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Favorite Movies of 2019

Friday, January 17, 2020
*Update 1/17/20* I wrote all of this before Oscar noms were announced. Will insert post nomination blurbs in BOLD throughout.

Let's start by setting the table. As always, there are several movies that I highly anticipated but still have not seen. I don't know which of these could have changed my top fifteen, if any, but each of these has something I am still really excited to experience.
  • The Lighthouse - I tried desperately to see this in theaters, alas I have an 8 month old child now (fill in that excuse all throughout this thing). I bought it on iTunes and can't wait to find the time. 
  • High Life - I'm realizing I've really failed Robert Pattinson this year. 
  • The Goldfinch - I loved this book. Heard good things from some people, then saw the bad reviews. Still want to see it.
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek - bought this a while ago and still pretty sure I will like it.
  • Dark Waters - love me some Ruffalo.
  • Pain and Glory - This and the next few I'm guessing will play a role in the Oscar convo but I just haven't gotten a chance yet to see them. There is still time. 
  • Honeyboy
  • Waves
  • 1917 - I feel like I have to see this, but I don't really want to. War movies just generally aren't my bag.
There are two movies that come to mind that people are raving about, that I liked, but that weren't quite for me (I guess?): Midsommar and The Souvenir. I enjoyed both, loved neither.

Biggest personal disappointment... I don't really want to talk about Rise of Skywalker. Now is a good time to reflect on the greatness that was The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson is too pure for this world.

All right, let's get to it. First I will just say, another fantastic year of movies. There are so many of these that I think I will still be watching years from now. Honorable mentions:

Booksmart - I laughed. I loved the energy of this movie. The music. The editing. It felt propulsive in a way that I really enjoy. Add to that some solid characters, a pretty decent story, and a claymation sequence and we are there!

Long Shot - a rare breed. Studio romantic comedy with stars. These two actually had great chemistry, which is impressive when you look at Seth Rogen next to Charlize Theron. No offense, Seth. This movie was just fun. Great concept. Great actors. Killer execution. And of course the obligatory scene of Seth Rogen pleasuring himself.

Fighting With My Family - I was surprised how much I liked this movie. It's about wrestling. I don't care about wrestling. But Florence Pugh was amazing, and the story was actually pretty moving. I felt very invested in her journey and how it mirrored the experience of her brother and family back home. I didn't expect to be moved by this movie, but I really was. One of the most underrated movies this year I think. Easy to dismiss based on the premise and the poster, but it's really so good.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood - love Matthew Rhys. I actually really liked the framing device for this movie even though it wasn't what I was expecting. Basically I cried my way through it.

The Farewell - this was just a delight. Awkwafina was so great. I loved feeling immersed in another culture and family. Hopefully this doesn't get forgotten come awards season. *It did. The Academy really blew it on this one*

Without further ado, my top ten:

10. Jo Jo Rabbit

Taika Waititi is a national treasure... for New Zealand I guess. Either way, this guy makes great movies. He is on a run for the ages: What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, and now this? Come on people.

I don't know if I have anything meaningful to add to the discourse on this movie. It walked a tightrope of funny and sad and charming and crushing and joyous and weighty. If the little boy saying he needs to go home to his mom because he needs a cuddle doesn't warm your heart cockles then I don't know what will.

9. Uncut Gems

*Speaking of the Academy really blowing it...*

Have you ever wanted to have a panic attack? No? Then skip this one I guess. I think I might be in the minority of people who prefer Good Time to this one, but oh my goodness what a ride. You really love to see filmmakers leveling up like this. And the fact that this set some box office records for A24 hopefully bodes well for the Safdie Brothers continuing to make exhilarating/stressful movies.

I have always loved Adam Sandler. Loving Happy Gilmore is one of my formative memories as a wee lad. Seeing him flex his actual acting muscles (a la Punch Drunk Love) is really a breath of fresh air.

I don't know if I enjoyed watching this movie, though. I felt constantly amazed by what I was seeing and how things were unfolding, and then the ending punched me in the gut. At that moment my thought was, "Good, but glad that it's over." Then it continued to stick with me. I keep thinking about it. I keep reliving certain parts of the movie. I don't know if I really want to watch it again but I also know that I will. There is something powerful about a movie that can do that.

I am guessing most audience members will not like it. That's okay.

8. Avengers: Endgame

 I don't know how this works as a standalone movie. I do know that as a resolution to a decade worth of films, it is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I've had this year. Endings are hard. Ask J. J. Abrams. The fact that they were able to juggle so many characters, so many story lines, and make it feel fun, surprising, emotional, and fulfilling is just an incredible magic trick.

This movie was satisfying on so many levels. So enjoyable. Basically just 2.5 hours of pay off. The experience would be impossible to replicate in any other context, so that impressed me. Kind of iffy on their slate moving forward, but they have surprised me before, so we shall see.

7. The Irishman

I was lucky enough to see this in a theater, and I think that helped shaped my experience of the film. Every time I have tried to rewatch it at home, life intervenes. There is something to be said about experiencing this movie all at once, with no interruptions or breaks. The emotional punch at the end hits that much harder.

I love Scorcese. I love Goodfellas as much as the next guy. This is something else. Come for the gangster epic, stay for the moving portrait of aging, the ravages of time, and the impact of choices on our lives. It's not what I was expecting. I expect death in a Scorcese gangster movie. I don't expect a deep meditation on death that has me pondering my whole existence.

On top of all of that, it's actually really fun to watch. So many great scenes. Pesci, DeNiro, and Pacino just going for it. The movie has stayed with me. I keep thinking about it. I keep being amazed by it. I don't think I'll ever be able to get my wife to watch it.

6. Ford v. Ferrari

A dad movie if I ever saw one. Well. Now I'm a dad so I'm allowed to love it.

Honestly I think this movie is becoming slightly underrated. In some of the awards conversations, it seems like people are forgetting just how good this movie is. Bale and Damon giving some real movie star performances. Thrilling direction by James Mangold. Some of the driving sequences are so visceral, so electric, I just couldn't believe it as I was experiencing it in the theater.

I don't care about cars. I don't care about racing. I don't care about Le Mans. But I love a process movie, about people trying to do something extraordinary. An underdog story. It's also just so fun to watch. You have to appreciate just a fun time at the movies.

5. Little Women

*Ugh... Todd Phillips over Greta? Really people? Is this what we're doing in 2020?*

God bless Greta Gerwig. This is not what I expected her to do after Lady Bird, but it's absolutely wonderful. It's a real showcase of her directing prowess and range as a filmmaker. Making a period piece feel this urgent and relevant is quite the gift. Not to mention this being the umpteenth adaptation of this source material. Basically Little Women has no business being as great as it is.

I have no relationship to the book, or previous film/tv versions of the story. All I knew about Little Women was from the episode of Friends where Rachel and Joey are reading each others favorite books. Spoiler alert Rachel. Not cool.

Anyway, I love how she bounces back and forth between the younger and older versions of the sisters. I love to see their relationships develop and unfold. I love to see each personality of the sisters play out. This is just a murderers row of great actors. Saoirse Ronan. Timothee Chalamet. Florence Pugh (again!). Laura Dern. Meryl Streep. Emma Watson. Okay, I realize I'm just writing the names of the people in this movie. You get what I'm saying though. They are all great.

Cried my way through it. Can't wait to see it again.

4. Knives Out

Rian Johnson is one of my favorite filmmakers working today. Brick and The Brothers Bloom are both solid. Looper is one of my favorites of the last decade. The Last Jedi is just a revelation.

If you think Rise of Skywalker was better than The Last Jedi then Chris Evans has a message for you:

Sorry I had to do it.

Anyway, Knives Out. I love murder mysteries. I love a good whodunit. I love a good chamber drama. Basically I will say nothing about this movie other than I loved it. It's funny. It's smart. It plays fair with what it gives the audience and the twists are satisfying and well earned. More of this please. Fewer maguffins.

*Justice for Knives Out... should have gotten a best picture nod*

3. Marriage Story

This movie was devastating. If you can get past the fact that the central conflict revolves around a guy not wanting to move to L.A. then this will blow you away. I've never been huge into Baumbach, but this really did it for me. Driver and Johansson are both electrifying.

I think what really struck me about this one is how it really is a portrait of a marriage, not just a divorce. You see how easy it is to get caught in the trappings of the legal system, even when everyone means well and wants the best for each other. I felt like I had taken a journey with these two by the end of it. Who can't relate to a story about marriage and divorce in this day and age?

2. Parasite

This is the movie Joker wishes it was. A statement on class, wealth, ambition, family, all wrapped up in this entertaining masterpiece made by one of the best filmmakers working today.

It's the kind of movie you want to go into knowing nothing, if possible. I'll just say that I've been wowed by it each time I've seen it, and can't believe what Bong accomplishes in the film. It starts off as one movie, and then slowly transforms, and then suddenly it all comes crashing together in ways that are horrifying and surprising.

*Do we live in a world where this could win Best Picture? Probably not? Also why no acting nods for this cast? What a waste. Still, good to see it recognized elsewhere.*

1. Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood

Leo and Brad in a movie together was really all I needed to know. Then add Tarantino and I'm there twice. I didn't even care what it was about. Some people were apparently bored by this movie, which I can understand, but for me this was just pure pleasure all the way through. It's this perfect intersection of so many things I'm interested in. I loved watching Rick and Cliff's relationship. I loved see Rick on set (Leo's trailer meltdown is one for the ages!). I loved watching Brad Pitt just drive around in old Hollywood. And ultimately I quite liked how it all tied things together with the Manson family bit of it.

With Tarantino there is always going to be outrage, and the last scene is over the top, but I loved all of that too. I mean if you're going to introduce Chekhov's Flamethrower in act one...

Anyway, burst of violence aside, this is one of Tarantino's most sentimental and tender movies. Not only with regards to his characters but old Hollywood itself. It's obvious how much care was taken on every detail that makes this movie such a pleasure to just live in. And I'll be there for his Bounty Law mini series, even without DiCaprio.

SO that's that! What were your favorites?

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