No Matter How You Saw Them, These Movies from 2019 Were Worth Remembering

30 Dec

2019 top moviesWhen we look back at the year in movies 2019, chances are good we’re going to see it as a transitional year. Or, if you prefer, an inflection point.

It certainly was a big year, financially: When all is said and done, movie ticket sales in the United States and Canada will total roughly $11.45 billion for the year, according to Comscore. And yet, as significant a number as that is, it’s actually down 4 percent from last year — the largest drop in five years.

Where did that 4 percent go? Streaming, probably.

With Disney taking eight of the top 10 spots in the list of highest-grossing films of 2019 domestically, and 58 features earning the distinction of being “franchise films,” those looking for something different or original often had to look for it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime — or even CNN.

Indeed, when looking at the most memorable films of the year, they weren’t necessarily those with the highest box-office totals, the ones that monopolized theater screens for much of the year. They were films that, often, were just under the radar or could be easily enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, not a movie theater.

avengers endgame(Which is not to say that the blockbusters weren’t good. For example, in spite of its faults, I still enjoyed Avengers: Endgame. I even saw it twice in the theater.)

This trend shows no signs of abating as we start another year — and another decade. The movies are getting no less plentiful, and the blockbusters are getting no less dominant. But the options people have to watch movies are certainly increasing.

Yes, there’s definitely something to be said for more people seeing movies, good ones or otherwise, however they choose to see them. But I remain an advocate for the in-theater experience, even though I firmly believe that streaming services are actually making the theatrical experience worse. People are so used to being able to talk and use their devices while watching movies at home that they don’t see a difference in the circumstances when they’re at a theater with other folks around them. Even with those distractions, watching a movie in a darkened theater, on a big screen, at loud volume, is ideal, and preferable to doing so wherever else you may be watching, on a smaller screen, at lower volume, with even more distractions.

Thankfully, Hollywood still believes in the theatrical experience: To qualify for an Oscar this year, a movie had to have played for a minimum of seven consecutive days in a movie theater in Los Angeles County, have a running time of more than 40 minutes and be exhibited theatrically on 35mm or 70mm film, or in a qualifying digital format. Is that an old-school way of thinking? Perhaps. But I’m not complaining.

In 2019, 344 features were released that qualify for Oscars. I saw 83 of them — and I’m thankful that I saw all but a handful of them in a theater. Which ones were worth remembering and checking out (on your favorite streaming channel, or otherwise), and which should never be spoken of again?

Here’s my list.

Honorable Mention

Let’s start with seven movies that aren’t top-10 worthy, for one reason or another, but are still worth mentioning. They’re listed here in alphabetical order.

Amazing Grace
That this movie — a raw and unpretentious document of the two nights Aretha Franklin recorded her bestselling gospel album in a Southern California church — exists at all is a miracle in itself.

booksmart movieBooksmart
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut was much more than a female retread of Superbad (and it’s just a coincidence that it stars the awesome Beanie Feldstein, Jonah Hill’s sister). It’s well written, well acted, confidently directed, and an instant classic of its genre.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
We’ll never think of Evian water the same way again. (Note: I also saw and liked Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, but it isn’t Oscar-qualified, so it doesn’t make this list.)

Gloria Bell
Sebastián Lelio remade his own 2013 Spanish-language film Gloria in English, starring Julianne Moore as a 50-something divorced woman, who lives to find the joy in life. The movie is a true celebration of that spirit.

Good Boys
This film is nothing too sophisticated — just a very, very funny movie where three 11-year-old boys talk authentically, like actual 11-year-olds talk, and act badly in very innocent/sixth-grade ways.

Midsommar
Ari Aster’s vision is twisted, but his film is undeniably impressive. Gorgeous cinematography and production design, and a great cast (including “it” actress Florence Pugh), come together in this horror film where an idyllic setting turns sinister and dark, right in broad daylight.

Rocketman
The kind of music-based crowd pleaser that Bohemian Rhapsody should have been. A charismatic lead performance by Taron Egerton and fantastical segments that actually work pretty well make for an effective tribute to the rock legend.

The Best Movies of 2019

  1. Parasite

Bong Joon Ho has made movies about class conflict before (his Snowpiercer was one of my favorite movies of 2014), but Parasite is something else — a Hitchcockian thriller, a wicked comedy, and a horror film, in equal measures. Brilliantly made and beautifully designed (that house!), Parasite tells the clever, insightful, and frequently surprising story of how a down-on-its-luck family subtly ingratiates itself into a well-to-do family’s life. Bong’s film is an unforgettable look at the lengths some people will go to move up in the world, and how the price is often more than they bargain for. Parasite may be in Korean, but it’s proof that great cinema transcends language and geography.

  1. marriage storyMarriage Story

There’s so much to love about Marriage Story, starting with its ensemble of actors, one of the strongest of the year. (Adam Driver’s performance of “Being Alive” from Company wrecks me every time I watch it.) But that’s just the beginning. Noah Baumbach’s film is authentic and moving and funny and heartbreaking. It’s filled with so much humanity, so much richness of character, and so much knowing detail that I suspect its emotional resonance will still be felt years from now — which is why it’s the only movie from 2019 that that I put on my best-of-the-decade list.

  1. Ford v Ferrari

This film is, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable two-and-a-half hours I spent at the movies this year. Well paced, terrifically photographed, and featuring two lead performances that just radiate joy (especially Christian Bale’s), Ford v Ferrari is what happens when you put a pro director (James Mangold, whose Logan was one of my favorites of 2017) behind the wheel, and pair him a cast of actors and a crew at the top of their game. Less a film about racing than one about two legendary men’s friendship, and how they battled corporate interference and their own personal demons to make history together, Ford v Ferrari is a confidently made film with swagger to spare.

  1. The Irishman

Yes, Martin Scorsese’s movie is long (three-and-a-half hours). It’s also a career peak for the director and his collaborators — especially Joe Pesci, who practically steals the film from De Niro and Pacino, et al, with a subtle and award-worthy supporting turn. It’s the kind of movie this team could only have made now, after a lifetime of making other (mostly memorable) mob movies. “You don’t know how fast time goes by till you get there,” our “hero” Frank Sheeran says toward the end of the movie (and his life). He’s right: Mafia guys are violent, but nothing kills like old age. Rather than celebrating the exploits of these bad men, Scorsese’s epic spends time (lots of it) letting us see the effect such actions can have on a person, especially when they outlive their sins.

  1. Apollo 11

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to go to space, you can’t get much closer than this amazing documentary, which is made almost entirely with authentic archival footage from 1969, presented in a way that makes you feel like you are there — on the launch pad, in Mission Control, and on the moon. And that’s all we need: There’s no looking-back interviews, no additional context. Just the raw footage, cut together brilliantly. The end result is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and a true celebration of what man can do when we think big. (Speaking of big, if you ever have the chance to see this one on an IMAX screen, do not miss it.)

  1. ready or notReady or Not

This late-summer release had all the makings of a late-summer dud. But what a surprise it was! Very funny and very dark, this film tells the story of a just-married bride trying to survive the night before her new in-laws find her in a killer game of hide and seek. Ready or Not features a cast of expert scenery-chewers (including Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and walking sight gag Nicky Guadagni) and one delightful surprise after another. The movie may not be award-worthy, but it’s an absolutely great time.

  1. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

On the surface, this movie is the story of a man trying to restore and reclaim his childhood home. But it’s really a story about friendship and gentrification, and feeling lost in a city that’s always felt like home but that’s now becoming almost unrecognizable. Beautifully directed by Joe Talbot and perfectly played by Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors, Last Black Man is a unique portrait of complicated relationships that’s both authentic and quirky — an unassuming little gem that’s personal and definitely of its place.

  1. The Farewell

Anyone who’s ever had a close relationship with their grandmother will certainly identify with this film about a granddaughter (Awkwafina) who has to keep her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis a secret from her, per Chinese custom. The film has its share of laughs, but it’s really a richly portrayed drama about transnational identity filled with one touching moment after another. Based on a true story — or, as the film announces at its start, “an actual lie” — The Farewell is a special film that had me teared up from start to finish, wishing I could spend more time with my own Bubbe.

  1. The Two Popes

From its opening scenes of the papal conclave to its final moments of the two Popes watching football together, this movie is just beautiful. Director Fernando Meirelles and writer Anthony McCarten use gorgeous, sweeping cinematography and insightful, and often funny, dialogue to show that the two men of God in the title are really just human beings, grappling with some of the same questions and imposter syndrome many other people do. And as those titular pontiffs, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce give heartfelt performances that are some of the best character work of the year.

  1. 1917 movie1917

An amazing technical achievement. By filming his World War I epic — the story of two privates sent to deliver an urgent message to the front — seemingly in one continuous, nearly two-hour take (or two takes, anyway), Sam Mendes ratchets up the intensity and puts you right in the center of the action, unable to escape. His impressive direction is enhanced by Thomas Newman’s score, and, of course, Roger Deakins’ cinematography. The result is one thrilling, bravura sequence after another, and a war film the likes of which we have never seen before.

The Worst Movies of 2019

On the other hand, there were also a bunch of films that should be forgotten. These 10 are the ones I enjoyed the least, in alphabetical order.

Cats
Let the memory of this movie not live again.

The Dead Don’t Die
So, this was a movie I saw.

Detective Pikachu
This movie was not made for me.

Hellboy
Bloody hell, this movie is not good.

Isn’t It Romantic?
Who are the people who find Rebel Wilson funny? Because she isn’t.

JoJo Rabbit
Taika Watiti’s supposed satire is misguided and unfunny. Nazism and Hitler and Jews hiding from Nazis (in attics, or otherwise) and all the other things in this movie just can’t be laughed at given the state of the world right now.

The Kitchen
Undercooked.

Last Christmas
The lyrics to the George Michael song are literally, “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart.” Whoops. Spoiler alert.

Men in Black International
Unnecessary. Unfunny. Uncool. I wish I had a neutralizer so I could forget seeing this movie.

Motherless Brooklyn
I wanted to walk out of this movie within the first 20 minutes. It’s poorly written, poorly acted, and a waste of 2+ hours.

Everything Else

And there you have it. My favorites, least favorites, and some honorable mentions. If you’re interested in the rest of the movies I saw this year, here’s the list of all 81, and the letter grade I gave them, in the order I saw them.

  1. Glass. C
  2. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. B+
  3. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. B–
  4. Isn’t It Romantic? C+
  5. Apollo 11. A–
  6. Captain Marvel. C
  7. Gloria Bell. B+
  8. Us. B
  9. Dumbo. B–
  10. The Beach Bum. C
  11. Shazam. B
  12. Hellboy. D
  13. Amazing Grace. B+
  14. Avengers: Endgame. B+
  15. Long Shot. B-
  16. Knock Down the House. B+
  17. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. B
  18. Detective Pikachu. C–
  19. Late Night. B
  20. Rocketman. B+
  21. Aladdin. B–
  22. Booksmart. B+
  23. Ma. C+
  24. Shaft. B
  25. Men in Black International. D
  26. Toy Story 4. B+
  27. The Dead Don’t Die. C
  28. Midsommar. B+
  29. Yesterday. B
  30. Spider-man: Far from Home. B+
  31. Echo in the Canyon. B
  32. The Last Black Man in San Francisco. B+
  33. Stuber. B–
  34. Crawl. B–
  35. Blinded by the Light. B+
  36. The Lion King. B
  37. The Farewell. B+
  38. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. C
  39. Hobbs and Shaw. B
  40. The Kitchen. C
  41. Luce. B
  42. Good Boys. B+
  43. Ready or Not. B+
  44. Angel Has Fallen. B–
  45. The Peanut Butter Falcon. B–
  46. After the Wedding. B
  47. Brittany Runs a Marathon. B+
  48. IT Chapter Two. B+
  49. Hustlers. B+
  50. Ad Astra. B–
  51. Judy. B–
  52. Joker. B–
  53. JoJo Rabbit. C–
  54. Western Stars. B+
  55. Harriet. B
  56. Parasite. A–
  57. Dolemite Is My Name. B
  58. Motherless Brooklyn. C–
  59. Terminator: Dark Fate. B­–
  60. Knives Out. B
  61. Pain and Glory. B
  62. Marriage Story. A–
  63. Doctor Sleep. B–
  64. Ford v Ferrari. A–
  65. Last Christmas. C
  66. The Irishman. B+
  67. Waves. B–
  68. Charlie’s Angels. C+
  69. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. B
  70. The Good Liar. B
  71. The Two Popes. A–
  72. Queen & Slim. B
  73. Uncut Gems. B–
  74. Honey Boy. B–
  75. Bombshell. B–
  76. 1917. B+
  77. Jumanji: The Next Level. B
  78. Richard Jewell. B
  79. Cats. D
  80. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. B
  81. Little Women. B+
  82. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. B–
  83. Just Mercy. B–

2 Responses to “No Matter How You Saw Them, These Movies from 2019 Were Worth Remembering”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. In Spite of Everything, There Was a Lot to Celebrate in 2019 | Martin's Musings - December 31, 2019

    […] I saw plenty of movies, of course. Eighty-one of them, to be exact, which brought my total for the decade to about 715. […]

  2. The 2020 Happiness Project | Martin's Musings - January 5, 2020

    […] the Golden Globes winners tonight, the one that legit made me happiest was Awkwafina, whose movie The Farewell is so special and so […]

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