I have loved Marcel since my husband showed me the first stop-motion short on YouTube a decade ago. It sparked a love for Jenny Slate that makes me excited to watch anything she’s in. When this movie was first announced, I was squealing in excitement throughout my house, so I was pretty hyped up. Despite going in with extremely high expectations, I absolutely loved it.
Marcel is as charming as ever, rolling around in his tennis ball “rover” and showing off his “breadroom”. Isabella Rossellini is amazing as Grandma Connie, dispensing tough love and working in her little garden with her little bug friends. All the wonderful tiny details are just beautiful. And that’s part of what this movie is about: appreciating the small day-to-day details and the processes we use to get through life, not taking anything for granted, and keeping your head up through the tough times. It’s also a look at what family and community truly mean.
I’ve mentioned it on the podcast, but my grandma died this past year. We were far apart at the end of her life, but I was very close and lived with her off and on as a child. Watching Marcel’s relationship with Connie was really nice and beautiful. I cried so hard, but there’s so much hope and warmth to this movie that it doesn’t leave you sad. You keep your head up and appreciate what you’ve got, because the world can be a nice place.
There was no world in which I wouldn’t love this documentary.
#1. I am absolutely fascinated with volcanoes! (Brandon and I actually met in a geology class that spent a good amount of time on volcanoes! He borrowed my notes! Look at us now!)
#2. I love love, and this movie is absolutely a love story.
With captivating narration by Miranda July, this documentary tells the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft: two vulcanologists who fell in love, got married, and lived & died by the volcanoes they also loved. They filmed countless hours of footage of volcanoes and themselves studying them and not just in straightforward ways. The videos they made were purposeful, cinematic art. Their obsession with these destructive and creative forces is contagious, even as you learn that they lost their lives to it in to the eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991. They took risks, lived passionately, and loved each other, flaws and all.
Once again, I cried even knowing the ending was coming.
The absurdism, the creativity, and the all-out maximalism of this movie blows my mind. Who hasn’t pondered in recent years the multiverse and whether we’re living in “the worst timeline?” (To me, the answer is no, but we’re not living in the best one either.) Where are the best or weirdest versions of ourselves? Maybe these questions aren’t directly answered in this film, but they’re seriously considered.
Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are both incredible. I also love Jamie Lee Curtis looking like a regular person! The choreography of the fight scenes is fantastic. Hot dog fingers! Googly eyes! EVERYTHING bagel! This movie has it all and a heart of gold.
A psychedelic, non-linear, romantic Afrofuturism musical that questions gender, colonialism, capitalism, technology, and the intersections thereof. This movie is a beautiful experience, and there’s nothing like it. Go in with an open mind and enjoy the ride.
I’m the #basiccinemabitch of Swampflix in that I pretty much love everything del Toro has ever done. I’m not fanatical enough to seek out something just because his name is on it, but everything I see with his name on it is something I at least appreciate. Despite that, I still went into this movie skeptical. There are Disney remakes and “live action” adaptations of Pinocchio coming out practically every hour, so did we really need another one? Well, when the moral of the story is to be yourself even if that means being an annoying agent of chaos, then yes, we did need another.
Yes, this is del Toro, so of course there’s fascism afoot. No, not all of the songs are good. Yes, it has the familiar del Toro motives and goth sensibilities. No, you will not appreciate it if you never liked his shtick or are over it.
The stop-motion animation is absolutely gorgeous. Every character design is just so good. The story, despite being familiar, is also wonderful. I love that this movie manages to capture how hyper and wild kids can be, and that it celebrates those qualities. Plus, there’s biblically accurate angels, mockery of the crucifix, and a song about poop sung directly to Mussolini. Who cares about being a real boy? Become ungovernable.
Hello, all; it’s that time of year again! As always, I must begin with my apologia and my explanations. First, as I’ve said before, I personally feel like any movie released during the last two weeks of December should technically be counted for the year following. I’m not a person who can be counted on to go and see something with a December 29th release date in time to compose my end of the year list (which I’m doing right now on only the second day of 2023); it’s an arbitrary rule, but it is mine. Some of you out there might think that I’m already laying the groundwork to includeHot Twink Spider-Man: Too Many Spider-Twinks on this list because of its December 27th, 2021 release date, but that leads me to my second introductory note for the year. Although this may surprise many long-term readers, there are no comic book movies on this list. To tell you the truth, the MCU ended for me a couple of years ago withEndgame. That movie served to conclude all of the things that I had come to care about within that franchise and put a nice little cap on it. I’ll still stick around for Spider-Men and occasionally check out one of the shows if it piques my interest (in this house we watch anything with Tatiana Maslany in it), but I can hardly work myself up to care about the big flicks anymore. I didn’t even see the new Thor, and the only MCU movie I did see was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which was 95% because of Sam Raimi directing and 5% Patrick Stewart cameo, which leaves 0% in the tank for the ongoing Marvel long term plan. I did also see The Batman, which would have been a great crime thriller were it not for the fact that it’s a Batman movie, and also Morbius because I hate myself. Finally, although a year is a long time, it’s still not enough to see everything. Brandon’s list just went up and there were nearly a dozen movies on it that I had never even heard of, but the assignment is due and it’s time to turn in what I’ve got even if I didn’t finish all of the homework. For what it’s worth, based on synopsis and marketing material alone, I think the films most likely to appear on this list if only there were world enough and time were After Yang and Triangle of Sadness.
The House– The first two of the three segments that comprise this anthology are phenomenal, and either one of them could have ended up in the top three of this list if they were features. The third short, however, simply disrupted my viewing experience in a way that I’ve still not managed to get over. You see, the third short is too happy, or at the very least, too optimistic. The most important thing that a film can do is create an emotional rapport with you, and The House does this with the opening segment about a man whose obsession with a fine house draws him into a Faustian bargain that becomes a nightmare for his child, and that spirit of dread and discomfort plays out through the second segment, which is about a contractor who is unable to flip the house into which he has invested everything, and his inability to drive out parasites and pests. The third segment simply changes the feel of the movie in a way that moves it out of the top tier of consideration for me, as much as I like two initial vignettes.
Licorice Pizza– I loved this one, and it’s funny to me that I can’t technically put it on this list, since I saw it in theaters as late as March (a full two months after seeing 5cream at the drive-in). But it technically had its wide release in November of 2021, so I can’t even grandfather it in with my arbitrary two-week rule noted above. Everything about this movie felt like magic to me, like a story of a 1970s Pippi Longstocking who seems to be able to do just about anything he wants through the power of sheer gumption and never questioning himself, and the way that maturity looks differently on different people.
Hatching – Leaving this one here because although I really did love it, I fought with myself about whether number 12 below should count as a movie or only be considered for Honorable Mention status, and the truth is that the experience that made it onto the list below just deserves it more. But if it weren’t for that, Hatching would have made it to the number 15 spot.
Without further ado:
15. Bros – I can’t say much more about it than I already did; read my review here.
14. Do Revenge – Hitchcock by way of Heathers, a twisty bubblegum potboiler that’s more fun than it has any right to be. Read my review here.
13. Don’t Worry Darling – I’ve already done my apologia for why this one was better than anyone gave it credit for and was more than the sum of its inspirations, and I stand by them. Check it out here.
12. Everything is Terrible: Kidz Klub – Everything is Terrible is one of the few social media outlets that is run by people you can truly respect. They create new films out of hundreds of old VHS tapes, and you can hear more about one of their earlier ventures on the Lagniappe episode found here, in which we discussed their film The Great Satan. Kidz Klub likewise cribs largely from propaganda distributed in churches as well as secular material, with this film being about a child asking “Goddad” about life, the universe, and everything. I know EIT content is normally more digestible for the public in web-hosted chunks, but this one is well worth tracking down if you don’t get headaches from their material.
11. Neptune Frost – An Afrofuturist fable about colonialism, strip-mining, and the concept of a unified people in the form of a musical, this movie is gorgeous, even if it will probably take more than one viewing to begin parsing together a thorough understanding of what its plot is. The message is clearer than the narrative, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Listen to us discuss it on the Lagniappe episode here.
10. 5creamaka Scream aka Scream 5 – The latest feature in my personal favorite horror series, this one suffers from too little Sidney Prescott, but it’s still worth watching. Read my review here.
9. Barbarian – Identified by Alli as the Castle Freak of AirBnBs, Barbarian is about men and their barbarity, and all of the ways both subtle and obvious they walk through the world. A harrowing movie about the anxieties of existing as a person who is historically disenfranchised within a world controlled by others which also contains a scene in which Justin Long struggles hilariously with a tape measure. Read my review here.
8. Prey – The colonial era Predator prequel that everyone’s dad probably thought was really cool until they went to their favorite YouTube channel that’s focused around The Discourse and learned that they were supposed to hate it because the main character is a Mary Sue and this new film is woke SJW bullshit. You know, unlike the first film in this series, which they somehow believe was an apolitical move about Vietnam. Listen to us discuss this one on the Lagniappe episode here.
7. Glass Onion – A worthy sequel to Knives Out. It’s absurd to call a film so tightly constructed “sloppy,” but there is something that’s a little less sharp and fine-tuned about this one than its predecessor, but some of the new zaniness therein helps balance this one out. Read my review here.
6. Fire Island – It is a truth universally acknowledged that most romcoms derive the core basics of their plots from Jane Austen novels, even though they rarely wear their inspiration on their sleeve so openly and honestly as Fire Island does. Joel Kim Booster is our Elizabeth Bennett, who initially has friction with the seemingly humorous but ultimately passionate Will, who stands in for Mr. Darcy. It could just be recency bias that’s making me rank this one so high, but I watched the whole thing with rapt attention and a big smile on my face, and sometimes, that’s really all you need. Read my review here.
5. Men – Possibly a spicy take here, but I loved Men when I saw it and even though I know that there was discourse, it passed me by completely and I still love this as much as I did when I first saw it. You can read Brandon’s review here.
4. Three Thousand Years of Longing – An absolute delight of a movie. A stodgy academic meets a handsome djinn and, determined to use her wish wisely, listens to the stories of the djinn’s life and the loves he has has lost along the way. A love story that crosses time and distance in a truly magnificent and magical way. You can read Brandon’s review here.
3. Nope – Another absolute home run for modern horror maestro Jordan Peele. After examining the horror of suburbia and neoliberalism in Get Out and the horror of the self and manifest destiny in Us, Nope is about a brother and sister whose experiences with extra terrestrial life require them to stop trying to outsmart the entity which has taken up residence near their ranch, but to realize that it’s impossible to reason with an intelligence so alien. Read my review here.
2. Everything Everywhere All At Once – This has easily been the most talked-about movie of the year, so what more do you need to hear from me about it? I love Michelle Yeoh, and although she’s no stranger to the complex role, it was nice to get to see her play a character who considered themselves to be a good person but whose actions are often selfish at best. So often, a film that is about intergenerational trauma and poor parental relationships comes across as schmaltzy and reductive, but this one is complex in ways that you can’t predict or imagine. You’ll find yourself empathizing with a rock more than you ever have before. You can read Brandon’s review here.
1. Marcel the Shellwith Shoes On– I fell in love with Marcel the moment I saw a trailer for this movie. I love anything that gets down to the eye level of a little being and sees the world from their perspective. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the Borrowers books, the half-remembered TV show The Littles, and even Ant-Man: it’s an immediate win for me. Marcel has more than that alone going for it, though, with an earnest depiction of a relationship between a child and his grandmother that found me where I live and pressed on my emotion button. I laughed and then I cried and then I laughed some more. Long live Marcel the Shell with Shoes on.
Earlier this year, there were a couple low-budget, high-ambition throwbacks to the handcrafted twee fantasies Michel Gondry was making when I was in high school & college in the aughts. There’s a proto-Etsy craftiness to the visual effects & heart-on-sleeve sentimentality of both Strawberry Mansion & Everything EverywhereAll at Once that sent me time-traveling back to the twee era. In their wake, I even revisited Gondry’s divisive dreamscape drama The Science of Sleep to confront what an emotionally inept dipshit I was at the time. It was an era when film festival titans like Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson ruled the land . . . at least in my mildewed apartment where Belle & Sebastian blared while half-formed semi-adults got stoned and doodled in coloring books. I didn’t even know the term “twee” was a pejorative. That label was slapped on so much art I loved in my formative years that it registered as the name of a movement rather than a critical insult. So, I’ve been heartened to see Gondry’s influence creep up in recent films like Sorry to Bother You, Girl Asleep, and Dave Made a Maze. I’m even more heartened to see a new generation of college-age weirdos embrace the small crafts & big emotions of Everything Everywhere the same way I did when twee was the go-to alt aesthetic. I imagine Strawberry Mansion would also be a hit with that crowd, if it had a big enough marketing push for them to know it exists. I’m getting to the age now when my generation is old enough to make mass-distributed art, and there’s apparently still a lot of affection for twee whimsy out there, despite early critical rejection of the (loosely defined) genre’s cutesy sentimentality. I’m also encouraged to see directors like the Daniels, Kentucker Audley, and Albert Birney pushing twee aesthetics to new, modern extremes. Both Strawberry Mansion & Everything Everywhere recall vintage twee cinema, but neither could not be mistaken for being made in the aughts.
One of the signs that twee aesthetics are back in vogue is the wealth of recent stop-motion animation. The dreamworld stop-motion effects of Strawberry Mansion account for a lot of that film’s Gondry-throwback appeal; the film-nerd celebration of Phil Tippett’s Mad God hints at a culture-wide appreciation for handcrafted art; and the heavily textured surfaces of the horror anthology The House feel like they were lifted directly from a Wes Anderson moodboard. None of these recent stop-motion novelties could claim to be quite as twee as the Marcel the Shellwith Shoes On movie, though, which is so aggressively cutesy it’s outright daring cynics to call it cloying & twee. The titular Marcel is a thimble-sized seashell with a googly eye (speaking of Everything Everywhere) and a titular pair of sneakers. Voiced by Jenny Slate in the creakiest, Joanna Newsomiest voice she can manage, Marcel’s entire existence is a celebration of how cute things are in miniature. I remember the original series of Marcel the Shell shorts functioning as a rapidfire joke delivery system where every punchline is “So small!”, as Marcel shows off what he uses as a hat (a lentil), a hang glider (a Dorito), and skis (toenails from a man), etc. That relentless setup/punchline rhythm carries over to the movie brilliantly, but Slate & director Dean Fleisher-Camp triple down on the twee whimsy of the shorts by expanding them into a feature film about loneliness, community, and loss. Whenever cynics decry twee art for being overly cutesy on its fussy, manicured surface, I always feel like they’re deliberately overlooking how much deeply felt hurt & sadness is lurking just beyond that aesthetic armor. With the Marcel the Shell movie, Slate & Fleisher-Camp are a real-life divorced couple collaborating on a heartfelt story about loss of community and the difficulties of friendship by revisiting a long-dead project they created when there were still together. There’s some sincere love & heartbreak to be found in this stop-motion fantasy adventure, as long as you can get over your initial, cynical reaction to its overdose of tiny-things cuteness.
There’s a similar morbid-cute balance at play in the recent nature documentary Fire of Love, with even higher stakes in its real-life story of a doomed romance. Fire of Love is essentially a twee revision of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, a connection made even more explicit by Herzog’s competing documentary on the same subject – The Fire Within. Katia & Maurice Krafft were world-famous volcanologists, a married couple who studied volcanic eruptions up-close for decades until they were killed by one in the early 1990s. In a way, the twee-ification of their volcanic nature footage is unavoidable. Fire of Love is the story of two talented filmmakers just as much as it’s the story of two doomed scientists; the Kraffts were seemingly just as inspired by the French New Wave as they were by the immense power of Nature. They dress like Steve Zissou’s crew members in The Life Aquatic, and they shoot quirky, fussed-over self-portraits in front of volcanic eruptions as if they were Wes Anderson’s college film professors. Even so, the choice to hire Miranda July as the film’s narrator amplifies the twee undertones of the Kraffts’ film archives to an explosive extreme. July records her vocal track as if she’s hiding in the back of a bedroom closet, shaking with the same cracked-glass vulnerability she brought to early projects like Me and You and Everyone We Know and her spoken-word records for Kill Rock Stars in the pre-twee 90s. Anyone who already struggles to get onboard with Slate’s pipsqueak voice in Marcel the Shell is far too weak for the twee-poetry monologues July delivers in Fire of Love. Honestly, I love how alienating that choice is; it would’ve been an over-the-plate pop doc without her. The Kraffts’ romantic fearlessness in the face of exploding lava, combined with their keen eye for vivid cinematic framing, calls for twee filmmaking conventions like no other documentary subject I can name. Anyone too cynical for Miranda July’s trembling anxiety & wide-eyed awe will certainly have a much easier go with Herzog’s take on the same couple’s life, but that’s a shame. Distaste for twee art is often just distaste for full-hearted sincerity.
I’ve seen enough darksided tweets about stomping on Marcel the Shell or shooting Paddington Bear dead to know that anti-twee cynicism is still alive and well out there. I like to think that there’s a genuine, growing appreciation for aughts-era twee among the moviegoing public, though. Audiences who don’t get their dopamine hits by dunking on overly earnest art on Twitter have more twee-throwback movies influenced by Gondry & Anderson to choose from than ever before; some of those films are even pushing that vintage aesthetic to new extremes. And hey, there’s nothing cynics love to do more than complain on the internet so, in a way, everyone wins.