It’s the third day of a new year and a new decade, but in my head, it still feels more like 2019. So it’s still a pretty good time to look backwards before turning my entire concentration on 2020.
So here’s a list of my favorite movies of 2019 in no certain order, plus five honorable mentions. Looking over the titles, my taste ran a little bleak this year. Or possibly the bleaker films of 2019 were more to my personal tastes than the more carefree movies?
I’ve opted to include films released by Netflix in my list because frankly the movies were that good. Had I extended my honorable mention much past the five I chose, I would have included two other Netflix products — the animated Santa Claus origin movie “Klaus” and the Eddie Murphy vehicle “Dolomite Is My Name.” I still highly recommend both.
A couple of movies that might have made the list are “Farewell” and “Parasite,” but I have yet to see either of them, although both dot the best-movie lists of many film critics.
The big news at the box of this year was Disney of course. Six Disney movies — “Avengers Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Captain Marvel,” “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4,” and “Frozen 2” — topped the billion dollar mark at the world-wide box office, and it’s likely if not certain “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” will join that list soon. It was only $185 million away from topping a billion on Jan. 2.
Technically “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was a Sony release, but we all know Disney/Marvel played a grand role in the production of the movie that also topped a billion at the box office. So no matter how you look at it, 2019 was a landmark year for Disney’s film division.
Two of the Disney tent poles were among my favorites.
“Avengers: End Game”
“Avengers: Endgame “not only broke box office records to become the all-time highest grossing movie, just ahead of director Jame Cameron’s “Avatar,” which is also now a Disney property with its acquisition of Fox this year, but it was also a fantastic culmination to over a decade of cinematic storytelling by Marvel Studios.
Was it perfect? Certainly not. Not all of the time travel mumbo jumbo made sense even within the context of the film, but emotionally it was a really satisfying conclusion and so much fun.
For me, the movie really stuck the landing, unlike Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker,” which was an unfortunately bland culmination of the saga that captured so many hearts over the last 40 years.
Toy Story 4
“Toy Story 3” was a near perfect ending to a great trilogy. I didn’t think I wanted more Toy Story or that I’d ever get more Toy Story, but Disney/Pixar really delivered with an epic epilogue for Woody the Cowboy doll and his pals. I’m not sure any film franchise has turned out four better movies than what Pixar produced with “Toy Story.”
I don’t know if there is a better acted movie of 2019 than “Marriage Story.” Director by Noah Baumbach, coaxed fine but not showy performances from Scarlet Johansson as Nicole and Adam Driver as Charlie as a couple who truly once loved each other going through a divorce.
The movie is sad, touching and funny, as the good and bad of their relationship is played out with their love for their son Henry stuck in the middle. Both Johansson and Driver should be nominated for Oscars in my book. Whether it happens, who knows? The movie is on Netflix.
Unrelenting, loud, and in your face are just some of the ways to describe “Uncut Gems,” the latest film from the writing and directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie.
It could also be described as one of the best films of the year with an outstanding lead performance by none other than Adam Sandler as a misanthropic yet charismatic jeweler named Howard Ratner, who juggles life on the edge because of his gambling addiction.
The story is uncomfortable, funny, and pitiful, but Sandler is great in a movie he practically carries in every scene.
If you enjoy witty dialogue delivered with a sharp bite, twists and turns that keep you just enough off base to have fun, and satirical jabs at the pampered elite, “Knives Out” is a fine and funny whodunit that’s worth checking out. Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig lead an outstanding ensemble in the my favorite mystery on film in years.
“Joker” is perhaps the bleakest and darkest movie of the year with a bravura performance by Joaquin Phoenix as an all-to realistic version of the comic-book villain who has plagued Batman and other heroes of the DC comic book universe since 1940. However, there is nothing comic-bookish about this movie. It falls somewhere between a crime and a horror movie, and there certainly are no heroes in this version. This “Joker” is not for kids. It’s one of those movies you want to turn away from but for some reason you can’t.
O.K., so this Martin Scorsese fella knows a little bit about cinema. The venerable director re-teams with his biggest stars from years past — Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel — to tell the story of the hitman who allegedly admitted to killing union leader Jimmy Hoffa. The movie is long, intricate, violent, and completely compelling to watch if crime and gangster movies are your thing. It is also on Netflix.
Ford v. Ferrari
The film is a polished piece of film-making that is not necessarily a “family movie,” but it is the type of general-audience movie that adults, teens, and kids should find compelling with the right amount of racing action balanced against heart-felt drama.
The film stars Matt Damon as former racer and a top automotive designer and engineer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as British race car driver and World War II veteran Ken Miles. The two put away a friendly rivalry to work together for Ford Motor Company to design and build a race car that can top Ferrari at the prestigious 24 hours of Le Mans. The movie is white-knuckle fun on a number of levels, and while maybe not award-worthy, Bale and Damon shine like the stars they are in this ode to old-time movie making.
A riveting look at the deserved downfall of lecherous TV news legend and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) from the points of view of three women who worked for and were harassed by him — Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and fictional composite character Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie).
The film, while not entirely accurate in its dramatization of the events, is a thrilling to watch thanks to outstanding performances throughout. It is probably Robbie and Kate McKinnon’s finest work on film.
Peanut Butter Falcon
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me was “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” I don’t know that I would argue that it is the best movie of the year, but it is absolutely my favorite.
Shia LaBeouf plays Tyler, an outlaw fisherman on the lamb who is dealing with the tragic death of his mentor and brother. While attempting to escape a couple of fishermen he’s done wrong, Tyler finds Zak (Gottsagen) stowed away on his boat.
Zak is a 22-year-old orphaned man with Down Syndrome, who escaped from a retirement home in North Carolina to travel to the wrestling school of famous grappler The Saltwater Redneck in Florida so that he can train with his hero.
Tyler begrudging takes on Zak as his traveling companion, and their charming, touching, and hilarious adventures ensue.
Honorable Mentions: Little Women, Richard Jewell, Yesterday, Rocketman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might have been my favorite movie of the year if it had just concentrated on the friendship between Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters and left out all the revisionist baloney about the Manson Family and Sharon Tate.
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