Home > Year in Review > 2019 IN REVIEW – My Favorites

2019 IN REVIEW – My Favorites

Alright, so, as always with these things, I’m not claiming that these are necessarily the objectively best of the year, but rather my favorites, hence the title. Also, since I watch movies largely based on what I’m in the mood for, I don’t necessarily rank based on what I think are the overall best of my favorites, but rather I break the list down into genres, fitting each film into the one that I think best exemplifies their essence and what I would be looking for from them based on that genre. As a result, some of these could easily crossover into other genres, and I have notably placed musicals in places that you might not expect since I do not necessarily consider the presence of songs performed by characters to be a wholly unique genre — there can be musical horror films, after all, but the key distinguishing feature there is the horror element, since a fan of only musicals like Singin’ in the Rain aren’t likely to want to watch a gory movie in which characters tap dance on the heads of zombies. Make sense? Cool. So, without further ado… go screw yourselves, Oscars. I’m right, and I also beat you yet again.



ACTION

5.            Jumanji: The Next Level                               12/13/19

There’s really no reason why this series has gotten as entertaining as it has been, and throwing in the quirk of having multiple body swaps and the addition of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover’s personas to the mix is a real treat. The movie isn’t quite as good as the previous one, but it’s not too much of a step down to warrant knocking off this list as being one of the better family action/adventure films of the year.

4.            Godzilla: King of the Monsters  5/31/19

What can I say? It’s dumb, sure, but anyone who complained that the 2014 movie was lacking in giant monster action will have very little to complain about here. (For the record, I really liked the 2014 movie, even if I also could’ve used a bit less restraint in the action department.) King of the Monsters goes all out and offers up some of the biggest (literally) action setpieces of the year, and while the plot may be really silly, I couldn’t help but have a big grin on my face the entire time. It helps to have seen it in true IMAX format, too. Bring on Kong…

3.            Terminator: Dark Fate                   11/01/19

Years and years of waiting for a good follow-up to the classic Terminator 2 have mostly paid off with Dark Fate, which saw the return of both James Cameron, in a producing role, and Linda Hamilton back in the cast as Sarah Connor, deviating from the previous three movies’ timelines and picking up quite literally just a short while after the second movie ended. This is a movie that smartly and shockingly redoes a lot of what we expect from the franchise, and because of that, it largely reinvigorates it in the process while still celebrating a lot of what makes the franchise so fun. The movie failed to garner much favor at the box office, unfortunately, failing to break a trend that has carried on since Salvation, and while it seems a great many people found the film to be underwhelming, I was more than happy to have spent my birthday on a Thursday night with this movie. Much like with The Sarah Connor Chronicles, it’s a shame that Terminator fans won’t likely get a conclusion to what this started.

2.            John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum            3/17/19

I thought Chapter 2 was a bit of a step down from the first John Wick film, if only because I felt like the revelation that the world he existed in was so much greater than we ever imagined got a bit too ridiculous, and I think the smaller scope of the first just made everything seem that much more consequential and interesting. By Chapter 3, however, I think I’ve learned to accept it, and while I still wish the movie’s world maintained greater stakes for the largely faceless civilian population, I think they did a good job of making it all much more interesting again by introducing more of the background players. Throwing in Halle Berry in a really awesome supporting role also did a lot to elevate the film, and the extended climax is exhausting in the best kind of way.

1.            First Love            9/27/19

I found out about Takeshi Miike’s latest film literally the day before I decided to go see it, having absolutely no idea what I was in store for beyond the fact that it was a very well-reviewed film, and it just so happened to be playing near me at a time when I was looking for something new. I’m so glad I did, too, because First Love is the best foreign language film that nobody seems to be talking about in their own year in review lists. The story of a young boxer who first finds out that he’s dying and then soon after finds himself entangled in a war between the yakuza and Chinese triad after saving a young girl from what he assumed to be a predator. More of a chase movie than anything, it may not have quite as many extraordinary action scenes as the previous movies in this section of the list, but I definitely think it may have been the one I enjoyed most from the past year. It’s hilarious, it’s violent, it’s romantic, it’s incredibly well-shot… and it’s my pick for best action picture of the year.

THRILLER

5.            Joker     10/04/19

Why isn’t this in the Superhero section? Well, I’m going to break my rule for this one, because I’m pretty sure this movie sets out to break the mold of what we expect from a film based on superhero comics, anyway. It’s not very superhero-y and not just because it focuses on possibly the most famous supervillain of all time, either. Joker makes a point of it, though it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of becoming one, either. The film we got, however, is most definitely more of a psychological thriller, and you can see that in the way it resembles its obvious inspirations, notably The King of Comedy. I hadn’t seen that movie before I went and saw Joker, which was by choice, but once I did see it, there was no denying what this movie was trying to be.

All that being said, though, Joker really is an achievement, if not in originality, then in performance. You wouldn’t think that anyone could top Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the character – and you would be right, so far, but dammit if Joaquin Phoenix do a really fine job making it his own, very tragic version that’s definitely close to being up there. A lot was made up about this film being dangerous, and while it was understandable in light of the current political climate and what happened in the wake of the shooting in Aurora, CO in 2012 and the erroneous reports that the shooter took inspiration from Ledger’s Joker, this isn’t a movie that celebrates its subject and instead attempts to use its comic book origins to comment on mental health and those who could turn towards violence in an uncaring world. It might not be extraordinary, but it’s worthwhile.

4.            Parasite               10/11/19

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this – from the commentary surrounding it and the tone of the trailer, I actually expected this to be a horror film – but I knew that this was something I couldn’t wait to see, regardless of what was in store, plus, while Okja didn’t grab me as well as I had hoped, I do generally like the films of Bong Joon-ho, so of course I had to see it as soon as possible. Not disappointed at all. The praise for Parasite is legit, weaving a tale of social and economic mobility and inequality through a twisting and turning plot about a poor family infiltrating the working ranks of a much wealthier and unstable family that seems to have a lot more money than sense, though I would argue that neither side is necessarily portrayed as altogether good or bad, either. You definitely come to empathize with both, including the gullible matriarch of the richer family. It’s not all subtext, either, as the film throws plenty of twists and unexpected turns your way that keep the adrenaline going.

3.            The Nightingale                 8/02/19

Directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), The Nightingale sheds itself of any supernatural trappings you might expect from Kent’s previous work and instead emphasizes the trauma aspect in full force. The titular nightingale is Clare, a young Irishwoman in 1825 Tasmania, who partners with a young Aboriginal man called “Billy” to track down a British soldier to exact her revenge on him. The film begins with the acts that led her to this point in her life, and they are some of the more brutal scenes you will see in film, and there are more that come down the line. That being said, Kent is not exploitative – just frank – and the film is also quick to ensure that heroes are far more complex than just being good. Clare herself is not always kind to Billy, who has his own reasons to not trust her thanks to the things that white people have done to him and his people. The partnership they form, however, is fascinating to watch evolve over the course of their journey, standing in stark contrast with Hawkins and his troupe. The performances all around – Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, and Sam Claflin – are fantastic, while the plotting and characters are so compelling, you will want to see it through to the end.

2.            Uncut Gems       12/25/20

No, seriously, do we need any more signs that Adam Sandler can really act when he wants to than what we got here? Strangely enough, I think people accept this fact much more readily than they still do Robert Pattinson, who starred in the Safdie brothers’ previous film, Good Time, and has proven time and time again that he’s a good actor, but I digress. Uncut Gems is unlike anything that Sandler has done before, and it’s a real shame that he’s not getting the recognition he justly deserves, whether because of the Happy Madison stigma or what, I don’t know, but it’s just unfair. This is a truly outstanding, exhausting film where Sandler plays Howard, a man who’s in way over his head in debts and is seemingly addicted to the thrill of just barely getting himself out of trouble, only to fall right into his old habits based on a good feeling. Howard is not a well guy, nor is he particularly likable as a person, though as the subject of the film, he’s fascinating to watch unravel. Sandler is somehow both restrained in his performance and yet completely unhinged, and even when he’s surrounded by a solid cast that includes Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, and Julia Fox in an impressive debut performance as Howard’s mistress, Sandler commands you to keep watching the film for him and him alone.

1.            Knives Out          11/27/19

So, you didn’t like The Last Jedi and suddenly decided that Rian Johnson was actually a hack all this time, did you? Well, suck on this, everybody, ‘cause Johnson released one of the most entertaining movies of the year with Knives Out, a film that takes all the familiar tropes of an Agatha Christie murder mystery and shuffles them around a bit while keeping all the things that matter, down to the funny-voiced investigator brought in on the case. In a film that’s packed to the walls with standout actors – Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Lakeith Standfield – it’s still Daniel Craig who manages to steal the show as the peculiarly-accented Benoit Blanc, hired anonymously to investigate the murder of wealthy novelist Harlan Thrombey. The film subverts expectations, however, by being borderline absurd in the way that revelations play out, which tracks with Craig’s knowingly self-serious performance. And yet, in such a film as packed as this, it’s Ana de Armas who’s placed front and center in the film, an actress who hasn’t yet become a household name but should someday soon become one after this film and Blade Runner 2049. Knives Out was also one of the few original films to make a big box office splash, likely thanks in large part to a rather good marketing campaign and the notable cast. For me, this was also more like what I wanted from the still enjoyable but somewhat meandering Bad Times at the El Royale. I would talk more about this, but odds are you saw this movie and know how great it is, and if you haven’t, I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by saying anything more than I already have. Go – have a good time.

SUPERHERO

5.            Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans                 9/24/19

Less of a Deadpool for kids than its more widely released predecessor, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies being on this list is a bit of a cheat, considering I initially thought it got a limited theatrical release, but I can’t find any evidence of this to corroborate what I thought. Regardless, the media landscape is changing, and I can hardly hold its direct-to-video nature against it. Teased at the end of its theatrical predecessor, this follow-up sees the more cartoonish Teen Titans Go! team pitted against the slightly more serious Teen Titans of the early 2000s TV series, establishing that, despite sharing a voice cast, the two shows are, in fact, taking place in two different universes where the artistic choices made in their respective shows are actually how their reality just is, leading into all sorts of interactions between the two groups. Naturally, the crossover is the result of supervillain shenanigans, with the evil demon Trigon of each universe partnering up and attempting to use the power of all the Ravens in the multiverse to take it over. This leads the two teams to jump through all sorts of familiar and unfamiliar universes to recruit their counterparts there and stop the Trigons and prevent the Ravens from destroying everything. It’s a really fun time, particularly if you’re familiar with all the references.

4.            Captain Marvel                 3/08/19

Marvel’s first female-led superhero film perhaps isn’t as good and heartfelt as DC’s Wonder Woman, but even this dude can find room in his heart to enjoy both films and embrace the girl power that emanates from them both. Brie Larson, no matter what anyone says, makes for a charming lead and has great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson and Lashana Lynch, while Jude Law makes for a good, smarmy villain. The ‘90s setting is fun, and the film’s treatment of the Skrulls, notorious villains in the comics and shapeshifters who could have led to a lot of mere referential humor in the wrong hands, is unexpectedly a highlight of the film. It’s not Marvel’s best, but I maintain that the studio has yet to make a movie I didn’t like at least on many levels.

3.            Shazam!               4/05/19

DC’s superhero, also formerly known as Captain Marvel, is certainly the biggest surprise treat we got in 2019 in this particular genre. I actually have a hard time deciding whether I liked this more or less than Spider-Man: Far From Home, but ultimately put this down just a bit due to Far From Home’s more interesting villain and all the visual effects that came with him. Still, there’s a huge amount of heart here, and the friendship between hero Billy Batson and his foster brother Freddy is seriously endearing, not to mention the performances. This movie was an absolute joy to watch, so much so that I actually convinced a friend who isn’t much into the genre to go see it. Just know that there are actually some really scary scenes that younger kids may not enjoy – the first screening I watched was next to a terrified 5-year-old kid who kept screaming about how the monsters were going to kill people, and… his parents really should’ve left with him. Poor kid.

2.            Spider-Man: Far From Home      7/02/19

Working as sort of a coda to the whole Infinity War/Endgame saga, Far From Home provides insight into what happened after “The Blip,” a term that those in the universe use to refer to the 5-year-long gap of time between Thanos snapping half of all sentient life out of existence and the Avengers bringing them back. (It wouldn’t make sense to call it “The Snap,” as we all called it, because people presumably were not made privy to Thanos’ method of obliviating everyone.) Peter Parker and friends have returned at the same age and thus, must continue to go to school, and part of that includes a trip to Europe. Things go awry, though, when elemental beings begin to threaten the world, and Nick Fury comes calling, urging Peter to partner with a man name Quentin Beck, a man who claims to be from a parallel universe that these monsters had decimated. Comics fans will quickly be able to put together what’s going on here, but that doesn’t spoil the fun nor the continued delight that is this cast. Tom Holland continues to be a pitch perfect young Peter Parker, and Zendaya as MJ gets more to do this time around, too, growing in her relationship with Peter. Jake Gyllenhaal is also yet another fine addition as Beck, who comes to be known as Mysterio. Some may balk at the continued importance of Iron Man in these films, but, to be honest, who could blame them?

1.            Avengers: Endgame        4/26/19

This is it. This was the conclusion we were all waiting for, and had this been the absolute end of the MCU, I actually think I would have been completely satisfied, even after all these months and the knowledge of all the awesome things that we’re getting in theatres and on Disney+ in the future. Endgame may not be the stronger counterpart to Infinity War, a film just so much more ballsy in its execution and tonally resonant, but this is definitely the victory lap that we all wanted. The time travel aspect could have led to this just being a revisit of the greatest hits, but instead it serves as a means of showing how far these characters have come since those movies, and it only takes up a small chunk of the plot. Plus, that final battle might be the battle to end all final battles. Marvel is going to have a hell of a time topping this, and I almost don’t think they should try to, as I can’t even imagine Galactus himself will be able to illicit the same reaction we get with he Avengers vs. Thanos and his army. So many payoffs, so many character combinations, so much… muchness. It’s glorious. It’s awesome. It was well deserved. And it will probably never be topped.

SCI-FI

4.            See You Yesterday          5/17/19

High schoolers CJ Walker and Sebastian have secretly invented time travel, but can only manage to go for minutes at a time. However, when CJ’s brother is shot and killed, she sets out to make right what went wrong, but there are unintended consequences and multiple setbacks. I did see this a while ago and looked it up to get a refresher, only to see that people hated the ending because “there wasn’t one.” However, reviewing the film, which is widely available on Netflix, I now remember the ending being more about perseverance against the odds, no matter how long and how many tries it takes. It’s a small, simple film, but it’s well-done, and its message is resonant.

3.            The Aeronauts                  12/06/19

I got to see this movie at a free screening offered up by the Atom Tickets app, and despite the film appearing on Amazon Prime a couple weeks later, I really wanted to see it on the big screen – particularly if it was going to be free. I went in pretty much blind, apart from the poster art and a brief knowledge that it involved old timey balloons. What the film actually is isn’t that far off from what I expected, following James Glaisher and a young woman named Amelia Wren as they attempt to break the record for highest balloon flight in 1862 London. The film is adapted from the book Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes and is partially based on the life of real life scientist James Glaisher, who actually did make the trip portrayed in the film, only with balloonist Henry Coxwell, who is omitted from the film entirely. Amelia is a composite character based on a number of female balloonists at the time, intended to help the film portray a more nuanced perspective of ballooning at the time as a whole. It’s a bit of a shame, really, as Felicity Jones is brilliant in the role – magnanimous and at times even heartbreaking – enough so that I’m willing to forgive the film its inaccuracies and the disappointment I had upon looking it up after my screening, and the film itself is exciting and entertaining all the same.

2.            Ad Astra               9/20/19

I don’t think 2019 was entirely a great year for straight up sci-fi, and so perhaps my putting this movie lower on this list is a reflection of the disappointment I had with this film ultimately being another movie about daddy issues that affect the world at large rather than another Interstellar, which I know has similar themes but is far more visually and conceptually interesting than Ad Astra. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like the film, though. I liked it quite a bit, and I especially loved all the gradual, subtle world-building that the film lays out and the understated, almost hushed tone that even carries into chaotic chase scenes with pirates on the moon. It’s a beautiful film to look at, with good performances, and a lot of care went into making this film. I just don’t know why it didn’t click with me as much as I expected it to. I totally intend to watch it again, though.

1.            Happy Death Day 2U      2/13/19                Sci-Fi

What a happy surprise the first Happy Death Day turned out to be, so it was with no small amount of hesitation that I immediately began to worry that its sequel would turn out to be a flop. Taking a left turn from slasher horror comedy by embracing its time travelling premise even more, this second movie veers more into sci-fi this time around, the premise of repeating the same day over expanding in scope and even getting a clear-cut explanation – time machine, of course. Only, this time… something’s not quite right. The stakes are slightly elevated this time around as a new concept is introduced to the proceedings that I’m not going to spoil here. It’s a smart but familiar way to continue the series, and the returning and new cast members are all really great, especially Jessica Rothe, who honestly should be a bigger star, given her performance in these two movies alone. A fun, heart-felt sequel that audiences who liked the first will also fall for. It’s a serious shame there are currently no confirmed plans to go forward with a third. Still, this was probably the most fun sci-fi film I saw last year, and for that, I’m putting it at my top spot.

HORROR

9.            Little Monsters                 10/08/19

This was a really good year for horror movies, but most of them were fairly serious in nature, so it’s still nice to get a film like Little Monsters thrown in for good measure. Lupita Nyong’o just so happens to star in two of the more overtly amusing horror films this year, and while she’s a tour-de-force in Jordan Peele’s Us, let’s not forget that she’s also delightfully awesome in this other film, too, here playing Miss Audrey Caroline, a kindergarten teacher who finds herself out of her element when a zombie outbreak happens while on a field trip. Accompanying her is Dave, one of the kids’ uncles who volunteers to chaperone, if only to get closer to Miss Caroline, and Teddy McGiggle, a children’s show host who happened to be filming an episode on location when the events take place who isn’t nearly as kind as his TV persona would suggest. Teddy, played by Josh Gadd, can be a bit much, but he has his moments, and while the film is ostensibly from the perspective of Dave, a washed-up musician who has to move in with his sister and her son, make no mistake that this movie is Nyong’o’s, her sunny smile and singing proving to be as much an asset as her zombie-killing abilities when it comes to helping a bunch of naïve, frightened children survive a would-be apocalypse. This is a fun movie that I could easily see myself revisiting alongside Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

8.            Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark                 8/09/19

Apparently, these books were a big thing back when I was a kid (they were written between 1981 – 1991, but they remained popular enough to apparently be well-known by my peers). Of course, I wouldn’t have known it since I didn’t go to schools that encouraged such subject matter. (I still read Goosebumps on my own, but that was only during my years overseas when private Christian schools were not really an option, but still, until high school, I went to schools that demonized even sci-fi, let alone horror, so, yeah…) As a result of all this, I had no particular knowledge of the source material when going into the film, though I understand that it combines elements of the books into an overarching story about a group of teenagers who find themselves being picked off, one-by-one, by creatures that appear in a book written by a long-dead girl who was tortured by her family. The film is an effective horror flick for older kids and still provides enough thrills to entertain adults, who might enjoy the ‘80s time period the film obviously had to be set in. The weaving together of the various stories is done quite well, with good creature effects and effective editing, and the performances overall are also good. If the books were anything like this, I can understand why they were so popular.

7.            It: Chapter Two                 9/06/19

The first chapter of this saga was probably one of the best horror films of 2017, so it’s something of a shame that Chapter Two isn’t quite up there in terms of quality, being a bit overstuffed to the point where you kinda wish they had broken it up into three parts but also kind a being glad they showed some restraint, all the same. That being said, I think Chapter Two is a fun, entertaining, and kind of bonkers conclusion to the story, one that isn’t afraid to throw in what I understand are some of the more insane bits of backstory from the book. The adult cast – James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean – are all excellent casting choices (some given much more screentime than others, admittedly) while the film finds time to revisit untold tales from their past, allowing the entertaining younger cast to return (albeit with some distracting deaging effects to make up for the 2 years of growth they’ve undergone). Bill Skarsgard is also back and as good as ever as Pennywise, but if there’s any one standout performance, it’s obviously that of Bill Hader as the grown-up, wisecracking comedian of the group, Richie. In a year where most movies are still only just barely suggesting the existence of LGBT+ people in their narratives, I gotta hand it to Warner Bros. for allowing this little key subplot to have as much resonance and obviousness as it does. Kudos to them, also, for allowing the film to go absolutely nuts with the content they include. I thought it was insane to have kids dying violently in the first film, but what happens here, not just in regards to the horrific violence, is kinda bold for a major studio release. Overall, I had a very good time with this series, and even if it’s not as good as the first, I liked this half well enough to put it here.

6.            Us           3/22/19

I would hesitate to call this a sophomore slump when the film we got is as interesting and fascinating as Us, so while it may not have struck quite the same cultural chord as Jordan Peele’s previous and much-lauded film, Get Out, his second horror film is still one of the more original and darkly humorous films that came out in 2019, and it features yet another excellent performance from Lupita Nyong’o this year, here taking on a dual role as Adelaide and Red, two mothers from two different upbringings who nonetheless are connected in more ways than the fact that they are basically identical, down to identical families, except Red’s is definitely a bit more… twisted. The film proved to be a bit of a Rorschach test when it came to interpreting the film’s themes upon release, but since I’m no proponent of a strict death of the author interpretation, let’s me just point out that Peele himself has described this film’s main theme as being that of American privilege and how there are always two sides of the same coin, with those benefiting from the system and those who suffer from it. There’s all kinds of imagery and character quirks that illustrate this throughout the film, and while it’s not nearly as interesting as what Get Out did, the execution is key, and Us is proof of anything, it’s that Peele knows how to treat horror audiences to one hell of a good time.

5.            Crawl    7/12/19

If you want your scares to come from a more realistic place, check out Crawl, a somehow small-budget horror film where the monsters are alligators and the hurricane that made the waters rise and unleashed them upon our heroes, a young woman who goes to find her father who is still obsessed with the old house he’s having to give up, even during one of the worst storms of recent memory. Also, there’s a dog you’ll be rooting for along the way. This one’s pretty simple, and while it’s a bit absurd to the point of almost being a carnival ride, that’s absolutely okay for this one, in my book.

4.            Doctor Sleep     11/08/19

Making a sequel to one of the most widely acclaimed horror movies of all time cannot be an easy thing to undertake, and yet Mike Flanagan has proven to be more than up to the task. It’s not anywhere near as good as that movie, but it didn’t really have to be – it just had to be good, and apart from a finale that at times feels a bit too much like a nostalgia trip, this movie really sets itself apart from its predecessor and carves out a path of its own. (Kudos, also, for not resorting to deaging and duplication effects to make actors resemble the original actors from the first film.) Returning to the character of Danny, now an adult who is still grappling with the psychic gifts he had as a kid, he finds himself taking on the role of mentor to a young girl named Abra, who is being sought after by a group of psychic vampires who have sniffed out her abilities and know that they must defeat her if they are to live forever. The film is a visual treat, the many psychic battles that take place being suitably understated and haunting, and the three leads – Ewan McGregor as Danny, Kyliegh Curran as Abra, and Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot cult – are all excellent. The film is also commendable for, much like fellow Stephen King adaptations It one and two, being willing to depict some truly horrific scenes involving children. (It’s not that I enjoy watching kids be terrorized, but I think it’s important to these stories in particular that the villains’ threat levels not be sanitized. It’s still awful, but that’s the point. You should feel on the verge of tears for these characters.) I was skeptical of the possibility of this movie being even a quarter as decent as it wound up being, but here we are. It’s just a shame that it did so poorly at the box office – not that I need another sequel, but just to reward such a successful undertaking as this.

3.            Ready or Not     8/21/19

Ah, class warfare, we meet again. I’m not complaining, though. Ready or Not is an excruciating thrill ride as newlywed Grace finds herself struggling to survive her rich, eccentric in-laws’ unusual practice of playing a randomly selected game of hide-and-seek upon welcoming her to the family. And you thought your in-laws were hard to win over, right!? Ha. … Hacky jokes aside, though, this is a horror film with its tongue firmly in its cheek, and Samara Weaving is more than up to the task of making Grace a heroine you can really root for. This movie is a violent good time, one that isn’t afraid to be more explicit and blunt about all the evils that rich people can afford to commit upon the less fortunate.

2.            The Lighthouse                 10/18/19

The Witch director returns with yet another period accurate film about the horrors of isolation, here focused on a young lighthouse keeper who finds himself shacked up on a remote island with an old timey sailor type for weeks on end. The two prove to not be the best bedfellows, their relationship turning from hostility to obligate friendship on a dime time and time again, inevitably driving each other crazy and leading to fits of paranoia. The situation meanwhile, isn’t helped by the local population of seagulls, which torment the young man incessantly. The film is strikingly shot in 35mm in a nearly square aspect ratio that makes it feel like it’s from a completely different time and place. That it’s up for an Oscar for its cinematography is no surprise, but what is a surprise is just how much of an injustice it is that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe have been so ignored for their performances here. They are absolutely brilliant, and yet I still encounter people who hear me praise Pattinson and scoff. At least now I’ll have even more evidence beyond Good Time that Pattinson should’ve gotten his Oscar nomination long ago.

1.            Midsommar       7/03/19

Robert Eggers and Ari Aster really had a great second go at feature length filmmaking in 2019, and while I think both of their films were superb, I think Aster ever so slightly convinced me to give him the win with Midsommar, one of the most genuinely disturbing horror films you’ll see since his previous film, Hereditary, or Eggers’ The Witch. Aster here deals with the isolating feeling that is depression and grief and how it affects his lead character Dani’s relationship with her uncaring boyfriend, who was just about to dump her and run off on a trip with his bros on an allegedly anthropological trip to a commune in Sweden, even when her sister and parents had just died in a murder-suicide. Instead, he takes her along, much to the aggravation of his friends, who are far more concerned about her bringing down the mood. Dani proves to be a trooper, attempting to put on a good face, despite her grief, and in the process, the pressure begins to get to her, and, sure enough, bad things start to happen for everyone involved.

Apparently, the film began life as a slasher film that transformed after Aster went through a particularly difficult breakup. Surprisingly, he cast a more sympathetic light on the vulnerable Dani rather than the boyfriend. Perhaps the character’s gender has nothing to do with it, but it’s still interesting that’s the case. Whatever the thought process behind it, I’m just glad it gave us yet another great performance from Florence Pugh this year, possibly her best, in fact, though I can understand why the far more accessible Little Women got her more attention. This is a very slow-burning and relentless movie, and her troubled performance is the catalyst by which the audience feels the weight of the perpetual sunniness of both the commune – thanks to the sun barely setting this far north – and the people around her, who don’t all seem to be as fazed in the same way by the things that are affecting her. The movie is uncomfortable to watch, and at times might even trigger fits of hysterical laughter, as was the case with a couple girls behind me (though I can’t imagine the drinks they kept leaving to bring back were helping matters). The same was true for Hereditary, in fact, though I do think that Midsommar is the overall better film – and I liked both. I kinda wish I had the fortitude at the time to psych myself up and see the limited run director’s cut. Holding out hope that a still hypothetical 4K Blu-Ray might include both versions now.

FANTASY

4.            Klaus     11/08/19

I didn’t manage to get around to reviewing any Christmas films this past year – depression will do that to you, I suppose – but that didn’t stop me from watching Christmas movies, and this one in particular caught my eye while browsing around Netflix. A beautifully animated telling about how the myth of Santa Claus came to be, Klaus is an unexpected treasure that I was happy to have discovered and now even has a nomination for Best Animated Feature. The film has some Disney veterans behind it is obvious in the character designs, and the lead character, Jesper, bares more than a striking resemblance to Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove, but while the subject has been explored in other movies before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite as well done as this. Ignoring a few anachronistic and distracting musical queues, I think this has the potential to become a new holiday classic.

3.            I Lost My Body                  11/15/19

Another nominee for Best Animated Feature, I Lost My Body serves as the sole representative of both foreign language films and animated films not meant for children in the category, telling the story about a severed hand that’s attempting to make its way back to the young man it was separated from after an accident. If that ain’t original, I don’t know what is. The hand is largely the main character, flashing back to times when it had proven useful to its host over key moments in his life as the hand goes on its Paris-set mission to be reunited with him. The young man is an orphan who is sent to live with his uncle and cousin, who are largely inattentive to his existence beyond when he gets in their way. Taking a job as a delivery man, he winds up falling in love with one of his customers and finds a way of connecting with her. The hand’s journey does sometimes feel like it takes a backburner to the story before it became severed, which did leave me somewhat disappointed it wasn’t more avant garde than it already was, which is a weird thing to say about a film that still takes makes a severed hand its primary perspective, but that’s the time we live in, I suppose. I guess I just expect too much avant garde from my avant garde films. Still, it’s an interesting film, and a beautifully animated one, at that.

2.            Frozen II               11/22/19

I’m not a Disney shill, I promise. I just actually really enjoyed Frozen II quite a bit and don’t know what people wanted from it compared to what we ended up getting. Sure, the salamander was a bit of an obvious marketing ploy to sell merch, but what Disney film doesn’t have that? Overall, I felt as though the story of Frozen II wound up being better and more interesting than what we got in the first, though the songs as a whole aren’t as memorable, while still remaining good – one of which is actually kinda great, in my opinion, but I won’t spoil the reasons why if you haven’t seen it already, because part of its greatness is the surprise. The animation is obviously impressive, but I was more surprised by some of the events that take place just before the film’s climax. Yes, the movie was just an excuse to continue ringing out more and more money from an already mammoth property that Disney can exploit for profit, but… dammit, I liked it. And that water horse was badass.

1.            Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker       12/20/19

Sorry, guys, but I’m refusing to get on the hate train with this one. While the holiday season and the timing of the film’s release kept me from doing a timely review of the film, let me just say that I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker and have chosen to completely disregard the morass of toxicity and indecision that has come to characterize a large portion of the Star Wars fandom these days. (I mean, really, did you all not want a reversal of The Last Jedi or did you want this film to go even further in subverting expectations, or… what? What exactly did you all supposedly want from this film? Screw all of you.) Yes, I had issues with certain plot developments, but that was kind of inevitable, and I largely feel as though JJ Abrams has at least somewhat successfully had his cake and eaten it, too, while leaving just enough for all the rest of us to enjoy, only some of us instead decided that the cake was a lie and flipped the whole table over in protest.

Regardless, I think there’s a lot to really love about this film, and I even came away impressed with how much they were able to make Leia work in it, considering the unfortunate circumstances and what they had to work with. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a retread and some of it wasn’t very satisfying, but this was probably always going to happen, and I came out of the theatre (both times, in fact) largely convinced that it was a successful and satisfying conclusion to the now nine-episode saga that began a long time ago… Heck, I even plan on seeing it a third time before it leaves theatres. Perhaps I’m the one who has fallen to the dark side…?

DOCUMENTARY

3.            Fyre Fraud          1/14/19                Documentary

For a while there at the beginning of 2019, it was seemingly impossible to follow entertainment news without hearing about the suddenly incendiary war between rival streaming services Netflix and Hulu after the latter announced that they were going to be debuting their own documentary about the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival a mere four days before Netflix was going to be releasing their own, titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It was a bold move, with Hulu counting on people having enough interest in a freaking documentary to give them an edge over their much bigger competition. Not to mention, they also had an ace up their sleeve – not only did they interview the actual guy behind the festival himself, Billy McFarland, but also one of the guys behind the Netflix documentary, Mike Purzycki, who just so happens to work for the company that was hired to promote both the Fyre Festival and cover up the disastrous failings behind the scenes.

While it’s true that the Hulu documentary paid McFarland for his time, in watching the documentary, this doesn’t mean that the film treats him any kinder. I never got around to watching the Netflix doc, based largely on the fact that it reportedly ignores Purzycki’s and his company’s participation in the event’s failings. Fyre Fraud, meanwhile, proved to be a largely entertaining and informative skewering of not just the details of what went down, but also the overall mindset of the people who worked on and spent money to go to this event based on the promise of rubbing elbows with celebrities, living it up large (at a large monetary cost), and just basically indulging in hedonistic partying on a private island getaway for days – never mind the locals who actually call the island home. Give it a watch.

2.            One Child Nation             8/09/19

This one’s not for the faint of heart, with co-director Nanfu Wang going back to her native China and interviewing family members and participants who enforced the country’s brutal one child policy, which was largely enforced between 1979 and 2015. The government has since reverted back to a two child allowance after the unintended consequences of their population control efforts became apparent, but the film offers up a disturbing look at the way in which their propaganda affected its citizens, including forcing them to see no other solution than to abandon children – most of them girls – in the streets and left to die or be rescued by human traffickers, of all people. Some of these children would go on to be adopted out to foreign countries, including the US, with many people blissfully unaware of the circumstances through which their children made their way into their homes. Wang and co-director Jialing Zhang were both born under the rule and even blindly supported it at one point in their lives, though Wang notably came around to questioning it after moving the US and becoming a mother. The interviews are astonishing in how frank some of the people are in their continued belief that the rule was good because that’s what the government told them to do. This one’s available to watch on Amazon Prime, so if you can manage to handle it, I would strongly recommend it.

1.            Apollo 11             3/01/19

Assembled from newly rediscovered footage shot throughout the Apollo 11 mission that was intended to be released theatrically, Apollo 11 is the result of careful reassembly and restoration and slick editing that puts you into the shoes of those who experienced it firsthand, distilled down into a brisk 93-minute package that tells the story, all without the use of hand-holding narration and interviews. I managed to see the film in true IMAX, and it was seriously one of the most amazing filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had. I question whether a home release would do it justice, but if you didn’t manage to see it in even a regular theatre, you still owe it to yourself to watch this time capsule of a film.

DRAMA

13.          Giant Little Ones              3/01/19

Sometimes I can’t help myself and seek out interesting films about the experiences of LGBT+ people, and this year I managed to find an interesting little gem in the form of Giant Little Ones, a film about two best friends, Franky and Ballas, who, during a drunken night together, something almost happens between them, causing Ballas to storm out. Franky goes to school and finds that he suddenly has to deal with rumors of his sexuality – despite the fact that he’s not the one who initiated it. It’s an interesting spin on the usual storyline, where you’d usually find yourself following the gay character throughout their journey. Instead, it’s about how Franky deals with the pressures of being suspected as gay while keeping his friend’s secret, even while that friend is perpetuating the misinformation. It’s not a mind-blowing film, by any means, but I appreciated the perspective and thought the acting was pretty good.

12.          A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood     11/22/19

I don’t seem to be as taken with this film as everyone else seems to be, largely in part because I still find Tom Hanks’ admittedly great performance as Mr. Rogers to be a distracting one. I don’t think he resembles Rogers all that much, neither in performance nor in his essence, but hey, it’s still a good one, and the movie does a very good job of portraying just how special he was through his eventual friend, journalist Tom Junod, here portrayed in fictionalized form by Matthew Rhys as a character named Lloyd Vogel. The film’s storytelling is unexpectedly creative, presenting the story as a sort of story within an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and exploring how Rogers inspires Vogel to change his jaded outlook on life and even challenge his estranged relationship with his father. It’s a very good film, and a moving one at that, one that I have no problems saying is worthy of being on this list. I just also think that the documentary that came before it – Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – is a much stronger and powerful film, hence putting it so low in this section. It’s still good. I’m just sometimes averse to the whole “based on a true story but not really” vibe I get from films like this.

11.          The Mustang     3/15/19

It’s hard to empathize with someone who has done something truly terrible in their past, but that’s the magic of filmmaking. The Mustang follows a prisoner named Roman who finds an outlet for his rage by entering into a rehabilitation program that has prisoners training wild mustangs that go on to be auctioned off. Roman finds himself drawn to a particularly wild horse who, much like himself, has been put in isolation. While the parallels are somewhat wrote, the portrayal of Roman’s and the horse’s bond and direction of the film is strong, with first time director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre clearly has something to say about how prisoner are treated and rehabilitated in prison systems, portraying the program as a catharsis for men who may be more likely to see the error of their actions and find some sort of redemption or atonement in the process.

10.          Honey Boy          11/08/19

Shia LaBeouf has had a hard life. That’s the most basic message one can glean from Honey Boy, a film inspired by LaBeouf’s upbringing as a child star dealing with a father who had his own dreams of stardom and lived them out through his child. LeBeouf here takes on the role of the father, James Lort, while Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe take on the role of the child, Otis, at two different stages in his life. To be perfectly honest, if there’s one weak spot of the film, it’s that while Hedges is really good in the role, his part is little more than a possibly needless framing device for the flashbacks to Otis’ childhood. That being said, the scenes where it’s Jupe and LaBeouf are interacting are truly incredible, with both deserving of accolades for their performances. Noah Jupe is immediately sympathetic, but not because he’s an angelic child who’s suffering. He shows a great deal of maturity in the role, and it’s amazing to see someone so young be so good at playing Otis the child actor and Otis the child who’s being forced to grow up too fast. Some have dismissed the film as being a mere therapeutic exercise for LaBeouf, who is trying to rehabilitate his own image, but apart from the weaker framing device that isn’t even necessarily all that bad as much as it is a bit extraneous, if this is the therapy he needs, I’m more than willing to listen.

9.            Ford v. Ferrari   11/25/19

Not my personal favorite pick for best film of the year, but Ford v. Ferrari is definitely a great, energetic film about the rivalry between the two companies and, specifically, the partnership between professional driver Ken Miles and former driver-turned engineer Carroll Shelby in their effort to develop a car that can allow Ford to challenge its Italian rivals on their own turf, namely the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a great credit to Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and director James Mangold that this potentially stale subject matter, made in a time where it’s hard to root for big companies in their effort to best other big companies, remains so compelling and watchable, and, thankfully the movie, despite its title, focuses much more on the two men and their friendship and what their project means to them more than just the rich guys in suits. The racing scenes, even for someone like me who isn’t that interested in cars, will hold your attention while still keeping the focus on the characters. This is the kind of film you know if you’ll like or not, so if that’s you, definitely check it out.

8.            Judy       9/27/19

If ever there was a film that was elevated by an actor’s performance, it’s Judy. I know earlier I criticized A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for Tom Hanks being distractingly not Mr. Rogers, but I feel like Renee Zellweger’s performance as Judy Garland at what would end up being the tail end of both her career and life is a real triumph of getting it just right enough to be not a perfect imitation but a perfect evocation, down to her doing her own singing. There’s just no denying the star power on display, both in the person she’s portraying and the seeming effortlessness with which she does so. I’ll be surprised if Zellweger doesn’t win this one.

7.            Rocketman         5/31/19

From one musician biopic to another, this one by uncredited Bohemian Rhapsody director (and presumably salvager) Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman focuses on the life and experiences of yet another gay icon and pioneer, Sir Elton John, with I think far more success than its bland predecessor. Rocketman wears its musical trappings on its sequined sleeves, using fantastical imagery and song-and-dance numbers that make the film far more interesting to experience than through a structure that was long ago lampooned by Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Not only that, I think it’s a crying shame that Taron Egerton didn’t get enough recognition for his portrayal of Elton, a fortuitous casting decision that must’ve been due to Elton’s appearance in the second Kingsman movie. Sanctioned by Elton himself, complete with a brand-new song written for the film, the film is also a lot franker and more honest about his life experiences, despite the fanciful touches, than the more sanitized treatment Freddie Mercury got. Perhaps Elton’s music isn’t nearly as universally loved as Queen’s, but regardless of your musical tastes, that shouldn’t be reason to ignore what is so clearly a much better overall film, one that treats its music as more of an asset than a crutch.

6.            The Irishman     11/01/19

Scorsese plays the hits. Yes, The Irishman isn’t exactly the most original thing we’ve seen from the venerated director, which has led some to make jokes at his expense, given his critiques of Marvel films, but say what you will about the man, he really knows how to make a compelling film about organized crime. Reuniting with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci while somehow working with Al Pacino for the first time in his career, Scorsese’s The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt and is the accounting of the life of Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked with the Bufalino crime family and who confessed to killing Jimmy Hoffa before dying in 2003. The truth behind the confession remains in question, but the film takes it for granted as truth and recounts Sheeran’s rise to power within the family and the conflicted relationship he had with Hoffa, a guy who was for all intents and purposes his friend, at least according to the film.

The movie makes extensive use of deaging effects on its three leads, and while it’s sometimes noticeable thanks to the extended and numerous shots, it’s a remarkable achievement for something so ambitious – and so long as The Irishman is. All three leads are in top form, reminding everyone that these guys are, in fact, acclaimed for a reason and not the punchlines modern films might make younger audiences assume they are. Scorsese might not be breaking new ground here, but, you know, sometimes it’s greatest hits albums can be great in their own right.

5.            1917       12/25/19

I don’t like putting war movies based in reality in the “action” section, if only because I feel it’s a bit tacky. Most war movies’ combat scenes are better served by seeing them for the dramatic impacts they have on characters than an exhilarating adrenaline rush they instill in audience members, so that’s why this is here and not there. That out of the way, there’s still a lot of spectacle to be had with these films, and 1917 is definitely a spectacle, with the main subject surrounding the fact that the film is edited in such a way as to look like a single take. I don’t think that’s necessarily true – obvious places where they cut aside, I can think of at least two moments in which the film absolutely does jump cut. Luckily, I don’t think that’s the main selling point, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think anyone should think of it as such, either, since I actually found it to be kinda distracting and gets in the way of some scenes achieving their true potential. I would have much rather the film used a series of long takes (or, you know, the fake long takes that most movies use so that everyone stands in awe of the craftsmanship… I might have become very jaded about audiences’ and filmmakers’ fascination with long takes. Perhaps the kinetic editing of other films has left us wanting a little too much? I digress…)

1917 is the story of two soldiers’ attempts to make it to a distant battlefront before the order to attack takes place. Intelligence has it on good authority that it’s a trap, and since it’s World War I, this is a much longer, more grueling process than it would be today. The film is beautiful to look at, but oftentimes hauntingly so, which is appropriate for a war that seemed like the apocalypse to those who took part in it. It’s another one of those simple premises that is expertly executed and adds up to a sum that’s much greater than its parts. There are things that hold it back, yes – not just the aforementioned long take gimmick, but also a series of actors popping up that might end up feeling more like distracting cameos to some, one of whom has a big old distracting makeup choice on his face that I feel is much better suited for something more fanciful. That being said, I’m putting it high up on this list regardless because, truthfully, I really thought this was a very well-made movie that I just think could’ve been that much better.

4.            Marriage Story                  11/06/19

Oh man, what a display of impressive performances this was. I kept hearing people talk about how incredible it was and all these subtle hints as to what happened in the film, it was almost agonizing not having the time and energy to get around to watching a film that demanded this much of my attention – plus, the fact that it was just sitting there on Netflix made me sometimes feel like, “I can watch that any time!” But I’m so glad I watched it in time, because not only is this movie filled with great performances from Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, and even Ray Liotta, but it’s just one of the best and fairest portrayals of a marriage falling apart in quite some time. Yes, they’re a bit too much of a yuppie couple to find them completely relatable, but Johansson and Driver’s characters are just way too well-realized to not feel for them both. The fight they have in Driver’s apartment is one of the most devastatingly realistic portrayals of two people who love each other yet have grown so far apart that they resent each other and want to hurt each other in that moment. It’s so sad, but it’s so, so good.

3.            The Last Black Man in San Francisco       10/04/19

I saw the trailer for this and refused to write this list until I got around to seeing it. This is by far my pick for one of the most poetic and beautiful films of the year, and I’m shocked that it has flown so far under the radar but also so thankful that this is just the first effort from filmmakers Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails. Fails also stars in the film as a fictional version of himself while Jonathan Majors plays his fictional friend (potentially based on Talbot) Mont Allen, a poet and playwright who accompanies Jimmie on his excursions to secretly keep the old house that his grandfather built in good shape after his family lost it after gentrification of the once predominantly black neighborhood forced them to foreclose. When the older hipster couple living in it are themselves forced out, Jimmie and Mont see an opportunity to reclaim it, but the realities of life as black men in modern San Francisco creep up on them.

This is a stirring, warm, sensitive film that is unlike any other film I saw this past year, with a delicate but rich visual style that grabs you from the beginning and never gives up. I could easily say that this is in my top 5 best films of the year.

2.            Little Women    12/25/19

We’ve seen this story translated to screen so many times before, most recently in 2018 when Pure Flix tried their hand at telling a modernized version and made what can only be described as the worst adaptation ever. Not even my mom liked it, and she generally likes Pure Flix movies. My sister, more so, was greatly annoyed by it, as she really enjoys Louisa May Alcott’s book as well as the 1994 adaptation starring Winona Ryder. I assured her that the following year would bring us some hope in the form of Greta Gerwig’s adaptation, and, luckily, I was right to promise good things. The director of Lady Bird strikes again, and with a surprisingly fresh but traditional take on the subject matter. The story is the same, but this time around it parallels Jo’s story as a framing device that references the very real struggles that the author who created her had to endure. The film is also told out of sequence, beginning unexpectedly in the latter half of the book’s story and then drawing parallels between the events of the girls’ childhood and passage into womanhood, which has a surprising effect of making everything seem that much more important, especially the subplot about Beth. I’ve never felt for Beth as much as I did here. Not only that, the performances are all just so fantastic, the movie rounding out the year of Florence Pugh’s three magnanimous performances, here playing the youngest March sister, Amy, with an unforeseen amount of dignity and wisdom, while giving Saoirse Ronan yet another role to make her own. Laura Dern, Emily Watson, Eliza Scanlan, and Timothée Chalamet round out the impressive cast. Even if you’ve seen other adaptations a thousand times over, you owe it to yourself to see this one. It’s somehow one of the best films of the year

1.            The Farewell     7/12/19

For my money, this was undoubtedly the best drama of 2019, and I don’t know how it was that the Golden Globes managed to do better here than the Oscars. I suppose awards really are just arbitrary and mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. [My faith in humanity shatters.] Regardless, what a star turn for Awkwafina. I mean, not that she wasn’t already appearing in anything and everything for the past couple years, but those were all in overtly comedic, over-the-top character performances. Here she gets to show off her dramatic skills, and… well, damn, she’s the real deal.

Inspired by real events that took place in director Lulu Wang’s own life, The Farewell brings to light an unusual but apparently common Chinese belief that it’s not the cancer that will kill you quicker, but rather the shock of finding out you’re dying. In this case, it’s Chinese immigrant slacker Billi Wang’s grandmother, or nai nai, who has fallen ill, and so the family plans a gathering to say one last farewell to her, all without telling her the truth about why they’re there. Because her family believes she is too emotional, having lived in America for far too long, and thus give away the truth, Billi is left behind in America as a liability. Naturally stubborn, Billi still finds her way to China, and it’s there that she learns to contend with the duality of her heritage and the heritage she adopted upon immigrating to the US as a young child.

While the film does have plenty of humor throughout, this is a film that’s much more focused on exploring the concept of identity and heritage and just how much of it makes you you and how connected you are to your own culture, even if you may disagree with some of their ways and beliefs. As someone who is ¼ Asian and was never really brought up with a strong cultural identity as anything but Asian, it’s actually something I have thought about a lot and something I could easily identify with in this film, even from my own unique perspective. (For reference, I’m ¼ Korean but culturally more Japanese, as my ½ Korean mother was adopted by a fully Japanese woman.) Granted, I don’t think you have to be Asian to identify with this film, either, but it’s good to see this particular perspective on display in such a fantastic film.

COMEDY

13.          The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part         2/08/19

Ooph, what a loss. Not the movie – I really enjoyed The Lego Movie 2, which follows-up on the promise of the first film’s ending by exploring the concept of playing nice with your sister and understanding that, no, so-called “girl stuff” isn’t stupid, kids while not being preachy to the point of obnoxiousness and embracing the silliness that made all the other Lego theatrical releases so fun. (Hey – I liked the Ninjago movie and have the green dragon set from the movie, okay! It’s NEAT.) No, what I’m lamenting here is the fact that, despite critical praise and the reputation of its predecessors, The Lego Movie 2 was largely seen as a box office disappointment, and, as such, Warner Bros. and Lego have not moved forward with making any future films, with Lego instead signing on with… … ugh… Universal Studios, owners of DreamWorks Animation and… eesh… Illumination. [cringe] And that really is a shame. These movies have been really wonderfully animated, with a lot of love and care clearly put into every aspect. The songs in this movie – yes, there are more than one this time – are catchy and clever, and the surprise ending nearly as heart-warming as the stuff from the first. I’m very sad to hear that we’ll likely have Lego Minions to infest our social media feeds in the future, but at the very least we can revisit these movies and remember what once was and smile… one last time.

10.          Brittany Runs a Marathon            8/23/19

I feel like this should’ve been this year’s The Big Sick, both being comedies based on true stories and also at their heart being about serious issues that the characters have to deal with while also featuring revelatory performances from comedians you probably wouldn’t have expected previously. While Jillian Bell isn’t basically playing herself here, as was the case with Kumail Nanjiani, Bell does play Brittany Forgler, who is a fictional version of director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s former roommate Brittany O’Neill, and much like the character she plays, Bell went through the trouble of losing a 45 lbs. over the course of making this film. The film avoids making Brittany the butt of too many jokes, her self-deprecation shown to be both endearing but also a serious problem that reflects deeper issues with her self-esteem and a self-destructive lifestyle… but it’s also funny along the way, kind of like a rom-com but where the love interest is within oneself… but it’s also an easy-going stoner guy named Jern. It’s a good movie. It’s on Amazon Prime. Give it a watch.

9.            Toy Story 4         6/21/19

Did we need a Toy Story 4? No, but we didn’t need the first three, either, and the Disney/Pixar sequel machine is here to deliver, and we can all be grateful that at least this one is pretty great, even if it’s not quite as great as the last one (a theme with follow-ups of late, isn’t it?). The fourth and presumably final entry (though we’ve all been there before) in the series serves as sort of an epilogue to the whole saga, giving closure to the one thread that everyone wanted answered but didn’t get from the third: Whatever did happen to Bo Peep? It would’ve been fine enough to leave it as is, presuming as suggested that Molly simply grew out of having her around and Bo was simply given away, but Toy Story 4 makes a solid story out of it that continues the themes of what it means to be a sentient toy in this universe and what you do when it seems like you’ve been outgrown by your child. Toy Story 3 presented a solution in the form of hand-me-downs, but it seems like Bonnie’s tastes as she grows older have begun to change, as evidenced by her newly crafted companion, Forky – a spork who has been brought to life, presumably by the mere act of Bonnie giving him a personality through her imagination. Forky quickily overtakes Woody in Bonnie’s life, and Woody is having a hard time of it. A family trip sees Woody taking care of the existentially conflicted Forky and, by pure chance, reuinites him with Bo, who is now living life as a carefree lost toy.

The film definitely feels like a fitting final act, with Woody presented with a final decision to make regarding his own purpose in life, disconnected from how he sees himself connected to others and what he believed to be the true purpose of a toy. It’s very interesting stuff, and it’s still astonishing that Pixar can create such underlying drama within such an entertaining and family-friendly story. There are more than a few times when it feels like the film doesn’t quite execute things as perfectly as you would hope – a character’s sudden shift later on feels kind of sudden and unwarranted, to the point of being almost forced, for example – but I’d be hard pressed to say that it wasn’t still affecting, and most of the new characters it introduces along the way are easily among the best the series has had since the second film brought us Jessie. I don’t think I want any more films, but I can’t say I haven’t been enjoying the Forky Asks a Question shorts on Disney+, either…

8.            Dolemite Is My Name    10/04/19

Not another Dolemite film, as I was assuming when this first started making headlines for being yet another comeback for Eddie Murphy, but rather a film about the man behind Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore, an underdog comedian who became an underground hit and catapulted his standup routine into an unlikely film series. Dolemite Is My Name is greatly entertaining and doesn’t fall into the usual traps of a biopic, feeling very much like a character-driven comedy first and foremost that happens to be based on true events. Murphy really is great in the lead role, and even if your taste in comedy isn’t the kind that Moore specializes in, the film does a good job of making you understand what made him resonate with audiences and why it was such a monumental thing for him to make the first Dolemite film, even if it was a “just” a silly, nonsensical blaxploitation film. If you have a Netflix account, you have access to this film.

7.            Fighting with My Family               2/14/19

The first of what would be three major roles for Florence Pugh in 2019 is probably her most different of them all, playing Saraya-Jade Bevis, a young girl from Norwich, England who is perhaps better be known under her WWE alias, “Paige.” The story tells of her and her family’s passion for wrestling, both in the ring and training others, and her (along with her brother’s) attempts to get into the WWE. As she would throughout the year, Pugh dominates the screen with her performance, but she’s also got a great supporting cast in Vince Vaughn as her trainer, Nick Frost and Lena Heady as her parents, and Jack Lowden as her brother. It is your classic story of underdog competing in an athletic event and achieving their dreams, and you know this from the start because, well… she got into the WWE. As with many sports movies, you don’t necessarily need to enjoy the sport to enjoy the story, and Fighting with My Family is, if nothing else, a welcome rough-and-tumble breath of fresh air to a genre that can at times be a bit too saccharine.

6.            The Peanut Butter Falcon            8/09/19

This film could have easily been exploitative of its premise – a man with Down syndrome, Zak, runs off with a troubled young man, Tyler, and sets out on a journey to achieve his dream: join a professional wrestling school. On their tail is Eleanor, Zak’s designated caretaker at the elderly home that he where he was abandoned. Though not malicious in her intents, her job is on the line unless she gets him back into the home’s care, and she only wants what’s best for Zak – but so does Tyler, who begins to see Zak as a surrogate brother. This is an incredibly sweet film that thankfully never goes over-the-top, and Zak (and the actor portraying him, Zack Gottsagen) are treated as equal to Shia Labeouf and Dakota Johnson. Labeouf in particular had a good year rehabilitating his image as an actor, between this and Honey Boy, and I for one welcome it.

5.            The Art of Self-Defense                 7/12/19

“Toxic masculinity” is a term thrown around a lot these days, which has led to some dismissing the concept as a whole as being an overreaction to a perceived injustice that has either been resolved or at least minimized. Obviously, that’s not at all true, but if you want to get a crash course illustration of the concept while enjoying a seriously dark comedy, The Art of Self-Defense is possibly a good place to begin. Jesse Eisenberg, perfectly cast, plays Casey Davies, a man who joins a karate dojo after being assaulted on the street and left feeling emasculated. He takes an immediate liking to his sensei, who in turn sees in Casey a man beneath the wussy exterior, noting the unfortunate effeminacy in his name and encouraging him to take a liking in more masculine music, such as heavy metal. The more entrenched Casey finds himself in the dojo, however, the more he finds himself inclined to violence, and the more he begins to feel uncomfortable with the things he’s asked to do and tolerate, including the mistreatment of the one female student in the class, Anna. Anna is a tough girl who is technically second to only their sensei, but she’s routinely looked over in favor of the male students, and she doesn’t appreciate the presence of their sensei’s new pet project. The humor in the film lies in the uncomfortable and shocking, extreme nature of what eventually plays out, and the fact that the film plays it all out so matter-of-factly adds to the humorous tone, even when you should be disturbed. If Fight Club’s subtext didn’t quite register with you, consider watching this for extra credit.

4.            Greener Grass                   10/18/19

Boy, the things you discover while looking to spend some free Google Play money. I regularly delay shipping on Amazon and take surveys through Google Rewards just to get what I consider to be rental money for movies that might be hard to find in theatres, on regular streaming services, etc., and this oftentimes leads me to finding some real gems. This year it wound up being Greener Grass (not to be confused with Grass is Greener, the 2019 Netflix documentary about cannabis hosted by Fab Five Freddy), a truly absurdist comedy film if there ever was one, directed and written by as well as starring Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe and based on their 2015 short film. It’s kind of hard to summarize the plot, but essentially it takes place in a well-to-do suburb where the two leads, Jill and Lisa, are constantly competing to one-up each other in the social sphere. The film plays out like a straight, deadly serious depiction of a 7-year-old girl’s idea of what an adult soap opera or serious drama is like, down to the characters’ mannerisms and the sense that this is a world conceived by someone who doesn’t quite understand what it is they are talking about, but are somehow right on the money in terms of the satire of petty jealousies that can plague adult situations. There are times in the middle where it can feel like it’s a bit too stretched out to meet a certain length, but there’s no denying that the actors in the film absolutely nail their performances. Certainly one of the most original films I’ve seen this year.

3.            One Cut of the Dead       9/13/19

I initially had this one in the horror section, but more so than most horror comedies, One Cut of the Dead is a film that will appeal to those who don’t even like the genre, and after the first 30 minutes, you’ll begin to understand why. I went into the film during a limited screening at the Alamo Drafthouse having only heard about its greatness and otherwise being completely ignorant of the turn it takes afterward, only knowing that it was something to do with zombies and being shot in a single take (or at least edited to look like it was), and I gotta say that that was probably the ideal setup for me, so I won’t spoil it here. Needless to say, though, this movie is truly something special and even downright heartwarming, and if the first 30 minutes didn’t grab you, rest assured that the rest of the film is probably one of the best payoffs for your patience and sheds a new light on how well spent that half hour was. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT skip out on this, even if you don’t like horror or even horror comedies.

2a.            Jojo Rabbit 3/24/19

If you’re reading this list for the second time, yes, I did somehow accidentally leave this off my list. I really don’t know how. But while watching the Oscars, as it won Best Adapted Screenplay… it suddenly dawned on me that I did not add Jojo Rabbit to my list somehow. And you know, that’s completely ridiculous, because ever since I saw it, it was one of my favorite movies of the year. Yes, it drew controversy for its very loose depiction of Germany under Nazi rule… not to mention the inclusion of an imaginary Hitler as a bit of comic relief, but that’s completely missing the point. This isn’t a movie about the Holocaust nor is it really about the horrors of the Nazis themselves, but rather a satire about the silliness of racism and prejudice, as illustrated through the relationship between the young Jojo, who aspires to make the Nazis proud, and Elisa, the Jewish girl who was allowed to live in the wall of his home by his mother.

The movie is very silly and quite hilarious, but it also knows when to step back and put things into perspective and let the emotions resonate. … I’m honestly not certain where this sits on my list in relation to Booksmart, in fact, so here’s a compromise. This is 2a, and that one is now 2b. It’s that hard a decision for me. Yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out, but this was actually supposed to be here (I also almost left off Uncut Gems, which got left off in the transfer of this list from Excel to Word, where I initially wrote all this), and in my sleep deprived state writing this list, I somehow messed it up and deleted one of the most wonderful movies of the year. Plus, I gotta watch the Oscars.

2b.            Booksmart          3/24/19

I really wanted to put this at the top of my comedy list, if not for the fact that I decided that I was really shoehorning my next film into the thriller genre just to put it here. That being said, for a straight up comedy film, Booksmart is undoubtedly my favorite from 2019. Yes, it could be succinctly described as being a female-led version of Superbad, a movie I also love, but there’s enough difference here to make Booksmart probably the better overall film, and it’s just as funny. Kaitlyn Dever (who impressed in a completely different kind of performance on Netflix’s miniseries Unbelievable) and Beanie Feldstein, who you might recall as the best friend of Saoirse Ronan’s character in Lady Bird, star as two high school seniors, Amy and Molly, who have spent the best parts of their four years making sure that they studied harder than anyone else in their school, right down to never going out and partying like all of their peers. This, they believed, would give them a leg-up in college and the professional world as their classmates went off to work in fast food restaurants.

On the last day of school, however, they find out that all of that was for naught – not only are many of their classmates going to the same prestigious schools that they are, they fundamentally missed out on a key part of their high school experience by not going to a single party and having a good time. So they set out to make up for it all the day before graduation, attempting to make it to the big party in the rich part of town and show everyone that they’re not just a couple of shut-in bookworms. Only, they don’t actually know where it’s happening, leading to a series of mishaps and adventures.

The movie is hysterical, with a scene stealing performance from Billie Lourd thrown in for good measure, but it’s also easily as great at developing its characters with sensitivity and striking some real dramatic chords for good measure while never getting bogged down too much in drama. This was the first film Olivia Wilde directed, and, man – she really knocked it out of the park on the first try. I loved this movie.

#1.            Once Upon a Time in Hollywood              7/26/19

Ever since it came out, I have long held that Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s best film, but now… I’m having a hard time not being taken by what I think is not only the best comedy of the year, but also possibly the best film of the year that I saw. (See what I did here with the positioning of this list? You’re welcome.) This film is meticulously crafted, and while it is yet another film about making magic happen in Hollywood, which makes this particular film all the more likely to win the Oscar for Best Picture since they like that kind of thing out there, rest assured that this is a film that will undoubtedly deserve such an honor, even if the odds are tilted in its favor. This is also probably Tarantino’s most accessible and mature film, which is necessary since it’s also the first to incorporate real events into its narrative, namely that of Sharon Tate, who was infamously murdered by the Manson family along with her friends in 1969, an event that many claim marked the end of the idealism of the 1960s. Tarantino uses these events to his advantage to tell the story about an aging actor, Rick Dalton, and his trusty friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth, as they find themselves both at the tail ends of their careers, with young stars like Sharon Tate and even Bruce Lee just about to take off in the public consciousness and run off with the box office.

While the film does center around Dalton and Booth, there was concern when the film was first announced that Tarantino wouldn’t have the kind of restraint necessary to tell a story about the murders that took place around this time, with some worried he might exploit it for his usual blood and guts violence for the sake of entertainment. The film, you can rest assured, does not go in that direction and even gained the approval from Tate’s own sister, who praised the way the subject and the depiction of Sharon were handled. She is just in the periphery of the main story, and, yes, Margot Robbie doesn’t get nearly as many lines as her male costars, but lines aren’t the only facet of acting, and Robbie is absolutely wonderful and charming in the role, doing a lot and making a big impact with the small amount of screentime she is purposely given. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt give some of the best and most entertaining performances of their careers here as Dalton and Booth, respectively, both absolutely deserving of their various nominations.

This is a film that perfectly recreates the setting and era and manages to be hilarious, dramatic, and even at one point almost subtly terrifying as it plays out, and by the time it gets to its big finale, you’re going to want to watch it all over again just to catch everything you may have missed – which is saying a lot because this is a long film. You’ll never grow tired while watching it, though. I think this just may be his masterpiece.

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