Posted January 19, 2020 | Edited February 15, 2020
I thoroughly despise it when common folk vehemently complain that film
critics hate movies and can't be trusted.
Or, on an even more anger inducing tangent, they lash out that
critics aren't fans of the medium and go out of their way to trash what
I don't consider myself some sub-human species that can't enjoy movies because I'm not a fan of the art form. What kind of nonsensical hooey is that? I love the movies. I love watching them. I love going to the cinema. And I see a lot of them, arguably more than a majority of people these days. I'm as big of a fan as they come, which is why making yearly TOP 10 lists is something that I hold really dear to my heart. These are movies to be savored and placed on a high pedestal of hero worship. It could be said that 2019 wasn't as routinely strong of a year as most, but I do grow tired of the constant annual refrain that people don't go to the movies anymore because there isn't any good movies out there.
short answer to that is simple: you're not looking hard enough.
is the case with my previous lists, I aim for an eclectic mixture of films
to champion here, and I think that the year that was offered up some rich
Making my list: a much talked about (and highly divisive) R-rated
comic book film; a compelling and awe inspiring documentary about space
travel; two thoughtful and contemplative sci-fi dramas about space travel;
two third films in respective action and animated trilogies (that's
ultra rare for lists like this!); a pulp fiction inspired love letter to
1960's Hollywood, a whodunnit murder mystery thriller, a South Korean made
thriller that would have made Hitchcock proud, and a Netflix
produced crime epic made by the greatest living director in the world.
you didn't actively seek out these films over the last twelve months...you
weren't looking hard enough.
NOTE: As of the date of this article's first publication I have yet to screen UNCUT GEMS and A HIDDEN LIFE. Once I see them and I deem that they're worthy of inclusion here I will, in turn, amend my rankings below.
WATCH me talk about some of my picks below on CTV:
1. THE IRISHMAN
So, yup, I kind
of let the cat out of the proverbial bag a few months back by announcing
on CTV that THE IRISHMAN was far and away the best film of 2019...and my opinion has not changed.
To say that there
were unprecedented levels of anticipation for this Netflix produced fact-based mob drama was an understatement. It
marked director Martin Scorsese's first return to the genre he made
masterfully his own since his 2006 Best Picture and Director winning THE
DEPARTED. That, and
it also showcased his first re-teaming with Robert De Niro since 1995's
CASINO. THE IRISHMAN also
brought the long-in-retirement Joe Pesci back to the movies and alongside his frequent
co-star in De Niro. And
finally, this film also astoundingly represented the first teaming of star
Al Pacino and Scorsese...like...ever. In
short, and if you excuse the sarcasm and referencing to a very recent
public movie controversy, THE IRISHMAN was the AVENGERS:
ENDGAME of Scorsese gangster films.
My CTV Review of THE IRISHMAN:
If it were not
for the existence of THE IRISHMAN then this would have definitely made the
cut for the finest reason to enter a cinema in 2019.
Part psychological horror film, part home
invasion thriller, part black comedy, and part social/economic satire,
Bong Joon ho's PARASITE covered an awful lot of tonal and thematic
terrain, but it's a testament to the South Korean filmmaker that he
managed to gel it together with such confident fluidity.
The film's cunningly crafted narrative - concerning a have-not family on the lowest end of the economic ladder engaging in a long con game to infiltrate and take advantage of a disgustingly rich clan of one per centers - was one that joyously created ways to keep audiences legitimately guessing throughout its well earned and never too bloated 132 minutes. The first half of Boon's film was a damning - and darkly hilarious - portrait of social and economic disparity and the levels that both poor and rich families will succumb to in order to maintain their respective ways of life. Yet, as PARASITE careened towards its wickedly crazy and startlingly violent second half Boon shifted gears away from social commentary and satire and fully committed his film to becoming a ghoulish home invasion thriller. The manner that the South Korean director expertly segued between divergent genres and tones here was a masterstroke, and very little of what occurred throughout PARASITE rarely hinted at the macabre detours it took late in the game. Like great Hitchcockian thrillers of old, Boon's film - to sort of quote Hitch - "always made the audience suffer as much as possible."
I mean this in the most complimentary manner possible.
No film of the
past twelve months was more talked about and dissected than Todd
Phillips' JOKER, which was his ultra hard R-rated alternate take origin
story of Batman's greatest and most famous arch nemesis (which, in turn,
occurred outside of the current and ever changing DC Cinematic Universe).
Robert Eggers' THE LIGHTHOUSE was one of the most hauntingly perverse and
undeniably unnerving films of 2019. It
has wonderful symmetry with his superlative rookie effort in THE
WITCH (which also placed on my list of the TEN BEST FILMS of its
year of release) in the sense that both are period psychological horror
thrillers that have a hallucinatory stranglehold on viewers.
More crucially, both films revel in using their environments to
slowly exude a calculating grip on their respective characters and
viewers, which makes both bravura works of sinister mood.
Now that's scary.
5. APOLLO 11
What a Herculean feat of awe-inspiring filmmaking! There are few films these days - fact or fiction - that legitimately evoke a sensation of childlike wonder in me while I bare witness to their sights and sounds, but Todd Douglas Miller's astonishing APOLLO 11 was one. It represented a decidedly rare breed of filmgoing experience that created an out-of-body sensory experience. The key to this magnificent doc's success was its startling economy: Using a very atypical genre approach (using no voiceover narration, interview subjects reflecting back, and so forth), APOLLO 11 was completely comprised of previously unreleased 70mm film footage of the days leading into and during mankind's fist steps on the moon on July 20, 1969. With painstakingly restored footage married to actual archival recordings of the Apollo crew both on the ground and in space, Miller achieved the near impossible here by making an event so deeply entrenched in our collective subconscious somehow feel revitalizingly fresh and new again. As a celebration of human ingenuity and persistence of technological vision and ambition, APOLLO 11 was as winning and powerful as any film from the past 12 months. It was also one of the best cinematic experiences about the perils and triumphs of space travel and NASA's early days that I have ever seen.
I've frankly run out of superlatives when it comes to talking about the
JOHN WICK action franchise.
series opened in extraordinary jaw-dropping fashion with the 2014
original, which was like a stylistic hypodermic needle to the
heart of a genre that desperately required being jump started out of
This gave way to the even finer JOHN
WICK: CHAPTER 2, one of the best action sequels ever committed to
celluloid and one that all but confirmed its fifty-plus year old star
Keanu Reeves into the upper echelon of genre royalty (that, and it showed
that the first film was no qualitative fluke).
My biggest takeaway with the first two JOHN WICK films was that
you'll be hard pressed to find a better marriage of role and actor, and
what astounded me to no end with - to quote its full official title - JOHN
WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM was that it achieved and somehow surpassed the consummate filmmaking craft and scale of its two
JOHN WICK 3 emerged as one of the most unrelentingly effective
action thrillers of not only the year that was, but arguably of recent
times, and it was one that was a fiendishly and ingeniously orchestrated
ballet of wanton violence.
late Roger Ebert once coined the phrase "Bruised Forearm
Movie," which referred to certain kind of movies "where your
date is always grabbing your forearm in a viselike grip, as unbearable
excitement unfolds on screen."
My CTV Review of JOHN WICK 3:
7. AD ASTRA
James Gray's AD ASTRA (which is Latin for "to the stars") was an unqualified and masterful triumph for the science fiction genre. Not only was it an absolute technical marvel, but it was also a space trekking film that favored thoughtful, nuanced, and thematically ambitious storytelling versus bombastic action and eye fatiguing visual effects.
The storytelling here deserved some compelling similarities to APOCALYPSE NOW in how it chronicled the physical and spiritual journey of its main hero into the heart of darkness of dangerous space (which replaced the jungles of Vietnam in Coppola's film). Most importantly, AD ASTRA still offered up the grandiose sights and sounds that we've come to expect from these types of pictures on top of being atypically observational and considerate with the psychological headspaces of its characters. The true emotional epicenter of this film laid with its lead character (played in another thanklessly understated and effortlessly dialed performance by Brad Pitt) and his cerebral battle that he waged within himself as he entered the stars and courageously faced the daunting unknown of the cosmos while confronting some very personal demons along the way. AD ASTRA was not seen by nearly enough people upon its early fall release, making it one of best least-seen films of 2019.
of the most wondrous and delightful surprises of the animated movie world
has been Dreamworks' truly sublime HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON franchise,
which has been, for me, as good - if not better - than just about anything
that the studio's biggest competition in Disney/Pixar has put out over the
9. KNIVES OUT
Johnson's last film, a little know and little talked about franchise
picture named STAR WARS:
THE LAST JEDI?
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD might be the most personal film on this list, seeing as it was set in Los Angeles of the late 60s, a city and period that's deeply linked to writer/director Quentin Tarantino (he grew up in the City of Angels). The title alone hints at fairy tale trappings (as well as serving as a direct homage to the works of Sergio Leone, like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and AMERICA, a pair of Tarantino favorites), but what made this period work linger with me so long in the wake of screening it back in the late summer was that it was arguably one of the finest time capsule pictures of 2019. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD not only gloriously and lovingly evoked an L.A. of yesteryear, but it also was a thoroughly involving chronicle of how the very movie and TV industry itself was on the verge of seismic change, which all just so happened to be typified by the shocking events on Cielo Drive in the summer of 1969.
Of course, the Marilyn Manson family murders are featured in Tarantino's film, but the 56-year-old director wasn't crafting a film wholly about that tragic event. No, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD was really about transporting viewers to a period and place, all while, in pure Tarantino-ian fashion, telling multiple storylines featuring a kaleidoscope of colorful characters (two of which were played brilliantly by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, combining to create the year's best on-screen bromance). And like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS before it, this film played within the sandbox of history by throwing its own toys into the mix for good measure. It gave the Golden Age of Hollywood its much deserved fairy tale ending. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD may not achieve the upper echelon of quality of the finest of Tarantino's past work, but it showed that when he's operating at even 80-90 per cent capacity he's still creatively well ahead of the pack.
|...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2019 with my selections from 11-25:|
11. HIGH LIFE: Director Claire Denis made the second best sci-fi film of 2019, which harnessed the second best Robert Pattinson performance of the year as well.
V FERRARI: One of the most purely entertaining
pictures of the year, with an enthralling fact-based narrative set in the
world of 1960's competitive racing, capped by two captivating lead
top notch direction by James Mangold.
breathtakingly powerful outdoor survival thriller that's quarterbacked by
one of the finest performances of his career by Mads Mikkelsen.
A.T. White's feature film debut was a hypnotically memorable avant garde
piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
ART OF SELF DEFENSE: This
painfully blunt piece of social satire emerged as something far more than
just another run of the mill KARATE KID clone.
NIGHT: Emma Thompson gave an Oscar
worthy performance in this splendid Mindy Kaling scripted workplace comedy
about a down on her luck late night talk show host seeking career
OR NOT: A viscerally nasty, but
darkly hysterical screwball horror comedy that ended the summer film
season that was on an unexpectedly high note.
The DC movie universe showed increased levels of
creative maturation with this super hero film of great unpretentious fun.
BATTLE ANGEL: Director Robert
Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron teamed up to produce this
visually sumptuous and extremely underrated live action adaptation of the
beloved magna series.
PEANUT BUTTER FALCON: This
charming and wonderfully acted comedy-drama put a smile on my
face that I'm still trying to rub off weeks after screening it.
PURSUIT: This criminally
overlooked and richly atmospheric Liam Neeson revenge action thriller had
more thematically going on under its hood than most other previous genre
efforts on the actor's recent resume.
MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT: One
of the most specifically and preposterously titled films of 2019 contained
a surprisingly nuanced script of intoxicating intrigue and a lead
performance by the great Sam Elliott that really helped elevate the piece
well above B-grade luridness.
IS MY NAME:
Eddie Murphy gave his most joyously engaged performance since DREAMGIRLS
in this Netflix produced fact based comedy.
LINK: Yet another qualitative
home run for Laika, the Oregon based stop motion animation studio that
rarely seems to miss a beat with any of the productions.
KID WHO WOULD BE KING: This
mostly forgotten Joe Cornish directed family fantasy was an infectiously
agreeable mishmash of THE MONSTER SQUAD and EXCALIBUR.
|Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:|
CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE: This
sort of sequel, sort of prequel to AMC's iconic TV series BREAKING BAD
served as a thoroughly engrossing extension of that small screen
MARRIAGE STORY: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were the best thing going in director Noah Baumbach's latest drama.
HUSTLERS: A surprisingly unsucky fact based crime drama set in the world of con artist strippers (far better than its sensationalistic description).
UPSIDE: Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart gave
good performances in this mostly decent remake of the French film THE
TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE:
One of the most uproariously funny films of the year was this Netflix
produced film based on THE Zack Galifianakis starring Funny or Die series of
LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART:
This sequel to its vastly superior prequel was
still a gloriously inventive and endearing follow-up entry.
FLYING BIRD: Director
Steven Soderbergh teamed up with MOONLIGHT writer Tarell Alvin McCraney to
make this Netflix backed sports drama that showed the former's continued
persistence to take bold artistic chances that very few other filmmakers
WITH MY FAMILY:
This part dysfunctional family drama,
part underdog overcoming all odds sports biopic, and part WWE recruitment
film showed off the feisty screen presence of Florence Pugh to stellar
alternate take historical film about the crime spree of Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow boasted the understated charisma and chemistry of
stars Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner.
SHOT: The unlikely dynamic pairing of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron
made this political comedy stand out apart from the pack.
A thanklessly good sequel to THE SHINNING that somwhow was able to
appease fanboys of Stephen King's original novel and the Stanley Kubrick
film adaptation of it.
There's not a wrong note to be had in Tom Hank's Oscar caliber portrayal of pioneering children's show host Fred Rogers.
RICHARD JEWELL: This Clint Eastwood helmed true story about one innocent man being falsely accused of a terrorist bombing made some troublingly contradictory creative choices, but was held together by the combined strengths of its three lead actors.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL: A superfluous, but mostly funny follow-up to its billion dollar grossing antecedent.
1917: An absolute technical marvel, to be sure, this much advertised "one-take" World War I thriller was an immersive filmgoing experience, but very light on characters, story, and drama.
THE TWO POPES: A misguidedly scripted at times, but nevertheless flawlessly acted portrait of two well known power players in the religious world.
UNCUT GEMS: A career high performance by Adam Sandler headlined the latest anxiety inducing thriller from the Safdie Brothers. (added February 15)