film

My Top Ten Favorite films of 2019

This was an excellent year for movies. There’s a few movies I have yet to see that may have knocked others off this list, but hey, there’s a lot of movies out there and this year I’ve watched an inordinate amount of old and foreign films thanks to the Criterion Channel streaming service (I highly recommend it!). There’s only so much time in a year, what can I say? The films listed below have some reviews all to themselves, but there’s also several here that I saw and loved but never got around to writing a review of it.

10 Joker

Joaquin Phoenix certainly committed to this role, and it paid off incredibly well. When I initially heard about the concept of Joker origin story with no Batman to counterbalance the chaos, I wasn’t interested. To the filmmakers’, and performers’, credit- I actually really dug what they were able to do with the premise. The world building was excellent, the brooding tension was palpable and damn near overwhelming at times, but the best part was Phoenix’s incredible descent into madness. He carried this film and should, at least, be nominated by the Academy for this role. He earned it.

9 Ad Astra

I did not expect to love this sci-fi adventure as much as I did. Brad Pitt’s performance as Roy McBride was one of my favorites of the year. This “Apocalypse Now” meets “2001 Space Odyssey” vibe worked insanely well in my opinion. The irony of an Astronaut traveling to the furthest reaches of the solar system to reach his father is a fascinating inward character drama for Pitt’s McBride. Usually heavy-handed narration could sink an otherwise decent film, but here it not only enhances the drama, it’s essential to understanding who Roy McBride is. This journey to Neptune was an evolving and engaging one that I really dug.

8 The Wretched

I caught this film at the Traverse City Film Festival over the summer and it was one of the best original horror films I’ve seen in years! Set in Northern Michigan, a teenager visiting his father for the summer notices his Dad’s neighbor is a bit… off. I don’t want to ruin anything about this movie, but just trust me on this one, go watch it! Smart characters, awesome practical effects, chilling sequences, and literal edge-of-your-seat intensity- this film knocked it out of the park for me and I highly encourage every horror fan to seek this one out!

7 Ford V Ferrari

I recently caught this one with my Dad, I mean it’s the perfect Dad movie and the marketing worked for me. What I didn’t expect was that this one would be one of the best damn movies of the year in every conceivable category. Acting. Pacing. Heart-pounding thrills. Funny, sad, and powerful. The story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles working with Ford to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24-hour Le Mans race in France was compelling and once fully immersed, I didn’t want to exit the car when the credits rolled. It was incredible. They don’t make many movies like this anymore, check it out when you can!

6 Godzilla King of the Monsters

Look, I’m a sucker for giant monster movies, Godzilla especially. I grew up on those old Toho, man-in-a-suit, relics. I have a warm nostalgia and earnestness for these cheesy flicks, and this American sequel brought a lot of heart to some old favorites. The use of classic Toho movie monsters Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah were 100% on point for their larger than life personalities. This movie, correctly, recognized that the monsters are the stars, and the human cast is just there to react to their mayhem. Lots of solid throwbacks to the fifty plus year history of Godzilla. I wholeheartedly loved this movie.

5 Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Is it just me, or is Quentin Tarantino’s skill as a writer/director aging like a fine wine? While this isn’t my favorite outing from the filmmaker, it is an excellent film. This is Tarantino at his most relaxed and most meta, his love for Hollywood, filmmaking, and the people who made them is made crystal clear here (if you haven’t already noticed). Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio excel as stuntman, and eternally cool, Cliff Booth and the internally wrought actor Rick Dalton. This is a film that’s completely at ease with it’s characters and lackadaisical with it’s pacing- though I’d argue that the relaxed speed of the plot was finely tuned for maximum enjoyment. The two friends can feel their time passing them by, and their conflicts come with meditative questions about how to evolve with the transitioning film industry. How do they stay relevant? Does it matter? It’s all good man, just kick back and enjoy the ride with Cliff through the Hollywood Hills, it’ll all work out.

4 The Irishman

This decades long Gangster epic is one of the finest films from Martin Scorsese in the 21st century. Granted, he has consistently made challenging, intimate, bombastic, and truly cinematic work that will stand the test of time- but this one may be my favorite film of his since “Gangs of New York”. Getting Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci together for this beautifully tragic film was a true delight. This is a film, obviously, made by an aging master of the craft. His directorial touch in this film could only be informed by someone that’s made movies for thirty years or more. He doesn’t just love these characters, he has empathy for them, and it feels as though he may pity these characters and the power structures they live and breathe in. It may be three and a half hours long, but it’s well worth the time sink. Easily one of the best movies of the year.

3 John Wick 3

The John Wick movies just keep getting crazier and more intense and I’m here for that. Keanu Reeves has helped to turn the tide of action movies away from shaky-cam noise and darkly lit confusing brawls into an evolution of clean wide shots with well choreographed, but not defined by dance or ballet, action. This is a film series enamored with the history of action shown onscreen, and I fucking love that. The story may be simple, John Wick is out for revenge against the dirty bastards that ruined his retirement, but the devotion to grisly, eclectic, and unnerving violence is admirable to say the least. This film cracked open the underworld of John Wick’s assassin’s guild and expanded the lore in a few really cool ways. Also, that knife fight will go down as one of the best fight sequences in modern film history.

2 The Lighthouse

Yet another film has confirmed the manic brilliance of the A24 film studio. I will watch every and any film that comes from A24. I didn’t think Robert Eggers could top his first feature, “The Witch”, but this film took huge, gigantic, creative swings and for me, it worked wonders. “The Lighthouse” is a miracle film in my opinion. Not that it’s “so good it’s miraculous” but rather, it’s a miracle that it got funded and made at all. A black and white film shot in an ancient 1.19:1 aspect ratio with a clear and unavoidable admiration for turn of the century silent film work- I mean, this is a film for film nerds if there ever was one. The performances by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe were both exquisite and legitimate tour de forces- and I don’t take that term lightly. They employ the grand range of expression in their descent into madness. This is one of the standout films I will remember fondly when thinking back on this year’s creative output.

1 Avengers Endgame

What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam? It sits atop the box office throne, and it earned that spot. I’ve always been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- since Tony Stark himself was tagged by shrapnel from his own bombs, I’ve been there. I grew up reading a wide variety of the Marvel comic book characters, and the sheer devotion that this studio has had in crafting incredibly accurate adaptions of their superheros has been downright amazing. These films work because of the focus on the characters themselves, about what motivates them, who they are as people rather than what they can do with their various “science gone wrong” superpowers. Endgame is my favorite movie of the year because it paid attention to every detail about their string of movies past and present, and they kept evolving their characters over time. Sure, the world saving stuff is bound to be fun, but I’m more fascinated with who these larger than life characters are and how their heroics, or failures, effect them. Besides, I will never get over the fact that the biggest movie of all time features Captain America, with Thor’s Hammer in hand, saying “Avengers Assemble”. As a longtime comic-book nerd, I will always cherish that very silly and quite amazing moment.

*Films I missed, but wanted to see: Uncut Gems, Knives Out, Parasite, Marriage Story, 1917, The Good Liar, Motherless Brooklyn, Honey Boy, Dark Waters, The Farewell, Midsommar, Rocketman, Shazam, Us, The Dead Don’t Die, Always be My Maybe, Aladdin, Yesterday, Missing Link, Rambo Last Blood, Dolemite is My Name, The Peanut Butter Falcon, The King, and El Camino.

film

10 of the best films I saw in 2018

Look, definitive Top Ten lists litter numerous webpages and blogposts this time of year, and I normally deviate from rankings and scores anymore on the subject of a film’s merit- however, I will write here about ten of the films that caught my eye (and heart) this year at the theater; it’s just a nice round number to work with. I didn’t see all of the films I wanted to (like every other year) and if I catch one later I’ll write up a review if I found it noteworthy. I suspect “Eighth Grade” and “Upgrade” will get this treatment in the new year. Last year I made an effort to get to older films that I’ve either neglected or just missed entirely, classics that I needed to check off of lists, and the occasional odd pick resulting in a new favorite (Here’s looking at you “Stalker” [1979]). So, it was a strange and fascinating year of movie watching for me. *Most, but not all (MI6 Fallout & Spider-Verse), of the films listed below have received their own movie reviews over the course of the year so if you’d like a more in-depth discussion take a peek through my 2018 reviews and check them out!

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. “Infinity War” was the culmination of a decade of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe, eighteen movies of interconnected storytelling resulted in the ultimate payout for both longtime Marvel fans and execs. Thanos proved he had more tricks up his sleeve than just a space throne and profoundly undid the expanded universe with a snap of his fingers. Even with all of the combined might of these comic-book characters, it wasn’t enough to stop the Mad Titan. If you, somehow, still haven’t seen this movie, get on it! “Endgame” is mere months away and you’re gonna want to be caught up for the second part of “Infinity War”.

ISLE OF DOGS

Wes Anderson’s latest foray into stop motion animation was simply a delight. Filled to the gills with celebrity voice actors, some Anderson faithfuls were present, however there were some new additions to the quirky symmetry loving director. From Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton to Frances McDormand and Yoko Ono the voice cast imbued the whimsical production with an extra layer of indelible charm. The film’s story is about breaking down the barriers of communication with a tale of a boy, Atari, and his lost dog, Spots. Set in the not so distant future of Megasaki City ‘Dog Flu’ sweeps through the city and swift legislation is ordered condemning all canines to be quarantined on trash island off the coast of Japan. Atari sets out to trash island to find his dog Spots and discover the mystery behind the mass migration of mutts. I recommend this one to anyone fascinated by animation or especially stop-motion animation, it’s a beautifully crafted film and the story it sets out to tell is pretty fun!

ANNIHILATION

This was one of the smartest and strangest sci-fi films to come out in years. In the opening of the film, a meteor crashes into a lighthouse in southeast North America and emits a strange and ever expanding phenomena. Naturally, the Government ascends upon the affected area and labels the abnormality The Shimmer. After a few years of failed Military efforts the Feds finally send in a scientifically minded team consisting of five women. Lena (Natalie Portman) is recruited after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns to her after being sent into The Shimmer months prior in one of the many Military missions. He is the only person to have returned from The Shimmer. Equal parts horrific scientific exploration and beautiful abstract mystery, “Annihilation” is one of the most cerebral and original sci-fi films in years and you owe it to yourself to check out this slow-burn Lovecraftian horror.

SUPER TROOPERS 2

The comedy sequel is a hard sell. Especially for a cult classic like “Super Troopers“, but even more rare is the comedy sequel that excels past the quality of the first film and improves on what worked in the first place. “Super Troopers 2” is such a rarity. The long gestating bookend from Broken Lizard may have taken 17 years to realize, but it’s one that was well considered. The movie reunites the Vermont State Troopers as the transition team that oversees a section of Canada being turned over to the Americans after a few ancient documents revealed the border to be incorrect. Naturally this gave Broken Lizard the opportunity to have an assortment of Canada vs America jokes veiled in a film that cleverly retraces the first film’s steps while sidestepping the faults with that film’s story structure. This is one of the best comedy sequels out there, if you enjoyed the first one, odds are you’ll have a good time with this one too.

HEREDITARY

Ari Aster’s directorial debut was one to remember. I’m not the most likely person to suggest a horror film, but when there’s an overwhelming chorus of people pouring praise on such a film- well, then I had to go see it. This film is very good. I don’t know how soon I’ll see it again, but that’s mainly because it turned my own house into a creepfest for a good two weeks this last year. This horror film is slow, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it doesn’t fully reveal the plot’s underpinnings until the very last scene and it’s all the better for it. Toni Collette should receive awards recognition for her work here as it is both spellbinding and horrific in the best way possible. Check this one out if you have the patience for some good scares!

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: FALLOUT

Who knew that the “Mission Impossible” franchise would get better with each installment (with one notable exception)? The plot is almost unnecessary at this point, though still fine in this film, we’re just here to see Tom Cruise risk his life doing crazy insane stunts for our amusement. This film definitely delivers on that front, he learned how to fly helicopters for the third act, broke his ankle jumping between rooftops, and completed over 100 Halo jumps in preparation for this film. Throw in a mustachioed Henry Cavill for good measure and you’ve got yourself an excellent action spy movie that adds fuel to the “Mission Impossible” franchise.

Left to right: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE from Paramount Pictures.

A QUIET PLACE

This film earned it’s place on my list this year purely out of shock at how damn thrilling it was. I saw this film on its opening night on a whim and I was rewarded heavily for this game of chance at the theater. The concept was perfect, the shots and dialogue were lean and efficient, and the surprise masterclass execution of suspense was outstanding. The film is a tight white-knuckle exercise in how quiet a theater full of people can get- the crowd I was with was a sold out group of loud, chatty, people of all ages eating snacks and loudly laughing during the previews, but after that first scene the room went silent and the only audible sounds from the audience for the remainder of the film were gasps and quiet murmurs of exclaimed expletives.

HALLOWEEN (2)

Working as a direct sequel to the original slasher film in John Carpenter’s “Halloween“, this film had a lot to live up to. Earning the blessing from Carpenter went a long way to assuage my own suspicions before seeing the film. This sequel/reboot brought back Jaime Lee Curtis and Nick Castle and stitched together a highly entertaining new film in the franchise. The filmmakers made Michael legitimately scary again, and they skillfully crafted the present day Haddonfield to be the serial killer’s playground once more. Jaime Lee Curtis killed it as a paranoid, and simultaneously broken and stronger, Laurie Strode. While there are small hiccups that deviate a bit from the overall mood, I thought this was an excellent horror film and I can’t wait to see it again!

CREED 2

While not quite as phenomenal as the initial outing, this sequel delivers a thrilling journey for the son of Apollo. The only nitpick, if I can even call it that, I have with the film is that some of the cinematography wasn’t quite as immersive as Coogler’s “Creed“. That being said, this film has a better villain in the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor. The story further evolves all of the returning characters in nuanced ways, but especially concerning Ivan and Viktor Drago. The fights are visceral, the losses were shattering, and the montages stayed as galvanizing as ever. If you’re a fan of the “Rocky” franchise, this is fine addition to the legacy.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Having already seen three live-action Marvel movies, “The Incredibles 2“, and trying to fit in a potential “Aquaman” viewing before it leaves theaters this year- my bar was fairly high for the super-hero genre walking into the theater this time. Which is why I was so massively impressed with “Spider-Verse”. Not only is the hybridization between Pixar-level 3D-Animation and the natural hand drawn flair outright impressive, but the storytelling skill on display far exceeded my expectations. The team-up between the two core Spider-Men in Peter Parker and Miles Morales was vastly entertaining and surprisingly moving. Pile on four more “Spider-People” from other comic-book universes and any other story would have been overwhelmed and chaotic, but this film cut through the fat and produced a pitch-perfect, brilliant, animated film.

Honorable Mentions: “Mandy“, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“, “Best F(r)iends Vol 1

MOVIES I MISSED IN 2018:

“EIGHTH GRADE”, “UPGRADE”, “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”, “THE FAVOURITE”, “lOVE, SIMON”, “SEARCHING”, “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”, “PADDINGTON 2”, “GREEN BOOK”, “ROMA”, “BLINDSPOTTING”, “FIRST MAN”, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”, “THUNDER ROAD”, “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”, “SHOPLIFTERS”, “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”, “CRAZY RICH ASIANS”, “BURNING”, “BUMBLEBEE”, “SUSPIRIA”, “AQUAMAN”, “TULLY”, “VICE”, “THE MULE”, “THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN”, “THE SISTERS BROTHERS”, “GAME NIGHT”, “RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET”, “THE GRINCH”, “BLOCKERS”, “THE HATE YOU GIVE”, “LET THE SUNSHINE IN”, “NIGHT COMES ON”, “A SIMPLE FAVOR”, “A STAR IS BORN”, “VENOM”, “THE TALE”, “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT”, “MADELINE‚ÄôS MADELINE”, “COLD WAR”, “THE DEATH OF STALIN”, “YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”, “LEAVE NO TRACE”, “THE RIDER”, “THE NIGHT COMES FOR US”, “WIDOWS”, “PRIVATE LIFE”, & “FIRST REFORMED”