As we approach New Year’s, it’s a time to look back at what 2019 brought…and that means best of/worst of lists.
I readily admit my movie watching in 2019 was dominated by Now Playing Podcast’s calendar. Many of the films in this list were reviewed on that podcast.
Now to the list:
10. Between Two Ferns: The Movie: I always found Funny or Die videos to lean more to the “die” side. But the awkward humor of Zach Galifianakis interviewing celebrities always made me chuckle. Thrown into narrative form for the Netflix movie, I laughed out loud often. The bloopers at the end, showing the celebrities cracking up at the jokes, made it even better.
9. Zombieland: Double Tap: It took 10 years to bring the Zombieland team back together. No doubt, my love of that original film and those characters tint my view of this lesser sequel. Yet the addition of new character Madison (Zoey Deutch) brings a new energy and life to this picture. The cameo at the very end cements this sequel on this best-of list.
Hear Now Playing’s full Zombieland: Double Tap review
8. Toy Story 4: When I was a kid I’d love my new toys, but after a while I’d get bored and want to move on to a new toy line. Smurfs went in a box to make way for Transformers, etc. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz on their fourth outing (not counting TV specials and shorts). The bloom is a bit off the rose as these character age and lead their post-Andy life. Still, Toy Story 4 finds a way to still have toys build a metaphor for real life, and the horror of the puppet minions was highly effective. Plus, once again Pixar blazes new trails in the realm of CGI animation.
Hear Now Playing’s full Toy Story 4 review
7. Us: Jordan Peele proved himself a master of horror with Get Out (hear Now Playing’s review), but could he repeat that success in his second film? Happily, Peele avoided the dreaded sophomore slump with this story of evil suburban dopplegangers. Like Get Out, it works both as horror and social commentary.
6. Marriage Story: A Kramer vs. Kramer for our time, Marriage Story features Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as parents going through a divorce. It starts amicable, but turns bitter as the stakes escalate. I do wish the film made me feel more for these characters’ loss, but the two lead performances are both impacting and real. I’d not be surprised to see both Johansson and Driver nominated at the 2020 Academy Awards (unless this being a Netflix film dooms it politically).
5. Knives Out: I wasn’t sure what to make of Rian Johnson’s whodunnit when I saw the trailers, with Daniel Craig being called out for his Kentucky Fried accent. But I am a sucker for a good murder mystery, and Knives Out is a great one. With a roster of A-list stars, Johnson counterintuitively makes the film’s focus the lesser known Ana de Armas. This works very well as she is a working-class maid surrounded by parvenu, the star wattage surrounding her sells that difference. The end reveal got me. I hear there’s now rumors of this $200mil grosser becoming a franchise. If Johnson can make them all this clever and funny, I’m ready for another cut.
4. Joker: DC had one of their best years in 2019. Shazam was a solid entry in their DC Extended Universe (hear the Now Playing review)–a movie that played it safe. Then the studio took some creative risks letting Todd Phillips, a director most known for comedy, co-write and direct the R-Rated Joker. With its Scorsese feel and a captivating performance by Joaquin Phoenix, Joker stopped anyone from laughing at DC’s movie offerings and proved comic book movies can span genres and achieve greatness. The camerawork and score emphasize the film’s theme while keeping the film visually interesting.
I fear what Joker’s success may bring (rumors of a sequel, as well as a series of more R-rated comic origins frighten me) but Joker truly is the Clown Prince of comic movies.
Hear Now Playing’s full Joker review.
3. Terminator: Dark Fate: I hear the derision now… “Anyone that includes Dark Fate on a best-of list needs to watch more movies.” The film was a commercial flop costing the studio over $100mil in losses. It was released to an audience seemingly tired with franchise revivals (or, at least, tired of Terminator‘s string of lackluster sequels).
But I am a champion of underrated movies (I even co-wrote a book about them) and Dark Fate fits that bill. Following the Halloween (2018) model, the film has creator James Cameron producing, and Linda Hamilton returning in a co-starring role. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terminator is both funny and sympathetic, making this the muscle-man’s best performance since before he was elected Governor of California.
With action that packs a punch, a cool two-for-one Terminator Rev-9, and a pace that rarely lets you catch your breath, I was hoping this Dark Fate would be back for more…but I’m positive this is “hasta la vista, baby” for the series.
2. Spider-Man: Far From Home: After the drama and high stakes of Avengers: Endgame audiences needed a breather. Something a little lighter. A funny film that is just a good popcorn film. Far From Home meets all those targets perfectly.
Spanning several European countries, Far From Home works as a road movie, a travelogue, a teen comedy, and a comic book action film.
Tom Holland has proven himself to be the best live-action Spider-Man in five movies from 2016-2019 (two more than any other Spider-Man actor). In his second solo outing, Holland’s Spider-Man still struggles with teen drama but also brings in a good villain in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Gyllenhaal and Holland have great on-screen chemistry, as do Holland and love-interest Zendaya.
The cliffhanger ending (with a cameo sure to make Spider-Man fans smile) makes the web-head’s return to the screen my most-anticipated MCU film.
Is it 2021 yet?
1. Avengers: Endgame: When I think of the duology of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame I’m reminded of a cliffhanger from Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Best of Both Worlds.” The first episode of that duology was dark, exciting, and ended with a feeling that all is lost. When the conclusion aired three months later…they just couldn’t stick the landing. Everything was neatly wrapped up easily…and unsatisfactorily.
Avengers: Infinity War ended on a similar note with Vision dead, along with half the population in the universe. Could the Avengers’ rematch with Thanos meet the adventure-filled Infinity War?
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo didn’t just give Infinity War’s story a satisfying conclusion–they made an amazing film that works on its own. It’s a final hurrah for the original Avengers, and the scaled-down cast allows Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to each have their own satisfying character arcs. I cheered during the film’s high points, and tears streamed down my face as I bid farewell to some characters I’ve lived with for over a decade.
It feels like a conclusion to the MCU as a whole…I’m not sure Shang-Chi and The Eternals will bring as much to the table as the original Avengers, but damn…what a high note to end on!