Image from Den of Geek
Full disclosure: There are some movies that are of considerable importance or prevalence that I have not seen before writing down this list. These include everything from The Irishman and Parasite to blockbusters like Joker. If you do not see these films on my list, now you know.
Leon Thomas of YouTube’s Renegade Cut had a recurring gag/sentiment in his recent video about the nature of the Academy Awards or Oscars as they stand in 2020. Do they matter, he said? He kept on repeating with a strained delivery “kind of”. I am sort of the same mindset as he on how the Oscars can either accidentally or intentionally choose the right film as the best film any given year. Does anyone seriously dispute Godfathers 1 & 2 as well as Schindler’s List winning?
They also choose films which everyone disputes to some degree like dead horse Crash and last year’s winner, Green Book. They’re also the matters of representation of people and ethnic, racial and orientation backgrounds properly as well as the curious nature of the vetting and selection process among academy voters.
Also, there is like a hundred other prestigious award shows for films and entertainment. The Oscars cannot honestly claim to be the final say for that aspect alone. Nor can my opinions, of course. So, if you think a lonely millennial blogger is dead wrong, then guess what? You’re about as right as the Oscars honestly.
When it comes to what I think were the top five films of 2019, it is a mixture of subjective quality, entertainment value and how well these films will endure in the public or historic consciousness. I would normally do ten, as there are enough nominees for that number, but five simplifies things and doesn’t make this article drag, as readers of my blog may be want to agree with.
But first some images taken from Google showing all the films that didn’t make the cut into the five.
(Apollo 11) Image from Film Inquiry
(Godzilla: King of the Monsters) Image from Bloody Disgusting
(Ford v Ferrari) Image from Leonard Maltin
(Shazam!) Image from Comic Book
(Captain Marvel) Image from Roger Ebert.com
(Toy Story 4) Image from Los Angeles Times
5: Spider-Man: Far from Home
(Spidey’s story continues, no matter the right’s issues) Image from Cinemablend
The news of what temporarily happened to Marvel/Disney’s rights of their favorite son has somewhat overshadowed Spidey’s latest movie. Everyone was saddened and frustrated by Sony getting back the rights due to a failed deal and thus the blame game of who deserved the ire for the decision’s fallout began. Of course, Sony and Disney renegotiated and Tom Holland’s time as the webslinger will continue, one way or another in the MCU’s fourth phase.
Far from Home, while certainly a well-liked entry in the now 20-plus Marvel Cinematic Universe, is something of an odd duckling. It comes out right after the momentous cinematic event that was Avengers: Endgame, being both an extended epilogue as well as its own continuation of Peter Parker’s charming teenage misadventures after 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
It acts as a vanguard for what may very well be the most difficult period in Marvel’s universe: the post Infinity saga. It’s not only newly realized anxieties of character rights being contested by competing studios, it’s trying to stir up excitement in an audience that just had a climatic windfall in the Avengers’ fourth feature. What comes next?
Is what’s around the corner as exciting and fulfilling as what we have already consumed? Are diminishing returns at last arriving, not just for the MCU, but for the superhero genre?
What Peter’s European vacation seems to suggest is that it will be a bumpy ride covering for fallen or retired legends like Iron Man, Cap, and Black Widow. It will also be a worthwhile one if the kind of creative, almost genius storytelling Far from Home delivers is any indication. A steady hand on any ship can traverse all kinds of waters. Feige is still here and only his imagination and commitment need comfort us.
Far from Home is my fifth favorite film of 2019 as it is another great standalone Spidey experience that understands the character in a way stronger than any other cinematic iteration, save ironically for Sony’s ‘Spider-Verse’ take. Tom Holland to me is to Spider-Man that Tom Baker is to classic Who fans in terms of a character’s take.
Holland’s arc as Spider-Man continues to evolve but I’m more pleased as his latest chapter begins what I hope is the most consistently great cinematic romance for the wall-crawler in Zendaya’s alternative take on MJ. It also has a villain in Jake Gyllenhall’s Mysterio, who acts as a great, believable side effect of the world the Avengers created as well as allegory for the post-truth nightmare world we live in.
Far from Home is great escapist entertainment that manages to include some worryingly relevant subject matter that perhaps due to behind the scenes drama and the shadow of Avengers:Endgame isn’t as talked about as it should. There’s also the hype and discussion for the next set of MCU properties that may have also stolen the thunder from what was the MCU’s Spider-Man’s second solo outing.
4: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
(Reeves and Reddick arming up for the occasion) Image from Forbes
The first John Wick, released back in 2014, was a success considering its small budget, earning a little over $40 million domestically. Wick’s third chapter made $171 million domestically. Escalation is the name of the John Wick series. Why should its financial returns be any different?
The biggest surprise of JW3 is that it isn’t the trilogy capper we assumed it would be. It plants the tantalizing seeds for a fourth far more-likely-to-be finale.What new, violent tricks will Wick and his begrudging allies have up their sleeves when bringing down the assassin underworld hiding in plain sight all around us?
But that’s for later. For now, Parabellum is the narrative and action height of a new unsuspecting box office champion. Time will tell if it’s the peak. As John Wick evades bounty hunter after bounty hunter following a nigh fatal mistake he made last time, we get to learn ever more deeply why Wick is indeed ‘Baba Yaga’, the most feared hitman of all.
Death by katana, horse, book, dog, and so many variations of what can be roughly considered equivalent to gun is show-cased as a tightly knotted cross-rope walk between dead seriousness and black comedy. The butt of the joke isn’t always aimed at Wick’s opponents.
While it’s never a killing joke (yet), Wick, as in his first two chapters, takes a hell of a lot of licks. Despite his well-earned reputation as the best, Wick still feels like a human, physically real person. The idea that Wick could fail one of these fights is never beyond question. And that’s why it works.
John Wick’s struggle for peace, retribution and ultimately, survival is not just a physical battle, it’s also a psychological one. Despite the clearly evil nature of the world he was nurtured under, John does firmly believe in concepts of loyalty and justice. After all, being the best can’t be everything. When to question his convictions and traditions and why is perhaps more important for Chapter 3 then “How will John kill em’ all this time?”
It is well that John Wick should successfully strive for more than just the craft of visceral action. It didn’t need to go the extra step but it did. Perhaps John’s legend will live longer because of the added effort for the whole picture. Then again, Mr. Wick is a professional, so maybe that was a prerequisite for the proceedings all along.
3: Avengers Endgame
(SPOIL-Actually,at this point, does anyone not know this happens?) Image from Comic Book
How can something be both the end and not the end and get away with it? Marvel answered that paradox last year with their most successful film and one of the most successful films of all time.
Of course, accounting for inflation, a revisionist Civil War/Reconstruction period drama with a then startling use of tame profanity still and perhaps always will be the king. Why not? That film’s male lead was called the ‘King of Hollywood’. All hail the kings.
Another thing Avengers Endgame got away with surprisingly well was that the big “fix” to Thanos’ snap the Avengers perform involved time travel. Perhaps Tony Stark’s dismissive comparison of Scott Lang’s plan to save the day as “copy Back to the Future” won over the masses from this obvious method of plot resolution.
Endgame makes the time travel plan work despite its obviousness due to the consequences that come with the plan. This includes Black Widow’s polarizing sacrifice play and the fun “Back to the Future part II” style return to past MCU haunts and scenarios, like the present day Avengers evading( for the most part) their 2012 selves.
At least they make the “I could’ve guessed that!” option enjoyable and even heartfelt, like an unanticipated but happy it happened time travel hug between Tony and his father Howard, happening mere hours before the former’s birth in 1970. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.
Avengers Endgame’s unexpected virtue is in its ability to take it slow, almost methodical in pacing. Rather than rush from place to place off the bat in desperate search of an answer to half the universe being wiped out, half of the movie is a five year journey into the future. The surviving Avengers have moved on, taking the bad and the begrudging good of Thanos’ victory as best they can.
Thanks to one unwitting mouse, a chance for a cosmic redemption braces us for a time heist that now that I look back on it, reminds me of the mind heist from Nolan’s Inception. Complex but satisfying. So much to unpack but how weirdly fun rather than aggravating it would normally be.
Then, the now legendary third act, which begins with triumph. The Avengers have snapped back everyone lost. Hooray! But a 2014 Thanos and his ginormous ship followed our heroes back and has blown up their HQ, leaving our heroes trapped in rubble and debris. Oh no!
Even as they recover and get their bearings, they then face a different but same Thanos who holds nothing back. This wouldn’t be such a difficult fight if Thor didn’t now have a pizza and beer belly. Eventually, only Captain America is left standing to face Thanos and one ominous looking CG army. It’s all over.
In the back of your head, considering what the Avengers did before Thanos blitzed them, you think “wait a minute” and as soon as that thought starts festering in your mind, Cap gets a radio message we were all hoping would happen.
Everyone knows what comes next. It will be one of the standout moments in the entire MCU that people look back and remember, either deeply or in passing thought.
Endgame is not the end of the MCU. A huge risk in audience dissatisfaction and staleness of content may be on the horizon. Unlike Thanos, it need not be inevitable.
In case you were wondering, that film from earlier is Gone with the Wind.
2: Once upon a Time in Hollywood
(Brad Pitt’s Cliff meets the Manson Family in a scene that would make Tarantino not the worst choice for a horror director.) Image from Empire
Like most of Tarantino’s works, the intent and theme of his films are not immediately apparent. You enjoy it nonetheless, but it takes rewatchings and looking at his excellent use of Chekhov’s gun to see where he’s taking his often blood-soaked, dialogue led pictures.
Once upon a Time in Hollywood is really no different than much of his catalog. His often divisive use of violence is subdued up to the shocking end. It’s more about the auteur’s unabashed love of late 1960’s visual and audible aesthetic that rides along a genuine bromance between a fading television star and his wiser-and-maybe-darker-than-he-looks stunt double,chauffeur, handyman and best, maybe only real friend.
Tarantino is notably and correctly not blinded by his childhood nostalgia of the era. The sheer presence let alone activity of the Manson family is all about him admitting a truly dark side to his beloved era. An era that along with the early-mid 70s is very evident in what he likes to present to the masses through his works.
I could be off in my interpretation of his latest masterwork, but OUATIH seems to me to be about separating and quantifying the good and bad of a bygone era for not just Hollywood history, not just American history but human history. Even figures that Tarantino shows immense respect for, like Margot Robbie’s pitch perfect portrayal of Sharon Tate, is willing to show benign but notable human flaws.
Sharon Tate in both real life and Tarantino’s version of life is a beautiful, up and coming film star. Yet unbecoming of her beauty, Tarantino still has Tate snore unsensually( if that’s even possible), have relatable if selfish desires, and overall have a very un-Hollywood demeanor, save for her physical appearance.
Some think the stuff with just Tate was the weaker aspect of the film, especially as it pulls away from the central day-in-the-life drama of Dicaprio’s Dalton and Pitt’s Booth. Tarantino is too competent if admittingly indulgent a director to have truly pointless scenes.
Even now, the most famous movie of Tarantino’s, Pulp Fiction, eludes me in terms of its ultimate meaning. It’s an outstanding, quotable, highly re-watchable feature, but I couldn’t tell you today what PF was meant to say ultimately. All I know is that it is an entrancing watch in spite of its length and occasionally grotesque subject matter.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be a bit too long, but I never found it egregious, not like in retrospect, The Hateful Eight( which I still think well enough of).
Is it about the better angels of the Hollywood system and its members? Is it about redemption of some sort for selfish people? Is it Hollywood retroactively and controversially getting revenge on an incontrovertible travesty that occurred one night in 1969?
It could be all of those things, yet none of them. Maybe Tarantino has become talented enough to have played us like a damn fiddle. All I know is that Once upon a Time in Hollywood is not truly watched once. The best films, Tarantino’s involvement or not, are all like that. Only the metaphorical and maybe literal strength of your stomach need hinder you.
(George MacKay’s Lance Corporal is in a world of shit, occasionally literally.) Image from Military.com
Did you know World War One sucked? Did you know that war, as a general rule, sucks? If that is the case, why do we keep on doing it as a species?
1917 isn’t here to answer that question, as perhaps it is a question that no one can answer. Maybe the answer is too humiliating to accept about the human condition. Sam Mendes, coming off of his supremely mixed-bag Bond movies, has made a film both in legitimate honor of his WW1 veteran grandfather and all the lads and few laddettes who took part also.
1917’s illusion of two continuous shots of film over the course of an almost 2-hour runtime is a technical marvel. It will be an absolute shame and honest shock if the Academy Awards are stupid enough to snub this film for best cinematography. In that one instance, 1917, unlike the war it’s based on is an uncontested victory.
What makes 1917 my 2019 movie of the year, aside from the successful narrative and camera synthesis, is what it is about.
It is well that a little over the great war’s 100th anniversary of ending should there be a critic and audience pleasing film( if not entirely pleasant to watch) about a war that as confusing as its motives were, should never be forgotten. At our own peril should we be ignorant.
1917’s immediacy through the two continuous shots is not really about Mendes shouting to the world “Look at what I can do, aren’t I so cool?!”. It’s about doing something few if any war film has ever done: create an uncomfortable, nigh unyielding sense of the experience being live, not paused by switching to someone else’s perspective elsewhere.
With Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake, you are trapped in their moment to moment, unable to break free until roughly the midpoint and only for a short moment and of course the film’s end. Why make the movie-goer go through this, aside from the enjoyable if stressful novelty of it?
It represents what it felt like for the common soldier of WW1 to live and survive through the hellish experience of the Western Front. Even if situations where there is no immediate danger, there is always the tingling sense that any minute now, things can and will go terribly wrong. Getting a quick and painless death is hardly a guarantee.
1917 takes place in mid-April of the titular year. Unbeknownst to absolutely everyone in the film, the war will be over in November of the following year. The time-span of the film is roughly half a day carefully measured to accurately feel that way despite the film lasting much shorter than that period of time.
Consider upon watching all the terrifying and awful things seen by the two British soldiers over that period. All the close calls. All the things that could’ve easily gone wrong. Now consider both how much time has already passed since the war began in August of 1914 and how much longer this needless, bloody slog has left to go without the soldiers in question knowing that.
If that thought process doesn’t suggest the intended anti-war message and somber tribute to troops past, then nothing will. 1917 is a victory at recognizing what a defeat the first world war ultimately was. Even the small victory that is achieved at the end is nothing to what came before and what comes after.