When you love movies the way I love movies, there are just things that you know are true. Films shown in 70 MM will always be the preferred method of viewing. The 1970’s was the best decade, so far, of film. And the greatest movie of all time is Citizen Kane.
Orson Welles’ 1941 cinematic masterpiece is always the film that everyone speaks of when we’re talking about the greatest stories put onto cellulite. Here’s how great the film is: Last year’s Mank, about the life of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, got two Oscars. A film about the greatest film got recognized last week, and Mank won more (and was nominated for more) Oscars than Citizen Kane itself. And Mank, as we discussed on this site last week, is only David Fincher’s ninth best film.
Hollywood is weird.
However, yesterday something happened to change everything you know about movies. It’s the most important story of the year in film and, I can only assume, what will be one of the most memorable stories of all time. Honestly, if Joe Biden doesn’t mention this tonight in his speech to the joint session of Congress, then democracy, as we know it, is dead. Paradigms have shifted and everything we once learned was proven wrong. According to one source, Citizen Kane is no longer the greatest film of all time. The critics have spoken and Rotten Tomatoes has listened and there is a new champion.
But what is this new masterpiece? What film have critics raised to the top of the pile? What piece of art is so fabulous that all others, including the masterful Citizen Kane, bow in deference?
Yeah, get ready… it’s finally time for a piece about Paddington 2.
So, what happened? Let’s lay out all the facts.
Rotten Tomatoes is a website we all know. The film review aggregate site gives scores that all films are shooting for. When a film is “certified fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes (RT), it shows up in all of their ads. It’s an important number, which means, of course, that nearly everyone in America doesn’t understand it.
Let’s try and make this quick: RT gives a movie two scores, an audience score (based on ratings that any ol’ people leave on the site) and a critical score (based on rating of critics from verified sites). No one cares about the audience score, because anyone who pays for a movie is more likely to judge it favorably, and because a whole bunch of film audiences are dumb. This is why Transformers movies keep being made. It’s the critical score that people care about. RT looks at every review and determines if the critic thinks the film is “fresh” (usually higher than 60%) or “rotten” (obviously lower). Once all the scores are tabulated, the site gives a film a number based on the percentage of critics who have ranked the film fresh. Let me just explain that one more time: When Rotten Tomatoes gives a movie a score of 85%, that number is the percentage of critics who like the movie, as opposed to the site saying that the film is 85% good.
This has been today’s edition of me explaining movie internet to you. You’re welcome. Let’s proceed.
For the longest time, there have only been two films that have consistently held on to their 100% critical rating from Rotten Tomatoes: Citizen Kane and 2017’s Paddington 2 (released in America in January of 2018), the sequel to the film based on the Michael Bond book series. Fans of Kane used this as a way to attempt to poke holes in the RT critical grading system. Fans of Paddington 2, of which I most definitely am, used this score to prove that this is one of the best goddamned films of all goddamned time.
Then something happened yesterday that changed the whole ballgame.
Rotten Tomatoes has something they call the Archival Project, which is their way of supporting old reviews. Someone on their site discovered a 1941 review from the Chicago Tribune that did something that 115 previous reviews never did: it made Orson Welles bleed. Citizen Kane has been knocked off of its’ pedestal.
All that remains was Paddington 2.
Look, if you know me, you know I love me some Paddington 2. Lovingly named P2: The Deuce by Blank Check co-host Griffin Newman, the film is not just one of the best films of the 2017, nor it is not just one of the best films of the 2000’s… it is one of the best films of all time.
Director Paul King (having co-written the script with Simon Farnaby) did something only The Godfather Part 2 and The Empire Strikes Back have accomplished in the history of motion pictures: they made a sequel that was better than the excellent original. The story, which follows Paddington’s quest for justice after he is accused of stealing a picture book to give as a present to his beloved Aunt Lucy, is funny and touching and exciting. It is an absolutely marvelous film; a delight to look at while showing off some of the best performances movies have to offer. I know some of you might be thinking, “Matt, are you really going this nuts about a kids movie? Is this just because you recently had a baby?”
First off, and what I’m about to say is completely in defiance of the spirit of Paddington Bear, eat me. Yes, I have a new baby, and yes, that may have softened me up a little, but I loved this movie from the first time I saw it in 2018. It was my #2 movie of that year, though if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would move If Beale Street Could Talk down to the #2 spot and let the bear have his year. On a Fancy Boys podcast, I called it the fourth best movie of the 2010’s (behind, from #1-3, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Social Network, and Mad Max: Fury Road), and I would say that I would still hold those rankings today, though I find every film in my top 10 perfect and it just kind of felt like ranking them in how often I have rewatched them.
Yes, Paddington is rated PG (for some action and rude humor), though I would call it suitable for all ages. But while it is a movie kids can watch, it is- BY NO MEANS- a movie only for kids. Anyone watching the film can appreciate so many elements of this stellar film, from the brilliant comic timing of the script to the painstaking care in which the film is shot to the absolutely perfect performances.
And man, there are some great actors giving amazing performances here. This film is a Who’s Who of fantastic British actors, and Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and Peter Capaldi are all fantastic. However, there are two men who are giving some of the best work of their career in this film, each of which got absolutely robbed of an Oscar nomination.
Let’s start with Brendan Gleeson, because his character shows us that this movie is not just for children. As pointed out by the aformentioned Blank Check, Gleeson’s Knuckles McGinty is an inmate in the prison where Paddington is sentenced. From the moment he is talked about, all of the cards are clearly laid out on the table: McGinty is a bad man. This is a man who did some horrible things to get to prison, and while in prison, he has definitely killed- at least- two or three dudes. This guy makes Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking look like, well, Paddington Bear. Here is where I would remind you that many people just think of this film as a “kids movie”, as if all kids movies feature homicidal maniacs allowed to impose their will on their prison roommates. When you think about it, Paddington 2 is not just a comedy or action film, it is an aggressive call for prison reform.
While Gleeson is great, the man who really got screwed was Hugh Grant. as Phoenix Buchanan, has-been actor and criminal mastermind. This is a role which could have been played by lesser men, and Grant could have easily phoned this in and still been very, very good. But Hugh Grant does not just phone shit in, at least not in what has been a startlingly impressive second act of his career. The fact that he goes for it with every fiber in his being helps elevate this film from enjoyable to spectacular.
There’s just something so precious and charming about Paddington 2. It’s not a film that tries to make jokes that only adults would enjoy (like so many of the Disney/Pixar films). The movie is, literally, for everyone. All the time. Because of that, it never has to worry about trying to change tones to appeal to different demographics. Much like the marmalade that Paddington loves so much, it just is a delight.
Wonderfully, British audiences adored Paddington 2 and gave it the respect and adoration the film so richly deserved. As for American audiences? Well, they fucked up big.
The contrast could not have been more stark. In England, the movie outperformed its predecessor and was nominated for three BAFTA awards (including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Grant). In America, Paddington 2 finished seventh on its opening weekend and only making a paltry $40 million. As for love from the Academy? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Paddington 2 may have been filling audiences with hope, but when it came to the Oscars, its shutout was proof that Christ died in vain.
But maybe this is how it was supposed to be. Citizen Kane only one one Oscar (for Mankiewicz’s screenplay), losing Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley, a film with a title where if it was released today, it surely could only be found on pornographic sites on the dark web. And Citizen Kane was also a box office flop, mostly because theaters were afraid to show the film out of concern that the film’s subject, William Randolph Hearst, would sue the living shit out of them. Maybe if Hearst were more like Paddington Bear, he wouldn’t have needed the memory of that stupid sled.
This is where Kane and P2: The Deuce have found common ground: both films are artistic and special works that could not find a following in their initial runs and only have people finding their beauty and wonder after their theatrical releases. However, there is one difference: as many, MANY people have pointed out to me, production has already started on Paddington 3. Have you ever heard of anyone trying to make a Citizen Kane 2? You have not.
Checkmate, Welles. Enjoy the silver medal… maybe with a marmalade sandwich.