The new year is upon us, and as such it’s time for the rounds of “What did I watch and read last year?” posts. Let’s start with the 15 movies I saw at the theater in 2019.
Broadly speaking, I had a taste for adventure, with nine movies (60 percent) falling under that umbrella. Six were straight-up superhero films courtesy Marvel, Sony and DC. It just makes sense to me to see big actiony films on big screens. But I also caught a few dramas and one that ostensibly was horror but in fact really was not.
The following with comments (and review links where available but I wrote about shockingly few movies last year) are broken out into my Top 10 and Bottom 5.
TOP 10 THEATER FILMS
10. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Animated Adventure)
This was a fun sequel that actually managed to surprise me once but in the end I completely forgot about once I’d seen it.
9. Knives Out (Mystery)
If I had a second viewing, I’m sure this would rank higher, because in the end I really liked it. But at first blush, it started SLOW. So slow, I almost deemed it not for me and walked out in time for a refund. And that would have been a mistake.
8. Terminator Dark Fate (Sci-Fi/Action)
Apparently you will have to pry the Terminator franchise from my cold dead hands. Dark Fate did one really controversial shocking thing and then somehow managed to not really break any new ground while making some other, more welcome (to me) changes. Spoiler-free review here. Spoiler talk here.
7. Vice (Drama)
Technically from 2018, but I did’t see it until 2019. I was really taken by the stylistic choices that went into Vice’s format and the acting from Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell was top notch as they transformed into Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush.
6. Angel Has Fallen (Action)
Before ever seeing the first two films in the Has Fallen trilogy, I was into this from the first trailer. Was it realistic? No, probably not, but sometimes you just want to see the hero clear his name and take out a bunch of bad guys while protecting the president and enduring explosive shenanigans with his crazy dad. And really, this was probably the pinnacle of the trilogy. I talk about all three movies here.
5. Captain Marvel (Superhero)
This had some turns I didn’t expect but really enjoyed. The effects were all great and I liked the 90s setting. De-aged Nick Fury was great work, Goose was a treat, and while some people may complain about Brie Larson’s performance being wooden, I’d argue that that was part of the point. I loved that the story was less about gaining new power to fight bad guys but about breaking away from a system built to keep her down and using the power she always had to help other (and fight bad guys).
4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Drama)
Advertised as a Mister Rogers movie, it’s really more about Lloyd Vogel, a character based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, and the journey of self-discovery and healing that Mister Rogers guides him on. The drama and history between Lloyd and his father is intense but so is the love and kindness of everyone’s favorite neighbor. It’s creatively made, relying a lot on Neighborhood of Make Believe-style transitions, and Tom Hanks manages to capture the essence of Rogers without feeling like an imitation.
3. Avengers: Endgame (Superhero) [Spoilers]
Endgame is chock-full of moments that I love. I could watch that portal scene forever. Though the outcome makes me sad, Nat and Clint at Vormir was great. The 2012 turned 1970 element of the time heist was hilarious. At its core, I love the message behind fat Thor, even if I didn’t always love the execution. And of course, the long-awaited “Avengers, assemble.” Endgame didn’t shy away from being physically and emotionally brutal when it needed to be brutal and light when it needed to be light. For the most part, it really does feel like the culmination of a decade’s work and a nice endcap to an era.
As long as you don’t look too closely.
Because on it’s face, Cap going back to the 1940s to live a life with Peggy was a beautiful metaphor for finally getting to come home from the war. But there’s really no satisfactory answer for what happens after. Does he just hide out at Peggy’s house for 70 years watching as history plays out like we’ve seen, leaving SHIELD to be infiltrated by Hydra, Bucky as a brainwashed Winter Soldier and Howard murdered? Or maybe he creates an alternate timeline dedicated to doing things better. But then what about the him that’s still frozen in ice? Does he just chill out for the better part of a century because even with Endgame Steve’s help, Howard still can’t find him? Or does he get thawed out only to find out he’s lost his love to an older version of himself? Because that’s horrible. And how did he get on that bench?! And none of it is helped by the directors and the writers apparently not being on the same page about the time travel rules of the world they were making and I could nerd out about this all day, but instead I’ll just say the collections of moments were fantastic and it’s certainly a thought-provoking movie…but those thoughts kind of spoil it a little bit, which is why it’s not No. 2 on the list. (Also, I maintain that Hulk as a character really got the shaft, but this is long enough.)
2. Shazam! (Superhero)
I know, right? Who’d have thought?! At its heart, Shazam! is a coming of age story about rejection and disappointment and found family and hope but then it’s all dressed up with superheroes and supervillains and everybody just looks like they’re having a blast and I loved it. It’s the first of the current crop of DC movies I’ve seen and it was a great way to start.
1. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (Space Adventure)
Maybe time will shift my view and give just as many questions with no good answers as Endgame, but for now I just can’t get over how many things Rise of Skywalker did right to close out the saga or how it reanimated my excitement for the franchise. I gush all about it (with spoilers) here.
BOTTOM 5 THEATER FILMS OF 2019
From best to worst
5. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse (Superhero)
The ONLY reason this isn’t ranked quite high in my Top 10 is because it was a repeat viewing after initially seeing it and loving it in 2018 and I couldn’t in good conscience knock a new movie out. But it was beautifully made, fantastically told and I just really love it.
4. The Current War (Drama)
Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse race to the top of electricity mountain. It’s a really strong drama, just not something I feel like I ever really need to see or think about again. Possibly because I’m getting a little bored of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play a caustic genius who can’t deal with normal people.
3. Yesterday (Drama)
A struggling musician wakes up and The Beatles have been erased from existence. So, naturally, he recreates all their songs, becomes famous and a little bit of a jerk and learns a lesson about life and love. I liked that this movie just leaned into its weirdness and didn’t try to explain or reset its premise. This is just the world now. The music was good, but I could have done without the love story arc that was just rote and predictable, and I was distracted by the logistics behind Jack’s turnaround. And if you’re going to have a movie with those issues, it needs to be a movie that grabs you by the face in other ways, and this just wasn’t it.
2. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Superhero) [SPOILERS]
Eh. I mean half of it was fine. And there were some good moments in the half that wasn’t fine. I think I would have preferred a movie that was really about the lie Quentin Beck was selling, though. The Peter Tingle joke wasn’t funny, the big CGI battle sequence of fakery had no stakes to me, and I hated the stinger at the end. So, there doesn’t get to be a movie where Peter just gets to be Spider-Man, then? And my history of not really liking the MCU Spider-Man outside of Avengers movies continues on its way to becoming a trend.
1. It: Chapter 2 (Horror)
I’ve seen this three times, and…well…it was good enough to sit through three times, but it still wasn’t exactly good. For the most part, I liked the updates to the adult Losers Club and Henry Bowers, but Manic Mike remains a bit much and what just wasn’t scary the first and second time around became ridiculous as I watched for the third time with my sister. And maybe it’s my 1990s miniseries bias talking, but it really doesn’t hold a candle to what came before. I reviewed it here.
It’s just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2020 as I finish this post. I still want to see Jumanji: The Next Level and Dark Waters before they leave theaters, and if I hurry I might be able to catch Honey Boy at the artsy theater I’ve never been to in town.
Other than that, this year I’m looking forward to Dolittle, The Call of the Wild, Mulan (the only live-action/photorealistic Disney remake I care about, but I care about it a lot), Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 (right after I finally see Wonder Woman), Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Bill & Ted Face the Music, The King’s Man, and I guess The Eternals and maybe The Tomorrow War.
We’ll see how many of them I write about this year.
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