If you can pretend for a minute that the only thing that happened in the entire world was that some movies were made, 2019 could go down as one of the best years in recent memory. Luckily, my world is pretty much just movies so I had a wonderful 2019! I’m blissfully ignorant! Roger Stone? Who’s that? What’s a… Lori Loughlin? Notre Dame on fire? Isn’t that a good thing for a college basketball team?
I’ve compiled here all thirty-eight 2019 releases that I have seen, ranked from worst to best. I don’t usually like putting numbers on things, but I decided to make an exception just this once. We begin with a film not even close to being as insultingly bad as Green Book, so already 2019 is looking fantastic by comparison.
38. Happy Death Day 2 U
What a goddamn embarrassment. Happy Death Day 2 U is the unfathomably idiotic sequel to a surprisingly good little horror movie that does not deserve to be trampled on like this. 2 U is a terrible drama, it’s a half-baked sci-fi, it’s a pathetic horror, and it’s never funny enough for a comedy. Even Jessica Rothe’s charm can’t save Happy Death Day 2 U from being the worst movie I saw in 2019.
37. Velvet Buzzsaw
No other movie in 2019 had me more confused about the director’s intentions than Velvet Buzzsaw. Dan Gilroy makes Nightcrawler, a gritty character study of a sociopath and then makes Velvet Buzzsaw, a movie about…art that kills people? The movie takes itself oddly seriously considering the absurdity of its premise, which would be fine if it were at all tongue in cheek or had some kind of satirical message but there’s absolutely nothing there. It’s barely even fun to laugh at.
36. Captain Marvel
Brie Larson gives a career-worst performance in Captain Marvel, the last movie in the MCU before Endgame. It’s a greatest hits collection of problems with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and despite all that it came out as a big fat meh. I remember almost nothing about this movie. I went back and read my initial review to jog my memory and even then I only have a vague recollection of seeing this dry fart of a movie.
35. Ad Astra
At #4 we will later see a carefree, badass Brad Pitt, but for now we get brooding, hopelessly depressed and introspective Brad Pitt, and it sucks. Ad Astra is a silly space movie so far up its own ass that it can’t see any bright ideas and instead opts for boring narration and meaningless, laughable action sequences. There’s a moon chase sequence and an evil space monkey encounter and yet Ad Astra’s tone remains as grim as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (why does the book use “Pyjamas” but the movie uses “Pajamas”? Is it Americanized somehow? I need to waste some time researching this).
34. Long Shot
It’s a generic rom-com; I hate generic rom-coms and this one was somewhat tolerable. Next!
33. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Some duds you can blame on astronomical expectations, and some duds are just…duds. This film received glowing reviews and gained worldwide acknowledgment despite a glaring lack of an Academy Award nomination, which had people scratching their heads. I walked out of the theatre scratching my head at the head scratchers: Why? What’s there to like? Calling the script bland is far too kind, and the characters are paper thin. Even the prettiest shots are lifeless due to the fact that the film does such a poor job of making you enjoy watching our milquetoast protagonist. There is no subtext, no subtlety; what you see is what you get, and what you get is simply boring.
32. Jojo Rabbit
My thoughts on Jojo Rabbit haven’t changed; I still think it’s a film that folds under its own aspirations. My biggest criticism was based off of the description on the poster but even if you pretend that poster doesn’t exist, it’s still a tonal disaster that never lets its message elucidate itself. I’m still not sure what the film is even trying to say other than that Nazis are bad. The characters are so obviously shallow but I think a lot of people fall for the “bad guy becomes the good guy at the last moment” trope and pretend that’s character development. Jojo Rabbit is a politician’s speech: It’s a lot of words without saying a single thing.
31. Marriage Story
Oh my, the two hottest takes I had in 2019 back to back. I appreciate the subdued, genuine performances from the two leads but the rest of the cast is schlocky and out of place in a Baumbach film. It’s a rare miss from the brilliant Noah Baumbach, and I still have no idea why this is the one that caught on when he has so many superior movies. What it comes down to is the fact that the eponymous marriage isn’t particularly interesting. The characters themselves are, but Baumbach pulls away from them too often in favour of moments of forced comedy and snore-inducing legal drivel.
30. Zombieland 2: Double Tap
It hurt so much to put this movie right above two of my most anticipated movies of 2019. Zombieland 2 starts as a funny – albeit meandering – followup to its 2009 predecessor, but becomes a clusterfuck of poor editing and brainless writing by the second half. Still, it stays entertaining long enough for it to be a little higher on this list than some other meanderers.
29. Knives Out
While Knives Out fails to be a compelling mystery, it succeeds in being a pretty good comedy so it deserves a bunch of points for that. The rest of the points come from Daniel Craig’s Southern drawl. Some love it, some hate it. I absolutely adore it. The rest of the movie? I do declare: Meh.
28. Between Two Ferns: The Movie
It’s a comedy and it’s funny and I have nothing else to say.
27. Honey Boy
Honey Boy is maybe a little more than half a movie. It spends a lot of time setting up its incredible characters in preparation for some big moment, or an inciting incident or something, and then the movie ends having said not much of anything; its moments of greatness never paying off. I loved the scenes we got, but they’re hindered by a painfully unsatisfying (and possibly problematic?) non-ending.
26. Toy Story 4
Uuuh, it’s good but unnecessary? Is that what I said in my original review? I honestly don’t remember much about this one but let’s just say it was good.
25. FYRE: The Greatest Party that Never Happened
While most famous for the interview in which a man claims he was primed and ready to literally fellate a dude to make sure the “party” received water, FYRE is actually a compelling documentary about a metaphorical car crash you can’t look away from. It’s upsetting to see how Billy tricked so, so many people into trusting him, but it’s also wildly entertaining to see everything go incredibly wrong all at once. It’s schadenfreude incarnate.
24. The Beach Bum
This is an impossible movie to rank. The context surrounding my viewing experience had a heavy influence on my opinion, and so I’ll take a gander on where I would place it in a vacuum. See, I had just gone through the grueling task of bingeing each and every Harmony Korine movie with a friend, and by the end we were demoralized, demotivated, and each of us had added a new movie to our respective worst movies of all time lists (Spring Breakers for me, Mr. Lonely for Noah). We clung to The Beach Bum like a child clings to their mother in a scary crowd. It’s safe, silly, and includes Matthew McConaughey breaking out of rehab with Zac Efron. The Beach Bum was made for us; how do you rank a movie specifically designed to save us from our suffering? Well, you place it at #24 I suppose.
23. John Wick 3: Parabellum
Wow, there’s a massive split right here. I’d say the point between 23 and 22 is where you can see decent to awful movies up above and good to incredible movies down below. John Wick 3: Parabellum has grown on me since seeing it, and has become my favourite of the John Wick franchise. I know a lot of people liked the first because the world building was just a backdrop for a revenge story but I adore the fact that John Wick 2 and 3 go full throttle on the absurd world of The Continental and everything surrounding it. The film wears its silliness on its sleeve and I feel more involved and invested as a result.
22. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg directed and wrote a movie that does its absolute best to make an extremely straightforward story as confusing and alienating as possible. At first, I was baffled by it, thinking that the film was too alienating for its own good. But as time has passed, I’ve come to appreciate how The Souvenir’s presentation reflects the main character’s own disorientation and bewilderment as she becomes more deeply involved with a dapper but shady older man. Its exploration of the relationship is difficult and not as rewarding as I would have liked, but is certainly worthy of landing the movie in the high quality section of this list.
21. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women starts off boring but eventually becomes a bittersweet coming of age tale featuring some fantastic performances. I wish the film featured more Florence Pugh because I loved her character and I love her, but Saoirse Ronan is great too so I can’t complain.
Us begs the question of whether or not a film can function on its metaphorical merits alone. The movie features a frustratingly weak second act and a twist that doesn’t make any real world sense if you think about it, but the political commentary and symbolic implications are deep and rewarding to dig through. Lupita Nyong’o gives a couple standout performances and the score is incredible, but the Tim Heidecker act keeps this one from being higher on the list.
19. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Shia Labeouf and Zach Gottsagen star in the friendliest, warmest movie of the year. Gottsagen has Down Syndrome and yet he manages to have wonderful chemistry and comedic timing with Labeouf, and a little with Dakota Johnson as well. It’s structurally generic but in the best way possible, much like a film you’ll see much higher on this list.
18. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man, no contest, and I love watching him be the quintessential awkward high schooler. This sequel isn’t as good as Homecoming, but it’s surprisingly stunning visually and adds additional dimensions to the character who was already my favourite in the MCU. Jake Gyllenhaal’s villainous Mysterio is more there for Spidey’s character development than being compelling in his own right but that’s more than fine with me.
It’s Superbad with girls but it’s really good at being Superbad with girls. Booksmart would be an instant classic if Superbad didn’t exist, but it does, so it merely makes it to #17.
Todd Phillips isn’t as talented as I’ve given him credit for. I still really like Joker, but now that it’s been a while since its release and I’ve seen some interviews, it’s clear that some of my analysis is based on me wanting to see more than there is. Of course, this brings up the age old debate of whether the author should be considered when criticizing their work, and while I flip flop on the issue, I can’t shake the fact that Phillips made a great movie with intriguing, multi-faceted symbolism unintentionally, so it’s a little lower on the list than you may have expected.
15. The Art of Self Defense
If Yorgos Lanthimos exercised restraint in his writing, we’d get something as good as The Art of Self Defense. It’s monotone and kinda boring in the beginning, but that’s only to lull you into a false sense of security. The film is some kind of twisted dark comedy that never stopped surprising me, and I still think about that brilliantly absurd ending to this day.
14. Cold Pursuit
Despite having completely forgotten that this movie exists, I think Cold Pursuit is a surprisingly profound exploration of fatherhood. It draws you in with the facade of being a traditional Liam Neeson action flick but quickly subverts the trope with its quirky, dark sense of humour and a skillfully subdued Neeson performance. Cold Pursuit’s high body count both comically and poignantly complements its tragic yet wholesome message, and strikes this difficult balance exquisitely.
13. Dolemite Is My Name
On a technical level and on a writing level, Dolemite Is My Name has no business being here. But Eddie Murphy is so incredibly fun and makes this film so entertaining that it has to, it has to crack the coveted spot here in the top 13. Dolemite makes me feel excited and genuinely happy, something only my #4 spot did better.
12. Uncut Gems
There are few things in this world that can simultaneously make me ecstatic and furious. A fantastic Adam Sandler performance is one of those things. What’s he doing making god awful money-laundering-scheme-movies constantly when he could be making another Punch-Drunk Love, another Meyerowitz Stories, another Uncut Gems? The film itself is an achievement as well, a nonstop, upsetting thriller that exposes and immerses you in the cutthroat world of jewellery, exacerbated by Sandler’s character’s perpetual desire to get himself into the most precarious of situations.
11. Pain and Glory
Despite the intense title, Pain and Glory might be the most chill, wistful film of the year. It’s a semi-autobiographical Spanish movie about a fictionalized version of renowned director Pedro Almodovar (played by Antonio Banderas), who directed and wrote the film as well. It’s a character study following Banderas later in his life, crippled with a plethora of aches and illnesses that keep him from enjoying any of life’s pleasures. He reunites with old friends and lovers, tries heroin for a little while, and ghostwrites a one man show, but the film crams all this into a 2 hour movie without an ounce of urgency, allowing for an incredibly intimate experience. Amazing performances and a touching ending makes Pain and Glory an easy choice for the top 11.
10. Avengers: Endgame
21 movies, all with the intention of culminating in a three hour long epic. It could’ve been like Infinity War – silly and mediocre – but instead, Endgame takes its time and delivers a perfect conclusion. The first hour is a brilliant refining of the surviving Avengers, an hour that is surprisingly understated and personal. What follows is some tastefully implemented fan service and large-scale battles that may be CGI-fests, but understandably and inevitably so. It’s the conclusion I couldn’t have possibly expected, and it forces me to appreciate the MCU for what it ended up being. In terms of what’s to come, I can’t be so optimistic.
9. The Irishman
For three whole hours, we watch some old guys pretend to be slightly less old guys while they talk about unions. It’s fantastic, because Scorsese is somehow capable of making the subject matter engaging at every moment. Then the last half hour creeps up and surprises by being a meditation on life after crime, an extended conclusion that reminds us that every criminal either dies young or ends up like the rest of us. It’s not trying to be Goodfellas, instead, Scorsese uses his formula to tell a more thorough and penetrating tale of (alleged) American history.
It’s shocking that a movie as good as Parasite sits at #8 on my list. That shouldn’t be possible. Parasite is better than every single movie released in 2018, and yet here it is, criminally low. I loved but a single movie in 2018 (First Reformed, or maybe The Favourite but definitely not both), and in 2019, I love eight. I love Parasite because, as I said in this post, it seamlessly and effortlessly blends entirely disparate tones while displaying some on the nose but apt social satire. Bong Joon-Ho doesn’t transcend the brilliance of Snowpiercer, but he comes damn close.
7. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
In my initial review, TLBMISF was my favourite film of the year. It’s a shame this movie isn’t higher, it really is. The movie is a highly intimate dive into the meandering lives of two black men as they struggle with what it means to be black men in a city that’s slowly leaving them behind. While often poignant, TLBMISF manages to be hilarious at the same time, blending genres tactfully but very differently than Parasite. Consider its visual acuity and it makes perfect sense to place TLBMISF just ahead of Parasite.
[No spoilers] I’ve heard 1917 praised for its technical aspects but criticized for its weak characterization, and I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe the stunning camerawork only complements the two leads as they endure the dreamlike panic of war, each of them changed drastically after 120 minutes. We learn so much about who they are in the few minutes we share with them prior to their embarkation, and their personalities are tested at every roadblock. The lighting is beautiful, almost hallucinatory, accentuating the nightmarish style Sam Mendes has achieved in what is easily one of the best war movies of all time.
Much, much further down this list is a different film that can pretty easily be described the exact same way: A 2019 foreign historical fiction film revolving around the relationship between two women. The difference here is that while Portrait of a Lady on Fire is nothing but this simplistic premise dragged on for two hours, Beanpole is an entirely enthralling, delicate exploration of two extremely complicated characters that pushes boundaries in ways Portrait couldn’t even conceive of. I’m still wrapping my head around the characters as I write this; they’re brilliantly complicated and so disturbingly real.
4. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
I’m a sucker for a movie that forces me to think long and hard about what it all means, and no film had me yearning for understanding more than Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. I had no clue what to make of it the first time; in fact, I didn’t even think I liked it very much. But seeing it again just a week later elucidated some of its deeper commentaries on the state of Hollywood in 1969 and its inherently violent persona. The characters and actors are incredible – that goes without saying – but the way Tarantino plays with expectations and historical fiction is masterful. It’s a collage of violence; a comedic take on a time when the next corner you turn could be your last.
3. Under the Silver Lake
Until about a week ago, Under the Silver Lake was lingering around 15th place. I enjoyed the experience, but it wasn’t transformative back in January. I felt compelled to see it again, though, and revisited this strange, perverse dark comedy only to find that it was hiding a masterpiece just like Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Andrew Garfield plays the quintessential charming, pathetic scumbag, but it’s tough to pick up on just how sad he is on first viewing; you’re too preoccupied trying to piece together the puzzle-like narrative. It’s a brilliant distraction from an anti-LA nightmare/character study with some deep metaphorical undertones that I’ll be delving into in an upcoming Film Forensics entry.
2. Midsommar (Director’s Cut)
I don’t think I need to say anything more about Midsommar – I’m pretty sure it’s the movie I’ve talked about the most this year – but I can never sing its praises enough. Under all the gore and misery is an incredible breakup movie, the end of a relationship based on pity and tragedy that never should have continued past the casual phase. Amazing performances all around and the intoxicating scenery of the Swedish countryside enhance the atmospheric breakup/horror Midsommar tortures you with.
1. The Lighthouse
And so we arrive at my #1 spot, and I don’t think it comes as a surprise to see Robert Eggers’ sophomore masterpiece, The Lighthouse. Sure, plenty of movies this year have proved to be fantastic and worthy of delving into through extensive reviews and analyses. But no other movie this year inspired me to get creative with my writing, and that’s a testament to the mind-boggling quality of The Lighthouse. It’s been a while since a year has been punctuated by a perfect movie, and 2019 outdid itself. I couldn’t have picked a better year to spend all my money on movies, popcorn, and a whole lot of Maltesers.
This year’s shoutout goes to that thing you have in your teeth. Go look in a mirror, it’s right there. Yeah – yep, okay, you got it. I think it was a poppyseed.
[Yeah I know I didn’t fucking see Waves, I’m furious about it. I had been planning to see it for weeks and the day I actually found the time to see it, it was pulled from theatres. I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Don’t talk to me about Waves. I can’t even listen to Frank Ocean’s Godspeed without kicking myself.]
[Whoops. I also didn’t see The Farewell, shit.]
[Yes, I know Under the Silver Lake was technically released in 2018, but it barely got a legitimate release until it mysteriously appeared on Prime Video so I’ve decided I love it enough to ignore its release date.]