Multiple milestones in filmmaking occurred in 2019. The highest grossing movie of all time came out in “Avengers: Endgame”. James Cameron will break that record again next year, you’ll see. Netflix absolutely killed it with multiple humanistic films, neither of which starred Robert DeNiro. There were also captivating indies that pulled on your heart strings as well as disappointed. And finally, the last “Star Wars” sucked! Am I wrong? Let us take a look back with my now second annual Top 5 Lists of the year.
Top 5 Movies of the Year:
1. “Marriage Story” Dir; Noah Baumbauch.
This is 100 percent a personal pick for me and I own up to that. There is a reason why “Say Anything…” is my second favorite film ever. But nobody could deny that “Marriage Story” is an unforgiving look at what could have been. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are exceptional as two people with extreme flaws but nothing truly evil about them. That one scene, yes google it, is utterly heartbreaking. “Marriage Story” embodies the idea of a romance about a divorce. Two words that should not be placed together but unfortunately often are.
2. “Dolemite is My Name” Dir; Craig Brewer.
Oh man, now we’re at my shit right here. “Dolemite is My Name” is so full of swagger that it feels like the aura of Samuel L. Jackson came to life. But what makes “Dolemite” special is that it takes away the curtain and reveals a frightened human being that is afraid to not have success. Eddie Murphy is unbelievable as the titular character and shows that he still has plenty left in the tank. Throw in, wait, Wesley Snipes? Killing it as the films director character and you’ve got yourself a ballgame of a movie.
3. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Dir; Marielle Heller.
There are so many adjectives I could go off on about this film. I’ll chose one, kind. The story of Mr. Rodgers is told so well through the eyes of a character that is broken and a man that is so good that one does not understand it. The surreal cinematography and editing through various set pieces only add to this film that had no business being as good as it is. I mean yes Tom Hanks stars, but you decided to go ‘Meta’ on this film? It does not make sense why it is so good. Yet it is. Hold the ones you love after this filmgoing experience.
4. “Hustlers” Dir; Loraine Scafaria.
I’m keeping this one short. A movie about a bunch of strippers with JLO in it is good? Like film nerd good? Like, really good? Yep. Watch it. I was as surprised as you will be too. If you have not seen it, you’re welcome…
5. “Tigers are Not Afraid” Dir: Issa Lopez.
I implore you to seek this picture out. “Tigers are Not Afraid” will hit you horror movie wise as well as human being wise. You will have to interpret it in your own personal way. Completely up to you. However, “Tigers” is an unbelievable fairy tail of being in the worst situation ever, Mexican drug cartels, and coming out from it with your friends hopefully intact. Also, this is a movie about ghosts as well as children. For everyone that wants to ‘Build a Wall‘, please watch this movie before construction begins. Oh, and I also cannot forget to mention, the stuffed tiger mascot is the shit!
Top 5 Worst Films:
1. “Brightburn” Dir; David Yarovesky.
Another personal choice for me. But as a huge fan of the Superman character, what the fuck was that? You’re going to create a Superman character but he is a serial killer? There is a low bar which I understand because Elizabeth Banks is your main character yet still, what the fuck was that? “Brightburn” is like an iconic yet flawed television show with all of the good parts taken out completely. Boring, underwhelming, and somehow incapable of even having a chance of limping to the finish line, “Brightburn” has literally none of the good elements any visual medium would have. This film should not exist.
2. “Men In Black: International” Dir; F. Gary Gray.
The only reason the reboot of “Men In Black” was created is so stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson could go on vacay. Talk about a cash grab, “International” was so obsessed with itself that it never figured out how to get away from its own marketing campaign. Nothing about this film experience is enjoyable other than the use of the Jason Derulo song “International” in the trailers. Yes, Jason Derulo is the best part of this equation. The phrase ‘Can we please get Will Smith back’ is something I never imagined saying.
3. “Dark Phoenix” Dir; Simon Kinberg.
Multiple good and bad X-Men movies have come out over the years. “Dark Phoenix” sets the bar so low that even Hugh Jackman had to be laughing when anyone brings up “X-men Origins: Wolverine”. Not even including the logo of X-Men tells you all you need to know here. The final train wreck sequence is the ultimate unintended pun for just how awful the final X-Men movie is before the characters are swallowed up by Marvel. I mean was anyone even trying? Fassbender, Chastain, and MacAvoy should be ashamed of themselves. Although I’m sure the paycheck helped to buy a vacation home.
4. “Glass” Dir; M. Night Shyamalan.
The only genuine twist ending here is that for once director M. Night Shyamalan did not make the absolute worst movie of the year. So close to Michael Phelps status, but fourth place is still a solid outing. “Glass” is a masterclass in how not to make a franchise that has no reason to exist in the first place. How all of these characters came together in of all places a mental hospital, is beyond me. And don’t get me started on the final police showdown with James MacAvoy (Sorry buddy, you sucked twice this year). “Glass” is the culmination of the thinking process of ‘this might be good’. Then after walking out of the theater disappointed you realize it was directed by M. Night Shymalan and suddenly you realize, ok, now I get it.
5. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Dir; J.J. Abrams.
Truthfully I applaud J.J. Abrams. The ability to completely ruin multiple franchises both on the big screen and the small screen and still get hired for the biggest movies is unbelievable. You’re like the slightly less douchey Michael Bay. “The Rise of Skywalker” had its moments of excellent “Star Wars” stuff. Unfortunately the other 90 percent is garbage. Weird looking horse creatures riding a Star Destroyer? Yep, that happens. The Emperor is back in actual life, not ghost form, after being blown up in a giant space explosion? Yep, that happens too. “The Rise of Skywalker” is so disappointing in multiple ways, but still a hair above how J.J. Abrams finished off “Lost”.
Top 5 Performances:
1. Adam Driver/Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”.
A tie at the top and yes I know that is a cop out. But I’m sorry, they are. The individual interaction between the two of them is uncanny. The subtleties in the script combined with both of their restrictive performances make for utterly unforgettable filmmaking.
2. Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”.
How this movie is being overlooked for Oscar consideration for other than its leading man is beyond me. Egerton is absolutely phenomenal as the legendary Elton John and even kills it during the elaborate musical numbers, which he sings himself. Rarely does a biopic have a star that really, I mean really, cares about the subject.
3. Awkwafina, “The Farewell”.
Director Lulu Wang could not have found a better person to literally play herself other than Awkwafina. The story of an Asian-American struggling with guilt and honesty with her grandmother slowly dying but nobody wanting to talk about it is so touching and real. A scene involving a piano and almost no talking is captivating as Awkwafina absolutely kills it.
4. Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”.
I mean, what are we even talking about here? Is Joaquin Phoenix amazing in “Joker”? Obviously. His portrayal of the titular character will have you on the edge of your seat for two hours as you have no idea what is going to happen next. Not quite at the Heath Ledger level, Phoenix is an absolute mastermind and deserves his right to dance down those steps.
5. Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”.
One of those performances you did not see in their repertoire. Jennifer Lopez is fantastic in a supporting role as Ramona, the world’s most devious stripper. Constance Wu leads the cast. Lopez makes the movie. Yep, the pole dance scene is unbelievable on multiple levels, but when she has to act real towards the end, that is some legendary stuff.
Top 5 Overrated Films:
1. “The Irishman” Dir; Martin Scorsese.
Oh my god, we get it. Everyone involved here is a legend and for good reason. So why are you making the same movie that literally all of you have made multiple times!? Scorsese, maybe throw your hat into I don’t know, a Jeff Bezos biopic? I’m just spit balling here, which is something that you clearly are not doing because you are making the same damn movie. Plus it is over three hours long! Do you think that you are “Lord of the Rings”?
2. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…” Dir; Quentin Tarantino.
The second award goes to another person who has made amazing work in the past and so now everyone gives him a handy because he is ‘such a genius’, even when his movie sucks! Quentin Tarantino’s latest outing is not the most chauvinistic movie ever (yes, we did have the John Wayne era) but it is a total dick fest of look at how amazing I, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio are. The film is chalk full of old movie references, as all Tarantino movies are. But it has nothing new to say. Also the ending is, when you genuinely sit down and think about it, kind of fucked up. And not in a good way.
3. “El Camino” Dir; Vince Gilligan.
We can all agree that “Breaking Bad” is one of the all time great dramatic shows ever made. It also stuck the landing which some other recent shows (you know which one I mean) failed to do. So why in the world is there a spin off? I love seeing Jesse Pinkman back as much as the next guy, but what is he doing bumbling around trying to find his way through a convoluted plot? The final cowboy showdown makes literally no sense but for some reason people love it. Pinkman is going up against a room full of bad guys who have been built up throughout the movie. Why doesn’t one person there, who now knows where the money is, just shoot him? I mean I know it’s thugs but basic reality math is not that complicated.
4. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Dir; Andre Overdal
How was this film so popular? I mean it’s not “Saw” level bad by any means, but it’s pretty damn stupid. There have been plenty of films that were meant to be awful on purpose and I respect that. “Scary Stories” tries that technique and somehow it cannot figure out how to be awful. This is a SyFy channel midnight special that ended up getting a worldwide theatrical release.
5. “Midsommar” Dir; Ari Aster.
What a pile of pretentious nonsense this is. Director Ari Aster, whom I’ve know since film school, continues to enjoy making fun of college students who think that they are artists. He is getting sneakier at it from when I first saw him do it way back in 2005, but it’s still the same nonsense simply wrapped in a nicer blanket. Can you please make the movies your genius mind is capable of? You’re killing me smalls!