This was a good year for movies. We got some cool superhero adventures, including Avengers: Endgame which featured roughly a billion superheroes fighting a billion aliens. Star Wars ended, which didn’t result in any controversies that I can recall. There was also some cool smaller movies like the Lighthouse, which I’m terrified to continue to think about and The Good Liar, which is a movie I forgot I saw until I started this paragraph. Also Joker, which was supposed to create a series of violent uprisings but never really did. (Hey, my post on critics is also coming soon! I bet you can’t wait.)
Regardless, I do think the discourse around movies has gotten worse. People are ready to judge a movie about five minutes after the first casting is announced, and not much changes between now and then. What follows are my favorite movies from 2019. They’re in an order that I just decided upon while writing this, as my “favorite” movie for 2019 continues to shift every time I try to nail down what it is that made it really great. Also: I may be doing a deeper dive into some of these for analysis. But for now: Here are my favorite movies from 2019.
Fighting With My Family.
This one went in and out of theaters pretty quickly, and that’s a shame. A biopic of WWE Wrestler Paige starring Florence Pugh (who was in a bunch of good movies in 2019 AND is going to be MCU’d this year), Nick Frost, and Dwayne Johnson as the Rock, written by Stephen Merchant, this film not only had heart but one of my favorite messages of the year.
The entire thing starts off standard: hey, this woman is an outsider will she ever fit in? But then pushes the message that no one really knows anyone’s story, and that really: they’re all outsiders, and they’re all struggling to fit in. It’s when the movie realizes that this sense of community is the most important thing that it really takes off, and I love it even more because of this basic message. Also, Vince Vaughn’s turn as a trainer is an important one: it shows that sometimes heart isn’t enough. It’s a depressing message, but I love how it tied in nicely with the story of Paige and her brother.
Overlooked film. It shouldn’t have been.
The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience.
I really wondered whether to put this on. I mean, it’s not really a “movie” but a 30 minute “visual poem” by Lonely Island, who also made the sadly ignored Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Then I realized it’s my blog, I can put on whatever I want. Who’s going to stop me… you?
This is a sorta biography of the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, two Oakland A’s baseball players in 1987. Before this, I didn’t have a lot of interest in baseball and I wasn’t really familiar with their story except that they hit a bunch of baseballs really hard and then later found out that they were on steroids the whole time.
Here, The Lonely Island put together a story of what they did, how they achieved fame, and then how they fell in a tight 30 minutes, all through music. Really, it’s an amazing feat and I’m surprised more people didn’t pay attention to it. Plus, limiting themselves to this time frame meant they could tell the story without delving into a bunch of contrived situations or trying to frame it, a problem a lot of biopics have. Honestly, this should be shown before anyone tries to put someone’s life on screen. Just watch it: it tackles the whole thing with humor and heart in a way that doesn’t let anyone off the hook.
I saw Little Women late into 2019, and it just made the list because of how incredible the movie is. It tells the story that everyone should know because it’s been around for 150 years: Jo wants to be a writer, Beth is really nice and we all know that moment is coming, Meg is… well, Meg, don’t act like she’s not Meg, and Amy burns all of Jo’s writing back when there wasn’t a cloud to back everything up. We don’t like you Amy.
What sets this apart is Greta Gerwig’s excellent reframing of the story. Rather than simply retelling it as it was written, she jumps back and forth through time, using Beth’s illness and death as a framing device to tell the story of when these women were growing up, and how their expectations shaped the people that they would eventually become. She also throws a huge wrench into the end of the story, in a way that I can’t really spoil right now. And for something that’s a classic story, that says something. Greta Gerwig shows us how to reframe remakes in a way that makes them worth it.
Steven Universe: The Movie.
Yes, this is a TV movie, but I felt it needed a spot on the list. It’s set 2 years after the end of Steven Universe: The TV Show after Steven thinks he brings peace to the galaxy in an effort to make amends for the fact that his family was kind of genocidal. As one often discovers when they go digging deep into extended families.
Several things set this apart from other animated movies this year, or other movies in general. For one, it not only uses traditional animation but plays with traditional animation tropes, first by having most of the credits in the beginning so the show can fade out to “the End” and also through it’s main villain, Spinel. She’s a caricature of old style animation, bouncy and physics defying all while being menacing. There’s also a good story here about finding your future, and that you’re always going to have to grow whether you’re 4 or 40.
John Wick: Chapter 3
You know that part when John Wick is all pinned down and then that lady’s dogs come in and kill everyone. Yeah, that was awesome.
It’s John Wick. They continue to build the mythos around who he is and what he’s done, and he kills a guy with a book. You don’t need me to tell you how good this movie is.
Ready or Not.
I’ve been meaning to write about Ready or Not for quite some time now, and I still might. I feel like this is almost a double feature with Knives Out. A young woman marries into a wealthy family, and they decide to play a game. However, like most games, this one escalates until everyone is at everyone else’s throats. However, unlike most games that escalate until everyone is at everyone else’s throats, that’s not a metaphor. They are literally hunting Grace, the newest member of the family for sport.
What makes this movie a fun one is the fact that we are so deep in Grace’s shoes that we never really know what’s going on until the end. It’s an effective tool. There’s also a lot of commentary on class, wealth, and really what we’ll do to not only to fit in, but what we’ll do to keep that wealth. If your answer is “not hunt my new spouse for sport” then you’re probably better than this group. This is another overlooked gem of a movie.
Since I’m talking about double features, I might as well talk about Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s whodunit that features, among other things, Daniel Craig doing his best Foghorn Leghorn impression, Jamie Lee Curtis clearly having the time of her life, and that sweater. This is the very definition of a twisty movie, by the time you think you’ve got it all figured out yet another complication gets thrown into the mix. One of the more brilliant things about the movie is that while it’s billed as a murder mystery we aren’t really in the head of Benoit Blanc, the last of the Gentleman Detectives. We’re in the head of Marta, who once again is thrown into this family that is barely being held together by money.
This is another one I’d like to dig deeper into. While I enjoyed it, I was put off by a few things: a protagonist who is so pure and so uncomplicated that she literally vomits at the thought of lying put me off a little bit. Not enough to not enough this as one of my favorite movies of the year, mind you. It’s still got a lot to say.
I’ve written about this before, and none of my feelings about it have changed. It’s a deftly written satire, and an important one. It’s a movie that empathizes with someone who should be terrible, but then asks us what we would do in his situation. It’s a movie that doesn’t pull back one what terrible things were happening in Nazi Germany, all seen through the eyes of a kid. And it does it all without defending the horrors of Nazi Germany, but contextualizes it.
I really feel that lately we have started to lack empathy, and we misunderstand it. Empathy doesn’t always mean that we forgive everything. Empathy means we attempt to understand the monster so we can prevent the monster. Jojo Rabbit took a bold stand in 2019. It asked is to look at what the monster was. For that, it was one of my favorite movies of the year.
Hobbs and Shaw.
Another one I’ve written about. The Rock and Jason Statham team up to Rock and Statham their way through the evil forces of nameless bad guys and also Idris Elba. Oh, also Vanessa Kirby shows up and subverts every moment of what should be a macho punch off, and the movie can only end when the two guys known for throwing punches (and feet in Statham’s case, to be fair) when they put aside their differences and allow themselves to be hit in order to help the other.
Out of all the places I thought a movie like this could go, that is zero percent of how I thought it might go. Simply a great message put on a movie that barely needed additional dialogue, much less a heartwarming message about friendship and family.
Also: are we going to talk about the fact that there’s no way they realistically got three people into a McLaren 720s? No? Ok.
One of my favorite kinds of films are the ones where people go on journeys that take all night. This could have easily devolved into a standard teenage flick™ in many areas, but instead elevated it. There was no real bad guy in this movie, just two characters, Amy and Molly, who can’t get out of their own way. There was no one mean-spirited: even the cool guy was extremely happy that the famous Molly even showed up for his party, which is one of the little touches I just loved about this movie.
This is just a fun movie about friendship, about finding yourself, and about getting out of your own way. Again, I think that’s a message that we all need sometimes. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the person holding us back is ourselves. Which is why I was drawn to this movie. It spoke to me at a really great time when I needed it.
My favorite movie of the year is…
There were a lot of superhero movies released this year. There were almost six out of the hundreds and hundreds of movies spread out across 52 weeks, so in critic terms like… a billion and a half. (Seriously. Superhero movies only make up a fraction.) Why did this stand out against Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Joker, Dark Phoenix…? (Kidding. Dark Phoenix was never going to make this list.)
Because it’s a movie about what it means to be a hero. And that means not going at it alone.
Shazam gets back to the basics with an origin story that doesn’t push off the big reveal of the costume to the end, doesn’t spend hours trying to make the character cooler than he is – he’s a kid who can suddenly buy beer AND shoot lighting from his hands. His foster brother spends a good majority of the movie making fun of him, because they’re friends and that’s what they do. And in the end it comes down to his ability to simply share. Billy Batson is a loner, but he can’t do it alone. He has to call his family in to save the day.
It’s a weird pick, I know. But it also returns a lot of the fun to superhero movies: It’s not a big team-up (which I love, don’t get me wrong) there’s no big battle, and it’s not really setting up anything. It’s just a bunch of friends, hanging out.
Just one happens to have lighting hands. And fires them off in tune to the Rocky theme.
That’s it: Favorite movies of 2019. And there’s a lot to look forward to in 2020!!