful, high concept flop.
Runner-Ups: Good Boys, Happy Death Day 2 U, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, The Public and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
Flawed but Occasionally Brilliant
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Annabelle Comes Home
Dolemite is My Name
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
John Wick: Chapter 3
Alita: Battle angel
Terminator: Dark Fate
The Beach Bum
Rambo: Last Blood
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Toy Story 4
Zombieland 2: Double Tap
Almost, But Not Quite
Them That Follow
I Still Can’t Tell the Difference Between
A Dog’s Journey
A Dog’s Way Home
I Still Can’t Tell the Difference, Part II
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
Playmobil: The Movie
Why Do These Movies Even Exist?
The Haunting of Sharon Tate
The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson
Strong Start, Bad Movie
The Curse of La Llorona
Great Middle, Bad Movie
Best Surprise Performances
Sienna Miller, American Woman
Martin Lawrence, The Beach Bum
Rebecca Ferguson, Doctor Sleep
Wesley Snipes, Dolemite is My Name
IT: Chapter Two
John Wick: Chapter 3
Don’t Stop- Keep Pushing it Back
The New Mutants
Best Movie Poster
Thank You, Netflix!
Dolemite is my Name
The Two Popes
Best Star Wars Movie
Season One of The Mandalorian
Most Disappointing Star Wars Movie
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Best Animal Performance
Church, Pet Sematary
Worst Animal Performance
The Cast of Cats
Really Sorry I Missed
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot