I didn’t get around to watching all the movies I wanted to this year, but here are my Top 5 and Honorable Mentions from the ones I did manage to watch. -Liz
You are going to see this movie at the top of so many lists, so much so that you are not going to want to believe the hype. But go ahead and believe it. Bong Joon-ho isn’t exactly a new-to-the-scene crasher this year, as he has already had other films bring him international success outside of Korea. But this may the first one that pierces (sans snow) into everyone’s deepest and darkest societal fears.
Bong is particularly clever at crafting scenes that slowly build up to what no one wants to say out loud about how people can be so cruel to each other in moments of desperation or selfishness.
The main focus may be Kang-ho Song’s family trying to reap the benefits of Sun-kyun Lee’s family, but if you watch it a second time, it is particularly brutal to see both how patriarchs make decisions for their respective families, that in the end define how they truly see each other. The stark contrast of each family’s lives will inevitably bring them face to face with their deepest and darkest selves. That is when the film makes you feel afraid of trusting anyone ever again.
When Conor first pitched going to watch this movie before I had seen anything about it, I tried to explain it to a friend. I explained that I knew there were Nazis, a New Zealand director was playing Hitler and was under the impression that it was going to be animated.
Ok, so it wasn’t animated. But this movie is beautifully colored with warm-hearted characters and pure-intentioned humans all living in a very real world of oppression and war. This is probably the first role that I’ve really like Scarlett Johansson in as JoJo’s mother.
Watching Taika Waititi play the main character’s imaginary friend, who also happened to be Hitler, made me laugh a little too loud in the theater. Both Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie brought huge emotions to the screen like seasoned pros. Being able to joke about Nazis and Hilter in the way this movie did would probably put a lot of people off, but Taika’s directing skills really shine in how the story was told, focusing on how true heroism is in the form of people caring for each other as humans instead of what they believe (or not) believe in.
Movies about cultural family dynamics that are often hidden from society always hits my heart hard. Watching Awkafina navigate what it meant to be a granddaughter and daughter living in America who only truly felt that she was home in China was perfect in so many ways.
In America, there was a certain way she had to live and carry expectations. When she returns to China to spend time with her ailing grandmother, her guilt grips her as must listen to her family’s wishes not to deliver the solemn news everyone has chosen to withhold, a practice common with Chinese families.
Even deeper within her family, there are other expectations that come to light that might not seem so obvious to Western eyes–like the incredible sense of pride elders have when it comes to upholding status if something were to look cheap, or being forced to be married in order to give the rest of the family a sense of togetherness, or even simple language barriers that are used to shame or celebrate our own culture.
The amah in the film is so special. Her vibrancy with all her hard and soft edges made me think of my own nanay. How I missed so many of these little moments with her before she passed as a grandchild who lived apart from an entire family back home. Overall, the film had a quiet force that really made it bloom, its celebration of family as they are instead of how they should be.
I’m embarrassed to say I slept on this movie almost all year until someone demanded I watch it. Everything about senior year shenanigans is done on another level, propelled by its two leading ladies Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Two hardworking nerdy feminists find out they nearly wasted high school solely on booksmarts when everyone else lived it up and still gained the same academic accomplishments.
This discovery sends them into one party crashing night of enlightenment, a grand finale that your teenage self could only dream of fulfilling. When I was their age I too lived it up on my last night as a senior by going to a bonfire at one of the skater kid’s house, except I didn’t have a wingwoman and I didn’t drink or smoke and I was promptly home before 9p like the total Plain Jane that I was.
I deeply appreciated the pokes at the two main characters when other classmates pointed out their flaws to them. To watch their little bubbles burst was tormenting in a good way, because seriously, why work so hard to experience no joy in life? This little film was a humble reminder for us all. Also, bonus points to Olivia Wilde in her directorial debut.
Full Disclosure. All about that Marvel life. Been all about that Marvel life since Iron Man. Team Robert Downey Jr, NOT Team Edward. (Fun fact, Twilight did indeed come out the same year.)
Endgame is an action packed blockbuster that makes you feel all the feels. It is the culmination of 11 years of Marvel movies and a solid B+ in my book. Lots of stories that needed to end felt like they came to a justified closed. The bromances had their tender moments. We saw a demigod go through a very real bout of depression. The fights were so epic I felt I had to watch them 10 times just to catch all the tiny details.
But as I mentioned to Conor, it was a shame how forced and out of place the women felt in this last Avengers movie. As cool as the girl gang looked in the final battle, why did they only have one major scene after ScarJo exited stage right? Also, no love for ScarJo (like I said, she’s grown on me this year) after all the work she put in for the Avengers, being one of the only women in the original “Assemble!”? Saying she gets her credit in her very own movie next year doesn’t quite cut it.
I might have cried several times during this. I also knew the Cap could wield Mjölnir, because he’s goddamn Cap.
Always Be My Maybe: All about two Asian American Leads, but their chemistry fell short. Probably because they are besties in real life and making out was real weird. But also, this.
Hustlers: Constance Wu stepping outside a typical role for herself, Jennifer Lopez being a total boss, an Usher appearance just to slap JLo’s ass.
Homecoming: Beyoncé needs no explanation.
John Wick 3: Keanu Reeves riding a horse like Legolas, Halle Berry, Halle Berry’s dogs.
Marriage Story: ScarJo is on my list 3 times, how about that. I guess that means I forgive her for Match Point after all these years. No doubt she acted the hell out of this one, along with Adam Driver, who in all his intensity has a very comedic scene involving a very small keychain.
Eric’s Top 10 of 2019
1. Knives Out
The most fun I’ve had at a movie in a long time. Great mystery, with memorable characters and lots of laughs, Rian Johnson shows he can continue to make a great genre movie while subverting the genre at the same time.
2. Jojo Rabbit
Taika Watiti is still batting 1.000 in my book as he puts together a funny, sincere, and honest coming-of-age story with a good message and great acting by ScarJo and a young cast.
3. Avengers Endgame
What a thought – a franchise that sticks the landing. Emotionally charged, this epic conclusion to the MCU exceeded expectations and brought a close to some memorable characters.
This was a wild ride. The movie changes tones a couple of times, but each part is a delight and masterfully done. I think this may go down as one of the best movies of the decade.
5. Toy Story 4
While I don’t think this movie was ultimately needed, I still loved it. The story is solid as always, and so is message, and it seems like a good sendoff for the franchise, but so did the last one, so who knows if they’ll make more. But I’m glad we get one more entry here.
While I think I enjoy Get Out more, this is another well-done pseudo-horror film by Jordan Peele. This one is a bit weirder and has a lot more subtext going on, but I like the social commentary that Peele layers throughout.
7. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek
This one surprised me. Really well-done thriller, boosted by the fact that it was done on a low budget. The ending may be a bit divisive so your mileage may vary on how you enjoy it.
8. El Camino
Another follow-up that I didn’t think was needed but I’m glad we got it. Aaron Paul returns and is great again as Jesse Pinkman. I loved how this continued his story but also enhanced some parts of Breaking Bad as well. And it has one of the best standoff scenes in recent memory to boot.
It is indeed Superbad with female leads, but it’s still hilarious and Billie Lourd steals the show in outrageous fashion.
10. Doctor Sleep
A sort-of sequel to The Shining, director Mike Flanagan stays red-hot with this eerie horror film. Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson are amazing, and it does a great job of riding the line between honoring the 1980 film and creating an original and compelling horror/thriller.
This is my Top 25 Movies of 2019 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). Please keep in mind that this list is highly subjective and may have a few dumb movies on it. Even then, there are still a handful of movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (especially: Little Women, Ford vs Ferrari, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Honey Boy, 1917, Won’t You Be My Neighbor). Also, this year’s favorite movies are in video countdown form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
I love Bong Joon-ho. There are few working directors whose films I look forward to more than Bong’s weird, offbeat outings. Parasite, a culmination of talents he’s honed over two decades of work, is his best film to date. A sharp, biting class critique, that is equal parts funny, surprising, and jarringly violent at times. It’s also his most accessible film to date, brought about by timely subject material and a first act that is far more welcoming than its bleak back half. I could rant for hours about how great this movie is, but I’ll keep it simple. Parasite is an easy #1 for me this year. It lives up to the hype and then some. This is a genre master at his peak. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.”
Best Scene: Peach Fight
Hot Take: Parasite will win Best Picture at the Oscars and is one of the best movies of the decade
Watch This If You Like: Us, Shoplifters, The Host, The Handmaiden
JoJo Rabbit is bound to be divisive. It’s a Hitler satire, which means it won’t please those who see no value in bufooning history’s monsters. Even so, I’m surprised at just how split critics are on Taika Waititi’s sixth directorial effort (its 58 metacritic score especially). It may not have world shattering insight into the atrocities of the Third Reich, but there are useful lessons of tolerance here. There’s nothing in its 108 minute runtime that feels particularly irresponsible or distasteful. And I don’t think it’s safe (can a Hitler satire even be safe?) or inconsequential as some have argued. Are there missteps? Sure, but you can’t really operate in half measures with a film like this. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking. It’s why we go to the movies. Don’t listen to the naysayers, Taika is still on a roll. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A young boy in Hitler’s army finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.”
Best Scene: Beatlemania
Hot Take: This movie is actively being marginalized because it makes Disney uncomfortable
Watch This If You Like: The Great Dictator, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Moone Boy, Life is Beautiful, Wes Anderson vibes
Endgame doesn’t supplant Infinity War as Marvel’s all-time best, but it does provide a satisfying conclusion to the company’s third phase, acquitting the two main staples of the franchise with relative care and consideration. In doing so, it addresses the lingering criticisms against Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (criticisms they fielded against each other), in that Tony is selfish and Steve is bottled beefcake. Sure, the movie sags a bit in the middle while it searches for an overarching tone, but to stick the landing after ten years of cinematic build up, now that’s something special. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to reverse Thanos’ actions and restore balance to the universe.”
Best Scene: Avengers Assemble
Hot Take: Black Widow deserved better
Watch This If You Like: Infinity War, Time Travel Heist Comedies
I tend to hate Noah Baumbach movies. I often refer to him as Wes Anderson without the whimsy, but for whatever reason, Marriage Story works for me. It’s surprisingly humane considering the subject matter, has likable characters (something I think is lacking in his prior movies for any role not played by Greta Gerwig), and results in a bit of an acting clinic, with Driver and Johansson acting their asses off at every turn. Nice to see one time Aberdeen staple Lucas Neff pop up in the film too. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.”
This year’s best art house indie is a haunting meditation on gentrification, masculinity, and shared grief. The first ten minutes of this movie are just so transcendent. They hum with life and vibrancy in a way that most studio films could only hope to achieve with their bloated budgets and overstuffed plots. The film as a whole is a beautifully constructed surrealistic work, born of a successful kickstarter campaign and two friends’ (director Joe Talbot and star Jimmie Fails) semi-autobiographical experience growing up in an evolving and suddenly unfamiliar San Francisco. This one is special. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A young man searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind.”
Best Scene: This is our home
Hot Take: Best Cinematography of the year
Watch This If You Like: Terrance Malik, Bay Area stories, Art house lookers, Blindspotting
Part Promethean fable, part Melville farce, part chiaroscuro Lovecraftian horror, all mixed together with director Robert Eggers’ potent blend of moody fever dreams. Right out of the gate, this is not for everyone. This is a weird movie. Like very weird. But it’s also not the pretentious nonsense that some would fear from a 4:3 ratio’d black and white movie. It’s easily one of Willem Dafoe’s best roles as surly senior lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake, and it also quietly affirms the notion that Robert Pattison is a better actor than people give him credit for (see: Good Time). And like any provocative work of art, it also produces vastly different takes on what the movie is actually about. Again, it’s weird, but it’s my kind of weird. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.”
Best Scene: “You don’t like my cooking?”
Hot Take: A secret backdoor ‘Annihilation’ Prequel?
Watch This If You Like: The Witch, The Shining, Herzog movies
How Jessie Buckley is this talented and still relatively unknown in Hollywood (she was also great this year in ‘Chernobyl’ as Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the firefighter’s wife) is beyond me. If you wanted a counterpart to Lady Gaga’s dual threat performance in last year’s ‘A Star is Born’, this is it. Buckley won’t be nominated for anything, but it’d be criminal if she wasn’t a bigger deal in a few years (she’ll be in Fargo Season 4 in 2020). Also, the film’s banger of a closing song was written by Mary Steenburgen (yes, that Mary Steenburgen), who after a routine operation years ago awoke with a new sonically trained mind and has been trying to make it as a songwriter herself. That in itself could be a movie, but instead we’re treated to this toe-tapping tale about a Scottish woman’s dream to make it big in Nashville. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A troubled young Glaswegian woman dreams of becoming a Nashville country star.”
Best Scene: Road to Glasgow
Hot Take: More raw and humane than ‘A Star is Born’
Watch This If You Like: A Star is Born, Subtitling Scottish Accents, Nashville
The Farewell resists the desire to manufacture unnecessary drama in favor of earning genuine sentiment and moments of real human connection. As a result, the film might not wow you due to its lack of big dramatic swings, but Wang’s thoughtful script will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. I think the best description of the film I’ve heard is that it’s, “Culturally specific, but universally resonant.” Awkwafina also turns in a wonderfully subdued performance, proving she’s a legit star beyond her scene stealing support roles of the last few years. This is a hug your family special, through and through. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.”
Best Scene: The Farewell
Hot Take: A quiet masterpiece
Watch This If You Like: Kore-eda movies, Yasujirô Ozu movies, Calling to check up on your parents
I’ve never been a huge fan of Superbad, so it goes without saying that I thought this was a better movie than Superbad. I truly believe Beanie Feldstein has dethroned her real life sibling Jonah Hill for the coming of age high school movie throne. Aside from that, it’s also a really promising directorial debut from Olivia Wilde, contains a pitch perfect soundtrack, a scene stealing turn by Billie Lourd and should finally propel Kaitlyn Dever into proper breakout status (something that has been long overdue for her work on Justified, Short Term 12, etc). And this film’s ending? Perfection. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.”
Best Scene: “Want to get pancakes?”
Hot Take: Better than Superbad
Watch This If You Like: Superbad, Bridesmaids, Edge of Seventeen
Knives Out continues Rian Johnson’s genre subversion trend, producing a pseudo murder mystery where the mystery is mostly solved within the first thirty minutes, leading to an almost tongue and cheek deconstruction of whodunnits over the final two acts. It also happens to be loads of fun, boasts a perfect ensemble cast, and has a surprising amount of social commentary sprinkled throughout. I would definitely watch more entries in the detective Benoit Blanc series if that’s what Daniel Craig favored for his post Bond career. May all his future cases be solved with donut hole metaphors. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.”
Best Scene: Donut Hole within the Donut Hole
Hot Take: The Best Contemporary Murder Mystery?
Watch This If You Like: Clue, Murder on the Orient Express, Brick
I heard someone call Rise of the Skywalker “risk adverse”, which I think is fair. Every time they appear to make a gutsy decision, they roll it back seconds later, undercutting any punch the event might have once had. The story is undeniably a bit of a mess and the deeply troubling marginalization of Rose Tico’s character signals a sad concession to the toxic faction of Star Wars fandom. Despite all that, I still managed to enjoy the film. Abrams’ movies may only be as good as the scripts he’s working with, but he’s a skillful executioner of flash and verve, and that doesn’t change here. Driver and Ridley are standouts in the film, with Driver’s arc concluding in a particularly satisfying fashion. Star Wars will always be an important franchise to me, so it’s hard to not see the good in a deeply flawed film. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.”
Best Scene: “Hey, kid.”
Hot Take: Rose deserved better
Watch This If You Like: The Force Awakens, Hot messes
This is my 2019 Movie Mashup. There are about 116 movies mixed in this year. The actual top 25 list should be up sometime this weekend, along with a video countdown this year. Hope everyone had a great year!
Vivaldi – ‘The Four Seasons’
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’
The podcast reviews the summer’s feel good movie ‘Midsommar’ and puts Eric though the wringer with a movie endings trivia round (24:10 mark).
Conor – B
Eric – B-
Music By: Andrew David Vilaythong (andrewdavidv.com/)