Catching Up With 2019
Last year was a year for superheroes, the end of the main MCU story, the (disappointing) end to the X-Men universe while Fox Studios fizzled out, and the rebirth of Joker and the Skywalker story of Star Wars ending in a shrug. This was a top heavy year of great movies from some of my most favorite directors and a few new favorites as well. As things are going so far, I'm going to have a hard time with a top ten for 2020 with as many good movies as the top 30 from last year so here are a few good recommendations to watch now. This was the first year that I saw all but one of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars Show and I was pretty happy with the winners.
1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
This is as much of an experience as it is a great story. It feels like being transported into L.A. in the ‘60’s, while inventing a new timeline. This kind of storytelling was not my most favorite thing about the last few Tarrantino movies but what happens here elevates the story beyond a Manson Family retelling or just a revenge fantasy to something more for the story of Sharron Tate. It’s almost like a trip to an afterlife rather than a story of death.
For once The Oscars got things right when Bong Joon-ho came out the big winner. A fantastically creative story with a message about economic inequality that extends well beyond Korea. It’s something we have never seen before and a great introduction for the rest of the movie-going world to get into Director Bong’s other films of the past twenty years. Fun fact: the house was entirely fabricated on a set and doesn’t exist in real life.
3. Jojo Rabbit
This is such a top heavy year of movies that this would probably be my number one movie of any other year. I have rewatched this as much as anything else on this list, Marvel movies included. Jojo is incredibly funny but also one of the most touching movies of the decade.
I love a World War I movie and this does everything it can to check all of the boxes of a trip through trenches, no man’s land, a dog fight and the death and destruction of The Great War. It’s visually amazing, although a bit distracting to look for cuts in this “one” or “two” shot movie. This was even better on subsequent viewings just for being in the moment and ignoring that style element.
This was a fitting end to the Iron Man/Captain America Avengers story. I really thought this would be my top movie for the year when I saw it. I didn’t expect this to be such a loaded year. While the expectation was that everyone who was snapped would come back somehow, this played on that expectation in surprising ways. It’s stuffed with humor while also living in the weight of the snap, we’re left with a lot of new branches to the story of the MCU while also giving a sense of an ending. This was my early #1 for the year but it was such a strong year that I surprisingly ended up adding a few more #1's as the year went on.
I never expected to see a movie title represented on screen three different ways, all kind of humorous in that they were representing the title of the thing that I was watching, but oddly in witty and appropriate ways. There is a shot of one of the characters walking from a rocky beach, the sun is setting in just such a way that it illuminates the wet rocks in a bright light. That was the shot that kind of informed that this was more than just a dramatic picture about an artist and her lover, but something of art to live up to her creations.
Apparently there's a bit of an MCU formula for the movies that live between the Phases, after the major events of Avengers movies. Phase One came to a conclusion with the team coming together in The Avengers. The MCU was opened up for more stories and crossovers but the first movie of Phase Two came with the emotional reckoning that came with a major city wrecking battle against an alien army coming down on New York through an interdimensional portal. Phase Two is kicked off with Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is struggling with PTSD from the Battle of New York. He runs out of a restaurant after a child asking for autograph brought back memories of falling out of the portal. The Manderin hijacks all of the television signals and attacks Tony’s Malibu house, his suit automatically takes him to the middle of the country where he has to fix the suit and solve the Manderin mystery with minimal technology. Ultimately he learns the Manderin is just an act and the real villain is a guy that felt jilted by Tony when he tried to work with him years prior. The movie ends with Tony destroying all of his suits but taking away a little philips head screwdriver, apparently to start all over from scratch. Phase 2 culminates with the AI that Tony built to work as a “suit for the world” rather than an Iron Man suit losing control and creating the rift in the Avengers team that would ultimately lead to Civil War.
Far From Home finds Spider-Man was the first MCU movie after Avengers Endgame and the SPOILER death of Tony Stark and like three to six other recurring characters. Peter Parker opens the movie with his own emotional reckoning with the previous movie, mourning the death of his mentor by swinging out of a public event to do some rooftop brooding. Peter leaves Queens to go on a European trip with his classmates where he meets Mysterio, an interdimensional hero trying to save the world, who turns out to be a group of former Stark employees who felt jilted by Tony when they worked with him in prior years. Peter has his Iron-Man style improvements taken away from him and ultimately has to regain his spider-sense in order to beat Mysterio without his fancy gadgets. The movie ends with Peter losing his secret identity, much like Tony at the end of Iron Man. The tag at the end of the movie is a reveal that Nick Fury has been in space the whole time doing some space shit, and the Earth-Fury was a shape-shifting alien Skrull, presumably a major plot point to Phase Four, or whatever they call the next batch of Marvel movies now that Disney owns Fox Studios which includes X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four.
While the two movies are quite similar in plot, they are quite different stories because of the very different characters. Far From Home starts to give additional focus on Peter Parker’s classmates, storylines that were integral to most of the Amazing Spider-Man comics. This movie is just a bit funnier than Iron Man 3 and the villains are more flushed out and interesting. These new Tom Holland Spidey movies sure are a lot of fun.
8. The Farewell
It's a bit of a shock that this is from a first-time director. It's funny and poignant, giving an interesting and new to the west look at China. Awkwafina has one of the best performances of the year.
9. Little Women
An All-Star team line-up of young actresses tell this classic story in a new way. It didn't take long for Greta Gerwig to establish herself as an in-demand director. The timeline of this confused some and reminded others of Pulp Fiction by mixing past, present and future of the story.
10. The Lighthouse
One of the weirdest movies of the year. The Lighthouse appears to be a movie from a bygone time until everything goes crazy. Mermaids are monsters, but your coworker is even worse. Willem Dafoe is unrecognizable as a crotchety man of the sea.
11. Ford v. Ferrari
Of the Best Picture nominated movies this was the most recognizable as a Hollywood picture of the bunch. Yet, this was so much fun, no pumped with excitement in the car races, that I have found myself revisiting this as much or more than many of the movies at the top of the list. This is perfectly executed escapism.
12. Knives Out
A parlor murder mystery for the 21st century that's incredibly funny. Knives Out is set in one of the instantly iconic houses of 2019 in film and the large ensemble cast fill every room enough to eves drop on bits and pieces of the mystery.
This was a rare date night movie out for us and we saw this at a really cool old theater in West Sacramento. This is especially funny and well shot, too. It's much more than a comedy about a train wreck woman figuring out how to turn her life around, she has a hard time shaking what seems like a personality disorder where she pushes away anyone who tries to help. There's an extra, unexpected beat to the story that was quite surprising and builds on the whole expectation of the marathon run.
14. Just Mercy
This was just a little too late in the year to build Oscar buzz, but luck shined on this courtroom drama that it is a very recent and especially relevant movie to the Black Lives Matter movement and judicial reform. This concerns itself mostly with the death penalty but racial prejudice in the justice system is inherent to the issue. An incredible cast elevates the movie to something better than a typical courtroom drama.
15. A Hidden Life
I had kind of grown tired of Terrence Malleck's more recent movies but this gives such a stunning look at a mountaintop village during World War II as the villagers build tension over societal pressure toward fascim and fighting for the Nazis. The wide vistas where the sky is below them and the buildings straight out of fairy tales are stunning.
16. Uncut Gems
A breakout movie for the polarizing Safdie Brothers, Uncut Gems is an uneasy movie with characters to make your skin crawl. For all of the grossness of the characters, the harsh lighting, tacky sets, this is a movie that is not easy to shake from your mind and the story doesn't settle for just letting this be a weird movie. It's probably not a movie to rewatch, though.
17. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
This movie about a young black man repairing and squatting in his grandfather's huge Victorian house is surprising and beautiful. The score is one of the best of the year.
18. Doctor Sleep
A big time jump after The Shining gives us a grown up Danny Torrence who is recovering from inherited demons from his father, alcoholism, abuse, and demons from a haunted hotel. This gives a big expansion on the power of shining, revisiting some old characters and introducing some new people with supernatural powers.
19. Good Boys
A middle school take on Superbad, this was probably the hardest I laughed in a movie all year. Booksmart was another variation on a similar theme, but Good Boys has an especially satisfying montage to move time along to end of movie.
Jordan Peele's follow up to Get Out is possibly more chilling and allowed Lupita Nyong'o to give perhaps the best performance of the year. A layered film, it kind of loses itself in the layers a bit, but it is another 2019 movie that grabs on and refuses to let go.
21. Marriage Story
In real life Noah Baumbach wrote Madagascar 3 to pay for his divorce attorney when he split with Jennifer Jason Leigh.
22. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Terry Gilliam finally finishes his elusive Don Quixote movie, one of the first attempts decades before was documented in Lost In La Mancha.
23. American Factory
A Chinese company moves into a Rust Belt town and lays off most of the workers.
24. The Two Popes
Two popes sit down and don’t watch Spotlight.
25. Captain Marvel
Documentary about the last time someone went into a Blockbuster Video.
Honorable mentions: Under the Silver Lake (a conspiracy theory movie that might be about a guy losing his grip on reality and descending into homelessness), Sword of Trust (The final film by Lynn Shelton about a sword that might signify the South won the civil war, or a way to scam racists), Aniara (a cruise ship in space goes off course with no hope of returning home), High Life (convicts being experimented on in space).
The Worst Movie That’s Kinda Fun: The Wandering Earth, a Chinese movie about Earth being propelled out of the solar system in search of a new sun, or something.
2018: The Death of Stalin
2017: Thor Ragnarok
2016: OJ: Made in America
2015: The Force Awakens