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by Jason F. Koenigsberg
Believe it or not 2019 ended up being a pretty good year for motion pictures. Sure the first nine months were mostly filled with dreck and it was downright painful to accept that this was the sorry state of movies as the second decade in the twenty-first century came to a close. But then all of a sudden, the last three months were a cinema lovers delight with a diverse array of pictures that ranged from good to excellent. After looking at the movies that earned a coveted spot on my top ten, all but two were released in the last three months of the year. The two early year standouts were alternatives to the usual blockbusters, Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. They were the lone high points that shined very bright and stood head and shoulders above everything else until around October and November when the studios unleashed their A+ efforts with some outstanding movies. The last few months were some of the most exciting in recent years with so many great titles to choose from all coming out week after week, it was hard to keep up at times. 2019 had so many movies I loved I ended up making a top 15 since ten seemed too limited and I really wanted to mention the other movies that just missed the top ten. Three Netflix original movies ended up making my top ten, along with two movies on my worst of the year list, proving that they are a formidable studio and if Warner Bros., Universal, and Paramount don’t take notice, this could be a disturbing trend marking the end of the theater going experience for non-franchise pictures. Future films from bold and unique artists that take risks may be subjected to streaming services only. Nevertheless here are the best and worst films of the year.
Best of 2019
- The Irishman
- Uncut Gems
- Marriage Story
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Pain and Glory
- A Hidden Life
- Dolemite is My Name
- Ford v. Ferrari
- Ad Astra
- Richard Jewell
- Good Boys
The Best: Parasite
This is the movie that made me feel like a kid again. By that I mean it rejuvenated my love for cinema and reminded me why I love this art form and always have. To experience other worlds, other lives, other cultures, and to feel real emotion and empathy for characters that I can relate to. No other movie in recent years had such a powerful effect on me. Parasite made it onto my Best of the Decade list and even though it is recent I doubt that I will look back on that decision with regret. Parasite is a dark comic social satire that has to be seen by anyone tired of mundane motion pictures that have plagued multiplexes for years.
Just Missed the Cut: Gloria Bell
Gloria Bell is a tender romance about older people but it also is an even better character study about an older woman looking for purpose in her life. Julianne Moore is outstanding as she always is and she gives one of her strongest performances here that is well worth the price of admission. This just missed my top 15.
Most Overrated: Joker
OK, I will admit Joaquin Phoenix does deliver a strong emotional and physical performance. He is the only positive aspect of Joker, a joyless Xerox copy of Martin Scorsese’s classics from his earlier years. It was Taxi Driver with face paint and a lot less subtle. I guess some credit should be given for mimicking Scorsese’s style and trying to make it work in a comic book movie-verse. Even if I accepted it’s style as being bold and not a rip off I still cannot forgive the convenient plot contrivances and unnatural dialogue littered throughout the script. It was not even worthy of the controversy that surrounded it how the media irresponsibly seemed like they hoped it would incite riots and mass shootings for lonely white men to lash out like the main character does. Thankfully none of that happened, but we are still stuck with a mediocre movie that made a lot of money and earned a lot of undeserved acclaim.
Most Underrated: Ad Astra
Boy did Brad Pitt have a great year with two award worthy performances in this and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Released half heartedly back in September, Ad Astra had an unceremonious theatrical run but hopefully time will be kind to it and more people will discover this film about mans insatiable search into the unknown for something that does not exist in the real world. Ad Astra is a mesmerizing journey into space and a deeply moving picture into the heart of mankind examining the best of human courage and our weakest deep-seated fears. Ad Astra is ultimately about men’s fear of real life and real responsibilities like being a husband and staying around to be a father. Some men would rather abandon their real life to pursue a quest for extraterrestrials. This is one of the most enthralling science fiction films of the past few years.
Biggest Disappointment: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A tedious puff piece of a movie. One of the most unnecessary and unenlightening biopics about a beloved children’s television icon. Tom Hanks was more then adequate to play Fred Rogers, but he was surrounded by unlikeable, whiny characters and basically took a back seat to this sad sack reporter and his uninteresting family problems. The biggest mistake was the screenplay focusing on characters other than Mr. Rogers and then casting actors that were not on par with the heavy lifting their roles required. It is unforgivable that these unworthy actors had more screen time than the legendary Tom Hanks. A big misfire.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Fighting with My Family
What is basically a glorified commercial for WWE turned out to be one of the most heartfelt and inspirational family movies of the year. A main reason this film worked so well was due to the cast. Florence Pugh had a tremendous breakout year in 2019 with star making roles in Midsommar and Little Women, but her first great performance from 2019 was this film released all the way back in February. Every so often a movie comes along that has no business being as good as it actually is. Fighting with My Family was that movie. It has a giant heart and makes it impossible not to feel for these characters in every single frame of the picture.
Best Bad Movie of the Year: Brightburn
This movie came and went from theaters without much fanfare. A dark version of the Superman mythos, asking what would happen if Superman were crossbred with the child from The Omen (1976). I really liked the concept and the execution enough to recommend but this never overcame low grade B-movie status. This was the most flawed movie of 2019 that I still found myself enjoying. Maybe a re-watch I will ask myself why I liked it and think I took happy pills that day, or maybe I will enjoy its dark metaphors on the difficulties of parenting even more.
Worst Good Movie of the Year: The Dead Don’t Die
Jim Jarmusch has subverted almost every genre with his own quirky arthouse style and this year he took on the zombie sub genre. The result was a mixed bag that I enjoyed for its metaphysical humor. Intellectual concept comedies with a large cast could be a recipe for disaster and The Dead Don’t Die certainly had its fair share of admirers and detractors. Despite a sense of self-importance, this movie worked when looked at as a comedy first and foremost, and as a tribute to George A. Romero’s zombie movies with subtle political gags and social commentary jokes about our reliance on technology.
Most Likely to Grow Over Time: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
I loved this movie, but something tells me the fact that I do not have it higher up on my top ten list I may come to regret upon re-watching. In fact when I originally made the list it was even lower, but that seems to be the trend with me and Tarantino’s films. I always like them a lot initially, but then years later upon revisiting them I find that I admire them even more. The same could be said for Kubrick’s films and how they age. As much as I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood I could not in good conscience put it above the five movies I listed in front of it. But something tells me that I will wish that I did a few years from now.
Most Likely to be Forgotten: The Upside
Does anyone even remember this movie from a year ago? Released last January and out of theaters after a modest run nobody really mentions this movie now. It will likely be forgotten on the highlight reels for the great careers of Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman but will be remembered as the first, and thus far only time, comedian Kevin Hart tried to sink his teeth into a dramatic role. This movie was the moment where Kevin Hart showed the world that he is no Eddie Murphy.
Most Misunderstood: Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Boy was this movie wrongfully maligned. This was exactly what I wanted from a summer blockbuster spectacle. Outstanding, mind-blowing special effects mixed with real human emotion that left enough to the imagination but still delivered some of the biggest and best scenes of mass destruction and giant detailed monsters anyone could ask for. Godzilla: King of the Monsters never comes across as too preachy and self-righteous despite having some political messages about climate change. What it does come across as is sublimely entertaining. An action-packed thrill ride with suspense, humor, warmth, and a lot of fun.
The Worst: Spider-Man: Far From Home
Fortunately for me 2019 did not bring about any truly terrible and offensively bad movies. To me, this was the dumbest, most boring, and predictably safe superhero movie of recent years. Spider-Man: Far From Home expects the audience to believe in some very elaborate far-fetched plot contrivances, far more ridiculous than the usual Marvel movie. Moments come along and reveal themselves to be holograms with thousands of drones being launched from a Stark Industries satellite only to help advance the shoddy plot. The anti-drone message about the dangers of technology and the social commentary about fake news deserve some credit for trying to add depth and make Spider-Man: Far From Home political, but the way the script went about it made it feel more like a cop-out. Rick and Morty did it better.
Worst of 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- Dark Phoenix
- Digital Lives Matter
- 6 Underground
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Zombieland: Double Tap
- Gemini Man
- Murder Mystery