For the first time since we started these year in review posts, we are happy to declare: the state of the cinema is strong! This was a stellar year. There were two or three times as many good movies as previous years. Movies that we ranked in 30’s this year would have made our top tens in previous years. Even though the Oscars are two weeks earlier this year, Josh broke his record with 214 new releases logged. We played a little fast and loose with international releases. If they have a 2020 US release date, we saved them for next year. We counted international releases from the past couple of years that don’t yet have a scheduled US release date.
We know some of these judgments will come across as contrarian. We promise that these lists are honest reflections of our sincere views. We value disagreement and the coexistence of a variety of critical opinions. We aren’t here to impugn anyone else’s taste, we’re here to share our own points of view, and we hope you find them interesting.
1) Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
One of the best movies ever made about the power of rhetoric. This historical drama by the great Mike Leigh absolutely devastated me. It’s a movie without a protagonist, that focuses instead on a community, a time, a place, and a tragedy. It takes the time to educate the audience about the context and the political climate in which the Peterloo massacre took place. It traces the events leading up the tragic rally in St. Peter’s Field, following multiple strands. It’s like watching a crash in slow motion. Without drawing any explicit connections to the contemporary moment, it says more about today’s political reality than any other recent film. The theatrics of authority figures playing with the lives of common people as part of a performance meant to assure everyone of their power is incredibly resonant. Throughout Leigh’s filmography, the powers that be always have their boot on the neck of the working class. Here it becomes literal and infuriating and heartbreaking.
2) A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)
It’s a mistake to think of this movie as a departure from Malick’s other work this decade or as a return to what he used to do (as many commentators have). It’s the next step in a progression. In a way, it sums up his entire career. It brings together his early theme of young love being destroyed by the forces of nature and the world, his middle period historical grandeur, and his late period personal introspection. But it also must be seen as a response to Scorsese’s Silence, which is a film that Malick is an outspoken fan of, and which he has explicitly said he made A Hidden Life in relation to. Scorsese presents doubt as an essential element of faith. Malick responds with a profound portrait of spiritual purity– of a faith incapable of doubt. One doesn’t need to be religious to appreciate this movie, but one needs to be willing to see it through a spiritual lens. It’s a challenging film. It’s long, and it feels long, but I appreciated that in the end. I felt like I really went through something with the character. Over the movie’s three hours, I came to understand something that was unfathomable to me at the beginning. I couldn’t shake it afterwards, because I lived with it for so long in the theater.
3) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
This closes the modern American gangster movie cycle in much the same way that Unforgiven closed the western cycle. There will be more gangster movies, but this is the definitive final statement from the guys who wrote the fucking book. It’s an utterly deglamorized revision of the genre. It finds its humor in the characters’ misery. I love all the performances, but the heart of the movie is Al Pacino as Hoffa. Pacino gets to ham it up, and that’s how we want our Pacino. He brings that Pacino charm, and we can’t not love him. And that’s what the movie’s drama really needs: for us to love him and so to understand what his loss means to Frank Sheeran. And then you’ve got Pesci playing against type. It’s a riveting performance, haunting and mysterious. He’s a genius, and we are so fortunate that Scorsese got this out of him.
4) 3 From Hell (Rob Zombie)
Now this is some renegade outlaw B-movie mayhem. Sheri Moon Zombie turns in the performance of the year, lighting the screen on fire. She’s on another plane in this movie. Zombie loves filming her, and he lets her just run wild. This is avant-garde sleaze. It’s a loving and joyful depiction of sadism and debauchery with monsters that come off as positively noble vessels of chaos in a world of sniveling power figures and dishonorable lowlifes. Zombie does Peckinpah as comedy. My idea of a good time at the movies.
5) Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)
There have been Hong Sang-soo movies coming out all the time. There’s like two a year. It’s a very welcome development. I like them better all the time. This is my favorite Hong film. It’s simple and beautiful and sad.
6) Gemini Man (Ang Lee)
To approach this movie, one needs to situate it in Ang Lee’s filmography. On the one hand, there’s the technically ambitious side of his work, including Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk. On the other hand, there are low-key dramas like Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm. What I find really interesting about him as a filmmaker is that across this very diverse range, his movies are always about the inexplicit emotional life of the characters. The technical bombast is always ultimately aimed at exploring the characters’ emotions. At the beginning of Gemini Man, we meet Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith. He’s a used up assassin focused narrowly on professionalism (basically a Michael Mann character). He has cultivated a stoic emotional blankness that he presents to the world. It’s a familiar enough starting point, but this does not look, sound, move, or feel like any other movie. Lee’s use of high frame rate 4K 3D is revolutionary. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in cinema. Reader: I am a fan. They tried to do this with The Hobbit and it just looked like motion smoothing. That’s not the case for Gemini Man. It feels more immediate and more cinematic than any other 3D movie I’ve seen. I’m generally not a fan of 3D, but the high frame rate is a game changer. But this isn’t the only technical feat of the movie. There’s also a second, CGI Will Smith, de-aged about 25-30 years. Smith’s two performances in this movie are the best work he’s ever done. But Lee isn’t simply interested in spectacle (although the movie is certainly not light on absolutely astonishing spectacle– the motorcycle chase is the best action scene in years, and then there’s Will Smith fighting himself in the catacombs), he’s interested in the big themes that have spanned his career. This is a film about masculinity, fathers and sons, adulthood, repression, longing, and loneliness. Loneliness is at the center of Lee’s cinema. Henry is a virgin in his 50’s. He has no desire or ability to be close to anyone. In the character of Junior, the CGI character, he meets a younger version of himself. Junior is synthetic on multiple levels–he’s a clone from a lab, he’s a CGI construct, and he’s a fictional character– but he’s the primary locus of the movie’s humanity. Lee actually went back and sourced Junior’s expressions from Smith’s iconic roles from earlier in his career (and in this way this is also a movie about Will Smith the movie star). Junior is the only person who prompts a genuine emotional response in Henry. In literally facing his younger self, Henry is presented with the opportunity to address regrets he never knew he had. Gemini Man got mostly bad reviews and turned out to be easy to pick on, but it has so much to offer anyone willing to approach it on its own terms. Try to watch it in high frame rate if possible (on the 4K disc). It looks great in regular 4K (I’ve watched it in every format) but the HFR adds something.
7) Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)
As much as the character is exasperating and difficult, I found Adam Sandler’s modern Sisyphus endearing. (Full disclosure: I’m a huge Sandler apologist and never met a Sandler comedy I didn’t like) There is such a loving depiction of a mistress at the center of this film. Julia Fox has major screen presence, as do all of the non-professional performers who pepper the movie. Like Heaven Knows What and Good Time, this is live wire cinema. The Safdies are amazing at what they do. They take techniques from Altman and Cassavetes and use them extra-aggressively to make intensely visceral films. These guys are saving American independent cinema by giving it a needed jolt.
8) Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
At Matt’s insistence, I recently caught up on all of Jia’s recent films. Watching this, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart all together blew me away. They are each unique at the formal level, but the thematic continuity between them reveals a distinctly melancholy point of view with respect to the passage of time and the way that the growth of capitalism in China has ravaged everything from landscape to family life to the bonds between outlaws and lovers. The death of honor.
9) Pasolini (Abel Ferrara)
This played in film festivals in 2014 but was just released in the US this year. So many Abel Ferrara movies have languished unreleased for many years, including Go Go Tales, Mary and the Welcome to New York director’s cut. It looked like Pasolini was headed that way, but now that it’s here it feels very much of the moment. It is anything but a traditional biopic, and it gets at Pasolini’s essence in a way that mere biography never could. It explores his creative process and his creative mind rather than focusing on events from his life. It shows us reconstructions of his short stories directed in a searing style by Ferrera, who thinks of himself as a student of Pasolini. Ferrara’s transgressive cinema is as vital and essential as ever and it’s an extremely important development that Kino Lorber has finally bought a number of his films and plans to release them in the US.
10) High Life (Claire Denis)
Not for the faint of heart. This is in deep, dark, disturbing Claire Denis territory. It’s genuinely unsettling in a way that few contemporary movies are. Juliette Binoche’s Medea in space is unforgettable. My eyes were bugging out a little bit. Only for people who aren’t too squeamish and appreciate boundary-pushing cinema.
11) Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)
12) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
13) Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer)
14) Black Mother (Khalik Allah)
15) The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)
16) The Image Book (Jean Luc Godard)
17) Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)
18) Greta (Neil Jordan)
19) Midsommar (Ari Aster)
20) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)
21) Western Stars (Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen)
22) Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez)
23) Glass (M. Night Shyamalan)
24) Domino (Brian De Palma)
25) Transit (Christian Petzold)
26) Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar)
27) The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
28) Grass (Hong Sang-soo)
29) The Intruder (Deon Taylor)
30) Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)
31) Ad Astra (James Gray)
32) A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen)
33) 6 Underground (Michael Bay)
34) Chasing Dream (Johnnie To)
35) An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
36) Lady J (Emmanuel Mouret)
37) Relaxer (Joel Potrykus)
38) For Sama (Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts)
39) The Portuguese Woman (Rita Azevedo Gomes)
40) The Gospel of Eureka (Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri)
41) Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton)
42) Depraved (Larry Fessenden)
43) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam)
44) Replicas (Jeffrey Nachmanoff)
45) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)
46) Shadow (Zhang Yimou)
47) Happy Death Day 2U (Christopher Landon)
48) Crawl (Alexandre Aja)
49) The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)
50) Dumbo (Tim Burton)
51) Honey Boy (Alma Har’el)
52) Where’d You Go Bernadette? (Richard Linklater)
53) Avengement (Jesse V. Johnson)
54) American Dharma (Errol Morris)
55) Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)
56) First Love (Takashi Miike)
57) Rambo: Last Blood (Adrian Grunberg)
58) Anna (Luc Besson)
59) Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
60) Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)
61) Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler)
62) Long Shot (Jonathan Levine)
63) The Prodigy (Nicholas McCarthy)
64) Ma (Tate Taylor)
65) Grand Isle (Stephen Campinelli)
66) Little Joe (Jessica Hausner)
67) Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
68) One Cut of the Dead (Shin’ichiro Ueda)
69) Atlantics (Mati Diop)
70) Us (Jordan Peele)
71) Judy (Rupert Goold)
72) Waves (Trey Edward Shults)
73) The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh)
74) Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog, Andre Singer)
75) Charlie Says (Mary Harron)
76) Murder Mystery (Kyle Newacheck)
77) Luce (Julius Onah)
78) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (Johannes Roberts)
79) Dora and the Lost City of Gold (James Bobin)
80) Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
81) Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
82) Angel Has Fallen (Ric Roman Waugh)
83) Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (J. J. Abrams)
84) Legend of the Demon Cat (Kaige Chen)
85) Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)
86) The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)
87) Good Boys (Gene Stupnitsky)
88) The Death of Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert)
89) Shazam! (David F. Sandberg)
90) Serenity (Steven Knight)
91) Nightmare Cinema (Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade)
92) How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dean DeBlois)
93) Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott and Sydney Pollack)
94) I See You (Adam Randall)
95) Blinded by the Light (Gurinder Chadha)
96) Knife+Heart (Yann Gonzalez)
97) High Flying Bird (Steven Soderbergh)
98) Primal (Nick Powell)
99) The Secret Lives of Pets 2 (Chris Renaud)
100) Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley)
101) Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)
102) Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe)
103) The Goldfinch (John Crowley)
104) Child’s Play (Lars Klevberg)
105) Mister America (Eric Notarnicola)
106) The Command (Thomas Vinterberg)
107) Brightburn (David Yarovrsky)
108) Fyre (Chris Smith)
109) The Fanatic (Fred Durst)
110) Jexi (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore)
111) Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
112) Zombieland: Double Tap (Ruben Fleischer)
113) Gloria Bell (Sebastian Lelio)
114) Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (David Leitch)
115) Annabelle Comes Home (Gary Dauberman)
116) Escape Room (Adam Robitel)
117) Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)
118) The Perfection (Richard Shepard)
119) Luz (Tilman Singer)
120) The Best of Enemies (Robin Bissell)
121) Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)
122) Klaus (Sergio Pablos)
123) Running with the Devil (Jason Cabell)
124) Villains (Dan Berk and Robert Olsen)
125) Stuber (Michael Dowse)
126) The Public (Emilio Estevez)
127) Missing Link (Chris Butler)
128) Triple Frontier (J. C. Chandor)
129) The Professor and the Madman (P.B. Shemran)
130) The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles)
131) Velvet Buzzsaw (Dan Gilroy)
132) Black Tide (Erick Zonca)
133) EGG (Marianna Palka)
134) Men in Black: International (F. Gary Gray)
135) Black and Blue (Deon Taylor)
136) The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin)
137) Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg)
138) A Score to Settle (Shawn Ku)
139) Climax (Gaspar Noe)
140) Kill Chain (Ken Sanzel)
141) The Art of Self Defense (Riley Sterns)
142) Terminator: Dark Fate (Tim Miller)
143) The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
144) The Report (Scott Z. Burns)
145) The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (Robert D. Kryzkowski)
146) Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman)
147) The Curse of La Llorona (Michael Chaves)
148) Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson)
149) The Poison Rose (George Gallo)
150) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Andre Øvredal)
151) Aniara (Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja)
152) The Mountain (Rick Alverson)
153) Synonyms (Nadav Lapid)
154) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Joachim Rønning)
155) Trading Paint (Karzan Kader)
156) Holiday (Isabella Eklöf)
157) El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (Vince Gilligan)
158) X-men: Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg)
159) Abominable (Jill Culton)
160) Shaft (Tim Story)
161) Aladdin (Guy Ritchie)
162) Fighting with My Family (Steven Merchant)
163) Avengers: Endgame (Anthony and Joe Russo)
164) The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilsson and Michael Schwartz)
165) Late Night (Nisha Ganatra)
166) Wild Rose (Tom Harper)
167) Cats (Tom Hooper)
168) The Kid Who Would Be King (Joe Cornish)
169) Hail Satan? (Penny Lane)
170) The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)
171) The Mustang (Laure Clermont-Tonnerre)
172) It Chapter Two (Andy Muschetti)
173) Spider-man: Far From Home (Jon Watts)
174) Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Michael Dougherty)
175) J.T. LeRoy (Justin Kelly)
176) Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)
177) The Professor (Wayne Roberts)
178) Noelle (Marc Lawrence)
179) 21 Bridges (Brian Kirk)
180) Rust Creek (Jen McGowan)
181) Daddy Issues (Amara Cash)
182) Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Kevin Smith)
183) Joker (Todd Phillips)
184) Diane (Kent Jones)
185) I Lost My Body (Jeremy Clapin)
186) The Addams Family (Greg Tiernan and ConradVernon)
187) In the Tall Grass (Vincenzo Natali)
188) Miss Bala (Catherine Hardwicke)
189) Last Christmas (Paul Feig)
190) Yesterday (Danny Boyle)
191) Bombshell (Jay Roach)
192) The Lion King (Jon Favreau)
193) Countdown (Justin Dec)
194) I’m Just Fucking With You (Adam Mason)
195) Leaving Neverland (Dan Reed)
196) Lady and the Tramp (Charlie Bean)
197) Plus One (Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer)
198) 1917 (Sam Mendes)
199) Harriet (Kasi Lemmons)
200) Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)
201) A Vigilante (Sarah Daggar-Nickson)
202) Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)
203) The Hustle (Chris Addison)
204) Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley)
205) Jojo Rabbit (Taika Watiti)
206) The Farewell (Lulu Wang)
207) El Chicano (Ben Hernandez Bray)
208) Hellboy (Neil Marshall)
209) Black Christmas (Sophia Takal)
210) Cold Pursuit (Hans Petter Moland)
211) Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis)
212) What Men Want (Adam Shankman)
213) Pet Sematary (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer)
214) Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
10) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)
This is not your typical “Mister Rogers” biopic by any means. It’s directed with a deep sense of humanity and focus on the human condition. Based on a true story of their real-life friendship, it delves deeply into Mr. Rogers’ persona. The other main character, Lloyd Vogel, is a journalist, so I had a personal connection to the barriers he faced as Fred often worked to flip the script on him. They both push each other to explore their own truths and come to terms with them. In true Mr. Rogers’ style Lloyd learns that life can be hard and dark, but there are always opportunities to show humanity through taking time to understand others.
9) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
There’s an authentic Hollywood magic that jumps out of the screen in this movie. Set in the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) & Cliff Booth (Pitt) portray star-stunt double besties who showcase the push-and-pull of past vs. present. Margo Robbie as a young Sharon Tate is the soul of the film, especially given the ending, which I think is the most-heart wrenching part of it all given the real world history.
8) High Life (Claire Denis)
Woah. Brace yourself for this one. It’s a daring, experimental, deep dive into what makes us human, sexuality, parenthood, survival, and it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Binoche is a force of nature.
7) Gemini Man (Ang Lee)
Unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. The technical mastery of this film is on another level. I watched it twice which was helpful to appreciate the movie’s multifaceted elements. The 4K HFR technology is beyond impressive. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan – an elite assassin trying to retire. That is until the past literally & figuratively confronts him. Junior is Henry’s younger clone, completely made from advanced CGI in the film too. For Junior, it’s the age-old tale of trying to understand adulthood & self when one just hasn’t had the life experiences to do so. After seeing some features about the making of the film, Smith’s casting makes perfect sense. Lee pulled expressions and facial cues from Smith’s past performances from his younger years of acting. This deep dive (literally layers and layers of various skin graphing in the CGI) into Smith’s alluring screen presence makes the movie also about him. As a Philly girl who grew up watching Smith in his young acting years, this is a stunning culmination of his craft.
6) Uncut Gems (Josh & Benny Safdie)
Bold, unnerving, frantic Sandler – in the best way! This movie gets in your head in the immediacy of its direction and Sandler’s epic portrayal of the main character Howie. I couldn’t help but both be intensely frustrated with Howie and also cheer for him at the same time. The dynamic between Howie as the husband, father, lover, jeweler, friend and selfish individual all chasing after different dreams while trying to balance the crazyness of life is actually super relatable.
5) 3 From Hell (Rob Zombie)
As someone who has grown into a huge Rob Zombie fan, this is as Zombie as it gets! Unapologetically gnarly, it feels good to spend time in such bad company with characters who are so clearly loved by the director. I often have to give myself permission to get into The Zombie Zone, but when I do – it’s the most cathartic feeling. Sheri Moon Zombie is a joy to watch.
4) For Sama (Waad Al-Kateab)
Pure bravery on so many levels. As a citizen journalist, a mother, a survivor – this documentary was made using first-person video from Waad during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria. She began taking videos in college, and as the uprising gained momentum, it follows her journey through falling in love, marriage, and having her daughter Sama. Waad says as a thread throughout – “This is for you, Sama.” Sama is the ultimate inspiration for her unwavering commitment to what’s right and to documenting the reality around her. The film deals with identity, motherhood, patriotism, and journalism in their most authentic form. There’s a point in the film I find particularly important: a mother has just lost her young son in the hospital Waad’s husband set up. The mother is screaming at the camera, asking “Why are you filming this? How can you be filming this?” A beat later, the mother says “Then film this, show this,” referencing her dead son. It addresses the question of journalism vs. exploitation. Waad herself explained in an interview that she didn’t think of what she was doing as exploitative because she didn’t think she was going to survive the situation herself, and so her main priority was to document everything. Essential viewing.
3) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
The granddaddy of gangster films, from the granddaddy of gangster film directors. And the trifecta of De Niro, Pesci, Pacino is a welcome storm of top-shelf acting. Scorsese’s direction is undeniably towering, nuanced, and masterful. The slow burn of living with these characters through various stages of their lives adds such weight to the ending.
2) Midsommar (Ari Aster)
Bright scenes of summertime in Sweden counter-punch the deep, dark material at the heart of this film. This movie reveals a deep understanding through its portrayal of the journey of the character of Dani and Florence Pugh’s emotive performance. She’s my favorite actress right now. Dani’s life is flipped upside down after a horrid family tragedy. Following the tragedy, her long-time boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) invites her to tag along on what was supposed to be a “boys trip” to a friend’s summertime celebration in Sweden. The push and pull of her simultaneous search for change, peace, understanding and variety of experience all collide in the most trippy way. It’s a very cathartic movie for me.
1) A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)
No hesitations on this one. It’s lived inside me since I saw it. A haunting portrait of faith, love, marriage, & identity, it’s a stunning work of art. The relationship between husband-and-wife Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and Frani Jägerstätter (Valerie Pachner) is a beautiful example of love and commitment. Despite a majority of the community looking down on the family after Franz’s stance against Nazism is made known, Frani is steadfast in her loyalty to her husband – the father of their children. Her faith is tested by his actions as much as he his. It’s a tale the religious establishment vs. personal moral conviction.
I just want to reinforce the thought from our intro above that the judgments in this list are expressions of my own taste. I prefer to live in a world where different people have different tastes, and so I want to emphasize that any harshness in my negative takes is meant to convey the strength of my attitude towards the movies, and not meant to deride anyone who disagrees with me. There are some movies I frickin’ hated this year that some of my most respected friends loved. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please, try to change my mind.
But yeah, this was a fantastic year. I really love everything down to about 75, and then I have a pro-attitude towards everything down to 109. I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see Malick’s A Hidden Life or Miike’s First Love. I’ll write a review of the former when I see it. I did pretty well on seeing the Oscar nominees. I have no desire to ever see 1917, though. I see no need for any more Sam Mendes in my life.
Note: I only bothered to include director names for movies that aren’t on Josh’s list.
1) Ash Is Purest White
I’ve commented on this many times already and its place on this list should be no surprise for anyone who pays attention to my opinions, but yeah, there’s no question that this is the movie of the year for me. When I watch a Jia film, I am constantly in awe of how purposeful every little detail is. He’s a true master. Also: Zhao Tao is a genius.
2) High Life
Into the black hole of human destiny. I don’t know if anyone in the world likes this movie quite as much as I do, and I’m good with that.
3) Hotel by the River
A masterpiece about death and poetry and family reckoning and slipping into a delirium of snow white landscapes and empty hotels and living angelic apparitions.
4) The Portuguese Woman
Exquisitely refined slow cinema. It’s mostly stillness and absence, but there are just enough flights of fancy to create the thrilling sense that the movie is capable of anything. Not for everyone, but definitely for me.
5) The Irishman
On doing one horrible thing on purpose that destroys your entire life and then ending up alone with nothing to do but wait for death and endlessly ruminate on the events that led up to the fateful moment and ask whether it could have been avoided and try to convince yourself that it couldn’t.
6) La Flor (Mariano Llinás)
This took 10 years to make and it really shows. A sprawling 14 hour study of cinematic storytelling that goes through the rabbit hole several times over. The work of a deranged visionary.
7) 3 from Hell
In this era when genre movies are getting unbearably tame, the spirit of 70’s exploitation cinema lives on and Rob Zombie is its conduit. A mercilessly depraved vision of American violence and a twisted hangout comedy. Note that this is the third part of a trilogy (the first two are House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects).
8) Uncut Gems
The best score since Good Time. The Safdies are masters of visceral cinema. The anxiety is the point, not a cost to be paid. Of course Sandler is a force of nature in this, but all the fantastic non-professional acting is what really puts it over the top.
It pronounces the death of narrative and then gives us an anti-sensational portrait of Pasolini’s final day. The focus is on the subtlety of Dafoe’s absolutely brilliant performance. Ferrara’s direction often borders on abstraction. It’s some of his most beautiful work.
10) Black Mother
Khalik Allah is the truth! His originality is thrilling. This is a formally wild portrait of Jamaica structured around Five Percenter mythology identifying the Black woman as the mother of the world.
11) Mademoiselle de Joncquières [aka Lady J]
A particularly wicked adaptation of the same Diderot story that Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is based on. Cécile de France is extraordinary and Mouret’s direction is exquisite from start to finish.
12) Season of the Devil (Lav Diaz)
A four hour musical about the Marcos martial law era in the Philippines. No filmmaker in the world is confronting fascism as aggressively as Diaz.
Wall-to-wall Hong Sang-soo table shots in a rigorous formal structure. The focus is on eavesdropping. This is a very extreme example of what’s distinctive about Hong’s cinema and will only appeal to fans.
Aggressively unfashionable but vitally relevant.
15) The Image Book
Honestly, I’ll need two or three more viewings to even begin to penetrate this, but I find it very enjoyable just at the surface level. The sound design is nuts and Godard’s gravelly narration is like delicious pudding.
16) Heimat Is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise)
100 years of German history in 3 hours and 40 minutes, by way of one family’s narrative. The relationship between image and text is often oblique. The texts are mostly letters and personal documents like half-finished resumes. There is almost no exposition or explicit contextualization. The events are sometimes utterly tragic, but everything is presented in a monotone. It’s hypnotic and engaging.
17) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
How do you pull off a sincere movie about kindness, understanding, and forgiveness in 2019 without being unbearably cloying? Ask Marielle Heller. I cried through like 80% of this. It melted my cold heart into a puddle and then boiled the puddle into rarified melancholy. Tom Hanks is perfect.
18) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
My basic take on Tarantino’s revisionary movies is that they are about the satisfactions of fiction. Whereas the previous two concern the way pulpy genre movies can offer a cheap but welcome emotional redress for historical atrocity, the catharsis here is much more personal for Tarantino. He grew up in LA during this time period and he clearly associates Tate’s death with the death of Old Hollywood. It’s also a hangout movie, like a lot of his earlier work (especially Death Proof). Hangout movies are in short supply and I appreciate the way Tarantino is happy to spend ten minutes bullshitting and ogling dirty feet. The scene when Tate goes to see her own movie is especially wonderful.
The formal conceit is brilliant and Petzold’s understated style is in fine form, though I do miss Nina Hoss.
20) Alita: Battle Angel
Bodily dysphoria and the joy of transition. I appreciate the focus on character and world-building and the sparsity of the narrative.
21) Dolemite Is My Name
On the joy of making movies. It would be impossible to overstate how delightful it is to see Eddie Murphy really letting loose like this. It’s the most entertaining movie of the year for me.
Combines two venerable traditions: self-deprecating Jewish comedy and the romance of the bohemian expat in Paris. The romance is turned into farce by the political and cultural transformations of the 21st century. I found this to be the funniest new release I’ve seen in quite a while. I laughed so loudly and often that Angela got angry. She, on the other hand, didn’t find it funny at all, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt. This is not going to work for everyone.
23) Pain and Glory
Excruciating, in a good way. This is a little scattered but the best parts are exceptional. The reunion with the old lover is just beautiful.
24) Richard Jewell
I wrote a whole thing about this here.
De Palma as the old master in exile. The primary pleasure is seeing the maestro spin gold out of the limitations he faced here. The Pino Donaggio score, the split diopter shots, the diegetic cameras, the set pieces: it scratches the De Palma itch. Terrorist as filmmaker (filmmaker as terrorist?).
26) Bliss (Joe Begos)
A true delight of low-budget horror. Don’t even think about watching this while the sun is out. You want to watch this late at night, turned up as loud as possible. This is a drug-addled LA vampire fever dream in grimy 16mm. The sound design is out of control. The music is great across the board but the use of sludgy doom metal during the most intense scenes is especially inspired. People who didn’t watch the later seasons of Friday Night Lights are missing out, as one of the many joys this has to offer is that the ultra-edgy protagonist is played by Dora Madison, who also played frickin’ Becky Sproles. She just rules in this. And the practical effects!
27) Chasing Dream
Rocky 3 plus Rocky 4 plus American Idol plus a screwball love story. Probably for Johnnie To fans only, but I would be appalled if any To fan didn’t like this.
28) Killing (Shinya Tsukamoto)
This is one crazy-ass chanbara, from the director of the Tetsuo movies. Japanese swordplay movies tend to involve a lot of stillness and then quick bursts of brutal violence. This movie is an extended study of this structure and the emotions behind it. The score is outstanding.
29) Midsommar (Director’s cut)
I appreciate that Aster swung for the fences with this. The combination of British folk horror tropes and psychedelic imagery is inspired and the payoff is commensurate with the buildup.
30) Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
The acting is great and the formal gambit re: the setting is bold and successful.
31) An Elephant Sitting Still
Three and a half hours in I was legit in suspense about whether there was actually going to be an elephant in the movie. It’s sort of like a riff on A Touch of Sin by way of Haneke and Tarr, except the long takes are much more dynamic than Tarr’s.
Scott Adkins is the Daniel Day Lewis of direct-to-video. This is basically Guy Ritchie’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 meets Bronson and it totally rules.
33) Under the Silver Lake
A continuation of the stoner Philip Marlowe cycle that began with The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice. Garfield is great and there’s a rich sense of setting. The use of smell is far more vivid than Parasite. I don’t like the ending, though. This is a movie that needed fewer answers. If it had stuck the landing, it would have been a lot closer to the top of this list, but I still think it’s great overall.
34) Grand Isle
Shoot this into my veins. Easily my favorite recent Nic Cage movie and my favorite good-bad movie of the year. It starts out with a pretty standard noir setup and then goes to astonishing places. There are like three movies worth of plot crammed into this. Kelsey Grammar’s Foghorn Leghorn is just as delightful as Cage’s performance.
35) Her Smell
Elisabeth Moss’ collaborations with Perry go some ways towards a Frownland-esque theater of cruelty where they trap you with the sort of unbearable person you would ordinarily try to escape as quickly as possible. What I find most interesting about this one is the way that Perry BEGINS the second and third vignettes at the point where Becky is already way way overdue for something (finishing an album months late or going on stage two hours late) so that you immediately have this abrasive ringing alarm clock sensation of “for the love of god just go already” and then the scenes go on for like 25 minutes or so each and there’s all this Zulawski insanity in the meantime.
Moody, stark witch horror. I appreciate the lack of dialogue and the use of music.
37) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged
The Descent as a shark movie. Fanatastic. The underwater photography is extremely impressive.
Good-bad movie bliss. Another salty McConaughey performance. Peak Jason Clarke. Anne Hathaway breathily calling him “Daddy” is a highlight of the year for me.
39) Sibyl (Justine Triet)
This is in Ozon territory. I love it. The editing is bonkers and it really keeps up the film’s momentum. The whole cast is great but Sandra Hüller especially stands out as the director character.
40) The Beach Bum
Barfly for 2019. A loving ode to stoner degeneracy.
41) Happy Death Day 2U
While Happy Death Day is a play on Groundhog Day, this gem is a play on Back to the Future 2. Jessica Rothe is sooooo good in these movies.
The anti-Marvel movie. Shyamalan’s direction is seamless and the movie looks amazing from start to finish. I love Split and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Taylor-Joy and McAvoy reunited in this. I enjoy the wonky metafictional themes and the way the ending messes with genre expectations had me cackling.
43) The White Storm 2: Drug Lords
A sequel in name only. Andy Lau plays a billionaire ex-Triad who becomes an anti-drug vigilante after he is inspired by—wait for it—Rodrigo Duterte. Anyone who’s into Hong Kong cinema will be thrilled to see him as pseudo-Batman. Louis Koo plays his drug lord nemesis who chomps a cigar during the climactic gunfight. One might mistake this for pro-authoritarian and pro-drug war, but that would indeed be a mistake. There are clear equivalencies drawn between Lau and Koo and the emphasis is on the collateral damage of the whole struggle. Although the movie makes the relevant nods to mainstream acceptability, it has a subversive heart.
44) Motherless Brooklyn
It’s basically a histrionic Brooklyn Chinatown, minus the most extreme luridness, plus Edward Norton with Tourette’s. There’s so much raw enjoyment on offer and this has the strong feeling of being a passion project (the big name cast members did it for free!).
An utterly gorgeous movie full of stunning choreography, even if the yin yang imagery is a bit much.
46) Rambo: Last Blood
Lean, efficient bordersploitation rape-revenge Rambo: *Italian chef kiss*. Unfortunately, the finale is rushed, but the last kill might be the best kill of the decade.
47) Ad Astra
Somber Apocalypse Now in space. Gray’s third straight “stranger in a strange land” movie. The more abstract compositions are gorgeous and I like Pitt’s performance.
48) Dragged Across Concrete
As Filipe Furtado observed, it’s like he took some pulpy novel and filmed every sentence. It’s a very distended movie, but that’s the point. It’s all about the seedy details.
49) A Rainy Day in New York
An effervescent Renoir jam. It’s like Picnic in the Grass and a number of other Renoir films where the characters make very determinate plans which totally unravel in the face of escalating entropy, except in Woody’s version they head into the city instead of into the country. Bonus points for expecting fans of Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet to get the Vincente Minnelli references.
51) Honey Boy
Clumsy but appealingly raw. The recovery material is very authentic. The FKA Twigs stuff is nuts and I like it.
I understand why a lot of people don’t like Cats, but everyone who does like Cats is invited to my house for a Cats party.
53) The Forest of Love (Sion Sono)
Sort of an ultra-depraved Teorema with all of Sono’s most distinctive interests mashed together. No one will ever deny that it’s too long, but there’s something thrilling about knowing that Netflix paid for all this.
Composed entirely of philosophy of mind and personal identity examples and featuring a first rate Keanu Reeves performance, this is one of my favorite B-movies of the year.
55) Long Shot
Genre comedy is not in fact dead. Charlize Theron is so funny! And she has a surprising level of chemistry with Seth Rogen. More comedic roles for her and Skarsgard, please.
The creature feature subgenre has unfortunately been taken over by self-aware schlock. This is a welcome return to form. Chomptastic, functional genre movie.
Octavia Spencer gets to play the horror heavy and she is frickin’ great. This movie goes to some wild places. It’s thrilling and delightfully trashy.
58) Angel Has Fallen
The mid-budget action movie is a beautiful, fading tradition and this is a stellar example. Easily the best of the trilogy. All the stuff with Nick Nolte is fantastic.
Mati Diop’s pedigree as a Claire Denis protege comes through— there’s something of the lyricism, sensuality and horror of Denis’ cinema here. Diop has said that the primary visual references for this are John Carpenter’s The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13, which is awesome. I think it’s a very good film but sometimes weighed down by passages that feel like generic film festival fodder. The last couple lines, for instance, are beneath this film, and the political and topical tie-ins are overly blunt given the movie’s capacity for otherworldliness.
60) 6 Underground
The ratio of Bayhem to non-Bayhem is favorable. I appreciate how unapologetically reprehensible the worldview is. If you’ve seen Pain & Gain, you’ll realize that this is a deliberate artistic choice.
61) The Perfection
Could have used a little more Miike but it’s delightful and transgressive, especially for a Netflix movie.
Giallo throwback with a gay porn setting and Vanessa Paradis. A fun time at the movies.
63) Triple Frontier
Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Narcos. Contains the single most enjoyable Ben Affleck performance.
64) Gemini Man
During the Marvel kerfuffle, the bedrock argument I kept hearing is “but it’s awesome spectacle!” If people really want awesome spectacle, they should have gone to see this in HFR 3D. I drove 3 hours to Spokane to see it. Worth it.
65) Liz and the Blue Bird (Naoko Yamada)
A very gentle and lovely anime schoolgirl melodrama, full of watercolor compositions.
The very welcome return of Larry Fessenden. It’s a little overlong and not everything works but this is very good overall. It’s a Frankenstein variant, connecting the myth to military trauma. Alex Breaux is amazing. That Iggy Pop-themed meet cute is one for the ages.
67) The Fanatic
This is the vanguard of contemporary good-bad movies. Now that Cage has been taken up by the mainstream, it’s Travolta who is really going hard. Behold!
68) A Score to Settle
Hardcore Nicolas Cage B-movie. Scent of a Woman as a revenge movie, except instead of being blind he can’t sleep at all.
69) The Intruder
A prosperous Black family moves into a beautiful new home, only to be haunted by Donald Trump’s forgotten white man, played by Dennis motherfucking Quaid. This movie gets astoundingly deep into themes about race without ever stepping out of its pulpy genre trappings.
70) Doctor Sleep
I think it would have worked better without the more direct tie-ins with The Shining. But it’s fun and the psychic vampire cult stuff is great. Love the baseball boy scene.
71) In My Room (Ulrich Köhler)
Can’t be described without spoilers, but it’s a new take on the relationship black comedy and the Clint Eastwood joke slayed me.
Apocalyptic post-Mumblecore insanity. This is a very abrasive movie. It goes so far that I can’t help but admire it.
73) The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Nobuhiro Suwa)
New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud plays himself, goofing around with a bunch of kids who are making a movie. Utterly charming.
Luc Besson still doing the female assassin thing, and this time it works really well.
75) Triple Threat
Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, and Scott Adkins all together! I love all three of them so much that I wanted this to be even better than it is, but it’s a very solid martial arts picture.
It’s pleasantly wicked and much thornier than most contemporary topical movies. The entire cast is great. Between this and Ma, Octavia Spencer killed it this year.
77) The Prodigy
Child’s Play meets Birth. Lurid, bonkers take on the bad seed movie.
78) The Lighthouse
The leads are great and the cinematography is well-done but for me this needed to be less serious or more serious, preferably less serious. It’s too stupid for how seriously it seems to take itself at times.
Bizarro tripped out horror movie. Not for everyone but horror fans should give it a look.
80) Black and Blue
A revision of The Gauntlet for the BLM era. The cast is great and the action is intense. Between this and The Intruder, Taylor put on a clinic in 2019 about how to get deep into issues about race in America in the context of an entertaining genre movie.
81) The Wandering Earth
The first big-budget sci-fi extravaganza produced in China. I find its absurd excess appealing and I also enjoy the way it fits in “collective before individual” theme anywhere it can.
82) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
I absolutely love the first two but for me this one falls off considerably. It pushes the rules of the universe past the breaking point and the side characters and villains are nowhere near as interesting as in the first two.
83) One Cut of the Dead
It’s a gimmick film, but the gimmick is pretty great.
84) Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Linklater doing his own thing way out in left field. This is a flawed movie but it’s very unique and I appreciate that in this era of aesthetic homogenization.
85) Little Joe
Well-done lite horror. This is a tricky color palette, easily cloying if overdone, but Hausner is judicious and pulls it off. The film raises some interesting philosophical questions, especially concerning the subjectivity of well-being.
86) Give Me Liberty
The anti-Uncut Gems. Every reckless decision is made out of kindness. Melting pot as cacophony.
87) I See You
The score is great. It’s very fun. totally nuts. and impossible to describe without spoilers.
88) Annabelle Comes Home
It’s not very scary, but it’s ridiculous and enjoyable.
89) Kill Chain
Silly half-baked hitman movie with a fun Nic Cage performance. It’s exactly the sort of direct-to-video trash that I love watching by myself late at night.
90) Running with the Devil
It’s basically stupid Traffic. I found it very amusing as a good-bad movie. Decent Cage, exceptional Fishburne.
Primal is exactly what it promises to be: Nic Cage chewing scenery and having fun with hammy dialogue while chasing poisonous snakes and a ghost jaguar around a boat amidst an NSA kerfuffle. If you’re not into that, then this isn’t your movie. I’m into it.
I found this to be relatively solid for a superhero movie, with likable characters and fun world-building.
93) Knives Out
The mystery is poorly developed but the storytelling is nice and crisp and the cast is solid (though a lot of the most exciting performers are underused). The way political references are used to manipulate the audience’s allegiances is cheap and borderline insufferable, but it ends up coming across as a gag rather than a serious thematic commitment, and the movie at least understands that the entire political spectrum is currently obnoxious.
94) Daddy Issues
This is a hot mess but also a total hoot. It won me over with that watercolor/fuck montage.
The allegory is too tidy and Peele can’t resist spelling things out rather than letting us draw our own connections (e.g., cutting from a perfect Jaws homage directly to a Jaws t-shirt) but this looks good af, the music is inspired, and the entire cast is great.
96) The Souvenir
Very conflicted on this one. It’s absolutely gorgeous on the surface and in principle I like the idea of presenting one’s memories without melodramatic embellishment, but I can’t deny that I found it very dull. It didn’t convince me of Julie’s attraction to Anthony and the pain is just too muted. I’ve found myself comparing it to Pain and Glory, which is similarly personal but just so much more painful.
97) Asako I & II
Rohmer’s Winter’s Tale meets Vertigo. Great premise and intriguing opening but it doesn’t really go anywhere all that interesting. I probably owe this another viewing. I feel like I might be underrating it.
98) Legend of the Demon Cat
The oft-told story of Li Po and Yang Kwei-fei by way of a Tsui Hark imitation. It’s too long but it’s overall enjoyable.
99) Murder Mystery
Remarriage Clue? It’s pretty solid for what it is.
I like Bong Joon-ho and this isn’t a bad movie, but it’s one of my least favorite films from him. The catharsis is much too mild relative to the buildup (I literally shrugged) and I’m not super impressed by all the 12th grade symbolism.
101) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Pretty bad, but honestly so, and it has some appealing qualities. The Rey-Kylo chemistry is in full force and the fight on the sunken ship is worth the price of admission all by itself. I also like the Sith Island of Dr. Moreau.
102) Escape Room
Saw-lite. It’s an enjoyable horror movie, even though it’s derivative and mostly uninspired.
103) Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
What’s interesting about this is the parallelism between Hobbes and Shaw. Statham and the Rock have it in their contracts that they can’t get beat up too much, so the movie has to do a delicate dance of keeping them exactly balanced. But it’s ultimately pretty uninspired and overlong. The finale is tedious, although I did appreciate that a NOS substitute makes an appearance.
104) Edge of the Knife (Helen Haig-Brown, Gwaai Edenshaw)
A lot of this is really cool but the tricks deployed to convey that the wildman is losing it look cheap and it would have been better to take a more restrained approach and let the actor do the work.
105) The Poison Rose
Travoltasploitation. It’s an acquired taste, but I’m here for it. It also has an amazing Brendan Fraser performance.
106) The Dead Don’t Die
This one is hard to evaluate because it’s not even trying to be good. It’s not really a zombie movie. The relevant apocalypse is total apathy, which the film reflects by being apathetic about itself.
107) Last Christmas
This is a marginal good-bad movie, because it takes long af to pay off and it’s pretty frickin’ bad. But it eventually gets there. The last act is on another level. NB, the soundtrack is wall-to-wall George Michael. It turns out that there’s a George Michael song for every emotion.
108) Dark Phoenix
A bad movie, but with just enough campy fun to make it a worthwhile: McAvoy and Turner feeling feelings, Magneto shooting Jessica Chastain with a hundred guns at once, Jennifer Lawrence taking every opportunity to give shout outs to feminism.
109) The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (Lee Won-tae)
It’s okay. These Korean crime movies are a dime a dozen and this one doesn’t really have anything to set it apart.
110) The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
I was with it for about an hour and then it just got too tedious for me. It does have some good qualities, though.
111) Little Women
It’s a good-looking movie. The production design is well done and the use of natural light is appealing. Fun fact: this has the same cinematographer as High Life (my #2 above). I did not care for the scrambled chronology at all. It perpetually disrupts the narrative’s momentum. Nothing has a chance to grow and develop in an organic way. Emotions are just abruptly foisted upon us. As a result the movie seriously dragged for me, especially in the middle. I didn’t want it to be shorter, I wanted it to be longer and in chronological order. We don’t really get to know any of the characters except Jo and to a lesser extent Amy. Laura Dern is totally wasted. The Meryl Streep part is super lazy and she just phones it in. I would have preferred to actually get to know everyone in a more balanced way. It would have been more engaging. Also, the thematic speeches detract from the movie. It just doesn’t need them. The story speaks for itself.
I like the basic concept but Noé can’t stay out of his own way. All he really needed to do was cut down on the clutter and turn the camera right side up.
113) The Last Black Man in San Francisco
It’s bloated, uneven, and unremittingly heavy-handed, but most of the acting is great and the central friendship is compelling. I suspect it would have been very good if Talbot had summoned more restraint and let the performances and the relationships do the work. NB, this demands to be watched as a double feature with The Intruder, its lowbrow inversion (and IMO a better film). There is a remarkable degree of symmetry between the two.
114) Pokemon Detective Pikachu
I had no idea what was going on and I don’t think I’m the target audience, but it looked cool at times and Ryan Reynolds is sort of funny.
115) The Curse of La Llorona
I love the Conjuringverse and I really wanted this to be better, but alas. Raymond Cruz is good as the back-alley exorcist, but La Llorona herself is disappointing and the movie is just not well constructed. Also, the generic white mom protagonist waters down the cultural setting.
116) Child’s Play
Brad Dourif was a hell of a lot cooler than a smart home.
117) The Gospel of Eureka
Eh, this is probably actually better than where I’m putting it but I just really don’t enjoy this sort of human interest documentary. The passion play itself is amazing, though.
Incel Superman horror? Not terrible, but thoroughly adolescent.
119) Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Most of the monsters look cool. Some of the monster fights are great, others are overburdened with the awful narrative. So Tywin Lannister and Vera Farmiga are right-wing Thanos and left-wing Thanos? And Kyle Chandler is an absentee dad? Nah. I couldn’t get past my distaste for taking a series that has its origin in a Japanese post-war nuclear horror movie and turning it into something that’s so light-hearted about nukes. Now nukes are batteries for a benevolent Godzilla?
I like Phoenix’s physical acting but the writing is just terrible and Phillips’ direction is meh.
121) The Death of Dick Long
There are like half as many ideas here as were needed to sustain a feature film.
122) Ford v Ferrari
How are we supposed to root for the douchebag Republican Ford executives over the hilarious insolent Italian Ferrari crew? The movie seems to assume a very douchey level of patriotism from the audience. But more importantly, it leans entirely on formula and totally neglects the sort of details that could have made it much more gripping. When most of the drama revolves around car design, you need to slow down and educate the audience about technical challenges and how they are overcome. This movie just throws some gibberish at us and insistently reminds us that things get dicey when the RPMs get in the red. Similarly, there is no real effort to make the very long Le Mans sequence dramatically compelling. The Ferrari driver isn’t even a character in the movie, he’s just a grimacing mannequin. And then the epilogue is just excruciating. That didn’t need to be in the movie. If you’re going to do end title cards anyways, just end with the race and put all the crap from the end into the title cards.
This is just peddling tawdry schadenfreude. It doesn’t have any interesting insights or notable cinematic qualities.
124) Sarah Plays a Werewolf (Katharina Wyss)
Alas, there are no werewolves in this movie. But there is a lot of Wagner.
Needs more Verhoeven, less Twitter. J-Lo is pretty good. Constance Wu is alarmingly bad. Cardi B is of course amazing, but underutilized. The first hour hangs together reasonably well, but the last part is godawful. The best part is the perfect use of the Scott Walker song. Did not see that coming.
126) Marriage Story
Divorce sucks: the movie, bourgeois edition. I’ll pass. I especially hate the Randy Newman score. Ray Liotta is good, though.
127) Fighting with My Family
A GLOW subplot, but bad.
128) I’m Just Fucking with You
One of these trashy Blumhouse movies. It’s pretty fun at first but wears out its welcome long before it’s over.
129) The Nightingale
Confirms my sense from The Babadook that Kent is a decent director and a very bad writer. The dialogue is awful throughout. Aisling Franciosi is not at all good in the lead role. The villains are the best part. Despite the problems I had with the movie, I was with it until the last 45 minutes, because I appreciated how hard it went. No punches are pulled on the front end. But then it does start pulling its punches. For a rape-revenge movie, going heavy on the rape and light on the revenge is a bad recipe. NB, Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker is a key point of reference and a much, much better movie. Check it out.
I watched this because the blurbs promised hostility and nastiness, but it is very tame. It needed to be several orders of magnitude more hostile to hold any interest. There is one short scene that is rather bold, but it’s so obviously fake that it didn’t have much impact for me.
131) The Burial of Kojo (Blitz Bazawule)
Very “video art.” The longest 80 minute movie I’ve ever seen. It did not come together for me at all and the cheap digital look of the cinematography doesn’t suit the material.
132) Rim of the World
This is entirely derivative and has nothing new whatsoever to offer, nor does it do anything fun with the formula.
133) The Kid Who Would Be King
The Merlin stuff is embarrassing and the movie is painfully repetitive. All of the baddies are exactly the same as each other.
134) Avengers: Endgame
The only good thing I can say here is that it’s better than Infinity War. The time heist concept is good, but the movie focuses on everything other than the heist. The long opening act where we’re rounding up the old gang is tedious, the middle act heists are rushed and underdeveloped, the fat Thor schtick is not funny (none of the jokes are funny, except maybe the very first version of the back to the future joke), and the epilogue is agonizing sentimental pap.
135) The Art of Self-Defense
Unfunny Foot Fist Way plus shitty Fight Club with wannabe Lanthimos dialogue.
136) Toy Story 4
Same terrible movie again, plus a one-joke spork. I would be totally fine if I never hear Randy Newman music ever again. Angela’s amazing comment when it ended: “I kept hoping the toys would be like Chucky and start killing everyone.”
137) Head Count
Netflix was putting up one or two terrible proprietary horror movies a week around Halloween season and this was one of them. This just has nothing at all going for it. No good characters, no interesting writing, no scares, no ideas, no visual flare. It just plain sucks.
138) Captain Marvel
The one thing that amuses me about this is that either they didn’t screen test Brie Larson to make sure she’s capable of convincingly running and jumping, or they just didn’t care that she isn’t.
Unwatchable, and yet I persisted.
140) The Farewell
I intensely dislike this movie. Once I found out it was based on a This American Life segment, it all made sense. If anyone ever wants to subject me to enhanced interrogation, there’s no need to resort to waterboarding, just force me to listen to This American Life and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. There’s a central line in this movie that I can’t believe more people haven’t seen a problem with: “You think one’s life belongs to oneself. But that’s the difference between the East and the West. In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole.” First of all, that right there is some culturally reductive shit. Does anyone seriously believe that we can make this sort of sweeping generalization about ‘the East’? It’s a big place! Is there really so much cultural continuity between Japan and Sri Lanka? The Philippines and Mongolia? When it comes to preparations for the death of a family member, is it really true that the West is governed by individualist ideals while the common Chinese practice of deceiving a person about their terminal condition is collectivist? At least as presented in the film, the point of this practice is protecting the individual from coping with fear of death, which seems more individualistic if anything. I don’t think such deception is necessarily a bad thing (please lie to me when it’s my time), but I don’t see that it reflects collectivist ideals. Indeed, one might think that the sort of open reckoning with impending death that is more typical in America prioritizes the needs for closure of the person’s family and community over the emotional pain it might cause the person dying. One thing the movie fails to address, and that it really must address if it is going to examine this cultural difference, is that the Chinese practice is bound up with a more general taboo on the open discussion of death, which surely has its downsides. When someone with a terminal illness knows that they are going to die, there can be an expectation that they will behave outwardly as though they don’t know. This could be torturous. But even granting the movie’s flawed thematic framework, it does set itself up to examine mortality in an interesting way. How will it feel when the deception falls apart and death indeed comes? [Spoiler alert] This could have been powerful. But The Farewell totally bails on the reality of mortality and leaves us with one of the worst endings of all time. I don’t care that it’s a true story, the way it’s handled is a travesty. It’s like “psyche! and she’s still alive! woohoo!” A temporary reprieve is a mere postponement of death, and in a movie like this it should not be treated as a happy ending. If this movie doesn’t have the courage to look down the barrel of mortality in the end, then there’s no movie here. Some of the movies listed above were powerful and cathartic for me in coping with my own family situation, especially Hotel by the River. The Farewell was the opposite. It made me angry.
141) Jojo Rabbit
Excruciating on every level. I didn’t even get to the point of fretting about the way the Holocaust is represented because I just found this so repellent at the surface level. The entire cast is astoundingly bad, but ScarJo is the worst.
I saw 18 movies this year that I really loved, and so I’m doing a top 18. I really wish I could have seen A Hidden Life. I doubt anything could beat my #1 pick but it almost certainly would have been near the top. Malick is my favorite.
1) The Portuguese Woman (Rita Azevedo Gomes)
If I could make a movie, I would want it to be like this. It’s perfect. It’s painterly and delicate and it made me feel calm and serene.
2) A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen)
Delightful and charming and just a joy to watch.
3) Transit (Christian Petzold)
I don’t usually care for WWII movies but this is so alluring and the filmmaking is fluid and gorgeous.
4) Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
Completely gripping. It’s heartbreaking. Even though it doesn’t at all resemble my own life, I related strongly to the protagonist’s existential plight.
5) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)
I grew up on Mr. Rogers. I found this nostalgic and soothing and moving.
6) Mademoiselle de Joncquières [aka Lady J) (Emmanuel Mouret)
I love wicked period pieces and this is just so satisfying.
7) Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)
I’m a big Hong Sang-soo fan. Even though his movies are all similar to each other in many ways, they never even begin to get old. This one is sad and starkly beautiful.
8) Le Flor (Mariano Llinás)
Well that was a long day. The four female leads are incredible.
9) Ad Astra (James Gray)
I heart sadboy Brad Pitt. It’s such a lonely and bleak movie. I felt it, even though it’s a very male-centric story.
10) Domino (Brian De Palma)
I love De Palma and this didn’t let me down. The set pieces are thrilling. Jaime Lannister teaming up with the Red Woman to fight ISIS is pretty inspired. Also, I like how many tomatoes there are in this movie.
11) Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
The way this is unstuck in time is really interesting. The acting is exceptional.
12) The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
The big arcs here are just masterful in all respects, but especially the acting. Al Pacino!
13) Midsommar (Ari Aster)
The sense of horror in the light of day is unusual and thrilling. I don’t have a very high tolerance for horror, but this one works for me.
14) Anna (Luc Besson)
I love the protagonist. I loved joining her for this adventure. Sasha Luss’ gallery of styles is mesmerizing.
15) Glass (M. Night Shyamalan)
The intersection of the storylines from the first two parts of the trilogy is really satisfying. It’s the opposite of most superhero movies, thank god.
16) Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)
This is a rough one. The color palette and Spanish aesthetic are delightful, but the movie is extraordinarily painful and real. This is another movie, like Ad Astra, that I felt like I could connect with even though it’s so male-dominated.
17) Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)
So stressful! I enjoyed how long it is, but it’s really exhaustingly tense and scary. The cast is great.
18) Legend of the Demon Cat (Chen Kaige)
It’s pretty campy, but that didn’t stop me from crying. I love the costumes and the romance.
I try not to watch movies that I don’t expect to like, but these I really couldn’t stand.
1) Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
My patience for this movie was depleted within two minutes. It was really hard to watch and I don’t know why I did.
2) Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Ew, no thanks.
3) Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
4) Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)
I hate the characters and the whole tone of the movie.
5) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
It was just annoying. Tarantino is annoying.