5. Ready or Not
It’s funny enough how well these next two go together and are still each among the best movies of any kind this year. Both are comedies but primarily aligned with other genres — Ready or Not is a horror movie and Knives Out is a mystery. Both are mostly set in a huge mansion, the home of a wealthy family whose fortune comes from a thematically relevant product, whether it’s games or mystery novels. And both use the setting and characters for implicit political satire. And each features a rising star in a breakthrough performance ruling over an ensemble casts and holding together their movie’s plot.
For Ready or Not, that star is Samara Weaving. She plays a woman marrying into a clan of spoiled rich assholes with the most fucked up superstitious tradition. As a newcomer to the family, her wedding night begins with her having to choose a random game for all to play. Unfortunately, she picks “hide and seek,” but their version of the childhood favorite involves old weapons employed in a deadly hunt for the one who is “it.” This is the kind of survival thriller in which characters accidentally keep killing the servants in hilarious ways and also in which the badass leading lady keeps altering her outfit as it becomes more torn and blood-soaked (kudos to costume designer Avery Plewes for creating such a killer wedding dress). Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett made one of the most briskly entertaining features of any sort this year. Despite the name of their film collective, Radio Silence, they’ve now made their presence known on a lot of people’s radars.
4. Knives Out
Rian Johnson, on the other hand, is someone we’ve come to expect brilliant work from. He’s a master of moving players around a board and of designing the most intricately layered boards for that to happen on — that is to say, he’s amazing at laying the foundation and then building up and also usually deconstructing some of the most compelling and surprising cinematic fictions we’ve seen this decade, using genre and established franchises as his playground. With Knives Out, he dabbles in the murder mystery game this time around, giving us a comedic take that’s not as goofy as Clue or Murder by Death yet is still full of laughs as intrigue. Among its delectable ensemble, Daniel Craig is a hoot as a southern-fried detective, Chris Evans is charmingly conniving as a different kind of America’s ass, and Ana de Armas floats above as the movie’s centerpiece, a character (and actress) who keeps us guessing.
3. Long Shot
Charlize Theron is garnering plenty of attention for her “Fox News movie,” but before Bombshell there was Long Shot, in which she stars with her natural look, sans prosthetics, and in which there’s actual shade thrown at the network in the form of parody and caricature. She plays the Secretary of State, juggling all the work that entails plus a campaign for the presidency and then also a romance with one of her speechwriters, played by Seth Rogen. For some reason, so much focus on this movie was put towards the unlikely coupling of Theron and Rogen, and that’s just unfair and missing the point entirely. Long Shot is yet another solid directing job from Jonathan Levine with a smart script by The Post‘s Liz Hannah (rewriting an original draft by Dan Sterling) that balances the political satire and romantic comedy stuff perfectly. Plus there’s just enough gross-out and awkward and stoner humor for the usual Rogen crowd.
2. Late Night
The underlying main theme of Long Shot, though, is the double standards that women have in the workplace, whether the job is in politics or anywhere else. Like, say, television? Yes, that is a theme in Late Night, as well. The women who endure the imbalance are a talk show host (Emma Thompson giving her best performance in a long time) and her new writer (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the script), and their relationship follows the general rom-com format only without the romantic stuff. I don’t want to know what people call the female equivalent of a “bromance,” and I don’t want to even diminish this movie’s value by acknowledging the correlation since no “bromance” has been this poignantly written. That it’s directed by a woman, Nisha Ganatra, makes Late Night even more appreciated as a women-driven picture. And a hilarious and honest and heartwarming one at that.
1. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
If comedies are historically about happy endings, then Quentin Tarantino‘s latest is a prime example of the genre since it takes a true story that ended in tragedy and flips it to a fairytale-appropriate uplifting conclusion. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood follows a long and winding story of two men (Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt) dealing with changes in their industry set against the backdrop of what would be the Manson Family Murders. There’s no comedic premise really save for maybe the set up that these guys are fictional characters dropped into real events and here’s how the world is different as a result. But Tarantino’s only movie to legitimately be classified as a comedy finds humor in a wide variety of scenarios along the way, including moments involving alleged uxoricide, a precocious child actress, and an intense visit to a ranch full of cult-following hippies. There’s also pastiche, parody, and some very dark and violent slapstick at the end. But most of the comedy still comes about through Tarantino’s dialogue, as his work always has. Also, the flamethrower is pretty damn funny.