Inspired by David Ehrlich’s countdowns, I did a video countdown of my favorite movies of 2019. So, if you’d rather watch a video than read a list, this is the way to go. Hope everyone had a good year!
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
2. Jojo Rabbit
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
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.”
Best Scene: I don’t know how to start
Hot Take: Baumbach’s all-time best
Watch This If You Like: Heartbreak
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
7. Wild Rose
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
8. The Farewell
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
10. Knives Out
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
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
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%Continue reading
The podcast does a mini review of Netflix’s sci-fi sleeper hit ‘I Am Mother’ and subjects Eric to a round of sci-fi themed movie trivia (19:20 mark).
I Am Mother Review
Conor – B+
Eric – B+
Music By: Andrew David Vilaythong (andrewdavidv.com/)
Liz’s Top Five
1. Won’t You be My Neighbor
There is no need to explain in detail the impact that Mr. Rogers had on most of us. We all went to this movie for comfort in a time of chaos and darkness. Mr. Rogers brought back the light and the feeling of kindness deep in our cold hearts. If you weren’t crying–no, uncontrollably sobbing—by the end, you are a monster. My favorite part of the movie wasn’t necessarily the movie itself, but walking out of the theater and witnessing multiple groups of people standing there, embracing each other. That is the kind of impact Mr. Rogers has.
2. Leave No Trace
While on the topic of kindness and compassion, in a world where we are in a constant state of self guard and distrust, came this. A veteran with mental health issues who lives in a park with his teenage daughter—by choice—in order to separate themselves from modern living and distraction run into trouble after being spotted. The struggle to assimilate back into society is surprisingly met with unending kindness. Mental health and homelessness take a very different light in this film and shows that is isn’t always what it looks like from a view of privilege and judgement, but rather what happens when we as humans act with kindness and only meet someone else’s struggles with understanding and a helping hand.
3. First Man
Confirming that getting to space is one scary motherf*cking task. A solid Justin Hurwitz soundtrack. Equally intense acting from both Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (I’d like to see them in a staring contest). Anything that has Coach Taylor. This movie about Neil Armstrong and his race to space checks all the boxes for a compelling story that mixes the emotions of what it took both personally and professionally to reach the moon. Apart from the mild nausea I got from the shaking camera effects, everything else was solid as a rock.
4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
I could seriously watch Tom Cruise run all day. Just put it on a loop and bring me food and water for at least 3 days because I’m not budging. As he gets more impressive in his later years, so does the stunt work. I also love Rebecca Ferguson as his sprinting/gun slinging/stunt fighting equal even more. The villain (Sean Harris) makes his return as well, who isn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy having Henry Cavill mixed in with this bunch, especially since he wanted to get in on the stunt work too. It made me respect Tom Cruise just a little more when he wouldn’t allow Cavill to skydive because it meant risking everyone’s lives if he couldn’t do it perfectly. He’s that serious about entertainment vs. risk factor.
5. A Star is Born
Lady Gaga and her talent for moving mountains with her voice deserves some recognition. There are very few singers that can bring me to tears with their performance, but she is definitely one of them. If there were any doubts about her as an entertainer, they can be put to rest after watching this. Bradley Cooper is impressive himself for learning how to sing for the role, but also the dynamic the two have together to tell this story is both endearing and heartbreaking, along with the relationships they have with their family and friends throughout the story and how they evolve both together and apart.
Hearts Beat Loud: Nick Offerman is always a pleasure to watch, pair him with a newcomer Kiersey Clemons and you get a warm and fuzzy film. Extra points for Ted Danson being what I imagine to be himself.
Dawn Wall: I didn’t know much about Tommy Caldwell before seeing this, but the storytelling was just as amazing as the climb itself.
Black Panther: The only superhero movie this year I will applaud, because it went above and beyond what needed to be on screen in this genre.
Crazy Rich Asians: A lot of people hated this movie, but back off. Read the books first then have an opinion. Also, an all-Asian cast … can we just take that as a win?
Creed 2: Michael B. Jordan flipping tires in the middle of the desert and taking a sledgehammer to the dirt. Training montage of the year. Plus, Tessa Thompson can be my hypewoman any day.
Eric Sweeney’s Top Ten: (Eric’s traveling in Asia, so his list is sans blurbs. We’ll get his expanded thoughts and an updated top ten list in January when we do our end of the year review Podcast)
2. MI Fallout
3. Spider-Man – Into The Spiderverse
4. Game Night
5. A Quiet Place
7. Incredibles 2
10. Isle of Dogs
Death of Stalin
This is my Best Movies of 2018 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: The Rider, the Favourite, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Widows, and Burning). Also, this year’s favorite movies are in mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
Ben Foster has made a career out of great performances in movies people never see, and while this film will only further that peculiar curse, roles like this and 2016’s Hell or High Water cement his status as a Sean Penn successor of sorts. Foster’s troubled patriarch is a bit of an afterthought though as Thomasin Mckenzie’s revelatory debut as Foster’s daughter Tom is really the standout of the film, a film that is so firmly steeped in empathy and compassion. In a year when inhumane acts and bullying were championed by the powers that be, this compassion generator completely won me over. Hats off to director Debra Granik for this film, her first in eight years since she launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career with 2010’s Appalachian misery fest ‘Winter Bone‘. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.”
Best Scene: Same thing that’s wrong with you, isn’t wrong with me
Watch This If You Like: Winter’s Bone, A less whimsical version of Captain Fantastic, Living in the woods to duck creditors
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
2. Infinity War
The culmination of ten years of Marvel’s diligent universe building yields their best film to date, a pastel equivalent to the Dark Knight that nails enough beats to be near comic book movie perfection. I get that the emotional weight of the film wasn’t there for some that rightfully questioned the permanence of the third act (or just didn’t care about these characters in general) and I know it has swung around to being unpopular to gush about Marvel movies these days, but I genuinely enjoyed this film. I think it’s a superb, albeit overstuffed, blockbuster if such a thing exists. I mean, when was the last time (other than A Quiet Place) a film’s ending completely silenced an entire theater? (Trailer)
Synopsis: “The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.”
Best Scene: Snapocalypse
Watch This If You Like: Captain America:Civil War, Perfect balance, Movies without Hawkeye
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Relevant, vibrant, lyrical, and overflowing with confidence, this Oakland-centric buddy comedy born of Hamilton standout Daveed Diggs and real life best friend Rafael Casal‘s minds, traces the story of Collin, a recently paroled felon, and Miles, his volatile, but loyal best friend. Blindspotting is raw in a way that creates some hit or miss moments, but at its best the film is a mesmerizing study of gentrification, masculinity, racism, and personal identity. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “While on probation, a man begins to re-evaluate his relationship with his unstable best friend.”
Best Scene: No one is misreading you
Watch This if You Like: Oakland, socially conscious buddy comedies, great hip hop soundtracks
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Simultaneously a technical marvel and a deeply intimate tale about a maid working in a wealthy household in Mexico City amidst the turmoil and unrest of the 1970s, director Alfonso Cuaron’s eighth film is a mini masterpiece. Easily his most personal film to date, an apparent love letter to the women who raised him, Cuaron scales back on the spectacle of prior films like ‘Gravity’ to create a saga about everyday moments. While I’m sure it’s a treat to see on the big screen, Roma is available to stream on Netflix right this second, so there’s no excuse for missing out on this special film. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.”
Best Scene: (tie) Crib shopping/Ocean commotion
Watch This if You Like: Classic films, Family hugs, Next level camerawork
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
5. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s ninth film (which, when uttered aloud, loosely translates to “I Love Dogs”) is arguably the best of his late stage career (along with Grand Budapest). It stands as a fitting showcase of his scrupulous brand of whimsy and idiosyncratic wit. This film is a joy. I wanted to watch it again the moment it ended. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.”
Best Scene: Spots Reveal
Watch This If You Like: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dogs, A + voice work
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
This documentary did a number on me. It was released at a moment in time when cynicism and being a cold hearted bastard seemed to be in vogue, so it was jarring to watch a film that focused on a figure of pure benevolence. Despite his reputation, I appreciate that the filmmakers still scrutinized Fred Rogers as a human being, not just as an infallible figure of nostalgic goodness. Seeing his personal struggles and growth actually made him an even more endearing figure by the end of the film. So much crying in the theater when the lights came up. Not a dry eye in the house. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.”
Best Scene: Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemons
Watch This If You Like: Adult Crying
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
My runner-up for best documentary of the year is brought to you by…Hulu? While the first fifteen minutes of Minding the Gap threaten to devolve into a cursory CKY style portrait of skate punks, it gradually morphs into a poignant examination of the cyclical nature of domestic violence, racial identity and tribe socialization. Shot in Rockford, IL by UIC grad Bing Liu, this is a must see for any Midwesterner. It’s tough to find a more impactful scene from 2018 than Bing Liu confronting his mother about past torment and abuse at the hands of his stepfather. The editing and narrative convergence in that sequence are devastating. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.”
Best Scene: Confronting the Past
Watch This if You Like: Mid90s, Hoop Dreams, Real Talk
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of A Star is Born, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best version yet because that’s the sort of uniformed hyperbolic comment this review needs. Unsurprisingly, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are both on point as the film’s pair of star crossed lovers. They’ll probably have awards heaped on them come Oscar season, and it’s hard to argue they don’t deserve them. But new revelation? Sam Elliot crying is really heartbreaking. Who knew seeing the Malboro Man get choked up could be so emotional? Maybe pencil him in for Best Supporting Actor just for that one exchange? Even more heartbreaking though? That shot of Bradley Cooper’s real life dog Charlie whimpering during that
spoiler redacted moment. Not cool, movie. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.”
Best Scene: All you gotta do is trust me
Watch This If You Like: Walk the Line, Duets, Faux musicals
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
A shocking jump in quality for the Mission Impossible franchise (improving upon the perfectly innocuous Rogue Nation) finally propels it into action masterpiece territory. This is the first time since Mad Max: Fury Road that stunt work in a film had real weight and verve to it. After Infinity War, this is easily my favorite action movie of the year. Give me whatever vitamin water Tom Cruise is chugging, because that man can still run like the wind at 56. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.”
Best Scene: The Last 30 Minutes
Watch This If You Like: Bourne Franchise, Tom Cruise running, Movies where you think Wes Bentley is going to be the bad guy but he turns out to just be some dude
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Having two movies tie is definitely cheating, but the internet is a lawless place filled with memes, bacon, and entitled opinions, so there’s not much you can do about it. Regardless, Free Solo and the Dawn Wall are first-rate documentaries about rock climbers attempting to conquer supremely difficult routes on El Capitan (Yosemite’s most famous climbing wall). Free Solo focuses on the world’s best free climber, stoic superhuman Alex Honnold, as he attempts to climb El Cap without ropes. Free Solo’s counterpart, the Dawn Wall, chronicles scrappy climbing duo Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen as they try to send the eponymous, nearly featureless sunlit swatch of the mountain. The central figures of each respective film are quite different (even though they’re good friends in real life) and possess varying motivations for their maddening drives, so it’s a disservice to lump them together, but it’s also an unavoidable double feature pairing. Either way, even if you’re not into rock climbing you should still check out these films, as their harrowing stories trump the limitations of the esoteric sport. (Free Solo: Trailer) (Dawn Wall: Trailer)
Synopsis: (Free Solo): “Follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000ft high El Capitan Wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed arguably the greatest feat in rock climbing history.” (Dawn Wall): “In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.”
Best Scene: The Boulder Problem/The Side Traverse
Watch This If You Like: Meru, Touching the Void, Yosemite
For the podcast’s first retro review Conor and special guest jerk Charlie Blowers review the cult classic ‘Tremors’ and try to predict how long Charlie would last as a character in Tremors.
Movie Grades for Tremors:
Conor – A+
Charlie – A-
Tremors Review: [4:45] mark
Movie Trivia Round: [24:30] mark
Music By: Andrew David Vilaythong (andrewdavidv.com/)
In addition to written best of lists and movie mashups, this year I recorded an absurdly long podcast with Sam Alcarez and Eric Sweeney where we discuss our favorite movies of the year. At two and a half hours long, it’s just under the runtime of Blade Runner 2049. No podcast should be this long, and yet, here we are.
Liz’s Top Five Movies of the Year
2017’s Theme: I’m not crying. You’re crying.
1. Lady Bird – I’m sure many can say that Lady Bird reflected some part of their teenage life, but I’m also pretty sure it reflected MY teenage life so closely I tried not to tear up, especially during every scene between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. The misunderstanding between daughter and mother but constant need for love and approval? Check. The desire to move far away for college and apply to schools I couldn’t afford? Check. Falling in love with a cute boy who ended up not feeling the same? Yep. The crying in the car while listening to Dave Matthews Band? Several times check. The film is brimming with emotion and beautifully depicted both tempered and quiet relationships Lady Bird had with everyone in her life. Bonus points for getting to watch little Briony not be a punk while coming of age and completely smash this role.
2. Step – Come for the stepping, stay for the feels. The documentary follows a group of seniors from an all-female high school in Baltimore. These young ladies all find refuge in the step team while battling to make it through school just to graduate. They have a lot standing in their way—from poverty to inner city social injustice—but their families, teachers and friends all stand together to get these women into college. The documentary might be missing a few steps (pun not intended) in the overall story, but it managed to keep me sitting up straight and paying attention to what it takes to get an education when resources are scarce and spent the whole time rooting for them as they found out their futures.
3. Okja – All of the personalities in this movie were as colorful as the costumes they were in, but Okja was the one who really stole the show. I wanted to cry and hug that animated hippo pig as much as I did with Bing Bong. The opening scene where we meet Okja, along with Mija is more heartbreaking to watch a second time through because of the pure innocence the scene encapsulates, knowing what lies ahead for the pair—corporate greed, deception, animal abuse—barely scratches the surface. The dark material may show a very real side to how humans are hungry for blissfully ignorant tasty meats at the expense of how animals and the planet itself are treated, but at the same time there are the little guys (or girls, rather) who fight with all of their heart to keep a little piece of it safe from harm. It gives me hope.
4. The Big Sick – I found myself relating to yet another movie about a strained child/parent relationship. It was even more relatable coming from an Asian background and having the same pressures of what parental expectations were and at the same time trying to find a voice. How many films can one watch as a minority and laugh cry at the exact same conversations I’ve had with my parents that are culturally relevant? Not many. If this movie had come out when I was younger, I would of stole all of Kumail’s comebacks in those conversations. But put that aside and there is the real story. Watching Kumail Nanjiani depict a version of his real life relationship with Emily Gordon—the distress he ends up in trying to figure out what she means to him, meeting her parents for the first time (the exchange between them in the hospital cafeteria is pure gold) and having to choose between a career and family/Emily—all while she is in a coma is well written, hilarious and shows a lot of heart.
5. Get Out – I don’t know what was more creepy. The poetic message of racism and ignorance, which is strongly relevant today in the form of a truly uncomfortable horror film, or watching the whitest white girl do the most white girl thing by eating Fruit Loops one at a time while slowly sipping a tall glass of white milk through a straw … while browsing the internet for her next victim. Not even with Google. Bing. BING. As I watched it was a slow unraveling of terror, as any brilliant horror film would do, but also a perfect blend of truth and comedy in true Jordan Peele fashion.
Apart from the extreme sadness and anger laced throughout the entire story, the moments I latched onto the most were the exchanges between Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. They showed that even in utter disappointment in another person whom one might even despise down to their very living matter, there was still room for compassion and understanding.
My top five is pretty heavy material so watching Ryan Gosling be really moody and running through a wall in a visually stunning world doesn’t hurt. This slides under the Top 5 because of Jared Leto and whatever performance that was.
Sweeney’s Top 10 Movies
Denis Villenueve continues to be on a roll. Arrival was my #1 last year, and he now has another one atop my list this year. I legit think this is better than the original (which I believe is a bit overloved) and they’ve expanded the universe even further. I want to see more films from this universe.
This is my favorite of the three new Star Wars films. This one looks the best, has the most meaningful character arcs and plots, and includes some of the best sequences ever filmed for Star Wars. It really shakes up what was an already-derivative story, meaning I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next installment and I find that exciting and refreshing.
3. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright doesn’t make bad films. This is stylish and funny from start-to-end, and I wish he wouldn’t take so long between films.
The final film in a surprisingly-good trilogy is probably my favorite of the three. Has to be one of the best trilogies of all time too.
Nolan takes a simple war story and applies his unique take on it, creating three timelines (at different lengths) and weaving through them until they all meet at an exhilarating climax.
6. Wind River
A well-made mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, from the guy that wrote Sicario and Hell Or High Water.
7. Get Out
A horror film with social commentary laced into it. I really hope this gets some Oscar nominations because it’s a great script and directorial debut by Jordan Peele.
Had a lot of fun with this, which was not the case with the first two Thor movies. Taiki Watiti (had my #2 movie last year) brings his comedic chops to the Marvel universe with great success.
9. Molly’s Game
I’m a sucker for Sorkin, so there was no way I wouldn’t enjoy this movie. And of course I loved it. This is his directorial debut, and he directs the way he writes – with style and speed.
Dark but funny, which is where Martin McDonaugh wants to be with his films that I all love. Tho I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of the main mystery in this one.
Still Haven’t Seen
The Beguiled, Okja, mother!, Phantom Thread, The Post, Lady Bird, Columbus, The Florida Project, A Ghost Story
Most Looking Forward To In 2017
The 15:17 To Paris – Clint Eastwood true story film, starring the actual people who lived it.
Annihilation – Didn’t like the book but love the concept and the director
Avengers: Infinity War – Gonna be a huge film with a lot of surprises
Black Panther – Trailers have made it look like something we haven’t seen before in a Marvel film
First Man – Neil Armstrong’s life story, as told by the La La Land guy
Incredibles 2 – Sequel to one of my favorite Pixar films
Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson returns!
Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones
The Predator – Shane Black takes on the franchise he helped start 30 years ago
Ready Player One – Book is fun but not well-written – Spielberg’s first big tentpole in awhile and I hope he has fun with it
Roma – Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to Gravity
Sicario 2: Soldado – Loved the first, but I wish they just called it Soldado. This one features Benicio more.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – They haven’t made a bad star wars film, so this could be good, but I don’t have high hopes. Still, it’s a Star Wars movie so I’ll see it.
This is my Favorite Movies of 2017 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). As all lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (Baby Driver was in my top ten until Kevin Spacey was outed as a predator, so I’m bumping it off as a result). Also, all this year’s favorite movies are in movie montage mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
1. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – With as rough as 2017 was, you’d figure escapism would be the way to go, but why not go with a movie that steamrolls through all the year’s relevant issues. Racism? Check. Sexual Assault? Check. Police Brutality? Check. Homophobia? Check. Three Billboards confronts it all. There’s no denying this is a tough movie to watch at times, but it’s absolutely worth seeing. Even with its fairly deflating ending, this darkly comic take on tragedy, anger and empathy is my favorite movie of the year.
Penned and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), this story follows Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who erects a series of billboards damming the local police for her daughter’s unsolved rape and murder. Like his previous efforts, McDonagh’s third film has razor sharp dialogue and a pitch black underbelly, but the real allure of this story is that it’s ultimately about forgiveness. That’s perhaps the great divide I feel with McDonagh’s kindred spirit, Quentin Tarantino, whose movies similarly feature extreme bloodshed and stylized banter, but often devolve into pastiches of nihilistic violence that leave me feeling empty by the time the credits roll. Tarantino is a skilled filmmaker, but I need a bit more heart. And for all their faults, McDonagh’s characters have heart to them. Especially the film’s hardened protagonist, Mildred, played to perfection by Francis McDormand. Everyone should stay home this year, because Francis McDormand deserves to win all the awards. All of them! (Trailer)
Best Scene: Dixon reads his letter
2. Wind River – Wind River is haunting. A stark, Cormac McCarthy inspired thriller set on the frozen plains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. I’ll be honest, Wind River may not be the best script Taylor Sheridan has written (Sicario and Hell or High Water being his other two) and its first hour may be a little on the slow and methodical side, but man, do the last forty minutes just sear themselves into your brain. What a great ending, especially the film’s final exchange, which, while heavy with sadness, has small slivers of hope present. Like Three Billboards, this film doesn’t shy away from grisly and relevant subject matter. The story feels timely and important. And while I’m not a huge Jeremy Renner fan, I think this may be his best role yet, playing a sort of cold weather Gary Cooper for the 21st century. Elizabeth Olsen, tasked with the Clarice Starling archetype, also performs admirably. I urge everyone to see Wind River and read more about the grim events it’s based on. This movie will sneak up on you. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Tie – Are You Flanking Me?/How Far Can You Run?/Death Face
3. Dunkirk – Dunkirk is easily the most technically impressive film I saw this year, a somber WWII masterpiece that favors its stunning visuals above coddling any of its shellshocked characters. Presented as an oddly shaped narrative puzzle, this steely take on the evacuation of Dunkirk is an edge of your seat experience from the very first frame. Once again, Christopher Nolan cruelly muzzles Tom Hardy behind a mask, and Hardy still finds ways to make his performance compelling as the heroic, but slightly Bane-garbled Spitfire pilot Farrier. I know this film has been divisive amongst viewers, some calling it an empty, exhausting experience, but I think the assault on your senses is intentional. I don’t think war movies should leave you feeling comfortable, or even satisfied for that matter. They should leave you a bit dazed and unsettled. And Dunkirk does that. I especially love what the end of the film has to say about its characters, too. One character who displayed varying levels of cowardice (understandable cowardice, but cowardice all the same) throughout the film is given a hero’s welcome at home, while the closest thing the movie has to an actual hero is left stranded on a beach behind enemy lines. How fitting. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Convergence at Open Sea
4. Logan – With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, Logan will more than likely stand as the best X-Men movie of all time. Mostly because I can’t see Disney putting out a misery seminar like this ever again. Logan is a movie about growing old and dementia and immigrants and swearing at children. You know, the cornerstones of the Disney empire. It’s subversive to the genre, a camouflaged road movie/western that parades itself around as summer blockbuster fare for the masses. And even though it can’t escape its comic trappings in the third act, I wouldn’t change anything about this movie. Especially the film’s closing image. I’m not crying, you’re crying! (Trailer)
Best Scene: So This is What it Feels Like (single tear)
5. Get Out – Despite being listed as a comedy for the upcoming Golden Globes, further proving that we can’t have nice things, this sociopolitical thriller cuts right to the bone on issues of race and prejudice. It’s cleverly scripted, thoughtfully constructed and perfectly executed. When asked how he would classify his own movie, writer/director Jordan Peele called it a “documentary”. All credit to him for producing something this smart and subtle, fresh off his broader and sillier sketch comedy days. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Getting Out
Watch This If You Like: Satirical horror, well written scripts, Social issues that need addressing, the Get Out challenge
6. Blade Runner 2049 – Blade Runner 2049 is a Jared Leto appearance away from being a masterpiece (I continue to fail my New Year’s resolution to be nicer to Jared Leto). Whereas Dunkirk was the most impressive “what can we strap a two hundred and forty pound IMAX camera to and still fly?” achievement, Blade Runner 2049 is the year’s best example of pure mood. Roger Deakins may be the greatest living cinematographer, Denis Villeneuve may be the most underrated genre director working and Harrison Ford actually tried in this movie. That’s a lethal combination. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Fuck You, Wall
Watch This If You Like: Phillip K. Dick, Sci-fi, Harrison Ford not phoning it in
7. It – The horror in the reboot of Stephen King’s clown terror classic may be a bit straightforward and even clunky at times, but the core of the movie, the kids that make up the Losers’ Club, are fantastic. Their strong and believable bond far outweighs any of the film’s underwhelming aspects. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden, Oldboy) once again produces some distinctly grim visuals, Bill Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is effectively unsettling while avoiding any sort of imitation or mimicry and the script is legitimately funny at times (that placebo line killed in our theater). I mean, what more do you want? (Trailer)
Best Scene: Losers’ Club Unite/Rock Fight/”These are Gazebos!”
Watch This If You Like: Stranger Things, Stephen King, Child actors being traumatized, On point New Kids on the Block references
8. Coco – Coco is Pixar’s gorgeous and culturally rich film about family, music and personal drive. The animation is breathtaking, the songs are impossibly catchy and the film floats with an emotional vibrancy in every scene. It’s a shame that tone deaf 22 minute Frozen short film about Olaf pulling a series of home invasions on Christmas played before Coco, but it did emphasize how great Coco is compared to schlock like that. Even ol’ Olaf couldn’t ruin this wonderful Pixar gem. And if you don’t find yourself misty-eyed in the last twenty minutes, then you’re a monster. Plain and simple. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Remember Me
Watch This If You Like: Crying in front of children, Pixar, Family, Celebrating life
9. Lady Bird– The strength of Lady Bird is that it feels like lived in material. Everything feels genuine and authentic. I don’t think there is a single misstep in the film. I know writer/director Greta Gerwig claimed this coming of age tale is semi-autobiographical, but I do wonder if this wasn’t her teenage years beat for beat, because I felt like I was watching someone’s life. It almost felt like an intrusion at times. I remember a similar effect while watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Unlike Boyhood’s sprawl though, Lady Bird is presented in a series of choppy vignettes, effectively emulating the teenage attention span and gifting us a scattershot of Lady Bird’s formidable senior year. It’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s familiar, it’s elating. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are superb as the film’s bullheaded mother daughter combo, a pair that sees far too much of themselves in each other, echoed by the film’s opening image, a portrait of the two lying in bed together, a near reflection of one another. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Trip to the Airport
Watch This If You Like: Boyhood, Coming of age stories, Linklater vibes
10. Ingrid Goes West – Only Aubrey Plaza can make a character like Ingrid, a deranged social media stalker who moves west to insert herself into the life of her Instagram obsession, somewhat sympathetic (Plaza’s Ingrid is a sort of kindred spirit to Bryce Dallas Howard’s painfully insecure character in the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive‘). The movie is peppered with uncomfortable laughs akin to a millennial’s version of The Office, but I thought it was great. It’s a scathing examination of social media obsession (the influencers and the obsessors are both taken to task) and I’m bummed more people didn’t see it. On a side note, there is a scene where Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the object of Plaza’s obsession, are singing K-Ci and Jojo’s ‘All My Life’ (the best slow jam of all time) in the car. Unable to contain herself at the prospect of their budding friendship, Plaza drops her guard for just a few seconds when she’s singing the chorus and all the darkness comes pouring out. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it exchange, but it’s one of my favorite movie moments of the year. Aubrey Plaza is so good in this movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: K-Ci and Jojo Karaoke
Watch This if You Like: Black Mirror, Single White Female for the 2010s, uncomfortable comedy, K-Ci and Jojo
11. War for the Planet of the Apes – Bad Ape is my favorite character of 2017. Yes, a goofy Steve Zahn voiced CG ape who wears a puffy vest is the pinnacle cinematic creation of 2017 for me. I dismissed him as pure comic relief at first, but there’s something deeply tragic about him. It’s a little devastating to watch him. I’m serious. Go back and watch Bad Ape’s introduction. It’s heartbreaking. Most of the people I’ve talked to implied Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is still the best of the trilogy, but I think I preferred War’s strange ‘The Great Escape‘ meets ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘ inspired story. I really feared this would be a retread of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with more chaotic war scenes woven in, but it did an effective job distancing itself from its predecessor. This isn’t really a war movie at all. If anything, it’s an escape movie, with apes. It’s the Ape Escape movie you never thought you’d get (or want?). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Prison Break
12. Thor: Ragnorok – This year’s equally well made Thor, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy entries seemed almost interchangeable at times, despite each film stamping their product in discernible ways. Thor is the weakest of the four by dramatic standards, which would usually bump it down the list for me, but it’s also the funniest of the four, and in a year of bleak cinema and bleak everything, I suppose laughter wins out this time. Ragnorok also has Jeff Goldblum, a surprisingly funky soundtrack and more of director Taika Waititi‘s dry Kiwi humor that was so great in last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. All that is missing in Ragorok is a Ricky Baker appearance (do not despair though, look for Ricky Baker and his skux life in 2018’s Deadpool 2). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Get Help!
Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunt For the Wilderpeople, Dry Kiwi humor
13. The Red Turtle – I still don’t really know what to say about the Red Turtle, a nearly dialogue free film from Japanese animated powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I didn’t always understand it, but it nonetheless felt deeply profound to me. And when I finished it, I just sat there for a long time, went for a walk and ruminated on life. It sounds corny, but it happened. I suppose at the heart of the escapism and comfort film offers us, we secretly yearn for experiences like this. Something that shakes us from our stupors. The Red Turtle is a film I’m sure I’ll revisit more and more over the years and appreciate exponentially the I older become. It might be a little slow for most, but I would still encourage people to seek it out. I especially like Mike Figures’ comment about the film’s universal appeal, “Once sound and language was developed, film became culture specific and lost its universality, and what this film does is reclaim that universality as there is no spoken language.” (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Circle of Life
Watch This If You Like: Castaway, Tin Tin, Ghibli movies, contemplating life
14. The Villainess – The Villainess is an absurd, violent marriage of La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill on bath salts. Whereas this year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Atomic Blonde had superb fight choreography and jarring blasts of stylized violence, there is something in this Korean action thriller that feels far superior in its raw and kinetic bloodshed. There’s no sheen to it. The film’s bursts of adrenaline leave you breathless and concerned for the stunt crew. This is the sort of madness I wanted from Atomic Blonde, and while there were admirable elements to that Charlize Theron vehicle, I think you have to get out of Hollywood to find something this batshit crazy these days. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Opening Raid/Bus Fight
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It seems like a requirement these days that hyperbole be assigned to anything Star Wars related, but the truth is, I don’t have any brash things to say about this movie. It was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It subverted expectations in a way that was refreshing, but also signaled a clear lack of communication for the trilogy’s overall structure, something Rian Johnson himself confirmed. And while I like smart, subversive sci-fi, Star Wars is far too nostalgic for me, leaving me with a stubbornly strong attachment to traditional arcs and the hero’s journey in the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Last Jedi felt more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica than a Star Wars film, which is perfectly fine, but it does take some getting used to. There is still quite a lot I liked about it though. Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are all great. Anytime they’re onscreen, the film is at its best. The Star Destroyer ramming sequence is also a stunning piece of visual filmmaking and Porgs are okay in my book. (Trailer)
Best Scene: “See you around, kid.”
Worst Offense: Space Witch Leia/Misuse of Benicio Del Toro
Watch This If You Like: Battlestar Galactica, plot subversion, Anti-Star Wars movies, Porgs
These are my favorite movies of 2017 edited into a quick movie supercut/mashup. Enjoy!