In a year that birthed arguably some of the most anticipated finales to some of the longest running series in film history, both in terms of the amount of films in a series (Avengers: Endgame) and years since the series’ first installment (Toy Story 4, whose first film released in 1995) 2019 was a year crammed pack full of great films.
So, with that in mind, here is the second installment in a list that has already included a plethora of films that were amazing, despite not being among the top 20 of the year’s releases.
20. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Although not as gargantuan a triumph as the previous Marvel film released this past summer, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” still manages to be one of the more enjoyable films of the summer; one that I ended up seeing twice, due to fellow co-workers wanting to see it after I’d already seen it.
But the fact that I didn’t rebuff the opportunity to see the film a second time, and it being placed on a top twenty list of one of the better years for film in recent memory, stands, I think, to show just how enjoyable it is. Like most of the best films in the MCU cannon, it focuses heavily on the characters and their troubles, rather than the big spectacular set-pieces, albeit those are quite great, too.
19. Doctor Sleep
Making a sequel to arguably one of the most popular horror films/books some nearly forty years later seems like it’d be destined to fail. For some, it probably did, because that’s how expectations work. Don’t believe me, go ask Star Wars fans. But for me, “Doctor Sleep” felt like a surprising, albeit unnecessary sequel that satisfied my expectations, for the most part.
I’ll hand most of the credit for that to Mike Flanngan, the film’s director, who’s had a career of re-inventing both Stephen King’s work, as well as other famous horror writers. For fans of Stephen King’s work, I feel Flannagan is arguably the best choice for all of his future film adaptations though, as he gets the one thing that most people forget about King…he’s a little sentimental and he genuinely cares about his characters.
Upon seeing “Joker,” a movie that puzzled me from the very start of its inception, I found that I wasn’t sure how to feel about it once it was all said and done. It seemed like such a weird idea, making a solo film about an oversaturated comic book villain, helmed by the director of “The Hangover” and “Old School.”
Then, seeing it, this “Taxi Driver” meets “King of Comedy” film that appeared to be nothing like it in its respective genre, it was shocking. Which in itself is a bit shocking, seeing that it was intended to be taken serious.
Pile on top of that the uncomfortable things it had to say about mental illness and violence in our times, it just doesn’t seem like the type of movie a company as large as Warner Bros. would release in this day and age.
At the time of its release, a lot of people thought it was irresponsible. I thought that perhaps it was, upon seeing it. But perhaps it was so affecting because it felt uncomfortable and because this was a major brand releasing a film about their character with all of the freewheeling danger of the height of ‘70s film-making. Millions of people were going to see it, perhaps millions of people needed to be shocked?
17. It: Chapter Two
When the first film was released it blew up, either surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depending on how you look at it. It also garnered some critical acclaim, which it partly deserved, and partly didn’t.
The first film felt fast and tight, a little too tight; the scares coming in early, one after another, with as much originality as a bad TV show. But what stuck were the characters and the story, originally penned by horror staple Stephen King, obviously, the film kept close to the original story…as much as could be done.
That being said, despite mixed reviews and less-than stellar reception, I think that It: Chapter 2 is both more stylistically close to King’s coke-fueled horror pantheon behemoth of a book and more narratively close. A lot of people forget just how off the rails King’s 80s fare was, and It: Chapter 2 seems to get that FAR MORE than its predecessor. And for that, it gains more of my respect.
16. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
I have a love and hate relationship with Quentin Tarantino. He’s endlessly talented and has an encyclopedic knowledge of film and film technique that only the truly great directors have, and he’s often a clever, albeit limited writer. That being said, he is totally aware of his talent and never passes an opportunity to wave it in your face. Add to that the fact that he writes movies that seem aimed at 15-year-old boys who don’t give a damn about any of that and he’s more than a little frustrating.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is much the same. It’s brilliant and filled with kinetic energy but it kinda comes apart once the bang-bang enters into the picture. That being said, as a film buff, and with how much of this film reeks of Paul Thomas Anderson’s early “valley era films” and considering that I find true crime to be infinitely interesting, I had to put this film up there among the best of the year, despite its Tarantino-esque faults.
15. The Farewell
My only knowledge of Awkwafina, prior to seeing this film was my slight aversion to her name; I just don’t understand why you would take up a moniker that’s also a brand of water, with some letters changed.
That being said, I was super excited about the movie, which takes its plot from a difference between two cultures and the way they process grief in the form of Awkwafina’s character’s childhood in China, versus her adolescence in the U.S.
“Farewell” is funny by way of mining grief, and it’s sad by way of mining joy. It gets that in order to make an audience cry you must first make an audience genuinely care and want to spend time around the characters on the screen.
14. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Featuring one of Bruce Dern’s last performances, and a stellar performance by Shia Labeouf, who’s had himself of heck of a year (more on that later), “The Peanut Butter Falcon” could’ve turned into the schlocky stuff of the Hallmark channel’s shallow, “disability porn.”
Instead, the film fuses honesty with a true underdog spirit to form something that doesn’t just make you bawl, it earns your tears in ways that “feel-good” stories like this rarely do.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is about a man named Zak, played brilliantly by Zack Gottsagen, who has down-syndrome and who wants more than anything to be a wrestler, like his hero “The Salt Water Redneck,” played by Thomas Haden Church.
In the end, the thing that separates this film from other movies of its kind is that it treats everybody like real people with hopes and dreams and not as tokens for inspiration. It’s a film about people NOT anecdotes to make us feel better and “inspire us” in spite of their disabilities.
13. Honey Boy
Years ago, when I first heard about “Honey Boy’s” production; a movie in which Shia LaBeouf plays his own father, as it was described to me by my roommate; I thought, with a laugh, well, that sounds about right.
LaBeouf has had a career filled with near-brilliance and unfortunate, mind-boggling mis-steps, and “Honey Boy” seemed like the inevitable path for an actor who became the next big film star, only to throw it all away by losing his collective sanity.
Having seen “Honey Boy,” which is an often uncompromising, at times painfully embarrassing look at LaBeouf’s life, I can see now why I was initially wrong about my earlier assumptions.
It’s an uncompromising look at pain and mental illness and the battle back from that; who can say that’s not something worth having printed to celluloid (even though nothing is on celluloid anymore)?
12. The Lighthouse
I remember walking out of a showing of “The Witch,” standing in a parking lot with friends, before we all went our separate ways, being really, really frustrated that my friends kept saying things like, “it wasn’t even scary,” despite “The Witch,” Robert Eggers’ debut film, being filled from start to finish with the kind of dred that rarely makes its way into horror films these days…that is until the most recent wave of indie horror.
“The Lighthouse,” Eggars’ second film, is much the same. Except, weirdly enough, it is also incredibly funny. Normally I despise when people laugh at horror films, especially in theaters, because they’re reacting to tension with laughter because it feels unfamiliar, or occasionally is genuinely laughable.
That being said, “The Lighthouse” is genuinely, incredibly funny at parts. Watching it is like finally reading a classic novel, like “Moby Dick,” only to find out that it is REALLY weird and REALLY funny, despite your preconceived notions that it was this self-serious, important entity to rest on a shelf, never read.
I would go into further detail, but part of the film’s fun is unraveling the Lynchian labyrinth that’s waiting there in the rarely used 4:3 aspect ratio format, formally known as academy standard.
On initially seeing “Booksmart” it became one of my top three favorite films of the year. It was just so utterly exuberant and filled with an energy that hasn’t reared its head in comedy films for awhile.
Upon some reflection, its ranking fell a bit. Not because I realized it wasn’t as good as I initially thought, quite the contrary. In fact, having watched it a second time, months later, I realized again why it was so utterly enjoyable.
“Booksmart” is hilarious, and filled with honest, affecting performances, and maybe more than anything, it’s filled with a certain filmic energy that hasn’t even been attempted, at least not to this level, in a long, long while.
It’s like a more exuberant “Superbad.” Though, to be fair, to compare it to another comedy movie would do it a disservice. Not that it is the “best” comedy ever, rather it just feels like an evolution of sorts, taking the genre to new heights while simultaneously providing an entertaining film that’ll please a wide array of audiences.