Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Flashback: Movies

Happy New Year's Eve to one and all! It's time for my annual, incredibly exhaustive list of the best and worst in film, television, and music for the whole of 2019! 

A quick note about the Worst Of elements of my list. There has been a lot of Twitter conversation about negativity on end-of-year lists, and I just want to make my mission statement clear. I can not make definitive qualitative decisions about film art, nor can anyone. The films on the Worst portion of the list (which is smaller and does not include dismissals of the work of any singular person) are films that I personally dislike. If you agree with my film taste, then you should probably avoid them. If you don't, then have at it. Same goes for my 10 Best. It's all about building a relationship with a critic, learning their rhythms, and using their opinions as a springboard to find the things that you yourself will like. With this list, I'm not saying people who like these movies are wrong, nor am I dismissing them outright as viable pieces of cinema (with perhaps one notable exception). OK, have fun everyone! Keep it clean!

2019 Movies I Missed That I Wish I Had Seen Before Compiling This List: Charlie's Angels, Doctor Sleep, The Farewell, Good Boys, Pet Sematary, Satanic Panic, The Nightingale, Little Monsters, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
2019 Movies That I Missed, Don't Regret Missing, and Will Go Out of My Way to Continue Missing Until the End of Linear Time: Joker, The LighthouseFord vs. Ferrari, The Irishman, The Lion King, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Abominable, Five Feet Apart, Wonder Park


The Ten Best Films of 2019

#10 Knives Out

Knives Out didn't quite meet the hype for me, but it's still a very exciting fizzy thriller. I wouldn't say it keeps you guessing, because a curious reveal early on in the film leaves you not really sure what to make of it and not entirely sure there's anything to guess about, but it's a fun ride nonetheless. 

#9 Happy Death Day 2U

Happy Death Day 2U could have taken the easy way out and just redone everything the first one did successfully, but Chris Landon & Co. took some wild swings and knocked it all out of the park. There's still the same sense of unhinged dark comedy, but it's in service to a narrative that's uniquely weird and surprisingly heartfelt.

#8 Long Shot

There's nothing better than a good, solid romantic comedy. We haven't gotten enough of these recently, especially ones that remember to be both romantic and a comedy. Rogen and Theron prove their mettle by providing chemistry in spades, but making sure to never skimp on delivering the laughs.

#7 Ready or Not

From Samara Weaving's hoarse roar of a scream to the epic, hilarious finale, Ready or Not provides a nonstop tale of one thrilling night that keeps you hooked from the word go.

#6 Alita: Battle Angel

This isn't even a joke. Alita: Battle Angel is admittedly a dumb sci-fi bit of fluff, but it's also some of the best world-building we've gotten in ages, and sees director Robert Rodriguez in a mood far more playful than he's been since the late 2000's. It's pure, unadulterated fun and there's nothing wrong with being a little silly on top of that.

#5 Jojo Rabbit

While I was somewhat disappointed that the level of the humor wasn't quite at the peak of some of Taika Waititi's earlier works, Jojo Rabbit is still a charming effort anchored by a slew of terrific performances. It alternates between cutting satire and maudlin heartstring-pulling to provide one of the most deeply weird but energizing filmgoing experiences of the year.

#4 Pain and Glory

While this isn't going to bump its way into my top 5 Almodóvar movies (it's an "old man's movie," and that's not really my thing - yet), Pain and Glory is a beautifully subdued autobiographical journey. Almodóvar is a filmmaker who's unusually shy about directly depicting elements of his own life, so this nearly unadulterated glimpse into his world is a real treat, and the way it chews on and reinterprets themes from his previous work is extremely satisfying to anyone familiar with his filmography.

#3 The Perfection

Look, I love me a horror movie with a queer element, and that's all The Perfection had to be for me to have fun with it. But this movie has the audacity to be incredibly chilling in the first act to the point that I almost had to turn it off, then effortlessly pull off a series of wild, film-changing reveals that end with you battered and bruised on the floor, not entirely certain what you just watched but very glad it happened to you.

#2 Parasite

I was so close to being overhyped for Parasite. For the first hour or so, I could feel myself resisting how beloved it had been by everyone who reviewed it, but it put me under its spell anyway. That came at the moment that introduces the extended third act, where the film (which never has a firm grip on genre anyway) briefly tilts into horror in one of the most chilling shots I've seen in a modern film. Parasite comes completely unshackled from anything you might expect from a narrative motion picture, depicting the horror and humor of class warfare with every ounce of its being. Be it plot, acting, production design, cinematography, every element of this film is operating on full blast.

#1 Tigers Are Not Afraid

Come to support Mexican female filmmakers, stay because it's a damn brilliant movie. Issa López takes the language of Mexican artists through the ages, from magical realist authors like Juan Rulfo to film fantasists like Guillermo del Toro, and created a heady concoction that is simultaneously beautiful and absolutely brutal. The story of children who have been displaced when their parents were murdered by cartels, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a film that shows the harsh reality and violence of the drug war but retains a sense of childhood innocence that alternately delights the senses and makes the sickening horror that much more potent.

The Five Worst Films of 2019

#5 Unplanned

Sure, I may not agree politically with this incendiary "true" story of a Planned Parenthood director who became a pro-life advocate, but every technical aspect of its construction is also a hilarious disaster. The flop sweat of this message movie creates a salty stench that can be smelled from rooms over.

#4 Serenity

The bad movie cognoscenti has already dug its claws into this one, so suffice it to say that I have done the research and they are not wrong.

#3 Wine Country

Netflix has made a habit of tossing out plotless motion pictures that just feature endless montages of people getting drunk and partying. But none of these movies are as much of a waste of time as Wine Country, because a cast of comedians like this doesn't just come along every day. It's exquisitely painful to watch talented women like Amy Poehler (also making her directorial debut), Tina Fey, Paula Pell, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, and Ana Gasteyer putter around the screen refusing to say anything remotely funny.

#2 Cats

I don't want to lay blame entirely at the feet of this movie. The musical Cats is already a complete, plotless, asinine disaster about a cult of cats that I'm pretty sure murders Jennifer Hudson, so what could they have possibly done when adapting it to make it not that? Unfortunately, every decision they made just leaned into the worst thing that Cats can be, and while I admire their commitment, yikes.

#1 After

If you thought the Fifty Shades trilogy was going to be the worst property adapted from a fanfiction with the names changed, get ready for After! Based on an AU (alternate universe) fanfiction about Harry Styles from One Direction, it's about the blandest college freshman falling in love with the blandest, most toothless bad boy. Stripping away anything Harry Styles-y about it proves that it had not a single other leg to stand on. It's empty of absolutely anything interesting, save for a hilariously incorrect interpretation of The Great Gatsby that stands next to The Boy Next Door's scene featuring a first edition of The Iliad for sheer literary imbecility.

Best Worst Movie: The Prodigy

I practically had to be dragged to see The Prodigy, but I'm so glad it happened. For the first half hour it seems like you're getting some run of the mill, just-this-side-of-shoddy winter horror, but then it veers wildly off course with one of the most shocking scenes I've seen in a theater, pushing the envelope to a degree I never could have expected from such a cliché-ridden story. It never reaches the heights of that one scene again, but it continues with a slew of daffy reveals that are preposterous but nevertheless delightful. One of the most satisfying viewing experiences of the year.

Best Dramatic Actor: Bill Hader, It: Chapter 2

What makes this performance so dramatically interesting is how funny it is. Hader does pirouettes on the line between comic relief and emotional lynchpin with the confidence and grace only the man behind Barry could achieve.

Best Comedic Actor: Zachary Levi, Shazam!

OK, yes, there's the problem that the character he's playing absolutely does not match the performance of the teen actor. But his portrayal of a buoyant teenybopper stumbling around in a grown man's body is so chock full of goofball charm that I can't fault him for it.

Best Dramatic Actress: Lupita N'yongo, Us

There's a lot going on in this dual performance, but Lupita would earn the top slot just for that voice alone. The way she evokes someone who hasn't had to speak for decades upon decades sounds like her vocal cords are being dragged across concrete. Her Oscar should come with a side of honey and lemon.

Best Comedic Actress: Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart

I was already sold on Kaitlyn Dever's performance from the trailer, where she says (while being shoved into a cop car) "Shotgun! Just kidding! I don't have one..." I was so impressed by her comic timing, and seeing her full feature length performance laid out before me proved that that line wasn't a fluke. She's a charming young presence and I hope she continues to get roles in things that I will actually watch (sorry Netflix's Unbelievable, you're too grimdark for this one!).

Best Child Actor: Roman Griffin Davis & Archie Yates, Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi has a real talent for casting child actors. I feel like most lists will just highlight Archie Yates, because his cheerful best friend character steals every scene he's in with those bright, perfectly clueless line readings. But I want to throw as much praise as possible on the lead Roman Griffin Davis as well, because while Jojo gets less out-and-out laugh lines, it's a perfectly tuned performance for a movie that requires immense delicacy not to veer off across the line into utter tastelessness.

Best Child Actress: Paola Lara, Tigers Are Not Afraid

Y'all know by now I love me some Tigers Are Not Afraid, and that shouldn't be possible with a cast of almost exclusively child actors. Children shouldn't have the ability to draw the kind of pathos and complexity that a script like this deserves, but they do, and Paola Lara is a marvelous anchor for the entire thing.

Best Cameo: Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe

I kind of can't resist an actor playing themselves as a hideous caricature, but the gusto with which Keanu plays himself as a hyperbolically earnest douchebag is truly delightful and rises about everyone but Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies (the ur-text for subversive celebrity cameos).

Best CGI Creation: The Cat, Toy Story 4

Pixar has gotten to the point that they're not even making cartoons. The CG-animated cat in the antique shop moves with the fluidity and weight of a real cat to the point that I thought they just spliced in some live action footage. It's legitimately frightening how real it looks.

Worst CGI Creation: Swiper, Dora and the Lost City of Gold 

It was already pushing the realism of the film's universe that there was a talking fox in it at all, but a StarFox game for the Nintendo 64 would look better than the design they showed up with.

Best Score: Knife + Heart

While the movie itself didn't necessarily deliver for me (my interest in slashers does not necessarily extend far enough into the French arthouse sphere as it could), the score by M83 is a sleepy, melancholic tapestry that perfectly captures the tranquil misery of the lead character.

Best Soundtrack: Hustlers

The soundtrack was so superbly married to the mood and time period of every scene that it convinced me I actually liked Lorde's "Royals" and Rihanna's "Birthday Cake." On Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me," I needed no convincing.

Best Original Song: "Hide and Seek" Ready or Not

Horror movies of late have made a habit of using cheerful oldies to underscore the creepiness of scenes, but Ready or Not couldn't find they perfect one so they sat the hell down and made one. It's a perfect evocation of the unintentionally creepy needle drops used to great effect in stuff like Insidious or Sinister.

Worst Original Song: "Speechless" Aladdin

Look, nobody's work is going to look great when placed next to a pile of Ashman/Menken music. But Pasek and Paul indulging in their worst pop musical instincts certainly doesn't cut the mustard. Within about twenty seconds this song rhymes "silenced" with "quiet" with "try it," and then introduces the phrase "I won't go speechless," which is not a thing that any human being has ever said.

Best Musical Sequence: "Lost in the Woods" Frozen II

Did there need to be an 80's power ballad in the middle of the latest Disney princess musical? Absolutely not. It's an indulgence in the pop culture reference-heavy instincts of post-Shrek animated comedies. But Frozen II had already completely failed to find a consistent tone that it wasn't like it was violating the sanctity of anything. In the middle of this sequence I decided to just give in and lose myself in Jonathan Groff's beautiful musical theater voice and that irresistible chorus.

Best Monster: Hug Monster, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The squelchy grey monster designs were by far the best part of this kindertrauma adaptation, and the hug monster that walks endlessly toward you down the hallway is so perfectly disturbing.

Worst Monster: Werewolf, Annabelle Comes Home

(No picture legally available)

In a movie whose sole purpose is to test out new monsters for potential spinoffs, you'd think they could have put a little more effort into making their werewolf not look like a Tex Avery cartoon.

Biggest Laugh: The Impressions, Jumanji: The Next Level

These movies have basically become big actors doing impressions of other big actors (The Rock et al. play video game characters who embody the characteristics of the players controlling them), and I want them to make a million more. Special standouts include Awkwafina, perfectly cast as Danny DeVito. And I feel icky complimenting Kevin Hart under any circumstances, but his impression of Danny Glover is the best thing he's ever done. 

Biggest Cry: The Rally, Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light is a fun, poppy movie about a boy discovering his love for Bruce Springsteen, but around the edges it depicts the harsh racism of Thatcher-era Britain, which comes to a head in a shockingly violent moment that our lead character's decisions have rendered him helpless to do anything but watch.

Biggest Scream: The Cliff, Midsommar

If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. It's the point of no return for our characters. If you stay in the creepy Swedish summer cult after this moment, you deserve everything that's coming to you.

Biggest Squirm: The Car Crash, Brightburn

Brightburn was unremarkable at best and repetitive at worst, but it did feature some pretty neat gore! I don't even want to share an image of the gruesome results of the car crash scene, because it might put you off your New Year's.

Biggest Thirst: America's Ass, Avengers: Endgame

Chris Evans acknowledging to himself and the world that his Captain America is now the world's premiere sex object is the best part of a movie whose sole focus is digging through the toybox of the MCU and reflecting on all the joy it has brought. 

Best Title: Under the Silver Lake

I do really like how the first impression you get from the title is this kind of poetic, almost fantastical noir-ish vibe, and then you realize it's just about f**king Silver Lake, a borough of L.A. that anybody who's had foam art created on top of their latte will know well. It's kind of goofy, undercutting any sense of earnestness in the way that the movie itself is exactly shooting for.

Worst Title: Stuber

I mean, really. This title isn't even shitty and artlessly descriptive in the way most comedy titles are these days (just this year we've had Good Boys, Long Shot, Late Night, Murder Mystery, and Drunk Parents). You could have just called it Bad Passenger and Hollywood would greenlight it. But no, this title is shitty in a way that also completely obfuscates any meaning, on top of being an ingloriously ugly collection of consonants that makes you want to wash your mouth out with soap after saying it.

Best Line: "Of course I've slept on a rat, I live in New York." Brittany Runs a Marathon

This response to a former drug addict's harrowing story about being so high she used a rat as a pillow is an excellent glimpse into the fearlessly nasty sense of humor in Brittany Runs a Marathon, a movie that didn't quite make its way into the Top 10, but is a fun indie comedy certainly worth checking out.

Worst Line: "More like TALLER Swift!" Tall Girl

Tall Girl as a whole wasn't as splendiferously over the top as I was hoping, but any scene that directly interacts with people's reactions to Tall Girl's accursed affliction of tallness is chock full of deliciously cheesy material like this.

Best Poster: Fast Color

I never got the chance to see Fast Color unfortunately, but no movie could possibly compare to the austere beauty of this poster anyway.

Worst Poster: Men in Black: International

This poster takes studio's instinct to just shove the stars' faces haphazardly into the box waaaaay too far, feeling cramped and uncomfortable rather than selling a wacky globetrotting adventure movie.

Best Poster For a Bad Movie: The Curse of La Llorona

I disliked the movie quite a bit, but this image is hanging up in my apartment because it's just so creepy and gorgeous. And I like to imagine it's an homage to my Llorona marathon this winter rather than that one single movie.

Worst Poster For a Good Movie: Long Shot

None of the artwork for Long Shot is particularly memorable, but this one where it seems like Seth Rogen is posing next to a cardboard cutout of Charlize Theron (also judging by the angle of his phone, there's no way she's actually going to be in the frame of the selfie) is by far the most irritating.

Word Count: 3262


  1. Ready or Not, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Alita, Knife + Heart: still need to see. I'd likely have bailed on the latter two entirely, but "M83" score gets my attention, and if you say Alita is rad, I suppose I have to circle back.

    Parasite: you and Tim both mentioned some certain shot where it tilts into horror, but I don't know what shot you mean.

    Shazam!: I still think Levi's performance is in a very productive *conversation* with Asher's.

    Posters and titles: Stuber is such a bad title, and that Long Shot poster is so lazy I hope a PA did it, not a design firm that got paid.

    Overall: I don't think our Top Tens will have any overlap. (Though they both have a certain anemia, being comprised of movies that we did not necessarily rank that highly. I didn't get to a 10/10 until yesterday!)

    TV hot take: the best TV show of 2019 was She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I mean, it's possible.

    1. As for Parasite, the shot in question is the face appearing on the stairs when the son sees a "ghost" in the flashback.

      And yeah, my top 5 feels pretty secure, but beyond that I was kind of at a loss this year. There's definitely been a dearth of truly magnificent movies. I can't wait to see what that 10/10 is!

      I haven't seen She-Ra, nor did I know it existed, but it sounds fun!

    2. Oh, it's just A Hidden Life. I could be misremembering, but you are NOT on the Malick train.

      Btw, I admire your unshakable resolve to never see Joker.

  2. Funny thing: One of the only two songs in Hustlers I like divorced from the context is Royals. (The other is Criminal)

    But in context? Just a perfect fucking soundtrack

    1. Yeah, it's perfect for establishing the time period, the mood, and the characters, even when they're songs I don't "like."