This is the first time I have put a year-end list together since (checks notes) 2015. It seems longer than that – I was convinced I hadn’t done one of these since 2011. Some of that has to do with the fact that I’m no longer doing the writing thing on a full-time basis. Some of that is because it’s been several years since there was a batch of movies that got me truly excited. That 2015 piece that I wrote? That was not a great batch of flicks. Good, but not great.
But this year, I saw a bunch of stuff that I enjoyed, and it helps that, as my kids get older, I can watch a lot of these movies with them, and not just the Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm stuff. Case in point: while my wife and I were attending a screening one night, the kids were home watching a screener. I was so proud of them.
At the same time, there are a couple of films in this year’s crop whose popularity I just do, not, get. I should just shrug and say, “Ah, can’t agree with the herd all of the time,” but for whatever reason, I feel like it reveals some flaw or blind spot about my ability to judge a film. I know, I know, I’m overthinking it. But still.
So here are my thoughts about the movies of 2019. First, the ones I liked, in no particular order.
The ending of this film still lingers in my head, and nearly everything after the halfway point was something I didn’t see coming at all. I don’t use the word ‘haunting’ much, but this movie haunts me.
What a delightfully bonkers teen comedy, with a voice all its own. Olivia Wilde shows tremendous chops in the director’s chair, and the casting of each character is pitch perfect. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are sensational as Molly and Amy, respectively. and Billie Lourd turns in her finest work ever as the ubiquitous Gigi.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
I’ve enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s post-“Pulp Fiction” output (full disclosure: I still haven’t watched “The Hateful Eight”), but this is easily my favorite movie of his since “Pulp Fiction.” The ending is superb, and Brad Pitt shows once again that he’s the most criminally overlooked actor in Hollywood. Too handsome for his own good, poor guy. *plays world’s smallest violin*
The fun for me was watching how much my son loved this movie. It was his first murder mystery, and it stars Chris Evans gleefully shedding his Captain America skin and getting mean. Funny, clever, and well plotted. I am Team Rian to the very end.
What a sweet film this is. Awkwafina excels as a lost soul who discovers her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) has months to live, only the grandmother doesn’t know it. I really hope this one finds a larger audience.
This is the movie the kids watched while we were out seeing the next movie on my list. Taika Waititi had his work cut out for him, making a Nazi Germany comedy in which Hitler (played by Waititi) is the lead character’s imaginary friend, but he strikes the perfect tone, and Roman Griffin Davis is sensational as Jojo. Also sensational: Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother.
Imagine the balls of Sam Mendes to tell a studio, “I want to shoot a movie about The Great War in one take.” The final result is a technical marvel – the scene with the airplane and the barn is breathtaking – though I wish it packed a larger emotional punch than it does.
Blinded by the Light
I have a healthy respect for Bruce Springsteen despite not listening to him a lot, and this film perfectly encapsulates what Springsteen means to me: he’s a voice for the voiceless. That the main character isn’t a white kid from Jersey but rather a Pakistani kid in England underscores the universal nature of Springsteen as a storyteller.
Greta Gerwig is building an army, and it’s pretty awesome to watch. After recruiting Saiorse Ronan and (the impossibly pretty) Timothee Chalamet in “Lady Bird,” Gerwig brings Emma Watson, Florence Pugh (who delivers A+ work as Amy March), Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Bob Odenkirk, and Eliza Scanlen into the fold here, and I would love nothing more than to watch this group become a cast of repertory players who makes all of their films together.
Fun fact: not one of the actresses playing the March girls is from America. (Ronan is Irish, Watson and Pugh are English, Scanlen is Australian.)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Two things crossed my mind while I watched this. The first was how, when the lighting is just right, Tom Hanks bears an uncanny resemblance to Fred Rogers. The other part was the crushing realization that I have no legacy to speak of, and my life will be completely forgotten.
Matthew Rhys’ character is me in more ways than I care to admit, and after watching this, I am determined to be a better person. Seriously, this movie broke me.
Damn, this movie is messed up. Two men with secrets living in a lighthouse for six months. What can go wrong? (Answer: everything.) Funny thing about watching screeners: before the movie starts, there is a prompt asking whether to activate subtitles. I did not opt for subtitles. Ten minutes into the movie, I turned them on. Yes, the movie’s in English, but not really. Both men are superb, and I suspect that Willem Dafoe may secure an Oscar nomination for his work here.
I followed my Bullz-Eye colleague and friend Jason Zingale’s advice, and watched this as a miniseries rather than a film (we took a break after they introduced Joey the Blond), and man, was that the right call. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t sure if there was any more gold to be mined from Scorsese and De Niro doing a mob film, but this was thrilling, and Joe Pesci has never been better.
Ford vs. Ferrari
Christian Bale is a fantastic actor, but he almost never looks like he’s having fun in his films. He’s clearly having fun here as the cantankerous Ken Miles, and the film is the most fun underdog sports movie to come down the pipe in a while.
And now, the other list.
Three of these movies have huge support from the film community in one form or another, and I wanted to turn two of them off before the 15-minute mark. Maybe that’s a tell on my part; I will readily admit that there are certain plot devices and premises that irritate me from the first frame. But these movies, ugh.
A word of caution: there are SPOILERS in all of these bits. Read at your own peril.
This movie isn’t edgy – it’s just cynical.
Everyone in the movie is mean and terrible, which is the easiest, laziest way to victimize a character and make them sympathetic. On top of this, Arthur Fleck makes terrible choices, losing his job after carrying a gun while entertaining child cancer patients (!!!). Later, he is invited on to Robert De Niro’s late night talk show, in a city, um, riddled with crime, and he’s not searched for weapons, even after he was questioned by the police for his role in the murders of three men, of which he is actually guilty? Are you kidding me with this?
That’s not even the worst thing about “Joker.” The worst thing about “Joker” is that Arthur Fleck would be a terrible Joker. Half of the things in the movie only happened in his mind, and he gets his ass kicked over and over. No one is going to follow this guy, not when he’s incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality and someone every other person on the street could take in a fight. He doesn’t have the cunning or the will to be a formidable villain, and without the gun, he doesn’t have any power, either. Bruce Wayne would take out Arthur Fleck before his 12th birthday.
I like seeing Adam Sandler do dramatic work, even if it often ends poorly (see “Reign Over Me,” or better yet, don’t). He, and this movie, are earning raves from my peers, and for the life of me, I do not understand why. Well, I get the love for Sandler – he’s not the problem here. The problem is the script, which has Sandler borrowing from Peter to pay Paul from start to finish. He doesn’t make a single good decision in the entire movie, and yet we’re supposed to root for him, for some reason. Actually, I did root for him, but not for the reason the filmmakers wanted me to; I rooted for him because his wife and kids deserved better. Dude’s a dirtbag.
The filmmakers probably think that they made a tragedy. This isn’t a tragedy – it’s karma.
Or, as I like to call it, “Hostel: Swedish Cult.”
There is no reason for this movie to be 147 minutes long (apparently the director’s first cut was even longer, yikes). It takes a really long time to tell a pretty straightforward story; a group of anthropology majors are invited to a rare midsummer festival by their Swedish friend, which takes place at the off-the-grid commune where the Swede grew up. An English couple is also lured to the commune by another member. They spend the next several days being manipulated by the commune elders through lies and hallucinogens, and ultimately they’re all sacrificed in the big celebration. Yay!
Had this movie been 40 minutes shorter – and it very easily could have been – I might think differently of it. Instead, I was irritated that they wasted so much time before going in for the kill.
But you know what? That’s not true. As Dani watched while her paralyzed boyfriend burned to death, I was supposed to feel something, and I didn’t feel a thing. That’s on them.
Also, I now know what a blood eagle is, and that is something I can never forget. Seriously, do not search that phrase.
Yep, the Beatlemaniac didn’t like the Beatles movie.
Give an award to whomever edited the trailer, though, because they did a magnificent job of selling the premise. As for the movie, I mentally checked out surprisingly early.
My first issue is the love story. Despite literally having Cinderella (Lily James) for a bestie, Himesh Patel’s struggling musician Jack doesn’t feel for Ellie what Ellie feels for him, until the plot needs him to. His change of heart never feels genuine, and the writer, Richard Curtis, is really good at making this work (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Love Actually,” “About Time”). It’s the first time I’ve seen him whiff on a love story.
The second issue is Curtis’ bellyaching about the current state of the music business. The entire scene at the record company meeting (“on their hands, a dead star…” sorry, had to do it) was an ‘OK Boomer’ moment before that phrase had entered the lexicon, as he dismisses the decisions that drive the marketing of present-day pop records because it’s not the ’60s anymore, waaaah! Curtis sounds like an old man yelling at the music industry to get off his lawn.
The third problem I have is the way Curtis complains about everyone’s short attention spans. Jack is constantly interrupted by a phone call, or a text, or a doorbell while playing the Beatles songs, and he’s understandably annoyed by this, but every time he calls someone out for their rude behavior, he stands down when they instead accuse him of being an egomaniac. Curtis isn’t wrong in making this point – he just goes about it terribly.
And that’s it! I hope I didn’t disappoint too many of you. Have a great new year, and let’s all try to be better people in 2020 and the years beyond.