Now that it’s officially 2020, the Holidays have subsided for a while, and schedules are getting back to normal, let’s talk about the “best” films of 2019!
As always, our critiques and opinions are generally subjective, but even more so when compiling any best/worst list.   What makes a movie better than all the others?  In past years, some of the most creative, emotional, and technically complex movies are ones that I have little desire to see again.   In some ways, this list is a compilation of my favorite movies.  Sure, they may not be perfect, but each of these I’d enjoy seeing multiple times.

#10: 1917

When someone asks me about “1917” I begin with a long sigh.  There are a lot of elements in it that annoy the filmmaker in me. Having shot a true one-shot short myself and analyzed many others, my eye was repeatedly drawn to all the hidden cuts within the movie.   Besides some issues with time-cheating and a truly terrible CGI rat, the movie is still something to marvel at.  Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins are collaborating once again to create some amazing visuals, including a few “how’d they do that??” moments.

#9: Long Days Journey Into Night

This film earned a spot on my list for its sheer unique creativity.  We follow a man as he tries to track down a woman who disappeared from his life 12 years ago.  Just past the halfway mark, the film switches to 3D and we’re taken on 55 minute long take that has more in common with a fever-dream than a traditional narrative.  It’s weird, bold, visually stimulating, and provocative.

#8: Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy is absolutely amazing in this raunchy biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, the man who created the rapping badass alter-ego known as Dolemite.  Moore went on to make a series of Blaxploitation films during the 70s featuring this character, and this movie explores the rocky road that led to the premier of his first.  I’m a sucker for stories about underdog filmmakers, and this is the first of two films on my list that glorify the insanity that goes on behind the scenes.

#7: Doctor Sleep

“Doctor Sleep” kind of bombed at the box office, which is a shame since it is one of the best King adaptations to date. Mike Flanagan was able to make a sequel to both the film and novel versions of “The Shining” with a revised ending that felt truer than what King himself had written. The cinematography in this is excellent as well, from clever camera angles to the nuanced color palette. Flanagan is quickly rising to become one of the top horror directors of our time, it’s a shame not many people have seen this love letter to “The Shining.”

#6: Jojo Rabbit

The first time someone hears a summary of this movie, they face always screws up into a twisted mess of confusion, disgust, and questions.  “A comedy where a jovial Hitler is the imaginary friend of a young boy in the Hitlerjugend?!!  Who on Earth would even attempt such a concept?  Taika Waititi?  OK, I’m in.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Taika taking on a film like this, even less so making a heartwarming success out of it.  Even after multiple viewings there still so much to unpack from this story, but primarily we are left with a feeling of hope.  All it takes is a little bit of compassion and understanding to tear down the hateful walls society has built up between people who are “different.”

#5: Marriage Story

“Marriage Story” was the most difficult film to watch on my list, but that’s because its script contains so much truth.  This is one of the very few movies that shows how two people who loved each other could fall apart, with neither of them being a villain.  Sure, each makes mistakes, but they are human.  The exceptional script is enhanced by incredible performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.  A scene late in the film has a conversation between them that mutates from a calm, civil discussion to an emotional vomiting of verbal daggers.  It still haunts my mind.

#4: One Cut of the Dead

Here’s another incredibly creative movie about making a movie!
As much as I’d love to gush about this one, it’s best seen with zero expectations.  Currently available on Shudder, this should be a top priorty for lovers of Zombies, One-Takes, and underdog filmmakers.

#3: Midsommar

There are so many layers to this film and rarely a week goes by that I haven’t spent some time pondering them.
Is this a horror film? A comedy? Feminist Drama? RomCom?  All of the above?  Do Pagan cultures cater to women’s needs more than any Christian culture?

Besides the brilliant script, “Midsommar” has amazing perfomances from a perfect cast, and wonderful art direction.   It’s one of the few horror films that made my heart swell up in the final moments after the carnage.

#2: The Lighthouse

This monochrome decent into madness is marvelous.  Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe rattle their sabers and each other’s nerves while stranded on a lighthouse island.  The 4:3 black and white frame often bleeds into the darkness of the frame, creating a very cool, isolating effect.  Dafoe chews the scenery every chance he gets, while Pattinson does his best to hold his own.  It’s no comedy, but I found myself watching it with an unending devilish grin.

#1: Parasite

Similar to “One Cut of the Dead” this is a movie that is best watched without knowing much about it.  Both dip their toes in multiple genres, and both re-invent their narrative during the film.  A mix of humor, horror, and social commentary make “Parasite” unforgetable.

Honorable Mentions

These films ALMOST made it on my top 10, and are certainly worth experiencing if you haven’t seen them.

  • Apollo 11
  • Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
  • Us
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • John Wick 3
  • Shazam!
  • Ready or Not

“Worst” of 2019:  Cats

This may seem like the easy pick, but the sheer WTF-ness of “Cats” make it rather fascinating.  I want to point out that the actors in this movie are really giving it their all.  For some reason, they truly believed in this production, and you can see it on each of their cute, whiskered, little faces! Ian McKellen’s scenes alone almost make it worth the price of admission. (almost) But… what the cuss happened to this movie?  How did it go so WRONG?  What in the world was Tom Hooper thinking?  Why wasn’t the VFX teams given an additional year to work on it?  It’s just a huge, glorious, MESS.

It further fascinating to contemplate what the movie would have been like even if all the technical aspects turned out perfect?  The original Broadway version of “Cats” isn’t great, with most of the appeal coming from the exquisite set design, costumes, and live performances.  So even if the movie achieved its technical goal, it would still be robbed of those elements.   At the very best, we’d have a nice, shiny movie featuring felines wailing about their desire for assisted suicide.

But I guess I am starting to see their viewpoint.  If I hear the word Jellical* used to describe one more damn thing, I might want to off myself too.

*I always thought it was spelled with a “G,” like “angelical” but with the “an” removed since they hadn’t made it to Heaven yet?