Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Top Fifteen Films of 2019.

Sometimes, when narrowing down a top ten list, it becomes overwhelming and you decide to cheat and make a top fifteen instead. There were a lot of strong films in 2019; and while I am extremely annoyed that a lot of them barely got limited December releases, soon we will have successfully killed off the theater industry and we'll be able to watch the Oscar-grabs on Netflix instead of only in LA and New York. Not that I want the industry to die—it's just going to happen and I've accepted it. Even Scorsese is sold on Netflix, and he won't even watch a superhero movie. I suppose I'll quit rambling now and get to it.

15. Under the Silver Lake
This beautiful mess of a movie is filled with just as many bad ideas as it is good ones, it never fully makes sense, and it probably isn't supposed to. Some weirdos on the Internet will tell you there are hidden codes throughout the film that explains it all, but they are likely just as obsessive as the film's main character. The plot goes something like this: There's a dog killer on the lose, the neighbor girl disappears, there's an owl lady who kills men, and there may be a secret society placing messages in all of popular culture. I promise at least one of those mysteries gets solved in this entry-level surrealist mystery.

14. Booksmart
High school comedies comparatively disappeared post their peak with Mean Girls in 2004. And when they do pop up in theaters despite mostly relegating themselves to Netflix TV shows, they have become decidedly different. I'm not sure if 21 Jump Street kicked it off, or just explicitly pointed it out, but the cliques of the eighties are dead and everybody is friends now. There are still jocks, theater nerds, burnouts, and school sluts; but they're all friends now and they all hang out. Except for Amy and Molly, who have spent their entire high school experience passing on parties in order to achieve academic greatness. And they do. They get into great colleges—the pride of which is short-lived, because all the other kids did too. So these two nerds decide it's time to party. And to their surprise, the popular kids are actually pretty cool. Like most comedies, Booksmart won't change your life, but it's a very funny movie that we don't get enough of.

13. Marriage Story
If you don't know by now, this movie should be called Divorce Story, and as someone who loves to watch relationships disintegrate, I'm surprised the execution of Marriage Story didn't hit me harder. It still worked, as evidenced by its presence here. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give great performances, and they have particularly lovely bouts of shouting at least once or twice. Unfortunately, they also let lawyers get involved, and while Ray Liotta and Laura Dern also do a fine job, I apparently don't enjoy the legal logistics of relationships ending as much as I do the emotional torment. However, most of the country is divorced, so maybe a good custody battle is what they need. Either way, the whole movie is worth it just for the scene in which Adam Driver gets served with divorce papers.

12. Pain and Glory
Tarantino and Scorsese may not make this list, but it's not beneath me to give at least one lauded auteur some recognition. Director Pedro Almodovar is getting serious in his old age, and his protagonist in Pain and Glory has little to laugh about. Antonio Banderas plays an aging filmmaker who spends his life in constant pain due to various physical ailments, and spends the film reflecting on his past and developing a minor heroin addiction. It's hard for me to sell this movie to you as it's mostly about an old man in pain—not just physical, of course—looking back on his past through various avenues: the lens of his childhood; his former works; and former lovers. Yes, there are plenty of foreign language films about rich old artists and their regrets to choose from, but I have yet to find one that I don't like.

11. Long Shot
If you're like me, you probably avoided Long Shot because a movie about Seth Rogen dating the Secretary of State—Charlize Theron, no less—sounded a bit lazy. After all, we already saw Knocked Up; who is this zany Rogen fellow going to date next? Of course, I eventually watched it, and it turns out it's a funny romcom with a bit of satire thrown in. Bob Odenkirk plays the President, who has decided to not seek a second term as he prefers to pursue a career as an actor. Theron is his candidate of choice, so long as her environmental plan doesn't cost big business to much money. Theron hires Rogen to make her speeches more likable (she's a bit of a Hilary at first), and when they start dating, she clearly has to hide him because he has an embarrassing wardrobe (among other negative traits). At times it feels more like a buddy comedy than a romantic one, as Theron and Rogen's ability to riff off one another carries the whole thing. There's also the distinct possibility that I only like this movie so much because I thought it would be terrible.

10. One Cut of the Dead
For the first third of this movie, I was wondering how in the world it was considered so great. Then a realization started to materialize, and the last third hit it home. Sam Mendes may have faked a single take in 1917, but the first 37 minutes of One Cut of the Dead are an actual, albeit odd, single take. What starts out as a low budget zombie movie, turns into an amazing comedic satire. It also made $30 million on a $25,000 budget, which means it made about $130 million more in profit than Cats did. If you're wondering why this synopsis is so short, it's because not knowing what you're watching is half the fun of this film; and yes, I realize that me not giving you anymore information means that you'll never watch it. But you weren't going to watch it anyway because it has subtitles and you are soft.

9. Midsommar
While I found Ari Aster's first film, Hereditary, merely adequate, I was fond of some of the bolder choices it made. Enter Midsommar, Aster's follow upan endless buffet of bold choices. A break-up comedy set in the context of a Wicker Man-like Swedish death cult, this film has something for the whole family to love. Sometimes it takes a few suicides and sex rituals to prove to yourself you should break up with someone. Sneakily funny and probably too graphic to watch with your mom, Midsommar eventually reveals the secret to navigating this terrifying life: Finding the people you belong with and shrieking with them in collective agony. Also, you probably shouldn't watch this on a first date. Or any date. In fact, don't watch this movie at all unless you're a very curious person.

8. The Two Popes
Admittedly, I am a sucker for movies where two people just talk to each other for two hours, so let's just get that justification out of the way. There's also some flashbacks, so don't worry—it's not just two stuffy, old Cardinals bickering the whole time. Sometimes it's like that, but they also eat pizza and talk about their feelings. Pope #1 is very politically savvy, and clearly wants the achievement of being the Pope. Pope #2 is more down to Earth, and cares mostly about poor people and soccer. I like to imagine this movie as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders having a beer together, but also having rational, professional, and respectful conversations even they disagree almost entirely with the other person. The only thing these two popes agree on is that a magical man in the sky created humanity and is watching to make sure we confess our sins before eating priestly crackers and grape juice.

7. Jojo Rabbit
Jojo is an enthusiastic, ten-year-old Nazi, and his imaginary friend is none other than the Fuhrer himself. Taika Waititi plays a bumbling Adolf Hitler who shares Jojo's concerns when they discover Jojo's mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home. Jojo Rabbit manages to navigate between farcical comedy, sharp satire, and tragedy all at once; and while some tonal shifts are more abrupt than others, it works more often than it doesn't in what is ultimately more of a comedy than it is anything else. Sam Rockwell and Steven Merchant show up and offer some of the best laughs, and I doubt you'll find anyone who'll argue that Waititi's portrayal of Hitler is flattering. So, watch JoJo Rabbit and have a few laughs. Maybe you'll also subconsciously pick up the notion that you shouldn't believe everything your government tells you.

6. Little Women
I have not read the book, and I've never seen another adaptation, so I'll claim that Little Women feels crafted by Greta Gerwig, but if it's the other way around, feel free to correct me. Greta Gerwig is a Jo—or at least plays one in all of her films—a smart, independent woman with artistic vision. The dynamic between the four sisters is a spectacle of personality, and it's no wonder that Laurie looms in the background trying to join this family by any means necessary. The ending of this iteration takes a modern twist to the source material, as does the narrative as it swaps between time periods. It's a well done movie for just about everyone, and it showcases that not all movies about disappointing boys needs to involve a ritual sacrifice.

5. Knives Out
Knives Out is just fun. There are a bunch of characters, one of them tried to kill an old man, and Daniel Craig wants to know who did it. It may sound like a movie you've seen before—and it is—but it's a very well done version of a plot that has been made poorly plenty of times. Beyond the allure of figuring out who committed the murder and why, Knives Out is darkly funny, socially conscious, and takes more than one left turn. The cast of potential murderers includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, and Toni Collette; all of whom play greedy, mean white people to their various strengths. The only person in the house that isn't a suspect is the maid. We know she didn't do it because she can't lie without vomiting. See Pinocchio? Someone always has it worse.

4. The Art of Self-Defense
Jesse Eisenberg plays a timid man with a woman's name and a feminine dog. Because of his obvious weakness (and lack of a gun), a group of motorcyclists beat him up and take his wallet. He cries. Crying is not masculine. So, in order to toughen up, he decides to learn karate. "Karate is a thing for men." The Art of Self-Defense is an absurdly dry satire in which every ridiculous thing someone says is delivered completely void of expression. I loved every second of it. This movie is endlessly quotable, and I'm concerned if everyone had seen it, they would have ruined it like they did with Napoleon Dynamite. That being said, if you couldn't stand the deadpan delivery in something like The Lobster, this movie will drive you mad. But being mad is a masculine trait. Being mad is good.

3. Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf is one of the most interesting people in Hollywood. We watched him grow up on Even Stevens; develop into a major sidekick in Transformers, Constantine, and Indiana Jones; and then we mostly just observed his mental breakdown from 2013-present. While I'm not sure the mental breakdown is over, it has at least died down lately; and 2019 has been a good year for Shia. The Peanut Butter Falcoln was rather enjoyable, and Honey Boy is absolutely fantastic. Shia LaBeouf plays a version of his own father in the film, assisting his adolescent actor son. And by assist, I mean that he picks him up from set, mocks the size of his penis, and bums him Malboro cigarettes. Everyone knows that good dads smoke Pall Malls. It'd be easy to make him the villain, but where Honey Boy shines is that the father is a fully-developed character. Sure, he's not the best dad, but life is hard. This film was written by Labeouf while he was in rehab, so it's truly a piece of cinematic therapy. And really, that's all cinema should be.

2. Parasite
The foreign language film that actually convinced Americans to go see it, Parasite is the rare movie that lives up to the hype. I've been telling you all to watch Korean movies for years, but no one ever listens to me. This isn't even one of the best ones! Director Bong Joon Ho is batting 100% in my book, so if you're looking to delve deeper into international cinema after your grandma convinced you to see Parasite, the rest of his filmography isn't a bad place to start. Parasite is about a very poor family who steals wifi from the neighbors and folds pizza boxes for extra cash. When the son in the family gets a job tutoring the daughter of a rich family, he begins hatching schemes to get other family members hired as well. It's a tale of two completely different classes of people, living in the same city, and experiencing life in a completely different way from another. It also goes off the rails fairly fast, and is as much a comedy as it is a social satire. You'll like it. I promise.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
So, this is why I hate limited December releases. When I put together my top 50 of the decade, I thought Portrait of a Lady on Fire came out in 2020. And it does, but it also showed in New York/LA for like twenty minutes, so it counts as 2019. It also didn't get submitted for the Oscars, which proves that the French are as foolish as Academy voters. Although, to be fair, I actually haven't seen Les Miserables (which they submitted instead). The film is about an 18th century female artist, Marianne, who has the luxury of not having to marry in order to succeed in life. She is hired to paint the portrait of a bride-to-be, so that her future husband can have a look before he takes the plunge. Seems like an awful lot of trouble just to send a selfie. Adding to the trouble, she has been asked to paint in secret as her subject, Heloise, refuses to pose for any painter. Under the guise of being "a companion for walks," Marianne paints Heloise in secret, sneaking glances and scribbling sketches of her when Heloise turns away. Most every shot could be a painting on its own, and the chemistry between the two actresses is undeniable. As their relationship grows and inevitably falls apart, the film never stops feeling authentic. Maybe you don't like movies about French women staring at each other, but this is my list, and this is the greatest movie about two women staring at each other of all time.



The Farewell - A Chinese grandma is dying of cancer and no one will tell her.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco - A guy got evicted but still loves his house.
Hustlers - Basically Goodfellas, but with strippers and more realistic friendships.
The Breaker Upperers - You can pay these women to break up with your boyfriend.
Brittany Runs a Marathon - I thought it would be too sentimental but it was much more genuine.


Waves - A great movie ruined by its pivotal narrative moment.
Motherless Brooklyn - The only 2 and a half hour movie I didn't notice was too long.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote - Adam Driver has a self-reflective acid trip.
Avengers: Endgame - I literally don't remember this movie.
Captain Marvel - Something about an alien cat.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - Keanu Reeves fights things for a third time.
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - A collection of amusing scenes.
Ready or Not - Marriage usually doesn't result in murder this quickly.
Monos - Some kids steal a lady.
Ford V Ferrari - Christian Bale drives fast.
Long Day's Journey Into Night - A long journey before the movie finally gets good.
Shadow - They fight with umbrellas. What else do you need to know?
1917 - A war movie.
In Fabric - A dress kills people for some reason.
Uncut Gems - Adam Sandler makes terrible choices, just like he does in real life.
Transit - A strong drama about falling in love and escaping from Nazis.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Tom Hanks is super awkward.
Tigers are Not Afraid - Some kids fight with gang members.
Richard Jewell - I think we can all agree to hate the news media.
Dark Waters - I think we can all agree that corporations are poisoning us.
The Standoff At Sparrow Creek - A poor man's Reservoir Dogs.
The Report - Adam Driver reads internal memos for five years.
Yesterday - Everyone forgets who The Beatles are. I discover that The Beatles are good.
Plus One - Two people who should clearly date start dating.
The Peanut Butter Falcon - Shia LaBeouf kidnaps a boy with Down's Syndrome and makes him wrestle a large man.
Diamantino - An idiotic soccer star dreams of puppies and saving refugees.
Good Boys - Some kids get into trouble and it's funnier than I thought it would be.
Chained for Life - A diegetic horror movie is made with real life "freaks" as the actors.
Always Be My Maybe - Decent even aside from the brilliant cameo.


The Forest of Love - Some kids make a fictional movie about a real life pop star murdering people.
Shazam - A superhero movie with family values.
Bombshell - Kate McKinnon made me laugh, but that's about it.
High Life - Robert Pattinson gets weird in space.
Joker - Just watch You Were Never Really Here. It's the same movie but better.
The King - Timothee Chalamet starts off as a promising drunkard, but then becomes king.
A Rainy Day in New York - Timothee Chalamet does a Woody Allen impression.
Better Days - A girl is bullied and hires a boy to protect her. It becomes an after school special.
Queen and Slim - A Black couple kills a cop in self-defense on their first date.
Stockholm - Ethan Hawke robs a bank.
The Perfection - Musicians are all psychopaths
A Hidden Life - I'd love it if it was an hour shorter.
An Elephant Sitting Still - I'd love it if it was 2 hours shorter (it's four hours).
To Dust - Matthew Broderick and a Hasidic Jew learn about decomposing pigs.
Dolemite is My Name - Eddie Murphy tells dirty jokes and makes a B movie.
Freaks - Superheroes shouldn't hide in houses.
Ad Astra - Brad Pitt had daddy issues in space.
The Beach Bum - Basically a documentary of what I imagine Matthew McConaughey's life is like.
The Irishman - 1/3 Goodfellas, 1/3 original content, 1/3 Godfather Part III.
Ash is Purest White - A lady goes to jail for her man and he forgets about her.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu - Deadpool for children.
Greener Grass - So delightfully weird I can't describe it.
Zombieland: Double Tap - It's Zombieland again. It's that simple, really. 
The Death of Dick Long - A tragicomedy about some Nickelback fans who have weird hobbies.


Aladdin - I cringed so hard for the first five minutes, but it's not Disney's worst live action remake.
Polar - A hitman tries to retire.
Late Night - A mean, old lady learns to be friendly. And hip.
It Chapter 2 - Some grownups kill a clown.
Velvet Buzzsaw - Paintings kill things.
Rocketman - Elton John drank a lot more than I thought he did.
Atlantics - The boys in town leave on a boat and a girl is sad.
Aniara - Passengers except everyone is awake and going stir crazy.


Last Christmas - A literal interpretation of a Wham song. It's so bad it's good.


Harpoon - Idiots get themselves stranded on a boat.
Brightburn - Superman is evil as a child.
The Souvenir - A woman gets financially taken advantage of by her scumbag boyfriend.
The Lighthouse - Two fools shout nonsense at each other.
Harriet - A movie you watched in 7th grade history class, but with a higher budget.
Us - Tried and failed to entertain and/or provide any social commentary.
Oh, Ramona - A kid gets laid for the first time.
Happy Death Day 2U - A sequel to a good movie. It's the same movie.
The Nightingale - A woman gets mad and seeks revenge but then is too wimpy to take it.


Glass - They arbitrarily made a trilogy just to provide us with this garbage.
Blinded by the Light - A Pakistani teen is too obsessed with Bruce Springsteen.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie - Zach Galifianakis makes people feel awkward.
Climax - People dance and take drugs and do bad things.
Her Smell - Elisabeth Moss pisses people off—including the viewer—for two hours.

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