As the last year of the decade, 2019 really closed out the 2010s with a bang. It felt like every one of its 365 days brought with it a new cinematic gift. There was something for everyone this year. Mainstream audiences got their fill of crowd pleasing blockbusters (almost all of which were made by Disney), cinephiles had a plethora of excellent dramas, documentaries and foreign films to watch and there were even outstanding movies made for streaming services for those who stopped going to the cinema years ago. It seemed like the only problem this year had was that of excess. There was too many films released this year. So many great films that only played festivals I couldn’t attend, so many great films I didn’t get around to watching, so many I heard about too late for me to have seen before making this list. Unfortunately this is not a comprehensive list of the best films released this year. For one thing, it doesn’t include any documentaries and like I said, it doesn’t include every film I wanted to see this year. This is however, a ranking of my personal favorite films released this year. It is purely subjective. I’ve ordered them from the absolute worst thing I saw to my favorite film of the year.
This is my Top 10 Favorite Films of the Year (plus 39 honorable mentions).
49. 3 From Hell
No director’s fall from grace frustrates and confounds me more than Rob Zombie. His first film, although not great had a unique voice and style. His Halloween films had some solid direction buried under a lot of terrible plot decisions. His animated film was dumb but has a unique charm about it. The Devil’s Rejects is a grindhouse masterpiece and The Lord’s of Salem is a bit of a mess but again, his direction isn’t one of its problems. Then something happened and he suddenly lost his ability to direct. I don’t know if the constant fighting with the studios broke him or if he went blind and has to direct through pantomime but is constantly drunk, so no one on the set knows what to do at any given time.
I have no idea what it was but it had to be drastic because 31 and 3 From Hell are two of the most incompetent horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing about either of these films works. The writing is infantile even by a twelve year old’s standards, the editing is nonsensical, there’s far too many close ups and shaky cam and in the case of 3 From Hell, properly ruins his most iconic characters. I don’t know who this Rob Zombie making terrible movies now is and I want nothing to do with him.
48. Escape Room
George Romero didn’t just create zombies with his landmark film Night of 2the living dead, he also gave birth to the single location horror movie; the single biggest gift to low budget directors. Having one location is an easy way for a director to not only save money (which is essential for independent filmmaking) but having all of the characters in one location immediately creates tension and suspense. The audience will think to themselves “how are they going to escape?” or worse, “is the thing preventing them from escaping going to get IN?”
Movies like Cube, Evil Dead, Paranormal Activity, Saw and Pontypool—just to name a few—all used one location to great effect. The Escape Room however, does not. The characters are unlikable, the dialogue is ridiculous, the acting is subpar, the puzzles are either retarded baby easy or impossible to solve, the ending is forehead slappingly stupid and it doesn’t do a single fun or original thing. It’s a colossal waste of time.
47. Velvet Buzzsaw
Few directors hit a a homerun with their first movie and while I wouldn’t consider Nightcrawler a masterpiece, it’s certainly one of the best debuts of the 00’s. Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Velvet Buzzsaw lead me to believe Nightcrawler was an accident. Say what you will about the forgettable Roman J. Blah Blah Blah but at least that film had an amazing performance by Denzel Washington. Its not much but Velvet Buzzsaw doesn’t even have that. The biggest problem with this film (besides it’s criminal wasting of an amazing cast) is the fact that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? A horror film? A biting satire of the pretentious art scene? I have no idea. It feels like an entire season of American Horror Story condensed into one incoherent film.
46. Pet Semetary
You know those bowls of fake fruit companies use to make a whatever table their selling look more appealing? Other than being a tangible thing you can touch and look at, they serve no purpose other than to confuse people into believing they’re the real thing. That’s this movie. At first glance, it’s a movie. It’s got a pretty solid cast of actors and its got a nice shine to it but on closer inspection, it’s fool’s gold. It’s a cardboard cutout. There’s nothing to it. It’s boring as hell, it’s not scary in the least and not a single interesting thing happens the entire runtime. Skip it and watch the original instead because even though it’s also pretty bad, it at least has a theme song by the Ramones. Which automatically makes it a billion times better than the remake.
45. The Furies
Talk about missing the target. This film is the cinematic equivalent of watching a kid hover the tail over the donkey’s ass for 90 minutes and then still pin it to himself. It’s aggravating how close this film comes to greatness. The gore is great and the premise is amazing (a group of women are dumped in the woods and are hunted by a group of slashers but the twist is, each slasher is paired to a woman. Meaning that if she dies, he dies. So each slasher is both a protector and a hunter) but the characters are the absolute fucking worst and it never does anything interesting with its concept. Why the fuck wouldn’t you have the final girl and killer team up? Goddamn it Furies. You had one job.
Predator meets Cast Away but without the fun and excitement of the former and no character development of the latter. The main character is so devoid of any emotion, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening. You would think getting harassed by a giant sea creature whilst being marooned on a deserted island would inspire more than casual indifference but at no point does she seem afraid or even bothered by her situation. I mean, it doesn’t help the fact that everything she needs to survive she conveniently finds her first day. Matches! Coca Cola! New clothes! Rope to make a hammock and a trap! The only thing not found on the island is a plot.
43. Captain Marvel
If it wasn’t for Samuel l. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, this movie would be completely unwatchable. The plot is heavily reliant on flashbacks, which would work if this film was a mystery the audience was supposed to unravel but they’re given all of the information a good 40 minutes before the main character, which defeats the purpose and makes the structure needlessly convoluted. The villain is boring, their evil plan is lame and the action is stale. On top of all of this, Brie Larson gives a lifeless performance. This is almost as bad as the worst of DC.
42. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
The mountain of obstacles this movie had to overcome to work were so innumerable, the fact that it only makes it about half way is still an amazing accomplishment. It’s not only based on a video game, which automatically doomed it from the start, but it was the first live action movie to adapt the most beloved property in existence. In terms of sheer numbers, Pokemon is the most popular and successful thing in the history of entertainment, so bringing that world to life was a huge undertaking. And for the most part, the film succeeds. It’s got an ok mystery plot, a whole bunch of pokemon action, and Deadpool voicing Pikachu. It’s not as successful as say, an Iron Man, but as video game adaptations go, it’s probably the best.
41. It Chapter Two
What the fuck happened? Whether you like the first IT or not, you have to admit that effort was put into that film to make it scary. Now, whether you think it was scary or not, is based entirely on personal preference but the fact remains, it was a horror film made with the intent to scare you. I have no idea what the goal of this film was. It undermines every scare with a joke, it’s entirely too long (why is Henry Bowers in this? He does precisely nothing and adds nothing to the plot), the tone is wildly inconsistent, the structure is repetitive, most of the plot is made irrelevant by the end and the final confrontation is laughable. If it wasn’t for Hader and Ransone, this film might be unwatchable.
40. Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Zach Galifianakis and his oddball crew take a road trip to complete a series of high-profile celebrity interviews. Basically cameo the movie, Between Two Ferns is his web series stretched out to feature length but with pointless filler in between the interviews and with each interview being cut down to one or two questions. It’s the type of comedy where the bloopers end up being the best thing about it.
39. Triple Frontier
This film was in development hell for so long that: Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Mahershala Ali, and lastly Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum, were all at attached to star at one point or another. Which begs the question, what the fuck was the film before the rewrite that attracted so many talented actors to it? Because as it is now, the film is not much more than a watered down version of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cast is all good but it’s overlong and lacks urgency. There’s nothing moving the plot along. The film goes from scene to scene without any dramatic tension to propel the plot or emotional stakes to keep me invested. Triple Frontier is an ok film but it’s damn near impossible to give a shit once you know it almost starred Hanks and Depp as government assassins. I would pay anything to see that gonzo ass version of this movie.
38. Alita: Battle Angel
Alita: Battle Angel is a very hard film to review. It’s neither bad enough to elicit anger or incompetent enough to be memorable. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Kanye shrug. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The CGI is pretty good for the most part; as is the action. The scenes between Waltz and Salazar are fantastic but everything involving the “boyfriend” was either cringe worthy or extraneous. In fact, you could’ve removed him and Jennifer Connelly and the plot wouldn’t have been effected in any significant way. It could’ve been better but it also could’ve been a lot worse.
37. Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
Luis Buñuel was a visionary. He helped create surrealism and had no problem using art to push buttons. He’s one of the most influential and important artists of all time. But he was also extremely problematic. His film Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread), is a pivotal work that’s been declared by many, as an essential documentary. It’s a scathing satire of the naïve ethnographic documentaries of the time that also happens to include multiple scenes of animal death and cruelty. It’s a rough watch, which makes it the perfect subject matter for a behind the scenes biopic.
Covering his early years after the controversial releases of Un Chien andalou and L’Age d’Or and the making of Land Without Bread, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is an animated portrait of an artist that did things his way. He abuses animals, compromises his own values, dresses like a nun to upset the church and takes advantage of his friends but the meat of this story and why it almost works, is that it tries to examine why he acts the way that he does. It’s a fascinating story that would’ve worked far better in live action.
36. The Perfection
There seems to be a trend that if social media becomes obsessed with a Netflix movie or show, it never lives up to the hype. Now, The Perfection isn’t the disaster Bird Box was but it’s nowhere near as over the top gruesome as its reputation suggests. If you are going to see it, I suggest going in cold because the film’s fun is built around its shocking revelations. It doesn’t always work, but it throws so many schlocky twists at you, that you’ll never be bored.
35. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
The first Lego Movie had clever social commentary and was a non-stop joke machine. The Lego Batman spin-off ditched the cleverness, kept the jokes and added some fun references for comic book fans. It wasn’t as good but was far better than it had any right to be. The second Lego Movie also ditched the cleverness and the non-stop jokes for a bunch of songs, lazy pop culture references and a time travel plot that isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. Everything about it is over present and drawn out. There’s far too many live action scenes, far too many songs, far too many callbacks to the first and far too many unnecessary action scenes. It’s a shell of wasted potential.
While struggling to save her father during a hurricane, a young woman finds herself trapped underneath a flooding house that’s become over run with alligators and must use all of her considerable courage and strength to overcome the perfect apex predator. If you were to make a Venn diagram with good movies on the left and bad movies on the right, Crawl is one of those films you’d find smack dab in the middle. There’s not a single element of this film I’d consider bad per say but there’s also nothing noteworthy about it either. The best thing you can say about it, is that it’s competent.
33. Ready or Not
A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game. Outside of the performance from the lead actress, everything about this film is merely okay. The deaths aren’t memorable but they’re appropriately gory, the premise isn’t strong but I was never bored and while the humor was appreciated, it was severely hit or miss. It’s not a horror film you need to rush to go see nor is it one you need to buy when it drops on Blu-ray but it’s kinda perfect for those Netflix and chill days. As long as you have booze, that is.
32. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Man, do I feel bad for Jake Gyllenhaal. He was *this* close to being Spider-Man himself and now has to settle for being a D list villain in a mediocre Spider-Man movie. Granted, he is by far the best thing about Far From Home but he, along with Tom Holland, deserve so much more. There hasn’t been an MCU film in a long time that feels as disposable and pointless as this one does. Ant-man and the Wasp was utterly forgettable but it at least explained where Ant-man was during Infinity War. This does nothing. It doesn’t introduce a new character into the universe, it doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the characters it already has and it doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen a million times by now.
The film is also shot terribly. It looks more like one of those CW superhero shows than a 250 million dollar production. There’s a bit in the middle involving Mysterio’s illusions that was cool. That’s about it. Other than that, it’s just another soulless comic book film that offers nothing but mild entertainment. This series is in desperate need of a Raimi.
31. Child’s Play
The horror community automatically dismissing remakes before they’ve been released, is a hill I truly don’t understand why anyone chooses to die on. They’ll gladly watch numerous cashgrab sequels of a beloved property but the second a remake or reboot is announced, only then is Hollywood out of ideas. And furthermore, a good chunk of the best horror movies ever made are remakes, which baffles me more that a vast majority of fans poo-poo the mere idea of a remake. Which brings me to Child’s Play.
A film guaranteed to polarize due to the fact that it’s completely different in almost every conceivable way than the original, which will lead to the inevitable criticism “then why not just call it something else?”, and the fact that it’s not as good as the first but markedly better than most of the sequels. The kills are appropriately gory, the humor lands for the most part and introduces a lot of ideas that could be really fun in future installments. If you can mentally separate it from the rest of the franchise and judge as just a killer doll movie, I guarantee you’ll like it more than half of the franchise.
Haunt is the perfect example of judging a book by its cover, or in this case: its trailer. Everything apart from the film’s poster was unappealing to me. “Produced by Eli Roth and written by the duo who brought you A Quiet Place” isn’t exactly a selling point, nor was the trailer, which made the film look like a derivative, low budget version of Hellfest but I was wrong. It’s a solid slasher with a unique mythology I’d love to see explored in future installments. If this was released in the 80s, Haunt would no doubt be on many of y’alls watchlists every October.
29. Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus
Returning to the small screen after a 17 year absence, Enter the Florpus is, I’m assuming, a backdoor pilot for a new Invader Zim cartoon. Walking the fine line between being faithful enough to the original, that it hits that nostalgic sweet spot and interesting enough to bring in new viewers who have no idea what it is, Enter the Florpus mostly succeeds in giving the fans what they want, without alienating too many people. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
28. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Man in San Francisco is a film about friendship. It’s a film about gentrification. It’s film who’s plot is literally “home is where the heart is” but more importantly, it’s a film about the little lies we tell ourselves everyday in order to achieve some semblance of happiness and how those lies will eventually become our truths if we believe in them hard enough. It’s a film that has a lot to say and while it says those things with style and visual panache, I never really felt invested or cared about what its message was. I can tell that both the leads and the director will go on to bigger and better things due to the strength of their performances and direction, I’m far more interested in their future endeavors than I am with their debut.
27. The Art of Self-Defense
After being savagely attacked by a group of men, a timid young man decides to take up karate but after enlisting in the mysterious night classes, he soon discovers his sensei might be nefarious. If Adult Swim hired Yorgos Lanthimos to direct a remake of The Karate Kid, it would look a lot like The Art of Self-Defense. It has the exact type of hallmarks one would associate with a Lanthimos film (dry/cringey humor, purposefully wooden acting, deadpan delivery, sudden tonal shifts) but with a bit more social commentary. It’s a black comedy with a target — namely toxic masculinity — but the message never gets in the way of the humor. The performances are all stellar (Eisenberg really leans into his Eisenberg persona to great effect and Nivola plays the perfect douche) and the jokes, while a bit too wacky in some places, land for the most part. This is Fight Club for the indie crowd.
This film frustrates me something fierce. On one hand, you have an impeccably shot film that looks absolutely gorgeous and that has great performances and a unique setting but on the other hand, the premise just doesn’t work. The director said that the film is one type of film for one character and a completely different film for everyone else. It’s supposed to be a horror film for everyone you know will eventually die and a fairy tale for the lead and while I can see that, the film itself doesn’t earn it. The horror portion of the film is never scary and I don’t buy the fairy tale bit at all. I’m supposed to believe that she’s slowly falling under the spell of the village and their customs but no one on Earth would even consider moving there. It’s a goddamn hellscape of annoying villagers and pube pies. I know he wanted to do his take on The Wicker Man and while I find the endeavor admirable, it’s a pail imitation that brings very little to the table. But that table sure is purdy though.
You can read Lee’s review here.
25. Dragged Across Concrete
With each film, S. Craig Zahler moves higher and higher on my list of favorite directors. He, like Tarantino before him, has fully embraced the gritty hard edged dramas of the late 60’s—early 70’s. When character and plot drove the story, not spectacular set pieces. Dragged Across Concrete is a film Hollywood stopped making decades ago. Although 48 hrs. was the first buddy cop comedy, it was also the last one to have any edge until now. This is an unpleasant film about unlikable people doing unsavory and illegal things for justifiable reasons, and I liked every minute of it.
Despite the fact that James Wan might’ve been the first director of the new millennium to earn the title of “master of horror” (a distinction he’s rightfully earned with his ambitious MCU-esque Conjuring universe), none of his films hit quite as hard as Get Out. A rare horror that critics and audiences loved, Get Out was a cultural phenomenon, that turned its director, Jordan Peele into the most interesting voice in horror. But that instant acclaim was a double edged sword—it provided him the freedom to do whatever he wanted for his follow up but it also put an insane amount of hype on whatever he did next. And for the most part, it delivers. Peele’s attention to detail, as well as his impeccable directing, definitely put him in the upper echelon of the horror directors working today and Nyong’o’s performance alone makes Us a worthy follow up but if Peele wants to be known as a master of horror, his next film needs to more than just good. It needs to be scary.
23. Always Be My Maybe
It seems like, at least from my experience anyways, that men and women are more willing to accept cliches as long as they’re in films that they enjoy. It’s a bit of a generalization but it seems like men have no problem turning a blind eye to the ridiculous tropes of action movies, while women adore “chick flicks” that are little more than a checklist of genre staples. I’m trying to avoid regurgitating old hackneyed stand up bits (men do this, while women do this!) or the ridiculous “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” bullshit but it certainly seems true because whenever I’m forced to watch a romantic comedy, I immediately recognize the cliches and they infuriate me.
The completely-out-of-nowhere third act conflict, which leads to a race against time with the main character having to head to an airport to catch the woman he loves before she leaves forever and yada yada yada you know the rest. Romantic comedies cliches are the worst, which makes Always Be My Maybe that much more refreshing. The two leads have a natural chemistry and play off each other nicely, the dialogue is witty and feels naturalistic, the celebrity cameo is hilarious and while it doesn’t manage to avoid every cliche, the ones that make it in, are a lot more tolerable due to the sharp writing and likable leads. If you’re a fan of romantic comedies, this one is a must watch.
You can read Romona’s review here.
Many critics have referred to Monos as “Apocalypse Now but with children” and while that’s certainly accurate, it would be a bit more accurate to describe it as “Apocalypse Now remade with children directed by Werner Herzog”. Isolated from civilization and their own organization, a group of teen soldiers who’ve been tasked with guarding an American hostage and a cow, slowly begin to turn on each other due to shifting allegiances. The film has the same surreal quality as Coppola’s classic but has more of an edge to it.
The things these children are asked to do in this is borderline unethical. The actors are all constantly fighting without stunt doubles, they’re shooting in a rainforest (and since this isn’t a Hollywood production, you know the conditions were garbage) and there’s a scene where two characters get swept away by some violent rapids that I have no idea how they managed to pull off. The film feels intense because you can tell the shoot was intense. It’s a hypnotic Lord of the Flies-esque trip into adolescent madness.
21. The Farewell
Originally told on a podcast, Lulu Wang’s autobiographical story works far better as a narrative feature. The story is so compelling that it would be great in any medium but film has something an essay or a podcast doesn’t, which is the visual component. Hearing or reading about a family that decides to hide a cancer diagnosis from their own grandmother, makes for a fascinating and enthralling experience but actually getting to see the family and their lovable grandmother, is more powerful than any author or talented voice actor could convey.
In order for the story to have real dramatic weight, you need to see the toll the secrets are taking on everyone involved. You need to see the guilt everyone feels for the deception. You need to feel the ticking clock that makes every interaction almost unbearable and you need to see the grandmother, who’s completely oblivious to the whole thing. She’s the sweetest person in the world, which makes their lie, as complicated as it is, a truly unselfish act. Why ruin her happiness with a little bit of truth? The Farewell is a marvelous feel good movie that will pummel you with emotions, both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
20. Jojo Rabbit
Loosely based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a young boy who’s forced to confront his blind nationalism and personal biases when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in the attic of their house. Billed as an “anti-hate satire” Taika Waititi’s WWII comedy gets major points for having the balls to not only include Hitler as one of the main characters but to set a comedy in Germany during the height of the war and while both are commendable, I wish it pushed the realism a bit more.
There’s some shockingly dark scenes in the film but it lacks the courage to depict the truly ugly. I also wasn’t a fan of the imaginary Hitler. I thought Waititi was fun in the role and I get what the film was doing with him but it always felt jarring to me. I didn’t think he was funny and distracted from the real meat of the story. Jojo Rabbit is a well meaning albeit flawed satire that lacks any real bite but is well made and entertaining enough to justify its existence.
19. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A group of teens must solve the mystery of a haunted book that writes scary stories that eventually come true before their story is written and they suffer a terrible fate. Much like the 2017 IT, since it’s a horror film made for kids, I don’t think it’s fair to judge this film as an adult but to imagine what I would’ve thought about it as a kid and 12 year old me would’ve fucking loved this film. I would’ve dug the shit out of the monster effects, would’ve thought the comedic relief character was hilarious and definitely been scared to death by the Jangly Man. As an adult, I can see the flaws but even still, I was entertained. Which I guess means I have the taste of a child.
18. Tigers are Not Afraid
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. Terrifying, poignant, and emotionally devastating, Tigers are Not Afraid is a mashup of Pan’s Labyrinth and City of God but scarier than the former and as brutal as the latter. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to show children in peril, not for the shock value ala Troma films but because for many, death is an everyday occurrence. With terrific performances from the five leads and a sense of dread that permeates throughout every frame, Tigers are not Afraid is a devastating piece of cinema not to be missed.
17. I Lost My Body
Never has the phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination” been as thoroughly tested as it is in this film. I Lost My Body tells the story of a young man (Dev Patel) who is trying to win the affections of a young woman while working as an apprentice for her uncle. The story cuts between their budding romance and his severed hand who’s getting intro all sorts of misadventures on his way back to his body. It’s a very unique framing device who’s central mystery kept me engaged. How did he lose his hand and how the hell did it end up in a dissection lab across town? But unfortunately the answer to that question, along with the outcome of their relationship, is wholly unsatisfying. There are few things more disappointing than a mystery with no payoff or a romance without a resolution and this film does both. It does get a lot of points for its likable characters, top notch animation and originality but it really needed a great ending to work and it just doesn’t have one.
16. Honey Boy
One part therapy session and one part exorcism of childhood demons, Honey Boy is an autobiographical account of actual cannibal Shia LaBeouf’s life. It jumps back and forth between “him” in a rehab center around the time of one of the “Transformers” movies and “him” as child actor living in a motel with his father around the time he’s making “Evens Stevens.” I’m using quotation marks because while it’s clearly about LaBeouf, the names have all been changed. I’m assuming for either legal or artistic reasons. The film is kind of a mess, with a couple of subplots being either undercooked, unnecessary or unsatisfying (FKA Twigs, while not bad, served no purpose) and an ending that just…ends, but it’s held together by two of the best performances of the year.
The scenes between LaBeouf (who’s playing his own father) and Noah Jupe (who’s playing the younger version of him) are amongst the best of the year. The film around them works for the most part but every time it cuts to the Hedges segment or has Jupe interact with anyone who isn’t LaBeouf, it just doesn’t work as well. It’s a film that isn’t perfect but is the perfect launch pad for some amazing future talent.
15. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Few people could’ve predicted a film about a hitman getting revenge on the people who killed his dog would spawn one of the most action packed franchises in history, but here we are. I know the action is what brings the asses to the seats, but, personally, I’m far more interested in the comic book-esque mythology the series has slowly piecemealed out with each film. This film reveals a little bit more about the High Table and how they operate as well as glimpse into Wick’s past, but I’d like a bit more of the minutia of the inner workings of this world. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d actually prefer if they scaled back the action. Much like The Raid 2, there might be too much action. Which is a weird criticism considering its an action movie but since each set piece is designed to one–up the last, they start to lose their impact after awhile. But having said that, it’s still a blast.
14. Toy Story 4
Before the release of the fourth entry, the Toy Story series had the distinction of being the only trilogy that didn’t eventually shit the bed. Godfather had two perfect films and then it ruined its streak with an abysmal third entry. The Lord of the Rings had three amazing films, each better than the last but then it became a sextet with the god awful Hobbit films. Star Wars stopped being a trilogy about 13 films ago and the Before Sunset series doesn’t count because not a single person on earth minus Ethan Hawke has seen those films. Toy Story technically won by default but with the release of 4, it’s lost the title of the perfect trilogy and now must live with the honor of being a near perfect quadrilogy. A bit of a downgrade but three gold medals and one silver medal is still pretty fucking impressive.
It’s a very good film and a worthy follow up to an excellent conclusion but it’s not without its flaws. The addition of Forky, while very funny, creates a whole can of logistical worms the film doesn’t even attempt to address, the film breaks preestablished rules quite often, the Buzz Lightyear subplot felt tacked on and it lacks the emotional core of previous films. Having said that, it’s still the funniest film in the franchise and has an ending that actually has me excited for future installments. It’s not a perfect film but that’s only because the bar was set so high with the previous films in the series. If this was a stand alone film from another studio, this would be their best film.
The best and worst thing about Joker is that it’s a comic book movie. It’s great that a studio (DC, no less) green lit an origin story so small, the stakes are whether or not the main character will get away with murder. In a day and age where every superhero film released needs a billion dollars and a world ending plot, it’s refreshing to see an intimate character study with zero explosions but therein lies the rub. The film is scaled so far back, it stops feeling like a “Joker” film and just a portrait of a loon dressed as a clown. At no point did I feel like Phoenix was the Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, or the Jester of Genocide.
As good as he was (and he was phenomenal), he just felt like a crazy guy. I’m glad it didn’t get too over the top at the end but I think there needed something to connect this Joker to previous iterations. And I’m not talking about the Wayne connection either. That felt tacked on and unnecessary. As did the romantic subplot, which was predictable and pointless. I think Joker is a great film stuck in the body of a mediocre comic book movie.
12. Avengers: Endgame
It’s hard to talk about Endgame because the entire film, from frame one, is technically a spoiler. The trailers did an amazing job of creating hype without actually showing you anything. So I’ll only talk about it in the vaguest way possible. I liked it but much like Civil War, it’s a film that has a shit ton of great moments but has a story that’s extremely wobbly. Certain things could’ve been easily fixed and others you just have to accept in order to enjoy it and I get that but if this film nailed it’s premise and was air tight, I think it would’ve been better than Infinity War. It’s still an amazing experience that, in spite of its problems, gives closure to a decade long, 22 film series. The MCU is pretty much over as far as I’m concerned and I’m fine with that. It’s been a hell of a ride.
Read Alvarez’s review here.
Who would’ve thought that all DC had to do to right the ship, was to make a film that was fun and not grim dark? Reminiscent in tone to the Raimi Spider-Man films, Shazam! is a big ol’ goofy comedy that fully embraces the inherent silliness of comics. Notice I said comedy and not superhero film because even though it’s a film about a man in tights with super powers, the film is at its best when it focuses on the funny and not the Bang! Pow! fighty scenes. That’s not to say the fight scenes detract from the film, it’s just that they’re a far weaker element than the human element and humor. Much like how no one could’ve predicted that Iron Man—a character nobody knew before the film—would go on to create the MCU, Shazam, not Batman or Superman, might be the character to save the DCEU. All because he’s fun and not dour. Who would’ve thought that’s what fans want?
*Cough* Marvel *cough*
10. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Robert Downey Jr had the comeback of the century about ten years ago, Matthew McConaughey had his McConaissance a little bit later than that, Michael Keaton is still enjoying the fruits of his career resurgence from a couple of years ago and this year it’s Shia’s turn. 2019 was the year of the LaBeef. He had two indie darlings release this year and while I like elements of Honey Boy more, I found this film, on the whole, more consistently entertaining. It’s a gentle film about an unlikely pair of outlaws.
One is a troubled fisherman (LaBeouf) and the other is a young man with autism (Zack Gottsagen) who escaped from an assisted care living facility. Since neither man can go back home for various reasons, they, along with the caretaker in charge of finding the young man (Dakota Johnson) decide to help him pursue his dream of wrestling. It’s a road trip movie that’s reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine in that both films are about a group of social outcasts on a journey to help one of their own achieve their dreams and while it’s not as good as that, it’s filled with just as much charm and warmth.
09. Knives Out
Clearly inspired by the work of Agatha Christie, Knives Out is an entertaining homage to the murder mysteries of old. There’s a dead body, everyone associated to the deceased has motive (except the teenager son, who serves no purpose whatsoever) and at the center of it, is an over the top detective (a career best Craig) who was hired by a mysterious benefactor to determine whether it was a suicide or murder. It’s all standard boiler plate murder mystery shit but it’s how Johnson uses those cliches and tropes that separates it from everything else. The red herrings are all great, the film doesn’t cheat the reveal (all the clues are there from the beginning) and the final reveal is satisfying. You’ll laugh, you’ll exclaim AH-HA! at least a dozen times and then you’ll immediately head to Amazon to buy a sweater that looks even remotely close to the one Chris Evans wears in this.
Read Alvarez’s review here.
08. Uncut Gems
Nobody does panic attack inducing tension better than the Safdie Brothers. According to Hitchcock, the difference between suspense and shock is letting the audience know beforehand that there’s a bomb in the room instead of just exploding it. If you have a scene that involves two people chatting in a diner for a couple minutes and then it just suddenly explodes, you got a shocking scene that lasts five seconds but if you take that same scene and pan down to reveal that there’s a bomb under their table, you got nail-biting suspense that lasts the entire scene. The Safdie Brothers films are nothing but bombs under tables. But the way they reveal bombs isn’t by panning down but by having their leads make increasingly terrible decisions throughout.
Uncut Gems starts with a ticking clock of dread and then escalates from there. It isn’t a slow build up of tension. The main character (Adam Sandler in a career best performance) is fucked from the first frame and his situation somehow only gets worse from there. It’s like watching a crack head tie his own noose as quickly as possible. It’s unbearable and frankly, sometimes too hard to watch. This film is more frenetic and anxiety inducing than Climax and that’s a cinematic acid trip. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may have used the tagline first but this is the feel bad film of the decade.
07. The Irishman
Scorsese has made a handful of gangster films over the course of his career but none as mournful and contemplative as The Irishman. Goodfellas was a gangster film about how great it was to be a gangster. Casino dealt with the minutia of being a gangster and Mean Streets was about two kids trying to work their way up within a crime family. Each film focused on a different aspect of criminal life and each film had its own energy. Mean Streets was shot like a documentary, Goodfellas moved like a bullet and Casino was methodical.
The Irishman is slow because its characters all end up old and slow and it’s long because it’s covering 50 years of a man’s life. It doesn’t have the same energy as his previous films because Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) isn’t that kind of gangster. He’s just a hitman doing a job. It’s never glamorous, it’s never exciting, it’s never fun. He does what he has to do. Including killing his best friend. The Irishman is Scorsese’s Unforgiven. It’s about an old man living with regret over the things he did and the things he shouldn’t have done. He has to live with the fact that everything he did was ultimately pointless because time itself was a better hitman than he could ever be. With top notch performances across the board (Pesci better get nominated or so help me…) and pretty great CGI (it becomes less noticeable as it goes) the film is another near masterpiece from the greatest director of all time.
06. One Cut of the Dead
As they attempt to make a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, the cast and crew involved in the production are suddenly set upon by actual zombies. One Cut of the Dead is one of those rare movies that hits every target it’s aiming at. It pumps new blood into the stale zombie genre, is one of the few horror comedies that’s both scary and funny in equal measure and somehow pulls off the film-within-a-film mechanic so many films before it have tried and failed. Every couple of years there’s an immediate candidate for a greatest horror movie ever made list and One Cut of the Dead is the strongest contender in awhile. It’s an instant classic.
Take the film Borgman but remove the supernatural killer imp man and replace him with an entire family and then add a less bizarre People Under the Stairs subplot and you got Parasite. That’s a completely reductive comparison because it’s far better than those films and because it’s way harder to classify but that’s kinda Parasite in a nutshell. Trying to sell it with the cliched pitch of “it’s this plus that” is futile. It’s a con man thriller that’s part comedy, part social drama that shifts between tones so effortlessly, it also feels part ballet. Like the majority of the director’s work, it deals with the disparity between the rich and the poor but again, it’s way more than that. After every act, you’ll be wondering where the hell the story is going to go but you can’t; it’s impossible to predict the film’s ultimate endgame. It’s shocking without having to resort to twists, unpredictable without feeling manipulative and good god is it suspenseful. It’s one of the few films that out Hitchcocks Hitchcock.
04. Dolemite is my Name
Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander’s modus operandi, by their own admission, is making biopics for people who shouldn’t have biopics. They like shining a light on unconventional success stories like a porn entrepreneur who fought for the first amendment, a stand up comedian who turned his entire life into a show and a B movie director who would live in infamy as one of the worst directors who’s ever lived. They truly admire and respect the subjects of their work, which is nowhere more evident than in their latest film Dolemite is my Name. Structurally it hits the same beats as any conventional biopic and would be just as forgettable as any of the numerous biopics that get released every year, if it wasn’t for the absolute love and respect you can tell everyone has for Rudy Ray Moore. The entire film is one giant love letter to him and his work. Everyone showed up to play and they all knock it out of the park, especially Murphy who hasn’t been this good in decades. It’s one of those films that when the credits start rolling, you’ll realize you had been smiling the entire time. It’s the first (and so far only) film this year I saw twice.
03. Marriage Story
Marriage Story is the most entertaining film about divorce you’ll ever see. That isn’t to say it isn’t emotionally devastating (which it is) or extremely painful to watch (which it is) but compared to say, Scenes From a Marriage or A Separation or Amour, it’s practically a breezy feel good time. What separates this film from the aforementioned titles and all the other films about on the topic, is that at the end of the day, these characters still love each other. This isn’t a film about the slow disintegration of love or a bitter custody trial. It’s a sad character drama about two people who can’t be together anymore.
Even if you side with one character over the other, you’re not left feeling as though either was underdeveloped or underrepresented. Both characters are given equal screen time and are properly motivated and while the film does introduce a plot element to try and even the playing field, your sympathies never wane for that particular character nor are you more on the side of the other. It’s not a film about winners or losers or a good guy trying to win over a villain, like say Kramer vs Kramer. It’s a thoughtful and honest portrayal about what happens after a marriage ends when a child is involved. Both want what’s best for the boy but have two completely different ideas of what that is. Driver and Johansson have never been better and this is far and away the best work by director/writer Noah Baumbauch.
02. The Lighthouse
Two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson) try to maintain their sanity while tending to a lighthouse on a remote island in the 1890s. Much like how Tarantino’s films are a cinematic patchwork of the director’s influences, The Lighthouse is everything Eggers has ever loved or was inspired by, thrown into one giant pot. The film feels like Kubrick doing Bergman doing H.P Lovecraft. Shots linger on images far too long, the pace is glacier, nothing is ever explained and the sound design and aspect ratio are designed to make you claustrophobic and annoyed, which is a good thing. This film’s idea of answering a riddle, is to provide the audience with an even crazier riddle. Since the meaning behind the events of the film are up for interpretation, I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to say that the film juggles at least five or so explanations. The main characters could both be dead and are now in purgatory or hell, they could be the same person, there could be a force within the lighthouse that’s driving them mad or it could just be a tale of insanity. There’s many ways to interpret this film and the fact that it supports them all, is just brilliant. This is a new master working at the top of his game.
Read Mitch’s review here.
01. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It was immediately apparent with his first film, that Tarantino was a voracious cinephile who would not only reference everything from old movies, to forgotten TV shows, to obscure actors but did so lovingly. He wasn’t just throwing in pop culture references to be hip, clever or timely, he did so because he legitimately loves Hollywood and everything associated with it. Or rather, he loves his version of Hollywood. Tarantino looks at old Hollywood much like a child does, in that he sees how everyone is connected through a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon like chain of links. A child naturally assumes that every celebrity knows and is friends with every other celebrity just because they’re both famous and while we all know that’s completely false, back in the day, it was a bit more complicated. One of the best elements of his latest film, is the way in which Tarantino connects everyone through pop culture. Unlike today where everyone is inundated with a constant barrage of something new (like shows and songs and internet “stories”), people back then all shared the same experiences. Cliff Booth may never meet Charles Manson but odds are, they watch the same TV shows and Steve McQueen may never cross paths with Roman Polanski but if they turn on the radio, they’re going to be listening to the same music and I think it’s this connectivity that Tarantino mourns the most in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
He’s obviously enamored with the alternate history of actors (which he himself helped shape with the casting of Clooney in From Dusk till Dawn, Travolta in Pulp Fiction and Grier in Jackie Brown among others) which clearly informs the Rick Dalton character but also the alternate history of history, which you can see in both the endings of this and Inglourious Basterds. And just like in that film, OUATIH rewrites history so that movies themselves are responsible for conquering heinous monsters. Hitler died at a movie theater and the Manson Family got beat to death because they decided to attack the wrong movie star. Which again, connects his fake Hollywood with the real Hollywood. He’s rewriting history to not only give Sharon Tate and the other victims a happy ending and to strip away the power of Manson and his family by erasing their deeds from history but to expand his fake universe by giving Rick and Cliff the fame they so desperately deserve. When the credits start to role, Tarantino wants you to think about the future of these characters but he also wants you to be sad that this Hollywood, both real and fake, is dead. It’s simultaneously hopeful and melancholic; a love letter to a bygone era and a last hoorah before the lights turn off and the doors get shut forever. This is the culmination of Tarantino’s entire career and although it’s his penultimate film, I wouldn’t be sad if he decided to retire with this one. He said everything he needed to say with this film.
Read Alvarez’s review here.
How would you rank the films of 2019 that you’ve seen? Drop your list in the comments below.