FILM FREAK CENTRAL turns 24 this month and I became curious what our 24 most-read reviews might be. Unfortunately, we didn't sign up for Analytics until 2014, and any record of our traffic before then has evaporated from the Internet. So, uh, here's a countdown of our 24 most-read reviews since, um, 2014. Few surprises on here (longtime visitors to the site can probably guess what took the #1 spot, with 147,457 reads), but definitely a head-scratcher (#6) or two (#20). Perhaps the biggest takeaway? No Marvel. DC is another matter entirely, though. Thanks again for reading and supporting us!-Ed.
24. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
"There are three young women in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter Three Billboards)--four if you include Abbie Cornish as Woody Harrelson's twenty-years-his-junior wife--and two of them (or three) are absolute fucking idiots and the third was raped while dying and then set on fire with gasoline. As a man who has been told often lately that it's not his place to talk about these things, I'll leave it at that."
23. Suicide Squad
"Ugly garbage that will make a lot of money, David Ayer's Suicide Squad begins where Batman v Superman left off by positing that in a world without its big, mopey, solipsistic, Byronic Boy Scout, there will come a time when the good guys (i.e., us) will need to enlist the help of a bunch of psychopathic mutants and contract killers to protect our way of life. It's a little bit like Escape from New York but not cool and not fun; and it's a little bit like a satire, except that it's more of a documentary."
22. The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
"I wasn't a fan of 2019's Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, but I'm OK with it existing because Apocalypse Now is Francis Ford Coppola's Great American Novel, and I don't think he'll ever truly finish writing it. I don't care that he recut The Cotton Club, either, especially since his intentions with that one were to give the movie back to its Black performers, who got marginalized in the theatrical version of a film designed to celebrate the Roaring Twenties from inside the Harlem jazz scene. And I enjoyed the bloat of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, though I'm bummed it knocked the original cut out of circulation--the real scourge of these variant editions. Alas, The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (hereafter Coda), Coppola's shortened remix of the famously flawed conclusion to the Godfather trilogy, finally tested my patience for his compulsive tinkering."
"Two moments that soar: in the one, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), having just shed the last vestments of propriety, dons the complete outfit of his alter ego Joker--the green hair, the white face, the purple suit--for the first time and does an impromptu dance to Gary Glitter's stadium staple "Rock and Roll Part 2" on an empty stairway in Gotham City. In the other, stand-up comic Joker achieves his dream of guesting on "The Murray Franklin Show"."
20. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
"Jonathan Liebesman's brutally awful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a Michael Bay co-production in conjunction with kid's basic-cable network Nickelodeon, meaning it's a PG-13 piece of shit aimed at preteens that packs a payload of sexual objectification, mild torture, and assorted grotesquerie. That's really all there is to say about it. It implies bestiality in the constant come-ons aimed at Bay's favourite target (Megan Fox) by a foul-looking monster, then makes a joke out of a human counterpart staring at her ass while she's dangling out a car window."
19. La La Land
"Damien Chazelle's La La Land is sort of like Down with Love and also sort of like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, derivative in the way that things are derivative when they have no real knowledge of or even maybe affection for the things from which they ostensibly derive. At the least, the picture demonstrates no real knowledge of the Hollywood musical. It's homage in the same way that "Stranger Things" is homage. It's beard oil, suspenders, and craft beer: The Movie. It's homage the way that putting a tutu on a dog pays homage to ballet."
18. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
"I wrestled for a long time with this review. Not what I would write but whether I should write it at all. I consider director Rian Johnson to be a friend. He's kind, smart, true, and unaffected despite having been handed the reins to the most revered American mythology--save for becoming somehow more humble during the course of it. In the middle of a period in which everyone in the business, it seems, is being outed as a cad, Rian is something like hope that there are good and decent men left. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (hereafter The Last Jedi) is every inch his movie."
"Imagine if Tracy Flick, the energetic, demonic high-school overachiever in Alexander Payne's brilliant Election, were a Vietnamese exchange student, heavily and hilariously accented. That's one of the things wrong with Payne's excruciating downsizing, a film that takes his now-trademark twee misanthropy and mashes it up against this pretense of Swiftian social satire that sets the Sisyphus-like struggle of the bedraggled Everyman against a fatalistic backdrop of environmental apocalypse."
"I recall Luc Besson confessing that his The Fifth Element was based on an idea he'd had as a child; I'm going to wager the same is true of his dreadful Lucy. It's a pre-pubescent boy's fantasy of cool: a mash of silly pop-science buoying a beautiful woman's mutation from impossible party girl into deity through the agency of stem-cell-related drug abuse. The good news is that South Korean superstar Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy) gets a mainstream American debut in a juicy role that nonetheless feels like a wasted opportunity (see: Beat Takeshi in Johnny Mnemonic). The bad news is Lucy is prurient pap that pup-critics will declare proof of "vulgar auteurism," no matter the redundancy and ignorance of the term itself."
15. Mulan (2020)
"You can become an expert in the folk history of Mulan if you do a general Google search. Sufficed to say the story of Mulan is an important one for my people, and when I say "my people," I mean my parents' culture, to which I am connected despite a lifetime trying to disentangle myself from it. I read Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness decades ago and found in it the truest expression for me of...strangeness? Uncanniness? The alienation I've felt my entire life? I'm not accepted, I have come to accept, by the only culture (American) I have ever known, and my parents' culture despises me, and so here I am, an outcast caste without safe harbour."
14. Zack Snyder's Justice League
"It opens with soundwaves visualized as ripples in the air--Superman's (Henry Cavill) death cry touching every part of a blasted world as the protection and decency he represents is murdered. I have historically hated Zack Snyder's vision of this universe because it felt grimdark in a weightless way, the posturing of an emo teenager who hasn't earned his weariness and cynicism. It felt like a put-on. Immature."
"The daughter of close friends of mine tried to kill herself a couple of weeks ago at exactly the same age I was when I tried to kill myself. I don't know how to describe depression to people who don't experience it. I don't really have the language to express how most attempts to get at it get it wrong. Alex Garland's new film, Annihilation, gets it right."
12. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
"Portentous, eagerly-anticipated, ending on an abrupt cliffhanger aboard a spaceship... Yes I'm talking about The Matrix Reloaded--I mean, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (hereafter Catching Fire), which for all the conceptual visual improvements inherent in moving from The Hunger Games director Gary Ross to director Francis Lawrence for this instalment, still suffers from hilarible, unspeakable dialogue and a scenario seldom honoured by the execution. Those who haven't read the books (myself included), fair warning that you'll not be able to follow a moment of this one without revisiting the first film--again like The Matrix Reloaded."
11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
"I was four when I saw Star Wars. It was the first time I'd seen a film in a theatre; it was the first film I'd seen, period. I didn't speak a word of English. It was overwhelming, and I'm discovering, after watching J.J. Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens (hereafter Star Wars 7), that it imprinted itself on my DNA. Thirty-eight years later, I collect the toys my parents couldn't afford to buy me when I was a kid--the ones I played with at friends' houses, when I pretended to be Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as a child of immigrants doing his best to fit into a society that promised blond and blue-eyed messiahs."
10. Shame (2011)
"Brandon is a cipher from beginning to end, and while that's usually a detriment, in Steve McQueen's extraordinary, gruelling Shame, it's key to why the whole thing works. Even better is that Brandon, a widely-presumed sex addict (to my mind, the film works better without a pop diagnosis), is played by Michael Fassbender, he of the matinee-idol looks and piercing green eyes. It's interesting that what he plays best is ambiguity (next up: a robot in Prometheus), an unknowable quality that inspired McQueen's previous installation piece, Hunger, making the lonesome protest of hunger-striker Bobby Sands into a holy mystery, a relic unknowable and his English bull tormentors Romans with spears knowing not what they do."
9. Twilight (2008)
"Author Stephenie Meyer says she wrote her first novel, Twilight, in three months' time, after the central idea came to her in a dream. Leaving aside the question of whether the notion of a moody teen vampire love story set in and around a high school in the Pacific Northwest is remarkable enough to require that the Muses mainline it directly into your subconscious, the romance of Bella Swan, a quiet, self-abnegating high-schooler from a broken home, and Edward Cullen, a smoking-hot vampire who sparkles under sunlight and has sworn off human flesh, hit a sweet spot."
8. Transformers: Age of Extinction
"Early on in Transformers: Age of Extinction (hereafter Trans4), director Michael Bay seems to be equating the unjust hunt for our noble robot allies the Autobots with the Tea Party's persecution of immigrants, and then it goes to shit. It's a meaningless, impossible-to-follow trainwreck in the patented Michael Bay style that, also in the Michael Bay style, is deeply hateful of women and difference. What's new this time out is that the central object of violation for our lascivious appreciation is 17-year-old Tessa (19-year-old Nicola Peltz), who, upon introduction, is leered at by an assortment of older gentlemen before Bay whips out a (no-kidding) legal justification for our statutory interest."
7. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
"J.J. Abrams's Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (hereafter The Rise of Skywalker) is a breakneck, National Treasure-style quest flick so intent on the prize that it takes its eyes off the goal. It's slick and frictionless, offering nothing to hold on to and holding on to nothing in return. In it, our heroes rattle off facile one-liners and play around with childish surface emotions as though they were experiencing them for the first time. There aren't any stakes, and because of that most of the dialogue centres around how everything is very desperate and the Last Time and run! hurry! don't look back!, but looking back is really all it does."
6. The Boy Next Door
"Every once in a while, the absence of Roger Ebert becomes piercingly clear--like when J-Lo is gifted with a "first edition" of The Iliad in The Boy Next Door, a moment of Hollywood illiteracy so quintessential that it might've once seemed contrived for the sake of an Ebert quip. But whether or not the filmmakers realized how inapt their choice of Homer was (screenwriter Barbara Curry has disavowed any credit), this is an effective bit of characterization."
5. True Detective (2014)
"On the original 2003 recording of The Handsome Family's "Far from Any Road," husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks intertwine their voices sinuously, trading the song's lonesome-death verses on equal footing. Her part pared down for the mesmeric opening credits of HBO's "True Detective", Rennie's whisper becomes a sudden intrusion, jarring both the lyrical and visual narrative. It's a hint of what's to come in the eight-episode series itself."
4. John Wick
"Essentially a remake of Kim Jee-woon's A Bittersweet Life shot through with oodles of late-'80s John Woo gunplay, stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski's John Wick is, damnit, really just so much fun. Existing in a fascinating universe that marks it as one of the better comic-book adaptations without origins in an actual comic book, it features Keanu Reeves as the titular angry guy, taking on the Russian mob because they killed his dog. That's it."
3. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
"It was a late summer night, humid and low, in the "hill" area of downtown Seattle, outside a coffee shop called "Coffee Messiah" festooned wall-to-wall with tacky tchotchkes featuring our Lord and saviour. I spent a couple of college summers there and in the San Juans with my friend, Keith. I'd met him at a Primus concert where an entire gymnasium had been converted into a mosh pit. We locked onto each other and agreed that if one of us went down, the other would pick him up. We've been friends now for almost thirty years."
"At some point, someone in some boardroom should have pushed away from the table and asked whether it was a good idea to have a subplot in their new Wonder Woman movie about a person in the Middle East wishing that colonizers would be expelled from occupied territories. (The granting of said wish subsequently leading somehow to nuclear holocaust.) I mean, with or without an Israeli actress in the lead role. Not to say it's not geometrically worse with an Israeli actress in the lead role, because it is."
1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
"This is what I know: that the first time I saw Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, a friend had to acquire it from some disreputable dealer and send it to me, unmarked, in a brown box. When I watched it, I thought to myself that the United States would never suffer something like this in the popular conversation. Not long after 9/11, The Hunger Games became a YA phenomenon capped with a run of blockbuster adaptations. I know that immediately after 9/11, witnesses on the scene could only compare it to something they would have seen in a movie."