2019 Movie Year In Review!
After a less than stellar 2018, cinema roared back in big way this past year. Whether it was the haunting black and white terror of Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, or the feel good rock anthem of Gurinder Chada’s Blinded By The Light, 2019 had something to offer everyone. Moreover this was the year where cinema broke through on a global scale as evidenced by the Oscar success of Parasite. As a person who can sometimes get bogged down by cinema cynicism, it was refreshing to have a year replete with such exquisite films.
And now it’s time friends and neighbors for my annual film year in review. As you know I normally wait until well into the New Year to give myself a chance to catch up on movies that A) I didn’t get a chance to see in the theater or B) didn’t open nationwide until January. Once again I’m delighted I did so as several prominent films I hadn’t seen before December 31st made it to my list, some in the top five. Keep in mind however that as much as I adore movies, it’s impossible for me to see everything. (Knives Out, Uncut Gems, and Little Women are good examples of films I’ve yet to partake in.) So if there seems to be a glaring omission, it’s probably because I haven’t seen it.
So without further ado it’s time for the best, the worst, and everything in between in Corrye’s 2019 movie year in review!
MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR: Toy Story 4
Pixar is essentially the Babe Ruth of the animation world. The production company doesn’t just deliver singles, they consistently belt out homeruns year, after year, after year. I mean look at the catalog: Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Inside Out – and the list goes on. However, even Babe Ruth struck out on occasion and for me personally, Toy Story 4 was a huge whiff for all parties involved. The film comes off bland, boring, and lacking the spark of the first three films. In addition, the message – that you should define yourself by what you choose to be not by what you’re supposed to be – while important, isn’t conveyed in any way that’s groundbreaking, new, or original. And I know plenty of people adored Tony Hale’s Forky, but I found him insufferable. Here’s hoping this series remains firmly in the toy chest from now on.
MOST UNDERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR: Dragged Across Concrete
Director S. Craig Zahler is an extremely polarizing director. Although perceived by many as some alt-right extremist filmmaker, I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. While certainly conservative, I feel like his films possess a realism that’s wholly authentic. Dragged Across Concrete continues Zahler’s streak of gritty, raw cinematic works that he began with Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99. In the vein of 1970s crime classics like Serpico and The French Connection, Dragged Across Concrete is a slow burn of a film that erupts as a power keg in the third act. Actors Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn command the screen as detectives Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti. Rather than present them as saints or sinners, Zahler instead emphasizes their complex nature, something that’s becoming rarer in these types of films. While the almost three hour run-time may be daunting for some, believe me this gem is well worth it.
MOST SURPRISING FILM OF THE YEAR: Wild Rose
I couldn’t care less about country music and I have about as much in common with the working class in Glasgow, Scotland as Pope Francis does with David Miscavige. So if you told me that a film about a poor Scottish ex-con mother of two trying to make it in the country music business would be one of the better films I saw this year, I’d have been decidedly doubtful. And yet here we are. Jessie Buckley is simply electrifying as Rose-Lynn Harlan, with her vocal performances (particularly the last one), a slice of musical cinema fried gold. Moreover, the themes of responsibility versus pursuing your dreams, parenthood, and the power of belief (in yourself and having someone believe in you) are universal. You can’t help but root for Rose along her journey and I admired her humanity and flaws. This is a true coming out party for Jessie Buckley and if you haven’t had a chance to catch Wild Rose yet, do yourself a favor and get on it.
MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM OF THE YEAR: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
For the longest time I honestly thought this one was going to go to It: Chapter 2. Then The Rise of Skywalker came along and said, “Hold my blue milk.” After the thought provoking and unique film that was The Last Jedi, I was hoping that J.J. Abrams and company would bring the Skywalker Saga to a rousing and satisfying conclusion. Instead I got a two-and-a-half hour apology for The Last Jedi that seemed to be written by Reddit and was utterly soulless. Trite, full of plot holes, and too often contrived, The Rise of Skywalker ended the Skywalker Saga not with a bang but a whimper. Here’s hoping that the next Star Wars trilogy, whatever that might be, returns the franchise to form on the big screen.
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR: Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Yes I’m fully aware that director Tommy Lee Wallace’s film released in 1982, however it’s my list and my rules. Honestly, I didn’t see a single 2019 film where I thought to myself, “Man that was hot garbage.” Halloween III: Season of the Witch however absolutely fits that bill. I know this is a cult classic for many but I just don’t see the appeal. It has zero connection to Michael Myers. Instead the film focuses on a manufacturer who creates Halloween masks that have microchips in them and also pieces of Stonehenge. Once activated these masks cause death and snakes and bugs to come out of people’s heads. There’s also androids for some reason. The mastermind behind this is Daniel Peter O’Herlihy’s Conal Cochran who is doing this because…you know what I don’t even fucking know. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is so ridiculous and stupid it doesn’t even matter. This is a ninety-eight minute test in endurance that I highly suggest you avoid.
And now because 2019 boasted a plethora of outstanding cinema, I’m not doing a top five list, or a top ten list, or even a top fifteen list. Nope. I’m doing a top eighteen list of my favorite films of the year. Notice I said “favorite” not “best”. The former is personal the latter is subjective, so we’ll just stick with what works best for me.
18. Frozen II
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Starring: Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff
So I managed to avoid the original Frozen for years mostly because “Let It Go” was everywhere, it really didn’t interest me, and it almost became a juvenile point of pride not to have seen it. However, last Fall my five-year-old son finally watched it, promptly fell in love with it, and proceeded to watch it almost every single day for a month. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Frozen wasn’t your typical Disney princess material and I appreciated the story and the songs. However, as good as Frozen was, it pales in comparison to the sequel. I thought Frozen II had a much more interesting and stronger story and I thought the theme of learning the truth about your past and not defining yourself by it was vital. Moreover, the concept of everyday trying to do “the next right thing” is something the world needs to remember. Also “Into the Unknown” is better than “Let It Go.” Don’t @ me.
17. The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Zhao Shuzhen
So as tends to be the case with many people, I sometimes gravitate towards the familiar. The problem is that when you do that, you deprive yourself of something potentially great. I have to say I’m glad I went outside of my comfort zone with this one. Director Lulu Wang’s tale of a Chinese family matriarch dying of cancer, and the family that decides not to tell her, was as heartwarming as it was heartbreaking. Zhao Shuzhen gives an Oscar worthy performance as Nai Nai, the matriarch in question. Equal parts willful, whimsical, and loving, I couldn’t help but think of my own grandmother who passed several years ago. It’s an excellent exploration of grief and the lies we tell ourselves and our family members to keep them safe. I also appreciated that it was a film about a people and a culture I know little about. Awkwafina, known mostly for comedy work (if you haven’t checked out her hilarious song “My Vag” than what the fuck are you doing) absolutely blew me away in this film. Her performance as the granddaughter Billi was empathetic, funny, and devastating. Oh and the final coda to this film will lift your heart.
16. Marriage Story
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda
While divorce is a subject often explored in cinema, there’s very few films that do the experience justice. There’s Kramer Vs. Kramer of course but after that it’s a big drop off. Or should I say it was a big drop off until Noah Baumbach released his absolutely devastating film on Netflix late last year. The movie is a tour de force of acting with Adam Driver proving he’s the modern day De Niro. While Scarlett Johansson is fantastic in Marriage Story this is firmly Driver’s vehicle. His Charlie Barber is flawed and somewhat narcissistic but you root for him, just like you root for Johansson’s Nicole. This truly is a story about two people who love each but just can’t bear to be together anymore. It’s touching, and messy, and complicated, and complex, and visceral – everything that relationships can be. Baumbach’s direction and writing is flawless and I don’t believe he could have created such an impactful work if he hadn’t gone through a messy divorce himself. It’s a stunning picture and the argument scene between Charlie and Nicole (since well memed on the Internet) is wholly authentic and unforgettable.
15. The Two Popes
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce
So confession time, I grew up in a Catholic household. I’ve since left the Church (I’m Covenant Evangelical now) but I’ve always been fascinated by the Catholic Church as a whole. There’s such rich history there and despite no longer being Catholic, I have tremendous respect for Pope Francis. While for some a two hour film about two old dudes discussing God, might sound like torture I assure you it is not. It’s fascinating and mesmerizing because of the two leads Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict XVI) and Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the eventual Pope Francis). While Hopkins is great, Pryce is on another level in The Two Popes. The film is essentially a dialogue between conservatism and progressiveness but also about how two people can have opposing ideologies and still love God, even become friends. I was also surprised at how funny this movie was as I found myself laughing out loud several times. The film holds personal meaning for me too as I know this is the type of flick my late mother would have loved.
14. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio
When I first started watching Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. The film eschewed Tarantino’s most recent trend of dividing his films into chapters and doesn’t possess the intensity of Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds. Nevertheless, there’s something about the movie that’s captivating and draws you in – almost like a dream. It’s a true love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Age set against the backdrop of the Manson murders. (Although things don’t exactly play out like they did historically.) Even though Brad Pitt has gotten the lion’s share of acclaim during awards season (he just won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) it’s DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton who’s truly mesmerizing. Dalton is one of DiCaprio’s most layered and nuanced characters. An alcoholic and fading TV star who is pondering a career in Spaghetti Westerns, he’s the embodiment of a bygone era, a man externally masquerading as John Wayne but who internally has the emotional intelligence of a child. It’s a lovely and genuine film that only a director like Quentin Tarantino could make.
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter
Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary made my top five films of the year. Easily one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen and an excellent examination of grief, I was looking forward to what he would do for an encore. Aster’s sophomore effort, Midsommar, while not as tight and polished as Hereditary is nevertheless chilling, impactful, and meaningful. Midsommar does for Swedish pastoral vacations what Jaws did for beaches. As the rituals of the Harga become more violent and extreme, Dani’s (Pugh) journey becomes just as harrowing. Whereas Hereditary explored grief and the consequences of suppressing it, Midsommar examines trauma and how trauma shapes our relationships. The fact that almost all of the horrific moments happen in broad daylight only underscores them. Midsommar‘s final haunting scenes will leave you stunned and shocked and tarry long after the credits have rolled.
12. The King
Director: David Michod
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Ben Mendelsohn
I think there’s the perception among cinema fans that Timothee Chalamet is just some theater kid who got lucky. If that’s your position I highly suggest you got watch The King, as it will probably put him in a whole new light. Based on the plays of William Shakespeare and historical records, Michod’s The King is a historical epic in the vein of Braveheart and Gladiator but with a bit more nuance and political intrigue. Chalamet plays Prince Hal (eventually Henry V) a reluctant hero who’d rather drink and carouse than lead. Yet once he’s thrust into the spotlight he proves more than capable. Chalamet is simply stunning here, possessing a gravitas and an inner strength heretofore unseen. His Hal is more cunning than brutal but able to inspire as his rousing speech at the famous Battle of Agincourt proves. There’s also a scene between him and Sean Harris towards the end of the movie that is easily one of the best of 2019. Edgerton makes for an excellent and irascible Falstaff who proves on more than one occasion to be Hal’s conscience. Robert Pattinson meanwhile chws the scenery as the nefarious and arrogant Dauphin. The King is easily the best in the genre since Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
11. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Angelica Huston, Ian McShane
It’s hard to fathom that a movie that almost went to VOD would spawn one of the most successful and entertaining action franchises of all-time. 2014’s John Wick came out of nowhere to capture the world by storm, a successful sequel followed, and arguably the best of the bunch shot it’s way into theaters last May. Each successive John Wick film ups the ante. We’ve gone from a simple revenge tale to in Parabellum literally taking on crime as he seeks to escape other assassins after killing a member of the high table. The stunts are just as epic, almost ballet like. (Ironic considering what we discover about John Wick’s roots.) Halle Berry is a welcome addition and the mythology of this world gets expanded. Mark Dacascos makes for a great heavy, as interested in killing John as he is a fan. The third act is bonkers and I can’t wait for the fourth film.
10. Ad Astra
Director: James Gray
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler
Movies like Ad Astra (including several others on this list) are the reason I wait so long to do a year in review. This was a gem of a film that I didn’t get to see in theaters but captivated me from the opening scene. Director James Gray has crafted an elegant and soulful elegy about trauma, mental health, father and son dynamics, and what it means to let people in. This is an incredibly deep film that will not appeal to everyone but it hit my movie sweet spot in the best way. The color palette in this movie is tremendous as we transition from the stark white of the moon, to the dusty red of Mars, to the blue brilliance of Neptune. Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, a closed off and distant man who’s perfect for his job as an astronaut because he’s able to take emotions out of the equation. Yet he’s haunted by the abandonment of his father Clifford McBride who went missing after Earth lost contact with him on a deep space mission. When Roy gets a chance to track him down and reconnect with this father, the journey is unlike anything you might expect. This is a haunting film that really resonated with me on a visceral level.
9. Jojo Rabbit
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie
Jojo Rabbit is easily the quirkiest, most off the wall film of 2019 and a movie I think only director Taika Waititi could have made. I mean the premise is just bonkers with the film centering around Jojo (Davis) a member of the Hitler Youth during WWII whose imaginary friend is a goofball version of Adolph Hitler (Waititi). It’s a satirical film about hate and how our perspectives change when reality steps in to challenge our preconceptions. The “reality” in this case is Elsa (McKenzie) a Jewish girl that Jojo finds living in his house. As their relationship grows his preconceived notions begin to change. Jojo Rabbit is a heart-warming tale with a couple of huge gut punches. Davis is great but Johansson is just superb and Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf steals every scene he’s in – particularly the last one.
8. The Report
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Adam Driver, Annette Bening
The decade or so after 9/11 is one of the most fascinating periods in history. Things changed on a global scale especially when it came to approaching terrorism and the United States and the Middle East have never been the same. Burns’ The Report is a fascinating deep dive into The Torture Report, an investigation into the United States’ “enhanced interrogation” (i.e. waterboarding, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, and other forms of torture) techniques that were used against potential terrorists in the wake of 9/11. Driver plays Daniel J. Jones who helped spearhead the report, in a performance that’s even better than Marriage Story. He’s a man obsessed with the truth despite being stymied a multiple steps along the way by members of the intelligence committee. There’s a lot of information that’s dumped on the audiences during the course of the film but Burns manages to never make it pedantic or laborious thanks in large part to Greg O’Bryant’s editing which is slick and engaging. The Report is challenging, engaging, incendiary, and excellent from start to finish.
7. Dolemite Is My Name
Director: Craig Brewer
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson
The best thing about cinema is that it allows you to get out of your comfort zone and see films you wouldn’t normally see. I have never been a fan of or been interested in blaxploitation films. In fact the only one I can remember seeing was Jackie Brown. However, I’m a big fan of underdog stories and Dolemite Is My Name is a great example of following your dreams, betting on yourself, and knowing your audience. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian and record store manager who manages to attract fame and interest via his on stage persona – Dolemite. Utilizing the stories of homeless men in the area, Moore garners tremendous success. However, he dreams of bringing Dolemite to the big screen and does whatever it takes to make that dream a reality. In a storied career, this is Murphy’s best performance ever. Brewer has crafted a hilarious and empathetic tale that is honestly one of the most crowd pleasing and uplifting films of 2019. Wesley Snipes is excellent as the fay D’Urville Martin, the only real Hollywood talent on the production but Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a real find here as Lady Reed. I loved every second of this movie. I dare you to watch it and not laugh your ass off.
6. The Irishman
His comments on Marvel films not withstanding, Martin Scorsese is probably my favorite director working today. He selects his projects very carefully and honestly doesn’t make bad movies. Whether it’s the rock and roll glamor of Goodfellas or a passion project like Silence, Scorsese is a master at capturing the human condition. If Goodfellas and Casino showed the rock and roll side of being in the mob, The Irishman is the harsh reality and consequences of being in that life. Robert De Niro – in his best performance since Silver Linings Playbook – plays Frank Sheeran, a WWII vet that becomes a teamster and eventually a hit man for the mob. Along the way he develops an strong bond with both Russell Bufalino (in a subtle and understated performance by Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). It is the dynamic of these three actors that really makes the film soar. For a three and a half hour long gangster epic, The Irishman feels like five minutes. All four principals (DeNiro, Pesci, Pacino, and Scorsese) are all at the top of their game but the real standout to me was Pacino. His Hoffa comes off alternatively restrained and explosive. If you’ve been dying for Scorsese to get back into the gangster world this movie is for you. Not only is it an excellent flick about organized crime it’s also a phenomenal discussion about legacy and growing old.
5. Doctor Sleep
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Doctor Sleep is the sequel no asked for but everyone deserved. Based on the 2013 novel by Stephen King, director Mike Flanagan managed to do the impossible. Flanagan made a sequel to The Shining that honored the original Stanley Kubrick film and Stephen King’s 1977 novel. It’s a marriage that works beautifully thanks in part to a devoted performance by McGregor who plays a grown-up Danny Torrance. An alcoholic and traumatized by what happened at the Overlook Hotel, Dan finds salvation in a small New England town. However, his shining never fully leaves him and he comes in contact with Abra (Curran) a teenager with a shine even more powerful than Danny’s. When she runs afoul of the True Knot (quasi-immortal beings that live off the shine of psychic children) Danny must face his demons and help Abra. Doctor Sleep is creepy, brilliantly shot, and mesmerizing from star to finish. The true standout though is Ferguson’s Rose The Hat, a horror villain that will no doubt become iconic. After two tepid 2019 Stephen King adaptations (Pet Sematary and It: Chapter 2) it was nice to see Flanagan and company knock this one out of the park.
4. Avengers: Endgame
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Chis Hemsworth
The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot in cinema, but in Avengers: Endgame‘s case it’s 100% accurate. A culmination of over a decade of filmmaking and twenty+ films, the Russo brothers had a tremendous responsibility in sticking the landing. And they didn’t just stick the landing, they Mary Lou Retton ’84 Olympics-ed that shit. Everybody in this film got their moment to shine and in a three hour long movie, nothing comes off unnecessary or superfluous. From top to bottom this movie is a stunning achievement. Whether it’s Ant-Man’s humor (America’s ass!), the gut-wrenching sub-plot with Black Widow and Hawkeye going after the Soul Stone, or Captain America wielding Mjolnir, this is a truly satisfying film on every level. To drop an old cliche, flicks like Avengers: Endgame are the reason we go to the movies.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong
Before watching Parasite, I’d seen exactly one Bong Joon-ho movie and that was the 2013 masterpiece Snowpiercer. As many films as I watch, I unfortunately don’t partake in a lot of international features. That may change however, as Parasite is a film that could kickstart an interest in South Korean films. Parasite is a movie that wears its themes (wealth inequality, class structure, etc.) firmly on its sleeve. However, just because it’s not subtle doesn’t mean it’s pedantic or inaccessible. Far from it. The Kim and Park families are simply fascinating, the film is meticulously shot, and it’s also quite funny as well. Bong Joon-ho has crafted a slow-burn examination of class structure that’s extremely nuanced and doesn’t seem to choose sides. Both families are flawed. The third act also goes off the rails in the best possible manner and ratchets up the intensity and anxiety to an eleven. Parasite‘s Oscar success has kicked down the door for international features and I sincerely hope Bong Joon-ho keeps making pictures for a very long time.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Steven Spielberg’s 1998 classic Saving Private Ryan is the best war movie of all-time for me. 1917 is number two. From a technical standpoint 1917 is a stunning achievement. Roger Deakins delivers another stellar cinematography marvel and this is easily one of the tightest and most polished scripts in recent memory. Director Sam Mendes fully immerses you in this world and I was hooked from the moment Will and Tom got their assignment. 1917 dumps you right into the horror of war, the bonds that are formed in the fire of battle, and how survival becomes paramount. But this film isn’t just a technical marvel. There’s some incredible human moments sprinkled throughout this movie, some gut punches that will leave you raw. The closing five minutes of 1917 is absolutely devastating in the best way possible.
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro
When I walked into Joker I didn’t know quite what to expect. Countless people had already weaponized this film for their own politics and I was worried that the outside noise was going to color my opinion. Thankfully, I was able to meet Joker on its own terms and I’m glad I did. Joker grabs you by the throat from the word go with a career defining performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a scathing indictment of the failing mental health industry. Not a straightforward narrative, this is very much a character study with Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck running the gamut between captivating and cringe. Joker left an impression on me that I couldn’t shake for days. I kept thinking about all the little moments throughout he movie, Lawrence Sher’s brilliant camerawork, and Hildur Guaonadottir’s haunting score. Joker forces you to look at and wrestle with the darkness of the world and its people. It’s a challenging and engaging movie like all great cinema tends to be.
Well that’s a wrap for 2019! Here’s hoping the film feast in 2020 is just as satisfying!
You can follow me on Twitter at @VanCorrye