I feel like a broken record, which is such a dated reference. I feel like a glitch in the cloud? A repetitive autocorrect? Our hellishly redundant news cycle? Whatever.
The point is that every year I have to explain why my annual best/worst movies list hits later than almost all others. Short answer: A monthly print deadline and the fact that studios simply don’t care about the opinion of Midwestern critics. “The year’s best films” often arrive here in the beginning of the next year, which irritatingly twists my giblets. I’m just saying — given the objectively awful awards nominations and winners thus far, maybe it’s time to rethink ignoring 90% of the country when building a critical cultural consensus.
At any rate, not a lot of caveats this year, in that I saw pretty much everything I was “supposed” to see aside from Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Clemency and Les Misérables, which still haven’t opened here. Hopefully, by the time they do we Midwestern reviewers will have learned how to read “subtitles,” whatever those are.
I usually list my worst films of the year before the best films, but since my naughty list is likely to make many folks go Bonkers McBonkface, I’m gonna save that for later. A spoonful of sugar helps my judgmental medicine go down.
The 10 Best Films of 2019
The following half-dozen flirted with my top 10 but never quite fell all the way in love. Kisses though!
- Frozen II
- Wild Rose
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- The Lego Movie: Part 2
- Fast Color
10.) Uncut Gems
The thing I’ve said the most about this movie: “It’s one of the best movies of the year. You’ll probably hate it.” This nightmarishly unpleasant urban fable about a degenerate gambler/manchild, played by Adam Sandler, is pure movie magic. People always assume that phrase —“movie magic”—is a happy thing. This is more cinematic Necronomicon than a boop from Glenda, the good witch. The best art provokes a reaction, and I sure reacted all over the place to this one.
9.) Knives Out
Writer/director Rian Johnson’s saucy Agatha Christie-riff is a delightful whiff of murder mystery and light social commentary. Anchored by the aggressively amusing accent employed by Daniel Craig, it takes itself just the right amount of serious and doesn’t cheat at all in revealing the “who” in the “whodunit.” Its success is proof that movies need not be sequels nor based on existing intellectual property to be a hit. They just gotta be, you know, good.
Writer/director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out may be better than Get Out. “Get out!” you may be thinking, but it’s true! A twisted tale of doppelgangers and the duality of human nature, Us is both a sophisticated soliloquy on social morality and an homage to C.H.U.D. A more perfect hybrid hath never been spawned. The only things that kept Lupita Nyong’o from another well-deserved Oscar nomination were the Academy’s ongoing disrespect of the horror genre and their continued confusion that what Scarlett Johansson is doing lately is “good.”
7.) Out of Omaha
When I saw this movie late last summer, I knew it would have a home in my top 10. Director Clay Tweel’s passionate, patient documentary about the ongoing tyranny of urban segregation is as eloquent a treatise as I have seen from a young filmmaker. It gives a voice to the voiceless in a way that so many docs claim to do but don’t. Please understand: If this movie were about Boise, I’d still feel the same. It would probably have more potatoes in it, but it would be no less important and powerful.
A brutal bit of magical realism from writer/director Issa López, this tale of tweens navigating gang violence and the supernatural in the streets of Mexico will absolutely gut you. Facts and statistics about the casualties of cartels bounce off American ears like bullets on pavement, but what López does here is impossible to ignore. A warped Walt Disney fairy tale presented like a campfire story and filled with some of the most ugly-beautiful imagery, the moral here is that you really need to watch this.
Writer/director Bong Joon Ho’s latest is so good that the Academy temporarily forgot that it treats foreign films like second-class cinema. One family’s explicit and implicit waging of and raging against class warfare is somehow both hyper-specific to the Korean experience and universal. You’ll laugh at the most disturbing, tragic moment and want to weep at all the funniest bits. It’s a treatise against capitalism and cinema as sleight-of-hand. I know that, like, everyone has this in their top films of the year, but that probably means you should see it, right?
4.) Jojo Rabbit
Lots of people hate this movie, and not because of Scarlett Johansson’s performance, which would be a totally acceptable reason to hate this movie. Writer/director Taika Waititi’s sweet satire about how fascist ideology conquers young brains feels timely and fresh, partially because his turn as imaginary Hitler is funnier than it has any historical right to be. Look, it makes sense that a Nazi-centric coming-of-age comedy didn’t resonate with everyone. But I’d argue that in an era when YouTube propaganda is radicalizing children, understanding how to combat that intellectual infiltration is pretty important. Also, imaginary Hitler eats a unicorn.
I could make a convincing argument for any of my top three films as being the year’s best. Since the first images of writer/director Blitz Bazawule’s fever dream hit my eyeballs, since the first notes of the score he provided sank into my eardrums, I have carried it with me. This tale of a woman recounting a fictionalized version of her youth in Ghana is surreal visual poetry that touches on issues of poverty and police corruption while asking how much of what we all remember about growing up is “real.” The overwhelming sameness of so much cinema is exhausting. Netflix gets a lot of shit about various aspects of their film distribution and production. I wouldn’t have seen this one without them, so they get a pass this year.
Writer/director Ari Aster is all about two things: repeatedly showing the violent explosion of heads and horror movies where the real terror comes from our relationships. A trip to see the rituals of a small Swedish town becomes a tension-filled exploration of horrible romantic partners, narcissistic academics and the crucible of anxiety disorders. Its deliberate, plodding pace is sinisterly effective to the point where waiting for people to eat dinner nearly drove me mad. I loved this slow-ass movie so much, I saw the director’s cut in theaters. It was even longer and slower. And I loved it even more. Any other year, this is probably my favorite film.
The best movie I saw this year is a sparse, Swedish, sci-fi flick based on an epic poem from the 1950s. I know, I hate me too. Seriously though, what writers/directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja have made is a movie that will absolutely stick to my psyche for the rest of my natural life. A ship ferrying passengers from earth to a colony in space runs into a bit of an issue. What follows is a contemplation of the meaning of life, an exploration of imagination and suffering and a reminder to hold tight to the things you love. This is a real thing: Sometimes I think about Aniara and almost start to cry. Many folks are gonna super hate this. But if it resonates with you, it’s really going to resonate. To those folks I say, come board this goofy Swedish spaceship as we drift on together forever.
The Five Worst Films of 2019
Before I do this, it’s really important to me that you know I am neither trolling nor being intentionally contrarian for some narcissistic reason. I legitimately hated these movies. It’s not some kind of symbolic gesture or posturing. It’s that I honestly thought they were very bad for various reasons. There, that should totally prevent anyone from being too mad at me. Right? Here we go…
5.) The Perfection
I’ll say this much for Allison Williams’ “sexy” thriller: It goes for it! I almost embraced its grotesque weirdness, until it chose to use a vile plot twist reminiscent of too many real-life, horrific stories. But if body horror and Steven Weber do it for you, go to town.
4.) It Chapter Two
Part of the joy in watching a Stephen King adaptation is saving time. Not here! This bloated, boring and frequently offensive turd belongs in the sewer from which it came. I did not care for it, could you tell?
It’s fitting that a movie that frequently uses a mind eraser is so forgettable. If I hadn’t written a review, I think I would have assumed I never saw it. A waste of Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Emma Thompson, which is an intergalactic crime.
And here we go… What most folks overwhelmingly found to be brilliant, I found exhausting and dull. It’s filled with one-note, silly performances working off a boring plot that ignores Charles Manson’s white supremacy, takes a shot at Bruce Lee for no reason and delights in brutalizing women. I’m not saying that emperor Quentin Tarantino has no clothes, only that what he wears is ugly.
If you can somehow get past the fact that this film’s thesis validates the vilest fantasies of social outcasts who think that violence will get them the attention and fame they desire, you’re left with a repetitive, wholly expected, derivative performance. I don’t know why slapping a popular character onto an amateurish Scorsese impression resonated with folks, but I hated it to the point where I’m willing to take crap for that opinion by putting it out there again.