Well, that's it! 2019 is done and what a year it was!
Disney bought 20th Century Fox, a comic book movie got nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Netflix continued to stake their claim in the film world, and Keanu Reeves continued to prove his immortality (although we didn't get a new Paddington movie, so the overall quality of 2019 is still up in the air).
But there were also a whole lot of movies that came out, and I had the pleasure of seeing some of them; not all of them, but some of them. In fact, this year might have been the most difficult "best of" list I've made in the last few years. Sure, I've seen some bad ones too, but 2019 proved to be a year filled with more unexpected pleasures and unique stories than I thought we would get`, and now, I'm here on ASU Odyssey with my Top 5 Films of 2019!
*Side Note: My colleagues Samantha Incorvaia and Marcos Noah Guzman have Best of 2019 lists out as well, so go check them out, they're good lists!
Before we begin, a few distinctions I would like to address:
- I wanted to keep with the theme and only do a Top 5, BUT, hypothetically, if a Top 10 did exist (wink, wink), it would also include 'The Farewell,' 'Parasite,' 'Ford v. Ferrari,' 'Avengers: Endgame,' and 'How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World' (but obviously that list doesn't exist, WINK WINK)
- Other Honorable Mentions include 'Shazam!,' 'Dolemite Is My Name,' 'Frozen 2,' 'Blinded By The Light,' 'Rocketman,' 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,' 'The Two Popes,' 'Official Secrets,' and 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.'
- Every year I give a "Biggest Pleasant Surprise" award to the film that I had the least expectations going in and surprised me the most, with past winners including 2017's 'Power Rangers' and 2018's 'Mama Mia: Here We Go Again' (yes, I legitimately like those movies, fight me).
This year's BPS Award is going to (drum roll please)...'Alita: Battle Angel!' I had no knowledge of the original material and the trailers didn't look good at all, but I was very impressed by its creative world-building, ingenuity, humanity, and a terrific lead performance in Rosa Salazar. Good on you Robert Rodriguez, hope that sequel gets greenlit!
ON TO THE LIST!!!
5. Marriage Story (Directed by Noah Baumbach)
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star in Netflix' 'Marriage Story'
Noah Baumbach's picture of a couple in the midst of an ever-developing and ever-souring divorce is one of the most painfully emotional films I saw this year. Somehow, he manages to imbue a court drama, filled with lawyer jargon and a descending sense of stability, with a complex portrait of love, marriage, and where the intersection of both lie. 'Marriage Story' allows us as an audience to be in this couple's lives, really wanting what they want (a good life for themselves and their son), but can't find the high ground to side with one or the other.
That's not to deny the magnificent performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, which help the film find that sense of balanced tragedy so well, nor the excellent and welcome score by way of Randy Newman. It all comes together in a way that may feel a bit overlong at times, but the gut punches it can deliver feel so real in the context of the narrative that you just want to stay with it, and I'm glad I did.
4. Jojo Rabbit (Directed by Taika Waititi)
Taika Waititi directs and stars alongside Roman Griffin Davis in Fox Searchlight Pictures' 'Jojo Rabbit'
"Controversy" could sum up a lot of film conversations in 2019, and 'Jojo Rabbit' seemed almost joyful to spark those debates. Gasp! Could a film about a young man whose only solace in the midst of wartime Nazi Germany was an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler be...funny? Well, with Taika Waititi at the helm, anything is possible, and in 'Jojo Rabbit's case, absolutely remarkable. Waititi has the balance of a veteran trapeeze artist in navigating both the absurdity and satire he aims to reflect to us as an audience, as well as the deep sense of human sadness and tragedy that lies below the laughs.
Waititi always makes sure we are painfully aware of why laughter resonates, only accentuated by our immature, lonely protagonist, excellently cast in Roman Griffin Davis. Throw in a fantastic supporting cast including a ridiculous Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson (in maybe her best year ever), and Waititi himself as a childlike devil Hitler, along with great visuals and one of Michael Giacchino's most unique scores yet, and you've got something pretty special.
3. (TIE) Booksmart (Directed by Olivia Wilde)
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star in Annapurna Pictures' 'Booksmart'
Yeah that's right, old Brandon's cheating on this one. I'll explain why the other one is here in a second, but let's talk about 'Booksmart' for right now. I've seen this movie three times now, and I now believe that it is one of the best comedies of the 2010's. It's not just for the fact that its two leads in Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are so distinct and likeable, each with their own sense of comedic timing. It's not just the supporting cast, who all have memorable moments to shine. It's not just the incredibly entertaining running of the humor gambit, going from profane wordplay to absurd car chases to a dollhouse hallucination.
'Booksmart' stands as one of those high school movies that seems to defy fictionalization, the kind of movie that you watch with your friends, laughing yourselves stupid and quoting "Malala" and "who gave you the right to take my breath away" among the numerous relatable anecdotes amongst each other; in other words, all the makings of a classic, and hopefully not just for this generation. Olivia Wilde, please tell me we'll be seeing you direct again soon, because this is terrific!
*Also Billie Lourd as Gigi deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars, YOU ALL KNOW I'M RIGHT! #GoldForBillie
3. (TIE) They Shall Not Grow Old (Directed by Peter Jackson)
Peter Jackson directs Warner Bros. Pictures' 'They Shall Not Grow Old'
So I don't usually offer ties for Best of the Year lists, unless there are very specific circumstances. The last time was in 2015, when my number 2 favorite film was a tie between Tom McCarthy's 'Spotlight' and Ava DuVernay's 'Selma,' the latter of which was "technically" a 2014 film due to Oscar validity, but really wasn't available until January 2015. This year, a similiar situation came about with Peter Jackson's World War I documentary, 'They Shall Not Grow Old,' that was released wider and more accesibly in January of this year despite "technically" releasing in December 2018. As such, if we're counting movies that expanded into wide release this year, this WOULD be my number 3 slot over 'Booksmart,' but I'm giving it the tie spot to include it anyways.
No matter when it actually came out, 'They Shall Not Grow Old' is Peter Jackson's first major directing effort post-Hobbit trilogy and it's one triumph of a documentary. Granted, a lot of that has to do with its technical achievements, but its subject matter is just as compelling. The stories and snapshots of British soldiers living during one of the worst times in history is incredibly engaging to experience. Many lied about their ages just to feel the sense of comrodery and purpose the war brought at the time, again going to the film's almost apolitical reflection of war.
But through it all, it's Peter Jackson and his team of editors and restoration experts who make this movie what it is. As hokey as it is to say, there's something magical about a movie like 'They Shall Not Grow Old,' where we are literally witnessing actual human beings and events from 100 years ago. It plays into that age-old cliche that the image is a picture into the past, but with humanity this deep and storytelling this fascinating, it's totally validated here.
2. Little Women (Directed by Greta Gerwig)
Eliza Scanlen and Saoirse Ronan star in Columbia Pictures' 'Little Women'
In all honesty, this probably should have been my Biggest Pleasant Surprise winner. I had never seen any of the other adaptations, had never read the book, the trailers didn't hook me, and I was one of the five people on Earth who didn't utterly fall in love with Greta Gerwig's last film, 'Lady Bird.' Well, consider my ticket for the Greta Gerwig hype train bought and acquired, because I DID fall in love with this film.
My biggest takeaway is that 'Little Women' feels (to continue my deluge of cliches) full of life. Greta Gerwig makes sure that you feel like you could be in this world, that you are transported to a living, breathing time long past, full of wonderfully developed, unique, and likeable characters, vibrant cinematography from Yorick Le Saux, gorgeous costumes from Jacqueline Durran, and one of the year's best scores in Alexandre Desplat.
It's also a film that fits right in with 2019, with its right-to-the-core commentarys on women's rights (then and now), marriage (in a sharp contrast to Noah Baumbach's angle I may add), and even wartime charity at points. For a property drenched in legacy, as a newcomer, I never felt left out of any of the themes, humor, and, again, sense of liveliness.
I might actually need to pick up a book now.
1. Knives Out (Directed by Rian Johnson)
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas star in Lionsgate Pictures' 'Knives Out'
In the end it was a photo finish for my favorite film of the year, between this and 'Little Women' (and quite honestly, my mind might change tomorrow). So why did I wind up picking Rian Johnson's new take on the murder mystery genre over Greta Gerwig's absolute delight of a film? Honestly, not by much, because for as much as I loved 'Little Women,' 'Knives Out' was simply the most fun I had at the movies this year.
I saw this movie three times in the theaters, and every single time I ate up everything it was offering. Rian Johnson's direction is a narrative symphony, that almost dares you to buy its red herrings as it slowly unravels its central mysery (or mysteries). The setup is brilliant, allowing us to mostly stay confined to the Thromby household, brilliantly utilized (and characterized) by production designer David Crank. Thus get to see these cooky cast of characters and performers interact with one another, including Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, in a performance that should not be nearly as endearing as it is, Chris Evans as Ramson getting to flex a sleazier side of him we've never seen, and Ana de Armas as Marta, who provides the heart, soul, and morality of the hunt for the truth.
Are the rest of the cast AS developed? Admittedly not, but are they used effectively? Absolutely, and they are all distinct enough and complex enough to where I loved getting the time to sit and level with them. Then there's all the little easter eggs to follow, the script that knows exactly when to show us more to the situations, and even the film's remarkably timely (and rather sly) commentary on modern American classism and race. Again, it's by a razor-thin margin (I seriously might change my mind before this goes up), but 'Knives Out' is my favorite film of 2019.
What were your favorite films of 2019, and did any of them make my list?
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