Hollywood? You there?
2019 was a relatively mediocre year for Hollywood. While this did lead to the unexpected rise of Parasite, ultimately becoming the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture at the Oscars, (still in shock, by the way) most studio tentpole films came and went with hardly a ripple in our cultural consciousness. That said, there were plenty of indie films that stole my heart, as well as several amazing international films. (My top 10 list could easily be comprised of nothing but international films this year and I honestly wouldn't lose any sleep over it.) So, without any further ado, let's talk about the best (and worst) cinema 2019 had to offer!
The Best Trailers of 2019
Any trailer that forks out the big bucks and uses one of the greatest songs of all time in it is bound to get on this list. Ironic that a shamelessly Americana film uses a British rock song in their trailer, but hey. It's "Gimmie Shelter." I ain't complaining.
In my opinion, this will almost certainly be the most influential trailer of 2019, as it debuted a new, modernistic way to introduce text in a trailer. I expect to see a lot more of this style pop up in the coming months and years.
You know this film is going to pop up a lot in this recap. One of the best American films of the year also happened to have one of the best trailers of the year. Then again, it's helpful when you can use literally *all* of the Elton John music, especially "Tiny Dancer."
I could watch the first 35 seconds of this trailer on repeat all day. From that hilarious opening pep talk, to the introduction of "Boys" by Lizzo, this incredibly funny trailer is surpassed only by the film that it is teasing.
There's a certain.... power to this trailer. I don't know if it's the driving music from The Weeknd underneath it, or the display of Adam Sandler's chaotically driven performance, (which made my Annual Actor's Awards, which you can check out here) but I've always been drawn to the finesse of this trailer. Which is why it's my favorite from 2019.
My Favorite Movie Moments
1917 - First Wave
Forgive the hilariously poor quality of that video, but the tentpole sequence of 1917 absolutely deserves a spot on this list. A sequence the filmmakers only had 5 chances to get right, with a powerfully unscripted moment to boot, (he wasn't supposed to run into anyone during this sequence) this gargantuan moment caps off the technical masterpiece that is 1917.
Marriage Story - Argument
Love this scene. The steady tempo of it is impeccable. You know where it's headed, yet it's so harrowing to watch unfold. Every moment more emotional than the last, ultimately resulting in a heinous, emotionally driven tirade from Charlie. (Adam Driver) Definitely the most emotionally charged moment of 2019.
Parasite - Belt of Faith
There are so many incredible moments in this film, it's hard to pick just one. But this montage, about 40 minutes in, is the visual manifestation of the very best filmmaking Bong Joon Ho has to offer. It's a mesmeric sequence, almost 5 minutes on the dot, with a level of control that would make Hitchcock envious. Watch that scene, and then check out this brilliant video essay dissecting it.
Rocketman - Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)
I love (almost) all of the numbers from Rocketman, but if I had to pick just one, I'd go with "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" because of, what else? The filmmaking. Director Dexter Fletcher and co. truly outdo themselves in this sequence, crafting a sensational number that feels like a single, uncut shot. The amount of choreography in this sequence is unbelievable, Taron's movement throughout the scene is so rhythmic, it leads to an adrenaline-inducing crescendo with an amazing crane shot, and all in all I've watched this more than any other sequence in film from 2019. Masterful.
That said, I have to give "Honky Cat" a shoutout too because its open celebration of Elton's sexuality is better than ANYTHING out of Bohemian Rhapsody. Just saying.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire - Bonfire
That said, there wasn't a world where Portrait of a Lady on Fire wouldn't top this list, and this titanic moment leads to one of the most visually stunning shots I have ever seen in a film. It's also coupled with a brilliant song, written by the director, (Céline Sciamma, what can't she do?) and is the easy highlight of my number 1 film of 2019. (Spoiler alert)
The Best Films No One Saw
Note: All films on this list grossed under $20mil domestically.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Criminally underappreciated and overlooked by the Academy this Oscar season because of another film you'll soon see on this list, The Peanut Butter Falcon was a charming buddy film with a pair of breakout performances.
One of the more groundbreaking films to come out of 2019, The Farewell shines light on a culture the west hardly ever sees, from the east's perspective, (!) centered around a female protagonist who also happens to be Awkwafina. What's not to like?
From the opening moment of The Lighthouse, I was hooked. Stunning visuals, two amazing performances, and a truly bizarre brand of psychological horror make this one of the wildest rides 2019 had to offer.
A cathartic film showcasing the power of compassion and forgiveness, Honey Boy was easily 2019's most underappreciated film, highlighted by a therapeutic performance from its powerful lead, Shia LaBeouf.
The Worst Films of 2019
Pet Sematary is exactly what happens when you try and capitalize on the recent success of Stephen King remakes. A lifeless, soulless husk of a film who's budget would've been better spent on just about anything else. Just..... stop. Please.
Ok. I can't hold back any more, I need to rant. This movie..... broke me. It's from Hirokazu Kore-eda, the man who is responsible for making Shoplifters, one of the most influential films for yours truly of recent memory, and after watching his unprecedented success of that film he said, ya. Let's make the antithesis of that. Why not? NO. This film is chaotic and unorganized, and it moves from scene to scene with little to no purpose. Sure, it has some good performances, but it centers around a completely unidentifiable group of people you have little to no compassion for. It's ridiculous and borderline criminal that this is Kore-eda's follow up to Shoplifters. (Takes a deep breath.)
You knew this was going to make the list. The inexplicable, traumatic, hilariously awful adaption of Cats that nobody asked for, this dumpster fire of a musical is already heading to the realm of cult hit. No amount of digital fur technology is saving this....
The Lion King
The stand stand-in for all three of the TERRIBLE Disney live-action remakes we got last year, The Lion King delivered a lazy, nearly shot-for-shot remake of its 1994 counterpart that simply replaces animation with CGI, while doing nothing more than giving new voices to the characters. (Wait, they didn't even do that? Sigh.) And, how much did it gross? Over a billion dollars? No way. Expect more from the movies you go see, people!
The Best Films of 2019
A brilliant thesis of the chaos of the Safdie brothers filmmaking style, Uncut Gems is a wild, engrossing ride from start to finish, helmmed by an incredible performance from its lead.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
An intimate story of compassion, forgiveness, and love, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a touching film about one of our culture's best figures. Also, Tom Hanks is amazing and we don't deserve him.
Greta Gerwig's interpretation of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women offered a new and fresh take on the timeless novel. One of the best character driven stories of 2019, Little Women's classic story is applicable and relevant to all.
Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers was the film we needed in 2019, a badass feminine power story told in a genuine, heartfelt way. J-Lo's incredible power and gravitas is manifested in one of the performances of the year, well worth a watch for this alone.
Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical tale of separation and divorce is a genuinely relatable and therapeutic story of forgiveness and love and persevering through it all.
Rocketman is a fun, touching, heartfelt celebration of one of the music industry's biggest icons. Taron Edgerton delivers a vulnerable performance of the legendary musician in my favorite American film of 2019.
This amazing Polish film stands at the intersection of faith and forgiveness. It's a moving story that highlights the hypocrisies of institutions while focusing on the simple power faith has among us. As thought-provoking as it is touching.
Bong Joon Ho's groundbreaking film is arguably the most approachable foreign film ever made: a widely applicable tale of class structure, personal gain, climate change, and just about everything else imaginable. Seriously: go see it, go in blind, and let Bong Joon Ho take you for a ride.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director Céline Sciamma crafted a visual and narrative masterpiece that has resonated with me long after I first saw it at Cannes. A mesmerizing story of true love's attempted survival in an oppressive society, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is equal parts stunning and heartbreaking, and easily my strongest recommendation of 2019 cinema.
Thank you so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed my recap of the very best (and worst) 2019 cinema had to offer. As I look forward to 2020, I'm gleefully reminded that I will be able to enjoy a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, and I am already VERY excited. Let's go!
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